The Heroic Consciousness, Part I Context and Overview of Archetypes and Jungian Thought
A few months back I read Erich Neumann's The Origins and History of Consciousness. It is an incredible book, and in my mind fundamental to understanding the psycho-social and emergent nature of human consciousness and hence, human experience. To that end I will be writing a series of articles exploring my understanding of his ideas, my thoughts on them, and how they inter-relate to other relevant streams of thought. Particular works that come to mind are Peterson's Maps of Meaning, Ong's Fighting for Life, Booker's Seven Basic Plots, and Campbell's Hero with a Thousand Faces. I also wonder how much of a parallel can be drawn to theories of generational archetypes (see The Fourth Turning), as societies do seem to oscillate between polarities of archetypes (I use the word here more generally, not specifically referring to Jungian archetypes, though my suspicion is that they are in some way related) and gradually move towards a resolution of those polarities with an expansion of consciousness. That's the plan, at least, to go through all that. We will see how much I accomplish at the end.
For today, I will content myself with setting the stage for the Neumann's book with a general orientation and framework for navigating the world of archetypes, images, mythopoetic substructures, and depth psychology. Neumann was a Jungian depth psychologist who, in his body of work, systematized and expounded upon the often fragmentary and unorganized ideas of Jung. As brilliant as Jung was, if he was hacking a path through the forest, it was up to his students to actually make a real road out of his rough path through the brush.
We always must have ends and we are always in movement towards those ends. Tension gives rise to an impulsion to act, raw living energy that we harness, shape, and express to the world and to others. That impulsion implies a movement of some kind, either away from what we value as bad or towards what we value as good. We can never stand still, because each tension that is resolved is but covering another one, each successive layer leading right into the heart of the labyrinth. We see these new tensions because in resolving the previous ones, we are different ourselves, looking at the world with new eyes. Tension only disappears with death, the perfect tensionless state. Each end achieved is immediately transcended, for a new tension emerges bidding us towards a new psychic equilibrium point. Yet while the ends give us a direction, they do not guarantee a transformation into a new equilibrium. It is the experience itself of moving towards that end, the process, that results in transformation. A linear path often merely stiffens the resistance, like yanking on a Chinese finger trap. For example, we cannot force ourselves to relax. Instead, we can only create the circumstances where we can relax and achieve our desired end, such as falling asleep. This is the circular path leading to effective change, that spirals us to where we want to go, whether that be a temporary state change as in the case of sleep or fundamental transformation of being.
An emergent system that has found an equilibrium between two polarities or opposing tensions naturally operates cyclically. Action and reflection. Day and night. Summer and winter. Youth and old age. Work and rest. Creation and consumption. The ebb and flow of an ecosystem. We only see these cycles interrupted in systems that have lost their equilibrium. Ruined or disrupted by an excess of either concentration or dispersion, they must undergo a period of sterility or chaos, respectively, to find a new equilibrium, oftentimes less complex and less rich than the one before. New levels of complexity emerge from that sterility, of course, but slowly. The extinction of the dinosaurs allowed mammal life to predominate. The collapse of the Roman Empire laid the seeds for modern western civilization. Yet it is not entirely accurate to say that an equilibrium, even as it oscillates, is oscillating about a fixed point.
The following is a paper I wrote for one of my favorite classes in university, World Economic Development. It amused me to read through it and let myself be taken back in time. Truly, life was simpler then. Ahem. The parts that particularly stood out were the effects of electrification on our own history. How I take this for granted as I type this on my laptop, at 3am, on an online website while I listen to downloaded music! Everything is connected so deeply that we cannot see, or must relearn to see everything anew.
Language is the beginning and the end of the human experience. It is perhaps the beginning of our awareness and consciousness. Our language corresponds to the ways we experience and how we express ourselves. Language is expression and is reflective of our experience. Because language is to communicate something to someone else, it implies community and social bonds. Because our language is reflective of our community and our experience, language is a mirror for our identity, for our sense of belonging. To be able to communicate something is to have consciousness and awareness of that thing, and therefore to have power in one’s community. Our shared language and the conversations we have through it is our sense of culture.
In gaining awareness of ever more profound patterns of relating and resolving tensions, we are able to increasingly manipulate them for our ends. Because this ability to affect our will upon the world is tied to inner transformation, the process leading to mastery in engagement with the world is the same process leading to self-knowledge and self-reliance.
It’s important to note that in the context of an emergent system, selfishness and selflessness is a false dichotomy. Indeed, to think in terms of selfishness and selflessness is to be trapped in dualistic, centralized, either/or thinking. We are all various degrees of selfish and selfless at various times or in various contexts. There is also such a thing as selfish selflessness and selfless selfishness. It all depends on the observer, the relationship, and the context. What we should universally abhor, instead of some arbitrary idea of selfishness, is manipulation and coercion. When we lie, mislead, manipulate, and coerce, we deny the other the opportunity to make a free choice about whether to move towards us or move away from us. True community based on free associations can only be built on honesty. Even a selfishly made invitation, as opposed to a manipulation, is a noble thing, for it speaks to the other person as a Man or a Woman rather than as a thing to be manipulated. To invite is to exercise our freedom to move towards, and to invite the invitee to exercise their freedom as well. Invitations are humanizing, whereas coercion is dehumanizing, even if we flee from it, for in doing so we must move away from relationships and into a state of exile. To invite freedom and connection with self and with others in our communities is to create points of departure, it is to invite others to explore their own roles and selves.