Freud vs. Jung – Let’s The Games Begin!

Alright, another email request! This one’s a biggie, and because of that I will only touch the tip of the iceberg.

So I’m supposed to compare Freud and Jung’s models of the psyche! I feel a little bit like I’m circling the rim of a den of vipers. It seems like it’s easy to fall into the temptation to ally myself with one of them (naturally in my case it would be Jung’s) and throw spitballs at the other.

I would like to direct the reader to a great documentary about Freud’s legacy called The Century of the Self, which I saw about a year ago and which I don’t think should be missed by anyone interested in Freud. I can add to the viewing list the 2011 movie by David Cronenberg, A Dangerous Method, which, while I don’t think it is an essential piece of either film history or particularly profound insight into the relationships between Freud and Jung and their associates, nonetheless demonstrates that these relationships live on in the form of modern myths, as titans of the Victorian Era.

In the tradition of the ancient habit of requesting assistance from the gods when one doesn’t know enough to get by oneself, I invoke the following words.

I think that avoiding the pit of vipers means acknowledging that we’re not just dealing with two psychological points of view, but that these points of view retain a mythical character. And if this is true, where do I start, by analyzing the myth or by analyzing the actual points of view of the two men? I must say upfront that if I were to choose the latter, I would be at a disadvantage when it comes to knowing enough about what Freud said to make a fair judgment of him. Indeed, I can’t proceed without confessing that much of my understanding of Freud’s role in history comes through what Jung wrote and said about him.

Okay, I hope the gods are satisfied now!

I should get out of the way that I have come over time to consider Carl Jung to have been a great man on the order of a William Shakepeare or an Abraham Lincoln. Such a view will come as a surprise to those who have only tangentially heard of Jung, but I’ve found that this view is more productive than the more predictable conclusion that it is easy to fit him into one box or another, that it’s only a matter of figuring out which box to fit him in before moving on to other matters.

To assume that any historical figure can be fit into a box is quite often more of a matter of convenience for the modern person who already has too much on his mind, than it is an accurate reflection of the figure’s weight in history. The only way to reliably judge someone is through personal investigation. Certainly Lincoln or Shakepeare have been pre-selected, as it were, from the pool of available great figures, and so to personally approach them and subsequently discover that they are indeed as great as they are made out to be is easier than a far more controversial figure such as Jung.

In the end, I rely on myself – my own judgment, intelligence and experience when I investigate. Because I decided early in my life that I wanted to start from first principles and make as complete and thorough investigations of things as I could, and because of some lucky quirks in the social security system and the support of people who simply didn’t mind having me around, I have wrested from this world the time and freedom necessary to investigate in the way I wanted to. I have a considerable range of intellectual and ethical tools at my disposal by now, and so I feel I can investigate certain figures with a good deal of reliability. I am confident enough to ruthlessly subject anyone I test to the highest standards I am capable of myself comprehending. I am glad to therefore make the daring claim that in time Jung will attain the status of the other great people of our time. By contrast, and I have already admitted I know less about Freud than about Jung, I think that Freud is to be considered a critical historical figure, necessary for his time and place, but not someone who transcends his time and place the way Jung does.

My conclusions about Jung come from repeatedly subjecting his life and views to my best intellectual and experiential standards. Many people, whose interest in another person extends only so far as it needs to in order for them to be able to disarm and render neutral the threat which the other person poses to their sense of security, will rest content with finding one or two assailable particularities of Jung’s life. It is enough for them to substitute one gnarled tree for a whole forest, which I attribute more to their personal weaknesses than to Jung’s.

Jung is one of those people who is enormously difficult to understand, but only partly because of his personal manner of communication. His greatness comes from that the fact that a far bigger piece of the puzzle is not his failure to communicate, but from the difficulty of his material.

So we live in a society where we’re still just at the fringes of understanding and integrating what Jung said, in my opinion. Where does Freud stand, by contrast?

I see Freud as someone who heroically broke the mold of the society he was living in, making it permissible to think in certain ways which had previously been taboo. I also see him as a man of his time, someone who, having broken the mold, was unable to endure the uncertainty of the brave new world he had unleashed, and committed the fatal flaw of attempting to institutionalize his own discoveries. The loss of an old world, an old paradigm, an old way of thinking, brings about enormous pressure to present the appearance of having achieved total certainty with the new way of thinking.

There is an interesting fork in the road which occurs in this discussion. To present oneself as mature and composed can in fact lead to critical victories in the field of public relations. But in an immature field such as psychoanalysis and psychology generally speaking, it is also a very dishonest betrayal to present a problem as solved when it isn’t. Carl Jung, I would argue, dedicated his life to the second path, the honest pursuit of the truth at the expense of being able to say that he knew everything and had solved everything, whereas Freud may indeed symbolize the person who knows how important it is to maintain appearances, and became the popular symbol of psychology, thoroughly saturated with flaws, but socially legitimate nonetheless.

The Unicorn, apparently taking his cue from Two Lights, specifically requested that I write about this topic today. An iceberg is weighted so that only ten percent of its mass appears above the surface of the water. Yet I feel this is of value, even if it’s only ten percent of the topic.

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The Social Role of Spiritual Professionals

It’s been a while. But I have received via email an explicit request to blog from Two Lights, and this one goes out to her!

The human mind becomes fragmentary when it encounters the complexity of modern life. Even in the days of the primitive, pre-civilization human cultures, people were afflicted by a condition called the “loss of soul”. All human societies have myths and religious or spiritual beliefs. It is highly likely that the function of these beliefs is to deal with “loss of soul”. When things are going well, it is all too easy to ignore the underlying system that serves one’s good fortune, but societies have always had priests or shamans or whose job it is to negotiate with the forces which are beyond human control.

It is human nature to ignore personal and tribal weakness where possible. This brings with it the advantage of focusing all of one’s concentration on areas of strength, which increases the chances of victory in closely matched competition. In modern society, most victories are achieved in specialized corners. You wouldn’t want the Superbowl team running the government, for example. It is a compromise of modern life that we settle for little victories, rather than much more primitive cultures in which it was occasionally possible for the tribal chief to be the best at everything. Yet even within these pockets, human instinct pushes people to ignore their weaknesses, which brings with it enormous problems in the long run.

Religion and spirituality are are procedures by which weaknesses can be acknowledged and mitigated. All cultures develop spiritual and religious practices. Strong as is the instinct to ignore weaknesses, there is nonetheless an ever present need to cope with them. I do not believe that we can ever vanquish the slightly bitter taste which appears in our mouth when we realize how imperfect we are. Therefore, the professional religious person, be they pastor, priest, monk, shaman, witch, or psychotherapist, must accept the fact that human instinct first looks upon them as evil, because it is naively associating those who acknowledge sin and weakness with the weakness itself.

I believe the proper solution to this problem is to counteract the negative instinctive tendency with good diplomacy and compassion. The whole business is not unlike how we might view trash collectors or plumbers. The very idea that we generate trash or that something is wrong with the plumbing is unpleasant. The original negativity must be countered by familiarity and trusting relationships built over time. The mature mind is able to acknowledge weakness and accept it as a fact of life. Such a mature mind can see the need for spiritual professionals in the same light. I won’t go into a discussion of the negative experiences produced through professionals’ being either incompetent or downright malicious – it’s a different topic.

The spiritual professional, therefore, needs some protection, granted by the mature members of the society, against the instinctive rejection of what he or she does by its youthful members. And when I say instinctive, I mean it. I speak not of conscious rejection, but of the deep-rooted instinct built into our gene pool by millions of years of merciless natural selection. It is both convenient and necessary for people to begin life in a modern culture by trivializing the power of the instincts I speak of here, and it is to be fully expected.

I believe the only solution for a society with a mature sprituality is to have its spiritual professionals – be they priests, shamans, etc.- to be granted a status of importance by the elders, sufficient to prevent their being scapegoated by a youthful mob. A spiritual professional, if he or she is any good, has the job of dealing with precisely those things which people wish would be the sole concern of other people and never their own concern. Only time, experience and human consciousness can allow a person to see the beam in his own eye as opposed to the mote in his brother’s eye. And only when this consciousness is generalized and understood as part of the human condition can a person consciously defend the spiritual professional from those who do not understand him or her.