September 17, 2004

1. Silent Superiority

We had another Socrates Café recently, and we discussed “what makes a good leader?” The moderator, Albert Lee, began by quoting Lyndon Johnson (the former President): “Sometimes you have to just stand there and take it, like a jackass in a hailstorm.” A leader may be characterized by composure and silence. This reminded someone of the Zuni Indian practice of choosing a leader not for his eloquence, but for his silence. I was reminded of a passage from The Sound and the Fury in which Faulkner says that people are “convinced of anything by an assumption of silent superiority”; people have a habit of “attributing wisdom to a still tongue.”1 The best argument is often silence.

When Ted Kennedy first ran for the Senate, he had a debate with a primary opponent (a fellow Democrat). His older brother, John Kennedy, advised him “he’s going to hit you hard, and you’re going to have to keep your cool.” Ted was indeed attacked, but he assumed a posture of “silent superiority,” he stood there and took it like a jackass in a hailstorm, and he emerged victorious from the primary.

Marie-Louise von Franz, Jung’s disciple, says that the best response to evil is no response — retire into oneself, retire into The Self (to use the Jungian term):

Buddha... did not fight evil. He retired from it and made himself invulnerable by invisibility. There is a famous Indian legend in which Mara, the ruler of the demons, finally had enough of Buddha and his teaching, which was weakening his powers over man. He planned a general attack of all evil powers and mobilized all the million devils he had in the underworld. All armed and in a well-organized manner, they went to destroy Buddha. But Buddha did not let himself be crucified like Christ, nor did he fight like a sun hero. He simply was not there! In temples you can see the famous sculptures with the empty lotus throne of Buddha and all the twenty-thousand demons brandishing their weapons, looking most disappointed because Buddha was not at home and they couldn’t find him! This introverted way of not fighting evil or getting involved in its emotional or other effects, but of simply stepping back into the inner emptiness of the Self has become in the East a conscious collective teaching. In Western stories we find it mainly in the realm of fairy tales as a kind of compensatory trend against more active hero ideals.2

To step back from evil is easier said than done. As von Franz says elsewhere, many people can assume a posture of “silent superiority” without actually letting go of the anger that burns inside them.3

2. Philosophy of History

I recently received e-mail from a Phlit subscriber in California:

Last night I was talking with my significant other. The topic of conversation: the death of philosophy. My boyfriend suggested that philosophy has become extremely specialized, and really, there were no more philosophers per se.4 In fact, he suggested the only real, practicing philosophers we had any more were day-time-talk-show hosts.

I said, well, what about this person, Jim Hammond? I described your work and newsletters to him and he speculated there was maybe just you, and that was it!

She concluded her message with a question: “To be considered a bona fide ‘philosopher’ does one have to advance an original worldview?”

I began typing a response: “No. Take Thoreau, for example; he wrote about nature, travels, the simple life. He didn’t have an original worldview. Or take Montaigne; he wrote about all sorts of things, but he didn’t have an original worldview. Or Alan Watts; he wrote about the Zen worldview, he didn’t have an original worldview.”

As I typed, I suddenly realized, “she’s talking about me!” I’m the person who doesn’t “advance an original worldview,” I’m the person who may not be a “bona fide philosopher.” It’s easy to see where this thought comes from: I spend so much time discussing other writers, and quoting other writers, that a reader naturally concludes “he doesn’t have an original worldview, so he may not be a bona fide philosopher.”5

There may be many deficiencies in my work, but a lack of originality isn’t one of them. I may not have the poetic/literary talent that Nietzsche had, or the practical earthiness of Thoreau, or the personal charm of Montaigne, or the sustained exposition of Alan Watts. And these are important virtues, no doubt, perhaps more important than originality. But none of these philosophers set forth a theory more original, or more vast-and-sweeping, than my theory of history. Don’t be fooled by my apparent lack of originality. I discuss other writers frequently, and I discuss the sources of my own theories, precisely because I have complete confidence in the originality of my work.

Perhaps you’re thinking, “I studied your philosophy of history. It draws on Freud, on Hegel, on Nietzsche. How can you call that an original theory — much less a very original theory?” Every thinker draws on his predecessors; as Newton put it, “if I’ve seen further than other men, it’s because I’ve stood on the shoulders of giants.” Every thinker stands on the shoulders of giants. But no thinker reveals his sources more candidly than I’ve done, hence I leave myself open to the charge of lacking originality. I’m confident that, if any theory can be called “original,” my theory of history is original. My theory of history is a new paradigm in the humanities, and it will have an impact on many different branches of the humanities.

“But your theory occupies only one chapter of a short book. How can it be ‘vast-and-sweeping’ if it occupies so few pages?” Schopenhauer was a philosopher with one big idea, one vast-and-sweeping idea, and he could express it in a single sentence. A vast idea doesn’t necessarily occupy a vast number of pages. Some philosophies of history, such as Spengler’s and Toynbee’s, occupy thousands of pages, but they aren’t more original, or more vast, than my philosophy of history.

“I haven’t heard of your theory before, so I guess it is original.” An original philosophical idea must be more than just new, it must also be true, it must reflect an aspect of reality. If you pick someone at random from a phone-book, they’re capable of a new idea; anyone is capable of a new idea. If a philosophical theory is to deserve the title “original,” it must be more than just new.

“How can I tell if your theory is ‘more than just new,’ how can I tell if your theory is true? Have you supported your idea with evidence? Have you proven it?” Philosophical ideas are generally incapable of proof; proof is for geometry, not for the humanities. As for evidence, it is often ‘in the eye of the beholder’; one person’s evidence is another person’s bullshit. Copernicus supplied some evidence to support his heliocentric theory, but his theory didn’t gain acceptance for about two centuries; even the leading thinkers of the day couldn’t say whether the heliocentric or the geocentric theory was true. There was evidence on both sides. And in the current debate about the identity of Shakespeare, each side has “evidence,” which the other side regards as bullshit. Perhaps evidence can’t help us much with an original theory, perhaps we must feel the truth, smell the truth, see the truth. Can anyone do this? Or can only another philosopher see the truth?

Just as evidence has little to do with receiving a theory, so too evidence has little to do with creating a theory. My theory wasn’t the end result of prolonged research, and a mountain of evidence; my theory just came to me, just fell in my lap — manna from heaven. An original theory is like a rainbow: it appears, we see it. Somehow we know it’s true. As Emerson put it, “Every man discriminates between the voluntary acts of his mind and his involuntary perceptions, and knows that to his involuntary perceptions a perfect faith is due.”6 Schopenhauer made the same point: “Deep truths may be perceived, but can never be excogitated.”7 What Emerson and Schopenhauer refer to as “perception” is what others have called “intuition.” Whatever we call it, it is our best tool for discovering original ideas.

The perception of original ideas is generally the privilege of youth, and so it was in my case. As Schopenhauer put it, “If we are to be acquainted with deep truths, everything depends upon a proper use of our early years.... Youth is the time for forming fundamental conceptions.”8 I began writing my book of aphorisms in the summer of ’84, when I was 22. Since then, I’ve revised the book countless times. The only chapter that has remained largely intact is the chapter on the philosophy of history.

3. Jung

I recently broke away from the confines of our book group, and did some free reading: “The Relations Between the Ego and the Unconscious”, an important early work by Jung. It’s a rather short work — 114 pages in volume 7 of Jung’s Collected Works. It probably isn’t suitable for the book group because it’s obscure at times; even though I’ve read lots of Jung, I still got lost in certain paragraphs. Jung admits that it’s an obscure work.

The subject of the essay is how one becomes an individual, how one achieves what Jung calls “individuation”, how one finds the center of one’s being, the “self”. This is the kind of book I like to read: it speaks directly to you, it speaks about your own life, it helps you to understand yourself better, and it points the way to spiritual growth, to improving yourself and your life.

I hope to discuss this essay in detail at some point, but for now I’d like to discuss just the last chapter (I’m going to spare you — for the moment). The last chapter is called “The Mana-Personality” — that is, “the mighty man in the form of hero, chief, magician, medicine-man, saint, the ruler of men and spirits, the friend of God.”9 When we identify with the Mana-Personality (as we’re prone to do), the result is inflation; we become “big-headed.” The Mana-Personality is a male figure, and casts his spell on men. But he has a female counterpart, who casts her spell on women:

The figure of the magician [that is, the Mana-Personality] has a no less dangerous equivalent in women: a sublime, matriarchal figure, the Great Mother, the All-Merciful, who understands everything, forgives everything, who always acts for the best, living only for others, and never seeking her own interests, the discoverer of the great love, just as the magician is the mouthpiece of the ultimate truth. And just as the great love is never appreciated, so the great wisdom is never understood. Neither, of course, can stand the sight of the other.10

The Mana-Personality is a male figure that casts its spell on men, and prevents them from becoming themselves, from finding themselves. The Mana-Personality is an “adulteration” of the ego “with a figure of the same sex corresponding to the father-imago, and possessed of even greater power.”11 Though it may seem that the young man has liberated himself from his parents, and become an individual, a mature adult, he can fall under the sway of a second father, the Mana-Personality, and this will require a second liberation. The Mana-Personality prevents one from becoming oneself; identifying with the Mana-Personality, one becomes “a superman, superior to all powers, a demigod at the very least.”12 Jung suggests that Jesus may have fallen under the influence of the Mana-Personality, prompting him to say “I and the Father are one.”13

The Mana-Personality is an image or archetype from the unconscious, the collective unconscious. The power of this image is one form of power that the unconscious wields. The unconscious grabs power whenever the conscious mind acts like The Big Boss, whenever the conscious mind thinks that it has defeated the unconscious. The unconscious doesn’t grab power as long as the conscious mind is humble, listens to the unconscious, and respects the unconscious. The unconscious doesn’t encroach as long as the conscious mind doesn’t encroach.

If the ego drops its claim to victory, possession by the magician [that is, the Mana-Personality] ceases automatically.... When the ego makes no claim to power there is no possession, that is to say, the unconscious too loses its ascendancy. In this situation the mana must have fallen to something that is both conscious and unconscious, or else neither. This something is the desired “mid-point” of the personality, that ineffable something betwixt the opposites... the coming to birth of personality.14

Thus, Jung encourages us to become ourselves, to find our center, by liberating ourselves from the Mana-Personality. The Mana-Personality is an unconscious image, an archetype, and archetypes can obstruct personal growth, just as playing a social role can obstruct personal growth. An introvert may be drawn away from himself by the power of an unconscious image (such as the Mana-Personality), while an extrovert may be drawn away from himself by the power of a social role (such as the role of General or Priest or Executive). As long as we’re under the sway of the Mana-Personality, our growth is stunted, whether we’re under the sway of someone else’s Mana-Personality, or identify with the Mana-Personality ourselves:

Possession by an archetype turns a man into a flat collective figure, a mask behind which he can no longer develop as a human being, but becomes increasingly stunted. One must therefore beware of the danger of falling victim to the dominant of the Mana-Personality. The danger lies not only in oneself becoming a father-mask, but in being overpowered by this mask when worn by another. Master and pupil are in the same boat in this respect.15

[After I released this issue of Phlit, I received e-mail about the Mana-Personality, and responded as follows:

I guess I should have explained that better. It’s clear to me, because I lived through it. For me, the Mana-Personality was Nietzsche, the Great Philosopher, the embodiment of wisdom and power, the ideal human being, the person that I should try to become. The Mana-Personality is an exalted being, one that possesses wisdom and power, that tells you how to live, that sets an example for you to follow. Men, especially introverted men, are perhaps more prone to the attraction of the Mana-Personality than women are. I was very prone to it, and felt its attraction very strongly. Perhaps I still feel it, though to a lesser degree. Whether its effect is positive or negative is difficult to say. Nietzsche emphasizes its positive aspect, Jung its negative aspect. It certainly takes one away from oneself, and that may be bad, but it also inspires one, and that may be good. Perhaps we should think of the Mana-Personality as a stage on life’s way, but not a destination.]

In Jung’s view, liberation from the Mana-Personality is part of the process of spiritual growth, a process that Jung compares to a primitive initiation rite. In earlier times, people reached maturity by going through a process of initiation.

All primitive groups and tribes that are in any way organized have their rites of initiation, often very highly developed, which play an extraordinarily important part in their social and religious life. Through these ceremonies boys are made men, and girls women.... Initiations have survived among all cultures. In Greece the ancient Eleusinian mysteries were preserved, it seems, right into the seventh century of our era. Rome was flooded with mystery religions. Of these Christianity was one, and even in its present form it still preserves the old initiation ceremonies, somewhat faded and degenerated, in the rites of baptism, confirmation, and communion.16

One of the chief goals of initiation is to sever the young person from his parents, and help him to become a mature adult. According to Jung, the goal of baptism and other initiation rites is “severance from the ‘carnal’ (or animal) parents, and rebirth in novam infantiam [in a new infancy], into a condition of immortality and spiritual childhood.”17

But many people today receive no help in reaching maturity; the old systems of initiation have either disappeared entirely or have become a shadow of their former selves. If, however, we listen to our own unconscious, it can initiate us, it can guide us. Unconscious fantasies

are not so wild and unregulated as a naive intelligence might think; they pursue definite, unconscious lines of direction which converge upon a definite goal. We could therefore most fittingly describe these [unconscious] fantasies as processes of initiation.... The whole symbolism of initiation rises up, clear and unmistakable, in the unconscious contents.18

Jung has a positive, constructive attitude toward religious rites, and toward unconscious fantasies; he believed that both religious rites and unconscious fantasies aim at spiritual growth.

By attempting to understand our dreams and fantasies, we can assist the process of spiritual growth: “When the conscious mind participates actively and experiences each stage of the process, or at least understands it intuitively, then the next image always starts off on the higher level that has been won.”19 If we respect the unconscious, and listen to its wisdom, it becomes our friend rather than our enemy. If we don’t respect the unconscious, the result is “autonomous complexes, disturbing factors that break through the conscious control and act like true ‘disturbers of the peace’.”20

Jung says that man often places the image of the Mana-Personality in the outside world, calls it God, and worships it. Thus, an image that began in our own unconscious is projected into the outside world, and given concrete form (“concretized,” as Jung would say). Jung regards the traditional, popular, Western view of God as a Mana-Personality, a projected and concretized Mana-Personality. He opposes this view of God for three reasons:

  1. it diverts our attention from our own souls, our own inner world
  2. it ascribes such a high value to God that man ends up despising himself
  3. it creates the need for a complement to God — namely, the Devil

It is now quite possible [writes Jung] that, instead of identifying with the mana-personality, one will concretize it as an extramundane “Father in Heaven,” complete with the attribute of absoluteness — something that many people seem very prone to do.... The logical result is that the only thing left behind here is a miserable, inferior, worthless, and sinful little heap of humanity.... On psychological grounds, therefore, I would recommend that no God be constructed out of the archetype of the mana-personality. In other words, he must not be concretized, for only thus can I avoid projecting my values and non-values into God and Devil, and only thus can I preserve my human dignity, my specific gravity.21

Perhaps you’re thinking, “if Jung opposes this conception of God, does that mean he’s an atheist? Or does he have a different conception of God?” Jung equates God with our own unconscious; that is, he finds God within, instead of projecting God outside. He says that the unconscious is greater than the ego, beyond the ego, just as God is beyond man. Thus, finding God within ourselves doesn’t mean the apotheosis of man, or the abasement of God. Jung respects both God and the unconscious — or should I say, he equates God and the unconscious, respects them, and sees them as beyond our limited ego, our rational mind. But while he respects God/unconscious, he doesn’t see it as wholly Good, Moral and Pure. On the contrary, he has a keen interest in the dark side of God/unconscious, and he thinks that religion degenerates when God is regarded as wholly Good. We must acknowledge (Jung says) the evil in our own soul and in God.

[When] we make use of the concept of a God [Jung writes] we are simply formulating a definite psychological fact, namely the independence and sovereignty of certain psychic contents which express themselves by their power to thwart our will, to obsess our consciousness and to influence our moods and actions. We may be outraged at the idea of an inexplicable mood, a nervous disorder, or an uncontrollable vice being, so to speak, a manifestation of God. But it would be an irreparable loss for religious experience if such things, perhaps even evil things, were artificially segregated from the sum of autonomous psychic contents.... The personality is not enriched by it, only impoverished and smothered. What seems evil... might on a higher level of experience and knowledge appear as the source of the best — everything depending, naturally, on the use one makes of one’s seven devils.... The living form needs deep shadow if it is to appear plastic. Without shadow it remains a two-dimensional phantom, a more or less well brought-up child.22

Clearly, Jung respects evil (in man and in God), and rejects the idea of complete moral purity (in man and in God). Nietzsche had a similar respect for evil, and expressed himself much as Jung does. Respecting evil, however, is like walking along the edge of a cliff: one small step, and you begin to embrace evil and worship evil. The Jung-Nietzsche view makes man into an interesting creature indeed — a battleground of Good and Evil forces, a blend of dark and light, a basket of tensions and contradictions, capable of great achievements and of spiritual growth, yet possessing evil impulses that are universal and ineradicable.

Jung’s God is both good and evil — like the God of the Old Testament. Jung’s view “makes God into a moral problem — and that, admittedly, is very uncomfortable. But if this problem does not exist, God is not real, for nowhere can he touch our lives. He is then either an historical and intellectual bogey or a philosophical sentimentality.”23 In his book Answer To Job, Jung traces the evolution of God, from the morally ambiguous God of the Old Testament, to the morally pure God of Christian times.

Perhaps you’re thinking, “if Jung equates God with the unconscious, if he equates God with ‘autonomous psychic contents,’ then why use the word ‘God’ at all, why not just use the word ‘unconscious’?” Jung argues that ‘God’ is an apt word because it suggests that the unconscious is a superior force, a force far beyond the ego, a force that we should humbly listen to:

If we leave the idea of ‘divinity’ quite out of account and speak only of ‘autonomous contents,’ we maintain a position that is intellectually and empirically correct, but we silence a note which, psychologically, should not be missing. By using the concept of a divine being we give apt expression to the peculiar way in which we experience the workings of these autonomous contents.... By affixing the attribute ‘divine’ to the workings of autonomous contents, we are admitting their relatively superior force. And it is this superior force which has at all times constrained men to ponder the inconceivable, and even to impose the greatest sufferings upon themselves in order to give these workings their due. It is a force as real as hunger and the fear of death.24

Jung says that conscience is essentially command, law, “thou shalt”. Only a few people can do without conscience, only a few can follow their own soul:

Mankind is, in essentials, psychologically still in a state of childhood — a stage that cannot be skipped. The vast majority needs authority, guidance, law. [The] overcoming of the law [as in St. Paul’s teaching] falls only to the man who knows how to put his soul in the place of conscience.... We must bethink ourselves not so much of what we ‘ought’ to do as of what we can and must do.25

Jung goes beyond conscience, goes beyond good and evil, and rejects the ideal of moral purity. Thus, Jung comes close to Nietzsche. In his youth, Jung had great admiration for Nietzsche, and he never completely lost this admiration. In his mature years, Jung seemed to see himself as a rival of Nietzsche, a rival for the respect of the rising generation, a rival for the title The Prophet of Our Time. Hence Jung aims some critical comments at Nietzsche, comments that have a tone of rivalry. Nietzsche’s ideal, says Jung, is

the masterman and supreme sage who knows neither God nor devil. With Nietzsche man stands alone, as he himself did, neurotic, financially dependent, godless, and worldless. This is no ideal for a real man who has a family to support and taxes to pay. Nothing can argue the reality of the world out of existence, there is no miraculous way round it.26

This sounds like the anti-Nietzsche comments of Hermann Hesse. Like Jung, Hesse was a Swiss writer who started out as an admirer of Nietzsche. Hesse was born in 1877, two years after Jung, and died in 1962, one year after Jung. Hesse is best known as the author of Siddhartha. In his late work Magister Ludi (also known as The Glass Bead Game), Hesse criticized Nietzsche for being too lofty, too intellectual.

My own experience leads me to believe that dreams do indeed contain a certain wisdom; they speak directly to us, advise us, expose our shortcomings. And Jungian studies help us to understand our dreams. If you’re interested in Jung’s approach, but don’t want to read Jung or his immediate disciples, there are some contemporary Jungian writers of interest. One is Robert A. Johnson, author of Owning Your Own Shadow: Understanding the Dark Side of the Psyche, and Inner Work: Using Dreams and Creative Imagination for Personal Growth and Integration. A second is James Hollis, author of The Middle Passage: From Misery to Meaning in Midlife. A third is James Hillman, author of The Soul’s Code: In Search of Character and Calling.

© L. James Hammond 2004
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1. The Sound and the Fury, “June Second, 1910”, p. 75 of Norton Critical Edition back
2. Shadow and Evil in Fairy Tales, Part II, ch. 6, p. 246 back
3. see Shadow and Evil in Fairy Tales, Part II, ch. 4, p. 182 back
4. As Allan Bloom said, “Philosophy hardly exists today.”(The Closing of the American Mind: How Higher Education Has Failed Democracy and Impoverished the Souls of Today’s Students, III, 1, iii) back
5. My apparent lack of originality can also be ascribed to the fact that I may lack “completeness”; as I said in an earlier issue, “It isn’t easy for a philosopher in our time to achieve completeness; he has more to learn than earlier philosophers had.” back
6. “Self-Reliance” back
7. Counsels and Maxims, 5. As Coleridge said, “Deep Thinking is only attainable by a man of deep Feeling... all Truth is a species of Revelation.” back
8. ibid back
9. ¶377 back
10. ¶379 back
11. ¶380 back
12. ibid back
13. ibid back
14. ¶382 back
15. ¶390 back
16. ¶384 back
17. ¶393 back
18. ¶¶384, 385 back
19. ¶386 back
20. ¶387 back
21. ¶¶394, 395 back
22. ¶400 back
23. ¶402 back
24. ¶403 back
25. ¶¶401, 397 back
26. ¶397 back