What's Jung got to do with it?

11/17/2016 05:37 pm ET Updated Nov 12, 2017

What's Jung got to do with it?
By Carol Smaldino

Carl Jung, a psychoanalyst familiar to some of you as of crucial importance for his contribution of the shadow--the parts within us that we fear and therefore act as if they're not there--has added much to the psychology we might need to be grasping at this time in our history.

His little book The Undiscovered Self (1957) gives the reader a rather wonderful description of the shadow but does much more. He actually points out how a society that is overly invested in facts and objective information, can inhibit people from coming to their own sense of insight, direction and decision. In other words, facts can be used at certain times to inhibit a person from being in touch with his own intuition, sense of things and creativity.

Jung, ironically it may seem now, saw America as possibly becoming overtaken by dictatorship precisely because of our emphasis on the absoluteness of facts and science. (p. 40) My question right here has to do with whether we are undergoing a revolt against cultural biases in terms of the power of science and if many people are staging an absolute and blinded aversion to science to the point of negating it in daily life.

My gnawing interest, worry, at this point in time--after the Election of Donald Trump--has mostly to do with the aversion to knowledge of so many people to the point that we could obliterate the planet because of people saying that science is without value and is fake or biased. I imagine Leonardo DiCaprio -whose film on the acute, massive and immediate dangers of climate change is available on line on National Geographic television network--should meet Trump immediately, while Trump is at least in appearance appreciating experience and opinions diverse from his. Meanwhile I'd like to suggest some of us, those who are not comfortable taking to the street or joining an opposition right away, give some more consideration to the why of what we are all experiencing.

In my own experience of some of the bombardment of articles about the end of America, democracy, etc., I was most moved by a piece by Charles Eisenstein, entitled "The Election: Of Hate, Grief, and a New Story". His take on the Election is sobering in that he points out that had Hillary Clinton won we might have continued our illusion (those of us who consider ourselves liberals or progressives) that things were alright, when international aggressions, global warming, racism and corporate domination are and would have been still overwhelmingly present.

Eisenstein goes on to discuss the role of empathy, something that might seem an odd interjection, when people are still reeling, and terribly divided. He is talking about a way of approaching this scenario in ways that start a new story, and that have alternative elements in them, empathy being key. He writes: "It is time now to bring this question and the empathy it arouses into our political discourse as a new animating force. If you are appalled at the election outcome and feel the call of hate, perhaps try asking yourself, 'What is it like to be a Trump supporter?' Ask it not with a patronizing condescension, but for real, looking underneath the caricature of misogynist and bigot to find the real person."

In some ways this piece reminded me of an idea I had, and still have for some sort of column or podcast, whose title would be "How I got here", something which would focus on the underbelly of our stories, not only the daily dramas but also our politics. And actually, Jung belongs right here as well. In doing our work of reclaiming knowledge of the fears and the angers inside us, we wouldn't have to be blaming so much. In fact we could afford to be curious about how our own selfishness and fragilities stand in the way of our letting go of our own self-righteousness, egotism, and combativeness.

So what's Jung got to do with it? In fact he, in talking about imperfection, says some of the lines felt by many to be extremely poetic. Listen up, for what Jung is saying and how profound and relevant it may be. And listen up to the idea that we can think of love, connection and empathy as crucial parts of our political situation as we speak, at least potential so.

Jung writes on page 102, "A human relationship is not based on differentiation and perfection, for these only emphasize the differences...it is based, rather, on imperfection, on what is weak, helpless and in need of support--the very ground and motive of dependence. The perfect has no need of the other, but weakness has...it seeks support and does not confront its partner with anything that might force him into an inferior position and even humiliate him."

What's love got to do with it, right? Just when people are saying goodbye to America and democracy, I am getting all sentimental about wondering what of the chances to get to know our history, our differences, where we come from in those differences, with a new and fresher and more curious story line. This isn't so easy, even for the liberals among us who feel furious and betrayed, some even heartbroken.

I'm actually not so sure that liberals are better at this stuff, because it's hard to dismantle righteousness, one of the attitudes I feel may have alienated some parts of the population in the past.

None of this is easy, because it means giving up the grandiose cowboy in any of us, or the heroic image of peaceful caring, the better than citizen.

Jung said something else here too; we are all complicit. This is hard to digest: that as human beings we are all potential criminals. (p. 95). This is important news, because as (if) we own our imperfection better, we might better investigate ways of caring enough about each other to want to do something other than harm.