We’re all pretty familiar with the idea of ‘ going over to the dark side ’. What we’re usually a lot less aware of (if we’re conscious of it at all) is how very close this dark side is, how very far into it we’ve already gone…
For most of us, everything looks just fine. If there’s a problem then we see it as being localized, as being ‘out there somewhere’ rather than being inextricably woven into the very fabric of things, or inherent in our ‘way of being’. What we’re talking about here doesn’t exactly sound like a radically new idea – we can see it for ourselves every time we open our eyes! We can see that the system we live in is corrupt so that whilst everything looks fine and dandy on the outside, it’s actually totally rotten on the inside.
Corruption means that an outwardly healthy and vital appearance masks the complete absence of health and vitality on the inside. This is like a beautiful and apparently moral person who is actually completely wicked – a motif that’s very familiar to us from fairy tales. Clearly this deception is crucial for the system to continue – if we could see it for what it is then we’d do something about it. Evil does not announce itself as such!
We might therefore say that the inherent problem in our way of being is the social-economic system which manipulates and controls us so that we end up working to serve some abstract value – i.e. money – rather than working to benefit ourselves as the ‘non-abstract’ human beings we actually are. We could say that the malignancy in question has to do with the way in which the mechanical structure we’re all part of uses people purely as a means of generating profit rather than valuing us as actual people. The system is malign rather than benign, in other words, because it ‘treats us as slaves’.
This may be an insightful analysis of our situation, but it still doesn’t go to the root of things. The ‘root’ of the problem, we might say, is that we’re all psychologically unconscious. It is because we’re all in this modality that we’re heir to all the troubles and sufferings that unconsciousness brings. It sounds strange – to someone who hasn’t met the idea before – to say that we are psychologically ‘unconscious’. We certainly don’t feel unconscious, and we don’t exactly act this way either! The notion can be explained straightforwardly enough however – spiritual teachers often explain it by saying that we’re ‘asleep’. Or sometimes the metaphor used is that we’re ‘drunk’, as in verse 28 of the Gospel of Thomas –
Jesus said, “I took my stand in the midst of the world, and in flesh I appeared to them. I found them all drunk, and I did not find any of them thirsty. My soul ached for the children of humanity, because they are blind in their hearts and do not see, for they came into the world empty, and they also seek to depart from the world empty. But meanwhile they are drunk. When they shake off their wine, then they will change their ways.” See this.
If we’re asleep (or drunk) then this could spell trouble, because we could get into a fix without knowing it. We could start sleep-walking and fall down a hole, or we could end up following some Pied Piper and be led to our doom! If we’re foolish with drink we could allow ourselves to be influenced or controlled by anyone clever enough to take advantage of us. As Hitler is quoted as saying – “How fortunate for governments that the people they administer don’t think”.
We could also characterize ‘psychological unconsciousness’ as being when we just take everything totally for granted! Being ‘unconscious’ would mean therefore that we never question anything – that we just go along with whatever it is that’s happening. We’re entirely pliant, passive, submissive – helpless slaves either to whatever crisply authoritative voice happens to be barking in our ear, or whatever soothingly persuasive message it is that we are hearing from the multitudinous portals of our planet-wide media system…
‘Unconsciousness’ is therefore when we’re stubbornly and resolutely superficial, and make a point of never looking beneath the surface – either of ourselves or the world we’ve created. We don’t want to look beneath the surface! And what’s more, it’s guaranteed to be the case that at this stage that if we do so then we’re in for a very unpleasant surprise. We’re going to be brought face-to-face with something that we really don’t want to see!
What we’re talking about here is what Carl Jung called the shadow. Unconscious living – according to Jung – carries a penalty. There is a price-tag that comes with being so relentlessly superficial, and therefore so appallingly irresponsible in terms of ‘not wanting to know what’s really going on’. This shallowness and irresponsibility comes at a cost and that cost is the shadow. The shadow is in essence made up of rejected pain – inner pain that we’ve somehow disowned and dissociated from ourselves. In On the Psychology of the Unconscious (1912) Jung writes –
“It is a frightening thought that man also has a shadow side to him, consisting not just of little weaknesses – and foibles, but of a positively demonic dynamism. The individual seldom knows anything of this; to him, as an individual, it is incredible that he should ever in any circumstances go beyond himself. But let these harmless creatures form a mass, and there emerges a raging monster; and each individual is only one tiny cell in the monster’s body, so that for better or worse he must accompany it on its bloody rampages and even assist it to the utmost. Having a dark suspicion of these grim possibilities, man turns a blind eye to the shadow-side of human nature. Blindly he strives against the salutary dogma of original sin, which is yet so prodigiously true. Yes, he even hesitates to admit the conflict of which he is so painfully aware.”
As soon as the unconscious process of rejecting or disowning pain starts up at all it snowballs, it escalates, it becomes a runaway force of darkness about which we neither have any awareness, nor even the remotest interest in having it! This is inevitably going to be the case since if we want nothing to do with the pain when it’s relatively minor, then we’re going to be all the more unwilling to look at it after we’ve gone further down the road of denial, and the shadow as a consequence has become ever more sinister, ever more dark, ever more frightening and repellent. So we then find ourselves being in the unhappy position of having to reject it, having to disown it, having to deny it…
This constitutes something of a ‘basic psychological principle’, a principle that means once we start off going down the road of denial, then we’re bound to continue to the bitter end, despite the appalling lack of wisdom inherent in this choice. As Jung says, ‘…each individual is only one tiny cell in the monster’s body, so that for better or worse he must accompany it on its bloody rampages and even assist it to the utmost.’
This powerful idea is illustrated by Shakespeare’s lines from Macbeth (Act 3, Scene 4) –
By the worst means, the worst. For mine own good,
All causes shall give way: I am in blood
Stepp’d in so far that, should I wade no more,
Returning were as tedious as go o’er.
Strange things I have in head, that will to hand;
Which must be acted ere they may be scann’d.
The mythological motif of the shadow can be spotted in many places. It might be said that the ‘monster from the subconscious’ which terrorizes the crew of the Starship C57-D in the classic fifties science fiction movie Forbidden Planet is an eloquent metaphor for ‘the shadow self’ from Jungian depth psychology. The film itself (which is a reworking of Shakespeare’s The Tempest) uses the Freudian phrase ‘monsters from the Id’ to explain the invisible creature that terrorizes the crew and which was also responsible for wiping out the ancient race which fatefully created ‘the Great Machine’.
In Forbidden Planet we read that the last surviving member of the otherwise extinct Krell race, Morbius ‘finally accepts the truth: the creature is an extension of his own mind, “his evil self”’ – which is of course an extraordinarily clear description of the Jungian archetype of the shadow. So whilst we might identify the enemy, the oppressor, as being some malign external force that stalks the world, we could also say that the problem is actually in ourselves. We get the government we deserve; we get the social system we deserve! To quote the cartoonist Walt Kelly – “We have met the enemy and he is us”.
By Nick Williams | Staff Writer