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Why You Need to Read Carl Jung
Jung taps into a part of the human experience we need
I have a weird compulsion where I'm always adding new books so I don't run out of things to read. This is particularly rampant when it comes to the psychology of Carl Jung.
Jordan Peterson, the modern torchbearer of many of Carl Jung's ideas, has said himself that Jung is fucking hard to read.
So did Jung. That's why Jung finished his last book, "Man and His Symbols," just ten days before he died at 86 and was a simple introduction to his work.
Today, the West needs a resurgence of Jungian thought beyond Canadian academics. The central tenet of Jungian philosophy is that archetypes have a transcendent value and that value is more real than anything. Fairy tales, myths, ancient stories — there are universal symbols all around that touch you at a deep, metaphysical level.
"The archetypes are, so to speak, organs of prerational psyche, they are eternally inherited forms and ideas which have at first no specific content."
-Foreword to Tibetan Book of the Dead
I've read dozens of comments from people saying that Carl Jung's (and more recently Jordan Peterson's) framing of the literary nature of religious archetypes reset their previous reflexive disdain at traditional religious discourse. It was Jung’s ability to remind people that morality is most effectively communicated through stories—and that's what religions generally do—that seems to have struck a chord with people.
After all, most people enjoy stories— and Jesus seems less stupid when one is invited to simply examine the narrative according to the internal logic of the story, rather than getting hung up on the literalness of the metaphysics.
Here are the essential lessons I've taken away from Carl Jung and why you absolutely must read him:
Your Dark Side and Mastering Control Over It
There’s an excellent book detailing how regular people were turned into Nazis called “Ordinary Men: Reserve Police Battalion 101 and the Final Solution in Poland.” The author shows how a bunch of innocuous farmers were able to participate in genocide because they couldn’t say “no.”
They didn’t say NO when they saw their Jewish neighbors being rounded up.
They didn’t say NO when they were asked to wear a uniform and join the SS.
They didn’t say NO when they were asked to kill Jews, because they were afraid.
This is Carl Jung’s concept of the “shadow;” it’s the fact that we're all capable of terrible things especially when groupthink is involved. Jung also believed if you were the type of person who believed you wouldn’t fall into the temptation of being a Nazi then you were the exact person who would become one.
Here’s an excerpt from “Ordinary Men:”
“Evil that arises out of ordinary thinking and is committed by ordinary people is the norm, not the exception.”
According to Jung, the first step to mastering the shadow is admitting it exists within you. That’s hard for most people to do because it takes a deep meditation on all of your worst impulses and fears.
“Man and his Symbols” is a pretty good introduction to the Shadow. There is a full audiobook upload on YouTube.
Carl Jung on Introverted Rational Types
In Jung’s book “Psychological Types: Or, The Psychology of Individuation” he elaborates on the issues of being introverted:
“By the undervaluation of his own principle, his penchant towards egoism becomes unavoidable, which, of course, richly deserves the prejudice of the extravert. Were he only to remain true to his own principle, the judgment of ‘egoist’ would be radically false; for the justification of his attitude would be established by its general efficacy, and all misunderstandings dissipated.”
Carl Jung isn’t always easy to understand. He has his own sort of language that he has developed through excessive wizard-tier ruminations and writings on the depths of the psyche.
He's not wrong when he says introverted, rational people can be self-centered. They firmly believe their way is the only right way, and everyone else is wrong.
Jung also points out that people don’t like introverts because it’s not how we’re wired as a society. In fact, throughout each day you’re constantly sending sanity signals to the people around you (i.e. a smile, eye contact, posture) letting them know you’re a “normal” person.
Of course, if you’re creative and idiosyncratic you can diverge from the norm and people will like you for it — but too much and you’ll be in the asylum or probably in rehab.
And this doesn’t mean that extroverts are the ideal, but that we each must strive toward a balance — which is the key to a fulfilling life, according to Jung.
How to Interpret Dreams
The Ancient Greeks represented personality as different Gods like the Goddess of Love, the God of Wisdom, and the God of War all fighting for control of a person’s soul. If we weren’t careful these spirits would control us instead of the other way around.
Like his mentor Sigmund Freud, Jung believed that the best way to understand these different layers of the psyche was through dreams.
“Dreams are invariably seeking to express something that the ego does not know and does not understand.”
— Carl Jung, Collected Works of C. G. Jung, Volume 17
For Jung dreams were a way to access the unconscious mind and bring the contents of the shadow into light. Interpreting dreams is quite a skill developed over time, but as a general rule, ask yourself and your “heart” what each figure in your dream represents in relation to you.
One common dream is to find an extra room in your house flooded with water. This dream is interpreted to mean that you’ve accessed a sort of new emotion that you weren’t previously aware of. It could also represent the emotional anxiety you feel over newfound responsibility.
Once you’ve established a rough identity for each figure in the dream, you can interpret it according to how those characters interact and how they interact with you in the dream. Or, you could talk to a psychoanalyst.
Carl Jung’s Answer to Job
This is a personal favorite of mine.
In the book of Job tragedy falls on a man like a relentless storm. His family, wealth, and health are stripped away, leaving him a punch-drunk victim of misfortune. Everyone points fingers, accusing him of wrongdoing, but the truth is Job is an innocent soul in the death grip of a cosmic bet between God and Satan.
It’s the kind of story that turns people into atheists.
As Ivan Karamazov says in ‘The Brother’s Karamazov,’ “It’s not that I don’t believe in God, I don’t accept his world.”
Jung’s answer to this problem is that Job had the moral upper hand over God in the bible. Job bested God. But how could that be? He is God, isn’t he? To explain this Jung argues that God is unconscious; he’s unable to see his own shadow. It’s a mic drop moment.
However, through God’s torturing of Job, God realizes that he must try to better understand his creation. So what does he do? He creates Jesus Christ and through Jesus, He can suffer for the first time, become self-conscious, and redeem humanity.
The crazy part is that not even God himself can endure the pain of the world because on the cross Jesus famously says “God, why have you forsaken me?”
This interpretation of Job blew my mind when I read it.
It helped me shed light on existential questions I didn’t have answers for, like “If there is a God, then why does he allow evil to exist?” and “Why does he seem so distant?” I suggest reading “The Answer to Job” for yourself, even if you’re not religious. It’s a wild ride.
When I told a friend I was first reading Carl Jung in college she said, “Yeah, but that guy’s only good for understanding meaning. He isn’t practical.”
I think that’s a load of crap.
Young people especially today are conditioned to roll their eyes at anything spiritual that isn't neutered to the point of triviality and perched in the New Age literature section of their local bookstore. If there's any hope of "saving" the West, or at least making a soft landing as we slowly fall away from it, I think it's only going to come from an acquaintance with the old stories viewed through a literary lens the way we view the Homeric epics.
Otherwise the West will ultimately be bifurcated by fundamentalists and nihilists doing battle with no hope of cultural synthesis. Read Jung. Do it.
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