Transcendent anarchy

June Singer’s Boundaries of the Soul: The Practice of Jung’s Psychology, first published forty years ago, makes for very interesting reading and one particular section suggests strong parallels with the psychology of anarchism.

Note that this is not an attempt to devalue the significance of the individuation process on a personal level or to relate Singer’s work purely to certain political interests in some glib and superficial manner!

Indeed, the processes that lead to inner realisation and wholeness are as important for an anarchist as the external action that he or she undertakes.

There would be nothing strange in this thought for Carl Jung, immersed as he was in the alchemical tradition of microcosm and macrocosm, of correspondences between all levels of existence.

Anyway, the paragraph that first leads us in that direction is concerned with the reasons for which an individual develops a neurosis. Singer explains that it is not some kind of random mental fault, but that there is a purpose behind it.

She writes: “This involves correction of some conscious attitude that prevents the individual from more fully realizing his total capacity. When normal productive means of achieving one’s purpose are blocked off, neurosis develops as an effort to find a way over or around the obstruction.”

This echoes the metaphor of “antibodies” being activated to fight off the mental disease currently affecting humanity. When the natural self-correcting processes of society are blocked – by all the levels of repression and control that protect the status quo – then a neurosis develops as an “an effort to find a way over or around the obstruction”.

Those who look aghast at the confrontational approach recommended by anarchists have failed to understand its context. While the society to which anarchists look forward is peaceable and co-operative ( unlike the current so-called “order” which has to be imposed by violent force), the path to that is blocked and the only way to breach the block is to temporarily assume a more pro-active form.

This urgent need for action on the social level is reflected in Singer’s description of the individual process, when she says there is no time for self-pity or regrets and that “today we know what our task is and, therefore, today we must address ourselves to it”.

She writes that much individual emotional disturbance is due to “a lack of correspondence between the conscious orientation and the unconscious purposes” and we could continue the parallel on to the macrocosmic social level.

Millions of people today simply cannot cope with living in the modern world, in which our lives are so denuded of meaning. Increasing numbers take anti-depressants, others take to drink or drugs, most somehow numb themselves to a wider external reality that is too depressing or frightening to really think about. The buried awareness of our plight is our shared unconscious.

Meanwhile, at the same time, we are offered no alternative to this world. The confines of permissible thought are drawn tightly around variations on the same capitalist, industrialist, materialist theme. Anything else is derided as laughable, unrealistic or dangerous. This, on a political level, is our conscious orientation.

With an unconscious rejection of the modern world and a conscious commitment to preserving it, there is clearly a significant lack of correspondence between the two levels, leading to social neurosis.

The answer on an individual level, says Singer, is a third element called “the transcendent function”, which belongs neither to the ego sphere nor to the unconscious, and yet possesses access to each.

“It stands above them, participating in both. It is as though ego and unconscious were points at either end of the baseline of a triangle. The third element, at the apex of the triangle, transcends both the point of the ego and the point of the unconscious but is related to each of them. The transcendent function’s emergence grants autonomy to the ego and also to the unconscious by relating to both of them independently, and in doing so, unites them”.

This, on the larger scale, is the transcendent function of anarchy. Rooted in the collective unconscious of humanity, it is connected to the conscious political sphere but does not fully belong to it. The task for anarchism is to transcend the other two elements and thereby to unite them.

We must bring out the loathing of the capitalist-industrialist world that bubbles up in the unconscious soul of humanity and incorporate it into the realm of reality, of politics if you like, so that the neurosis of modernity can fulfil its purpose of freeing us from the prison of this civilization and allowing us to live naturally to our fullest and healthiest “total capacity”.

The life of the spirit

Reading a collection of essays and lectures by Carl Jung – Modern Man in Search of a Soul – has reminded of how, inspired as he was by the gnostic tradition, he very much forms part of what one could loosely term the ‘perennialist’ tradition.

I have, in fact, already referred to his work in both Antibodies and Anarchangels, but here are some more quotations on which to reflect:

 “But beyond that [the intellect] there is a thinking in primordial images – in symbols which are older than historical man; which have been ingrained in him from earliest times, and, eternally living, outlasting all generations, still make up the groundwork of the human psyche. It is only possible to live the fullest life when we are in harmony with these symbols; wisdom is a return to them.”
(The Stages of Life)

“We moderns are faced with the necessity of rediscovering the life of the spirit; we must experience it anew for ourselves. It is the only way in which we can break the spell that binds us to the cycle of biological events.”
(Freud and Jung)

“For thousands of years, rites of initiation have been teaching spiritual rebirth; yet, strangely enough, man forgets again and again the meaning of divine procreation. This is surely no evidence of a strong life of the spirit; and yet the penalty of misunderstanding is heavy, for it is nothing less than neurotic decay, embitterment, atrophy and sterility. It is easy enough to drive the spirit out of the door, but when we have done so the salt of life grows flat – it loses its savour.”
(Freud and Jung)