A Series On Humanity’s Nature, Our Motivations, Our Flaws and How These Manifest In Our Lives
Part One: The Jungian Thing
The essence of the duality of man is conatained in the statement: All of humanity has the propensity and ablity for both good and evil inherently. That is to say you can both kill and destrory without hesitation but also love and forgive at will merely by virtue of being alive. These two concepts, good and evil in purest form, are epitomized by the mythological idea of angels and demoms. Similar ideas have existed all throughout history and cutlure and have been represented by symbols such as the Yin-Yang and Lady Justice. Many think it is either religion and/or god that decides if a person is good or evil, others think that the existence of both means both are needed for a kind of deity desired balance and/or life is in some way a test, that somehow being more good, like the so-called devout, yields better fortunes now or in an afterlife. Early people believed that it possible to either escape evil, rise above it, or defeat it, to become something more than human, a demi-god, mythological kin to the angel and demon. These ideas are personified, in the real world, by the ideas of the hero and the villian, one a friend or leader who is both deserving of acollades and humble enough to turn or give them away, the other an enemy or nemesis that will bring about suffering and collapse without care for anything or anyone. It is easy to see that not only do we have many ideas and words surrounding the “pure” facets of man’s duality but that we are still exploring this glaring reality to this day.
It wouldn’t be foolish to say that, with our many words and ideas surrounding duality, one cannot be an archetype in one sense solely in duality, that one is either purely good or purely evil is to some degree rare. Carl Jung, a well known and respected psychiatrist who studied along side Freud, broke new ground in a captivating realm of study we now call psychiatry. He came up with the idea of achetypes in psychiatry and while his observations are brilliant they are also more subtle than simply a hero and villian. He argued that we had what he called a collective unconscious, a blanket of unconsciously selected archetypes we play out like the Great Mother, Father, Child, Wise Man and so on. It was part of our “required spiritual experience,” as he saw it, to fufill these archetypes to be fufilled ourselves. It is worth noting that Jung was something of a pantheist, which seems to play some role in the idea of collective unconscious and while I do not share his belief in deities I do recognize his brilliance in understanding that the world, or rather those in it, is on a spectrum. I would like to think that if Jung were alive today he would reevaluate his own idea of archetypes as being either too broad or not broad enough as even with the rather large list of Jungian archetypes humanity runs a vast gamut of actions and inactions.
But if good and evil are not archetypes then what exactly is good and evil? And how do we fit into them? The words good and evil themselves are somewhat broad and concise at the same time. Good for one is bad for another, those who flourish under one circumstance die in another, we understand these sentences and get that it depends on circumstance; perspective. Jung saw people on a spectrum, granted somewhat vague in its rigitity, but as it seems our spectrum is either exceptionally broad or there is more than a single spectrum upon which we sit. It is the actions we take and the amount of lives that action touches that decides our impact on whether people call us good or evil. Our nature is never decided by us but by those around us and we will always see ourselves as the hero and never as the villian, no matter what others might say. Our actions are almost always justified by our minds, rarely do we set out to do harm and when we do it it tends to have a point, not harm for the sake or pleasure of it.The most mind bending of which is the action of vengence, to seek harm on another in retribution for a previous harm. Even if we assume the person seeking vengence will in no way trigger other negative consequences we still tarry over whether or not to harm another simply because we feel we should out of the idea of payment. Conventional wisdom says that if the person seeking revenge acts on it, even if no one will know, not even the other person, than that person, especially if no one knows, is a bad person or, in other words, evil. This is a sound concept that I have found holds up in many case but often times, in our zeal to point out or stop evil we, as Friedrich Neitzche once brilliantly pointed out, become the monsters we go to fight.
Much of what we deem good and evil is based on perspective, our own view of the actions of others based upon our knowledge, experience, and biases. That is what I believe Jung spoke of in his idea of collective unconscious, or rather what he was driving at by simply stumbling onto unknown territory through his own limited perspective. We are aware that we are part of something greater, not a force or god as we often mistake it, but that we are a part of nature and each other. It is our nature, our duality, that enables us to survive, we recognize that in each other. Violence is a useful survival tool, it’s the first one in fact and has shown itself to be a reliable and indispensable one. But our ancestors were amongst the first of all our mammalian ancestors to realize that cooperation and shared knowledge are much more effective tools for survival. From our first images of man to our modern metropolises we are always depicted as together, never alone. It is an instinct, we feel a connection to others around us, deeply. Even though sometimes it may not seem like that is an across the board concept, it is. We find it hard to remember a small boy in Japan is bouncing his ball, playing happily while I sleep, both of us oblivious to each others existence but we are connected, we just forget or we choose to ignore it either out of fear or pain. We yearn for others, it is why we travel, why we invent cars, planes, phones, TVs, and so on. These are devices for communication and commuting, the connection and contact between humans. It is through our evolution we gained this biological recognition of “two heads are better than one” and it is through our evolution that our duality is born. Despite how far we’ve come and everything we’ve acheived we are still beholden to our first, oldest and most reliable survival technique. Violence.
It is the competition between our evolved prefrontal cortex and our animalistic snake brain that drives our duality. We know that it is better to sacrifice and care for others in the long run but our desire to run or use violence provides quick and easy results that we find hard to turn away from. We lean on old things because they are familiar, we trust them even when we know they will cause us harm, we reason that any harm caused to us or others, by our previous actions, can be justified. We lie to ourselves saying that we don’t need to sacrifice or alter behavior, that we can use harm here or there and any harm to us or others is mitigated and ourselves never suspected. Often times the old ways are unavoidable, we have to use harm and so risk falling yet again into the trap that leads to evil. We steadfastly tell ourselves, and one another, that we are great explorers with the knowledge of the ages peering fearlessly into dark places when in reality we are soft, scared, little animals desperately seeking shelter in a world devoid of both light and dark. We huddle together and tell each other it will all be OK when we know it won’t be. Some of you might see this as grim or harsh and there is truth to that, but in that huddle resides the opposite of the cruelty and malice I spoke of before. In that huddle resides kindness, compassion, empathy and brotherhood. All that which we hold dear lives in those moments. When that friend who is always there lifts you yet again from the roiling mass that is humanity and you feel that sense of togetherness and comradery, that is the joy that is good born out strife. It is at those times when we huddle closest and the storm is most fierce that we truly shine, we feel the most together, most alive. Only in defense of evil, manmade or natural, are we the most good.
So what is good and evil and how do we fit in it? Good is the joy and security we get from relying on others and, especially without being asked, aiding others through reciprocity. And evil? Evil is avoiding the huddle because you hate the people in it and sabataging the huddle because you are not a part of it, evil is selfishness with total disregard for life. Good and evil are things, a way of describing how one person or group sees the actions of another, we are not defined by them, we shape them with time and action and we are shaped by them, and in turn, shape others. No person can be said to be good or evil because they are both and neither, no one is beyond redemption and no one is beyond corruption. We can overcome or succomb to, by nature or by man, every action we take, as we are always victims of our own designs. Whether our intentions pure or corrupt, so long as we are alive, it is not the action we took last that decides our fate but the action we take next. It is, by that measure, poetically fitting that our dualistic nature is what has lifted us a species up and may yet drag us back down. We are both the roiling mass and the huddle.