Washington D.C., June 18, 2015, (Alochonaa): In The Archetypes and the Collective Unconscious Carl Jung argued that besides the ‘personal unconscious’ there is also the collective one that is universally shared and is inherited. Based on preexisting dispositions, the collective unconscious is governed by such things common to human beings as power and loss, birth and death, elements that bind humans into a sort of collective soul or mind. It is of course important to consider that the unique culture and epoch in history play determining roles in shaping the nuances of the collective unconscious.
For example, collective unconscious in the time of Augustus and Christ differs in nuances from the era of Martin Luther and Holy Roman Emperor Charles V confronting Ottoman Sultan Suleiman the Magnificent. Similarly, the evolution of the capitalist economy in its embryonic stage during the time of Charles V and Suleiman began to shape collective unconscious as it did personal unconscious. The transition from a religious-based consciousness to a secular one, as manifested through the Renaissance movement and the Scientific Revolution begins to shape what historians call ‘modern man’, a concept referring to people living under a capitalist political economy and social structure so dominated culturally by the market system and its values.
Global wars and the Great Depression between them, as well as revolutionary movements during the 20th century clearly determined the nuances of the collective unconsciousness, as did the Cold War East-West confrontation that resulted in the demise of Communism and the triumph of capitalism under the neo-liberal model of globalization. Has globalization molded the ‘collective unconscious’ and subsumed individual free will (at least the illusion of it)? If so, is that a negative development because globalization is not rooted in predatory profit motive based on a hierarchical social model instead of humane-compassion-rooted conscience? If everything is for sale, why not thought and creativity, why not free will, or at least what is left of it for the individual to exercise?
People sell human organs as they once sold members of their family to slavery and as they still sell women in the Afro-Asian business of human trafficking. On occasion people even sell their ‘hardly used soul’ on EBAY for those interested in purchasing it for a few dollars so they can imitate Goethe’s Faust. People sell their bodies and minds, their services that invariably entails surrendering their ‘free will’.
Even worse, when the will of the other is subjugated by institutions a human being feels reduced to the level of a lower species, wrongly in my view, for a bird flies freely and fish swim the oceans and lakes without others of their own species imposing constrictive conditions.In a materialistic society people trade all traces of their humane and compassionate aspects, their dignity and independence for success as defined by a bourgeois value system – wealth, status, power and prestige.
Globalized collective unconscious in the early 21st century and selling of free will is a harsh reality shaped by material culture. “Selling ice to Eskimos” as a marketing strategy may sound absurd, but is it not the case that bottled water is now a global trend owing to marketing and not need? A person may be standing next to a water cooler, but will purchase a plastic bottle of water from the vending machine or cafeteria because his brain has been conditioned to do. Is this a case of surrendering free will to the marketing of bottled water or simply surrendering free thought to ‘prevailing trends’, and to what degree is there a difference? The age of mass politics and mass culture entails that markets and the state have co-opted and commercialized the individual and local and national culture – free will and collective unconsciousness.
Carl Jung correctly observed that from the dawn of civilization until the 20th century people believed the human soul is a substance with eternal life. In the last half century or so, contemporary science and the materialistic society’s institutions and value system have obviated the soul and left humans in an existential void. Perhaps this was an inevitable result that started with the rationalism of the Enlightenment as we see inCritique of Pure Reason by I. Kant, a philosopher whose works influenced Jung.
If there is no soul because modern society has obviated it, is there a free will, and if it exists, is it merely a another commodity no different than a bag of onions? Do humans have the ability to choose in an autonomous manner their thoughts, imagination, and actions any more than they can choose their dreams? In that respect how are we different than other animal species? Jung’s most famous concept of ‘collective unconscious’ developed in the 1920s, largely as a departure from Freudian psychology, has great relevance in today’s globalization culture that not only subordinates the individual into the cultural abyss of commercialism and its ideology, but local and national cultures and what Jung described as the ‘collective unconscious’ that today lacks any sense of humane-rooted conscience.
More than natural science, material conditions account for the collective unconscious that globalization shapes and subsumes as an integral part of the predatory market economy of which the individual is an extension. Subsumed in the globalized collective unconsciousness, the individual feels less significant and less confident of how free will shapes identity and destiny, thus less confident about life’s purpose and meaning that comes already defined by the natural sciences as conformed to serve the globalized materialistic culture.
Is free will an illusion, as teleology linked to free will has waned, or is free will a reality, otherwise, how else could human beings make countless choices in their lives – everything from choosing what to eat to choosing to commit a sin as their religion defines it? But do humans ‘choose’ what to eat from a predetermined set of foods, based on how they have been culturally conditioned what foods to eat, and based on cost, time of the day, and a host of other predetermined conditions of thought patterns rooted in human biology and psychology? Similarly, do people choose their sins – let us say homosexuality that Catholics define as sin, although bio-genetics points to the direction of genetic determinism?
Although the neuroscience of free will as almost as controversial as philosophical and religious discussions of the subject, it is a legitimate question to ask if it is possible to ascertain the nature of free will if emotions and thoughts are determined by electrochemical reactions within and between nerve cells. The technology exists today to predict that the brain has already committed to a decision before it is even aware of its action. Perhaps free will is an illusion and that it is so could be supported by hard science one day. But if the choice of illusions an illusion? Is the issue of free will as much a political issue as it is a matter for neurobiology and philosophy?
In ‘Psychology and Literature’ Carl Jung writes: “The artist is not a person endowed with free will who seeks his own ends, but one who allows art to realize its purposes through him. As a human being he may have moods and a will and personal aims, but as an artist he is “man” in a higher sense – he is “collective man,” a vehicle and molder of the unconscious psychic life of mankind.” If it is the case that the collective unconscious guides if not determines human behavior, is our species not closer to animals than it is to anything divine?
From the ancient times when religion convinced people that their lives were left to the gods until the present when politicians and psychologists try to convince people that they do exercise free will in daily decisions about their own lives, their family, friends, associates, neighborhood, community, town, state, country, the world. The absence of belief in free will easily absolves the individual of any sense of personal responsibility. At the same time, it is demoralizing, in fact enslaving, for the individual to believe that there is nothing but chance, luck, and predetermined fate at work regardless of the individual’s endeavors. Herein rests the overwhelming feeling that globalization has obviated free will, local culture and national identity by fostering a collective unconsciousness whose only goal is conformity to the value system and institutions promoting capitalism.
*Jon Kofas is a retired Professor . He has published many works including; Independence From America: Global Integration And Inequality, Under the Eagle’s Claw: Exceptionalism in Postwar U.S, Greek Relations and The Sword of Damocles, and The IMF, the World Bank, and U.S. Foreign Policy in Colombia and Chile, 1950-1970.
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