This is an interesting, but disturbing book. I read it on the heels of reading Steven Pinker’s masterpiece, The Blank Slate, which was appropriate, if only accidentally so, as the two men (Jung and Pinker) wrestled with the thorny problem of how much of what we know is learned and how much is due to innate attributes. Interestingly, both men arrived at similar conclusions, if by following decidedly different paths.
Pinker’s The Blank Slate was essentially an extensive dissertation on the important role played by genes in understanding epistemology and human behavior—he argued that there was no blank slate—that the blank slate was a myth perpetuated to serve the political and sociological ends that obtain when it is imagined that the environment is the sole determining factor for human behavior, an idea which is quite easy to ridicule. Could a human being take the ordinary human genome with which it is born, and become something else through its socialization, like a hawk or wolverine? The blank slate proponents take an aspect of reality (that socialization/environment matters) and extend it past the point of logical coherence.
But so, too, do the proponents of genetic determinism, such as was Jung, and Pinker to a lesser extent, often take the idea that genes matter to the point of logical incoherence. Jung was a vociferous proponent of psychological archetypes, a phrase he coined to describe preexisting (i.e., innate) means of engaging the experiences of the world; he even believed that the memories of one’s ancestors could be recalled through dreams or other methods of connecting with the subconscious (though only admitting as much through informal channels mostly out of sight of his scientific peers).
Steven Pinker was far less radical in his determinism, pointing out that psychological studies had proven that fifty or so percent of a child’s behavior can be attributed to its genes and the other fifty percent to something else, but that the something else, it was known, was not its home environment. Pinker pointed out that the something else may be some other environment , asserting that it was possibly the culture into which the child was reared, but it was not the environment that the parents create for the child (if taken to heart, capable of offering a bit of relief to parents who believe hovering was essential to child rearing). Pinker was less interested in proving that genes make an overwhelming difference in determining personality and character attributes than in disproving the idea that genes make no difference whatsoever. As environmental determinism had not arisen as a serious explanation of human behavior during Jung’s time, Jung was more interested in proving the importance of phylogenetic influences (in context, meaning the historical development of a tribe or racial group as was inherited and expressed by the individual) in understanding the human psyche and its diseases and defects. For Jung, there wasn’t even the necessity of experience to implant memories in our brains, quite a stretch from the position of the socio-psychologists who Pinker sought to discredit, who believed the brain did not fashion the manner with which experience affected it.
Jung felt like the differences between the conditions encountered by our ancient phylogenetic heritance and those of civilized society today vastly limit the opportunity for the proper expression of our inherited nature, causing many of the psychological tensions and neuroses we commonly experience. And well, he has a point. There is no possible way that our genes evolved as quickly as our living conditions have changed, since the switch about ten thousand years ago from hunting and gathering to sedentary agriculture, and until today, to basically sitting around waiting to be fed by the one or two percent of the average developed world’s population that is employed in agriculture. If we have a phylogenetic heritance, it surely sits frustrated in the recesses of our souls. To imagine that the frustration doesn’t occasionally yield quite disturbing mental or physical problems would be fantasy. The meaning of life—i.e., the whole purpose for which our magnificent organism evolved—is to perpetuate itself, specifically its genetic code, in space and time. We are meant to survive and propagate; our bodies and minds were designed to help ensure we did so successfully. When civilization deems our bodies and minds practically superfluous for the task of surviving and propagating, and even inimical to the task if they are allowed their natural expressions, they often turn on themselves for lack of something to do. A good example of the ravages wrought by undirected and unnecessary mental or physical potential are the litany of autoimmune disorders afflicting people in the civilized world these days. There is precious little for the immune system of a person in the sanitized, immunized developed world to do. So it often turns on its own body. The potential of the immune system, and the dangers that accrue when that potential is misdirected, are vividly displayed in disorders like lupus and rheumatoid arthritis, debilitating diseases where the immune system attacks the body in ways that more often than not prove ultimately deadly. Even the proliferation of asthma and allergies can be attributed to an under burdened immune system. And the various medical ailments attributable to obesity and sedentary living provide the clearest example of bodies that have not yet evolved to fit the environment in which they now exist.
The burgeoning list of psychological ailments that occur within a population whose minds are hardly tasked with the imperatives of survival, if at all, is perfectly illustrated by the nearly one thousand pages of the recently released Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Psychological Disorders, Five. Though the manual is produced by experts whose opinions are tainted by self-interest, which necessarily calls into question a good many of the newer disorders, the utter explosion of recognized mental defects and deficiencies over the last century attests, at least in part, to the uselessness and irrelevance of the vast power of the human intellect for surviving in today’s world. Most people simply don’t need all that computational and inferential capacity, so their minds either atrophy or go off half-cocked. Smart phones, to take just one example, aren’t making human beings smarter—they’re making them stupider–and driving them crazy in the process.
But Jung’s analysis of the troubles afflicting humankind were mainly directed at only a sliver of it—that portion which could claim Aryan roots, hence the “Aryan Christ” portion of the book’s title (though Jung never explicitly excluded others, the implications of his interests and observations were obvious). Jung was born in 1875 to a family of German extraction living in Switzerland. He died on June 6, 1961 near the banks of Lake Zurich, after having lived and worked there most of his life. So Jung, like Hitler, whose ascent to prominence came a couple of decades after Jung’s peaked around the mid-1910’s, was a German born on foreign soil (Hitler was born in Austria). It’s not clear whether there is anything meaningful to wring from the correlation that both men, champions of the superiority of the Aryan/Teutonic race, were born outside of Germany. Perhaps there was the impulse to aggrandize and mythologize their German heritage as a response to their being outsiders in the lands of their birth, but that’s just idle speculation.
Jung eventually became a proponent, if hidden through the use of Decknamen (which more or less means, in this context, psychobabble cover names), of the growing Volkish movement, which was a pagan movement originating in Germany in the late nineteenth century from which ideas of Aryan and Teutonic purity and supremacy arose, along with the impulse to re-embrace pagan rituals and gods from a mythologized German past. The German mind, ever so focused on efficiency in material things, has also always held a deeply Romantic and spiritual strain, through which the Volkish movement found expression beginning around the fin de siècle. Hitler, of course, would later channel the movement into a diabolically racist expression of Nietzschean Romantic nationalism that would embroil practically all of Europe in conflict through its expression. But it is not speculation to say that the mindset that Jung brought to psychoanalysis was the same as Hitler brought to expressions of German hegemony. And if that seems a severe indictment of Jung, it is one which Jung would have been forced to admit if Noll’s scathing critic of his life and times is any guide, and The Aryan Christ appears to be exceedingly well-researched and documented.
Jung believed that through analysis and meditation and other techniques (like automatic writing or singing or painting) that the conscious mind could tap the mother lode of ancient wisdom and insights—the wisdom and insights of one’s ancestors and their gods, among others—through communicating with the subconscious, a thing which he described as the “collective soul” or “collective unconscious”. He carried the notion a bit further than the universal, and described what the phylogenetic memories should look like for those, like him, of a mainly Aryan lineage (notwithstanding that the German claim of Aryan lineage is by and large mythological, cut from the whole cloth of the German imagination out of a common lineage in the languages). For Jung, in the heart of every German beats the soul of an ancient, noble warrior with close ties to the soil and to Nature, a soul which could conveniently be accessed by analytical psychology. Jung’s German soul wasn’t much different than Rousseau’s Noble Savage, except that Rousseau’s savage had no intrinsic national character. It is quite clearly the case that Jung was not much more than a German Romantic nationalist who dressed up his political and sociological (and sexual) impulses with the appearance of scientific rationalism. Jung was accused of being more than just the Aryan Christ–of being a Nazi sympathizer–a charge which never quite stuck but one for which he was never quite completely acquitted either.
After reading Noll’s version of things, I have no doubt that Jung at least considered himself to be the Aryan Christ, which tells me he was a mystic and cult leader more than he was any scientist. Noll points out that Jung’s followers were almost always female, and that his relationship with them almost always had at its core a sexual component. (Has psychoanalysis ever been about anything except the psychologist getting laid by his patient?) Jung’s analysis of his soul (and Jung and Jungians were always analyzing their own psyches) revealed to Jung that men are naturally polygamous, so he insisted upon embarking on a life of polygamy for himself, his long-suffering wife be damned. In fact, the process of analytical psychology seemed to have been simply talking to yourself and listening carefully to the answer. (And what other answer, one wonders, might he have expected upon asking himself if he should have sex with more women than his wife?) Jung even vocalized conversations with himself while in transcendental states, with one aspect of his psyche being represented by a falsetto voice and the other by his normal tone. As Noll explained it, Jung’s analysis was a process of deification, where the individual in analysis learned to unify all aspects of their being along the way of becoming their own god, a status which Jung certainly had achieved for himself.
One of the most famous of Jung’s patients and later, something of an aficionado, was the middle-aged daughter of John D Rockefeller, Edith Rockefeller McCormick. As often happens, the peculiar behavioral traits and psychological quirks that make a man like John D Rockefeller special were expressed as psychoses of an often debilitating nature in his children. So it was with Edith, who was forlorn and taciturn always, like her daddy, but to the point of becoming severely agoraphobic (fearful of going out of her house) after having a second child (of five she had) die in infancy in 1903.
After a trip to Hungary in 1910 failed to alleviate her condition, and having heard of the miraculous potential that psychoanalysis, of the sort gaining popularity with both the Swiss Jungians and the Austrian Freudians, offered, Edith reached out to Jung when she heard he was in New York. She tried to convince him to come to the US permanently, offering to build him a house and pay him a generous salary. He wisely refused, so she went to Switzerland, taking her entire family, along with tutors and governesses, in order that she might enter his therapy. The family stayed from 1913 until 1921 (the children and Harold, her husband, only sporadically), undergoing psychoanalysis (Harold became a believer in its benefits when he too was psychoanalyzed) and for Edith, eventually doing psychoanalysis on others. Just as female patients often fall in love with their male psychoanalysts, so too, do male patients of female psychoanalysts also fall in love with their psychoanalysts. Edith and Harold divorced shortly after her return to the states when she came home dragging along a gold-digging gardener who had become her lover while undergoing psychoanalysis with her.
The thought that kept tumbling through my mind while reading about Jung, who was justifiably (it seems to me) portrayed as a self-absorbed, narcissistic, quasi-cult leader, is that his story is like what Don Henley said of the Eagle’s song Lyin’ Eyes—that it was old when it was written. Jung’s schtick seems as old as mankind, or at least as old as civilization (before which time there are scant records). Jung was a shaman, a sorcerer and a mystic who infused meaning and purpose in the ordinary and banal lives of others by helping them believe, through a combination of quasi-legitimate psychology and utterly illegitimate sorcery and mysticism, that they carried the gods of their forefathers inside them and were part of a collective subconscious that could be tapped through psychoanalysis.
It is no accident that so many of the idle rich (e.g., Edith Rockefeller McCormick) sought out Jung and psychoanalysis to soothe their troubled souls. It is only the idle rich who can afford to be afflicted with all manner of nonsensical conditions like agoraphobia, which leaves the definition of the house and of going out to the agoraphobic to decide. Does going out include taking the garbage to the curb? Can an agoraphobic go down to the corner grocery on occasion and still suffer the affliction? Would Edith Rockefeller have suffered the affliction if it meant she would starve to death? Because having an affliction such as agoraphobia means nothing of the sort when you have servants to do your bidding all day. Edith Rockefeller McCormick had no real reason to leave her house, especially the one in Chicago when she was there, so why should she? Agoraphobia in her case was just as likely an expression of laziness and disregard for unnecessary human companionship that she had the wealth to indulge than it was any sort of real psychosis.
But the really disturbing aspect to the story of The Aryan Christ is how transparent were the biases with which Jung operated, even as no one, except perhaps his competitors, called him on them (Freud, it appeared, was on to him early, at least by their split in 1913). Certainly Jung made no effort to calibrate his findings through the subjective biases with which he arrived at them. So when Jung desired living a life of polygamy, he invented a psychological justification for it, claiming that it was unhealthy to suppress the desire. When Jung saw that the latent racism of the German Volkish movement could be used for his own professional self-aggrandizement (or was simply a latent racist himself), he created a whole world of the subconscious where the archetypes of one’s ancestors and culture could be contacted through transcendental states induced during psychoanalysis. This was heady stuff, but it was all nonsense. The naval gazing of psychoanalysis might have died long ago with Jung had it not retained some legitimacy with Freud, who was less self-absorbed and cultish, and more scientific in his demeanor. In any event, there is no such thing as a collective subconscious that exists without a body that has a mind firmly ensconced within it. Steven Pinker observed as much in The Blank Slate. And a group of people, or a culture, is not a body, but many bodies, or a mind, from which subconscious thoughts might arise, but many minds. To imagine that the particular can be extrapolated to the whole in such a manner is quite analogous to imagining that just because some measures of life are substantially impacted by genes that all of them are. It is carrying things to a logical incoherence, something to which Jung was desperately inclined.
I found the book, and Jung’s life and times, to be interesting, in the sort of way that a train wreck is interesting. To imagine that Jung has not been thoroughly and completely discredited by now, particularly with our new understandings in neuroscience (the subconscious really does exist and really does control things, but not in the same manner that Jung or Freud believed) speaks to P.T. Barnum’s adage that there’s a sucker born every minute. But the book is well-written and certainly worth reading.