University of Earth
Projects Overview (Explanations)
World Problems Project (Explanations)

Comments: Integration of perceived problems

World Problems Project


1. Shadow of humanity

In the terms of the analytical psychology developed by C G Jung and his followers, it may be asked whether humanity has a "shadow". In the case of an individual, the shadow is the sum of all the unpleasant, negative aspects of the personality -- those that one tends to hide from oneself and especially from others. In that context, it is argued that it is the shadow which makes the individual human. It cannot be eliminated, rather the aim should be to come to fruitful terms with it. In the light of this perspective, the system of world problems could be usefully viewed as the "shadow of humanity". This said, the question would then be what might be understood by the process of coming to terms with it.

For Jung, the shadow is "a moral problem that challenges the whole ego-personality, for no one can become conscious of the shadow without considerable moral effort. To become conscious of it involves recognizing the dark aspects of the personality as present and real. This act is the essential condition for any kind of self-knowledge, and it therefore, as a rule, meets with considerable resistance." (Jung, *Aion). The inferiorities constituting the shadow have an emotional nature, a kind of autonomy, and accordingly an obsessive/possessive quality. While some traits peculiar to the shadow can be recognized without too much difficulty as one's own personal qualities, there are certain features which offer the most obstinate resistance to moral control and prove impossible to influence. These are usually associated with projections onto others as being undoubtedly at fault.

2. Transcending polarization

In Anthony Stevens' discussion of the question: "Without some acknowledgement of the devil within us, individuation cannot proceed...True morality requires that the shadow achieve consciousness, because on that condition alone can an individual become responsible for the events of his life and render himself accountable for what he has projected onto others....It was Jung's contention that the two moral poles were capable of reconciliation: awareness of the shadow means suffering the tension between good and evil in full consciousness, and through that suffering they can be transcended. If one can bring oneself to bear the psychic tension that the opposites generate, the problem is raised to a higher plane, where the conflict is resolved: good is reconciled with evil, and a new synthesis follows between conscious and unconscious....The reconciliation is attained neither rationally nor intellectually, but symbolically, and it was to this symbolic process that Jung gave the term transcendent function. Through the transcendent function the conscious personality and inner adversary are both transformed: as new symbols arise from the unconscious...the opposites are reconciled and transcended; the personality becomes better balanced, more integrated... Phenomenologically, the experience is one of liberation combined with an awareness of the inner strength that comes of reaching harmony...with something greater than the mere ego." (Stevens, pp 241-2)

3. Progressive integration of the shadow

This process of individuation is frequently depicted in Zen Buddhism by a traditional sequence of 10 ox-herding pictures, each with a brief commentary (cf D T Suzuki). These are of special interest because of their indication of a person's progressive discovery and interplay with a shadowy element denoted by an ox. The following is an attempt to suggest how that classical sequence might be interpreted for clues to an unfolding relationship between humanity and its shadow (in the shape of the complex of world problems).

The phases in the sequence are:

3. Comment

Some writings would also appear to imply a certain understanding of the later phases, but for humanity as a whole they lack the realism and credibility that will presumably emerge through painful societal learning in the future. Such understanding is in part reflected in the many religious visions of a saviour (a new Buddha, Christ, Imam or Messiah) scheduled to release humanity from the influence of evil forces. (The emergence of such saviours, or their precursors, is even the subject of occasional full-page advertisements in the quality press.) The weakness of such visions may lie in their tendency to remove responsibility and initiative from humanity in the belief that the burden could be more appropriately borne by such a saviour. It may be that a saviour should also be understood as a confused projection into the future of present intuitions as to the nature of that mode of humanity which could act to alleviate its own condition. Such projections are necessarily simplistic in their clarification of how redemption might successfully be brought about through some alchemical interweaving of the evil problematique, ordinary humanity and that insightful mode of the future. The many insights into individual development (some acknowledging a form of rebirth into the presence of a saviour "within"), are indicative of the accessibility of such levels of understanding (see Section H), although their collective manifestation in groups, and humanity as a whole, is questionable as yet.

Although the notion of a sequence reflects a basic evolution of insight over long periods of historical time, it may also be fruitful to consider the different phases probabilistically, as conditions of comprehension by which humanity (or any part of it) can be determined, to different degrees, at any time. Thus some understanding of later phases may be achieved at any time, just as a child may occasionally exhibit extraordinarily mature insight. But such intimations can presumably only acquire their full meaning as a result of full experience and transcendence of the earlier learning phases. In a sense the perspectives of the earlier phases are always accessible from the later, and may even be appropriate under certain conditions -- just as indulgence in child-like behaviour may occasionally enrich the experience of an adult in maturity.

From Encyclopedia of World Problems and Human Potential

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