Dear Jean and Peter,
Thank you for the time and energy you have devoted to encouraging dialogue around questions of individual and collective transformation as well as group organization and dynamics within the IAJS online community.
Jean, even though I cannot relate from personal experience to the family or academic ideals you evoked, I enjoyed reading, as usual, your lucid and searching thoughts on models for constructive group dynamics in an internet-based community. And I was moved by your subsequent description of the actions taken in Baltimore by a group of African-American clergymen and other community leaders.
I especially appreciated your thoughts about how individuation can lead to “participation in community life and the commitment to care for the world” and how this can manifest in many ways, from “visible and confident role in social and political affairs [to] . . . a more secluded, but no less committed, style.” And as you put it, “the fate of the individual psyche and that of the anima mundi are not separate.”
Peter, your paper’s concepts, terminology, and arguments were challenging for me. So please forgive the length of my response as I try to address them. Generally, I most appreciated your statements reflecting the complexity of the relationship between individual and group transformation. I appreciate, for instance, your acknowledging Jung’s interest in the reciprocal relationship between individual development and cultural transformation. I also appreciate the value of asking whether the professionalization of psychological knowing and practice has “fostered a divide in our consciousness between inner psychological development and outer political development.”
When, however, you briefly acknowledge the value in Jung emphasizing “that every change begins with the individual himself and not with trying to improve other people” (quoting Von-Franz), I would like to grapple more with the significance of that insight before being warned of the risks of too readily adopting it. And although you acknowledge that “Jung’s mission of individuation is trustworthy and radically more complex than the individualism of Western culture,” I wonder if you nevertheless conflate the two to a greater extent than is warranted. And when you say that “the allure of our uniqueness can make us sleepy, inclined to hibernate and dream dreams in which we explore the individuating terrain of our own consciousness while our energy for the world is restrained in heroic images of self-exploration, of individualism,” I get the feeling that you are setting up a straw-man argument. I can appreciate that there is a real risk of narcissistic separation whenever one is intent on self-transformation, but don’t you risk distorting the picture here to make an important point?
When you speak abstractly about ideas such as “the capacity to work at a depth level in groups,” “generational attention,” “an ability to feel history,” and “how individual intuition becomes communicable ideas that activates new collective consciousness,” I find myself getting lost and weary. Perhaps my resistance to your call to group action results from a certain weariness around political activity.
I am naturally and by upbringing inclined to avoid political activism. Since my early 20s, I have also been strongly influenced by the religious thinker J. Krishnamurti, who was adamant about the primacy of individual transformation and who argued that fragmented individuals will always form fragmented societies. I believe his thinking here is compatible with Jung’s. Let me quote Krishnamurti and then pose a question about Jungian-based activism: “[It is obvious that] there must be some form of fundamental revolution. I am using that word to convey, not a superficial patchwork reformation, nor a revolution instigated . . . according to a particular pattern of thought, but the revolution that can come about only when we . . . begin to understand the whole significance of the mind. Without understanding this fundamental issue, it seems to me that any revolution at any level, however beneficial temporarily, is bound to lead to further misery and chaos.” (Social Responsibility, from chapter 2, “What is Your Responsibility to Society?”)
Despite our most sincere intentions and dedicated commitment, can we—as Jungians—bring about fundamental change in the world? That is, as long as the world’s problems are approached from a system of thought—however valuable that system is on some level—will we not inevitably contribute to division and conflict? My sense is that Jung has a sensibility similar (not identical) to Krishnamurti’s about the primary responsibility we each have as individuals to transform ourselves if we are to improve the world. Regarding Jungians as agents for changing others, is Jung saying here that he can only hope to treat his patients when he gets beyond his own system of thought? “[I]n psychotherapy it seems to me positively advisable for the doctor not to have too fixed an aim. . . . The great decisions in human life usually have far more to do with the instincts and other mysterious unconscious factors than with conscious will and well-meaning reasonableness.” (CW, Vol. 16, para. 81. [I believe. I can’t confirm this citation before submitting this.])
Despite the early influence that Krishnamurti’s view of transformation (and later Jung’s) has had on me, I have always struggled with the absoluteness of it; and many years ago I realized that I could not in good conscience live in a world with so much suffering without some form of social-political engagement. I started to educate myself about the history of American empire (North American, that is). Years later, in addition to participating in demonstrations against the invasion of Iraq, I formed a reading group with the intention of developing the ability to challenge through dialogue conventional thinking about U.S. foreign policy. In the last several years, having moved to Sweden, I have been engaged with teaching Swedish to refugees from countries such as Afghanistan, Eritrea, and Syria. But I still continue to return to questions about the primacy of individual transformation.
So, Peter, although I question your argument about the problem of privileging individuals, individuation, and differences; and although I wonder whether a group working from a system of thought can influence the world without contributing to separation and conflict, I very much respect your declaration of our need to come together and work out answers to the critical questions of our time, as well as your intention to find ways of bringing a Jungian perspective to the urgent problems we are all facing today through advancing group consciousness and group conscience. And, Jean, I will always be inspired by individuals who can walk with others peacefully, arm-in-arm.
Thanks again to you both,
Scott J. Hill