Thursday, July 14, 2011

Repression of our Inner Personalities

Back to what is apparently my favorite Erich Fromm quote:
“In making the individual feel worthless and insignificant as far as his own merits are concerned, in making him feel like a powerless tool in the hands of God, [Luther] deprived man of the self-confidence and of the feeling of human dignity which is the premise for any firm stand against [oppressive] secular authorities... Once the individual had lost his sense of pride and dignity, he was psychologically prepared to lose the feeling which had been characteristic of the medieval thinking, namely, that man, his spiritual salvation, and his spiritual aims were the purpose of life; he was prepared to accept a role in which his life became a means to purposes outside of himself, those of economic productivity and accumulation of capital. Luther’s views on economic problems were typically medieval, still more so than Calvin’s. He would have abhorred the idea that man’s life should become a means for economic ends. But while his thinking on economic matters was the traditional one, his emphasis on the nothingness of the individual was in contrast and paved the way for a development in which man not only was to obey secular authorities but had to subordinate his life to the ends of economic achievements.” [Escape from Freedom. p. 83-84]
Jung has a great term that explains exactly what Fromm is talking about here. The term is "inner personality". By "inner personality," Jung does not mean staying outwardly quiet when we may be angry. That is simply the choice of our ego. "Inner personality," for Jung, refers to a part of us far beneath the ego, which is most visible in dreams, but which also colors our conscious perceptions and feelings.

Jung describes inner personality as:

"those vague, dim stirrings, feelings, thoughts and sensations which flow in on us not from conscious experience, but well up like a disturbing, inhibiting, or at times helpful, influence from the dark inner depths, from the background and underground vaults of consciousness, and constitute in their totality our perception of unconscious life" [Psychological Types, pg. 466]

Historically, dialogue with the inner personality has been called "visions" or "revelation from God." In many Native American groups, members would go on vision quests to spur an inner dialogue. Western religion has a long history of respect for inner dialogue also, through those who experience a revelation from God.

What Fromm is trying to say here is that Western Protestantism carries a repressive attitude towards our inner personalities. We no longer look to our dreams to guide our social life. We reject the idea that important insights can be expressed through the symbolism of dreams. We fail to notice our inner responses to the individuals we meet, and focus only on reciting the appropriate social scripts.

So Puritanism was not so concerned about the repression of sexuality as people today might think. It was more than just that. Victorian Puritanism was about the repression of our inner personalities. It was about complete identification with the socially-assigned career--"My identity is lawyer", "My identity is house-wife", "My business is my identity"--and putting that socially-assigned role ahead of one's freely chosen role within a community. Markets and managers dictate the one. But in community one is able to seek out those friendships that one's inner personality responds the strongest to.

What we never realized and why the 60's failed, is that in trying to correct for Victorian repression, a sexual revolution falls short. Sexuality is only part of the full picture. What is needed is a full-identity revolution--a questioning of whether we should "subordinate our lives to the ends of economic achievements" and a turning inward to establish an inner dialogue and reaffirm our spiritual aims.

But politicians continue to preach about the need for 'creating more jobs' and we, the public, continue to eat it up.

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