Wednesday, January 25, 2012

Correcting Sexism in Jung

Carl Jung's terminology provides a powerful tool for analyzing the complexities of the mind. His basic goal is to show that God, while not consciously experienced by everyone, is an empirical psychological fact of the psyche. I believe he succeeds brilliantly in this. However, his beliefs are not without error. Jung believed that humanity could never be free from the false gods of "dominating ideas." He sees these dominating ideas as being universal to the human condition.
Man has always and everywhere been under the influence of dominating ideas. Any one who alleges that he is not can immediately be suspected of having exchanged a known form of belief for a variant which is less known both to himself and to others. Instead of theism he is a devotee of atheism, instead of Dionysus he favours the more modern Mithras, and instead of heaven he seeks paradise on earth. -
Jung failed to see the simple Marxist truth that class society is the source of the same "dominating ideas" he assumes to be universally embedded in the human psyche. He was writing during Stalin's rule of the USSR, and it is likely that a number of his patients clung to the false hope of Soviet communism. As a result, Jung may not have made a thorough reading of Marx. From Jung's assumption that dominating ideas dictate humanity's fate, it follows that Jung would color these "dominating ideas" as male and female, because gender is the most fundamental and most pervasive class division.

His sexism comes out when he describes psychological tendencies that characterize each gender. In the following passage, "anima" refers to the "feminine" soul of men, while "animus" refers to the "masculine" soul of women:
Turned towards the world, the anima is fickle, capricious, moody, uncontrolled and emotional, sometimes gifted with daemonic intuitions, ruthless, malicious, untruthful, bitchy, double-faced, and mystical. The animus is obstinate, harping on principles, laying down the law, dogmatic, world-reforming, theoretic, word-mongering, argumentative, and domineering. Both alike have bad taste: the anima surrounds herself with inferior people, and the animus lets himself be taken in by second-rate thinking.["Concerning Rebirth," CW 9i, pars. 222f.]
Note that the anima / animus distinction is often quite useful. Class society reinforces gender roles, which then repress the opposite traits, where in Jung's conception, they are encompassed in the individual's soul or shadow. Jung's mistake is that he believes the male and female traits are universally true, rather than reflecting specific conditions within society.

An online essay - - describes Jung's mistake regarding a better society:
Jung remained convinced that there was a higher self and that humans were capable of attaining to it: his theory of ‘individuation’ aimed at precisely this outcome. However he won this optimism lightly; he managed to posit the existence of a higher self in part by under-estimating the scale of the problem... He simply could not envisage how a fundamentally different society could emerge nor the extent to which the social forms hitherto (in particular social forms based on class division and exploitation) were premised precisely on the need to ‘repress’ and keep the full attainment of life out of reach for the majority of the population.
This error does not affect the bulk of Jungian theory, however! The theory requires only one small adjustment of moving the gendered aspects of the soul to the INDIVIDUAL unconscious, rather than the collective unconscious, where Jung had placed them. Note that the soul remains in the collective unconscious; it is just the soul's gendered traits that should be placed in the individual level of psyche, rather than the collective level.
4/6/2012 update:
I was wrong about "moving the gendered aspects of the soul to the individual unconscious." I went in the wrong direction. The archetype of the Self, or "God-image", is the ungendered part of the soul. I just didn't see this earlier. So the soul for Jung is ungendered once you go deep enough, but we just don't usually experience it that way, because nearest to the surface of the dividing line between conscious and unconscious, the soul is still "mixed" with the effects of our gender.

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