Friday, August 28, 2015

Giegerich on the Place of the Individual in Modernity

The following is from a 2011 postscript written by Wolfgang Giegerich to his essay The Opposition of 'Individual' and 'Collective'--- Psychology's Basic Fault: Reflections on Today's Magnum Opus of the Soul

The psychological concept of individual entails above all the following four characteristics:
  1. The individual is a self-contained unit. It can be imaged as a circle with a definite center as its core and source. It is a self.
  2. Essential to it is the distinction between the inner and the outer and the sense of and need for privacy…
  3. In its life-long existence it is determined by an unbroken continuity of its identity and an organic development of its personality, often imagined in analogy to the self-unfolding of an acorn into an oak tree or according to the pattern of a Bildungsroman.
  4. It has a sense of autonomy and self-determination, for which the said strong sense of privacy and a relative freedom from external influences and from observation by others are essential.
On all four counts the entire logic of the individual in this sense can be seen to be over in our present modern world. I will give a few casual hints.
    Most telling and truly symptomatic is the rise of statistics since the 19th century. Today the dominant way of thinking about humans is statistical. For statistics, the individual does not count. It disappears in averages and percentages, in abstract numbers. In premodern times one was wont to say, for example, that a village had seven hundred souls. This has become impossible. Opinion polls and statistics are the attestation of the irrevocable sublatedness of the individual, which is, by the way, also the reason why today we have the institution of individual psychotherapy in the first place: as an empirical-practical (psychic) compensation and consolation for the modern truth of the logical, psychological irrelevancy of the individual.
    We now have a de-centered self. It has even been called a “smeared-out self,” Individuals are fundamentally networked. The network comes first, the people second. The network is the true reality, true substance, and individuals are only accidents and elements within it. The Internet, the Web, and cell-phones are the technical objectification of this logic of networkedness. Most telling in this regard  is the development towards cloud computing. Very often one sees people using mobile phones, e.g. in parks or in cities: they are not relentlessly in their present Here, not where their boy is, but both here and with the other person, or rather neither here nor there, at no real locality: in the wireless, immaterial communication. These technical realities are symbolic, that is to say , they reveal to us the inner truth about “the individual” today. …
    Instant messaging, SMS communication are taking the place of the former culture of letter-writing. Classical writing culture, which involved a delay between thinking, writing, sending, and receiving and allowed for reflection and for carefully considered, articulated self-expression of a personality, is disappearing. On account of their briefness and instantaneousness, brief instant messages focus on mere information and invite superficiality.
The idea of having just one spouse for one's whole life and establishing one family is succeeded by the idea and reality that-a person lives together with a partner for a while and then maybe moves on to the next partner for the next period of his or her life, which results in our modern blended or patchwork families. Children thus cannot develop the same sense of identity with respect to their immediate human context that would be supported by a reality of one family generally prevailing in society, one home, one mother and father, in fact of the family, the mother, etc. They experience a dispersion of the very notion of "family" and "mother" and "father." For adults, these social developments likewise tend to undermine the sense of the unity of one organically developing individuality, a fact to which must be added the increasingly frequent experience of discontinuous job careers, both in the sense of shifts between full-time, part-time work, and periods of unemployment, and in the sense of having to be periodically retrained for other jobs. Often people are in general supposed to re-invent themselves periodically. In social networks people often entertain additional fictional identities parallel to their real identity, which also undermines the concept of "the individual" and the sense of unambiguous identity and necessary development of the personality implied by the "acorn theory" of personal nature and by the jungian idea of "individuation." Contingency, openness, and polyvalence rather than the idealistic idea of a fixed "code" of character and calling.
Formerly, education was connected with character formation and a person's becoming cultured, for which "learning by heart" was symptomatic and symbolic. Education focused on the inner man. One was supposed to become learned, personally carry the knowledge and wisdom of one's cultural tradition within oneself, not as a heap of factual bits of information, but as a possession that was integrated into the personality. Memory! A training in penmanship and manners helped form a personal style and allowed one to ex-press one's character. Now, knowledge is mainly stored outside in the Internet and students learn the technical skills of where to look for and how to gather information from the Internet and piece it together into papers and, most important, how to turn their product into good Powerpoint presentations. A real reversal of orientation from inside to outside. In addition, we outsource our mental operations to a large degree to pocket calculators and computers. Weather, climate, and economic forecasts depend on model calculations performed by incredibly powerful computers. We get our bearings through our GPS navigation devices and no longer through our own productive comparison of an inner map with our perception of outer landmarks. It all happens out there, not in the mind. We mechanically follow the instructions given to us by the navigation device.
To this we may add that according to Italo Calvino the very form of the corresponding new type of knowledge or consciousness itself has to be comprehended as a conoscenza pulviscolare, pulverized and dispersed knowledge. This shows again that we are here not only concerned with changes in people's contingent social behavior, but truly with a change in the fundamental objective logic of how reality is constituted for modern man.
What does it mean for the concept of "the individual" and for man's self-conception as "self-determined individual" that in our technologized world we do not, and cannot possibly, understand essential areas of our own actions or decisions as well as the man-made machines that we use? The technology with which we surround ourselves is so complex (and is getting more and more complex) that we cannot manage it any more without the help of computers. Nobody is able to really understand the complexity of capital flow around the world, which is why bankers, analysts, and rating agencies need special computer programs to evaluate the creditworthiness of countries and banks as well as assess the risk of financial products. Without any real insight of their own, they blindly make their evaluations and decisions on the basis of what those computer programs tell them. No single individual is capable of having a full grasp of the source code of computer programs such as Windows. Windows Vista, for example, is said to consist of more than 50 million lines of program code. Nobody could possibly see through such a program in its entirety and all its details. In fact, such programs have not even been programmed by any human "author." In producing such huge programs, programmers rather rely on planning and administration programs for the overview over the structure of the program as a whole, on program libraries which contain specific ready-made routines to be inserted at certain points, and on code generators that automatically produce the code for certain purposes, without the human programmer's knowledge how these code generators in fact solve the particular tasks assigned to them.
Furthermore, what does it mean for our sense of being concrete individuals and our concept of "the individual" that society as a whole moves more and more in the direction of an undermining of "normal" or even "natural" time structures and rhythms in favor of an eternal present of an unlimited access to everything anywhere (I am thinking above all of online and mobile access to information, games, music, and video entertainment, as well as to the possibility of ordering consumer goods)? Can "the individual" survive the loss of a clear sense of the particular limitations of each determinate Here and Now, of the knowledge of being contained by and subject to a relentless order of time and place—as the external borders that hold its self together and keep it "inside"?
Or what does it do to our self-understanding that modern biology has taught us that we are, as it were, a "walking zoo," a biotope, containing ten times as many bacteria in ourselves than human body cells? Even on the level of the bif.dcl.;:cal organism we are not individuals, but a community. Having used the phrase "learnin: heart," we are put in mind of the fact that modern medicine has learned to transplant hearts. And we have to ask what this fact must mean for man's self-understanding and sense of identity. The very heart of man—the symbol of authenticity and innermost truth—as ersatz, a spare part taken from another person! The credibility of the symbolic meaning of heart and inwardness as such is undermined. The progress of medicine is furthermore such that other organs can also be transplanted, tissue. synthesized, children produced through artificial insemination and childbearing delegated; and even our genes can possibly be manipulated. Man can in principle, if not (yet) in practical reality be pieced together from parts taken from different bodies or artificially produced. Furthermore, we know of the possibility of cloning is the symbolic sign of a change on the deep level of the concept of “the individual." The sense of my own body as the reality and substrate of my identity has become questionable.
In his movie Modern Times Charley Chaplin depicted the enslavement of the individual by man-made machines that he has to operate. When the Industrial Revolution was still very much at its beginnings, already Goethe realized that this change entailed a development towards the reduction of the individual to a mere appendage of the technical means and apparatuses invented by modern man and that this development came with an autonomous momentum. Man as individual was not simply the autonomous inventor and master of machines, but conversely became their servant. We today, in the age of medial modernity, become keenly aware of our dependence on computers and the Internet when, for example, computers fail at our bank or we have no Internet connection. People's minds and behaviors are largely shaped by advertizing, trends, and fads and, of course, by our huge stultification machine, television.
Clearly, the time of the individual is over. Michel Foucault's book Les mots et les choses even ends with the vision that Man will disappear like a face drawn into the sand at a seashore, a vision which we may take to refer not to literal man (the human race, people) but to that Particular concept of man that constituted him as individual personality.
Historically speaking, “the individual" in the sense of an inner self and a Bildungsroman-type organic development was also a late, 18th century invention and thus represents only a brief episode, really a fluke, in the history of mankind. At no other time in history and no other part of the world had man ever been defined as individual nality in this specific loaded sense. In most societies throughout history, the social group came first and possessed higher reality.
Strangely enough, Jung as psychologist did not comply with this powerful development towards the obsolescence of the individual. Now one could of course argue that most of the phenomena I just mentioned were still unknown to Jung. At his time, computers, Internet, cell-phones, GPS-enabled devices did not yet exist. The role of the intact family in society was (in principle) still unthreatened. The old educational ideas and the ideal of a person’s life as a continuous organic development of the personality with one more or less steady career and family still prevailed. But this argument does not hold. Even before these most striking developments of the last few decades, it had become obvious enough that the individual was obsolete. During Jung's lifetime, Chaplin made the movie mentioned above and showed that it was possible to see through to the logic of the time. Goethe had had his insight about the individual already about 80 or 100 years before Jung. Likewise long before Jung, Marx had shown that, under the prevailing conditions of modernity, workers in particular necessarily lose control of their lives and destinies. And during his lifetime, Adorno, who was of course a quarter of a century younger than Jung, had made it very clear that under the conditions of late bourgeois society the individual had lost its autonomy, that it was no longer individuals that steered the course of events, but that the power had gone over to the state, to monopolies, big multi-national concerns, and above all, beyond the direct influence of individuals, to hidden anonymous abstract structures, and furthermore that the socialization forces immediately take hold of people's instinctual life so that the idea of an autonomous I (which was still underlying Freud's theory of an I determined by its own internal economy ["where there was Id, there I shall be"]) had no basis.
There were enough obvious signs and theoretical analyses. One could have expected of a depth-psychologist of the rank of Jung, especially of one who when it was a matter of "parapsychological phenomena," was, totally unexpectedly for a psychologist, amenable to the most modern results of physics, that he would also have been sensitive to and psychologically appreciative of the psychological process of the logical obsolescence of "the individual." But in this area Jung only reacted, we could say, counterphobically, a fact to which, above all, his late essay The Undiscovered Self bears witness. He decided against the truth of his age and insisted on "the individual" as the irrenunciable and exclusive locus of soul. It was not that he was totally unaware of the obsolescence of the individual: The great danger he saw was what he called Vermassung, the restructuring of humankind as a mass (GW 10 § 501). But he chose to see this only as a threat. Therefore, a great battle had to be fought by us in defense of the individual against mass society--as if these two formed a neat undialectical opposition: as if the modern “mass” structure was wholly external to the individual and the latter still innocently the pure individual merely confronted with external threat.  
My own position is that psychology should neither load the responsibility and weight of the opus magnum onto the shoulders of the individual, nor throw out the baby, the idea of the individual, with the bathwater in favor of the soul's real opus magnum as it unfolds in the arena of our real historical cultural development in medial modernity with its earthshaking scientific and technological advances. On the one hand, I "can no longer in all fairness load that enormous weight of meaning, responsibility, duty, heaven and hell, onto the shoulders of that frail and fallible human being—so deserving of love, indulgence, understanding, and forgiveness" (Jung, CW 9i § 172, transl. modif.) as which we exist, and I want to keep faith precisely with that individual human being in its—in my own—frailty, fallibility, and neediness. All the new technical and scientific developments do not have to go to our heads. I do not need to personally embrace every new technical possibility and to get enthralled and engulfed by a fascination for it as if it entailed the promise of heaven on earth, nor do I have to personally identify with the logic of modernity and thus forget who I really am and what my real needs as a human being are. But on the other hand, I certainly do want to stay aware of and in contact with the soul's opus magnum and respect and appreciate it. I see the obsolescence, sublatedness, sunkenness of what may be of great importance to me as private individual. This is not only my job as psychologist, but also I feel, task as a human being, a being that is more than its animal nature. But then again, I also keep my distance from it, distinguish and emancipate myself from where the soul is today, from the new logic of modern life, holding my place and staying down to earth as "only that!," living my life only as this private individual that I am, in conscious recognition of my human-all-too-humanness and my personal needs as a human being.