Encyclopedia of World Problems - Archived Information

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5.11 Integration of perceived problems

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 that 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:

(a) Undisciplined exploration of the problematique: Humanity, having violated its own inmost nature, loses track of the problematique and its significance. It is then led astray by the delusions to which it succumbs, such as desire for gain and fear of loss, and is confused by a multiplicity of views of right and wrong, appropriateness and inappropriateness. Although distracted by this confusion, and exhausted by its efforts, humanity continues its search for a sustainable solution. At this time, it would appear that humanity, as represented by the international community, continues to be embroiled in the pre-systemic, single-factor perspectives of this first phase (ozone, acid rain, "health-for-all", substance abuse, illiteracy, terrorism, AIDS).

(b) Recognizing traces of the problematique as an integrated system: Repeated (and basically unsuccessful) attempts to locate and contain the problematique through uncoordinated initiatives provide humanity with occasional insights into its nature, especially when more integrated approaches are used. Although recognizing that the problematique, by whatever means, is in some sense engendered by humanity as a whole, there remains a basic confusion between truth and falsehood, especially when it seems obvious to some that another particular group can be usefully blamed for specific problems. Environmental and systems insights (tropical forests, global warming) are shifting the focus to this second phase.

(c) Focusing on the problematique as a whole: Having cultivated a more intuitive insight, enabling it to integrate its complementary modes of perception, humanity focuses directly on the problematique, recognizing its many manifestations as consequences of different forms of inappropriate human intervention. There are episodic exercises in focusing on the problematique as a whole (Brandt Report, Brundtland Report), although what they fail to take into account quickly condemns them as sub-systemic and inappropriate and encourages further initiatives of a similar nature.

(d) Encompassing the problematique: Humanity grapples with the problematique directly for the first time. The momentum of the problematique, developed over the long periods during which it was uncontained, and the pressures and habitual opportunities of an undisciplined social environment, make it extremely difficult to control. Severe disciplinary measures are necessary. The various development strategies, especially the current attempt at "sustainable development", correspond to this fourth phase, but only to the extent that efforts are made to implement them. On the national level, the structural adjustment required by the IMF is indicative of the political will required -- although typically such adjustment fails to take into account many facets of the problematique.

(e) Orienting the problematique: Every insight concerning the problematique leads humanity to further insights in an endless pattern. With discernment these will all be of value. But when humanity deceives itself, confusion will prevail and the problematique will reassert itself in an inappropriate manner. Constant vigilance is required to discipline the problematique and orient its manifestations within appropriate bounds. The seeds of this fifth phase may be seen in the increasing recognition of the need for a disciplined and radical change of life style, especially on the part of the industrialized countries.

(f) Using the problematique as a vehicle for sustainable development: The struggle of humanity with the problematique is over. Humanity is no longer traumatized by gain or loss, which are assimilated as phases in a larger process that is now the focus of attention. Rhythms of action in harmony with nature are cultivated. The problematique is used as a vehicle moving in sympathy with those rhythms towards the re-enchantment of the Earth. The old modes of action are not considered viable and their advocates are no longer heeded. Some indications of the nature of this phase are to be found in the writings of the "deep ecology" movement and in the preoccupations of some forms of sustainable agriculture -- although their obvious limitations lie in their inability to deal realistically with the conditions of industrialized, urban societies and the impoverishment of an overpopulated planet. The missing insight would seem to be how to achieve the transition to this stage by benefiting from the problematique itself.

(g) Transcending the realm of the problematique: Having used the problematique as a vehicle to reach a sustainable condition, it is no longer required. However, the necessary disciplines for humanity to handle it remain available. Humanity can now act with serenity guided by insight that is no longer obscured by the dynamics of the problematique. There are writings on paradigm shifts into a new consciousness (in which the problematique no longer figures) and these do offer clues as to the nature of this phase. However, their neglect of the problematique would seem to be more a question of avoidance rather than transcendence, indicating that such perspectives lack vital insights.

(h) Disappearance of both humanity and the problematique: The dualistic mindset through which humanity is perceived, in opposition to the problematique and to other species, is itself transcended, as are the disciplines through which that relationship is articulated. Confusion disappears. But there is no question of being either entranced by more integrative insights or entrapped by lesser ones. The nature of this condition does not lend itself to definition. Typically, any desire for it renders it unattainable or unsustainable.

(i) Expression of essential humanity: Grounded in its essential nature, humanity stands untouched by inappropriateness. Processes of integration and disintegration are witnessed from a perspective that enfolds them. Neither formulation nor reformulation are necessary to ensure sustainability. Change, as perceived, is necessarily appropriate however paradoxical it may appear.

(j) Human intervention in the world: Human action is no longer associated with any particular mindset, nor does it follow any recognizable path. It cannot be assessed by any form of conventional wisdom, nor does it depend on any particular tools. No special effort is made to preserve forms of any kind -- including those of humanity itself. Insight into the emptiness underlying form enfolds any form of action in a more meaningful context, thus enabling greater appropriateness to emerge as required.

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.