Through a Jungian Lens

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Identification With a Group and Collective Transformation

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I have just recently returned from a few days spent in Northern Costa Rica at a place called La Fortuna, a town of seven thousand people who rely on the Arenal Volcano and Lake for tourism dollars.  Of course I took hundreds of photos, many of them of the volcano, but I also wandered through the town in order to get a better sense of the community in comparison with Santa Elena, Puntarenas, San José and Playa Jacó.  Since law enforcement has been a fairly major part of my extended family’s contribution to society, I am naturally interested in seeing the outward manifestations of this in most places I visit.

It’s interesting to me how a group of men and women can work together for the good of their community, all identifying with one another forming strong bonds.  In some ways, the bond gets so strong, the individual becomes unimportant.  That’s the problem of belonging to any group, the loss of one’s individuality.  But the good part is that one does become transformed by the experience.

“If any considerable group of persons are united and identified with one another by a particular frame of mind, the resultant transformation experience bears only a very remote resemblance to the experience of individual transformation.  A group experience takes place on a lower of consciousness than the experience of an individual.  This is due to the fact that, when many people gather together to share one common emotion, the total psyche will be more like the psyche of an animal, which is the reason why the ethical attitude of a large organization is always doubtful.   The psychology of a large crowd inevitably sinks to the level of mob psychology.” (Jung, CW 9i, par 225)

This is heavy stuff if you think about it.  I have seen how this has played out in schools, at music concerts, with a tribal council of First Nations People and other groups.  In spite of individual levels of consciousness, the group never rises to the level one would expect based on the individuals contained within the group, even when the goals are lofty.

I think back to one example in my life, one not so distant in the past when I was the Director of Education for a First Nations band on a northern reserve.  I had talked long and hard with the new chief who was filled with a vision for his community, a vision that would see the education on the reserve become a significantly better experience.  He was a leader that was vested in his goals as he had children who attended the reserve school and one that was to be experiencing post-secondary education in the very near future.  Many meetings took place with this chief and his council where directions and decisions were hammered out so that the vision could be enabled.  All appeared to be heading in the right direction.  But, as past experience had shown, it wasn’t going to work out the way we were planning it – local politics got in the way.

A group must deal with issues of power.  Gaining and keeping power requires one to be fully focused on the outer world and in satisfying the lowest common denominator which then limits the potential of the group.  Now, more from Jung on this topic.

“If, therefore, I have a so-called collective experience as a member of a group, it takes place on a lower level of consciousness than if I had the experience by myself alone.  That is why this group experience is very much more frequent than an individual experience of transformation.  It is also much easier to achieve, because the presence of so many people together exerts great suggestive force.  The individual in a crowd easily becomes the victim of his own suggestibility . . . . In the crowd one feels no responsibility, but also no fear.” (ibid)

I have been there, in a group that met for healing, for transformation.  I have experienced within the group small gains to my psyche while trying to find meaning and purpose after being burnt out.  I also watched the others in this experience and saw that they had no need to go further.  The band-aids of the group experience was enough to take the edge of their inner pain.  They had something to hold on to that would hopefully mask the pain and horrors that had driven them to seek this help in the first place.  For me, it wasn’t enough.  I felt cheated in a way.  And so, I withdrew from the collective experience early though I didn’t withdraw from the process.  I stayed to the end feeling lonelier than ever.

Now, I want to re-state the last words of Jung quoted above, “In the crowd one feels no responsibility, but also no fear.” Think of cops in a group laying their batons on protesters who perhaps have gathered to call for an end to violence; think of a suicide bomber who believes that heaven is waiting in the wings as he or she rushes into a crowd and detonates the bomb while proclaiming the name of a god – there are too many examples of groups doing bad things in the name of good.

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One Response

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  1. Robert closes with:
    “Now, I want to re-state the last words of Jung quoted above, “In the crowd one feels no responsibility, but also no fear.” Think of cops in a group laying their batons on protesters who perhaps have gathered to call for an end to violence; think of a suicide bomber who believes that heaven is waiting in the wings as he or she rushes into a crowd and detonates the bomb while proclaiming the name of a god – there are too many examples of groups doing bad things in the name of good.”

    Cops are a good example, but also consider the groups, here in “The Land of the Free” called the Senate and the House of Representatives. I must be honest with myself to understand that my life is less threatened and imperiled by a suicide bomber than by local cops and my “elected representatives.”

    JFerric

    March 12, 2010 at 9:44 am


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