Carl Jung's Shadow I: Non-Identification
Throughout this series on psycho-epistemology, I've touched on two important issues: that of associations without symbols, and that of repression. These two issues are at the root of Carl Jung's idea of "the shadow".
Because they cannot be represented, and isolated from the totality of our mental content, pre-conceptual associations cannot be experienced as discrete ideas, but only as vague feelings - and as the choice between investigating that feeling or repressing it. Even if the association in question is a harmless one, such as "I have had more pleasure with chocolate than vanilla ice-cream", we can never know exactly what it identifies, and the full extent of its implications, until we put it into words, and actively integrate it with the rest of our knowlege.
The Jungian shadow is the concept that identifies the totality of Man's mental content that hasn't been explicitly identified. He calls it a shadow because our relationship with this mental content is the same as the one we have with physical shadows - we know something exists there, yet do not know what it is. Because it refers to an unidentified existent, the feeling of a pre-conceptual association is always one of anxiety.
The shadow, and the feeling of anxiety brought about by its content, are a perfectly healthy part of our minds. Our time is limited, and choosing what is worth focusing on is also choosing what we push away from our conscious awareness. Anxiety merely gives us a direct awareness of the ratio between our identifications and our total perception - of "how much we know about", compared to "how much we know exists". This is a key component of one's sense of life, as it reflects how much we are in control of our surroundings, and ultimately, of existence itself.
We are always perceiving, and choosing what to focus on, and what to ignore. Therefore, the shadow is never static - it can be shrinking, passively expanding, or actively being inflated. We "shrink" it by introspection, i.e. by identifying and reflecting upon our pre-existing mental content, thus turning pre-conceptual associations into concepts. It expands passively as a natural by-product of conceptualization - to focus on something is to direct our perception away from things we find irrelevant, thus creating unidentified mental content. The passive increase of subconscious mental content is not problematic, because it happens at the same time as the increase in conscious content - unidentified thoughts do not make up a larger share of our total mental content.
Our attitude towards this type of mental content, however, can be unhealthy. To the extent that an individual guides his thoughts by the principle that reality is what it is, his attitude will be one of identifying the pre-conceptual associations he comes across, despite the initial anxiety. To the extent that he is guided by the emotional, short-term avoidance of suffering, his attitude will be one of evading it, because of anxiety. Jung identifies a positive feed-back loop brought about by the unhealthy attitude towards one's shadow, which he calls "inflation".
By evading a specific pre-conceptual association, we reinforce the notion that it is something to be evaded, making it even harder to identify in the future. In order to continuously evade pre-conscious content that causes anxiety, one must evade every thought that brings it to the surface. These secondary evasions thus become more unidentified mental content, while the initial evasion is given more importance - both of which bring about more anxiety, hindering further identifications.
This leads us to a situation in which the contents of the shadow systematically outgrow our conscious identifications, leading to a pathological increase in anxiety. Instead of playing its role in motivating caution - the less we know, the more anxious we are, the less risks we take - the emotion makes us unable to think and act. This can lead to all sorts of conditions, from phobias to psychotic episodes - and also to the dangerous use of projection as a defense mechanism, which I will deal with tomorrow.
- May 5th, 2020
Carl Jung's Shadow II: Projection
To the extent that we internalize the notion that existence is what it is, and not what we want it to be, facing a problem consists of identifying, evaluating, and acting towards a goal - in that order. To the extent that we maintain the primitive notion that consciousness shapes reality, even implicitly, we might deal with problems through defense mechanisms: irrational "mental gimmicks" used to avoid acknowledging the problem itself. The projection of the shadow described by Carl Jung is a specially interesting instance of a defense mechanism.
As we saw yesterday, the Jungian shadow refers to all pre-conceptual mental content that hasn't been explicitly identified by the individual. It is a normal part of our psyches, as we simply do not have the time and energy to focus on every single thing we perceive. Systematic evasion, however, causes an unhealthy increase in the ratio between unidentified and identified mental content, which in turn causes an increase in anxiety.
If my thoughts are guided by the primacy of consciousness, how can I minimize the anxiety brought about by evading a subject, while avoiding any possibility of suffering involved in identifying it? The answer is: by partially identifying the subject, but omitting any relationship to myself - by conceptualizing it as an aspect of something different than me. This partial acknowledgement of a subject, done by severing any ties between it and oneself, is what Jung calls "projecting the shadow".
To make the idea more concrete, I will use the example of a man I met a few years ago. This man had an irrational fear of being perceived as "disgusting", brought about by a somewhat messed up childhood. He could not, however, simply evade the idea of disgust as a whole, as that would render him unable to engage in basic hygiene activities, and ultimately lead to his death. His solution was to conceptualize it as an aspect, not of himself, but of homeless people, and irrational animals, which brought about an irrational fixation with "how filthy dogs and hobos are".
This particular defense mechanism is specially interesting because of its political manifestation: it is essential in the psycho-epistemology of dehumanizing another group of people. Whether you are talking about Jews in Nazi Germany, farmers in the Soviet Union, or just about anyone who doesn't abide by the Progressivist agenda in the US right now, the thought process is essentially the same. The irrational individual allows himself to perceive that there is evil in the world, yet refuses to properly conceptualize its nature, as that might contradict his comfortable view of the world and himself. The solution is to conceptualize evil as a necessary part of that other group, to which he does not belong - and once a particular group has been chosen to "embody" one particular evil, it becomes an easy target for every subsequent projection, after all "it is evil, and it is not me".
It's important to note that the inflation and the projection of the shadow are not two completely distinct, subsequent processes, but happen simultaneously. They are two consequences of the same underlying condition: the adoption of the primacy of consciousness as a psycho-epistemological principle. The proper way of conceptualizing them is not "shadow is inflated to a breaking point -> individual starts projecting the shadow -> situation comes to a halt", but "evasion is made a habit -> shadow inflates, causing an increase in anxiety -> increase is counteracted by projection, allowed by the habit of evasion -> habit of evasion begets more inflation and projection in the future".
As is often the case with evasion, the bulk of the process is done at the pre-conscious level, and is based on feelings rather than ideas. Because of that, it follows the relational/situational rules of archetypal thought, and not the objective rules of logic. I will delve further into those rules tomorrow, when I deal with Carl Jung's idea of "persona", and how it relates to the shadow.
- May 7th, 2020