I've recently been reading up on Carl Gustav Jung's work. His concepts are new to me but I can't say that I'm totally oblivious to his bizarre ideas. When I first started reading up on self-help material, the psychology aspect interested me for reasons being that it offered the sort of outside-looking-in approach that allowed for what was hopefully an objective perspective on my personality. This led to familiarising myself with certain psychoanalysts, of which Jung seemed to catch my eye. Obviously, as naive as I was, the nature of reading up on analytical psychology allowed my uninformed interest in it to be biased and hold such an attachment to various systems inspired by Jung's theories. Like many, those interested in those psychological inventories like the MBTI (Myers-Briggs Type Indicator) will have heard that it takes a great amount of inspiration from Jung's concepts of the psychological archetypes.  Mentioning all this, I want to start this project outright and admit that I used to unnecessarily hold the inventory to such a high degree and mistakenly "type" people based on a vague understanding of psychoanalysis.

The heroic journey as a metaphor can be likened to the Jungian process of individuation

The process of Individuation

Thanks to hindsight and being done with following an outdated and inefficient system of psychological typing, I wanted to prod further and investigate its roots for the use of self-development (which was actually my initial intent anyway). That is, to perform a rigorous study of Jung's concepts in the hopes that it provides some sort of insight into my own journey. That journey being the process of Individuation. Jung's idea of this process describes a form of psychological work which aims to consolidate the different aspects of our psyche (the archetypes) into one matured whole (The Self). The obvious appeal of this process is in its optimism, so much so that we all apparently have the capacity to achieve some sort of "wholeness" or fulfillment from within ourselves. The only catch is that it doesn't rely on external willpower from outside the psyche, but rather is part of an innate and involuntary journey that we are all entitled to. The concept of this "journey" can be found across archaic texts, in the Bible, varying mythos, and even in modern forms of fiction. (I will expand on this at a later time.)

Dreams and Symbols

After some more digging, this is where thing's started to get a bit witchy-woo for me but I pushed on anyway. Jung theorises that the first important step when it comes to initiating the Individuation process is through an indirect approach of understanding, grasping, and tackling the various symbols that appear throughout our dreams. Thoughts that come from within our subconsciousness appear as symbols and bear messages about what we unconsciously pick up on throughout our day. I can understand the value of a dream-sourced revelation as its use can provide new perspectives about ourselves and signal an important form of guidance in our journey to becoming the whole, individuated self. Individuation, as its name suggests, is unique to the individual and not one symbol from a person's unconsciousness bears the same meaning as the symbol from another's. This is a major source of criticism when it comes to Jung's work as he fails to systematically generalise these symbols due to the highly individualised and metaphorical nature of extrapolating true meaning from symbols. As I mentioned before, Jung theorises that there is no external or direct action to take after being exposed to these deeply personal revelations. Instead, he recommends that the mere acknowledgment of the idea that our subconscious utilises these personal symbols in the first place is enough to initiate the Individuation process. These dream symbols address messages conveyed and sourced from different psychological archetypes, one of which is our main interest: the Shadow.

The Shadow-Ego Dynamic

The failure to Individuate results in the neuroticism that is present in the modern man. One's refusal to come to terms with a certain aspect of their whole-Self halts this Individuation process. The Shadow is our dark side and the culmination of all our traits that we refuse to acknowledge and is held in check by the Ego. The Ego, from my understanding, is sort of like the bridge between unconsciousness and our consciousness. The Ego gives us the capacity to pick-and-choose certain aspects of ourselves that we believe hold true to us, provided that our Shadow is repressed enough from telling us otherwise. Additionally, the Ego holds a certain "responsibility" when it comes to adhering to social norms and this function may have come from the fact that we have evolved as social creatures. Therefore, this Shadow-Ego dynamic definitely sounds like it contributed to the advances of mankind but unfortunately there is also a double-edged element to it. According to Jung, the Idea of Evil is the direct result of man's failure to integrate the Shadow-self and reach Individuation. He held on to this idea so much so that he believed that the "non-Individuated" are potentially the root of all injustices in this world.

...the only real danger that exists is man himself... and we know nothing of man - his psyche should be studied because we are the origin of all coming evil... - C.G Jung

The process of pushing past our Ego and then realising the Shadow is a painful journey that brings shame, grief, and insecurity to the surface of our psyche. It's difficult to acknowledge the Shadow when the Ego is crafty in its own right due to its ability to operate through omitting subconscious thought to a conscious one. For example, the traits of ourselves that are glaringly obvious to those around us but yet hidden from ourselves are a result of the Ego omitting and repressing the Shadow's traits. Unfortunately for our Ego, we can embarrassingly display them psychosomatically through our emotions (eg. fear and insecurity), words (eg. slip), and actions (eg. body language). Apparently failing to acknowledge our Shadow can manifest in the most explosive or quietly seething of ways, such that an overblown response to a harmless piece of criticism wouldn't have seemed characteristic of ourselves until it happened. Next time you find yourself reeling from someone's advice, think about why it made you feel that way. Your Shadow might be trying to tell you something.

More importantly, my main concern with all this being said is that you the reader, and I, have most likely fallen to the whims of our Ego and have repressed our Shadow at one point or another. If we think of the certain prejudices and expectations that we held or currently hold, regardless of how deep-seated, where do these actually stem from? For example, perhaps the standards we may hold other people up to is probably in actuality a result of our own personal failure to uphold those ideals in truth. The Shadow acknowledges failure yet the Ego represses this acknowledgment as we have a social responsibility to convey "success". This is what's known as projection and is only just one form of manifestation of the repressed Shadow. I will explore the other thought-forms in the future but the point being is that the repression of the Shadow is a common characteristic of the average modern-day neurotic.

The repression of the "collective Shadow" in the digital age

Now that we understand this Shadow-Ego dynamic, I've come to the conclusion that when it comes to the Internet, there isn't anything really stopping the Shadow from manifesting as a collective thought. Hate groups, extremist idealogues, and all people of prejudice can suffer from failing to acknowledge the reasoning and root of their fear or insecurity. Their "collective Shadow" so to speak, is repressed. I believe that one example of repressing the collective Shadow appears as the refusal to consider another perspective of which may act as a form of constructive criticism, thus revealing aspects of the collective Shadow. Provided that the reasoning is sound and the intent is transparent, quality criticism would (and should!..) lead to the objective truth of the matter. This refusal to acknowledge a new perspective is potentially the reason why moderate stances on certain issues are seen as cowardly in this increasingly partisan platform for discussion. I would argue that moderates who are willing to consider both sides are the ones closer to finding the source of the ideological conflict.

When we look at how these repressed collective Shadows all seem to manifest, especially in an age of free-flowing information and a surplus of welcome platforms for group-think echo-chambers (you know which ones I'm talking about), it's not surprising to see the bleakness of the world when we revisit Jung's quote on evil. In a way, attempting to correct this group-think through high-quality discussion parallels the process of Individuation, that is, the individual's journey to come to terms with and acknowledge their Shadow. The tendency for one side's lapses in reasoning as well as the tendency for a valid viewpoint to turn increasingly fanatical can be compared to how we as individuals lash out when the Shadow reveals itself to us in our journey of Individuation. From the group scale to the individual scale, both forms require deep work and discussion. Now I'm not advising to align as a moderate, nor am I recommending that we use dream analysis to guide future policy. What I am doing is trying to understand the genesis of online-born extremist idealogy by using Jung's psychological framework and applying it to the group vs. individual level. My main belief is that before an individual's repressed Shadow reaches its capacity to "evolve" into its collective form (via idealogy), the unique journey of a person's Individuation seems to be the optimal intercepting point for change and acceptance through personal responsibility. To summarise, as Jordan Peterson put it:

“It is my firm belief that the best way to fix the world—a handyman’s dream, if ever there was one—is to fix yourself,” - Jordan B. Peterson (12 Rules for Life)