Sunday 21 April 2013

Myths are public dreams; dreams are private myths. Yes, true - but so what?


"Myths are public dreams; dreams are private myths.   By finding your own dream and following it through, it will lead you to the myth-world in which you live. But just as in dream, the subject and object, though they seem to be separate, are really the same."    

Joseph Campbell - summarizing CG Jung.  


I used to think a lot about this - in the era from c1998-2008 when I was most into New Age, neo-paganism, neo-shamanism, Jung, Campbell and synchronicity...

My current opinion is that it is sometimes true - myths are sometimes public dreams, dreams are sometimes private myths (although not very often, in either case). 

But - so what?


Unless either myths or dreams or both are more than just myths or dreams - so what if they are the same in essence?

(This 'essence being, presumably, the level of the collective unconscious (i.e. a universally shared psychological sub-stratum.) 


So what if humans share a deep psychology - unless this signifies more than that humans share a deep psychology, it merely kicks the can of meaning and purpose a little further down the road.

Maybe this knowledge is potentially therapeutic, but therapy for what? Psychological well-being is a means to an end, not an end in itself.


Thus the Jungian perspective is actually a fake religion: it does not deliver - and this failure is not (fundamentally) because it does not work in practice (which is probably true); but because Jungian/ New Age perspectives intrinsically lack the resources to supply that which needs to be supplied by a religion: meaning and purpose.



Anonymous said...

What do they say about Rieff's chapter on Jung in 'The Triumph of the Therapeutic'? something like a more thoroughly convincing demolition you rarely read.

I've just bought Rieff's last four - 'My Life Among the Deathworks:Illustrations of the Aesthetics of Modernity', 'Crisis of the Officer Class: The Decline of the Tragic Sensibility', 'The Jew of Culture: Freud, Moses, and Modernity', 'Charisma:The Gift of Grace, and How it Has Been Taken From Us'

RR Reno has reviewed a few.

Anonymous said...

When you get to the end of all the Joseph Campbell gasbaggery, he *does* gve you a meaning and a purpose- "follow your bliss". It's an extremely lame meaning and purpose, and quite a letdown after all that build up, but it's good enough for George Lucas!

Bruce Charlton said...

@dl - I think you'll find that Campbell *replaces* meaning and purpose with something like the animistic sense of being alive and among other living things - he claims we do not need meaning/ purpose.

IN this, I believe he was half right - alienation is a major problem of modern man - "follow your bliss" is not vacuous in context - it is advice for a partial restoration of relationship with the world.

But the Jung/ Campbell world itself has no meaning (being just an accident, and not *for* anything) and there is no purpose to this relationship (the goal being to enhance positive emotions and minimize pain and misery), nor does mortal life have any purpose.

Campbell claims that the desire for such meaning and purpose is a kind of 'category error' (he doesn't use that term, but it's more or less what he means) but he was wrong about that!

Daybreaker said...

You can't trust your dreams when your unconscious (both individual and collective) is being colonized by enemies. As is the case.

I remember Campbell asserting on television that when one reaches the ideal state, all polarities dissolve...

Except, he added (after what seemed to me to be a slightly awkward pause, anticipating a challenge he wasn't willing to face) the decent and the indecent.

OK, someone else will define "decent" and "indecent" for you, to advantage them at your expense.

We just got back to the "us and them" polarity. And every other necessary, awkward but unavoidable polarity soon after.

It is very hard, in the grip of a cunning and deceitful enemy, to choose your own side.

(Few white Westerners, in the grip of political correctness, manage to do it, and seriously sub-replacement fertility is evidence of their failure.)

Even if you decide firmly to take your own side and pursue your best interests, you need to form an adequate conception of your true interest. (And is that individual or collective?)

At that point, I think Campbell would say that you have various obvious material interests, but your higher interest is to pursue enlightenment, and the hero myth, or other myths (preferably adapted to the modern age) can help you achieve it.

What is your reward for enlightenment? How will you know you have achieved it?

All polarities dissolve. (Awkward pause...) Except...

And there goes your enlightenment.

Joseph Campbell's wax wings will only fly you out to the middle of the ocean. Then they'll melt.

I'm not disrespecting Joseph Campbell. I think he was a great scholar, and I think his project was worthwhile and well-motivated.

I don't think his solution works.

jasper said...

Maybe the question is stupid, but... What is it about Christianity, say, that enables it to evade this kind of criticism? So in the Christian account there is a "meaning" or "purpose" to our earthly lives: to be saved, live again in another world, where we'll be better or perfect, or something like that. But why can't we ask again what is the ultimate *point* of doing any of those things? And if that's not a legitimate question, why can't a non-believer say that it's also not legitimate to ask for some *point* in being happy or fulfilled on earth over and above that happiness and fulfillment? I suppose my question is what you take to be the criterion for "meaning and purpose". What is it that an animist or Jungian or atheistic conception fails to provide but which is provided by Christianity?

George Goerlich said...

Your example gets at the root of a deep modern problem. Every individual discards meaning and attempts to set "happiness" as purpose, or the "pursuit of happiness" as the new religion.

Bruce Charlton said...


I think that meaning/ purpose comes from knowing how 'things are set-up' and why - and our personal situation in respect to this.

More exactly it is not just knowing about this situation', but also feeling it - feeling it as a living reality. That is the 'relationship' aspect.

So we need to know how things are set-up objectively - the purpose, how we personally fit-in; and we need to experience it in the same kind of way we experience human relationships.

Bob said...

I think you have it all wrong. The "purpose" of Jung's "fake religion" (it's neither!) is self-individuation. In essence it's the same purpose as Socrates' "Know thyself!" What IS the purpose of that? Well, what's the purpose of purpose? It seems that life poses a challenge to every man to become what he is, but if one simply derives the answer from a book, whether the Bible or Darwin's Descent of Man, then he's avoided the challenge of becoming an individual as opposed to someone who merely parrots other people. And this is actually the meaning of freedom and what it means to be a man.

Gabe Ruth said...

David Bentley Hart comes to the same conclusion:

Bruce Charlton said...

@GR - DBH is correct from a Christian perspective which I now share - but for the modern non-Christian, non-religious sensibility, Jung seems to offer some relief - albeit a psychological, and therefore artificial relief- from the otherwise intractable problem of alienation. And that - as far as it goes - it a reasonable objective.

But these partial and psychological-based solutions (like those offered by Jung/ians such as James Hillman, Joseph Campbell or currently Thomas 'care of the soul' Moore) can end up being the main problem, since they block perception of the truth, and the real answer.