Jung on the Superficiality of Western Man

I know nothing of a “super-reality.” Reality contains everything I can know, for everything that acts upon me is real and actual. If it does not act upon me, then I notice nothing and can, therefore, know nothing about it. Hence I can make statements only about real things, but not about things that are unreal, or surreal, or subreal. Unless, of course, it should occur to someone to limit the concept of reality in such a way that the attribute “real” applied only to a particular segment of the world’s reality. This restriction to the so-called material or concrete reality of objects perceived by the senses is a product of a particular way of thinking-the thinking that underlies “sound common sense” and our ordinary use of language. It operates on the celebrated principle “Nihil est in intellectu quod non antea fuerit in sensu,” regardless of the fact that there are very many things in the mind which did not derive from the data of the senses. According to this view, everything is “real” which comes, or seems to come, directly or indirectly from the world revealed by the senses. This limited picture of the world is a reflection of the one-sidedness of Western man. “The Real and the Surreal” (1933). In CW 8: The Structure and Dynamics of the Psyche. P.745

Jung’s point here is important — in the West, “the real” was largely narrowly identified in terms of the rational and objective. In general, this applied not just to Western philosophy but also to Western spirituality and theology, which was one reason why the scientific revolution and the enlightenment had such a deleterious impact on the traditional Western world-views, and why they precipitated the radicalism that they did (Nihilism, positivism, philosophical Liberalism, biological nationalism, Marxism, etc.). Given the strong association, in the West, between the rational and objective and the philosophical, spiritual, and theological, reevaluations of the former radically affected the later, in a manner not comparable to the affects that equivalent reevaluations had in other cultures, often inducing systematic re-valuations and with them pervasive dysnomia. One can compare, for example, the impact that the scientific revolution had on Christianity to the impact it had on Hinduism; the later, though equally non-empirical, was never shaken in the degree that the former was. Hindus never experienced the angst that (European) Christians did over the conflict between science and religion, since, for Hindus, religion and science largely existed in different mental spaces. I would extend Jung’s point: Western man’s great silliness was his superficiality. I tangentially discussed this here, in Why the West Discovered the Modern World; in short, as Nietzsche noted, the very thing that led to the stellar rise of the West, underlies its undoing, not unlike the ring of Niblung and the fate of Gods of Asgard.

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