Academy of Ideas - Free minds for a free society


As Above So Below

Why are People So Divided and Hostile? – The Dangers of Racial, National, and Political Identities​


Transcript of the video here:

“We fall captive to the herd animal if we cannot reach the individual divinity in ourselves.”
Carl Jung, ETH Lecture December 1939
A healthy sense of self is built upon two primary components: the realization of our unique potential and the identification with a set of collective norms. If we tend too far in the direction of either one of these components our personality will develop in a distorted manner. An extreme individualism is anti-social and does not give proper weight to the wisdom of tradition, while an over-identification with the collective leads to pathological conformity and a lack of self-reliance. The ideal is to strike the golden mean between these two extremes, embracing both our individuality and our collective nature.

In the modern day few walk this middle-path rather, morbid distortions of the self are the norm and the most common distortions stem from veering far too close to the personality extreme which Carl Jung called a “futile collectivism”. In this video we will explore the dangers of over-identifying with groups or collectives, and why this is leading to a divided, hostile, and easily controlled society.

“No wonder that nowadays there is a feeling of catastrophe in the air, as though an avalanche had broken loose which nothing can stop. The collective man threatens to stifle the individual man, on whose sense of responsibility everything valuable in mankind ultimately depends.”
Carl Jung, Civilization in Transition
Collectivism is a philosophical doctrine and central to it is the idea that groups, or collectives, are superordinate to the individuals who compose them. Typically collectivism is discussed with respect to political ideologies. Both fascism and communism are collectivist political ideologies which demand that individuals sacrifice their property, well-being, and sometimes even life for the so-called “greater good” of the nation-state. With respect to personality development, however, futile collectivism refers to the situation in which an individual derives his or her identity and self-worth primarily from membership in certain collectives or groups.

This proclivity to identify with a collective is a key element of identity politics, which, in the words of Douglas Murray:

“…atomizes society into different interest groups according to sex (or gender), race, sexual preference and more. It presumes that such characteristics are the main, or only, relevant attributes of their holders and that they bring with them some added bonus.”
Douglas Murray, The Madness of Crowds
A futile collectivism can also be seen in the tendency of many people to form their identity around their religious or political affiliation, class, ethnicity, or nationality. And as John Goldhammer explains:

“… individuals base their self-image on a collective or group ideal…[and] derive their self-worth and sense of identity from a group…They make the group ideology…the predominant object in their psyches.”
John Goldhammer, Under the Influence: The Destructive Effects of Group Dynamics
Around two hundred years ago the philosopher Arthur Schopenhauer made a poignant observation regarding why people base their identity on groups. In 19th century Germany, nationalism was on the rise and this led many people to forge their identity around the German nation-state. Schopenhauer observed that those who most fanatically identified themselves with their German nationality were typically powerless people in need of a collective identity to compensate for their lack of individual self-worth. Or as Schopenhauer wrote:

“Every miserable fool who has nothing at all of which he can be proud, adopts as a last resource pride in the nation to which he belongs; he is ready and happy to defend all its faults and follies tooth and nail, thus reimbursing himself for his own inferiority.” (Schopenhauer)
Arthur Schopenhauer, Essays and Aphorisms
100 years later the philosopher Eric Hoffer echoed this sentiment:

“The less justified a man is in claiming excellence for his own self, the more ready is he to claim all excellence for his nation, his religion, his race or his holy cause.”
Eric Hoffer, The True Believer
A group or collective identity offers the powerless a variety of psychological benefits, such as the ability to dispense with one of life’s heaviest of burdens – self-responsibility. When one sees oneself as a mere particle in a much greater social whole, one no longer needs to think and make decisions for oneself. Rather, one merely needs to do and think what others do and think, and to blindly obey the collective authority figures.

“Collective thinking and feeling and collective effort are far less of a strain than individual functioning and effort; hence there is always a great temptation to allow collective functioning to take the place of individual differentiation of the personality.”
Carl Jung, Two Essays in Analytical Psychology
Or as Jung put it elsewhere:

“All collective identities, such as memberships in organizations, support of `isms,’ and so on…are crutches for the lame, shields for the timid, beds for the lazy, nurseries for the irresponsible.”
Carl Jung, Memories, Dreams, Reflections
Yet another psychological benefit a group identity offers is a collective purpose to compensate for feelings of meaninglessness and the inability to forge an individual purpose. Referring to the tens of millions of people in the 20th century who formed their identity around the political ideology of communism, one writer explained:

“From the outside, the communist may look like an ant in an anthill, but to himself he may seem to be a comrade helping to carry out a great design…For the first time they ‘belong to’ something, to a ’cause’…something at any rate which transcends their narrow personal interests and opens up a world in which each has his part to play and all can ‘pull together.’”
The Hungry Sheep, From the Times Literary Supplement. 1951
These benefits, however, are outweighed by the costs. Perhaps the greatest of which is that people who form their sense of self through group identification run the risk of becoming possessed by what the psychiatrist Robert Lifton called “the assumption of omniscience.” Group-identified people do not entertain the possibility that their group ideology and worldview may be wrong, disingenuous, or destructive, for that would pose a fundamental threat to their identity. Rather, such people tend to dogmatically assume they are right and righteous, and that anyone with differing ideas or values is either ignorant, immoral, or evil. They see the world through the prism of an “us vs them” mentality, and this inevitably leads to a polarized society composed of divided and hostile groups, some of which are one social crisis away from scapegoating and committing atrocities against targeted members of out-groups.

“Collective fear stimulates herd instinct, and tends to produce ferocity toward those who are not regarded as members of the herd.”
Bertrand Russell, Unpopular Essays
Or as John Goldhammer explains in more detail:

“Exclusiveness in any group alludes to a claim that the group has some unique purpose or knowledge and therefore membership in the group implies that the members are likewise special in some manner. Of course, along with this exclusiveness, outsiders must be classified as ignorant and inferior…The group possesses reality, hence those not in the group are in a state of unreality and nonexistence…group-identified persons develop a mob mentality, able to kill without feeling or conscience.”
John Goldhammer, Under the Influence: The Destructive Effects of Group Dynamics
To make matters worse, in the modern day much of the division and hostility between groups is being artificially stoked through the strategy of divide and conquer. In many countries authoritarian governments are spreading propaganda which demonizes certain groups – labelling them as conspiracy theorists or inherently racist, misogynist, or extremist – and then proceeding to tell the rest of the populace that these groups are a threat to “democracy”, “progress”, “health” or “unity”. This form of social manipulation is further dividing racial, ethnic, political, national, and religious groups, ensuring they fight amongst each other and so ignore the real threat that hovers over us all – total state control.

“By submissively accepting a collective label, we turn ourselves into stereotypical clones, little more than puppets whose strings are controlled by the prevailing popular ideology.”
John Goldhammer, Under the Influence: The Destructive Effects of Group Dynamics
Basing our identity primarily on groups or collectives is maladaptive and destructive. But we must not to throw the baby out with the bathwater, for we evolved as tribal beings and forming connections with others based on our commonalities can be an enriching part of life.

“…we don’t synchronize with all members of humanity equally; we preferentially harmonize with people who are close to us by birth, location, and shared culture, whether that culture is writ large (at the macro level of entire societies) or small (at the micro level of groups that help form our multilayered identities, for example ethnicity, political party, and even sport fandoms). These tribal tendencies toward forming ingroups can shape our most cherished traditions and moments…”
Sarah Rose Cavanagh, Hivemind
Yet forming in-groups only remains beneficial if we sufficiently differentiate ourselves from them, that is, and maintain our psychological and behavioural independence. This does not require we leave our tribal in-groups, but relate to them with a detached involvement, not allowing the group ideology to be the sole shaper of our reality or sense of self. Without this individualistic process of differentiation, we run the risk of succumbing to what Jung called “a melting away of the individual in the collective.” (Carl Jung, Two Essays in Analytical Psychology) In other words, we psychologically regress to the state of the herd animal.

“While man still lives as a herd-animal he has no psyche of his own, nor does he need any.”
Carl Jung, Civilization in Transition
The zoologist Adolph Portmann noted that in the animal kingdom adaptive changes in behaviour can only be initiated by individual specimens who break with the species’ well-established patterns. In this respect the human species is no different. Social progress and prosperity depend on the existence of individuals who possess the courage to differentiate themselves from others, and who are capable of standing firm in their beliefs and values even amidst outbreaks of collective madness. So long as most people continue to base their identity on collectives and groups, society will continue to stagnate and be polarized, divided, and easily controlled; and people will continue to blindly grasp at collective solutions to problems that can only be solved by individuals.

“…the more the sum total of collective factors peculiar to every large community rests on…prejudices detrimental to individuality, the more will the individual be morally and spiritually crushed, and, as a result, the one source of moral and spiritual progress for society is choked up.”
Carl Jung, Two Essays in Analytical Psychology
Or as Jung continues:

“Ultimately everything depends on the quality of the individual, but our fatally short-sighted age thinks only in terms of large numbers and mass organizations.” (Jung)
Carl Jung, The Undiscovered Self



As Above So Below

Why Suffering can Promote Strength and Health​


Transcript of the video here:

“The discipline of suffering, of great suffering – do you not know that only this discipline has created all enhancements of man so far?”
Friedrich Nietzsche, Beyond Good and Evil
Suffering is inevitable. It is an essential component of the human condition, and the sources of suffering are many. Some have gone as far as to suggest that it is suffering, and not its opposites of joy and happiness, that is the more common experience.

“Men are wretched by necessity, and determined to believe themselves wretched by accident.”
Giacomo Leopardi, Thoughts
So given that we will suffer, the important question is: ‘How will we suffer?’ Will we let our suffering destroy us and drive us into a pit of despair, or will our suffering lift us to the heights of a fulfilling life? In this video, we examine the value that lies latent in the experience of suffering and make the argument that most people approach suffering in a way that is antithetical to life.

“All good in a man for which he is praised or loved,” wrote Hermann Hesse “is merely good suffering, the right kind, the living kind of suffering, a suffering to the full. . .From suffering springs strength, from suffering springs health.”
Hermann Hesse, Zarathustra’s Return
At first glance suffering appears to be one of life’s evils. It tends to arise with the misfortunes of illness, injury, failure, loss, or rejection. It is a painful experience consisting of an onslaught of negative emotions and it tends to isolate us from friends and family. What value can there be to an experience which is associated with all these negatives? What is it about suffering that could lead Nietzsche to write that “…it almost determines the order of rank how profoundly human beings can suffer…Profound suffering makes noble; it separates.” (Friedrich Nietzsche, Beyond Good and Evil)

In Iain McGilchrist’s magnum opus The Matter with Things he elucidates on the value of suffering by drawing an analogy between humans and the trees. In the late 1980s scientists involved with the Biosphere 2 project created an enclosed ecological system to explore the potential viability of supporting life on another planet, and as McGilchrist writes:

“Scientists involved in the Biosphere 2 project. . .were puzzled by the fact that trees within the project repeatedly failed to achieve maturity before they fell over. Later, they realised that trees needed wind in order to grow strong. Exposure to winds causes the growth of ‘stress wood’, which is the core of the tree’s strength and integrity. Winds also cause the root system to strengthen.”
Iain McGilchrist, The Matter with Things
As with a tree, if a man or woman is placed in a sheltered environment and protected from the stressors of life, he or she will grow up vulnerable and frail. Hardship, adversity, and the suffering that accompanies such experiences, are necessary for a healthy development. Nietzsche recognized this fact about trees and people long before the Biosphere 2 project, and as he wrote:

“Examine the lives of the best and most fruitful people. . .and ask yourself whether a tree that is supposed to grow to a proud height can dispense with bad weather and storms; whether misfortune and eternal resistance…do not belong among the favorable conditions without which any great growth even of virtue is scarcely possible.”
Friedrich Nietzsche, The Gay Science
But the value of suffering goes beyond the fact that it is an inescapable by-product of the hardships that lead to personal growth. Rather there are values to suffering that are intrinsic to the experience. Firstly, suffering is a great teacher, or as Nietzsche put it: “Great suffering is the ultimate liberator of the mind. . .” Suffering can make evident errors in our ways and point to the necessity for change. Suffering is also essential for empathy – unless we suffer how can we know what others are going through in times of hardship? It is also well established that certain forms of suffering, most notably depression, increase our capacity to realistically evaluate life, or as McGilchrist explains:

“. . .depression has repeatedly been shown to be associated with greater realism – provided the depression is not too severe. . . The evidence is that this is not because insight makes you depressed, but because, up to a point, being depressed gives you insight. In understanding one’s role in bringing about a certain outcome, depressives are more ‘in touch’ with reality even than normal subjects. . .”
Iain McGilchrist, The Matter with Things
Suffering, however, does more than teach, it also increases our capacity to enjoy life. For suffering exists at one end of a dipole, or set of opposites, and on the other end lie happiness and joy. As with all pairs of opposites for one to exist, so must the other – for an individual to know joy, he or she must also know the pain of suffering and the greater our capacity for one of these types of experiences, the greater our capacity for the other. Or as Nietzsche put it:

“How little you know of human happiness, you comfortable and benevolent people, for happiness and unhappiness are sisters and evil twins that either grow up together or, as in your case, remain small together.”
Friedrich Nietzsche, The Gay Science
And as McGilchrist explains:

“Opposites are not to be resolved by eliminating the one we happen to dislike, any more than lopping off the south end of a bar magnet gets rid of the south pole: it just shortens the magnet.”
Iain McGilchrist, The Matter with Things
But if many of the hardships and adversities that cause suffering promote self-development, if suffering leads to greater realism and self-knowledge, and if it is needed to fully experience joy and happiness, then why are so many people made worse off by their suffering? Why, in other words, does suffering drive so many of us into states of chronic depression, resentment, pessimism, nihilism and despair?

Simply put, we have become too spoiled by the fruits of modern civilization and as a result most people are not practiced in the art of suffering. With easy access to the necessities of survival, surrounded by sources of pleasure and comfort, and with sickness and death hidden away in hospitals and morgues – we are shielded from the physical and psychic suffering that was the norm of ages past. Our minds and bodies have grown soft and unprepared to deal with the sufferings of life:

“…the refinement and alleviation of existence make even the inevitable mosquito bites of the soul and body seem much too bloody and malignant.”
Nietzsche, The Gay Science
The comforts of modern civilization have magnified our sensitivity to pain and suffering to the point where many consider the mere “thought of pain” a “reproach against the whole of existence.” (Nietzsche) Or as Nietzsche continued:

“…pain…did not hurt as much then as it does now…pain is now hated much more than was the case for earlier humans, one speaks much worse of it.”
Nietzsche, On the Genealogy of Morality
As a result of our pathological oversensitivity, when suffering does arise, many of us flee from it. We turn to drugs, alcohol, or the alluring glow of screens to distract ourselves. Should these techniques fail, psychotropic drugs can always numb us to our pains. But in always trying to escape, deny, or mask our suffering, we fail to harvest its value. For suffering’s value comes only to those who are willing to endure it and to prepared face it head on. And as Nietzsche wrote:

“If you are unwilling to endure your own suffering even for an hour, and continually forestall all possible misfortune, if you regard suffering and pain generally as evil, as detestable, as deserving of annihilation, and as blots on existence, well, you have then…in your heart…the religion of smug ease.”
Nietzsche, The Gay Science
But with that said suffering is not a state we want to wallow in unnecessarily. Chronic suffering is pathological and will wreak havoc on our body and mind. Instead of remaining mired in our suffering, once we have learnt from it, suffering’s proper role, as one end of a dipole, is to create a tension that impels us forward into development and growth:

“It is the tension between the warring ends of the bow that gives the arrow the power to fly, as it is the tension in the strings of the lyre that gives rise to melody: this is what [is] meant by [the] saying ‘war is the father of all things’.”
Iain McGilchrist, The Matter with Things
Some may wonder whether what has been discussed so far applies to great suffering: To the suffering that arises from a tragic bereavement, a chronic illness, facing up to death, flirting with madness or being cast into personal ruin. Nietzsche, is one who experienced suffering of this magnitude and he affirmed that it too, has great value.

“At every age of my life, suffering, monstrous suffering, was my lot.”
Friedrich Nietzsche, Quoted in Struggle with the Daemon
Nietzsche suffered from personal rejection, he suffered from a lack of professional recognition, and most of all Nietzsche suffered from chronic ailments for which he could find no cure. As he wrote in a personal correspondence:

“Every two or three weeks I spend about thirty-six hours in bed, in real torment…this winter is the worst there has been…It is such a strain getting through the day that, by evening, there is no pleasure left in life and I really am surprised how difficult living is. It does not seem to be worth it, all this torment…”
Friedrich Nietzsche, The Selected Letters of Friedrich Nietzsche
But the same man who wrote these words also claimed that it was his suffering that propelled him to great heights. His suffering helped him attain greatness as a philosopher and his suffering allowed him to reach, in his words, “heights of the soul from which even tragedy [ceased] to look tragic.” If, therefore, we are beset by great suffering, we can turn to people like Nietzsche for inspiration. For Nietzsche was a living testament to the fact that with courage and the right mindset it is possible to endure the worst of life’s hells, and to emerge with more depth of character, greater wisdom, and an enhanced capacity for joy:

“…to speak mystically, the path to one’s own heaven always leads through the voluptuousness of one’s own hell.”
Friedrich Nietzsche, The Gay Science
Or as he wrote elsewhere in the same book:

“. . .from such abysses [of suffering] one returns newborn, having shed one’s skin…with a more delicate taste for joy, with a tenderer tongue for all good things, with merrier senses…more childlike and yet a hundred times subtler than one has ever been before.
Friedrich Nietzsche, The Gay Science

When it comes to living with dignity and freedom, then you need to know about Nelson Mandela. I’ve gathered the best and most Inspirational Nelson Mandela Quotes in one place with a new style for you. I hope you’d love it.