The Individual Revolution: Applying Carl Jung to Practical Activism
Stay up to date with the latest headlines via email.
“Your vision will become clear only when you look into your heart. Who looks outside, dreams. Who looks inside, awakens.” – Carl Jung
“To know yourself, think for yourself.” – Socrates
My last post on Beyonce and feminism created quite a buzz. The beautiful outcome of it all was that I had the opportunity to engage in some nourishing conversations with people who supported, challenged, loved, hated, and questioned my stance. Readers shared brilliant analysis, personal narratives, and suggestions for how we engage one another in this movement.
On the surface, much of the conversation seemed focused on feminism, gender expression, capitalism, and celebrity, but a persistent (and less detectable) undertone also permeated the dialogue – one that suggested that some of this debate was less about Beyonce and her feminism and more about how we navigate that very precarious and constantly shifting line between the individual and the collective.
Consider the following response to my previous post:
Sojourner: “So when we talk about every woman being able to express the full range of her being without full concern about how that expression catapults and ripples through the lives of other woman, violently violating others’ ability to express the full range of their being, the call to ‘be loving’ can neglect the violence of other people ‘just being themselves’ without ever directing their anger at anyone in particular: this is the fetish of individual liberation over interconnected liberation. i think that’s part of why so many folks enjoy the 19% clip: it gives voice to the symbolic violence of ignoring the full range of women’s experience.”
This comment (and a few others) really got me to ruminating about that fine line between individuality and group membership. In our daily choices, from the mundane to the extraordinary, we constantly have to negotiate this space.
What does it mean when our personal expression is perceived as impeding the progress of the collective?
How do our choices affect others?
How much should we consider other people when making personal decisions?
How does our desire for group cooperation and acceptance hinder our personal evolutions?
How do we maneuver through all of the gradations that exist between the “me” and “we”?
It’s funny how my spirituality works because just as I began wading through these questions, I ran across The Undiscovered Self: The Dilemma of the Individual in Modern Society by Carl Jung at Borders. In this small, but richly dense book, Jung asserts that much of the individual life of people in society has been subjugated by the cultural trend towards mass-mindedness and collectivism.
As an activist and a person whose personal and professional work is largely based on the values of cooperation, collaboration, and group dynamics, I bristled at what I assumed was Jung’s “anti-collective” stance. Prior to reading the book, I fully anticipated bumping heads with him and was pleasantly surprised when that wasn’t case.
Yes, Jung does take a somewhat antagonistic view of the “collective” but he’s not referring to the kind of healthy collectivism that happens when engaged, empowered, self-realized, people join together. He’s speaking to the kind of collectivism that happens when demoralized and disillusioned people band together to participate in what he refers to as ”collective possession and mass-mindedness.”
And rather than promote the all too prevalent and narcissistic individualism that sits on the other end of this unhealthy spectrum, Jung calls for something much more powerful. The remedy for mass-mindedness is not the selfish individualism many of us are familiar with, but a process known as “individuation” – a synthesis and harmonizing of the conscious with the unconscious. Basically, a movement towards individual wholeness.