In what Kind of Crisis are we Immersed? (2/26/14)

For the sake of argument, let us suppose that we are in the midst of a crisis. It is not the sort of crisis that you hear about on the evening news—like the current crisis in Syria or the one mounting in Ukraine. It is not a crisis such as the recent tsunamis have left in their walloping wakes. The crisis that I want us to suppose we are in the midst of is a cultural or spiritual crisis. Although this crisis produces palpable effects in the lives of millions of people, here and abroad, its roots are intangible and immaterial. The roots of the crisis are, in fact, invisible because they are buried in our psyches. If a decisive number of persons paid careful and close attention to their psyches—and if they had even a rough idea of what they were looking for—the roots of the present cultural-spiritual crisis would be widely recognized. In the not so distant past, religion encouraged individuals to examine their own consciences, to face their deepest motivations with honesty and courage—and this opened a window into the psyche. But as things stand today, the great majority of persons have their attention continually directed outwards. They are simply too busy managing outer affairs and pursuing external or sensual pleasures to be able to see what is glaringly evident to the inner-directed, self-aware person who has learned a thing or two about the unacknowledged but ever-present inner world.

My guess is that it would mean little to many otherwise intelligent and expensively-educated Americans if I said that this collective outer-directedness is one of the chief symptoms of the collective cultural crisis we are presently steeped in. Moreover, we might press our argument one step further and say that most of the truly painful and stumping problems that we face on a daily basis in this pathological, blind, and restless society are symptoms not of physical, neurochemical, technological, and other ‘material’ factors—but direct consequences of ignoring our psyches. The psyche, because of our collective negligence and ignorance, is always striving to redress this injustice, to restore the disrupted harmony or balance, to check our blind and reckless behavior. It goes about this corrective work in much the same way that our bodies work to maintain homeostasis or to ward off pathogens. The symptoms of a cold, for instance—the fever and the coughing up of phlegm—are actually assisting in the work of killing and eliminating the infectious agent that made us sick in the first place. As many of us do with our cold symptoms—i.e., attempt to vanquish or completely mask them with over-the-counter cold remedies—we are inclined to blot out or divert attention away from those potentially helpful (but often irksome and disturbing) psychic symptoms, the ultimate aim of which is to assist in the restoration of psychic equilibrium.

To invoke a familiar example, let us look at depression. From the psyche’s standpoint, a depression is a rather extreme attempt to get the sufferer to slow down, to stop being so busily engrossed in peripheral affairs, to look inside, to deepen (by sinking down, beneath the noisy-busy shallows of one’s outer life). Heart attacks, bouts with cancer, and a slew of other ‘medical’ disorders also have a psychic aspect or component that is yearning to be acknowledged. But before such a potentially regenerative development can occur, the existence of the psyche must, itself, first be admitted. Now, many persons will say that they acknowledge the reality of the psyche—but most of them turn out to be talking about something else altogether. For if you press the issue, what is often discovered is that like most (unconscious) materialists, they equate ‘psyche’ with ‘brain.’ The brain can have a slew of new and widely available drugs prescribed for it—and these drugs have been proven to be most effective in dampening or suppressing the symptoms of various psychic disorders, chief of which, today, are depression and anxiety.

But the psyche, being immaterial (which is not to say, unreal), is not solely responsive to chemicals, like the brain is. It is more like the wireless signal coming out of your router at home, while the brain is like your laptop. When your computer’s motherboard, its processor, its operating system, and cluttered hard-drive are in a sorry or outmoded state—the fastest and best wireless internet signal will just be wasted, since it is hampered by the limitations of the laptop. Taking brain chemicals as a response to psychological problems is analogous to placidly contenting ourselves with 56 kbps on our computer instead of doing everything in our power to enhance our courage, our intellectual understanding, and our moral resources in order that we may be equal to what our psyche throws at us.

But—to return to our original ‘thought experiment’: suppose we are in the midst of a cultural-spiritual crisis (that is only worsened by the fact that its true causes are invisible or unrecognizable to most persons). I would then ask: is it wise or advisable to remain placidly content or comfortable in the midst of a crisis—to go about one’s life in a ‘business as usual’ fashion? It is one thing to remain composed and collected during a crisis, but it’s a different matter altogether to behave as if nothing at all were amiss. Imagine a person becoming all worked up about some petty or inconsequential matter while a far more momentous disaster is unfolding all around them—like worrying about how you’re dressed during the earthquake that is leveling Tokyo or San Francisco. We would regard such behavior as befitting a madman. Don’t we all instinctively agree that during a crisis—geological, meteorological, military, epidemiological, ideological, mass-psychological—priorities should be adjusted in such a way as to best respond to the very pressing needs of the victims of the crisis that is unfolding? During such crises, what constitute acceptable or tolerable behaviors under normal conditions suddenly become ludicrous, insane, and misguided, do they not?

And vice versa? During relaxed, easy-going, non-critical periods, aren’t persons who behave and speak as if the world were falling apart regarded as ‘loonies,’ alarmists, and noisy trouble-makers? Shouldn’t such trouble-makers be mocked and silenced—and, if they attract too many followers, ‘put away’ in order to teach a lesson to those who follow?

And yet, if we were to assemble in a gigantic, swelling chorus all those trouble-makers and disturbing malcontents that have appeared throughout the ages—from India and Iran, Greece and Rome, China and Japan, England and France, Russia and America—wouldn’t their voices converge into a more or less discernible, uniform melody? What would that melody import unto us? Would it more likely be an ‘ode to joy’—or would this chant not bear a more somber, less exuberant tone?

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One thought on “In what Kind of Crisis are we Immersed? (2/26/14)

  1. I know a someone like me, who is much more of a man than I am, who is immersed in a spiritual malaise from which he is having trouble getting out of .He is struggling on a daily basis with what he does not know, but getting nowhere. With all the remedies he has applied, he is getting exactly nowhere. In my opinion, there is nothing for it but to be a BIG JERK.
    I don’t think cultural critics like you, Paul, are as rare as you think they are. You are right, most people just carry on without thinking. But there are still many people who are aware of something being wrong. Man without GOD is just a BIG JERK with nothing real or solid to do. This has been slowly revealing itself since Hitler, who was the biggest JERK to yet come down the pike. This country itself and esp. its leaders is acting like a big jerk and has been ever since the Korean War. We have free and untrammeled activity of all sorts, leading to widespread confusion and mayhem on all sides. People have the freedom to act indiscriminately and without good cause. Much harm has been done to the human “psyche” as a result. Compared to Jung, Freud was just a huge, sad jerk with nothing good to say about mankind. I will leave my unhappy comments now for your perusal. We still have words, if nothing else.

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