The world today hangs by a thin thread, and that thread is the psyche of man. [i]
~C. G. Jung
Our species is in the midst of a psychic epidemic called malignant egophrenia. We don’t recognize our collective madness because not only is it so pervasive, but because it is so overwhelmingly obvious. All that is needed to see the madness of our species is to open our eyes and look at what we are doing to each other, to the environment which we depend on for our survival, and to ourselves. What greater evidence of a collective psychosis do we possibly need? We have become habituated to our collective madness, thinking of it as “normal,” which is in and of itself an expression of our madness.
Speaking about the greatest danger that faces humankind, Jung said:
“Indeed, it is becoming ever more obvious that it is not famine, not earthquakes, not microbes, not cancer but man himself who is man’s greatest danger to man, for the simple reason that there is no adequate protection against psychic epidemics, which are infinitely more devastating than the worst of natural catastrophes. The supreme danger which threatens individuals as well as whole nations is a psychic danger. Reason has proved itself completely powerless, precisely because its arguments have an effect only on the conscious mind and not on the unconscious. The greatest danger of all comes from the masses, in whom the effects of the unconscious pile up cumulatively and the reasonableness of the conscious mind is stifled. Every mass organization is a latent danger just as much as a heap of dynamite is. It lets loose effects which no man wants and no man can stop. It is therefore in the highest degree desirable that a knowledge of psychology should spread so that men can understand the source of the supreme dangers that threaten them. Not by arming to the teeth, each for itself, can the nations defend themselves in the long run from the frightful catastrophes of modern war. The heaping up of arms is itself a call to war. Rather must they recognize those psychic conditions under which the unconscious [tsunami-like] bursts the dykes of consciousness and overwhelms it.”[ii]
The fundamental process underlying what is collectively being played out on the world stage is psychic in nature, which is to say that its origin is in the psyche. What is being acted out politically, socially, and economically is a manifestation or expression of what is going on deep within the collective unconscious of humanity. It is because of this that Jung said, “We can no longer afford to underestimate the importance of the psychic factor in world affairs.”[iii] [Emphasis added]
We are so unconsciously absorbed in and reacting to events in our world that we haven’t noticed the deeper psychic processes that are in-forming and giving shape to what we are acting out as history. Jung commented on this situation when he said:
“When we look at human history, we see only what happens on the surface, and even this is distorted in the faded mirror of tradition. But what has really been happening eludes the inquiring eye of the historian, for the true historical event lies deeply buried, experienced by all and observed by none. It is the most private and most subjective of psychic experiences. Wars, dynasties, social upheavals, conquests, and religions are but the superficial symptoms of a secret psychic attitude unknown even to the individual himself.”[iv] [Emphasis added]
What we, as a species, have been unconsciously playing out destructively throughout human history, is an experience that originates in the psyche and whose medium of expression is the world stage.
It is very dangerous when millions of people fall into their unconscious together and act it out en masse. Jung stated, “Masses are always breeding grounds of psychic epidemics, the events in Germany being a classic example of this.”[v] Mass psychology, which is a herd phenomenon based on fear, then becomes the order of the day. Mass psychoses inevitably lead to criminal behavior. When speaking about Germany in the 1930s, Jung sounded eerily prophetic when he said that it “…fell prey to mass psychology, though she is by no means the only nation threatened by this dangerous germ.”[vi]
When we fall prey to conforming to mass psychology, our unconsciousness makes us prone to potentially ignore and deny our individual perceptions and give away our power to others, which is the “group-think” characteristic of cults. We then become dis-associated from our ability to discern between our inner fantasy-image of what we believe to be true, and the reality of what is actually happening, which is a sign of madness.
Collectively falling into fear allows us to become easily manipulated and controlled by leaders who themselves have fallen prey to the power-drive of the shadow. We then are mutually feeding into and off of each other’s unconsciousness. Once emotions such as fear reach a certain pitch, Jung said, “…the possibility of reason’s having any effect ceases and its place is taken by slogans and chimerical wish-fantasies. This is to say, a sort of collective possession results which rapidly develops into a psychic epidemic.”[vii][Emphasis added]
Though talking about World War I, Jung could just as easily have been commenting on our current global war on terror when he said:
“nobody dreamed of asking exactly who or what had caused the war and its continuation. Nobody realized that European man was possessed by something that robbed him of all free will. And this state of unconscious possession will continue undeterred until we Europeans become scared of our “god-almightiness” [being unconsciously identified with and inflated by an archetype]. Such a change can begin only with individuals, for the masses are blind brutes, as we know to our cost.”[viii]
A psychic epidemic is a closed system, which is to say that it is insular and not open to feedback from the “outside” world. Reflection from others, instead of being looked at and integrated, is perversely misinterpreted to support the agreed upon delusion binding the collective psychosis together. Anyone challenging this shared reality is seen as a threat and demonized. An impenetrable field is conjured up around the collective psychosis that literally resists consciousness. There is no point in talking rationally with a Bush supporter, for example, as their ability to reason has been disarmed.
The underlying source of what is playing out in our world is the psyche itself. Jung made this point when he said:
“Greater than all physical dangers are the tremendous effects of delusional ideas…. The world powers that rule over humanity, for good or ill, are unconscious psychic factors, and it is they that bring unconsciousness into being…. We are steeped in a world that was created by our own psyche.”[ix] [Emphasis added]
To be of genuine benefit, we need to understand the dynamics at the root of this psychic epidemic. If we don’t understand the psychic roots of our current world situation, we are doomed to unconsciously repeat it and continually re-create endless destruction. Recognizing the psychic origin of what is playing out on the world stage is the very realization that the deeper, underlying psychic process is revealing to us.
THE UNCONSCIOUS IS COMING!
Jung felt that, “The great problem of our time is that we don’t understand what is happening to the world. We are confronted with the darkness of our soul, the unconscious.”[x] [Emphasis added] It is as if our shadow, both personal and archetypal, has gripped us and is revealing itself to us as it plays itself out through our unconscious. This is particularly dangerous because this process is happening unconsciously. When we act out and give shape and form to our unconscious without being consciously aware of what we are doing, the outcome is always destructive.
Jung went on to say:
“This is an exceedingly dangerous time and we are confronted with a problem which has never been known in the conscious history of man. You cannot compare it with the early times of Christianity, because that movement did not come from the blood, but came from above, a light that shone forth. This is not a light but a darkness, the powers of darkness are coming up.”[xi]
Instead of God incarnating in His light aspect, it is as if the powers of darkness are coming out of hiding in the shadows and are showing themselves. The dark side of our nature, or we could even say the shadow of God, is revealing Itself and incarnating through the unconscious of humanity.
We are a species possessed. Our species has been seized by a more powerful energy that has taken us over and is acting itself out through our unconscious. Jung said, “Insanity is possession by an unconscious content that, as such, is not assimilatable to consciousness, nor can it be assimilated since the very existence of such contents is denied.”[xii] Being unconsciously “possessed by autonomous psychic contents,” Jung said, “…disorders the brains of politicians and journalists who unwittingly let loose psychic epidemics to the world.”[xiii] The unconscious itself is incarnating and becoming visible as it drafts people into its service so as to give shape and form to itself. We then become the unwitting agents through which the unconscious is literally materializing itself into full-bodied form. To the extent we are taken over by the unconscious, we unknowingly become the “secret agents” through which it propagates itself, our “secret” being “secret” even to ourselves.
What is being acted out in the body politic is a reflection and expression of what is happening deep within the collective unconscious of all of humanity. As if in a dream, the boundary has dissolved between the inner and outer. The inner process of the unconscious has spilled outside of ourselves and is expressing itself through the medium of the outside world. The unconscious is non-local, meaning it is not bound by time or space, and being multi-channeled, can express itself both inwardly and/or outwardly. The unconscious is revealing itself by synchronistically configuring events in the outer world so as to give shape and form to itself. What is happening in our world IS the unconscious expressing and manifesting itself in, as, and through the forms of our world.
As we track malignant egophrenia, we discover that its “fingerprints” are found in those places in our lives where we are unconscious to the correspondence between the inner and the outer. Egophrenia manifests when we are not in “self-referral,” or self-reflection, but in “object-referral,” fixating on the problem as being outside of ourselves. We then split off from our primordial state of unified wholeness, and experience the universe as alien and separate from ourselves.
Recognizing the co-relation and correlation between what is happening in the outside world and within ourselves alchemically transforms egophrenia. Recognizing egophrenia’s non-local, boundary dissolving nature self-liberates the poisonous effects of the pathogen. The dimension of egophrenia’s self-revelation is in recognizing the correspondence existing at every moment between what is happening in the outside world and within ourselves.
We are living in a truly historic moment of time in which the inner is revealing itself to be the outer and vise-versa, as the unconscious births itself through us. The unconscious is simultaneously veiling and revealing itself to us as it acts itself out through us. As long as this deeper process continues to go unrecognized, however, it will continue being acted out destructively.
The good news is that a deeper realization is potentially available to us at such unique moments of time. The times in which we are living are truly initiatory. When the unconscious appears in full-bodied form, it activates a deeper, unconscious process in all of us. Recognizing and metabolizing what is being revealed and activated in us is the very act that can redeem and transform our situation. This realization occurs through the agency of our consciousness, which is the very thing being revealed. Recognizing what is being revealed to us is the greatest service we can do not only for ourselves and all of humanity, but for God as well, so to speak.
LIKE GERMANY IN THE 1930s
The fundamental psychic process underlying our current situation has certain striking similarities to what played out in Germany in the 1930s. Speaking back then, Jung could just as well have been talking about our modern world when he said:
“The struggle between light and darkness has broken out everywhere. The rift runs through the whole globe, and the fire that set Germany ablaze is smouldering and glowing wherever we look. The conflagration that broke out in Germany was the outcome of psychic conditions that are universal”[xiv] [Emphasis added]
The eternal mythic struggle between light and darkness, whose source is the psyche and whose arena is the world stage, not only underlies what happened in Germany, but is at the bottom of what is being collectively acted out in the world today. What played out with the rise of fascism in Germany was the manifestation of an unrecognized deeper psychic process that, fractal-like, has been endlessly recreating itself in a destructive manner all throughout human history. If we fail to recognize this underlying, universal, psychic process─be it in Germany in the 1930s or currently─the result is a destructive collective psychosis. Jung clearly understood this when he said:
“The phenomenon we have witnessed in Germany was nothing less than the first outbreak of epidemic insanity, an irruption of the unconscious into what seemed to be a tolerably well-ordered world. A whole nation, as well as countless millions belonging to other nations, were swept into the blood-drenched madness of a war of extermination. No one knew what was happening to him, least of all the Germans, who allowed themselves to be driven to the slaughterhouse by their leading psychopaths like hypnotized sheep”[xv] [Emphasis added]
Like Germany, we are in the midst of a collective psychosis. Volcano-like, the unconscious has erupted into our world, and unrecognized, is wreaking havoc as it is unwittingly acted out through us.
WE ALL HAVE A GEORGE BUSH INSIDE OF US
We could say that George Bush, because he has literally been taken over by the unconscious, is a living embodiment or incarnation of the unconscious in human form. In other words, Bush is a living, breathing symbol, in full-bodied form, of the state of “being unconscious.” To recognize that George Bush is a symbol reflecting back to us our own unconsciousness is to begin to gain insight into and, thus, to integrate this unconscious part of ourselves.
Talking about a situation when a group is taken over by mass psychology, Jung commented, “As soon as people get together in masses and submerge the individual, the shadow is mobilized, and, as history shows, may even be personified and incarnated.”[xvi] Bush is the living personification, or incarnation of our own unconscious shadow.
Jung stated, “The future of mankind very much depends upon the recognition of the shadow.” [xvii] This is to say that the future of humankind depends upon enough of us recognizing the shadow being revealed to us through the figure of George Bush. Recognizing our shadow as it is reflected through Bush is the very act that inoculates us from the negative effects of the collective psychosis. If we could see our shadow, to quote Jung, “…we would be immune to any moral and mental infection.”
Recognizing that George Bush is a mirrored reflection of our own unconscious shadow is to realize that the evil we see George Bush acting out and being an instrument for is something that we too are capable of. Jung said, “Nobody is immune to a nationwide evil unless he is unshakably convinced of the danger of his own character being tainted by the same evil.” [xviii] [Emphasis added] Recognizing our potential, at any moment, to fall asleep and unwittingly become an agent of darkness is to become psychically immunized from falling prey to the malevolent bug of egophrenia.
Jung continued by saying, “But the immunity of the nation depends entirely upon the existence of a leading minority immune to the evil and capable of combating the powerful suggestive effect.”[xix] In recognizing the shadow being revealed as our own, we are able to connect with each other and collaboratively put our collective lucidity together to creatively embrace, express, and transmute these shadow energies to benefit the entire field.
Recognizing our shadow as reflected to us through the figure of George Bush is a very humbling experience. Horrifying as it is to contemplate, we all have a George Bush inside of us. Ultimately, we are not separate from George Bush. Compassion spontaneously arises from this realization.
Jung rightly surmised that, “So-called leaders are the inevitable symptoms of a mass movement.”[xx] Both Hitler and Bush have been “dreamed up” to express the unconscious shadow of their time. Speaking of the German people, Jung said:
“Like the rest of the world, they did not understand wherein Hitler’s significance lay, that he symbolized something in every individual…. He represented the shadow, the inferior part of everybody’s personality, in an overwhelming degree, and this was another reason why they fell for him.[xxi] [Emphasis added]
To make his point even further, Jung said of Hitler, “The German people would never have been taken in and carried away so completely if this figure had not been a reflected image of the collective German hysteria.”[xxii] [Emphasis added]
Just as Hitler in Germany, Bush is an embodied reflection of the madness deep within the collective American psyche. Bush has literally been dreamed up into incarnation to embody and reflect back to us the state of our unconscious, collective madness. Jung pointed out that, “A political situation is the manifestation of a parallel psychological problem in millions of individuals. This problem is largely unconscious (which makes it a particularly dangerous one!)”[xxiii] [Emphasis in original]
Anything with which we are not in conscious relationship possesses us from behind, beneath our conscious awareness, and acts itself out through us in a way that is destructive. To quote Jung, when the unconscious is activated and, “…not consciously understood, one is possessed by it and hence forced to its fatal goal [which is always destructive].”[xxiv] It is because of Bush’s position of power that our situation is so dangerous, for he is able to act out and give shape and form to the unconscious on the world stage in a way that creates endless suffering and devastation for the entire planet.
WE ARE A SPECIES GONE MAD
In the figure of George Bush, we are collaboratively dreaming up someone to incarnate, embody, and reflect this unconscious part of ourselves so that we can objectively see it. Our projecting out and dreaming up into full-bodied materialization this asleep part of ourselves is simultaneously the very way in which we are becoming conscious of and integrating this unconscious aspect. From this point of view, George Bush is really a great Bodhisattva, as someone had to play this incredibly challenging and unpopular role.
Only one who is gripped has a gripping and suggestive effect on others. Bush has been seized by the unconscious, as if a deeper, more powerful energy is acting itself out through him. When any of us become seized, we momentarily forfeit our humanity and develop a certain charm or charisma, which has a gripping or enchanting effect on others. Interestingly, to be “seized” is related to the word “rapture.” When a group like Bush and his supporters are collectively taken over by more powerful unconscious forces, Jung had this to say, “…delusions were abroad everywhere, and people began to believe the most absurd things [see rapture], just as the possessed do.”[xxv]
Dreamed up to embody the state of being unconscious, George Bush simultaneously activates the unconscious in the field in a reciprocally co-arising feedback loop. Seeing the unconscious as it expresses itself through Bush triggers a corresponding, unconscious resonant frequency in ourselves, as we are all interdependent and interconnected in this non-local universe of ours. This is to say that it is impossible to see the unconscious, such as it is emanating from George Bush, and not have our own unconscious activated.
Speaking about the danger of having the leader of a country be so asleep, Jung said, “The impressive thing about the German phenomenon is that one man, who is obviously ‘possessed,’ has infected a whole nation to such an extent that everything is set in motion and has started rolling on its course towards perdition.”[xxvi] It is as if the leader who is acting out his unconscious is a megaphone catalyzing the unconscious in the field to such a degree that it can potentially precipitate a mass catastrophe. Speaking of this danger of psychic contagion, Jung said, “Perhaps in a more enlightened era a candidate for governmental office will have to have it certified by a psychiatric commission that he is not a bearer of psychic bacilli.”[xxvii]
If we attempt to relate to Bush and his supporters before metabolizing what has been triggered in our unconscious, we will only strengthen the unconscious part of them (and ourselves) in a never-ending cycle, perpetuating the polarization in the field. If we become polarized against Bush and his supporters, we are unwittingly feeding into and supporting their polarized position─we are then just as much in our unconscious as they are. We are then unconsciously reacting to the unconscious part of ourselves which they embody. We are doing the very same thing to them that they are doing to us in a self-generating feedback loop that has no resolution, as if we are mirrors reflecting each other.
By unconsciously reacting in this way, we are complicit in enacting the repetition compulsion of the traumatized soul of humanity. We are a species in trauma. By not recognizing that we are reacting to our mirrored reflection, we are dreaming up the very situation we are fighting against. We are a species gone mad.
What is happening in the outside world is related to, and a reflection of, what is going on inside each of us. Do we really think that the state of the world has nothing to do with us, that what is happening globally is not expressing something in ourselves? To believe that what is occurring in the world today is not related to us is the dissociated fantasy of a person gone mad. We cannot remove ourselves from the equation and become separate from what is happening in the world, for we are the source of what is taking place in the world. To experience ourselves as separate from the psychic epidemic happening “out there” is itself an expression of our madness.
What is going on in the world is an externalization of our own madness, being revealed to us through a world gone mad. We have collaboratively dreamed up our madness into full-blown incarnation, collectively acting it out on the world stage so as to (potentially) become aware of, ultimately heal, and thereby integrate this mad part of ourselves.
Until we realize that there is a collective psychosis amongst us, we are its unwitting instrument. We are then feeding into the collective madness through the denial of our own madness, which is a simply mad thing to do. The denial of our denial is truly maddening, which is to say that our self-deception is a crazy-making activity, both for ourselves and for others.
To realize that we are unwittingly playing a part in the creation of this collective psychosis is to recognize that part of us IS mad. Paradoxically, the very realization of our madness re-connects us to our basic sanity. Realizing our complicity in the prevailing madness instantaneously snaps us out of the collective trance and enables us to be of benefit to “others,” who we recognize as being parts of ourselves which have fallen asleep.
A DEEPER, UNIFIED FIELD
The unconscious pervades the entire field of human consciousness and is expressing itself throughout the field in the interdependent and co-related figures of Bush, his supporters, and everyone who unconsciously reacts against them. We are all interconnected parts of a whole system or field, and we are picking up roles in this deeper, unified process or field. We are not separate. This deeper, unified field, which is in-forming and giving shape to events in our world, is the very thing these events are reflecting back to us to recognize. Any one of us recognizing that we’re all suffering from a case of collective madness adds the light of consciousness to the field, helping to transform and dis-spell the underlying darkness. To recognize this is to instantaneously step out of unwittingly being an instrument for feeding, supporting and creating destruction, and to become an agent of compassion who can be of genuine benefit to others.
The collective psychosis pervading our planet is a field phenomenon and needs to be contemplated as such. This means that the collective psychosis needs to NOT be viewed through the lens of the separate self, which by its nature objectifies and pathologizes individual people, who are thought to exist separately from ourselves. Instead of relating to any part of the field as an isolated entity, it’s important to contemplate the entire interdependent field as the “medium” through which the collective psychosis is articulating itself. Yes, George Bush is mad, AND he is a reflection of that part of all of us that is mad. The reason why it is so hard for our culture to recognize Bush’s madness is because our culture itself is mad. Bush’s madness is our own.
The fact that the mental health community, which should be concerned with psychic hygiene (both personal and collective), is not even addressing the issue of a collective psychosis is a clear indication that the mental health community is itself embedded in and hence, infected with the very psychic epidemic it should be studying. The fact that the underlying psychic roots of our current world crisis are not even part of our planetary dialogue is itself an expression of the pervasive unconsciousness inherent in the psychic epidemic. Our unawareness of there being a psychic epidemic is itself a symptom of the psychic epidemic.
To recognize that the collective psychosis running rampant on our planet is a field phenomenon is to develop a more expansive, holistic vision in which we step out of the illusory identity that imagines we are discrete entities separate from one another. As Buddhism points out, this realization of our interconnectedness is inseparable from the birth of compassion. To say it differently: If we want to wake up to the dream-like nature of reality, we can cultivate compassion, which is its expression.
This is a mass shared dream in which we are all responsible and complicit. We are all collaboratively dreaming up what is happening in our world. We are not just passive observers to what is unfolding on our planet, but active participants. Jung stated it most eloquently:
The great events of world history are, at bottom, profoundly unimportant. In the last analysis, the essential thing is the life of the individual. This alone makes history, here alone do the great transformations first take place, and the whole future, the whole history of the world, ultimately spring as a gigantic summation from these hidden sources in individuals. In our most private and most subjective lives, we are not only the passive witnesses of our age, and its sufferers, but also its makers. We make our own epoch.[xxviii]
Jung continued with the thought that when we recognize our complicity:
“Such a man knows that whatever is wrong in the world is also in himself, and if he only learns to deal with his own shadow, he has done something real for the world. He has succeeded in shouldering at least an infinitesimal part of the gigantic, unsolved problems of our day.[xxix]
The way to change our world is through the individual, one person at a time. Any one of us metabolizing the unconscious shadow as it is triggered in our daily life instantaneously affects the entire universe, as we are not separate from one another. As Jung pointed out, if the unconscious is “…properly dealt with in one place only, it is influenced as a whole, i.e., simultaneously and everywhere.”[xxx] Because of our interconnectedness, any one of us recognizing the underlying psychic roots of the collective madness playing itself out in the world affects the entire field and paves the way for collective realization. Jung said, “…just as the unconscious affects us, so the increase in our consciousness affects the unconscious.”[xxxi]
The unconscious, in its manifestation as a collective psychosis, is revealing to us that the key to resolving our world crisis lies in consciousness itself. Any one of us realizing this might be the very grain of sand that tips the scales for all of humanity and precipitates a collective awakening of consciousness that has been unable to manifest until right now. Imagine that!
A pioneer in the field of spiritual emergence, Paul Levy is a healer in private practice, assisting others who are also awakening to the dreamlike nature of reality. Paul is also a visionary artist and a spiritually-informed political activist. He is the author of The Madness of George Bush: A Reflection of Our Collective Psychosis,which is available on his website www.awakeninthedream.com. (See the first chapter, The Madness of George W. Bush: A Reflection of our Collective Psychosis). Please feel free to pass this article along to a friend if you feel so inspired. You can contact Paul at firstname.lastname@example.org; he looks forward to your reflections. © Copyright 2010
[i] Jung, Psychological Reflections, p. 14.
[ii] Jung, The Symbolic Life, CW 18, par. 1358.
[iii] Jung, Psychological Reflections,< p. 168.
[iv] Jung, Civilization in Transition, CW 10, par. 315.
[v] Jung, The Archetypes and the Collective Unconscious, vol. 9i, par. 227.
[vi] Jung, Civilization in Transition, CW 10, par. 453.
[vii] Ibid., par. 490.
[viii] Jung, Psychology and Alchemy, CW 12, par. 563.
[ix] Jung, The Structure and Dynamics of the Psyche, CW 8, par. 747.
[x] Jung, Letters, vol. 2, p. 590.
[xi] Jung, Nietzsche’s Zarathustra, vol. 1, p. 500.
[xii] Jung, Alchemical Studies, CW 13, par. 53.
[xiii] Ibid., par. 54.
[xiv] Jung, Civilization in Transition, CW 10, par. 485.
[xv] Ibid., par. 432.
[xvi] Jung, The Archetypes and the Collective Unconscious, CW 9i, par. 478.
[xvii] Jung, Letters, vol. 1, p. 541.
[xviii] Jung, The Symbolic Life, CW 18, par. 1400.
[xix] Ibid., par. 1400.
[xx] Jung, Civilization in Transition, CW 10, par. 462.
[xxi] Ibid., par. 454.
[xxii] Ibid., par. 419.
[xxiii] Jung, Letters, vol. 1, p. 535.
[xxiv] Jung, Letters, vol. 2, p. 594.
[xxv] Jung, Civilization in Transition, CW 10, par. 431.
[xxvi] Ibid., par. 388.
[xxvii] Jung, The Symbolic Life, CW 18, par. 1378.
[xxviii] Jung, Civilization in Transition, CW 10, par. 315.
[xxix] Jung, Psychology and Religion: East and West, CW 11, par. 140.
[xxx] Jung, Letters, vol. 2, p. 595.
[xxxi] Jung, Memories, Dreams and Reflections, p. 326.