Carl Jung’s ‘Shadow’ is a dark piece of psychological theory. It explores the dark edges of your subconscious and conscious mind that supports, malevolence, resentment, and a host of other bad characteristics. Despite that description, I see some light in it. Hence, what this post is about.
The darkest of the dark, the Nazis, Maoist’s, Stalinist’s, and other 20th century tyrannies all represented the horror of humanity and what evil is capable of. However, is there a big difference between those individuals and ourselves? How could someone be so cruel and evil (promoting suffering for the sake of suffering)? When you really think about it, it wasn’t all that long ago that the Auschwitz camps and deaths of millions took place, literally less than a 100 years, the length of one lifetime.
Well, the thing is that we aren’t so different from the Nazi generals, or at least not as much as we would like to think. In a lot of Jordan B. Peterson’s lectures on YouTube, he seems to make one thing very clear; you are not as good as you may think or hope. It’s nice to think of yourself as a good person and better yet, act like one, to yourself and others. But don’t you think that the tyrannical enforcers thought of themselves as good Samaritans before, during and after they committed such terrible acts? Carl Jung’s shadow explains what this dark part of humanity is, how evil can be viewed in a very twisted and contorted way and is the base for a lot of this kind of thinking.
“You cannot have proper respect for yourself, until you know that you’re a monster” – Jordan B. Peterson
To lend perspective into dark times a man named Primo Levi, one of the prisoners in Auschwitz, has written about his experiences during his time in the camps in his conjoined book If This Is A Man and The Truce. It lends terrible perspective brilliantly.
“In a new paper published in the journal Primates, author William C. McGrew, a former professor of evolutionary primatology at the University of Cambridge, reports a high rate of venomous snake encounters by his team of primatologists seeking to observe unhabituated wild chimpanzees in Mount Assirik, Senegal, West Africa. McGrew’s snake-encounter analysis in the paper Snakes as hazards: modelling risk by chasing chimpanzees is one test of what’s known as the snake-detection theory of primate origins, a set of hypotheses that suggest we (along with other primates) owe certain features of our evolution to the risks posed by death and injury from snakes” (Barbara J. King, Cosmos and Culture, 2015).
If you don’t know something exists, then you are certainly not looking for it. And just because you don’t know it exists doesn’t mean that it actually doesn’t. Using the snakes in the grass as a sort of metaphor, the more snakes you know are beneath your feet, the more often and more likely you are to see them coming.
This idea of venturing into the darkness and the shadows also delves into being completely and utterly honest with yourself. Maybe you are not such a good person. Well, therefore, the only thing to do is to become a better one, but you cannot do that until you identify why you are a bad person and address those reasons head on. Keep in mind that a bad person does not directly correlate to being evil or cruel. As bystanders watch someone become subjected to harm, they are typically no better than the ones causing the damage. Harmlessness is not the same as morality, as said by Jordan Peterson. You become too agreeable and move with the crowd, even if that crowd moves towards something terrible, like Nazism.
Nevertheless, I like what the British-American Philosopher, Alan Watts says about delving into the darkness. He says that when one contemplates death, it acts as a kind of manure. Just as manure fertilizes the plants to grow, the contemplation and realization of death is a great generator of creative life. A video on this is here. In other words, going through shit, literally or figuratively, will help you grow. Naivety vanishes and maybe you can find something truly genuine about yourself, which is quite beautiful.
How can you be yourself, if you don’t really know who you are, right?
So, is thinking about these sort of things dark? Yes. But it is the truth. Walking around like everything is okay will only hinder yourself and will make the punch from actually encountering malevolence or cruelty that much more painful. Keep in mind, when venturing into the shadows, that PTSD is created by a traumatic event; such as something that completely contradicts your way of thinking. Therefore, step by step into the shadows would be my piece of advice. Wanting growth without running through some ‘muck’ is futile, but jumping head first into the ‘muck’ and getting stuck is foolish.
There is something missing deep within you. You have to go looking for it. But know that, its hidden in the shadows.