“It’s time to abandon this Jungian notion of a balanced, whole, natural humanity that we must return to.”
This is the concluding line of an excellent video by Zero Books, critiquing Jordan Peterson and Carl Jung from the left. Unfortunately, I think this line is also indicative of the spiritual immaturity of the left, which at its fundamental root, is why the left is losing its culture war. If the left seeks to dispose of the very notion of the Jungian hero’s journey, then what can possibly replace that journey? Nothing. Just bad conscience and spiritual malaise. And that’s the left’s most serious problem right now. I believe that the left is 90% right about everything when it comes to politics. But this spiritual malaise is killing its ability to speak to people on the most fundamental human level, and thus the left loses a root to the human soul. This is why figures like Jordan Peterson have attracted so much attention.
In the following essay, I am going to explain exactly why you cannot possibly abandon Jung, and why the hero’s journey and the work of perpetual synthesis will never be replaced by some social constructionist model, which unfortunately, in the left’s thinking, the social constructionist ideal of nurture taking total precedence over nature has become their trump card over reality itself.
It won’t work. And here’s why.
The Jungian notion of the hero’s journey, which is nothing more than the striving individual working to integrate their personality into the world, exists at the root of psychological wellbeing. If there is no notion of the whole person, the synthesized personality at work in the world, then there will only be pain, chaos and suffering, an inability for a person to understand who they are.
Any worldview that makes the world a place worth living in, without making that worth contingent upon uncontrollable outcomes, is no easy thing to dismiss. A person who can live in the world without seeking escape, despite all the terror that the world is, is, like Melville wrote, a whale who retains warm mammalian blood in arctic seas, a person on a hero’s journey. Or, in the simplest terms possible: it is a person with a genuine spiritual center that grounds them no matter what horror befalls them. That spiritual center is your only defense against the infinite chaos of the universe.
There are a million pitfalls. There is pretentious and self-important zen, over-acceptance of karma or fate, or the malaise and bad conscience of living in a world that you despise and cannot reconcile with what should be. Any worldview that lives in action, and yet resists these deceptions, is the golden core to which all personalities must strive.
In every moment of your life, your unconscious is creating context for your experiences. If you do not synthesize the million voices, species and attitudes of the soul, your life will be a play staged by the condensed and chaotic murmur of schizophrenic panic. Thus, you reap postmodernism, unconditional accelerationism, and other philosophies rooted in unreason or constant craving catharsis.
You will be a puppet of a thousand demons and a chorus of seraphim dimmed and hidden in the blind spots of the mind if you have no notion of an organized, synthesized personality. Let me briefly sketch out what such a worldview, and the personality that lives out that worldview in practice, would become:
1. A person who can make sacrifices. Every decision you make is a sacrifice, and if you choose nothing, if you sacrifice nothing, you will receive nothing. The entire Judeo-Christian tradition, and the Bhagavad Gita, emphasis sacrifice as the hallmark of a worthy individual. If you are not willing to give up what you are currently holding, you will never be able to receive anything new. The link between human beings and the ultimate sublime, in a very real way, is mediated through sacrifice alone.
Giving up something in the present to receive something in the future is the hallmark of conscious thought, an awareness of time, and a way to understand, at root, the way the world works. Giving up the most valuable thing you own is something only a great person can do. This is why heroes so often sacrifice what they hold dear. They leave their hometown, they leave a relationship, they are away from their family and friends, they are not dependent upon instant pleasures. They are self-sufficient, because they renew the covenant between humankind and the divine through perpetual sacrifice.
Once the sacrifices stop, life loses its meaning. There will always be more to give, so there can be more to receive.
2. A person who understands the nature of work. In Christianity, as well as in the Bhagavad Gita, work is given a sacred position in the life of humankind. This is because work is sacrifice. No synthesized personality can exist without work, as a routine, and so every person must ensure that their work is worthwhile, that it is endlessly renewing as much as it is endlessly taxing. That is the ideal toward which work must strive. Work that is not renewing is corrupt. That is the crisis at the core of the Western world right now, the loss of dignified work and the subsequent loss of faith in God.
3. A person who does not expect finality or reward. This, at last, is key. If you work for a reward you will be eternally disappointed, because you are tethering the ritual act of sacrifice to an eventual escape from having to sacrifice. If you work to be finished, work will always be miserable, your sacrifices will suffer, and your personality will fall apart. The great evil of the world is that so many people do work that is not eternally renewing. How many faithful servants of religion have lived lives of endless physical toil, and passed those lives onto their children? How many seconds, hours, centuries of lived experience have been spent in such perpetual exhaustive suffering without hope or reprieve?
This world is not good. The evil of the world runs deeper than the good. Evil is easier to find, more powerful, and can easily tip you from your perch and into resentment and misery, no matter how balanced a person you are. You must understand, like Job, that a good outcome is not promised for good work. And this is the hardest and most evil pill to swallow. This is the true despair of life.
And nothing can change that. No ideology or worldview can erase that reality of the world. The only option is to live alongside it, to live and work and sacrifice without despising the ground beneath your feet and the tendons in your hands.
The hero’s journey, in my short life, is the only mode of existence I know that satisfies these conditions. It is a philosophy of endless renewal and synthesis of the human personality into something more and more each day.
Here is the shape of the Jungian hero’s journey: the world is a wheel, a circle, but each revolution upon its spokes makes you stronger, not weaker. This is the Buddhist doctrine of infinite reincarnation leading to the emergence of a Bodhisattva from the truest student of life, the most faithful witness to the truth.
Krishna in the Bhagavad Gita says that his work is never done. If the ultimate transcendent God ceased to work, the entire world would cease to work. Thus work is infinite and eternal. As above, so below, say the Hermeticists. The Gods too must sacrifice. They must sacrifice what they hold dear the most. They must sacrifice human beings to the fall.
Why is the world structured around work and sacrifice? We cannot possibly know. All religion exists as an attempt to be a faithful witness to this reality, and despite arriving at circularity or contradiction, maintaining that life is still worth living.
But this isn’t existentialism. This isn’t postmodernism. You can’t simply ‘pick your meaning’ in life and do whatever you choose. Certain sacrifices will ruin you. Choosing certain modes of meaning, such as drug abuse or ideological possession, will demolish your life and the lives of everyone around you.
Right now we are immersed in a world being demolished by these misguided, unsynthesized, fractured personalities, people who have not sorted out the thousand demons and faces that speak a thousand different thoughts and leave you, weak and tiny you, to deal with it all and live in a way that is satisfactory.
All my fiction is aimed at restoring faith in life through the evocation of the right sacrifices, the ‘right path’, the perennial religious wisdom that is more relevant than ever, because people yearn to understand their lives and their place in this world more than ever.
If you cast aside the notion of the synthesized personality, the heroic sacrifice in the world, then you will be spun by aeon and you will see only a dim glint of the sun. You will mistake ideology for truth and you will resent the world to such a degree that life itself seems a joke, a meaningless, fruitless hell, and no worldview that arrives at such a conclusion can ever be seriously entertained. Those who have made it their cynical core will reap the demons they answer to.
Please, think. Think honestly and truthfully and find work in the world that makes it worth living in. And if you can’t find that, then that is a problem, because the world is filled with Cains, those who have found nothing for all their sacrifices and been punished in the worst ways.
The world cannot be justified, or made right. But there is a way of thinking that will make it worth living in. That thin strand is what I seek. If that is not a worthy goal, then there are no worthy goals.