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June 7th, 2019
This two part episode is dedicated to @SE_Cauldron who prompted this topic with a quote from Carl Jung. Find him on twitter
Carl Jung once wrote: “It is a frightening thought that man also has a shadow side to him, consisting not just of little weaknesses and foibles, but of a positively demonic dynamism.”
When it comes to that shadowy side of humanity, there’s a lot of sexiness that we can often attribute to it or often see attributed to it, and it often seems to have a kind of seductive pull.
The overt reference to intimate relations is an easy place to start in order to begin unpacking some questions and thoughts that orbit this idea that Jung is putting forth about demonic dynamism.
It’s perhaps useful to note further that dynamism: is the quality of vigorous action and progress.
We can begin by asking: when does something like sexual attraction actually cause destructive negative outcomes? In a trusting relationship it is widely deemed as a very good thing, but then in other contexts it flips into this shadowy function that perhaps has a touch of evil. Speaking both bluntly and very generally, why would a married person cheat, and why does the prospect of that experience offer so much pull for so many people?
For those who find themselves in an unhealthy relationship, or simply an unhappy one, the attraction of such an experience is generally greater, and perhaps due to a straight forward reason: the act itself becomes a viable reason to dissolve the unhappy marriage.
The ‘evil’ act in this case actually serves a practical utilitarian purpose. It’s much easier to end such unhappy relationships with such a blatant violation of the verbal agreements that often serve as the foundation for behavior in such relationships. While the reasons for dissolution of relationships are varied, this particular avenue is by no means rare, and it is perhaps because this specific violation is built into the original framework that is supposed to hold such people together. Put simply, the way most traditional marriages are verbally constructed specifically states this avenue for making it fall apart. It’s as though we were following instructions for putting together a piece of IKEA furniture, and discover the manual simultaneously describes the method for taking it apart.
To highlight the same point with another example, we can think of a kid playing with LEGOs.
Anyone who played with LEGOs as a kid knows the inevitable limitation of pieces that you run up against while building something. You build something with a finite number of pieces, and it’s often part of the building strategy to take into account what you have for pieces in terms of quantities and variety. Even more important is when something is already built and the next time rolls around that you want to play with LEGOs. In order to do so, you have to destroy what you already have, in order to free up the resources to start over.
In a case of finite resources, destruction is an absolute necessity in order to further create based on the lessons of the past.
If we take this as a tenant of progress and reapply it to the romantic situation of relationships, it again still fits: in order to make the situation better, something about the current situation needs to be changed, and often: destroyed.
[As an aside about monogamy, we can wonder if monogamy as an idea fits humans effectively or if it’s like a glass bottle full of water being placed in the freezer. Is it our natural behavior that fails to fit the monogamous framework? Or does the monogamous framework fail to fit our natural, and potentially healthy inclinations? How many instances of infidelity have ultimately resulted in better situations for all people involved?]
We must carefully and cautiously wonder: do our natural inclinations towards destruction actually help us improve things in certain circumstances?
If we think about a kid who wants to play with LEGOs but is faced with the product of yesterday’s creativity, then the answer is: absolutely. Destroying yesterday’s creation frees up the resources to make something that is potentially better.
All feelings have a kind of hope designed into them so that they function with the aim of one thing: make things better. Often this just means feeling different. We act on the current feeling and our feeling changes to one that is closer to a state that was imagined by the hope of the initial feeling.
Often this can backfire, as when we feel it would be an improvement of our situation to feel the pleasure of eating a donut. Short term improvement in terms of raw sensations, at the cost of long term detriment. We feel good for those moments of sugary-goodness and feel miserable looking at vacation photos, not to mention the specific consequences to our health.
We can mirror this short-term /long-term trade off back on to the example of relationships. The excitement and pleasure of infidelity can have a negative long term effect of destroying a really good primary relationship. The long term health of the relationship is compromised for short term pleasure just as our personal long term health is compromised for the short term pleasure of tasting a donut.
Through this lens the tension of shadowy destructiveness can boil down to a simple question:
Do you want to add?
Or do you want to subtract?
To reiterate: in a circumstance with finite resources, subtraction, or destruction is necessary in order to continue creating with recycled resources.
The digital age is a welcomed hack when it comes to things like writing. Early in the history of writing, paper was a difficult and rare resource so what was written had to be important, or palimpsests were created in order to recycle the paper. But notice once more, in order to create a palimpsest, one must first erase what was originally written on the page, thereby destroying the writing and the message. In that circumstance of limited resources, destruction was necessary. But in the digital age, hundreds of pages takes up the tiniest bit of space in a hard drive. There’s simply no need to destroy, unless of course we are talking about the process of editing.
With editing we enter a new realm of the usefulness regarding destruction, but it again follows the same pattern as the little kid with LEGOs but the reason for destructive change is different. With editing the destructive change is not for resources, but for quality. We realize that something would actually be better if it were leaner, and so we destroy what we have in order to create a better, different version.
Our questions now change. It isn’t: should we add or subtract?
Exactly what and where should we add and subtract?
For example, editing involves both the process of adding material in order to fully flesh out an idea and taking away material that does not add to the overall effectiveness of the piece, whether that be writing, music, film, drawing, painting, or product design. Part of the genius behind Apple products is how much they take away from the design of a product in order to simplify it. The original Ipod had a click wheel, a button in the center and an on/off button at the top. Now think for a moment about how many buttons your average CD player had back in the day. The minimalism was a welcomed change that clearly resonated, but this required taking things away.
Dynamism, or rather action and progress, is a process of growth and decay. The demonic aspect the Jung tints this dynamism with, most likely refers to the subtraction, or destructive aspect of this process. But he perhaps seeks to highlight it in a more extreme way. As should be obvious, thoughtful destruction can yield great good, but destruction that is hooked up to a kind of chain reaction, or a vicious cycle lacks all sort of thoughtfulness and devolves into a force that erases the process of progress and leads to potentially terrible and irreversible circumstances.
Check out Part II
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