Saturday, 10 January 2015

CG Jung - the dishonest genius

CG Jung is unusual among geniuses, in that he was dishonest about his own work and its implications.

That he was a genius I think is correct; he made numerous discoveries and conceptual breakthroughs  - and he is an unseen but pervasive influence behind vast areas of modern culture including psychology, psychiatry, therapy and (especially) that vast and vague phenomenon called the New Age movement (almost everything about the New Age has a Jungian lineage - even when this is not generally known or acknowledged).

But that Jung was a thoroughly-dishonest and deceptive man is something equally undeniable. Jung was never plain and honest when that was inexpedient - Jung was not driven by a pure pursuit of truth; because truth was readily and repeatedly sacrificed when the consequences were unwanted by Jung. He craved respectability as a Professor, psychiatrist, scholar, scientist - and would trim his published views to ensure this. He wanted wealth, status, admiration - and patients were charmed, strung-along and generally exploited to ensure this.

Jung wanted to be regarded as an unworldly sage - but worked to create an organization dedicated to his own self-promotion. He was a wholesale sexual seducer of his patients and trainees right into old age; and had a long-term live-in mistress who functioned as a second wife (while being unmentioned in his autobiography - he also used his personal magnetism to maintain a household of handmaidens to dote upon and serve him.


The point is that Jung's many compromises, deceptions, evasions, and lies are so consistently dedicated to his own comfort, convenience and gratification that the picture is one of a highly charming and dominant; but heartless, manipulative and selfish psychopath.


So far, Jung is the precursor of the modern intellectual - the 'tenured radical', the charismatic bureaucrat, the bourgeois bohemian, the alpha-male academic, the medical research project manager, the therapist-entrepreneur, the charity CEO, the self-help/ help-yourself guru, the sexual healer...

But this could be put aside as mere hypocrisy - and that is something of which we are all guilty (it would be hypocritical to pretend otherwise). But Jung's dishonesty went even deeper than that, to invade his primary achievement.

Because Jung's work is incoherent at the very deepest level - and this incoherence has afflicted his legacy. And this incoherence was not the result of confusion, but the result of dishonesty.


An example is the idea of synchronicity; which has become an extremely influential cultural idea - but which is deployed in a way that makes no sense. And this incoherence is not due to misunderstanding Jung, but comes directly from Jung's written contradictory accounts and evasions of the implications of his own insight.

Colin Wilson exposed this in his marvelously insightful short study: Lord of the Underworld: Jung and the twentieth century (1984); especially the chapter the Sage of Kusnacht, where Wilson goes through the writings on synchronicity with a fine toothed comb, and tries to pin down what Jung really believed, or meant - and comes up against a mass of obfuscation and self-refutation: of giving with one hand and taking back with the other.

Jung's last recorded words from his death bed seem appropriate: "Let's have a really good red wine tonight." The final statement of a man whose personal gifts were astonishingly great - but who consistently and successfully deployed them for his own comfort, convenience and glory.