Soul Possession

img_20190101_0740554066751106643737295.jpgIt’s easy to see how the capitalism of an economy structures the dynamics between people and sociopolitical relationships within a culture, particularly with an emphasis on people and resources in service of production and economic growth, rather than an economy in service of the people. When understood as one of the dynamics driving, not only outer relationships, but inner realms as well, we might wonder in what ways the economy shapes our notions of self and other.

As the exchange of money drives such a large part of how we survive, giving access to all of the necessities to sustain one’s existence, does it not also permeate our identities by requiring a response to one’s relationship to the economic cultural norms? For what facet of life remains untouched by the economic system that we have so little choice but to “buy in to?” Doesn’t the agreement that “nothing is free” now demand that we participate in the scheme as producers, but not of the goods themselves, but of the economy?

No longer do we work in service of the necessities that sustain us, but in service of money itself and the myriad, abstract forms of goods in exchange. Credit, insurance, stock market, loans, investments are hardly, if ever associated directly with the goods, but have also become things to purchase. The goods and services that we purchase have become in some sense, secondary, reliant on affording and financing their ownership. They are the reward, or prize, granted us for our buying in to the system. The gratification of ownership must draw us in for the economy to “work.”

James Hillman, in his essay, A Contribution to Soul and Money,” likens the psychology of money to the sea, “deep and broad as the ocean, the primordial unconscious…” where it “…makes us so.”

Money is as protean as the sea-God himself…

Money is like the id itself, the primordially repressed, the collective unconscious appearing in specific denominations, that is, precise quanta or configurations of value, i.e., images. Moneys are the riches of Pluto in which Hades’ psychic images lie concealed. To find imagination in yourself or a patient, turn to money behaviors and fantasies. You both will soon be in the underworld (the entrance to which requires a money for Charon).*

Mynt_-_Skoklosters_slott_-_100291.tifIf money takes us deep into the underworld, and we live, as Hillman also believed, by an economically driven myth, who are we in the story? As I write this essay, I am struck not only by how readily economically flavored language and metaphor appear, but how these same terms have gained currency in other facets of life. In particular, the idea of ownership is not only an economic term, but a psychological one. The word has a curious history relating to the word, possession:

From Wiki: Own (v.)

c. 1200, ouen, “to possess, have; rule, be in command of, have authority over;” from Old English geagnian, from root agan “to have, to own” (see owe), and in part from the adjective own (q.v.). It became obsolete after c. 1300, but was revived early 17c., in part as a back-formation of owner (mid-14c.), which continued. From c. 1300 as “to acknowledge, admit as a fact,” said especially of things to one’s disadvantage. To own up “make full confession” is from 1853. Related: Ownedowning.

Laborers_sorting,_weighing,_and_stacking_cabbages_at_the_Beach_and_Parker_Farm-_Elkton,_Florida_(3312106508)In an earlier time, it’s likely that there wasn’t enough “ownership,” in the way of personal property, for the term to be used in an economic context. That the connotation was negative shows how the idea has transformed over time as the modern myth of economy took root. The word “economy” relates to the idea of household and thrift which also saw an expanded usage in the 17th century as something applicable to the State.

What’s curious to me is the correlation between the emphasis of an idea that we might take for granted; that of the self as individual, separate, unique and free – as in not belonging to an other – as outcomes of the construct of an economy; its language, ideas and functionality, both of which have imposed upon us, a particular way of understanding the nature of the individual in economic terms. But which shall we say came first? Is this a chicken and egg situation? Perhaps.

I tend to think that the change in a style of consciousness was the catalyst that allowed for increasingly abstract ways of thinking about power and potential, in which the combination of the ideas of growth, separation and expansion, took hold of the modern psyche. But in this instance, the particular change in a style of consciousness is the move away from a polytheistic world where the gods’ and nature’s power once controlled and determined our fate, towards a monotheistic world, where the gods of old have been supplanted by an increasingly transcendent God. As God transcends, power shifts back to earth, embedded in the hopes and dreams that rational science provides.

The problem with growth and expansion appear if we then begin to mistake the means as the goal. Instead of an economy with soul, where value resides in what brings beauty to life, growth and expansion make a psychological claim on us, where it can be seen to reflect an underlying dynamic of the need for increasing power and control over individual destiny. This shift not only enhances the sense of oneself as distinct and separate, and therefore accountable, but through a hierarchical dynamic tends to reward those who adapt to the shift.

603px-Eduardo_Matania_Beim_Die_geschlossene_Bank_1870s

Those who adapt, learn to live by the metaphors of ownership and possession, where individuality as the core idea, shapes modern identity. It’s infectious, as all ideas are that seem to bring about immediate reward and gratification. Once the psychological shift infiltrates the collective, technology, as the means to increased survival and comfort, furthers the rewards of personal identity, as our value and identity begins to merge with what we own. But as well, as individuals, the culpability for one’s behavior, choices and possessions increases the need for protection through yet another purchase: insurance.

This dynamic is still very much in play as we moderns now argue over who is responsible for both personal and collective messes we find ourselves in.  Ironically, through the successes of technology, abstracted into a love of money for its own sake, the goal becomes the assurance of means, rather than in the value of the things themselves. Here we finally see money completely devoid of both soul and value.

Perhaps the more that money itself loses soul – devalued and devoid of a connection to the divine – the more its use is corrupted, in the same way that amassing a mountain of things, deflate both their value and meaning. I agree with Hillman, who sees that it is not money itself that is the problem, but the loss of its connection to soul and value, as can often be witnessed through one’s relationship to money.

As long as our belief system inherently depreciates money, it will always threaten the soul with value distortions. Depressions, inflation, bad credit, low interest – these psychological metaphors have hardened into unconscious economic jargon. Having “de-based” money from its archetypal foundations in psychic reality, money attempts a new literal and secular foundation for itself as “the bottom line.” But this bottom does not hold, because any psychic reality that has been fundamentally depreciated must become symptomatic, ‘go crazy,’ in order to assert its fundamental archetypal autonomy.

In conclusion, I would add that the ways in which culture structures itself, readily seen in the shared public places of commerce and the daily grind of our personal routines, reflect back to us the nature of a shared psychic reality. As the structures in place appear to tumble into chaos, and we feel our discontent mount, perhaps some shift within us calls more deeply to find value in the hidden beauty, as a pearl residing both within ourselves and in others.

*Un less otherwise noted, all quotes: James Hillman, Soul and Money Spring Publications

 

Life Against Death – Part II

A consideration of the aim and purpose of artificial intelligence (AI), provides a fitting introduction to this followup post on Norman O. Brown’s book, Life Against Death. AI seeks to build a model of human intelligence for the purpose of:

1) The thrill and power of creating, fathering and possessing a better than human machine, a substitute for flesh and blood body.

2) Putting AI to work as servants so we save time for some other purpose.

3) To reach immortality either through an AI computer programmed to replicate itself, or to perfect our flesh and blood bodies with mechanical replacement parts allowing humans to at last say goodbye to death.

File:Robot Fish (4651519523).jpgA desire to recreate intelligence that matches or surpasses our own is perhaps the climax of a long history of our struggle against death. Does not attempting to mimic our likeness in an AI machine reflect back to us a sense of ourselves as discardable matter, preferring mechanical automatons better than we but without the messiness of life; our flesh, blood, pain and guts? Does it not also seek to be rid of the heart, the center of feeling?

Near the end of the book, Norman O. Brown quotes Henry Miller:

“The cultural era is past. The new civilization, which may take centuries or a few thousand years to usher in, will not be another civilization— it will be the open stretch of realization which all the past civilizations have pointed to. The city, which was the birth-place of civilization, such as we know it to be, will exist no more. There will be nuclei of course, but they will be mobile and fluid.

The peoples of the earth will no longer be shut off from one another within states but will flow freely over the surface of the earth and intermingle. There will be no fixed constellations of human aggregates. Governments will give way to management, using the word in a broad sense . The politician will become as superannuated as the dodo bird. The machine will never be dominated, as some imagine; it will be scrapped, eventually, but not before men have understood the nature of the mystery which binds them to their creation. The worship, investigation and subjugation of the machine will give way to the lure of all that is truly occult. This problem is bound up with the larger one of power— and of possession. Man will be forced to realize that power must be kept open, fluid and free. His aim will be not to possess power but to radiate it.” Henry Miller

Brown offers us a big view of the history of consciousness through an examination of Freud’s ideas alongside those of Whitehead, Bachelard, Goethe, Blake and Boehme, Rilke and others. He delves deeply into the question of how the disconnection between mind and matter/body at the level of human consciousness has turned us against our animal nature and in so doing, pitted life against death. By sacrificing the infantile pleasure instincts for the common good, repressed instincts become sublimated; turned away from oneself in service to the group through work, art, sport and religion. But in postponing and repressing the ability to feel pleasure, the all work becomes compulsive and all pleasurable states bring guilt. We then seek to possess, to become immortal through the legacy of building and owning stuff. 

In a long chapter on anality, an important theme in both Freud and Protestant reformer Martin Luther, Brown makes the point that from primitive to modern man a split between mind and body can be associated with our discomfort of the dirt and filth of matter. Increasingly in Christianity we see the ancient split come into light:

“This paradox means that the Christian is split into two dimensions, spirit that belongs to Christ and flesh that belongs to the Devil…The whole realm of visible reality, the world and the flesh , belong to the Devil; God has retired into invisibility— Deus absconditus.”

Quoting Luther:

“It is nothing new or strange that the world should be hopeless, accursed, damned; this it had always been and would ever remain.”

The world as forever corrupt, the domain of the devil leads to an expectation of suffering, pain and misery as inevitable for the flesh, which we abandoned by retreating into spirit, a separated mental realm. This division between spirit and flesh increases our alienation to bodily pleasure and sense which in turn extends our alienation to the world of matter which we seek only for power and possession.

Although the eventual secularization of protestant beliefs in the modern world could not sustain a belief in the devil, we also fail to seek a grace or redemption of matter, still unable to break the chains of the compulsion to work and postpone pleasure to some imagined future.

“But as long as (to quote Tillich) “the Protestant principle cannot admit any identification of grace with a visible reality,” and cannot repeat with conviction the traditional Christian faith that the time will come when grace will be made visible, and that this goal is the meaning of history, it looks as if neo-orthodox theology will remain incapable of casting out demons, and therefore will be of limited service to the life instinct in its war against the death instinct. It diagnoses, but it does not cure.”

History itself can be seen as part of the problem. Through our sense of time we defer pleasure, looking to the future, saving time as we go to have more time, always necessary to those who cannot live in the present. Our inability to be present leaves us unlived, and so guilty, unredeemed, haunted, suffering from sins of both our personal and ancestral past. We do not easily live in the present, even if intellectually we know that’s all we have. We are bound by our sense of time which keeps us out of the eternal present.

Brown sees the intensification of the split and neurosis as necessary to bringing the repressed unconsciousness into consciousness. In the modern industrial era of capitalism:

“The alienated consciousness is correlative with a money economy. Its root is the compulsion to work. This compulsion to work subordinates man to things, producing at the same time confusion in the valuation of things (Verwertung) and devaluation of the human body (Entwertung).”

Capitalism may have emerged along with a more secular world, but Brown reminds us that the focus of our worship has moved from the god of church to the god of money and the power and hope in possessing things:

“The money complex is the demonic, and the demonic is God’s ape; the money complex is therefore the heir to and substitute for the religious complex, an attempt to find God in things.”

Brown concludes on a positive note by seeing that all of history has brought us to this moment in which the abolition of repression may free us from the split between mind and body into a resurrection, or a giving of life back to the body:

“The life instinct, or sexual instinct, demands activity of a kind that, in contrast to our current mode of activity, can only be called play. The life instinct also demands a union with others and with the world around us based not on anxiety and aggression but on narcissism and erotic exuberance…The death instinct is reconciled with the life instinct only in a life which is not repressed, which leaves no “unlived lines” in the human body, the death instinct then being affirmed in a body which is willing to die. And , because the body is satisfied, the death instinct no longer drives it to change itself and make history, and therefore, as Christian theology divined, its activity is in eternity.”

Finally, Brown sees in the vision of mystics, gnostics, kabbalists and alchemists, both east and west, the healing between mind and body where Freud’s polyperverse pleasure of the infant is found in the experience of the eroticsim of the entire body and the transformation of historical time into eternal time:

“But there is in the Western tradition another kind of mysticism, which can be called Dionysian or body mysticism, which stays with life, which is the body, and seeks to transform and perfect it.

In Boehme’s concept of life, the concept of play, or love-play, is as central as it is in Freud’s; and his concept of the spiritual or paradisical body of Adam before the Fall recognizes the potent demand in our unconscious both for an androgynous mode of being and for a narcissistic mode of self-expression, as well as the corruption in our current use of the oral, anal, and genital functions.

The “magical” body which the poet seeks is the “subtle” or “spiritual” or “translucent” body of occidental mysticism, and the “diamond” body of oriental mysticism , and, in psychoanalysis, the polymorphously perverse body of childhood. Thus, for example, psychoanalysis declares the fundamentally bisexual character of human nature; Boehme insists on the androgynous character of human perfection; Taoist mysticism invokes feminine passivity to counteract masculine aggressivity ; and Rilke’s poetic quest is a quest for a hermaphroditic body.”

Science too, adds to the split in its attempt to get outside of its own humanity, subdue nature and discard the pleasure and importance of the senses:

“the only historian of science who uses psychoanalysis, Gaston Bachelard, concludes that it is of the essence of the scientific spirit to be mercilessly ascetic, to eliminate human enjoyment from our relation to nature, to eliminate the human senses, and finally to eliminate the human brain.”

“To eliminate the human brain,” brings us back to the question of AI’s quest and hopefully for you who have read this far, as it does for me, explains not so much why AI is a problem but that it is not a solution.

Except where noted, All quotes taken from Brown, Norman O. (2012-04-15). Life Against Death: The Psychoanalytical Meaning of History. Wesleyan University Press. Kindle Edition.