The Future of Our “Too-Big-to-Fail” Institutions: A Jungian Perspective

“Large political and social organizations must not be ends in themselves, but merely temporary expedients. Just as it was felt necessary in America to break up the great Trusts, so the destruction of huge organizations will eventually prove to be a necessity because, like a cancerous growth, they eat away man’s nature as soon as they become ends in themselves and attain autonomy. From that moment they grow beyond man and escape his control. He becomes their victim and is sacrificed to the madness of an idea that knows no master…. A group is always of less value than the average run of its members, and when the group consists in the main of shirkers and good-for-nothings, what then? Then the ideals it preaches count for nothing too. Also, the right means in the hands of the wrong man work the wrong way, as a Chinese proverb tells us.”

                                                                                    Jung (1958)[1]

 

            As a young man in his late 20’s and early 30’s Jung heard from afar of the work of the American Presidents Theodore Roosevelt and William Howard Taft, who took on the likes of Standard Oil, the Northern Securities Company, the beef, powder and tobacco trusts in the era of “trust-busting.”[2] A century later, what do we see? Unilever acquiring Ben & Jerry’s Ice Cream, Lipton Tea, Boursin Cheese, Lawry’s and Adolph’s seasonings, Bertolli Olive Oil, Sara Lee and Alberto Culver;[3] Delta merging with Northwest Airlines;[4] Citibank acquiring Golden State Bancorp, California Federal Bank, the Travelers Group, and Salomon Brothers, to become Citigroup[5]—countless mergers and acquisitions, all under the mantra that “Bigger is better!” Bigger means “success”—more customers, more global reach, more money, more profits. We can’t seem to overcome a lust for bigness. Why? Jung offers us both an answer to this question and an antidote to the addiction that underlies it.

 

Jung’s Analysis of Our Condition

 

            Western civilization has fallen into what Jung calls “mass-mindedness.”[6] We tend to think in collective terms: we take polls, we do surveys, we rely on statistics, which Jung regarded as “murderous”[7] in their effects. “Murderous,” because statistics operate only with averages, and the uniqueness of the individual person is ignored.[8]

            Jung did not like math. He told Barbara Hannah that the required courses he had to take in mathematics “ruined” school for him.[9] He did not like the approach in certain schools of psychology that treats people in the aggregate, and when I encountered his words, quoted above, about “shirkers and good-for-nothings” in organizations, I thought immediately of the “quants”[10] that have come to play such a significant role in many of the financial institutions of our modern world—the young men who cooked up the algorithms that (supposedly) took all the risk out of investing in collateralized debt obligations, credit default swaps, various mortgage tranches and other exotic creations of the statistician’s brain.[11] What would Jung think of the “quants”? His words “good-for-nothing” might convey his opinion. Yet, in our mass-mindedness we have vaulted them to positions of enormous power,[12] as events since 2007 have revealed.

            Where is the individual person in all this? Individuals have been not only ignored but victimized by the statistical mindset, in the wealth of mortgage foreclosures, lost jobs and homeless families, while the huge banks get billions of taxpayers’ money. Clearly the authorities don’t care about us, ordinary citizens (only they don’t refer to us as “citizens:” we have become “consumers,” reflecting our central role in propping up the globalized economy). The focus of government officials is on sustaining the big institutions that finance their political campaigns—our democracy having become a “corportocracy”[13] run by and for the big corporations. These too-big-to-fail institutions are both a reflection of and an exacerbation of the problem of mass-mindedness.

            What to do? When faced with a problem, we tend seek collective answers and remedies for what ails us. Given the strong predominance toward Extraversion in American society, we look first outside, to the external world, to the group, to what others are doing, when looking for solutions. But, as Jung notes, this approach only reinforces “the very mass-mindedness we want to fight against.”[14]

            Jung noted how we live “… in an age in which the destructive effects of mass-mindedness are so clearly apparent,…”[15] and the dangers of “psychic epidemics”[16] are all around us. Just as biological epidemics decimate densely populated urban areas more swiftly than rural areas, so masses of extraverted people are more susceptible to psychic contagion than those living more inward, individualized lives.

            Over 50 years ago Jung could see the outlines of the developing “dictator State”[17] that would rob individuals of their freedom, in the face of which we would ponder “the right means of defense.”[18] Most Americans at the moment would challenge the notion that we live in a “dictator” state, but few would argue that the value of the individual has gotten lost in the shuffle somewhere between the days of the Jeffersonian ideal of the common man and our 21st century political reality. Government “of the people, by the people, and for the people”[19] has become something in the past.

 

Jung’s Predictions

 

            Jung would not be pleased with this state of affairs. As the opening quote noted, he saw big government as, at best, a “temporary expedient,”[20] and he went on to make several predictions. First, Jung predicted that large organizations would come to be likened to cancer in their corrosive effect on our human nature.[21] Jung went so far as to say that such large economic, social and political phenomena pose a “threat to our lives.”[22]

            He predicted that organizations would get so big that they would become autonomous and “escape our control.”[23] That we—ordinary people—would become their victims, that we would be “sacrificed to the madness”[24] that drives these organizations (i.e. in their greedy lust for profits, regardless of ethics, laws or values).

            Have we seen this prediction come true? I bet that many of the homeowners evicted from their homes feel like victims. I’m sure many people, upon learning of the cavalier handling of mortgage records,[25] concluded that some sort of madness had descended on the financial and housing industries in the early 21st century. More subtly (but far more fatally) has been the corrosion of our humanity, when profits come to matter more than people, getting rich being more important than doing the right thing.

            A more pointed prediction Jung made quite starkly: “… the destruction of huge organizations will eventually prove to be a necessity…”.[26] Given our current state of affairs, with governments all over the world bailing out this bank and that bank, it seems hard to believe that there will come a time when humanity decides that “small is beautiful”[27] and slices up the huge conglomerates. How could such a tremendous shift in our collective mind-set occur?

 

Jung’s Solution

 

            As has been noted in many earlier blogs posted to this site, Jung looked in only one place for solutions to collective problems: the individual person. “There is only one remedy for the leveling effect of all collective measures, and that is to emphasize and increase the value of the individual.”[28] This stress on the role and value of the individual is a leitmotif that runs all through Jung’s work. Any reader of his essays and books will encounter it over and over, but often the reader comes away wondering just what that re-valuation would require, what would it take? How would it occur?

            Jung gives us an answer in his essay on UFOs:

A fundamental change of attitude (metanoia) is required, a real recognition of the whole man. This can only be the business of the individual and it must begin with the individual in order to be real.[29]

Metanoia, in its Greek root,[30] means a profound change of consciousness, a shift of perception that has repercussions in all the areas of one’s life. It includes what modern social analysts have come to call a “paradigm shift.”[31] In this context, such a shift means a move away from the cult of bigness to an appreciation of “small is beautiful.” Such shifts are not easily accomplished by lone individuals. Jung recognized this:

So vitally important a measure [i.e. a revaluation of the individual] cannot… be put into effect at will, that is, by planning and insight, because the individual human being is too small and weak.[32]

In other words, we aren’t going to get out of our current fix by logic, rational schemes, number-crunching or long-range planning by our ego minds. We need something else. Jung goes on:

What is needed, rather, is an involuntary faith, a kind of metaphysical command, which no one can manufacture artificially with his own will and understanding. It can only come about spontaneously…. the only thing that helps is for the individual to be seized by a powerful emotion which, instead of suppressing or destroying him, makes him whole. This can only happen when the unconscious man is added to the conscious one. The process of unification is only partly under the control of our will; for the rest it happens involuntarily. With the conscious mind we are able, at most, to get within reach of the unconscious process, and must then wait and see what will happen next. From the conscious standpoint the whole process looks like an adventure or a “quest,…[33]

            From my own life experience and my immersion in Jung’s thought, I read Jung’s words here as a reminder that I am not alone in my journey through life, that there is something else, something larger, wiser and more adept than I (my ego) am: the Self. We reach into the realm of the Self when we work with the psyche to make more consciousness. As we do this work, we (slowly, over time) build trust in the Self. We become more open to allowing the involuntary processes to work their will in us. We become more patient, more able to do the waiting and seeing that Jung speaks about. This waiting and seeing is (at least in my experience) one of the most difficult parts of the spiritual journey. And, yes, the whole business is a quest, an adventure in the best sense of the word, although much of it occurs inwardly, manifesting outwardly only in its later stages. And yes, it does transform one’s world.

            We have an example of this in the amazing transition that took place in Eastern Europe in 1989. Almost spontaneously the peoples of the “Eastern bloc” realized they no longer had to live under the domination of the Soviet Union. The Union fell apart, without wars, violent revolutions or large-scale bloodshed. The people of these countries woke up to the illegitimacy of the old regime, leading the various countries to take back their sovereignty, set up more-or-less independent governments, and the entire world felt the effects.

            I am hopeful that, with the Occupy Wall Street movement and with media events like the “Thrive movement”[34] and David Wilcock’s The Source Field Investigations,[35] we are seeing the beginnings of another metanoia. In regard to the current movement for change I am reminded of the frustration expressed by journalists that the Occupy Wall Street movement seems to have no leaders:[36] I see this as evidence that the movement is happening individual by individual, within individuals, rather than being the idea of some charismatic figure duping others into joining his parade. The spontaneous nature of the protests also harks back to Jung’s idea of how the shift occurs.

           

Jung’s Advice for Us

 

            Looking to the future, as we set about dismantling the system that is not creating a world that works for everyone, Jung offers us some advice. First, be ever wary of “psychic epidemics” that can be as deadly for the individual as any biological epidemic. Avoid mass movements (however much the Occupy Wall Street protests might appeal) and always think for yourself, rather than follow the intellectual fad or fashion of the moment.

            Do your inner work: include the unconscious in your activities. Ask the Self for guidance: Incubate dreams, watch outer life for synchronicities, operate in “allow mode”[37] as much as possible when making decisions. Think of yourself as simply a conduit for what the Universe wants to occur.

            Avoid, if at all possible, having anything to do with big organizations. Jung reminds us that

To worship collective ideals and work with the big organizations is spectacularly meritorious, but they nevertheless dig the grave for the individual….[38]

While you might win fame and fortune (what Jung means by “spectacularly meritorious), you may wind up selling your soul to the devil. Much better is it to function with a low profile, doing “small things with great love,”[39] toward creating a world that works for everyone.

            Also, work for something, rather than against something. There is great truth in the spiritual law that says what you focus on, you energize. So focus on the positive: a world where everyone thrives, a world that works for everyone, rather than trying to fight the current system. You want to energize the positive, not the negative.[40]

            Finally, remember the context within which Jung wrote these words: an essay on flying saucers. UFOs became one of Jung’s obsessions in his later years,[41] and he found them an intriguing sign of the end time—the closing of the Age of Pisces, heralding the beginning of the Age of Aquarius—a sign that bids “…each of us remember his own soul and his own wholeness, because this is the answer the West should give to the danger of mass-mindedness.”[42] Ever the empiricist, Jung would not go so far as to claim that UFOs were “real” or a sign of support from spiritual beings come to help us through this most challenging shift from one eon to another, but we might think of them as a projection of our own superior wisdom and capabilities, set before us to give us strength and encouragement in confronting the task of dismantling the old world and creating a new. I’ll write more about Jung and UFOs in another essay.

 

Bibliography

 

 

Bair, Deirdre (2003), Jung: A Biography. New York: Little, Brown & Co.

Barker, Joel Arthur (1992), Paradigms: The Business of Discovering the Future. New York: Harper Collins.

Carman, Harry, Harold Syrett & Bernard Wishy (1961), A History of the American People, II, 2nd ed rev. New York: Alfred A. Knopf.

Field, Abigail (2011), “Why a New York Judge Is Throwing Out Foreclosure Cases,” Daily Finance (January 12, 2011).

Gamble, Foster (2011), “Thrive: The Movie;” available from www.thrivemovement.com

Hannah, Barbara (1976), Jung: His Life and Work, A Biographical Memoir. New York: G.P. Putnam.

Jung, C.G. (1970), “Civilization in Transition,” CW 10. Princeton: Princeton University Press.

Kuhn, Thomas (1962), The Structure of Scientific Revolutions. Chicago: University of Chicago Press.

Lewis, Michael (2010), The Big Short: Inside the Doomsday Machine. New York: W.W. Norton.

Liddell & Scott (1978), An Intermediate Greek-English Lexicon. Oxford: The Clarendon Press.

Lincoln, Abraham (1863), “The Gettysburg Address” (November 19, 1863).

Markopolos, Harry (2010), No One Would Listen: A True Financial Thriller. Hoboken NJ: John Wiley.

Scherer, Michael (2011), “The Return of the Rabble Rouser,” Time (November 21, 2011), 44-47.

Schumacher, E.F. (1973), Small Is Beautiful: Economics As If People Mattered. New York: Harper & Row.

Wilcock, David (2011), The Source Field Investigations. New York: Dutton.

 



[1] “Flying Saucers: A Modern Myth of Things Seen in the Sky,” Collected Works, 10, ¶s 719 & 722; Hereafter Collected Works will be abbreviated CW.

[2] Carman, Syrett & Wishy (1961), II, 425-6.

[3] For a history of Unilever’s acquisitions go to www.unilever.com/investorrelations/understanding_unilever/acquisitionsanddisposals

[4] For Delta’s merger with Northwest Airlines, go to www.en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Delta_Air_Lines_Northwest_Airlines_merger

[5] For a history of Citibank’s takeovers go to www.google.com/search?q=Citibank&takeovers&ie=utf-8&oe=utf-8&aq=t&rls=org.mozilla:en-US:official&client=firefox-a

[6] CW 10, ¶718.

[7] Ibid., ¶744.

[8] Ibid.

[9] Hannah (1976), 41.

[10] “Quants” is the abbreviated form of “quantitative analyst,” i.e. those computer/math whizzes skilled in creating sophisticated formulas (“algorithms”) that, in theory, can identify and thus help to limit the risk of various forms of investment vehicles. For a well-written and enjoyable introduction to the world of “quants,” by the quant who tried to warn the world about Bernie Madoff years before his Ponzi scheme fell apart, see Markopolos (2010).

[11] For more on all these investment vehicles and where they led the world, see Lewis (2010), especially chapter 2.

[12] For a vivid illustration of the power that old-style bankers gave to their “quants,” see the 2011 movie “Margin Call,” especially the scene in the board room when, seemingly for the first time, the CEO and other top brass of the investment bank (Lehman Brothers, in real life) were told of the algorithms upon which billions of dollars of investments were based. The young “quants” could just as well have been speaking Swahili, for all they were understood by their bosses!

[13] Foster Gamble uses this term in his DVD “Thrive.” Go to www.thrivemovement.com for more on this movie, its contents and how to order a copy of it.

[14] CW 10, ¶719. I don’t agree with Jung that we should “fight against” mass-mindedness, because fighting against anything only energizes it. We don’t want more mass-mindedness but less. So we must put our focus and energy on the individual person.

[15] Ibid., ¶718.

[16] Ibid., ¶721.

[17] Ibid., ¶718.

[18] Ibid.

[19] Lincoln (1863).

[20] CW 10, ¶719.

[21] Ibid.

[22] Ibid.

[23] Ibid.

[24] Ibid.

[25] Field (2011). Abigail Field describes some of this “madness” in her explanation of why some judges are now throwing out foreclosures: banks failed to follow proper procedures, got untrained people to “robosign” the legal documents, then “sliced and diced” whole groups of mortgages into “tranches,” which were then sold as “collateralized debt obligations,” theoretically eliminating any risk of default on the part of mortgage holders. In actuality, of course, the risk did not disappear at all, as the meltdown in the housing sector later revealed, but the “slicing and dicing” made it almost impossible for banks to prove they were the owners of the note. Absent such proof, judges have been refusing to allow banks to foreclose. Cf. Field (2011) and Lewis (2010), 26-60.

[26] CW 10, ¶719.

[27] This is the title of E.F. Schumacher’s classic work on a form of economics “as if people mattered;” Schumacher (1973)

[28] CW 10, ¶719.

[29] Ibid.

[30] Metanoia is a compound of meta (“change”) and noos (“mind” or “consciousness”); Liddell & Scott (1978), 500-1 & 535.

[31] Thomas Kuhn, in The Structure of Scientific Revolutions, was the originator of this term, used, in his works, to refer strictly to the change in perception that occurs in the evolution of a scientific discipline, to govern how research is both conceived and carried out. Much to Kuhn’s dismay the concept was subsequently adopted by social scientists and business consultants and used much more loosely. Cf. Kuhn (1962) and Barker (1992).

[32] CW 10, ¶720.

[33] Ibid., ¶s 720 & 722.

[34] For more on this movement, see www.thrivemovement.com. I urge all readers of this essay to see this movie: it is a life-changing experience.

[35] Wilcock (2011). Much as the movie “Thrive” will change your view of reality, so this book has a similar potential. I recommend it highly.

[36] Scherer (2011), 44.

[37] For more on “allow mode” and what it entails, see the essay by the same name on this blog site.

[38] CW 10, ¶722.

[39] The full quote is “In this life we cannot do great things. We can only do small things with great love.” Find this quote at www.great-quotes.com/quotes/author/Mother/Teresa

[40] For more on this spiritual law, see the essay “Resist Not Evil,” posted on this blog site.

[41] Bair (2003), 569,571-3.

[42] CW 10, ¶723.