Ilargi: Everything Better Is Purchased At The Price Of Something Worse

Yves here. While I suspect the general thesis of this post will appeal to many readers, I’m bothered by the use of “price” and “purchase” to describe the idea that progress is not linear and in many respects may add up to less in terms of satisfaction than we’d like to believe. What we view as progress has entailed sacrifices that we might not recognize or to which we’ve become so acculturated that we no longer remember status quo ante. “Price” and “purchase” underscores the Benthamite world view that everything can be reduced to a felicific calculus. Moreover, the emphasis on “purchase” implies that the tradeoff is exact and symmetrical, when it’s often simply not measurable. And that’s before throwing in the further complication that the benefits and losses don’t often accrue to the same people. Consider: what is the price of no longer having streams full of fish that you can safely swim in and drink from? Of no longer living in communities with deep social ties? Of being so overstimulated and overtaxed by technology as to not have the time to sit back and read a novel at one sitting, or engage in contemplation? Or on the plus side, how much is it worth to be able to prevent polio?

By Raúl Ilargi Meijer, editor-in-chief of The Automatic Earth, Cross posted from Automatic EarthI thought I’d start off 2014 on a philosophical note, with something that I hope perhaps people will remember as the year progresses, or even through the rest of their lives, and share with those around them. In my humble view, that would do the planet a world of good. But it’s not easy; we have wandered far.

There are many things we have neglected and forgotten, if not never understood or even thought about, that are nevertheless essential to our personal well-being and that of our surroundings. If anyone in the western world has considered and analyzed these forgotten ‘things’, it’s Carl Gustav Jung, the psycho-therapist who died in 1961. Jung defined the collective unconscious, archetypes and synchronicity, among many other things. It was his active interest in Eastern civilization and philosophies that led him to ponder how the collective unconsciousness influences our notion of progress.

In general, Jung suggested that our minds are woefully ill-equipped to incorporate progress into our lives when it takes the shape of new methodology, and new machinery, gadgets, because we don’t have a suitable frame of reference for them. We interpret the world through the frame of reference embedded in our minds that was built through countless generations of our ancestors. That is not to say we can never comprehend or incorporate new things, but that it must always be a gradual process, and if we are not at all times sufficiently aware of how this process takes place, as it takes place, we will lose ourselves, because we risk losing our connection to our ancestors, and we ARE, in essence, our ancestors.

In particular, we need to be aware of the fact that there is no such thing as absolute progress, that every time we add something to our world, we take something away as well. It’s the Eastern notion of balance, of yin and yang, at play: Everything Better Is Purchased At The Price Of Something Worse. Life does not by definition only get better when someone invents a new phone or car or facial cream, even if that phone makes it easier to talk to someone thousands of miles away, or the car makes it easier to go see people, or get away from them, or the cream dissolves wrinkles like magic. It doesn’t work like that. We pay a price: for everything we add, we lose something. The question then becomes: what do we value most. But that’s a question we never ask: we see everything new as an addition to our lives, and ignore what gets taken away from us.

As Jung wrote about these issues, probably in the late 1950s, the world was very different from what it is today. If he were alive now, he would undoubtedly have found that difference very painfully unsettling, and declared it dangerous for all of mankind. When we lose our connection to the collective references passed on by those whose DNA we carry, references that we are born with, we lose our connection with ourselves, and we become disoriented, dissatisfied.

There is no happy ending to this process. It needs to be shut down at some point, and therefore it will, in order for us to reconnect with our own minds and brains, which owe their composition and very existence to our forefathers. But for the process to be shut down, we must be deprived of both our ability and our drive to generate progress, since we will never volunteer to stop. We must go on, because we lost our connection to ourselves. There is no way back, not if we insist on keeping on going “forward”. That suggests a return to a sort of stone age world is the only possible outcome.

It is precisely Jung and Freud’s insights into the human mind that have made it possible for politicians and advertisers and other tricksters to fool us into thinking we want or need the things that make our world poorer, not richer. There is a huge amount of irony in this: that we use our increased ability to understand our minds in order to fool ourselves. If that doesn’t prove that Everything Better Is Purchased At The Price Of Something Worse, what does?

Although it would be best to incorporate the principle into our lives as just that, a general principle, it is of course possible to name specific examples. The automobile, the car, has brought us a lot of pleasure and comfort. It has also polluted our world like maybe no other single invention has ever done. And that’s not even the worst part: the car has cut through our communities like a gutting knife (to the point where we have no recollection of what these communities used to look like), separating us from each other, turned public space into no-go zones, and arguably been made more important than the people whose comfort they were supposed to serve. For many people who have no car, for one reason or another, their own communities have become de facto inaccessible and unnavigable.

And the car is an easy example. What about medicine? We have, through progress in medicine, been able to save so many people from dying, and/or enabled them to die later, that our population has exploded, a huge problem in more ways than I could even attempt to discuss here. And that’s a hard one: nobody, including me, will suggest we stop saving lives, or start killing people, but there is a problem all the same. Everything Better Is Purchased At The Price Of Something Worse.

We can all come up with many examples, fridges, supermarkets, nuclear plants, photographs, indoor plumbing, and think about how they have changed our lives for the better or the worse. But I don’t think it’s a good idea to risk losing ourselves in examples. We should keep sight of the overriding principle: that we risk destroying our world as we seek to improve it. And that the lessons from a behemoth mind like Jung’s should be used to make us wiser, not to fool us into buying things that harm our lives.

You could be forgiven for thinking that Jung’s prolific writing should be obligatory course material in every single educational institution on the planet, but then you wouldn’t understand your world’s priorities, now, would you? We go with what we find convenient, not with what can make us wiser people. We pick material wealth over mental wealth any day and every day, or mental wealth only if there’s money in it. And perhaps that points to the reason why we find people like Carl Gustav Jung so easy to ignore.

I’ll leave you with Jung’s own words, after saying this: Our rush to obtain new things, a rush we call progress, and to make money from these new things – after all, what money is there in old things? – has disconnected us from our ancestors. Unfortunately, we ARE our ancestors. There is a price we pay for everything that is different today from what is was when our parents were our age, and our grandparents, and their parents before them, and so on. We ignore that price, and pretend we don’t need to pay it, encouraged by the fact that it doesn’t always have to be paid immediately, and we can leave it to our kids to settle the bill. Something we do all to willingly, which somehow puts our connections to our ancestors in a cynical, bleak light even more.

Here’s Jung from his book ‘Memories, Dreams, Reflections’, published in 1963, 2 years after his death, in the paragraphs with which he closes the chapter “The Tower”:

Our souls as well as our bodies are composed of individual elements which were all already present in the ranks of our ancestors. The “newness” in the individual psyche is an endlessly varied recombination of age-old components. Body and soul therefore have an intensely historical character and find no proper place in what is new , in things that have just come into being. That is to say, our ancestral components are only partly at home in such things. We are very far from having finished completely with the Middle Ages, classical antiquity, and primitivity, as our modern psyches pretend.

Nevertheless, we have plunged down a cataract of progress, which sweeps us on into the future with ever wilder violence the farther it takes us from our roots. Once the past has been breached, it is usually annihilated, and there is no stopping the forward motion. But it is precisely the loss of connection with the past, our uprootedness, which has given rise to the “discontents” of civilisation and to such a flurry and haste that we live more in the future and its chimerical promises of a golden age than in the present, with which our whole evolutionary background has not yet caught up.

We rush impetuously into novelty, driven by a mounting sense of insufficiency, dissatisfaction, and restlessness. We no longer live on what we have, but on promises, no longer in the light of the present day, but in the darkness of the future, which, we expect, will at last bring the proper sunrise. We refuse to recognise that everything better is purchased at the price of something worse; that, for example, the hope of greater freedom is cancelled out by increased enslavement to the state, not to speak of the terrible perils to which the most brilliant discoveries of science expose us.

The less we understand of what our fathers and forefathers sought, the less we understand ourselves, and thus we help with all our might to rob the individual of his roots and his guiding instincts, so that he becomes a particle in the mass, ruled only by what Nietzsche called the spirit of gravity.

Reforms by advances, that is, by new methods or gadgets, are of course impressive at first, but in the long run they are dubious and in any case dearly paid for. They by no means increase the contentment or happiness of people on the whole. Mostly, they are deceptive sweetenings of existence, like speedier communications, which unpleasantly accelerate the tempo of life and leave us with less time than ever before. Omnis festinatio ex parte diaboli est – all haste is of the devil, as the old masters used to say.

Reforms by retrogressions, on the other hand, are as a rule less expensive and in addition more lasting, for they return to the simpler, tried and tested ways of the past and make the sparsest use of newspapers, radio, television, and all supposedly timesaving innovations.

In this book I have devoted considerable space to my subjective view of the world, which, however, is not a product of rational thinking. It is rather a vision such as will come to one who undertakes, deliberately, with half-closed eyes and somewhat closed ears, to see and hear the form and voice of being. If our impressions are too distinct, we are held to the hour and minute of the present and have no way of knowing how our ancestral psyches listen to and understand the present – in other words, how our unconscious is responding to it. Thus we remain ignorant of whether our ancestral components find elementary gratification in our lives, or whether they are repelled. Inner peace and contentment depend in large measure upon whether or not the historical family, which is inherent in the individual, can be harmonised with the ephemeral conditions of the present.

In the Tower at Bollingen it is as if one lived in many centuries simultaneously. The place will outlive me, and in its location and style it points backwards to things of long ago. There is very little about it to suggest the present. If a man of the sixteenth century were to move into the house, only the kerosene lamp and the matches would be new to him; otherwise, he would know his way about without difficulty. There is nothing to disturb the dead, neither electric light nor telephone. Moreover, my ancestors’ souls are sustained by the atmosphere of the house, since I answer for them the questions that their lives once left behind. I carve out rough answers as best I can. I have even drawn them on the walls. It is as if a silent, greater family, stretching down the centuries, were peopling the house. There I live in my second personality and see life in the round, as something forever coming into being and passing on.

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  1. Hugh

    Isn’t this just the recasting of the debate about externalities in mythic, and I would say dangerously deceptive, terms? It isn’t progress but the purposeful siren songs of capitalism, consumerism, endless growth, and kleptocracy that are passed off as progress that infect our dreams and keep us in a constant state of koyaanisqatsi, of being off balance and ungrounded. We are not our ancestors. If by chance we might meet, they would no more recognize us than we would recognize them. There is nothing odd or wrong about this. The pace of change has accelerated. In my family, I can go back one generation to a horse drawn world.

    It is not the pace but the kind of change that is the problem. It is for this reason that returning to first principles is so important, to the questions of what kind of a society we want to live in, what is fair, what is sustainable, what is enough and what is too much. It is only by doing this that we can judge the value of the changes occurring around us, to master them and abolish the power of those who would use unexamined change as a means to loot us.

    As I said, myths can be dangerous. In linguistics, there was something called the Sapir-Whorf hypothesis. This was the idea that the structures of language influenced the cultures in which they occurred. This may seem innocuous enough, but it really isn’t. It puts languages into a hierarchy of “advancement” which just happened to coincide with Western European colonizing powers being in the advanced SVO group and most of the colonized world being in the older “less developed” verb-final SOV groups. Put simply, the Sapir-Whorf hypothesis wasn’t just bad linguistics. It was racist.

    I bring this up because as seductive as the idea is I am left asking whose myths or archetypes are we talking about. There are lots of people on this planet, indeed the majority, whose ancestors and mine parted ways thousands of years ago. Their ancestors and mine are not the same. Their myths and archetypes are not the same as mine and certainly not the same as my modern perception of them, although as Mark Twain said about history, they might rhyme. So again our myths and archetypes are not the same, despite Jung, and I think it is ludicrous to create a Sapir-Whorfian hierarchy for them. I will pass on inflicting my ancestors or their myths, or my modernist reading of them, on others or using them as a club to beat anyone with.

    1. Tim Mason

      While I agree with the gist of your response to this post, I’ll take issue with your characterization of the Sapir-Whorf hypothesis as racist. Sapir, in particular, was concerned to repudiate racist approaches to language and culture, espousing rather a cultural relativism which, while one may be wary of it, was an attempt to underline the equal value of all cultures and all languages. Whorf believed that science, overly influenced by European languages, would greatly benefit from being more readily open to the categories of thought offered by different language systems. He does not seem to have believed that there was a value-laden hierarchy from backward SOV systems (like German) to advanced SVO languages (like English). On the contrary, George Lakoff admires him as a pioneering anti-racist.

      The debate within linguistics over the Sapir-Whorf hypothesis is far from over, although one side or the other claims total victory from time to time.

      1. Hugh

        I am very clearly on the other side of this divide. I see this as revisionist history and damage control. German is mixed but mostly SVO. The counter example I most often heard used was Japanese.

        Formal linguistics has many other critical problems it has not addressed. So I can not see what is gained by seeking to find some redeeming value in a concept as flawed as Sapir-Whorf.

        1. MyLessThanPrimeBeef

          There is a hierarchy of languages and a language’s place in it is determined by the economic or political strength of its speakers.

          If a language can get 10 billion humans to worship or believe in it, it will be very powerful.

          And languages themselves impact their host cultures. When you speak an imperial language, you are also likely to be sympathetic to seeing the world from an imperial perspective.

          1. Hugh

            Sapir-Whorf doesn’t say that empire raises the standing of the language but that something about the structure of the language allowed the culture using it to become powerful and establish an empire.

    2. Clive

      I agree 100% Hugh. I’ve tried to expand on your themes (from a slightly different angle) in my comment too.

    3. Ulysses

      Bingo! The amoral technocrats muddle the discourse so that principles like fairness, justice, and sustainability get left out of their vision. Whether you’re a Marxist trying to give everyone what they need, and asking everyone to contribute to the best of their ability, or a Christian asking people to do unto others as they would have others do unto them, it doesn’t matter. If you’re a fair, decent person you can change the world for the better.

      1. Moneta

        Define fairness.

        We must first neutralize the sociopaths at the top who could not care less about fairness. Then we must determine what is fair. I don’t know about you, but I am always amazed at how my kids define fairness. Now imagine forming a committee made up of 7 billion people.

        It is extremely hard to define fairness, that is why it has not been done. We could sit for hours, months, quarters, years, decades and debate about how to divide everything fairly and still not get anywhere because while we were debating, the sociopaths consumed the goods we were thinking of sharing.

        That’s another reason why the progressives are losing, they bandy around all kinds of words that everyone (except the sociopaths) agrees with but when they get down to the nitty gritty, they realize these words don’t lead to anything concrete.

        1. Ulysses

          There is no need to get a committee made up of 7 billion people to agree on what is fair in every conceivable situation on the planet. A great step in the right direction would be to point out some things that most, except the sociopaths on the top, agree are grossly unfair, and seek to eliminate them. For example, should a CEO be paid more than 350X the median salary of workers in her company? Once we get into the nitty gritty of debating whether 20X, 35X or 40X would be an appropriate statutory limit we are making real progress.

          1. MikeNY

            I agree with you, Ulysses.

            No, we can’t define exactly what fairness is in every conceivable circumstance. We can often, however, say what it *isn’t*. Fairness depends on foundational, irreducible values such as compassion and honesty. We can try to teach such values, and to illustrate them, but they can’t really be proven rationally. I think they must be felt, emotionally.

          2. Moneta

            I was on a committee once that took 3 meetings to determine which laser printer we should buy.

            There is a reason we are in this mess today.

            1. MikeNY

              Moneta, your skepticism may be justified. Fairness, or economic justice, may be a quixotic quest. Yet here we are, in agreement — I think — that fairness is lacking, that fairness is what we need.

              1. MikeNY

                PS. If you REALLY want a definition of justice, John Rawls is not a bad place to start. But I don’t think it’s “absolute truth”, either. Because I don’t think such an absolute definition is possible.

              2. Moneta

                We definitely need fairness. But you are right I have become quite cynical. Not long ago, I was talking to someone who asked what was wrong with someone enjoying yoga and another Nascar racing if that’s what they like… just another example of how splitting resources fairly is easier said than done.

    4. Banger

      I think you bring up a very fertile questions: whose myths are we talking about here. You claim that your or “our” myths are very different than the myths of say an obscure tribe in Indonesian territory. Jung, however, talked about something beneath or beyond myth that is deeply embedded in the human psyche that social arrangements enhance or suppress and everything in between. These deep archetypes cannot be put into words but, through inner exploration, can be sensed and intuited and expressed at least in part in today’s language–the actual literal expression might vary from culture to culture but the “energy” of it remains the same. If we want to use science as a source of material, we know that human beings are hard-wired for compassion and connection thus, for example, a society that devalues compassion like our own becomes stressed and anti-convivial as an existential reality.

      My own encounters with non-western people and tribal people, though limited, has shown me that we do have deep connections I did not expect but I believe are real. With that perspective I’ve been able to see how shallow our everyday life and interactions actually are–on the other hand, we’ve expanded human horizons in many other ways that I feel are good including technology which I see as, potentially, an aid for going deeper.

  2. Skeptic

    Will the final result of technology be the extinction of Humans? Bill Joy, former chief scientist at Sun Microsystems gives his opinion in “Why The Future Doesn’t Need Us”.

    Joy aside, it certainly seems that more Progress means more unmanageable complexity. Progress picks the Upside and usually fails to protect against the Downside or even explore it. As the World becomes more complex, we have more and more Downside from which we are unprotected and unsecured in this the Age Of Security. Fukishima, Drones, Derivatives, Iphones, Climate Change, Sociopathic Economics, GMO, etc. all have significant Downsides from which Progress has not protected us. Generally, there is no profit in Downside Protection.

    Nassim Taleb addresses this in Black Swan. 9/11 could have been prevented by reinforced cockpit doors. But there was no glory or profit in doing that, so it was not done and 9/11 was the result. That is how Progress works. Cherry pick the Profit and ignore the inevitable Downside.

    A blizzard is due tonight in the Canadian Maritimes. Inevitably there will be power outages and many houses will be without heat because they are dependent on a centralized, modern, sophisticated Energy System. I choose to use a thousands year old technology to generate my heat, burning wood. Old Tech protects me from the Downside of Progress.

    1. j gibbs

      Of course the final result of technology will be the extinction of humans, but the problem isn’t technology so much as it is absentee ownership and salesmanship and the determination to get something for nothing.

  3. Clive

    I’m as guilty of doing this as anyone, so I won’t criticise, but seemingly we’ve all (variously) laughed at, finger-wagged, heaped scorn on and made accusations at those who’ve purported and espoused the view that a Rand-ian style philosophy is the solution to determining what should or should not be given resources in our world. I was just about to join in with an attack on Benthamite nonsense, dragging in Krugman as the villain of the piece too for continue to suggest that somehow the “science” of economics can help.

    But then I stopped and thought for a while. It’s all too easy to merely, cutting to the resultant chase, say how dumb people can be and how simplistic and partial their ideas for explaining / managing the world can be.

    Why did (do !) so many not-all-completely-stupid people cling onto these value or philosophical systems ? Why do others attempt to boil us down to some childish utility-maximising work unit instead of a jumbled lot of human beings ? Why does, despite all our best efforts to bring it about, John Galt refuse to die ?

    Because, I believe, in the absence of anything else (and Ilagi’s feature merely re-hashes the arguments against the existing, flawed, systems and doesn’t — and in fairness, can’t — offer something better in their place) that’s all we think we’ve got. If these sorts of things — science (I will reluctantly include economics in that), philosophy, academic study, politics — haven’t come up with the answers yet, what else can we do be keep trying them until they do ?

    The pessimist in my thinks we might be doomed to endlessly re-run or re-hash these well trodden “scientific” or philosophical theories or tinker with them to produce mere variants, beseeching whoever are seen as today’s “great thinkers” (and what makes them great thinkers is merely reflecting our own hopelessly dyed-in-the-wool value systems usually) to pull some rabbit out of their hats. We may even try to conjure up our own rabbits, I know I’ve certainly tried — and certainly failed — to do so.

    I was going to say It’s a classic “looking for your keys under the streetlight” scenario. But
    I’d actually put it slightly differently. We’re like hopeful singles going to a rather run down and not particularly salubrious bar full of deadbeats (the sort of place that craazyman probably frequents) to check out the local dating scene. We keep meeting, well, deadbeats. But it’s the only bar for miles so we keep going. Still the same old deadbeats. We get steadily more disillusioned because, after all, what else is there ?

    We are, to sum up, literally, still looking for love in all the wrong places.

    1. j gibbs

      Veblen offered something better: industry liberated from the shackles of business. Unfortunately, it takes a group effort.

    2. Moneta

      Because our brains are full of heuristics. They are not made for the complexity we have created. So we simplify. We do have some geniuses among us but I doubt we will give them the podium. We continue to listen to prophets.

      That’s why we are our ancestors. Our physiology has barely changed over the past few hundred years. Meanwhile here in the West our entire way of life contradicts nature, or what our machine was meant to do.

      1. Clive

        Come to think of it, I’ve never seen Larry Summers and Paul Ryan in the same room at the same time.

    3. Banger

      Why does Objectivism refuse to die? Because it, along with Islamic and Christian fundamentalism offer a simple and practical way of viewing a world that is utterly confusing. We must have a sensible mythological framework to operate in–human beings cannot exist without it. Compare the Fountainhead to any philosophical work after and Kant. These texts are a pain in the ass to read and other than the edge players like Kierkergaard and Nietzsche demand a lot of pain for not much gain.

      I think that mythological framework can be found elsewhere but they demand a certain moral vigor that religious fundamentalism and Objectivism do not demand. For me the truth lies in the direction of Aldous Huxley’s The Perennial Philosophy and cleansing the doors of perception. Unless we can learn to see through cleaner lenses anything we think is going to be a mess.

  4. MikeNY

    WH Auden on man’s mind:

    “Though instruments at its command / Make wish and counterwish come true, / It clearly cannot understand / what it can clearly do.”

    This is true in the scientific sphere; I think it is even truer in the moral sphere. Technology — the power to control, to harness nature to some degree — is morally neutral; we can use it either for good or for ill. And we can’t calculate all the effects and consequences of our action, because human reason is finite.

    Yet this neither releases us from the necessity, nor absolves us of the duty, to act in the world. Hence I think Hugh is correct that all we can do is to clarify our first principles (justice, honesty, compassion, etc.) and muddle along as best we can, in an uncertain world. I’m reminded of Kierkegaard and his battle cry against triumphalist Hegel, who asserted that everything could be objectively comprehended by man’s reason: “truth is subjectivity”. For SK, truth is not a matter of *what* is known; truth is a matter of *how* it is known.

    A true “felicific calculus” is impossible; a true grounding of one’s (partial, finite) knowing is not impossible.

      1. MikeNY

        Do you mean that I should read someone with a more “practical” mindset? Certainly my comments were of a fairly fundamental philosophic nature. I ask in all seriousness; I always try to take up a good tip.

        1. Banger

          I’m with you–one of the central things to understand is that we live in a profoundly mysterious and unknowable universe. This is not just an assertion but impossible to deny fact–we know that not only do we perceive a relatively narrow band of reality in the current model of the universe but also in other dimensions posited by many if not most physicists.

          But you don’t need that sort of argument–just live life by interacting with a lot of people or delve within–in both you will find the great Dao which cannot be described.

        2. j gibbs

          I mean that our problems are not caused by a lack of knowledge. Just about everything of importance that happens is explainable. Economically, Veblen explained it best in Absentee Ownership. The book is truer now than when he wrote it in 1923.

          It also explains why things aren’t going to change, at least not for the better. That would take concerted action in defiance of all respectable opinion and authority. It would take force. Those days are over.

  5. Dan Kervick

    I can’t say I fully followed the argument of the piece. He seemed to claiming that there is some inherent limit on the capacity of human beings to make material and social progress because we carry a commitment to antique forms of life and technological “reference points” in our DNA. So at some point we will need to accept a steady-state society and the processes of material and social change must be “shut down.” There was even an argument that a return to a stone age world is “the only possible outcome.”

    So is Illargi claiming we have some sort of genetic predisposition to stone age ways of living? If so, some actual evidence for this bold, speculative claim is in order.

    1. Moneta

      My take on it was that things are evolving too fast for us to manage them properly. This means we will hit a wall which might force us back into a new kind of dark ages.

        1. Moneta

          Maybe but…
          Mostly, they are deceptive sweetenings of existence, like speedier communications, which unpleasantly accelerate the tempo of life and leave us with less time than ever before. Omnis festinatio ex parte diaboli est – all haste is of the devil, as the old masters used to say.
          We are very far from having finished completely with the Middle Ages, classical antiquity, and primitivity, as our modern psyches pretend.

          Nevertheless, we have plunged down a cataract of progress, which sweeps us on into the future with ever wilder violence the farther it takes us from our roots

    2. Moneta

      I am not convinced that we humans have evolved much over the last couple of hundred years. It’s easy to be generous when you have more than enough… even then we have failed.

      IMO, our social advances over the last couple of centuries revolve around our harnessing of energy, not because we have become more civilized. So if we end up mismanaging our resources and energy, we could easily revert back to barbaric practices.

      At the root of every genocide, you will recognize an unhealthy distribution of resources.

      1. F. Beard

        Lack of energy is not our problem nor is the lack of any other resource our problem.

        Our problem is a money system based on usury for stolen purchasing power, especially from the poor. The need for labor has masked that problem but now it is revealed in all its ugliness.

        This life is a test of our justice, ethics and righteousness. If we fail it, God will either replace our civilization with great loss of life or end the present age all together, also with great loss of life.

        Oh, and cheating doesn’t work on this test.

        1. j gibbs

          I wish you would leave God out of it. There is no evidence of God being involved. You lose a lot of credibility with all this Biblical bunkum.

          1. F. Beard

            What? Just how small do you think the stakes are? The last time the money system failed was a major cause of WWII and 50-65 million killed.

            Besides, any credibility I have is likely from the God of the Bible anyway, I’ve learned from experience on those days when I’m uninspired and flat (from personal sin, I confess).

            1. Trent

              “What? Just how small do you think the stakes are? The last time the money system failed was a major cause of WWII and 50-65 million killed.”

              The money system only failed because the British empire failed

          2. Moneta

            It is always interesting to see the different opinions. For me, it is confirmation that getting a consensus on a fair distribution of assets is a pipe dream.

            1. F. Beard

              It’s no pipe dream unless you think justice is a pipedream in which case it is more likely that YOU are a pipe dream or nightmare that is.

              Anyway, justice is coming with or without you.

              1. Moneta

                Truth, justice and fairness might prevail over the long term, but it is rarely those who fought for it who benefit.

                1. F. Beard

                  The exercise of justice is joy for the righteous, But is terror to the workers of iniquity. Proverbs 21:15

    3. Banger

      No, not quite. I agree he was unclear–he is reaching for someone. But I can speak for Jung. Jung believed that deep within our psyche are universal values that cannot be expressed through any language or system of thought. Those that have had spiritual/mystical experiences may understand what this is about–Jung saw society as either providing a good ground for this spiritual exploration or not a good ground.

    4. NotTimothyGeithner

      I think, like so many others, Illargi misunderstands “natural selection” and has an idea that evolution is a perfect animal creating creatures perfectly suited for their environment instead of good enough to survive and reproduce. The importance of mutation and the speeding nature of mutations which means we may not be necessarily the same as our hunter-gatherer ancestors in ways which aren’t in the fossil record. This is of course extrapolation.

      If (big IF) modern humans (whenever the bottleneck event happened) are an example of a partially self-domesticated species, our nature is more similar to cats.

      1. j gibbs

        The only thing Darwin really meant by natural selection is that in the struggle for existence not everything and everybody survives; over time those which do survive are better adopted to the problems of survival. That doesn’t mean progress in any meaningful sense. You might just get more effective predators and more victims, as we humans see to be getting.

    5. Jim


      Ilargi seems to buy quite uncritically Jung’s world-view–that of suspicion of the new and adoration of the old.

      Using Jungian categories, myth becomes translated into archetype and archetype seems to be Jung’s generic name for the First Cause. Jung apparently turned the Freudian conception of instinct upside down and located it not in the biophysical but in the cultural level of life.

      Jung really never adequately described how signs of feeling develop within a certain group. He seems to imply that over the slow course of history creedal complexes shaping individual character become “unconscious” (i.e. unaware) and “collective” (i.e. common to the group sharing the creed). For Jung, such an unconscious is always social and consequently always “collective.”

      Yet Jung did not analyze the social structures within which symbolism occurs, in fact, he seems unaware of social structure.

      Jung seemed to hope that what was introduced externally from alien cultures would be internalized by Western man and provide him with a new soul.

      Quite a leap, indeed.

  6. F. Beard

    We should concentrate on justice and ethics and progress will then take care of itself. But if we ignore the former then the latter of course might cause difficulties, e.g. the Industrial Revolution caused a lot of misery because it was not financed ethically.

    1. Banger

      Well, ok, but the philosophical foundation of ethics, in the Western tradition, has been shattered. There is very little clear refutation of the current de facto ethics that we live under, i.e., money/wealth/celebrity = virtue.

      1. Dan Kervick

        The philosophical foundation for ethics is always being shattered. It has never stood still – during the Hellenistic period, the Roman period, the European middle ages, the renaissance and reformation: constant social and ideological flux and philosophical strife.

        1. Banger

          Only during the modernist period in the West has ethics been seriously in contention. Confucian China and its sphere of influence maintained a more or less steady state system of Ethics as had much of the Islamic world for over a thousand years until the fall of the Ottomans. Ethics may have been not followed by many people who consciously and deliberately violated social constraints but the ethics, even in the world of the skeptical Greeks was pretty constant.

          Personally I believe in what many conservative moral philosophers call “natrual law” only I believe it is deeper than conventional Christian notions they speak of I believe, like Jung these “laws” or archetypal laws exist buried deep within the human psyche and can be discovered by journeying within away from the radical superficiality of our culture.

          1. Dan Kervick

            The Chinese had a lot of contention among Confuscian, Daoist and Legalist schools of thought. But more importantly, there was frequent social and military conflict, which always brings out conflicting loyalties, allegiances and attitudes toward personal vs. social goals.

            The European Middle Ages was fraught with conflict between worldly and and biblical ideals, and shifting, competing lines of social authority.

            I think we need to avoid oversimplifying and idealizing the past.

      2. F. Beard

        There is very little clear refutation of the current de facto ethics that we live under, i.e., money/wealth/celebrity = virtue. Banger

        Under our current system, creditworthiness is defined merely as the ability to repay stolen purchasing power with interest. Thus, wealth gained thereby is a badge of DISHONOR, not virtue.

          1. F. Beard

            Under any system where theft is wrong. Or oppression of the poor is wrong. Or usury from one’s fellow countrymen is wrong. Or government for the sake of private interests is wrong.

            Our money system fails in EVERY way yet many insist TINA.

  7. Banger

    For those interested in a deeper reading of progress, technology and so on I would recommend starting with Jacques Ellul, Ivan Illich and Neil Postman.

    Jung’s concern was to go deep within the human psyche. I think he would be opposed to today’s culture precisely because we are going the direct opposite, culturally, of what is required to reshape society in a way that makes the current technology convivial. More technology for the sake of technology–which is represented by the West Coast’s various Nerdistans is just rearranging the deck chairs on the Titanic in terms of actually dealing with the very real problems of humanity and this third rock from the Sun. At this point we need a culture that allows us to go deep within and touch the spiritual depths Jung lived his life to foster and we can’t do it living in a society that worships wealth, celebrity, trivia, and radical shallowness.

    Technology can be harnessed to meet our deeper needs if we can start turning inward, which paradoxically (to those who live in a shallow level of consciousness) makes us more deeply compassionate and focused on others. It is going deeply within the universal unconscious that we find our link to others even those of alien cultures. All humans I’ve met in a stunning array of cultures have the same sort of soul inside if you can move away from judgments and evaluations and just feel that person as a he/she is.

    1. j gibbs

      To make it simple for you: we need industry, but instead we have business. Industry is the application of technology and resources to the satisfaction of human needs. Business is the systematic sabotage of industry to maximize personal profit. The idea is to get as much as possible and give as little as possible to those whose labor is the ultimate foundation of industry. What we have are resource scams, sales scams, credit scams and immiseration of those incapable of running scams of their own or making themselves serviceable to those running the successful scams. Meanwhile, we are diverted by entertainment and celebrity and religious hokum and culture wars and military crusades.

      1. Banger

        Well, maybe that’s so but it has been the business model that has brought major technological change and the growth of the middle-class. Without the spirit of enterprise and without greed the infrastructure of our society would never have been built. While I think the benefits of our complex society are overvalued–that is what got us to where we are. Now we are experiencing the law of diminishing returns because the business model is no longer useful for our current situation so it can only be destructive at this point in history. We need to shake hands with capitalism and thank it for its service–it was a dirty job, someone had to do it etc., and let capitalism retire to the mountains or the beach and let us get on with the business of dealing with the current reality.

        1. j gibbs

          You are completely wrong about this. It is industry which has created what (middle class) progress we have achieved, and business which has retarded equitable sharing of industrial progress. For the past hundred years business and finance have systematically sabotaged industry for profit. That is what business and finance do and it is all they do. The recent crisis was a result of the recapitalization of the working class, loading it with credit card debt, mortgage debt, student debt. The big idea was to increase spending and create profit and it worked, but the debt cannot be serviced because business uses unemployment to hold wages down, again in pursuit of profit. What has to happen next is either a liquidation of the debt or a big inflation of the currency. Both appear to be currently impossible, so the most logical course is a depression reminiscent of 1873-96, grinding up the elderly, the young and everyone else outside the corporate ring and its toadying acolytes in the media and the academy, and those adept at televised sports.

  8. JEHR

    Right now I think about how nuclear power plants have given Japan hours of needed energy and yet with the Fukushima disaster, this nuclear energy is now killing off the creatures of the sea. We hardly hear anything about this trade off. It is as if we cannot hold those two concepts in our minds at the same time. We are going to pay dearly for this inattention to the consequences of our actions in this particular instance.

    In the political realm, we in Canada have the perfect leader who is guiding us into fascism ( ) by his headlong plunge into the economic future by mindlessly plundering every resource in order to pander to the political “base” that will get him re-elected: See: We will pay dearly for that too.

    1. Skeptic

      Fukushima and TEPCO may also kill off the Japanese economy. There is a point at which Bailouts are too expensive. Of course, TEPCO and GE took home the Upside while the State of Japan took up the Downside. Same thing with Wall Street, Paulson and Co. walk away with $700 Billion up front and trillions behind the Curtain due to Financial Progress and Innovation. Numerous examples of the Upside of Progress going to the 1% and the Downside to the rest of us.

      When we get a Fukushima in Bio/Nanotech, as Bill Joy suggests we will, then we will have some real Trouble.

  9. Susan the other

    I liked Ilargi’s example of the extreme expense we are paying to enjoy our cars. His examples were very practical. But when he throws us into the arms of Jung’s nostalgia he pulls the rug out from under us again. Nostalgia is more expensive even than all our frivolous materialism combined because it paralyzes us. We cannot continue to dither around with some diagnosis of our irrationality and our inadequate language forms without taking any action. It’s already too late. So would some premature action be better than what we have now? Probably. I don’t need to lie down under a tree and look up through its canopy with de-focused eyes to know this is a profoundly important point in time for the human race. Invoking Jung, no matter how spiritually satisfying his words are, is a luxury we cannot afford.

    1. Banger

      I wouldn’t describe Jung as a nostalgic. He urges us to dig deep within for our most intimate and authentic perceptions. His ideas on society are based on whether we can live in a convivial world where we have enough freedom from fear and persecution to explore a deeper reality from which can spring the perennial virtues like compassion, love, courage and so on.

      1. Susan the other

        I do think Jung is very nostalgic. He longs to regain what he/we have lost. His apt phrase, the title above: everything better is purchased at the price of something worse, is almost a description of the lingering sadness we try to compulsively escape. I’m not discounting his viewpoint except to point out that it doesn’t help us solve a situation that cannot be ignored and we must go forward with a solution, even knowing that there is a lot of truth and danger associated with the fact that everything better comes at the cost of something worse. What else can we do?

        1. Clive

          I agree Susan, there does seem to be hankering after the past with Jung. And not just with him but for many establishment commentators for a sunny pasture way back in the day where all the models and theories worked just fine. Heck, even I fell for Thatcherism, it all seemed so simple back then.

          But as you say, we have to move on rather than clinging on to something that’s gone and never coming back. That’s if it ever existed at all.

          1. Banger

            I don’t think Jung hankered after the past–he was a genuine rebel on all counts. He believed, above all else, that we needed to go deep within to arrive at universal truths. We would have to do it in our own way using the symbols of our own time.

            The hallmark of our era is, to me, shallowness. We will not find answers to the problems we face by business as usual which is to look further afield. The answers will come by exploring inner space with the same vigor that Captains Kirk and Picard went on their missions.

            1. j gibbs

              If you think our era is notable for its “shallowness” you are not a student of history. Think about the Fifties: nearly everybody smoked cigarettes! The Twenties: nearly everybody guzzled bootleg booze and bought stocks on 10% margin! And those were the good times.

              1. MyLessThanPrimeBeef

                The depressing thing is that we have not become less shallow.

                Unless we manufacture better humans, more powerful tools (from hammers to institutions) merely just make us more dangerous.

              2. Banger

                My experience and age tells me different. You are looking at the surface of those eras–the actual existential reality was much different–I lived in the 50s and 60s and directly experienced life then with eyes wide open. Those times were less shallow because we had less distraction, less things to think about and more opportunity to appreciate the moment.

              3. Calgacus

                The idea that these measure shallowness is so shallow that it makes me want to guzzle some booze, make a foolish investment and smoke a cigarette.

    2. craazyman

      he would have been more optimistic if he’d lived to see Youtube. I can’t think of anything we lost when we gained the chance to see Adele and Led Zepplin any time day or night, other than our already low level of self-discipline. But you can lose that lots of ways.

    3. j gibbs

      Have you considered that perhaps the human race is not so important, rather a transient participant in the evolutionary drama? What do you suppose Darwin would have said?

  10. F. Beard

    As for destroying the world, God will do that anyway and create a new Heaven and a new Earth. So we should cease fretting about our environment per se and start worrying about the things our Judge is concerned with like justice, mercy, and righteousness.

    Ironically, concern for the environment to the exclusion of the things desired by our Creator is likely to hasten, not delay, the destruction of the Earth.

    1. Ulysses

      “But ask now the beasts, and they shall teach thee; and the fowls of the air, and they shall tell thee:
      Or speak to the earth, and it shall teach thee: and the fishes of the sea shall declare unto thee.
      Who knoweth not in all these that the hand of the Lord hath wrought this?
      In whose hand is the soul of every living thing, and the breath of all mankind.” (Job 12: 7-10)
      You cannot serve both God and fracking!!

      1. F. Beard

        No servant can serve two masters; for either he will hate the one and love the other, or else he will be devoted to one and despise the other. You cannot serve God and wealth.”

        Now the Pharisees, who were lovers of money, were listening to all these things and were scoffing at Him. And He said to them, “You are those who justify yourselves in the sight of men, but God knows your hearts; for that which is highly esteemed among men is detestable in the sight of God. Luke 16:13-15

    2. j gibbs

      Any ideas on when this will happen? Should I stop worrying about outliving my money? Just asking.

      1. F. Beard

        Everything needed for the “666” money system is in place or nearly so and the financial crisis continues so why not soon if we don’t repent of our current money system?

  11. Abe, NYC

    I understand, and I agree with, a lot in the article and the Jung quotation. However:

    The population explosion seems to be overblown. See Hans Rosling, for example.

    I wonder if Carl Jung had a flush toilet in his castle. I also wonder what price one pays when one moves from open defecation to modern sanitation.

    And, when Johannes Gutenberg invented modern printing, I’m sure there were plenty of those who lamented the proliferation of books and decline of orality, but its overall effect on the population, I would say, was overwhelmingly positive.

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