Saturday, 14 January 2012
Standing on the shoulders of giants
My new project, The Enlightenment Project, whilst trying to work out solutions to the problems the world is facing in whatever new perspectives the members can discover, will also be looking at the great thinkers of the human race and their perspectives as no one wants to reinvent the wheel. This is a necessary and quite useful process as I discovered to my advantage in my current reading. It was not that I discovered any solutions but, in just a few words, two of the writers I am reading the works of have summed up some underlying truth of our society.
The first piece is from CG Jung’s book The Undiscovered Self which seems to paint an accurate picture of today’s society. Jung first writes about the fact that we are increasingly being taught to think in terms of averages, what in science is called ‘the line of best fit’, and that we ignore the individual results that fall either side of that line. Jung believed that we have, thanks to a kind of mass-mindedness, done the same thing to people. “I am not a number,” declares Number 6 in the TV series The Prisoner but this is not a declaration we can make in this day and age as we are being reduced to the status of mere soulless statistics. Jung’s picture of today’s society is eerily accurate for a book written in 1957 as can be seen in the extract below.
The goal and meaning of individual life (which is the only real life) no longer lie in individual development but in the policy of the State, which is thrust upon the individual from outside and consists in the execution of an abstract idea which ultimately tends to attract all life to itself. The individual is increasingly deprived of the moral decision as to how he should live his own life, and instead is ruled, fed, clothed and educated as a social unit, accommodated in the appropriate housing unit, and amused in accordance with the standards that give pleasure and satisfaction to the masses.
(page 8, The Undiscovered Self by CG Jung, Routledge Classics)
The rest of The Undiscovered Self is Jung’s attempt to show us the way to resist this mass-mindedness and is a very good read for those who wish to join me in the project.
The second piece is from Michel Foucault’s book Madness and Civilization that in a short section throws some light on the stigma faced by people with mental health issues. Confusingly, the book starts off discussing the plight of lepers and how society almost completely eradicated leprosy by excluding them, banishing them from the rest of society into communities of similarly afflicted people. The Church aided in this by performing rites which conferred upon the act of exclusion, the notion of it being the road to the lepers’ salvation; as Foucault puts it - “Abandonment is his salvation; his exclusion offers him another form of communion.” But how is this related to people with mental health issues? As Foucault explains:
Leprosy disappeared, the leper vanished, or almost, from memory; these structures remained. Often, in these same places, the formulas of exclusion would be repeated, strangely similar two or three centuries later. Poor vagabonds, criminals, and “deranged minds” would take the part played by the leper…
…With an altogether new meaning and in a very different culture, the forms would remain – essentially that major form of a rigorous division which is social exclusion but spiritual reintegration.
(page 5, Madness and Civilization by Michel Foucault, Routledge Classics)
As we can see from this extract, the seeds of today’s stigmatisation of people with mental health issues can be traced back to the time of the almost total eradication of leprosy. Are we really that uncivilised and un-evolved that we will allow such old prejudices to rule our current society’s worldview?
From reading just two writers’ books, I can see the world from a new perspective with new understanding of what problems we are facing and that will enable me to try to tackle not just the visible problem but the underlying contributory factors that make up the visible problem. So, as you can see, there is wisdom in being guided by the great thinkers of the past, for it is only by standing on the shoulders of giants that we can see the brighter future on the distant horizon.
If you want to join me as a member of The Enlightenment Project, contact me at email@example.com.
Below is a list of recommended reading for you with the ISBNs.
Politics by Andrew Heywood (ISBN 0-333-97131-0)
Political Ideologies by Andrew Heywood (ISBN 0-333-69887-8)
Memories, Dreams, Reflections by CG Jung (ISBN 978-0-00-654027-4)
The Undiscovered Self by CG Jung (ISBN 978-0-415-27839-3)
Gaia – A New Look At Life On Earth by James Lovelock (ISBN 0-19-286218-9)
Madness and Civilization by Michel Foucault (ISBN 978-0-415-25385-7)
Trying Hard Is Not Good Enough by Mark Friedman (ISBN 978-1-4392-3786-1)
On Dialogue by David Bohm (ISBN 978-0-415-33641-3)
The Sane Society by Erich Fromm (ISBN 978-0-415-27098-4)
Wickedness by Mary Midgley (ISBN 978-0-415-25398-7)
Education and the Social Order by Bertrand Russell (ISBN 978-0-415-48735-1)
On Education by Bertrand Russell (ISBN 978-0-415-48740-5)
The Open Society And Its Enemies by Karl Popper (ISBN 978-0-415-61021-6)
Until next time…