I would be quite surprised if no one has already stated what I am about to – but here it is: Culture is the ego of a society.
This idea of a ‘social ego’ – as I am calling it – seems to have been lingering in the corners of my subconscious for some time now, and in the present state it is living in my head, it goes more or less like this:
Like individuals, societies have their own internal structures which hold together their ways of thinking, their objectives, fears, hopes, etc… This holds similarities with Durkheim’s collective conscious, although he may have argued that this only applies to more ‘primitive’ societies. However, the idea – as it sits in my mind now – seems to be telling me that the same is true to all societies (as other sociologists, philosophers and psychologists may have already stated) and that to our current ‘modern’ civilisation, our collective conscious is held together by the worship of our own egos, mooting to the worship of the ‘social ego’: our culture.
In order to see what really goes on on our ‘social mind’, one only has to analyse what our societies values are, and there is no better way to do so then to look at the masses’ values and how these are expressed.
Let’s look at my own western society and its culture as an example. The values it tries to thrown down my throat day and night are of materialism, consumerism, apathy, automation for efficacy, hyper-rationalism – and, paradoxically, an irrational worship of an inexistent view of a unchanging world supposedly brought about by science – misogyny, workaholism, substance and food abuse, and, unfortunately, worshiping of the gods of bad TV and empty material gain through the sacrifice my own health and leading to suicide by the loss of soul. It is a very confused society: it confuses material comfort with happiness, long lives with health and the symbols created by the human mind.
Even if one is actually aware of the above, acting outside of the prevalent culture of their society is extremely hard – although not impossible – and one often finds themselves participating in the madness (and sometimes, really going mad in the process) and enjoying it, to a variety of degrees.
Like a highly neurotic* individual – perhaps borderline psychotic in the case above, western society has created a self destructive way of existing in the hope of never having to look at itself and its own issues. An individual, when seeing their own unexamined values – often mistaken for their own when they are actually their society’s – will go to great lengths to defend them for the ego cannot bear to have its defences attacked as it knows they are built upon the confused understanding that everything is separated from it, that these things are threatening and that the individual must be protected. A society is no different, and will confront any person who challenges the ongoing socio-psychic status quo of the dominant social ego with great animosity as nature is conservative and change comes about slowly (perhaps the more complex the system the slower the change will be unless brought about by a crisis event?).
I would argue that this is because it is/was built and is maintained by individuals who suffer/ed from the same problems their society reflects.
It is also worth noting that, like any individual, western culture is not all bad. This society is also knowledgeable, well read – although only about subjects that support its own point of views, rational and, although far from just, it is more just than many. Perhaps the best quality of this society is that its relentless pursuit for material comfort – driven by and in the name of the ego and its immediate material reality – has driven itself to a place where somebody like me can now sit down and explore ideas. This, however, is neither exclusive to a society like this nor it makes up for the lack of ‘everything else’.
In order to prevent this already long post from getting even longer, let’ s just say that the the end of the above paragraph brings me to the point that the yang of western society is, finally and obviously, bringing about its yin. It is obvious that culture, as we now know it, is changing. Surely it may not be as fast as we need to (I think Daniel Pinchbeck discusses the idea of Climate Change being humanity’s initiation ceremony) and we may bring about our own destruction as our greed for more and for the next thing consume our planet. But change is happening.
Like a self aware individual seeks to analyse themselves as they progress towards individuation and step outside their ego to be able to get a better picture of who they are and where they fit in a larger and ever expanding reality, so must societies – and humanity – do if we are to survive and evolve. In the same manner, an individual who is not aware of their own internal life and development/evolution may develop the neurosis* and/or psychosis* they need to get healthier and evolve. Unfortunately, western society’s values have no place for these natural processes of the psyche, and the common responses given by it to these desperate calls of the organism for more balance often result in more suffering, more deterioration of the psyche and even death – sometimes by one’s own hand.
* I write from the understanding that neurosis and psychosis are often – but not always, not symptoms of illness but rather part of the process by which the organism is trying to get better. See Dr. Neal Goldsmith and Dr. John W. Perry for more information on this.
(As I write this, I thought social institutions may be built around complexes… this may be an idea for a future post.)