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Seeing into the dark

May 7, 2018 GMT

In 1963, I lost my right eye in a bizarre car accident in the middle of the Sonoran Desert, in the middle of the night, while traveling from Mazatlán to Southern California. The accident changed my life in an instant. After 14 hours of amnesia, I gradually awoke to a radically altered vision — from binocular to monocular, from solar to lunar.

Symbolically speaking, the right eye is the “sun-eye,” while the left eye is the “moon-eye.” “Solar vision” characterizes our dominant perspective as an outwardly oriented, extroverted, materialistic culture, often unreceptive or hostile to the very notion of psyche, of inwardness, of otherness. Lunar vision means, among other things, seeing into the dark, welcoming and seeking the other, perceiving shapes, images and tendencies that escape most people, who generally prefer to ignore what looms in the dark.

All I mean to say by this is that my one-eyed lunar viewpoint predisposes me to examine the moral darkness that dogs our tracks, surrounding and suffusing us all, more than the dominant collective viewpoint of my culture does. Thus, I readily accept the deep truth of Carl Jung’s psychological premise regarding the “shadow,” i.e., the dark side of the human personality — something that no one escapes. Everybody has a shadow, a dark side. Furthermore, everybody shares in the atrocities committed in the name of a deeply conflicted humanity — a complicity that would horrify most of us.

This goes against our habitual posture of self-congratulations, of course, which always locates evil somewhere else.

Over the decades, I have observed in our culture a progressive decline in our moral capacities — though always with notable exceptions — even as our technological brilliance and the complexity of our civilization threaten to spiral out of control. The more power we wield, the more wealth is accumulated by the few, it seems, the less equipped we are, morally and ethically, to administer that power and wealth in wise ways. As a collective, we begin to resemble disturbed children, but rarely do we examine ourselves in depth.

Against this background, I was struck by a quote by Jung that I came across recently. Though written in the mid-20th century, what Jung is saying seems even truer and more relevant to our situation now than it did when he was writing. Anyone with a cursory knowledge of history will recognize the hard truths to which he is giving voice:

The horror which the dictator states have of late brought upon mankind is nothing less than the culmination of all those atrocities of which our ancestors made themselves guilty in the not so distant past. Quite apart from the barbarities and blood baths perpetrated by the Christian nations among themselves throughout European history, the European has also to answer for all the crimes he has committed against the coloured races during the process of colonization. In this respect the white man carries a very heavy burden indeed. It shows us a picture of the common human shadow that could hardly be painted in blacker colours. The evil that comes to light in man and that undoubtedly dwells within him is of gigantic proportions.

— Carl Jung, Collected Works of C.G. Jung

The darkness of the human shadow is just as deeply embedded in us today as before. The difference is that we have been lulled into passivity and somnolence. If children are dismembered by our cruise missiles in the Middle East, it matters little to us. Do we even care anymore? Am I the only one who experiences this as a horror?

Paco Mitchell is a Jungian author, artist, flamenco guitarist, therapist and editor, dedicated to the study of dreams. He is the co-author, with Russell A. Lockhart, of Dreams, Bones & the Future.