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Category Archives: On Solitude and Society

At our universities, the historians like to dump the Ancient History course in the lap of philologists, and vice versa. Here and there it is treated like a poor old relation whom it would be a disgrace to let go to ruin entirely. But with the public at large antiquity is completely out of fashion, and the ‘culture’ which is supported by this public even feels hatred for it. Various faults of antiquity serve as a pretext. The real reason is conceit about modern communication and transport and the inventions of our century; then, too, there is the inability to distinguish technical and material greatness from the intellectual and moral kinds; and finally, the prevalent views about refinement of manners, philanthropy, and the like.

But what makes it generally impossible for the present-day average ‘educated’ man to find anything appealing in the ancient world is the total egoism of today’s private person who wants to exist as an individual and asks of the community only the greatest possible security for himself and his property, for which he pays his taxes amid sighs, and who also likes to attach himself to the community in a specific sense as an ‘official’.

On the other hand, the peoples of the ancient Orient, who lived tribally, impress us as races of which each individual is only a type, with the King has the highest type.

And even where the individual develops, especially since the Greeks, we still deal for a long time and essentially with types, e.g. The heroes, the lawgivers. They are, to be sure, depicted as great individuals, and this is borne out by feeling and tradition; but at the same time they are all the more fully types and condensations of the characteristic and the general. And last, the complete individual in antiquity is, above all, πολιτης [part of the state] to a degree of which we now, in the present mode of connection between the individual and the state, have no idea. Whenever one breaks with the πὁλεις (polis) or when it is lost, it is a tragedy every time.

Finally, today’s ‘educated’ men are firmly resolved to make a bargain, with whatever power, for their existence at any given time. There is an enormous veneration of life and property. There is a mass abdication, and not just on the part of the rulers! And there are numerous bargaining positions and concessions against the worst — and all this with great touchiness in matters of recognition and so-called honour.

With the ancients, on the contrary, it was all or nothing, with no fear of disaster. The fall of states, cities, and Kings was considered glorious. That is something utterly alien to us.

– Jacob Burckhardt (Reflections on History, #4.)


The truly religious man is not the one who practices so-called religion, who holds to certain dogmas and beliefs, who performs certain rituals or pursues knowledge, for he is merely seeking another form of gratification. The man who is truly religious is completely free from society, he has no responsibility towards society; he may establish a relationship with society, but society has no relationship with him. Society is organized religion, the economic and social structure, the whole environment in which we have been brought up, and does that society help man to find God, truth – it matters little what name you give it – or does the individual who is seeking God create a new society? That is, must not the individual break away from the existing society, culture, or civilization? Surely, in the very breaking away he discovers what is truth, and it is that truth which creates the new society, the new culture. I think this is an important question to ponder over. Can the man who belongs to society – it does not matter what society – ever find truth, God? Can society help the individual in that discovery, or must the individual, you and I, break away from society? Surely, it is in the very process of breaking away from society that there is the understanding of what is truth, and that truth then creates the ripples which become a new society, a new culture. The sannyasi, the monk, the hermit renounces the world, renounces society, but his whole pattern of thinking is still conditioned by society; he is still a Christian or a Hindu, pursuing the ideal of Christianity or of Hinduism. His meditations, his sacrifices, his practices are all essentially conditioned, and therefore what he discovers as truth, as God, as the absolute, is really his own conditioned reaction. Hence society cannot help man to find out what is truth. Society’s function is to limit the individual, to hold him within the boundary of respectability. Only the man who understands this whole process, whose action is not a reaction, can find out what is truth, and it is the truth that creates a new culture, not the man who pursues truth.

– Krishnamurti

Yesterday I was clever, so I wanted to change the world.
Today I am wise, so I am changing myself.

– Rumi

Yesterday I was clever, so I wanted to change the world.
Today I was wise, so I looked into my self.
Tomorrow I will be the oscillation between youth and age.

Living my higher and my lower, I am human.
Being Human I stand among you…not better or worse,
So I live my self to see my self.

Only without prejudice does Being come to light and not even the darkness is cast aside.

Therefore I think the process of changing the world is not done by simply being wise and changing yourself, nor in simply being clever,which is easy, but in the coming together of both.

To change my self I have to see my self.
To see my self I have to be my self.
To be my self I have to let my self be, without judgement.
To be, without prejudice, I have to overcome social conventions.

In overcoming convention I have to contend with the prejudices of others while maintaining my self.
While maintaining the tension of the contention between being my self and society I am set free.
In being free I stand openly ready to question my foundation and the foundation of our society.
In being ready and open to questioning I come into conflict with society as it seems those who are not free dislike greatly questions, those who question, and those whose selves are most in question.

And so the process of changing the world and changing oneself are intertwined.


A large part of education will always be devoted to the formation of a persona which will make the individual “clean about the house” and socially presentable, and will teach him not what is, but what may be regarded as, real; all human societies are at all times far more interested in instructing their members in the techniques of not looking, of overlooking and of looking the other way than in sharpening their observation, increasing their alertness and fostering their love of truth.

Every kind of restriction may be imposed by the collective. But whether it is a case of a taboo in a primitive tribe, a social convention or a moral prohibition, whether it is a question of not mentioning certain subjects or of not admitting certain facts, of behaving as if certain non-existent entities in fact existed or of saying things which one does not mean or not saying things which one does mean– every time it makes one of these demands the collective will be guided by certain principles which are vital to its development and to the development of consciousness. Without these values they could not exist– or such, at least, is its firm conviction.

The ego will receive the reward of moral recognition by the collective to the exact extent to which it succeeds in identifying with the persona, the collective facade personality– the simple reason being that this facade personality is the visible sign of agreement with the values of the collective.

– Erich Neumann (Depth Psychology and a New Ethic, p. 38)

The problem of evil confronts modern man in both a collective and an individual form.  During the last hundred and fifty years of the history of Western man, it has broken through on the widest possible front. It has undermined and destroyed the old cultural categories, but its course can also be followed in detail in the psychological history of the individual.

The study in depth of the psychological development of the individual in whom the problem of evil becomes manifest is in a much better position than any research into collective events to detect those first attempts at a synthesis which are the basic elements of a new ethic. This is due to the fact that external collective developments are decades behind the development of the individual, which is like a kind of avant-garde of the collective and is concerned at a far earlier stage with the problems which subsequently catch the attention of the collective as a whole.

It is not difficult to understand why positive attempts at a solution appear earlier and are more easily recognizable in the development of the individual than in that of the collective. The individual who is brought up against the overwhelming problem of evil and is shaken by it, and often driven by it right up to the brink of the abyss, naturally defends himself against destruction. In order to survive at all, he needs, as matter not of arbitrary choice but of urgent necessity, the aid of the forces of the deep unconscious; in them and in himself he may be able to find new ways, new forms of life, new values and new guiding symbols.

But this reality of evil by which the individual is possessed is not derived simply from his personal reality; it is also, at the same time, the individual expression of a collective situation. Similarly, the creative energies of his unconscious, with their hints at new possibilities, are not simply his own energies but also the individual form taken by the creative side of the collective–that is universal human–unconsciousness.

– Erich Neumann (Depth Psychology and a New Ethic, p. 29)

The tension of the future is unbearable in us. It must break
through narrow cracks, it must force new ways. You want to cast
off the burden, you want to escape the inescapable. Running away
is deception and detour. Shut your eyes so that you do not see the
manifold, the outwardly plural, the tearing away and the tempting.
There is only one way and that is your way; there is only one salvation
and that is your salvation. Why are you looking around for
help? Do you believe that help will come from outside? What is to
come is created in you and from you. Hence look into yourself. Do
not compare, do not measure. No other way is like yours. All other
ways deceive and tempt you. You must fulfill the way that is in you.

Oh, that all men and all their ways become strange to you!
Thus might you find them again within yourself and recognize
their ways. But what weakness! What doubt! What fear! You will
not bear going your way. You always want to have at least one foot
on paths not your own to avoid the great solitude! So that maternal
comfort is always with you! So that someone acknowledges you,
recognizes you, bestows trust in you, comforts you, encourages
you. So that someone pulls you over onto their path, where you
stray from yourself and where it is easier for you to set yourself
aside. As if you were not yourself! Who should accomplish your
deeds? Who should carry your virtues and your vices? You do not
come to an end with your life, and the dead will besiege you
terribly to live your unlived life. Everything must be fulfilled.
Time is of the essence, so why do you want to pile up the lived
and let the unlived rot?

– Jung ( The Red Book, p.308)

The third type of hero does not seek to change the world through his struggle with inside or outside, but to transform the personality. Self-transformation is his true aim, and the liberating effect this has upon the world is only secondary. His self-transformation may be held up as a human ideal, but his consciousness is not directed in the narrower sense to the collective; for in him centroversion expresses a natural and fundamental trend of the human psyche, which is operative from the very beginning and which forms the basis not only of self-preservation, but of self-formation as well.

We have followed the birth of ego consciousness and of the individual all through the archetypal stages whose climax was reached in the hero’s fight with the dragon. In this development a constant increase of centroversion can be detected, tending toward consolidation of the ego and the stabilization of consciousness. It gives rise to a standpoint, indeed a rallying point, from which to combat the dangerous fascination of the world and the unconscious–a fascination that lowers the level of consciousness and disintegrates the personality. Both attitudes types, introversion as well as extroversion, can easily succumb to this danger. Centroversion, by building up the conscious ego and by strengthening the personality, tries to protect them and to counteract the danger of disintegration. In this sense, the growth of individuality and its development are mankind’s answer to the “perils of the soul” that threaten from within, and to the “perils of the world” that threaten from without. Magic and religion, art, science, and technics are man’s creative efforts to cope with this threat on two fronts. At the center of all these endeavors stands the creative individual as the hero, who in the name of the collective–even when he is a lonely figure standing out against it–molds it into shape by molding himself.

– Erich Neumann (The Origin and History of Consciousness, p.220-1)

What is all that men have done and thought over thousands of years, compared with one moment of love. But in all Nature, too, it is what is nearest to perfection, what is most divinely beautiful! There all stairs lead from the threshold of life. From there we come, to there we go.

– Holderlin  (Hyperion)

But there is another way — in diametric opposition to that of
social duty and the popular cult. From the standpoint of the way
of duty, anyone in exile from the community is a nothing. From
the other point of view, however, this exile is the first step of the
quest. Each carries within himself the all; therefore it may be
sought and discovered within. The differentiation's of sex, age,
and occupation are not essential to our character, but mere cos-
tumes which we wear for a time on the stage of the world. The
image of man within is not to be confounded with the garments.
We think of ourselves as Americans, children of the twentieth
century, Occidentals, civilized Christians. We are virtuous or sin-
ful. Yet such designations do not tell what it is to be man, they
denote only the accidents of geography, birth-date, and income.
What is the core of us? What is the basic character of our being?

The asceticism of the medieval saints and of the yogis of
India, the Hellenistic mystery initiations, the ancient philoso-
phies of the East and of the West, are techniques for the shifting
of the emphasis of individual consciousness away from the gar-
ments. The preliminary meditations of the aspirant detach his
mind and sentiments from the accidents of life and drive him to
the core. "I am not that, not that," he meditates: "not my mother
or son who has just died; my body, which is ill or aging; my
arm, my eye, my head; not the summation of all these things. I
am not my feeling; not my mind; not my power of intuition. " By
such meditations he is driven to his own profundity and breaks
through, at last, to unfathomable realizations. No man can re-
turn from such exercises and take very seriously himself as Mr.
So-an-so of Such-and-such a township, U.S.A. — Society and du-
ties drop away. Mr, So-and-so, having discovered himself big
with man, becomes indrawn and aloof.

Joseph Campbell "The Hero with a Thousand Faces"