Posts Tagged ‘Carl Jung’

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The Light and the Darkness

October 14, 2009

“What’s in there?” Luke asks before entering the cave.

Yoda, sitting on a tree root, looks down and and plays with his cane as he offers his wisdom: “Only what you take with you.”

Inside the cave, Luke has a troubling vision — one that foreshadows the terrible truth he is about to discover…

A vision; an omen; a foreshadowing of things to come...

A vision; an omen; a foreshadowing of things to come...

The surprise twist at the end of The Empire Strikes Back is infamous for its sheer audacity. Here we have Luke Skywalker, the young man who destroyed the Death Star and helped bring the galaxy that much closer to freedom, and Darth Vader, a heartless cyborg who has fully embraced the Dark Side of the Force, and yet… they’re father and son?

“That’s not true! That’s impossible!”

But indeed it is true. And it’s so shocking because it cuts to the heart of that which we would rather ignore: the darkness — the Dark Side of the Force — is not some external foe that can be battled with blasters and lightsabers; it is an internal potentiality that we all carry with us.

The Ego is the conscious light in the darkness of the psyche’s depths: it is who we are, from a very limited, temporal perspective. The Shadow, on the other hand, is those aspects of ourself that cannot be seen by the Ego: our personal blind spot.

But the Shadow is more than just quirks and foibles. To quote Carl Jung, it has a “demonic dynamism” — the evil that lurks in the hearts of ordinary men. It’s exactly because these aspects hide in the darkness that they are twisted and distorted, appearing as caricatures and grotesqueries; had they been brought into the light, they would breathe and grow as trees in the open air.

In an earlier post I made the point that the characters in Star Wars are not meant to be interpreted as individuals but rather as aspects of the human psyche. Again, I must emphasise this point, especially in regards to the Ego and Shadow: Luke and Anakin Skywalker both represent the Ego; Darth Vader represents the Shadow.

More specifically, both Anakin and Luke symbolise the dominant psychological function; using John Beebe’s framework, Vader symbolises the Opposing Personality: “a figure that opposes, critizes and seduces the ego”. The entire climactic duel of The Empire Strikes Back places Vader very plainly in this role.

Darth Vader as Beebe's "Opposing Personality"

Darth Vader as Beebe's "Opposing Personality"

And so now we’re ready to look at the real message behind the line that stunned Star Wars fans the world over:

“No. I am your father.”

The shock is not so much that Vader is Luke’s father; the shock is that, just as the good man who was Luke’s father turned to evil, so too could Luke — as could any of us.

The vision in the cave, of Vader’s mask cracked open with Luke’s face staring out from underneath, has dual (yet synonymous) meanings: on the one hand, it foreshadows the twist, that Vader is Luke’s father; on the other hand, it equates Luke with Vader. They are both sides of the same coin.

And so this is a problem we all must face up to eventually. Will we refuse to accept that we aren’t so different from our enemies after all, or will we integrate our Shadow, pulling it up into consciousness and realising the Self? This is no easy task.

Good and Evil, Ego and Shadow: the light and the darkness. Luke Skywalker and Darth Vader: an archetypal duality.

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Holocron Heist

October 11, 2009

In Holocron Heist, the debut episode of season 2 of Star Wars: The Clone Wars, things are really heating up. Season 1 introduced new characters and laid the groundwork for the story about to come; if season 1 was the first act, season 2 is the start of the second act — the meat of the story.

Bounty hunter Cad Bane (introduced in the season 1 finale, Hostage Crisis) has been tasked by Darth Sidious to steal a Jedi Holocron from the Temple for reasons as-yet unknown. Meanwhile, Ahsoka Tano has been put on guard duty after disobeying orders in a battle on Felucia, and coincidentally, she happens to be guarding the Holocrons in question. It therefore falls on the shoulders of Anakin Skywalker, Obi-Wan Kenobi and Ahsoka herself to thwart this daring heist.

Ahsoka Tano battles Separatists on Felucia

Ahsoka Tano battles Separatists on Felucia

One of the pleasures of watching The Clone Wars is in seeing various genres pop-up that were rarely seen in the films themselves. Here we have a classic heist episode, complete with schematic analysis, elaborate disguises and a good, old-fashioned laser-based alarm system. George Lucas has always loved a good homage, and here is no exception — it’s very nicely done, in fact. It doesn’t feel at all out-of-place in the Star Wars universe, either.

The other interesting thing to note is the effect Anakin’s mixed signals are having on his Padawan. Throughout season 1, he advised Ahsoka to be guided by her own agenda yet still respect authority (or at least feign respect). She blatantly disobeys orders on the battlefield in the first act, pursuing the enemy at all cost — clearly an artefact of Anakin’s rather warped point-of-view.

Cad Bane and Clawdite changeling Cato Parasitti plan the heist

Cad Bane and Clawdite changeling Cato Parasitti plan the heist

In Jungian terms, this relates back to Anakin’s unbalanced Introverted attitude, where external demands (such as a duty to respect the chain of command) fade into the distance, with a kind of ego-driven impulsiveness taking precedence. One need only recall Anakin’s headstrong attempt to best Count Dooku at the climax of Attack of the Clones to see the root of Ahsoka’s disobedience. (Luckily, she hasn’t lost a limb… yet.)

“A lesson learned is a lesson earned” is the fortune cookie for this episode. If Ahsoka really has learnt her lesson, there may be hope for her yet. Sadly, Anakin still has over 20 years of suffering to endure before his lessons are learnt — for that, he needs to be reminded of the power of human compassion.

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Knowledge and Wisdom

October 6, 2009

Coruscant truly was the “bright center to the universe”: a glittering jewel that embodied the ideals of the galaxy, housing both the Jedi Temple and the Galactic Senate amidst a sprawling planet-wide cityscape. Nothing could tarnish its sheen.

And yet something went wrong. The democratic Republic became the authoritarian Empire, and despite its appearances in The Phantom Menace, Coruscant was a little more than an empty husk when it came to its former, noble glory.

The greatest twist in the prequel trilogy was not that Palpatine was a Sith Lord or that the Chosen One turned to evil; it was that democracy was not overthrown but instead surrendered. The Senate was complicit in its own eventual demise.

Meanwhile, the Jedi aided and abetted this destruction of democratic ideals, despite their own misgivings. By taking advantage of the trafficking of manufactured human life and allowing themselves to move from being “guardians of peace and justice” to fully fledged military Generals, they betrayed their own code of ethics, sacrificing ideals for expediency in a moment of manufactured desperation.

The Jedi sacrificed their ideals when it came to the use of clones.

The Jedi sacrificed their ideals when it came to the use of clones.

What allowed this to happen? Was it a shifting in the Force? No, that is merely a metaphor. In reality, it was the gulf “between knowledge and wisdom”.

On the one hand, you have compassion, true understanding, direct experience and an appreciation for the shades of grey that exist in real life: wisdom. Wisdom comes with both age and an open mind (and open heart).

On the other hand, you have rules, procedures, legalism and rigid modes of thought: knowledge. Knowledge is abstract and linguistic, and can be gained through purely academic means.

The Republic no longer embodied wisdom. The Jedi were stubborn and intellectual, while the Senate was bloated and bureaucratic. They were both victims of an overemphasis of superficial knowledge.

At its best, Star Wars has always been about more than just heroes and villains, instead shedding light on the nature of the human experience. This case is no exception.

Palpatine manipulated the bureaucracy of the Senate to great effect.

Palpatine manipulated the bureaucracy of the Senate to great effect.

Another way to look at the split between knowledge and wisdom would be by analogising to the left- versus right-hemispheres of the brain. The left-hemisphere is linguistic, linear and sequential, whereas the right-hemisphere is intuitive, dynamic and holistic. This is not the split between science and art, however — both can involve either hemisphere.

Yet another approach is to draw upon Lenore Thomson’s work on Jungian psychological functions, where Extraverted Thinking and Feeling, and Introverted Sensation and Intuition, are left-hemisphere functions, and Extraverted Sensation and Intuition, and Introverted Thinking and Feeling, are all right-hemisphere functions. The left-hemisphere functions are essentially “top-down” in their approaches, placing emphasis on external order and hierarchy, whereas the right-hemisphere functions are “bottom-up”, focusing on a more organic means of interacting with the world. In the Myers-Briggs system, this is the split between J-types and P-types.

But of course the point is not that order and hierarchy are bad and holistic and non-linear thinking is good. Rather, the point is that Western culture, like the Republic, has forgotten that rules and order are means to an end only. We cannot lose sight of the fact that the system should serve people and not vice versa.

This was the real downfall of the Republic. It’s a cautionary tale, and one we should all heed.

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The Quick and Easy Path

June 17, 2009

The ideas of “Introversion” and “Extraversion” are commonplace today, often being shorthand for “shy” and “gregarious” personalities respectively. The Extravert is generally regarded as being talkative and engaging, while the Introvert is seen as being quiet and often lost in thought.

Carl Jung, however, saw things somewhat differently. To him, Introversion and Extraversion were about more than just how talkative someone is — these are attitudes that determine where the focus lies for certain psychological functions (i.e. Thinking, Feeling, Sensation and Intuition). When one such function consciously dominates the psyche of an individual, its attitude — either Introversion or Extraversion — appears predominant in that person. The Introvert is thus someone whose dominant psychological function is Introverted, while the Extravert is someone whose dominant psychological function is Extraverted.

But what are these attitudes?

The Extraverted attitude places the greatest emphasis upon external conditions. Taking care not to offend others, for example, is Extraversion at work: here you are adjusting your words and actions so as not to negatively affect the feelings of those around you — you are considering external conditions and acting accordingly.

The Introverted attitude, in contrast, emphasises internal factors. Holding to higher ideals is an example of Introversion: what’s important, in this case, is standing firm on principles that are important to you, even if that means offending others in the process.

There is, however, a darker side to all of this. Without balance, neither Introversion nor Extraversion is healthy: Extraversion without Introversion is shallow; Introversion without Extraversion is selfish.

When lacking the tempering influence of Extraversion, the internal factors become the only frame of reference for the Introvert. “What do I want out of this? How does this benefit me?”

This is the crux of the difference between Anakin and Luke. Whereas Luke is able to successfully integrate Extraversion into his largely Introverted attitude over the course of episodes 4-6, Anakin slips further and further into Introversion in episodes 1-3 until his psyche falls totally out of balance at the conclusion of the prequel trilogy.

Anakin makes things "awkward" on Naboo

Anakin makes things "awkward" on Naboo

A large part of this is Anakin’s obsession with his own feelings. He doesn’t so much care about others as he cares about how his feelings for them might affect him. Consider the fireside chat in Attack of the Clones: where is the concern for Padme in all of this? His concerns are for his feelings, not hers. Not surprisingly, when he sees evidence of Padme’s supposed disloyalty in Revenge of the Sith, he turns on her, choking her in a fit of rage. Anakin’s love is conditional, predicated solely on what benefit he can get from the relationship. This is twisted, immature, unbalanced Introversion at its worst.

Luke, admittedly, has a similar temperament at first. He, too, is short-tempered when things don’t move quick enough or in the direction he wants. The difference is that he learns to draw upon his Extraverted side, connecting with the other with an attitude of respect, not contempt. Eventually the saga comes full circle and he uses Extraversion to reach-out to his father, thereby freeing the fallen Anakin from the grip of the Dark Side of the Force.

The point of Star Wars is not that Extraversion is superior to Introversion (or vice versa) but that we each need balance in our own lives. Yoda warned of the “quick and easy path” — that is a life without growth, without balance. That was Anakin’s choice, but it needn’t be yours.