At least that is a Carl Jungian theory and part of psychotherapy’s theses. Jung believed in the unknown ‘‘dark side’’ of the human personality; dark because it consists of the socially or religiously degraded human emotions that include things sexual lust, power strivings, selfishness, greed, envy, anger or rage. In other words, evil. The dark side, also known as the Shadow, reveals an unenlightened nature and as such is completely obscured from consciousness. Incidentally, The Shadow was a radio program that was very popular during the 1930s, long before television was available as a form of entertainment. Notice that lust, greed, envy and rage are among the seven deadly sins? (I doubt that was where Jung contrived his theory). The seven deadly sins are also known as the capital vices or cardinal sins, and they are a classification of Christian ethics. They consist of pride, sloth, greed, gluttony, envy, lust, and wrath. Se7vn, a banal movie released in 1995 starring Brad Pitt and Morgan Freeman, explored this concept with disappointing results.
If you research dream symbols or you analyze your own dreams, you might notice that there are repetitive universal symbols that seem to dominate many dreams. An evil, dark person, presence or shadow chasing the dreamer is a common element in nightmares. Dream dictionaries even state that this is the dreamer’s darker nature (in this case the Shadow) and the conscious mind in its quest to run and to escape what lies beneath. Dream interpreters state that “darkness is synonymous with ignorance, the subconscious, evil, death, and fear of the unknown. To see your own shadow in your dream signifies an aspect of yourself which you have not acknowledged or recognized. It may be a quality about yourself or a part of you that you are rejecting or want to keep hidden….You may be running away from a primal urge or fear.
Whatever we deem evil, inferior or unacceptable and in ourselves becomes part of the shadow, the counterpoint to what Jung called the persona or conscious ego personality. According to Jung, the shadow is the ‘‘sum of all personal and collective elements which, because of their incompatibility with the conscious mind, are denied in our waking life’’. In layman’s terms that means we repress what we know to be nasty about ourselves because it doesn’t jive with the kind of decent human being we want to be. It’s anti-social and who wants to consider themselves to be that?
Jung also differentiated between the personal shadow and the archetypal shadow, which acknowledges radical evil (symbolized by the Devil and demons) and collective evil, exemplified by the horror of the Nazi holocaust.So Jung included both spirituality and history in this definition. Literary and historical figures like Adolf Hitler, Charles Manson, and Darth Vader personify the shadow embodied in its most negative archetypal human form. Of course Jung knew nothing of Manson or Vader. He died in 1961 but these are modern examples of his theory.
Jung became somewhat obsessed with Hitler and the Nazis. He dissected the evil that was Hitler’s personality, trying to make sense of it and determine from whence it came as well as how Hitler himself justified it. He referred to the holocaust often in his work. The ‘‘shadow’’ explained psychopathology and evil. Foremost for Jung was the task of further illuminating the shadowy problem of human evil. The Milgram experiment on obedience to authority figures was a series of social psychology experiments conducted by psychologist Stanley Milgram. They measured the willingness of study participants who were mostly young males to obey an authority figure who instructed them to perform acts conflicting with their personal conscience. The experiments began in July 1961, three months after the start of the trial of German Nazi war criminal Adolf Eichmann in Jerusalem. Milgram created his study to answer the question, “Could it be that Eichmann and his million accomplices in the Holocaust were just following orders? Could we call them all accomplices?” In either case, such followers are guilty by association and compliance.
Three people were involved in the experiment and unbeknownst to one of the men, two of the volunteers were actors. The roles played by the actors were Learner and Experimenter. The third volunteer, a test subject, was selected as the Teacher. The Experimenter informed the Teacher that he would be reading a series of questions to the Learner, who must relay the correct answer. For every wrong answer, the Learner would receive a shock that increased in 15 volt increments. In reality there were no shocks. As the questions progressed and the Learner deliberately answered incorrectly the Teacher had to shock the Learner who finally reacted with screams of pain and begged to be “let out” as the wattage supposedly increased. The Teachers usually objected by the time 135 volts had been reached but the Experimenter’s response was:
- Please continue.
- The experiment requires that you continue.
- It is absolutely essential that you continue.
- You have no other choice, you must go on.
No matter how severe the Learner’s reaction, the majority of Teachers continued to shock the subject as per the Experimenter’s instructions. A few subjects began to laugh nervously or exhibit other signs of extreme stress once they heard the screams of pain coming from the learner. The maximum number of volts was a staggering 450 watts. 65% of test subjects completed the experiment at this level. Subjects were sweating, trembling, stuttering, biting their lips, groaning, digging their fingernails into their skin, and some were even having nervous laughing fits or seizures. One conclusion Milgram reached was, “stark authority was pitted against the subjects’ [participants’] strongest moral imperatives against hurting others, and, with the subjects’ [participants’] ears ringing with the screams of the victims, authority won more often than not.”
Nazis and the Holocaust
Was this at the root of the Nazi torture and killing of Jewish prisoners? Were these people truly evil? Were they sadists? Or were they merely adhering to a higher authority including what they believed to be the betterment of a nation? These types of questions were a strong focus on Jung’s exploration of the existence of evil in the human mind.Especially concerned with those pathological mental states historically known as ‘‘demonic possession’’ Jung’s psychological construct of the shadow corresponds to yet differs fundamentally from the idea of the Devil or Satan in theology.But, as a physician and psychiatrist, he intentionally employed the more mundane, banal, less esoteric or metaphysical and, therefore more rational terminology ‘‘the shadow’’ and ‘‘the unconscious’’ instead of the traditional religious language of god, devil, daimon or mana.
The Freudian defense mechanism known as projection is how most people deny their shadow, unconsciously casting it onto others so as to avoid confronting it in oneself. Such projection of the shadow is engaged in not only by individuals but groups, cults, religions, and entire countries, and commonly occurs during wars and other contentious conflicts in which the outsider, enemy or adversary is made a scapegoat, dehumanized, and demonized.
The Strange Case of Jekyll and Hyde
Robert Louis Stevenson’s famous novella explored the dual nature of a human being in the fictitious character of Dr. Jekyll and Mr. Hyde. By day, Jekyll was a respected medical physician, by night he became a deranged, animal-like form of his Self. Although the plot was intended to captivate audiences, the metaphorical meaning is unmistakable. This is a mirror that is being held up to the reader suggesting that any and all of us could be Jekyll and Hyde without knowing it or wishing to acknowledge it. The work is also associated with the rare mental condition often called “split personality“, referred to in psychiatry as dissociative identity disorder, where within the same body there exists more than one distinct personality. Louis Vivet, a mental patient who was supposedly suffering from split-personality disorder, inspired Stevenson while developing the story. The novella’s impact is such that it has become a part of the language, with the very phrase “Jekyll and Hyde” coming to mean a person who is vastly different in moral character from one situation to the next.
Jung and Hitler
Jung met Hitler at Hitler’s meeting with Mussolini in Berlin. He declared that, “Hitler made upon me the impression of a sort of scaffolding of wood covered with cloth, an automaton with a mask, like a robot or a mask of a robot….he showed no human sign. His expression was that of an inhumanly single-minded purposiveness, with no sense of humour. He seemed as if he might be a double of a real person and that Hitler the man might be hiding inside like an appendix…you do not feel that you are with a man because there is nobody there. He is not a man but a collective. He is not an individual but a whole nation….Hitler’s power is twofold; first that his unconscious has exceptional access to his consciousness, and secondly that he allows himself to be moved by it….and then acts upon them….the true leader is always led….Since their defeat in the World War, the Germans have awaited a Messiah, a Saviour.” They found their Saviour in Hitler who became not just a man but an entire nation. To view a leader in this light suggests it would be difficult not to follow orders, and to seldom question his authority. Many Germans even referred to Hitler as the “Holy Ghost,” as in the Roman Catholic triad of God the Father, His son Jesus and the Holy Spirit. That Hitler’s followers could have compared this sadistic mass murderer to the Holy Triad baffles one’s mind. Then again, Hitler’s army conquered many countries during World War II and so it became normal for Germans not to question him and simply to follow orders. Much like the Milgram Experiment. I can’t help but think this is too easy an escape (pun) for Nazis, whether they were among the higher ranks or the mere SS Guards in concentration camps. These men and women brutalized Jews (and non-Jews who refused to follow Nazi orders) with unimaginable tortures and took pleasure from it. If these people were ordered to torture without mercy I’m not aware of it. Does this speak to the natural evil in people? Does it speak to simply following orders? The latter I’d say no for the most part unless SS Guards were under direct military order to commit the atrocities they did within the camps.
The Boy in the Box
What of the abusive mother and/or father who murder their own children? Barring mental illness such as schizophrenia (as in the Andrea Yates case, and consider that those killings didn’t involve abuse or torture), and being under the influence of drugs at the time, there are thousands of parents who have abused their children terribly and in some cases to death. The unsolved mystery of the Boy in the Box in 1957 in the Fox Chase area of Philadelphia, Pennsylvania is one of the most notorious cases of child abuse to the point of death. The boy (who has never been identified) was regularly beaten, starved, and suffered many other atrocities to the point where the child finally succumbed to the abuse and died. He was given the moniker Boy in the Box because he was found dead in a J C Penny cardboard box that once (ironically) held a child’s bassinet. Personally I suspect his mother either committed the murder herself or certainly in some manner participated, perhaps as an enabler. The boy was wrapped in a blanket suggesting remorse and a maternal relationship, and hidden inside a box, perhaps suggesting that he was literally lying in a crib or a bassinet. His fingernails and toenails were clipped and clean. His hands were folded over his abdomen.
Let’s assume the boy’s mother was the sole culprit. What was in her nature that drove her to abuse and murder her own child, then to desecrate the remains by leaving them in a dumping ground on an all but deserted road? Was it simply in her nature or had she herself been murdered and was repeating a cycle of dreadful pain. Or was she simply evil? Was she under the influence or command of a more authoritative person than herself? Were there times when she displayed maternal qualities and loved her child or at least was affectionate towards him? All of these are possibilities. Since she was never located, we will never know.
The Shadow lurks in everyone but I refuse to believe that we are all failures in the Milgram Experiment, that we could all commit the atrocities of the Nazi army, that we could all abuse a child to death. There are conscious choices people make and are capable of making independently regardless of authority. It may take great courage to fight it but I am certain the nature of most people is good. It’s what keeps hope in the world and if there’s anything this world needs, it has to be hope.