Introduction: Other Levels of the Human Psyche
To do justice to the full human situation we need to bring to awareness another level of being, which can be described as "existential." This is the realm addressed by existential psychology and psychotherapy, which emerged after the second world war. It dealt specifically with "the sorrows of modernity."
Existential psychotherapy is a style of therapy that places emphasis on the nature of human existence as a whole, using a positive approach that celebrates human capacities and aspirations while simultaneously acknowledging human limitations.
Given the exuberance and pseudo-mania of modernity, it was as if humans had lost touch with the roots of their own existence. Modern man, compared to life in previous eras, lived in a world of secular abstractions. The power we were able to wield over the world dwarfed our past skills.
The negative side of this "empowerment" has been a desolating sense of rootlessness, vacuity, and a lack of vitality. The historian Lewis Mumford named the potentially lethal cul-de-sac in which humanity finds itself by arguing that the spontaneous, instinctual life of man has, in the course of history, been losing its grip - being steadily displaced by a desire for certainty and control:
"With the invention of the scientific method and the depersonalized procedures of modern technics, cold intelligence, which has succeeded as never before in commanding the energies of nature, already largely dominates every human activity"
[Currently] we find scientific ideation and technical skill"at the mercy of an infantile scheme of life, seeking extravagant, super-mechanisms of escape from the problems that [individuals and any] mature society must face."
Because every organism will work to exploit its ecological niche to the fullest extent - overshoot and collapse are common occurrences in natural systems. It is only natural that humanity would reach, and then extend beyond, its limits to growth.
Since we have never before had such powerful access to the entire planet, we are not experienced in exercising restraint as a species and caring for the entire biosphere. We learn through experience - and we have never encountered this situation before - so we should not be surprised if a great tragedy will be necessary to awaken the evolutionary intelligence of humanity.
Great compassion will be a necessity if we are to cope with the immense suffering that is likely to result from the combination of our technical powers, our stunted moral development, and our limited experience. If we are to have an opportunity to release ourselves from this "gordian knot," it will be essential to learn to talk and listen to one another as a diverse global culture.
One the one hand, when faced with trauma, one reaction is to shut down our capacity for love and compassion. However, needless suffering witnessed on television, the Internet etc., may also be the psychological fire that can awaken our compassion and blend individuals, communities and nations into a cohesive and consciously organized global synthesis.
Experientially, without the structure of religion to encompass life and replaced by a soul-less materialist perspective, countless modern humans have found themselves feeling homeless in a universe bereft of meaning. The people of the Enlightenment had foreseen no end to the triumphant expansion of reason. Yet, for modern man, reason has foundered - creating alienation from self and others, impersonal bureaucracies, and an endless desire for control.
Again, as Philip Mumford wrote:
"The more rationalized become the means of living - the more irrational will finally become the end product, man himself. In short, power and order, pushed to their final limit, lead to their self-destructive inversion: disorganization, violence, mental aberration, subjective chaos."
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