Erich Kahler and The Foreign Installation

I’ve been reading Erich Kahler’s book (1956) The Tower and the Abyss: An Inquiry into the Transformation of Man, and I’m finding it quite engaging. There are a couple of quotes I’ld like to share that are relevant to themes we’ve raised here in The Chrysalis and in the earlier Dark Age Blog.

The first passage from Kahler’s book pertains to what we’ve taken to calling “the foreign installation” — the occupied psyche or mind. Here, in speaking of “collectives”, Kahler is referring to great institutions become immortal persons such as State, Church, Corporation, and so on; institutions which seem to have gained a large degree of functional autonomy and are no longer rooted in community (the German distinction, from which Kahler may be drawing, is that between what is termed “Gesellschaft” and “Gemeinschaft“, and is sometimes rendered as a distinction between Zivilisation and Kultur).

“Collectives are the only groups which function primarily as groups. To be sure, a family or a nation is a group as well, but its primary function is internal; it acts upon the individual through common feelings, dispositions and habits. Whenever a community acts as a group, this function is derivative; whenever a nation acts as a group, it becomes a state. Conversely, the influence of the collective is an external one; and its internal effects on the individual are derivative. Its standards and stereotypes intrude on the personality from without. Substantially alien to the personality, collectives may, if powerful enough, cause it to split. Collective influences are therefore much more dangerous than those exerted by genuine communities; they may break up the individual form. They invade the psyche of the individual from consciousness, in a rational or pseudo-rational way, through the innumerable abstractions of modern life. From consciousness, dim as it may be, these abstractions gradually sink into the unconscious, and in this manner they disrupt personality – for no crucial changes occur in a human being without the medium of the unconscious. The unconscious is the formative, the creative ground of the personality, and not until the unconscious has been affected, can any change take roots in a human disposition.

In this way a layer of the unconscious forms that can rightly be called collective unconscious. Here is stored up the residue of a host of mass stereotypes, slogans, conceptual simplifications, suggested or imposed attitudes, which by various means have sunk from consciousness into the unconscious.

We are all aware of instances of this process. Business advertising, for example, starts out from some very simple rational, quasi-argumentative appeal. ‘Live modern,’ it tells you, and smoke L&M filter cigarettes which ‘taste richer, smoke cleaner’; Ballantine beer has ‘purity, body, flavor’; American Airlines ‘carries more passengers than any other airline in the world.’ Once these motives for buying are established, compulsion through ubiquitous, noisy repetition sets in. Constant pounding drives the slogans down into the unconscious where they gradually lose their argumentative character and become immediately, mechanically compelling. Novelty, too, starts out from a thrill of sophistication and ultimately becomes one of the most compulsive unconscious motives for buying.” (pp 10-11)

It should be pointed out that in the quote above, Kahler uses the term “collective unconscious” in a way quite distinct from C.G. Jung. What Jung terms “collective unconscious” Kahler prefers to call the “generic unconscious”, and this generic unconscious seems quite the same as that which Jean Gebser calls “the ever-present origin.” Kahler prefers “collective unconscious” to describe the external influences of the great collectives on the psyche, and in that sense it means what we have called “the foreign installation.”

The second passage from Kahler I wanted to share with you pertains to what I’ve been calling “ironic reversal”, as a catch-all phrase to cover other, identical reversals known as “perverse outcome,” “unintended consequence,”, “blowback,” “revenge effect,” “enantiodromia” (C.G. Jung’s term following Heraclitus), or just plain old “reversal of fortune”.

“It is essential what we acknowledge the paradoxical ‘law of history’ – if we may call it that – or, to put it even more broadly, the ‘law of life’: that any living thing or movement has beneficial as well as harmful effects; that bad and, indeed, perilous effects are inextricably interwoven with the good, productive ones…. Any living thing or movement carries its life and its death within the same body [or process]: what drives life to its climax is the very impulsion that fosters the seeds of death. Any principle, therefore, that is pushed to its extreme and loses its resilience, its adaptability to changing conditions, reverses and defeats itself.”

This passage, describing “ironic reversal”, ought to be compared also with that oft-quoted statement, here in The Chrysalis, from Jean Gebser’s The Ever-Present Origin concerned the current human condition,

“The current situation manifests on the one hand an egocentric individualism exaggerated to extremes and desirous of possessing everything, while on the other it manifests an equally extreme collectivism that promises the total fulfillment of man’s being. In the latter instance we find the utter abnegation of the individual valued merely as an object in the human aggregate; in the former a hyper-valuation of the individual who, despite his limitations, is permitted everything. This deficient, that is destructive, antithesis divides the world into two warring camps, not just politically and ideologically, but in all areas of human endeavor.

Since these two ideologies are now pressing toward their limits we can assume that neither can prevail in the long run. When any movement tends to the extremes it leads away from the center or nucleus toward eventual destruction at the outer limits where the connections to the life-giving center finally are severed. It would seem that today the connections are already broken, for it is increasingly evident that the individual is being driven into isolation while the collective degenerates into mere aggregation. These two conditions, isolation and aggregation, are in fact clear indications that individualism and collectivism have now become deficient” (p. 3).


12 responses to “Erich Kahler and The Foreign Installation”

  1. alex jay says :

    How astoundingly well timed that you should tackle the “individualist” vs. “collectivist” subject – though unwittingly, I’m sure – at the demise of Margaret Thatcher. For, if there is one person of political stature in contemporary history who personfies the former in this dialectic soap-opera more than her, I’ll go teetotal (Ron Paul right behind). Furthermore, unlike the radical individualism – the “deficient” mode (ala Gebser) – associated with Ayn Rand’s dystopic “what’s in it for me, bugger the rest” neo-Darwinist delusion, Maggie, for all her real-politiK faults of the Kissingerian variety (particularly her seduction to the neo-liberal Fried[maniac] “Chicago School” of economic exploitation, was fighting against the sweeping tide of collectivism. And, in hindsight, for that – as much as I despised her, especially in her third term when hubris oozed out of her every word and gesture (the Narcissistic curse) – I have come to realise that she was at heart a decent, honest, selfless servant of the people – policy differences aside. I have only come to this conclusion after living through a twenty year succession of spineless pimps, whores and puppets that fester like boils in the seats of govenments around the world.

    Now, my friend Scot, you have often quoted – aside from TINA (another conversation?) – Maggie’s quote: “There is no such thing as society”. Naturally, as stated out of context it’s absurd! However, if you take this selective quote in the context of its origin in an interview for “Womens Own” magazine in Sept. 1987 and apply it to the “individualist” vs. “collectivist” intellectual battlefield (mental that is) at the moment what can you find that is so controversial?

    “I think we have gone through a period when too many children and people have been given to understand “I have a problem, it is the Government’s job to cope with it!” or “I have a problem, I will go and get a grant to cope with it!” “I am homeless, the Government must house me!” and so they are casting their problems on society and who is society? There is no such thing! There are individual men and women and there are families and no government can do anything except through people and people look to themselves first… There is no such thing as society. There is living tapestry of men and women and people and the beauty of that tapestry and the quality of our lives will depend upon how much each of us is prepared to take responsibility for ourselves and each of us prepared to turn round and help by our own efforts those who are unfortunate.”

    I’m not an apologist for Thatcher In fact, I pretty much hated her guts living through that era. However, in hindsight, and compaing her to the current invertebrates that act as mercenary forces for the collective control freaks running this dysfunctional planet, Maggie may (that’s a joke – Rod Stewart, remember?) prove to be, with reservations, an icon for freedom loving people in these Orwellian days????

    One thing is for sure she hated “Pharisees”! 🙂

    • Scott Preston says :

      “…Maggie, for all her real-politiK faults of the Kissingerian variety (particularly her seduction to the neo-liberal Fried[maniac] “Chicago School” of economic exploitation, was fighting against the sweeping tide of collectivism.”

      Not really. The Falklands War was her resort to collectivism, and is generally considered, in any case, the event that saved her politically from her bungling ideology. Collectivism is not simply a political concept either — say, fascism or communism which are explicitly collectivist. Nation-State, Church, Corporation, Union, Army are collectives also. Odd it is that Maggie only saw individuals and families as realities, but was blind to these collectives (except Unions, of course which was her ideological bias).

      So, I stand by my judgment that Thatcher was deaf and quite hypocritical. Society is not something you can see. Society is the public conversation or public discourse. The great collectives of State, Church, Corporation, Union, Science, Political Party, etc have their own specialist idiom, which defines them. But “society” speaks the common tongue and the specialist idioms are embedded within that as special branches. Society is not something you see, it’s something you hear. Of course, we are used to reading and literacy and books, so we think this represents society — the visual artifacts or “book culture”. But, in fact, alphabets and books are only frozen speech, secondary things. Society itself is invisible.

  2. LittleBigMan says :

    I had to get used to what Kahler means by the word “consciousness”. He seems to be using the word ‘consciousness’ to refer to our awareness of the physical experiences, whereas I’d like to think of ‘consciousness’ as the core essence of what we are both in Framework 1 and Framework 2.

    It seems to me Kahler thinks of the consciousness and the unconscious as two divided but connected realms. He does mention that “The unconscious is the formative, the creative ground of the personality” — which I agree with — but then his remark that:

    “They [collectives] invade the psyche of the individual from consciousness, in a rational or pseudo-rational way, through the innumerable abstractions of modern life. From consciousness, dim as it may be, these abstractions gradually sink into the unconscious, and in this manner they disrupt personality”

    seems to suggest that The Self is divided into consciousness and the unconscious.

    I find myself a little bit critical of that thinking. I’ve come to think that consciousness is one whole of which, like an iceberg, the protruding portion represents the experiences of everyday life. Besides, I feel that there’s nothing ‘gradual’ about the communication between the consciousness and the unconscious. Kahler’s statement that “these abstractions gradually sink into the unconscious” suggests as if he is trying to ascribe space-time qualities to the communication between Framework 1 and Framework 2.

    But our consciousness, as a whole, is always aware of the presence of the foreign installation and the effect of the collectives. Framework 2 is always aware of its own domain and the domain of Framework 1. It’s the embodied portion in Framework 1 that has to make itself aware of Framework 2 by “cleansing the doors of perception” and casting away the foreign installation, and thus bringing an end to the reincarnational lives in Framework 1 – as Seth himself has been able to achieve.

  3. alex jay says :

    “Not really. The Falklands War was her resort to collectivism, and is generally considered, in any case, the event that saved her politically from her bungling ideology.”

    What a load of rubbish!

    You, for all your insights in the grand scheme of conscious evolution from a socio-athropological perspective are histrorically deficient in the facts on the ground and the timing (suffering from a space-time discontinuum – or, perhaps, overly influenced by “liberal/progressive” (true collectivist) sources falling into the dialectic trap in spite of yourself and in contradiction to your oft quoted “Khayyam’s Caution”).

    For a start, the Falklands War was not of Maggie’s making. Far from being “her resort to collectivism” (where and from whom did you get that revisionary nonsense from, the mind can only spin into a state of stupour!). Without going into the documented evidence – inappropriate in the length it would require for this forum (though a google search might point you in the right direction applying an eclectic Aristotelian logical excercise to discriminate between the wheat and the chaff) – it surely must be common knowledge that the Argentinian Junta, under Generalissimo Galtieri, needed a PR victory to disguise their corrupt-incompetent feudalist regime. How better than accomplish that aim than divert domestic discontent towards the colonial enemy (and I’m all for dismantling colonial hegemony without reservation – let’s start with America, Canada, Australia etc. etc. etc.), but not by substituting the power structure with military/corporate/banking mafias! No Maggie, the Foreign Office etc., were taken by surprise and the majority of Maggie’s cabinet were prepared to play ostrich and give up the Malvinas/Falklands for pragmatic expediency. However, in total contradiction to your bizarre claim, you might interpret her motives (geo/economic-strategic factors aside) as safeguarding and preserving the indigenous population that lived on the islands for well over a century – in other words, the “individuals” making up a defenseless isolated community overrun by a “foreign installation”. A microscopic reflection to the Palestinians on a grander scale circa the Naqba.

    Now, to the nitty gritty … the “unions”. Unlike your good self, I lived through that dysfunctional period in the ’70s in this country … and the enantidromia reversal of workers justice fought and won through the era of 19th/early 20th century “robber baron” exploitation to its Mr. Hyde blackmail era of Trotskyite commissars (champaigne socialists) who turned the country into the basket case of Europe. Even the Laour government under Callaghan couldn’t control these wreckers of the social fabric, i.e. the “Winter of Discontent”. Maggie was right for the time … and boy, did it need a bitch like her to stop the rot of the ennui at that time (even though I philosophically disagreed with her). Credit where creidt is due.

    Oh shit, I’m getting bored …. suffice to say, stick with the metaphysical – it’s what I love you for. The history and your “liberal/progressive” social interpretation of current virtual reality is definitely naive at best and delusional at worst. And yet, you were my mentor in so many ways … the irony …. perhaps I should go back and remain the round peg in the square hole? I doubt it … I’m too conceited …not really … maybe?

    Schyzohrenia is nature’s way of dealing with the paradoxes … and they claim it’s a mental illness??? 🙂

    • Scott Preston says :

      The points you make are actually quite irrelevant to the issue of collectivisation. There is nothing more collectivist than nationalism and a nation at war, and it matters not one whit who instigates it or whether it is deliberately engineered to salvage a fracturing and disintegrating regime beset by internal dissension, self-contradiction, and strife. There is nothing more collectivist, in military terms, than the modern concept of “total war”, first introduced by Clausewitz and carried to new heights of “totality” and elaboration subsequently. “Total war” however, is nationalistic war, and the reason Clausewitz’s concept was so novel was war, previously, was deemed “the sport of kings” and not of nations or peoples, and it was still the case in Sam Johnson’s day that “total war” or what we might call equally “collectivist war”, was still far away when he quipped that appeal to “patriotism is the last refuge of a scoundrel”.

      The mobilisation of public opinion for the support of war was not something kings and princes had to much worry about, previously. But “public opinion” (“public” itself being a mass or collectivist concept — as McLuhan put it, “the media is the mass-age”) is the prize to be won of all propaganda efforts. It is no coincidence or mystery that the more collectivist notions of democracy have become, the more propaganda is necessary as a technology of social organisation. This “rationalisation” of the social order is the necessary consequence of the convergent dynamic of science, technology, industry, and democracy — in other words, a necessary part of the “mental-rational structure of consciousness” itself.

      The organisation of social life into PACs, or Unions or Corporations or Political Parties, or Armies, or Teams, Nations or States or into mass concepts like “the Individual” or “the Family” (which are still collectivising abstractions and generalisations) belong within the horizon of the mental-rational. One of the great absurdities of contemporary rationality is the belief that “the Individual” is something real and concrete and particular. It’s just as much an abstraction and generalisation from the concrete and particular as is the concept of “class”.

    • Wandering Irish Journalist says :

      Alex you are a fool, surely you are aware by now that the Falklands war was a disaster that could have been easily avoided. Also you clearly did not live in one of the many communities in the north and west of Britain that were utterly destroyed by Thatcher’s deranged war against what she called “the enemy within.” Those communities have not recovered and will not under the current systems. They are wastelands. Thatcher may be dead, but the creature she created is not. Maybe the unions needed reform. But Thatcher destroyed their power base: society. the legacy of that mania is clear to to see today. Also I know people from Argentina who are still horrified that Thatcher should have supported the torturer Pinochet.

      Really, what you wrote is quite strange. Maybe you are a drinker? There is a reason that stuff is so cheap and accessible you know.

      The only people celebrating her life are monied old soaks, bankers,

      • LittleBigMan says :

        This is the first time I’ve seen the full quote from the former prime minister about TINA and it just strikes me how childish, disingeneous, and self-serving her remarks are. I read her remarks twice and she is not making any sense at all. At one point she says:

        “I am homeless, the Government must house me!””

        Really? Is that what the homewless say? Even in England? That, “The Government must house me!”?

        There are many reasons for becoming homeless (e.g. mental illness, broken homes, lack of skills, addiction to drugs and alcohol, etc.) and this is just from a freshman research project I completed. Was the prime minister less informed than a college freshman? Why would a prime minister make up and put words in the mouths of the voiceless? Why would she attempt to reduce the problem to fiction.

        Indeed, the homeless, who are among the most voiceless, never make such demands to governments to house them. They don’t have the means to do so. It’s people who have a roof over their heads and food on the table (yes, this is the rest of the society) who want the government to help the homeless. It is this voice from the rest of the society that the prime minister, unfortunately, did not want to acknowledge or listen to. Her remark is really a slap in the face of the middle class, if you ask me, for no one I know enjoys seeing others in such miserable conditions. Alas, it’s apparent, and yet this is another example that our heads of government are out of touch with the people they ought to represent.

        Quite honestly, It’s quite apparent that the former prime minister didn’t have a clue what she was talking about. First she says “There is no such thing as society.” And then she follows it up with “There is living tapestry of men and women and people”. That’s ridiculous!

        Yes, it’s this “tapestry of men and women” which I call “society”. And no one said that a society should not help its individual members. But also no one expects the governments to sit on the sidelines while this “tapestry of men and women” (i.e. the society) resolves its own problems and sets its own rules while doing so. And if her expectation was that this “tapestry of men and women and people” to take care of its most underprivileged members on its own without any participation and cooperation by her government, what need was there for her to occupy 10 Downing Street?

        In civil societies, the police are created and trained and tasked by governments to stop crime and bad things from happening to other people. But what support can any government offer to those who are, in the prime minister’s own words, “prepared to turn round and help by our own efforts those who are unfortunate”? Well…the quoted paragraph from her surely makes it clear what she would’ve said would be the response from the British government: “There’s no such thing as society.”

        What a bizarre piece of logic!

  4. LittleBigMan says :

    Sorry for this, but apparently I had it wrong in my previous post. Here’s an excerpt from Seth’s “The Individual and the Nature of Mass Events” which speaks of consciousness and the unconscious not as one, but as complementary, perhaps?

    “You are biological creatures. Your proud human consciousness rests on the vast “unconscious” integrity of your physical being. In that regard your consciousness is as natural as your toe. In terms of the species’ integrity your mental states are, then, highly important. Despair or apathy is a biological “enemy.” Social conditions, political states, economic policies, and even religious or philosophical frameworks that foster such mental states, bring about a biological retaliation. They act like fire applied to a plant. (p. 21)”

    By the way, the very brief Wikipedia profile of Erich Kahler describes him as “an ardent zionist, advocated world government, and was involved in antiwar and anti-nuclear activisim”.

    I don’t understand how he found harmony between advocating zionism and world government and his belief that “Collective influences are therefore much more dangerous.”

    • Scott Preston says :

      Zionism isn’t a homogeneous doctrine. It is riven with dissension. The central notion of a homeland for the Jews — or a state for the Jews — comes into conflict with the “Jewish homeland” or “the Jewish State”, you see. Zionists like Hannah Arendt or Erich Kahler believed that it was possible for Jews and Palestinians to live together harmoniously in a constitutional state, not an ethnically homogeneous “Jewish State”.

      Unfortunately, events did not develop as the idealists had hoped. It is the more right-wing or ethnocentric, and even fascistic, form of Zionism that insists on apartheid. Probably most Jews are “Zionist” in the broader sense of wanting to see a homeland for the Jews, but not all Jews want to see a “Jewish State” which is too reminiscent of the “Aryan state” mentality of Blut und Boden racism.

  5. tony says :

    3,000 men and women murdered and a further 30,000 tortured under Augusto Pinochet. Many were killed for the crime of belonging to trade unions and other collective organisations.
    Mrs Thatcher was a firm friend and supporter of the Chilean dictator.
    There is not much else to say about her.
    All her other actions, be they positive or negative, are of insignificance when judging her, when compared to the complete lack of humanity the woman felt towards those thousands of victims and their families.

    • Scott Preston says :

      Yes, tony, I’ld say her friendship and defence of Pinochet is enough in itself to cast into doubt her worthiness to be lionised as a great democrat. The implications are a little disturbing

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