The Undiscovered Self

Luther still ended up garnering recognition and respect from society and in turn registering himself in the history books for challenging the authorities and powers of his time, even though recognition and respect from others was not what he was seeking. His aim, above all else, was to “do the right thing” and to “please God” as a means of redeeming himself in the eyes of God. But from Luther onward, self-expression took on a secular nature due to the changing socioeconomic conditions in the Western world. Anthropocentrism and humanism became the main manifestations of this secular form of self-expression, despite the fact that Luther’s exploration of his feelings and inner thoughts and his form of self-expression had a religious and spiritual theme and outlook behind it.

Nevertheless, as was the case during the time of Luther, society today “almost always wins out by forcing inner selves to conform to external norms.” The difference, however, was that the external norms of the past were determined by the Church and by feudal overlords, whereas the external norms of this day and age are determined in large part by a secular outlook. But as Fukuyama argued, this issue of identity and the distinction between the inner self and the outer self never arose in traditional societies, and this issue is largely unique to the West for some reason. Whereas traditional societies never really prompted the divide between an inner and outer self, modernization not only prompted the divide, but it also exacerbated the divide which in the Western context had its roots in the final stage of the medieval period. It follows that the modern man’s divide between an inner and outer self stems from the fact that modern man has essentially “estranged himself from the mass of men who live entirely within the bounds of tradition” to borrow from Jung. 

In a sense, the inner self is buried under the notion that “a man’s products may be more and essentially greater than himself” to borrow from Arendt. This materialistic and rationalistic notion, ironically, ended up making the thoughts regarding the inner self even more preponderant in the minds of many Western thinkers in the modern age than during the time of Luther. In essence, and from a Freudian standpoint, the inner self carries with it certain ideas and feelings which are repressed by social conventions and social standards. And the manner by which social conventions and social standards repress the inner self is by shaping the conscious level of what we perceive to be reality. Contrary to conventional notions and standards, man is actually an enigma and mystery both in a general sense and to himself, as Jung once contended. Jung wrote:

“Our psyche, which is primarily responsible for all the historical changes wrought by the hand of man on the face of this planet, remains an insoluble puzzle and an incomprehensible wonder, an object of abiding perplexity – a feature it shares with all Nature’s secrets. In regard to the latter we still have hope of making more discoveries and finding answers to the most difficult questions. But in regard to the psyche and psychology there seems to be a curious hesitancy. Not only is it the youngest of the empirical sciences, but it has great difficulty in getting anywhere near its proper object.”

Jung called on people to “free psychology” from the “prejudice” that the psyche is “a mere epiphenomenon of a biochemical process in the brain, or, on the other hand, a wholly unapproachable and recondite matter.” Jung also argued: “The structure and physiology of the brain furnish no explanation of the psychic process.” He added: “The psyche has a peculiar nature which cannot be reduced to anything else.” In a sense, not only should the exploration of the self and thus the exploration of the psyche be the main focus of research and scholarship in the social sciences of today, but this exploration might even end up being the sole focus as well. 

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