« Already long before 1933, something like a scorching smell was in the air », recalled Carl Gustav Jung shortly after the Second World War, when a collection of his texts from the 1920s, 30s and 40s was republishedi.
A scorched smell? What a euphemism!
In the trenches of the Great War, smells hovered over the dead and the living, but to smell the air then was to die.
Human memory is short and long. Short, in its race to the immediate, its fascination for the event of the moment. Long by its roots in the humus of cultures, in the unconscious of peoples, it even penetrates the memorable, un-forgetting DNA.
All the horrors in History, all the massacres, all the wars, all the infamies committed in the world, leave deep, mnemonic traces in the soul of the species and in the DNA of each man.
Jung attests to this: « An ugly thing generates something vile in our soul. We become indignant, we cry out for the punishment of the murderer, all the more vividly, passionately and hatefully, as the sparks of evil bawl more furiously within us.
It is an undeniable fact that the evil committed by others has quickly become our own vileness, precisely by virtue of the formidable power it has to ignite or fan the evil that lies dormant in our souls.
In part, the murder was committed on the person of each one of us, and in part, each one of us perpetrated it. Seduced by the irresistible fascination of evil, we have helped to make possible this moral attack on the collective soul […].
Are we morally outraged? Our indignation is all the more venomous and vengeful as the flame lit by evil burns more strongly within us.
No one can escape it, for everyone is so steeped in the human condition and so drowned in the human community, that any crime secretly causes a flash of the most intimate satisfaction to shine in some fold of our soul, with her innumerable facets… and – if the moral constitution is favorable – triggers also a contrary reaction in the surrounding compartments.”ii
When hundreds of thousands of dead, in the recent wars, begin to haunt the unconscious consciousness, the terrible soil of horror slowly prepares future germination.
When, day after day, migrants, chased away by wars waged elsewhere, drown in the blue waters of the Mediterranean or in any other of the Seven Seas, in deaf and blind indifference, a deleterious mutation operates its silent and deep chemistry in the stuffed souls of the weighed down peoples.
Yet the world migrants will arrive, whatever happens, and they will camp forever in the collective memory, – and no Styx will be wall, or barbed wire for them.
A wave of impotent pessimism has been sweeping the Western world since the beginning of the century. There is nothing to be done. TINA. « There Is No Alternative”, they say. The fall of confidence, the corruption of minds, the betrayal of politicians, the pursuit of lucre, the absence of meaning, are killing people’s souls, ill-informed, lost in complexity, deprived of light.
There is no national solution to global problems. But nationalist populism proliferates. The planet is too small, and they want to make it even smaller, to strangle it with partitions, with narrow stacks.
During the last centuries of the Roman Empire, paganism began to decline, along with virtues. A strange ideology, coming from the East, occupied people’s minds. The Gnostics preached the end of the ancient world. They proclaimed themselves « a chosen foreign people », they claimed « foreign knowledge » and wanted to live in a « foreign », « new » land.
The Epistle to Diognetus evokes the « strangeness » in a world that is coming to an end: « They reside each in their own country, but as foreigners in their own land, and every foreign land is a homeland to them, and every homeland is a foreign land.”
O prophetic words! And Rome was on the move, soon to succumb.
There is no more Rome now, nor virtues to destroy. Only smells, deadly, putrefied.
And the whole world is plugging its nose, thinking that it will pass.
i C.G. Jung. Aspects du drame contemporain (1947).