Today In Fact, 26 July

Ferdinand Tönnies was born today in 1855. A deep and interesting thinker, while reading Hobbes, Ferdinand gave us the distinction between “Gemeinschaft” and “Gesellschaft” in social theory. At its most simple, this distinction is between modern city life and the archaic, more rural and village life. The deeper understanding that Tönnies brings to this distinction is that urbanization and modernization has entailed a shift which involves a preponderance of contractual relationships: “Gesellschaft”on the one hand, while more archaic and more rural relationships are based upon family and bonds that are not merely contractual.

Tönnies seems to be using ideal types to distinguish a fundamental schism between the modern and the pre-modern. This distinction is useful for us more as a starting-point for thinking about how complex our relationships and exchanges can be. We know now that relationships and exchanges are not pre-determined states of affairs between people but are rather built-up over time, turn by turn. To sharply distinguish Gemeinschaft and Gesellschaft is to miss the point I think. If Tönnies has any relevance today it is in the implication that his idea allows us to more deliberately choose the kind of relationships we want to have with each other rather than feeling bound to be “modern” by only having contractual exchanges with each other.

The liberation that ideas about ourselves can provide is also a theme of our other Birthday boy today, one Carl Jung. Born in 1875, this Swiss psychiatrist gave us four very important ideas. The first is that we all share a collective unconscious. The contents of our collective unconscious are archetypes such as “The Shadow”, the “anima and animus” and “the trickster”, “the mother” and “Lady Wisdom”. These archetypes, Jung argued were buried deep within each of our beings and appear in myths and themes in very culture and society.

The second idea Jung offered us was the idea of “individuation” as a process in which we all must take part in order to become truly ourselves. This process involves bring to consciousness our encounters with the archetypes and integrating or actualizing them into our personalities and lives. He argued that those parts that we repress and do not bring to consciousness are played-out in our social lives as strict divisions and conflicts. Gives some food for thought around racism, and sexism and homophobia eh? Our ideas are organized unconsciously in complexes and play out when we engage the world.

The third idea that Jung introduced was the notion that our personalities are either introverted or extroverted. The idea has taken on a life of its own and today is substantially different to the way Jung imagined it.

The fourth idea was the idea that creates a space between luck and fate. He called it “synchronicity”. This is the idea that two or more events are meaningfully related even though they are not causally linked. That we can effectively operate in a world where we can find meaning between formally and causally unrelated events is a very useful method for making sense of what we do.

Our lives have been made immeasurably richer and more profound by the contribution these two men have made.

– Posted by Douglas Racionzer (