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The Virtual Virtuous meets the Jungian Shadow – Sayandeep Paul

For all those who haven’t already been repelled by the title of this write up, let me start by telling you all how I plan to go ahead with this – One, to introduce the “virtual virtuous” followed by Two, to look into the Jungian “Shadow” only to bring about Three, the reconciliation. 

One:  Around fifteen years ago, during 2004, Facebook (back then, Thefacebook) started off as a small website/social platform dedicated to helping users connect with their friends, friends of friends, colleagues and so on; in short, visualising their social network. The platform witnessed an unprecedented growth from around 1million (back in 2004) to around 2.45billion by the end of 2019 (to put it into perspective, there are 7.7billion people on this planet!!). Similar exemplary growth stories are also true for other social media platforms like Twitter (around 350million by the end of 2019) and Instagram (1billion by 2019). The virtual world is no longer a stranger to us. It has become a potent medium for sharing updated news, engaging with people via virtual games and challenges, generating awareness about various social and other crises that plague us on a frequent basis and so on; an evolutionary step towards eliminating the spatial barriers through real time interactions. People have a choice to voice their opinions and share their thoughts on a bizarre range of topics. Parallel to the emergence of the virtual world, equally maginificient has been the effort put in by the people to maintain a fairly active and healthy social (as far as the virtual can offer) profile. The continuous virtual hammering of morals and rescaling of ethical standards make us examine ourselves and refrain from going astray. Socially or morally objective behaviour often brought about in the form of politically incorrect humour doesn’t pass the virtual eyes undetected and the repurcussions, in some form or shape, definitely help in modelling one’s social character. Having established this haloed platform, the “virtual virtuous” are those millions (or possibly, billions) of people with an active social avatar and a strong sense of morality which enable them to act unhindered and with a spotless conscience, in case any wrong is ever done and/or comes to their notice. With this as our starting point, we move forward to look into the abyss and get introduced to the Jungian “Shadow” next.

Two:  To get into a more formal introduction, Carl Jung was a Swiss psychiatrist and psychoanalyst in the late 19th – 20th century. Among his various influential works on a wide range of subjects, we would be focussing on his concept and theory of one of the archetypes, more specifically the “Shadow”. The Jungian perception of the “Shadow” is the collection of the most inferior characteristics of the psyche which humans conciously try to renounce; ordinarily, bizarre or unhealthy interests and obsessions which socities have long shunned. The shadow lies beyond our human awareness resulting in its repression and eventual escape through the accidental slips in the human psyche in disturbing ways. Its existence is hidden to one’s self, so that he/she may live life with the false conviction of being a wholly good and virtuous human being and may fit socially. Being caged in the depths of the unconcious, the shadow exerts control on one’s thoughts, emotions, choices and actions. It manifests as self harming addictions, malevolent practices or thoughts and other potentially harmful engagements which one conciously knows they are best to forego yet, can’t. This duality in man (or woman/others) has been portrayed in classical literature in the works like Dr. Jekyll and Mr. Hyde or, in a more realistic and less extreme sense, our daily lives where we conciously maintain a persona which is acceptable and amiable in society while a very different version of ourselves exists when we are on our own or with our extremely close ones. Jung prescribes that we may attain ‘enlightenment’ not through imagining some external force cleansing ourselves but rather looking within and confronting our “shadows” and integrating it with our conciousness, thereby, being whole in the truest sense. “That which we do not bring to conciousness appears in our lives as fate”, Jung exclaims. Having laid the ground for two apparently disjoint themes, let us poceed to reconcile.

Three: If we come to accept the Jungian theorization of the “shadow”, then the existence of a virtual version of ourselves and by extension, the real-virtual duality in our common day lives has the possibility of leading us to not just one, but two projection traps. 

In a more direct sense, projection trap occurs when we, unaware of our own unconcious “shadow”, often project our ideas onto others, or more bluntly, scapegoating. Our remark on K-Pop musicians as homosexuals, for example, depicts our inner hatred for homosexuality being projected onto people without any context. Or for that matter, our judgement on what constitutes being “decent/moral” for a girl embodies our lurking desire which is duly justified if the girl is positioned as being “immoral”. These momentary slips lead us to readily condemn a nation’s culture of eating snakes and bats when eating frog legs, snails, silk worms and even red ants are prevalent in ours. Now, in a more indirect way, projection traps might also occur when we, project ourselves to ourselves and the society as beacons of morality and ethics, live superficially for the sake of social appearances and to feel good about ourselves. As the line between the real and the virtual becomes ever so thin, our actions in the virual plane, albeit moral, end up amassing tremendous validation but fail to ooze into the real world, thereby, morphing our dialogues into mere virtue signalling, at best. This, in turn, leads us to accept the false positive and takes us farther away from confronting our inner demons, quite contrary to Jungian prescriptions. Though it isn’t necessary to base our ideologies or actions on particular theories alone, it might be wise to take time to consider the possibility that we are widening the identity gap at a real-virtual plane and thereby, materializing as beings who are in perpetual conflict within ourselves.

*The data figures were taken from statista.com (haven’t crosschecked but I’m sure the growth rates are close to the real picture)

**On the Ego and the Shadow by Carl Jung – read up articles on the net as well as on YouTube

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