Don’t Look Up

Two astronomers go on a media tour to warn humankind of a planet-killing comet hurtling toward Earth. The response from a distracted world: Meh.

The director Adam McKay is not in the mood for nihilistic flights of fancy. Our planet is too dear and its future terrifying, as the accelerated pace of species extinction and global deforestation underscore. But humanity isn’t interested in saving Earth, never mind itself, as the recent Glasgow climate summit reminded us. 

This 2021 apocalyptic movie privileges the distressing experience of being ignored (“meh!”) while frantically proclaiming the end of the world, as many climate scientists and environmentalists have known for the past 50 years or so. The movie adds a twist to this “meh”, showing how power interests quickly appropriate any news of the impending end of the world to advance their own purposes. Historically, a famous example of the Establishment’s capacity to terminate any challenge to its hegemony occurred during the 70’s. The hippie movement had just emerged into prominence for a few years until Coke swallowed it up in an effective ad campaign (“It’s the Real Thing!”), effectively killing off the truth of the movement. 

There is a discernible analogous process on the level of inner experience. A universal feature of spiritual emergencies is that of an individual undergoing a felt experience of the destruction of the world, while facing a community that is largely disinterested in any global interpretation of the phenomenon. The truth of this phenomenon is killed off by the equally effective social campaign of pathologizing the messenger.

An example of both interpretations (inner/outer) of the phenomenon of the end of the world is recorded in C. G. Jung’s biography Memories, Dreams, Reflections in which he shares several horrifying dreams of the end of the world. He interpreted them first as signs of an imminent psychosis and then, in retrospect, after the Great War broke out, as premonitions of the outer situation.

When Jung had his visions of an apocalypse in 1913, he was on his way to discovering the reality of the psyche but at the time he was, like everyone else, bound by the linguistic foundations of our Western culture, characterised by a logical split between inner and outer:

Toward the autumn of 1913 the pressure which I had felt was in me seemed to be moving outward, as though there were something in the air. The atmosphere actually seemed to me darker than it had been. It was as though the sense of oppression no longer sprang exclusively from a psychic situation, but from concrete reality. This feeling grew more and more intense.

He could only conceive of the end of the world as a private psychosis or as premonition of an outer cataclysmic event. When the Great War broke out, Jung felt vindicated and reassured that his outer interpretation was the correct one. We all are forced to think in this either/or manner since this split is the final residue of the forgotten linguistic foundation of our entire Western culture. As Paul de Man says:

 it matters little whether we call the inside the content or form, the outside the meaning or the appearance. The recurrent debate…stands under the aegis of an inside/outside metaphor that has never been seriously questioned. 2

During Jung’s subsequent initiation into the reality of the psyche as recorded in his Red Book, he overcame the inner/outer disjunction and then settled into his life’s work of conveying to the rest of us how the physical world derives from the primary reality of the soul or psyche. He taught that the entire physical world is an appearance or expression of what he calls the collective unconscious, much like Owen Barfield’s claim that the real physical world IS a system of collective representations:

On almost any received theory of perception the familiar world—that is, the world which is apprehended, not through instruments and inference , but simply—is for the most part dependent of the percipient…the world we all accept as real is in fact a system of collective representations.3

By holding to the a priori of soul reality, from which the perceptible world is derived, Jung 

kept us linked to the wisdom of our ancestors. He didn’t allow it to die in in the darkest age of our philosophy [i.e.] positivism and behaviorism… [H]e kept the candle burning and alive…so we wouldn’t lose touch with ourselves (52 minute ff)

When the psyche is privileged as the primary reality, then the physical world IS the collective unconscious. Jung did not mean that psychic reality and material reality are inner and outer facets of a more fundamental reality. The crucial discovery that Jung made is that the psyche is the primary reality and material reality is a derivative of that primary reality.

The implications of Jung’s revolutionary claim are vast in terms of our culture’s transformation or utter destruction, as I have written elsewhere.5 For example, if we return to our movie Don’t Look Up, we may see how materialism (matter is the primary reality from which all else springs) saturates the script, foreclosing any other option for dealing with our global crisis. The movie exploits incorrigible human stupidity, narrow self-interest, and self-gratification in order to account for our “meh”, when faced with the news of certain planetary demise. There is much to be said for this appraisal! But in blaming human stupidity for the coming end of the world, we attribute god-like power to human beings. We think that it is all up to us to avert the disaster we caused and that it may be too late—mea culpa! Thus we remain blind to the determinative power of the psyche. Knowledge of the determinative power of the psyche/soul is now in social and cultural oblivion since Jung’s discovery, yet it is the only knowledge that can take us beyond such angry and futile recriminations against the ruthless power brokers ruining our world.

In this age of materialism, we eschew any knowledge of psyche as an ousia, i.e. a self-sustaining reality that is not derivative of anything more fundamental. As such, the psyche is the first cause of worldly events, not us humans. Based on the incorrigible materialistic belief that human beings constitute the “first cause” of the end of the world, the movie thus shows us the inevitable consequences. We go to our end in the worst possible way: social fragmentation and destruction or escapism. The one exception in which the protagonists sit around a table having their “last supper” may look different but they too are materialists to the end. They could find no meaning to this occasion beyond their personal opinions. They could not feel any sovereign claim on their souls, towards which they could turn in their final moments. This claim alone can make such a moment ontologically meaningful. Only the psyche can provide this meaning for us!6

If we now turn again to Jung’s visions of 1913, just prior to the Great War, we can as I said see how his understanding was determined by the modern linguistic structure of an inner/outer split. But, from the mature Jung’s psychic point of view, the destruction of the world IS the destruction of our current system of collective representations.7 There now is no inner/outer split to contend with. Jung’s visions were in fact prophetic! And a prophecy does not predict.8 It manifests or precipitates into materiality from the original psychic transformation. And it will manifest comet-like or as a future world colliding with our current one. It is already doing so. It must be a violent collision because our system of collective representations have hardened over the centuries. But the psyche is the sovereign power and its transformations will have the last say in the material world in the spirit of an impossible force meeting an unmoveable object.

The psyche has already-always overcome the inner/outer disjunction in its mysterious transformations. The psyche is the power that produced the inner/outer distinction in the first place, around the time, I suppose, that we discovered we had minds (the beginning of philosophy). The discovery of stable objects and stable minds, based on the logic of inner/outer has produced our Western civilization. But the psyche has moved on and visions such as Jung’s show a process of liquefaction occurring to our stable psychic structures and thence to their material manifestations such as materialists’ time and space:

In October, while I was alone on a journey, I was suddenly seized by an overpowering vision: I saw a monstrous flood covering all the northern and low-lying lands between the North Sea and the Alps. When it came up to Switzerland I saw that in the mountains grew higher and higher to protect our country. I realized that a frightful catastrophe was in progress. I saw the mighty yellow waves, the floating rubble of civilization, and the drowned bodies of uncounted thousands. Then the whole sea turned to blood.9 

We only have to glance around us to see many manifestations of this liquefaction of stable forms in the physical world. They are readily available to our senses, occurring first in language and art and then on down to our material lives (gender fluidity being one amazing example).

From this psychic point of view, such movies as Don’t Look Up cannot offer guidance to any global preventative action on the part of humans. There is, in fact, none to be had. The movie does suggest inevitability of the outcome. A determinate reality has transformed and is in collision with our current world as its determinate nature begins to materialise.10 This determinate reality is psychic reality. The tension between our current system of collective representations and the transformative power of the psyche is at a maximum and the fabric of our current world is tearing.11 Everybody is feeling it one way or another as stress but we have no guidance how to come into accord with its ontological meaning as the movie script demonstrates so well.

Personally I favour the American Indian way. Warriors could have visions of their own death (place, time, etc.) so they were fearless under all other circumstances. When they recognised the physical and temporal location of their impending death, they could then say, “it’s a good day to die!” That is the signature of individuals who have accepted the reigning sovereignty of the power that determines his/her life. 

He/she may then gracefully submit to its ontological claim.

  1.  Jung, C. G.: “Confrontation with the Unconscious” in Memories, Dreams, Reflections.(Vintage Books: Revised Edition)
  2. de Man, P.: Allegories of Reading. (Yale University Press, 1979), p5.
  3.  See Barfield, O.: Saving the Appearances. (Faber & Faber: 1957), pp 20-21.
  4.  “Jungian Metaphysics with Bernardo Kastrup” in New Thinking Allowed with Jeffrey Mishlove: https://youtu.be/2E500ELKYKE
  5.  See my essay PANDEMIC: Global Crisis at: https://www.academia.edu/16279865/PANDEMIC_global_crisis_2020_
  6. Ontological meaning occurs when we come into accord with the claims of reality made on our soul life. For example the reality of death can be felt as thwarting one’s will or as a sovereign power to whom one must submit, even with joy.
  7. I prefer Barfield’s term of collective representations here.
  8. See my books Power of Prophecy and Light Withdrawn at: https://independent.academia.edu/WoodcockJohn
  9. Jung, C. G. Op. Cit.
  10. See my essay From Interpenetration to Touching at: https://www.academia.edu/64474408/FROM_INTERPENETRATION_TO_TOUCHING_further_hints_of_the_coming_catastrophe_2021_
  11. See my essay The 3 And The 4: emergenc(y) of the unknown future at: https://www.academia.edu/43343770/THE_3_and_THE_4_Emergenc_y_of_the_Unknown_Future_2020_