Patrick Watts

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the roots of torture

I expect more from the Swiss national character than from an artificially fostered team-spirit, because it has deeper roots in our native soil than an enthusiasm which wanes with the words that conjure it up. It is all very fine to be swept along on a tide of enthusiasm, but one cannot enthuse indefinitely. Enthusiasm is an exceptional state, and human reality is made up of a thousand vulgarities. Just what these are is the decisive thing. If the ordinary Swiss makes very sure that he himself has it good and can summon up no enthusiasm whatever for the joys of having nothing in glorious solidarity with everybody else, that is certainly unromantic— worse, it is selfish, but it is sound instinct. The healthy man does not torture others— generally it is the tortured who turn into torturers. And the healthy man also has a certain amount of goodness which he is the more inclined to expend since he does not enjoy a particularly good conscience on account of his obvious selfishness. We all have a great need to be good ourselves, and occasionally we like to show it by the appropriate actions. If good can come of evil self-interest, then the two sides of human nature have cooperated. But when in a fit of enthusiasm we begin with the good, our deep-rooted selfishness remains in the background, unsatisfied and resentful, only waiting for an opportunity to take its revenge in the most atrocious way. Community at all costs, I fear, produces the flock of sheep that infallibly attracts the wolves. Man’s moral endowment is of so dubious a nature that a stable condition seems possible only when every sheep is a bit of a wolf and every wolf a bit of a sheep. The truth is that a society is more secure the more the much maligned instincts can, of their own accord, start off the counterplay of good and evil. “Pure good” and “pure evil” are both superhuman excesses.

(Carl Jung, “Return to the simple life” 1941)

 

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