“It was miraculous. It was almost no trick at all... to turn vice into virtue and slander into truth, impotence into abstinence, arrogance into humility, plunder into philanthropy, thievery into honor, blasphemy into wisdom, brutality into patriotism, and sadism into justice. Anybody could do it; it required no brains at all. It merely required no character.” -- Joseph Heller, Catch-22
(I owe the title of this post to Ruben Bolling, whose satirical cartoons I've long enjoyed.)
Heller's observation illustrates an inescapable truth. Though he described it in what most would see as an extreme form, the general psychic facts of the human predicament confirm that most of God's children do, indeed, revile their own natures such that their professed values will somehow turn into their opposites and yet they will still see them as ideals. How does it happen?
"Anybody could do it; it required no brains at all." It's in the nature of the beast Bolling facetiously characterized as "the only animal that can be the master of its own destiny."
Beneath the literary license Heller and Bolling used to make their points lies a more complex psychological picture than truisms or cartoons express: not only can anybody do it -- everybody does it. It doesn't require brains (see the pigeons in the cartoon): an instinctual spirit-condition which, as Jung stated, is a primary one in which consciousness must actively mediate the contradictory impulses it perceives. Whether fate or choice (or maybe both?) dictates our decisions is a paradox neither science, philosophy, nor religion will resolve.
"It merely required no character." -- an integral part of the subjective equation, but this is where the more complicated picture departs from the truism; such judgments are so relative to the individual, so personal, they generally land on those we don't like or can't understand for more intimate reasons than opinion or ideology: projections of subjective tendencies incompatible with conscious ideals.
Even in its simplest form, character is defined as individual; but the psychic facts state also that we are products of human history. How we came to acquire these individual traits is a complicated evolutionary process as subjective as it is objective. Only knowledge of how the unconscious works can give us a sense of an internal opposite and how we perceive it -- if we perceive it at all.
As a concept, Jung described projection as a primary function which design is to relate consciousness in two dir.... Our entire human history can be seen in terms of the conscious dissolution of projections in the development of the individual as well as the species.
This idea is far-fetched only to the ego who believes itself to be outside the laws of nature. Biology long ago described it: "ontogeny recapitulates phylogeny." -- the individual relives the developmental stages of the species in condensed form: an analogical concept that applies to psychology in the most profound ways.
Only an inflated and disoriented ego could conceive such an outlandish notion as the Christian idea that man was "not of this world" -- a stage of development in which consciousness is still under the direct influence of mythic images and projects an internal reality onto an external one. Physics and astronomy proved its concrete impossibility; Jung, its psychic probability. Few conceived that the inner reality was of the same fundamental objective nature as the outer one.
But, many still live the unconscious ego-demands of the mythical image. I knew Christians in high school (living examples of the phylogenetic stage of symbolic medieval thought) who denounced me as a 'natural man' (I couldn't fight the statement) -- a contrast to their own 'other-worldly' spiritual desires which even then science (and an empirical psychology) had proved to be the products of its own imagination.
Science, too, is a product of human imagination. However far it may project itself, it will sooner or later come to understand that worlds are born from the forces of nature and not our contradictory notions of an anthropomorphic deity -- whether as ideas of a concrete body or a body of concrete ideas. Even as its symbolism re-appears in the scientific imagination: 'the God-Particle', 'the End of Science', the 'Theory of Everything' -- they remain the mythic image of an inflated ego which would know all the constituent parts of an objective reality yet little of its own or the whole or its effects on either.