Is not survival the most fundamental instinct of living beings? And if we imagine that all beings are animated by some being-ness, is not survival the fundamental instinct of the universe? Coming into being is not so fundamental as maintaining being. Having come into being summons the instinct to remain “be-ing.”

Yet the fundamental law of the universe is change, flux, degeneration and regeneration, coming-into-being and passing away. Western tradition militates against the finality of this latter principle, while many Eastern traditions do not exempt even the gods from death, much less the myriad living beings or non-animated ones. Death as finality haunts both traditions, and the modern sleight-of-hand that particles reassemble somewhere offers little comfort to assuage the traditions. Is a new tradition, a new version, tenable?

The particles of physics are as transient as the stars. But only human beings are conscious of this necessity, and in their most hopeful moments have built and projected and ritualized absolute stillness, unmoving, incorruptibility, and spaces where nothing changes.

If the instinct for survival is universal, so that even rocks and trees and stars and animals strive to retain it, to achieve a stasis or stability, then the most fundamental instinct is at tragic odds with the most fundamental principle, and the latter wins.

In human beings, the circumscribed efforts of construction and maintenance become pattern, aesthetics, and reflection — civilization, art, religion. Science is born of the acuteness of minutiae-watching, of excess vigilance as a personality, of the desire for categorization and absolute order. Technology is born of aggrandizement, of the morbid desire for control and manipulation. Both are spin-offs of decay and decline. The fundamental instinct of survival has imploded due to decadence and aggression. Such is the shared history of the universe, or at least the perceived human one.

The primordial and pristine instinct of survival manifests itself in many ways, like evolutionary waves, from biology to spirit:

  • Reproduction, procreation, generation, nurturing, succession. From this sequence, allied emotions and desires emanate: discovery, desire, pleasure, sociability, accomplishment, possession, power, order, fame, the sense of immortality. The initial sequence produces an antithesis:
  • Aggression (that is, violence premeditated), war, law, class, ideology, politics, economics, centralization, science, technology, propaganda, sanctions. From this sequence emerge dysfunctional psychological personalities among both elite and mass populations and individuals. Ultimately what results is the dissolution of individual autonomy and the collapse of shared or convivial infrastructure, in short, the winding down of Spengler’s morphology, to use one mythopaedic structure.
  • To this devolution must be added today the effects of science and technology in the feedback loop of planet destruction, Its countdown simply paraellels the countdown engendered by the social and political and technological forces already unleased. Now, the instinct for survival embedded in the living Earth, Gaia (another mythopaedic image) asserts itself.

    Alternatively, a possible synthesis is ever potential, occasionally actualized, but only in individuals:

  • self-discipline, philosophy, higher conscious eros, harnessing the instinct of survival for deeper activity and response: art, creativity, faith, plastic arts, permaculture, aesthetics, asceticism.

Of the possible synthesis, the fruits of individual efforts ought to but cannot affect civilization or society at large. These efforts are seen as anomalies, in effect shooting stars, microcosms of universal processes achieving an apex and then collapsing again into memory and oblivion. This is the legacy of the sage, the wise, of those who have harnessed the potential of the instinct for survival and made of it what the universe most wants. But to know this one must know the sages, and be ready to speculate about what the universe wants but is bound to do.

Myss’s “Archetypes”

Caroline Myss is the maven of New Age Thought. Her presentations have always included personal development themes in that curious abstract way that takes no account of sociological, cultural, environmental, or genetic factors. Her themes rely on a model that identifies completely with modern technological Western culture.

In her book Archetypes, Myss takes a classically-weighted concept crafted by Carl Jung to refer to a trans-cultural pool of psychological structures and transforms them into distillations of the latest lifestyles and mindsets prevalent among her well-to-do readers, specifically women readers, and specifically women “professionals.” The female preference for emotional life is contrasted with the male preference for concreteness in her list of archetypes — although her website includes men, and the same archetypes are used.

Where Jung sought multiple sources to identify specific psychological manifestations, Myss promotes the multiplicities as emotional responses, generating multiple archetypes, even in the same person. We are no longer talking about Jungian archetypes but social roles and behaviors, with some of the psychology behind them. The problem, of course, is that social roles are affected by the time and place of the society, but even Myss admits that ten years ago she would probably had offered different archetypes. Such mutable “archetypes,” therefore, should better be called roles and behaviors, not archetypes.

Myss says that her archetypes are the “primary power issues that define women today,” with women being defined today as “professional.” Given the technological and political culture of the present, the dilemma here is to distinguish women’s roles (“archetypes” for Myss) from those of men who, in the modern world, have defined the marketplace and its social roles and behaviors. This process of refining the archetypical models of behavior of women only works when the target audience is the better-off, the well-to-do, the captains of industry and finance, and the women in that world who can be profiled as “professional.”

The list of ten archetypes:

  • Advocate
  • Artist/Creative
  • Athlete
  • Caregiver
  • Fashionista
  • Intellectual
  • Queen/Executive
  • Rebel
  • Spiritual Seeker
  • Visionary

A convenient checklist under each archetype summarizes challenges, lessons, myths, behavior patterns, inner shadow, and affirmations. Plus male counterparts that women professionals should be watching for. The jumble of occupational styles (Queen/Executive) to values expression (Advocate, Artists, Caregiver, Rebel) to personality (Fashionista, Intellectual, Spiritual Seeker) makes sorting the behavior types a necessary process of mixing and matching. Advice to one archetype contradicts advice to another, based not per situation but per values. Thus the Spiritual Seeker is told to “Be humble,” while the Fashionista is told to “Be ruthless.” The descriptions seem vaguely grounded in Daniel Goleman’s multiple intelligences, mixed with Myss’s preconceived notions of professions of women today. But not archetypes.

Myss provides plenty of self-help; the bookselling industry labels Archetypes rightly as “Self-help/General.” The book is not about psychology, not even pop psychology. Presumably readers will only read what they already think they are, what they already want to hear. After all, the subtitle of the book is “Who Am I?” so the answer must lie within the summaries. The website makes it a lot easier to take the quiz, and its free.