Carl Jung wrote to a colleague in September 1957 about why we surround ourselves with so much noise. Outside for us now there is less noise from traffic and so more space to listen to the birdsong, the wind and silence. Inside we may still be filling our lives with noise – so Jung explores why we do this. He describes constant noise as contributing to nervous stress, and this depletes what Jung calls our vital substance. He is talking about the radio and television and ‘technological gadgetry’ and now we can add all of social media. With so much coming at us from outside we are then less tuned to what is happening inside us – this Jung calls ‘the degenerative symptom of urban civilisation’. Jung thinks that inside us we are deeply afraid – he lists water pollution, radioactivity overpopulation and we can add climate emergency – all of which has led to a widespread though not generally conscious fear which loves noise because it stops the fear being heard. ‘Noise is welcome because it drowns the inner instinctive warning. Fear seeks noisy company and pandemonium to scare away the demons.’ Noise is like crowds it gives a feeling of security; it protects us from painful reflections and scatters our anxious dreams. Interestingly in social distancing and self-isolation we lose the crowd as well as the outside noise.
Jung in his letter goes on to discuss how most people are afraid of silence – ‘deathly silence’ is a telling phrase as silence strikes us as uncanny. Why? Jung’s response is ‘the real fear is what might come up from one’s own depths- all the things that have been held at bay by noise.’
‘Modern noise is an integral component of modern “civilization”, which is predominantly extraverted and abhors all inwardness. It is an evil with deep roots … and all goes together with the spiritual disorientation of our time’.
Jung sees that destruction is the ‘unconscious goal of the collective unconscious at the present time’ – this statement seems prophetic given where we are today, ‘it uses every means to contrive an attenuated and inconspicuous form of genocide.’ Jung apologizes for his pessimism but feels his knowledge of the ‘dark side of human existence’ has led him to such conclusions, and it balances those who are always giving optimistic forecasts.