The identification of the ego with power structures greater than itself, raises a whole host of questions around ego identity as healthy vs unhealthy; around tribal identity and tribalism and its transformation with the emergence of civilization. What role does mythology play relative to this complex set of issues? What about the psychology activated when confronting civilizational collapse? Are there psychologies that recognize consciousness beyond that of the conventional ego?


Civilizational collapse gets named on a few occasions, explicitly citing Jared Diamond as best-known example.

Joseph Tainter, 1988, “The collapse of complex societies”, is perhaps “the classic” that begins a subfield of study on the theme.

Jared Diamond’s book is from 2005: “Collapse: how societies choose to fail or succeed”

Reference is made in this episode to conventional psychologies of the ego wherein health means well-adapted to society, over against more radical or spiritual psychologies that see the ego itself as the problem and society as problematic enough such that being adapted to it is unhealthy. Arguably, the whole psychodynamic tradition, from Freud to Jung as its founders, right up the whole field of “transpersonal psychology”, plays on the conventional/spiritual distinction. (See, for example, Freud’s “Civilization and its discontents” (1930) from which this episode derives its title. )

Norman O. Brown brilliantly explored within psychoanalysis some of these themes in his works “Life against death: The psychoanalytical meaning of history” (1959) and “Love’s Body” (1966)

An example of that distinction (overt in the title already) is by Daniel Brown, Jack Engler, and Ken Wilber, 1986, “Transformations of Consciousness: Conventional and Contemplative Perspectives on Development”

A favorite psychologist of mine (i.e. Chris) who articulates the notion of being “positively maladjusted” to unhealthy society, alongside the theme of ego-death or “disintegration” as potentially positive is Kazimierz Dabrowski (“Positive disintegration”, 1964). See the website

Terror-management theory also gets mentioned: for this theory, see Jeff Greenberg, Sheldon Solomon, and Tom Pyszczynski, 2015, “The Worm at the Core: On the Role of Death in Life”.

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