Spiritual Inflation

The Swiss psychologist, Carl Jung, was very concerned about inflation. By this he was not referring to an economic or social, but to a personal phenomenon.

But the concept is similar to that of the economists, with their focused attention on our monetary crises. The inflationary person might be defined as full of air. Paradoxically he has an “inferiority complex” after expanding the definition of himself.

The world is full of balloons, and sharp objects. Inflation, the opposite of deflation, is in some respects the more immediately comfortable vice. A person, or an economy, that is in the act of deflating, experiences all kinds of unexpected pain – mysterious, or puzzling, only because he cannot make sense of it.

It is the sort of pain that comes from “doing the right thing.” He is actually suffering the effects of inflation, which, like any addiction, exacts its damage when it inevitably comes off.

As an experiment, let me exhort the reader to consider smoking; or perhaps drinking to excess. He will then find that doing without these attachments – which are nothing in themselves, but have become a part of him – is superlatively difficult.

I tried it (cold turkey) for seven months once. And while I was quite pleased with myself, my personal “reform” ended with just one cigarette, bummed out of curiosity from one of my students in a course on the history of journalism. (“The Lives of the Hacks”)

I slammed my fist down on a table in the pub and, quoting Gone With the Wind, declared to all observers that, “As God is my witness, I will never give up smoking again.”

That was decades ago. Now that I am coming up to seven months of cold turkey again, thanks to surgical intervention, I remember the full nightmare. The cravings do not innocently go away after a weekend, as the liars of medical orthodoxy may tell you. They are your new friends – and very possibly, friends for life.

It is the same, for a whole society, with monetary inflation. We refer to it sometimes under that comfortable word “expansion,” as in quantitative expansion. It makes us larger, while adding nothing to the goods and services we produce.

It will never be hard to find advocates for “slightly,” then radically, inflating a currency. Advocates will promise to make things more comfortable for everyone.

Imaginary progress now, real inconvenience later, is only a problem if you plan to amend. If you don’t, of course, you have nothing to fear except pain, and physical deterioration.

As most priests used to know, through the ages when health and safety were not at the top of our list of priorities, this is not a moral scandal. Many priests were themselves chain-smokers. (And luckily, not all died of cancers or heart attacks.)

For here we deal only with (unpredictable) physical causation. It is the settled instinct of the masses, a conviction that is seldom stated out loud, that spiritual infirmities are the bigger challenge.


Now, if we had a more sensitive appreciation of what spiritual challenges are, we would not take this attitude for granted. We wouldn’t be so casually unimpressed with what requires open acts of heroism. And these must be practiced in the absence of inflation, for the most part. Your task is to avoid boring people, by suffering quietly, and avoiding a public performance of your fully-deserved “adventure.”

For inflation also takes many other forms. In Jung’s terms, the basic issue is, in effect, puffing yourself up. Most of your political opinions, for instance, are quite inflationary.

You subscribe to what you have imagined to be ideals. In your fancy they lift you to another plane, above that of most people. You believe in Equality, although if that is not working out to your advantage, perhaps you will believe in Freedom instead.

Whichever – and there are hundreds of plausible ideals to annex – you have expanded yourself to include them. Having adopted them, you then expand in the world where the policies that seem to go with these things matter.

I have noticed, among those “young people today,” habits which I first noticed in young people of my own generation, and in myself. We become “activists,” although mostly unconscious ones. We begin to think that we are larger than we were before we bought into the nonsense that underlies most political and social “principles.” They become part of us, and expand until we become, as it were, repulsively fat.

And we are waiting for the pinprick of reality that will test our spiritual diet, and reveal it, with any luck to ourselves, as the product of a scheme of inflation.

“Nutritional science” is misleading, because it purposefully confuses physical with spiritual reality, concealing what hurts us all the way around our formidable girth.

We can see this plainly in the guilt and consternation people feel who have merely failed, in general repeatedly, to keep to the advertised dietary rules. They think they are victims of a spiritual failure, and to some tiny, limited extent they are. But when they think they have sinned by eating a big, delicious slice of anything, they are fools. It is only a sin if you had sworn to a fast, or to abstinence.

The loss of religion, in American life, and probably elsewhere, is most telling in these failures. We feel guilty, but our guilt has been transferred to the imaginary realm, by means of inflation. We have become materialists by disposition, but without embracing any commitment to the materialist faith. We are faithless.

Most of what we suffer is imaginary, too: and we will not suffer it for long. Cheap temptation is usually enough to make a wreckage of all our intentions.

There are many ways to become a serious Christian. They invariably start with the correct detection of sin – in our own small persons, deflated to the size of an individual.


*Image: The Land of Cockaigne by Pieter Bruegel the Elder, 1567 [Alte Pinakothek, Munich]

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David Warren is a former editor of the Idler magazine and columnist in Canadian newspapers. He has extensive experience in the Near and Far East. His blog, Essays in Idleness, is now to be found at: davidwarrenonline.com.