Re: Political Ponerology Book Discussion
Ponerology Part I- General Concepts
Since ancient times, sincere philosophers and religious thinkers have focused their efforts on questions regarding what constitutes good moral values and the virtues of human character worth striving for in order to improve individual and social conditions. In spite of the obvious differences among attitudes, the similarity or complimentary nature of the conclusions reached by famous ancients is striking, even though they worked in widely divergent times and places.
It is equally thought-provoking, however, to see how relatively little has been said about the opposite side of the coin - which is the nature, causes, and genesis of evil. These matters are usually cloaked behind the generalized conclusions about moral values and good character with a certain amount of secrecy. Individual and societal evil has been described in expressive, emotional language by playwrights and authors, but such literary efforts do not investigate the roots of such phenomena. Philosophical generalizations do not do justice to the burning questions regarding the nature, causes and genesis of evil; nor does putting emphasis on the virtues of human character and following the proverbial dictum of "see no evil - hear no evil - speak no evil" eliminate evil from human life.
We can look at the field of medicine to draw a comparison by analogy. If physicians behaved like ethicists, and decided that they were primarily interested in studying questions of physical and mental hygiene, there would be no such thing as modern medicine. Even the roots of this health-maintenance science would be hidden in shadows. In spite of the fact that the theory of hygiene has been linked to medicine since its ancient beginnings, physicians were correct in their emphasis upon studying disease above all. They risked their own health and suffered sacrifices in order to discover the causes and biological properties of illnesses and, afterwards, to understand how the disease process progresses in the courses of these illnesses. A comprehension of the nature of a disease, and the course it runs, after all, enables one to develop remedies. Studying evil in a similar manner as disease suggests itself as a potentially productive path to be followed specially with the advances made in the fields of biology, medicine and psychology.
A systematic study of evil using data obtained from these fields is termed PONEROLOGY, derived from the Greek "poneros" meaning evil. Study of psychopathology forms the foundation of ponerology.
Psychopathology is the study of disease of the mind. Professionals from neuroscience, medicine (psychiatrists) and psychology (clinical psychologists) participate in the study of psychopathology. Dr Lobaczewski was a clinical psychologist and medical worker by profession.
Psychopathology is not to be confused with the term psychopathy which is used loosely in our language. There are various types of pathology of the psyche and as we shall see later, the term psychopathy is used in ponerology as a particular special case of a predatory form of psychopathology.
Components of psychopathology
The study of mental disorders is grouped into certain categories. The Diagnostic and Statistical Manual for Mental Disorders (DSM) uses a multiaxial model for this purpose, with each axis representing certain information about the disorder. The goal of using such a description is to move towards a better understanding of the functioning of the human being in a wholistic sense.
Axis 1 consists of clinical syndromes and many times (though not always) it is what brings a person in for a diagnosis and treatment. Axis 1 is hierarchical in organization. Anxiety disorders for example can include panic disorder, obsessive compulsive disorder, social phobia, post traumatic stress disorder, generalized anxiety disorder etc. Mood disorders include depression, bipolar disorder.
Axis 2 represents personality disorders which may play a role in the axis 1 disorder by shaping the individual response to the clinical condition and includes developmental problems and learning disabilities. For example, someone with a rigid personality structure which shows tendencies towards paranoia can suffer from a mood or anxiety related disorder when confronted with certain types of life situation.
Axis 3 represents general physiological and medical conditions which are relevant to the understanding of the disorder afflicting the person. The influence of such conditions can be dramatic - like in the case of head injuries, drug abuse, genetically inherited peculiarities which severely affect the functioning of major body systems; or subtle - like hormonal imbalances, inherited temperament etc.
Axis 4 represents social and environmental factors which affect psychological functioning. Family problems like death or separation, occupational problems like job related stress, general economic conditions etc. contribute a situational component which can play a role in the disorder under study and provides the context in which it is expressed.
Axis 5 functions as an overall index of psychological health and functioning. It translates the observations made from diagnostic information to a measured number in a scale that indicates overall functioning in psychological, social and occupational areas, called Global Assessment of Functioning (GAF) scale.
Information from axes 2, 3 and 4 represent psychological, biological and social causal factors in the development of psychopathology. Different amounts of emphasis have been placed on these factors in the past - especially psychological and social factors - with incomplete or inadequate data which has led to erroneous conclusions. These factors are often intertwined and we fall into error if we let the emotionality of our natural world view or the intellectual drive to discover a neat, cut and dried explanation hold sway to describe what is in reality a complex, interconnected phenomenon. We must use discretion when evaluating popular ideas regarding psychopathology as well as research findings that attempt to draw generalized conclusions based on data obtained from investigating a particular aspect of the phenomena under study.
Let us look at some examples to illustrate this important point. Freudian psychology was based on the assumption that psychopathological behavior is mental in its origin and is shaped by early childhood experience involving the resolution of sexual conflicts and tensions. Human beings were viewed as neurotic, with a functioning conscious ego identity but tormented by unconscious guilt feelings, which result in developing defensive coping mechanisms. These coping mechanisms were not adaptive to the situation at hand and this resulted in external conflicts exhibiting psychopathological symptoms. When these conflicts were too strong, the ego identity got ruptured and the result was psychosis. Subsequent research has shown that this narrow perspective which characterized the field of psychoanalyses for a significant time was inadequate in explaining the basic psychological condition of the average human population. Freud's psychoanalytic theory is especially misleading in the context of ponerology and the condition of the small psychologically deviant percentage of the human population. Current research and clinical observation data show that this section of the human population does not belong to the universal neurotic category and are not tormented by inner guilt arising out of sexual tensions. Rather, their pathology is characterized by a lack of guilt and an instinctive drive towards domination over others.
The importance of interpersonal experiences in childhood regarding personality development and learning has been studied extensively as part of the "nurture" theory. Due to its relevance and applicability in a relatively wide range of situations, attempts are made to explain psychopathology as a consequence of dysfunctional or traumatic childhood experiences. Yet research data showed that in many cases, there were no substantial differences in the childhood experiences between normal and psychopathological cases. Adults who face devastating childhood experiences not only survive but become well-adjusted members of the society while others who experience far more idealistic and nurturing environments in childhood show significantly pathological characteristics through out their life. Consequently, using childhood experience as necessary (as in these experiences must be present in the personal history for pathology to be exhibited later in life) or sufficient (as in these experiences by themselves cause pathological behavior) cause for psychopathology proved to be erroneous in general terms, especially with regard to the small psychologically deviant percentage of the human population.
While acknowledging the complex interplay between various factors in the genesis of psychopathology, a general statement can be made that axis 3 factors contributing to defects in the instinctive substratum constitute arguably the strongest causal force in the genesis of pathological deviants comprising that small portion of the human population who play a central role in ponerology.
The environmental and social factors coming from axis 2 and 4 continue to play an important role in the development of pathological characteristics in those people who do not develop significant defects from axis 3 factors, but are subject to the influence of people who do suffer from axis 3 defects.
Personality, Character and Temperament
It is useful to distinguish between personality, character and temperament as these terms are often used interchangeably without adequate distinction in our common language.
The word personality comes from the Latin "persona" used to represent the masks worn by actors when giving a theatrical performance in old times. Today, the term personality has taken the meaning of including hidden traits along with the more obvious characteristics that are discernible from the outside. Psychological theorist and researcher Theodore Millon defines personality as "a complex pattern of deeply embedded psychological characteristics that are expressed automatically in almost every area of psychological functioning" . Personality, in this view, is not treated like a false pretense or mask, but as a set of traits, preferred thinking and behavioral patterns that define a unique style of relating with the world.
The word character comes from Old French and Greek words which mean to engrave or furrow a distinctive mark. The word character has been used to denote the most distinguished marks of an individual as a social being. Psychologist George Simon defines character as "those distinct aspects of personality that reflect the presence and strength of a person's virtues, personal ethics, social conscientiousness and depth of commitment to respect-worthy and meritorious social conduct" .
The word temperament comes from Latin words which mean a mixture of different elements. In psychology, the word temperament is used to denote innate biological traits which dispose a person towards certain behaviors. Every child is born with a certain temperament which is unique to the individual and continues to play a role in shaping the personality through patterning of the social influences that the child is exposed to.
Pathological Factors in Ponerology
Many scholars in the field of ethics believe that evil in this world represents a kind of web or continuum of mutual conditioning. Within this interlocking structure, one kind of evil feeds and opens doors for others. This may happen even without the conscious intention of the individual who sets off a chain reaction through his actions and writings often acting in a different place and a different time. The role of pathological factors in a process of the origin of evil can be played by any known, or not yet sufficiently researched, psychopathological phenomenon, and also by some pathological matters medical practice does not include within psychopathology. However, their activity in a ponerogenic process is dependent on features other than the obviousness or intensity of the condition. If someone displays obvious psychopathological factors at an intensity that is disruptive to social life, it could be relatively easier to recognize and deal with. In most cases where evil goes unnoticed and spreads through the previously mentioned web of mutual conditioning, the psychopathology remains hidden from public notice and escapes the social safety net which operates on emotion-laden moralistic interpretations constituting our natural world view. Such pathological factors could potentially be discerned through more objective clinical methods if they were employed at the time but the fact is pathological deviants do not submit themselves to psychological evaluations unless their family or society force them to it.
While studying the pathological factors that play a key role in the genesis of evil (ponerogenesis), we should arm ourselves with knowledge that helps us make positive identification of such factors so that we can take precautionary measures to psychologically protect ourselves and our environment from their effects. At the same time, we should be careful to not make hasty judgments which lead to false-positive identification where we mistake a relatively benign or a psychological problem of a different nature to be ponerogenic in origin. The latter error is termed “false positive paradox” which tends to occur when the incidence rate of a condition is relatively low, which is the case for primary pathological deviance in the human population. So we must take care not to mistake either a normal condition as an infected one, or consider an infected condition to be the primary infecting agent.
One example of the first kind of error is similar to what is experienced by beginner medical students who often feel that they are having the symptoms of the disease they are studying. In the context of psychopathology, one may wonder when reading about paranoid disorders whether they are a little paranoid themselves. Being cautious and vigilant in an uncertain environment is an evolutionarily adaptive trait and sometimes can appear as paranoia, but as we shall see later, paranoid processes as they pertain to ponerology have distinctively different features.
The second kind of error of mistaking the infected as the primary infecting agent needs more subtle discrimination. Certain disorders exhibit psychopathological traits (e.g. Schizophrenia) but do not usually play a major role in ponerogenesis. The schizophrenic paranoia, though psychopathological, is often an expression of developmental challenges and is different in dynamics from the ponerogenic paranoid process.
Authoritarian followers described in the previous chapter on the other hand do have maladaptive behavioral traits and may carry in some cases defects of the instinctive substratum (axis 3 problems) and often play a role supporting and spreading ponerogenic processes. However, their role in ponerogenesis is usually secondary in nature.
Thus, we must make efforts to distinguish between the normal and the psychopathological, as well as identify what is psychopathological and ponerogenic. This is necessary for us to ensure that our energy and efforts towards increasing personal and social immunity to this disease of evil is channeled productively without causing undue harm. As awareness of ponerology increases in the society, we can expect that increasing efforts would be made to obscure the origins of this phenomenon. Setting up false positive identifications is one of the most expedient methods of distracting researchers and investigators who are investigating a phenomenon but do not have enough knowledge about what they are studying as yet.
Before moving on to the description of some specific pathological factors that play a key role in ponerology, let us consider a few general features which constitute the same pathological factors, contrasting them with their normal and non-ponerogenic variations.
Normal, psychoneurotic and ponerogenic characteristics
We mentioned in Chapter 2 that the human personality develops through a process of disintegration and reintegration. The disintegration or the extinction phase involves weakening and breaking down of previously established response patterns to life situations. The integration phase involves formation of new or stronger characteristic ways of responding to life situations. One starts from a state in childhood where more self-centric, rigid, primitive, instinctive response patterns govern the behavior.
Development is positive in direction when there is an increase in social relatedness and adaptability along with acquisition and strengthening of character (which was defined earlier in the chapter). During this process which is driven by a combination of external circumstances and internal motivation, an individual passes through states where he questions himself feeling dissatisfied with the way he is, sometimes feeling astonished and ashamed at some of his thoughts and action patterns. The process of positive development thus involves phases where an individual is more vulnerable and sensitive in experiencing and responding to life situations. Successful resolution of the inner conflicts results in the adoption of more flexible thinking and behavioral patterns which are socially adaptive and show more consideration for others. This is the new level of integration for the personality.
Depending on the circumstances, when some developmental challenges cannot be met successfully, a disintegrative state can persist for longer periods, characterized by anxiety, hypersensitivity or depression. Such states can seem pathological when viewed from outside but a careful analysis and study reveals the true nature of such phenomena. Polish psychologist Dr Dabrowski refers to such disintegrative states characterized by feelings of shame and inferiority towards oneself, internal conflicts between a hierarchy of higher and lower values as psychoneuroses . Once the challenges are identified, the person stuck in a disintegrative state for longer than usual time periods can be helped to overcome the cognitive or behavioral blocks which are preventing the completion of the needed developmental tasks. If the individual is overwhelmed by the challenges facing him and does not receive the assistance needed to overcome this state, then development is stalled and the personality structure can either disintegrate to pathological forms of psychoses or reintegrate at a lower developmental level which is characterized by more rigid response patterns. The first outcome of failed development leading to psychoses is easy to discern and such people often live greatly diminished lives under some level of medical supervision. The second outcome of reintegration at a lower developmental level is a little more difficult to distinguish. Such people suffer from a sense of failure and can develop elaborate defense mechanisms to compensate. In some cases, the result may be the diagnosis of some personality disorder.
While successful positive integration at a higher level than the starting point lies on one end of the spectrum of development, negative integration belongs at the other end. Negative integration is characterized by a primitive and inflexible structure of personality, with an intelligence which is driven by a set of instincts like ambition, pride, security, power, need to dominate others. Unlike normal positive development or the case of psychoneurosis, there is no internal conflict. There is only external conflict when the world at large acts to frustrate the instinctive drives from fulfilling their desires. In the course of conflict with the external world, it is the external world that is refashioned through suspicion, delusions, aggressiveness and even crime. There is no feeling of inferiority towards oneself; in contrast there are delusions of superiority of the self over others which may take up grandiose proportions in some cases. This sense of superiority of the self and perceived inferiority of others is not a result of a defense mechanism to protect a wounded or low self esteem – as can happen in cases of psychoneuroses – but is a result of a predatory aggressive instinct. There is no authentic shame or remorse when confronted over wrongdoings, though there could be a show of pseudo-emotion to manipulate and fool the gullible. Empathy and a sense of relatedness to other humans are absent. Relationship to others is more in the lines of objects to be used to satisfy one’s instinctive cravings. With some variations, what is described as the state of negative integration forms the core of the psychopath.
Paranoia arising out of a primitive or low level of integration is characterized by delusions of grandeur, delusions of persecution and feelings of superiority, which are expressive of strong primitive instincts on the one hand. On the other hand, there is suspiciousness expressed in the conviction that the environment has been organized to paralyze, fight and destroy the paranoid’s personal interests. A primitively integrated paranoid person has no counteracting mental forces within himself, so he does not suffer from inner conflict or self-questioning. A strongly paranoid person has no corrective powers with respect to his own impulsive behavior. Such a person can equip his house for safety to an exceptional degree. Paranoia can lead psychopaths in power to suddenly change their bodyguards or the whole security force and react on the least suspicion with persecution, aggression and cruelty.
Deviant individuals with an inherent tendency towards negative integration can show tendencies towards paranoid states based on environmental conditions. From generally available data, it could be said that leaders like Hitler and Stalin displayed paranoid characteristics in their childhood . Paranoia as a low level negative disintegration process which when carried to an extreme – like when the pathological deviant is comprehensively thwarted in his efforts to fulfill the goals dictated by their instinctive drives - can lead to psychoses and a breakdown of the personality structure. However, in most cases of paranoia and paranoid like symptoms arising out of a low negative level of personality integration, there is no complete dissolution of personality structure. If endowed with enough intelligence, such a paranoid person can skillfully hide his delusional nature behind a thin veneer of acceptable behavior appropriate to the situation at hand. When such persons occupy positions of social and political power, they cause immense harm to normal society. Negatively integrated personalities with different levels of paranoid and delusional symptoms form the nucleus of ponerogenesis.
Having looked at the ponerogenic version of the paranoid character, let us look at the normal and psychoneurotic versions of the same. Millon describes the normal variant of the paranoid personality: “Oldham and Morris (1995) have proposed a “normal” variant of the paranoid: the vigilant style. Vigilant persons are highly independent, value their freedom, and are sensitive to issues of power, authority, and domination. They are cautious and reserved in dealing with others and enter relationships only after careful consideration. According to these authors, they not only listen to what others say but also pick up subtle meanings and expectations at multiple levels. When under attack, they quickly defend themselves and are not shy about doing so. Further, they are touchy where criticism is concerned but not easily intimidated, and they readily defend what they see as inalienable rights. Fidelity and loyalty are among their highest values, and they thrive when communication is direct and nonthreatening. Many such individuals find a valued niche somewhere in society “ .
Dabrowski contrasts schizophrenic paranoia as a psychoneurotic characteristic with the ponerogenic version of paranoia. A schizophrenic feels persecuted by others as well. However, schizophrenics are hypersensitive in terms of injury to their psyche and have a constitutional difficulty in adapting to the world. When going through painful and profound experiences, schizophrenics guard themselves against contact with people in various ways, principally by way of external unconcern and negativity. The internal struggle between the need for contact and the dread of it can give rise to impulsive or violent behavior. They can also guard themselves by passivity and catatonic attitude, by running away from the environment, and especially the doctor, and by absurd and grotesque behavior, if there are no other ways of covering themselves. Schizophrenics have a considerably lower resistance to external stimuli, higher fragility, greater infantilism, and a weaker instinctive structure. It should be noted that light dissociative processes characterize, as a rule, hypersensitive individuals and also individuals with a tendency for extended periods of development. Schizophrenics are predisposed to disintegration. When the influence of the environment is abnormal, when instead of long periods, short periods of development are imposed, then with a weak constitution, the patient may not withstand the developmental tensions and fall into pathological dissolution and reactive psychosis . In essence, it can be said that psychoneurotic version of paranoia as experienced by the schizophrenic personality is primarily a defense mechanism which protects a hypersensitive psyche.
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