Discover more from Political Ponerology
21st Century Schizoid Man
The Theorists behind the Way We Think
In his psychoanalytic take on the psychology of politics, Pyschopathology and Politics, Harold Lasswell observed:
The special value of the psychopathological approach is that it represents a supermicroscopic method of utilizing individual instances for the study of culture patterns. (p. 258)
The distinctive mark of the homo politicus is the rationalization of the displacement [of private motives onto public objects] in terms of public interests. (p. 262)
Political acts depend upon the symbolization of the discontent of the individual in terms of a more inclusive self which champions a set of demands for social action. (p. 265)
Political ponerology operates on a similar principle, but with a focus on personality disorders. One of its arguments is that the distinctive cognitive and emotional features of various personality disorders—in other words, their typical “worldviews”—influence what types of politics their holders are attracted to, and what place they might find within such a system. As an example of such a worldview, here’s how Nicholas Thomson summarizes the psychopathic worldview:
“I can do whatever I want because I have been wronged in the past; everyone else is dishonorable, selfish, weak and manipulative; therefore, I am justified to take advantage of them.” (Understanding Psychopathy, pp. 29-30, slightly adapted)
In a comment to my last major post, Stegiel (The Journal of Lingering Sanity) asked whether ponerology would see modernity “as essentially a psychopathic situation generating psychosis.” With reference to Augusto Del Noce, he pointed to things like the negation of transcendence, reality as “a system of forces, not of values,” a neutered idea of truth, the ascendance of pragmatic function and empirical analysis, in short “the reign of stupidity.”
It’s not psychopathy per se. In ponerological terms, it is schizoidia—schizoid personality disorder—and what Lobaczewski refers to as a psychologically impoverished, schizoidal worldview. As a personality disorder, schizoidia has one important feature in common with psychopathy: dulled affect. Schizoids are detached, emotionally and socially. Wikipedia describes the disorder as “characterized by a lack of interest in social relationships, a tendency toward a solitary or sheltered lifestyle, secretiveness, emotional coldness, detachment and apathy.” In other words, whereas psychopaths are antisocial, schizoids are more asocial in their outlook and behavior.
The disorder has similarities and overlaps with schizophrenia, schizotypal personality disorder, and autism spectrum disorders. For Lobaczewski, schizoids demonstrate an insensitivity to social cues and psychological realities (autistics traits) and a tendency to assume extreme moralizing positions, often becoming ideological zealots (whether religious or materialist). However,
Low emotional pressure enables them to develop efficient speculative reasoning, a kind of objectivity which is useful in non-humanistic spheres of activity like economics [HK: or analytic philosophy, see below] … However, their one-sidedness makes them prone to consider themselves intellectually superior to “ordinary” people who, in their opinion, are mainly guided by their emotions.
… Their poor sense of psychological situations and reality leads them to superimpose erroneous, pejorative interpretations upon other people’s intentions. … Their impoverished psychological worldview makes them typically pessimistic regarding human nature. We frequently find expressions of their characteristic attitudes in their statements and writings: “Human nature is so bad that order in human society can only be maintained by a strong power created by exceptionally rational minds in the name of some higher idea.” …
Human nature does in fact tend to be “no good,” especially when the schizoids embitter other people’s lives as a result of their shortcomings, that is, or when schizoidal women are abandoned to loneliness. (Political Ponerology, p. 106)
For my purposes here, we can extract the following features: hyper-rationalism, cynicism about and contempt for human nature, and a tendency toward technocracy. Politically, Lobaczewski focuses on schizoids primarily as theorists, observing:
During stable times which are ostensibly happy, albeit marked by injustice to individuals and nations, doctrinaire people believe they have found a simple solution to fix such a world. Such a historical period is always characterized by an impoverished psychological worldview, so that a schizoidal worldview does not stand out as odd during such times and is accepted as legal tender. …
Schizoid characters—proudly asserting the superiority of their rational minds over the minds of “others” who are guided by emotions—aim to impose their own conceptual world upon other people or social groups, using relatively controlled pathological egotism and the exceptional tenacity derived from their persistent nature. … If their activities consist of direct contact on a small social scale, their acquaintances easily perceive them as eccentrics, which limits their ponerogenic role. However, if they manage to hide their own personality behind the written word, their influence may poison the minds of society on a large scale and for a long time. (PP, pp. 185-186)
As a short aside, how’s that for a perfect description of Critical Race Theory (or any other variety of Critical Social Justice)? I’m currently reading James Lindsay’s Race Marxism: The Truth about Critical Race Theory and Praxis, and all of these stand out: superimposing erroneous, pejorative interpretations upon other people’s intentions; pessimism regarding human nature; a simple solution to fix the world; aiming to impose their own conceptual world upon others; and perhaps most striking for me, it doesn’t stand out as odd, with many accepting its outrageous claims “as legal tender.”
For Lobaczewski, Marx was the exemplar of the political schizoid (pp. 108, 186-187, 190, 320). But he wasn’t the only one:
The more we progress in this understanding [of the psychological structure of society], the more social doctrines strike us as primitive and psychologically naive, especially those based on the thoughts of thinkers living during the eighteenth and nineteenth centuries which were characterized by a dearth of psychological perception. The suggestive nature of these doctrines derives from their oversimplification of reality, something easily adapted and used in political propaganda. These doctrines and ideologies show their basic faults, in regard to the understanding of human personalities and differences among people … (PP, pp. 39-40)
On this last point, Lasswell wrote: “the multiplicity of human motives has always been a source of embarrassment to people who wanted to manage men or merely understand them” (p. 254). One might add: those who tend to see men as unidimensional abstractions.
Schizo-autistic, Left-Brain Philosophy
While reading Iain McGilchrist’s The Matter with Things, I was pleasantly surprised to see that Lobaczewski wasn’t the only one to make such observations. The first volume is largely a study of right- versus left-hemisphere views of the world, and in chapter 9 (“What Schizophrenia and Autism Can Tell Us”) he points out the numerous ways in which those disorders display a left-hemisphere (LH) worldview. Check out Winston Smith’s series at Escaping Mass Psychosis for more details on these hemisphere differences. Meanwhile, here’s a very short summary from the book:
The [LH mode of operation] is rigid, aims for certainty, tends to “either/or” thinking, is abstract and generalized, ignores context and aims to free itself from all that is embodied, in order to gain what it conceives to be eternal truths. The [RH] is deeper and richer, more flexible and tentative, more modest, aware of the impossibility of certainty, open to polyvalent meaning, respecting context and embodiment, and holding that while rational processing is important, it needs to be combined with other ways of intelligently understanding the world. (pp. 548-549)
Incidentally, after reading the book, I see LH implications for practically all the disorders focused on by Lobaczewski, including psychopathy, schizoidia, paranoia, “characteropathic” brain damage, impoverished psychological worldviews, and more. For example, citing a case study from Antonio Damasio of a patient with a tumor rendering his right frontal cortices non-functional, he writes: “No longer able to intuit the value or emotional meaning of life situations, he was reduced to trying to compute rationally, as from first principles” (p. 549).
In a discussion on the LH tendency to become lost in abstract generalities, McGilchrist, quoting other researchers, writes:
“A person loses his individuality and becomes typical of a certain class of people.” Engagement with real persons is replaced by a utopian interest in abstract humanitarian values: “I love Mankind, but I detest humans.” (p. 357)
(This is how identity politics tends to see people.) He further observes that “a certain kind of unusual mind is preferentially and systematically attracted to philosophy of the analytic kind. This is a mind somewhere down the schizo-autisitic spectrum”. For example, a “quasi-philosophical quality” is often found in the writings of adults with Asperger’s syndrome: “an over-rationalistic, hyper-reflexive self-awareness, and a disengagement from emotion and embodied existence” (p. 616). Such philosophers “are more likely to take things out of context, think in disembodied schemata, and adopt irrationally rationalistic approaches. They tend towards utilitarianism in ethics [HK: so do psychopaths]” (p. 615).
He provides the following examples: Kant (whose philosophy Nietzsche characterized as not even “an involuntary biography of a soul but … the biography of a head”), Descartes, Spinoza, Bentham, Russell, Freud, Ryle. As counterexamples (i.e. more RH in style), he refers to Pascal, Hegel, Kierkegaard, Emerson, Peirce, James, Dewey, Collingwood, Whitehead. For an idea of the emotional flavor of the former group, he quotes Kant’s representation of marriage as “an agreement between two people as to the ‘reciprocal use of each other’s sexual organs’” (p. 616). A true romantic!
Darwin observed such a result in himself after decades of work, writing in his later years:
My mind seems to have become a kind of machine for grinding general laws out of large collections of facts … and if I had to live my life again, I would have made a rule to read some poetry and listen to some music at least once every week; for perhaps the parts of my brain now atrophied would thus have been kept active through use. The loss of these tastes is a loss of happiness, and may possible be injurious to the intellect, and more probably to the moral character, by enfeebling the emotional part of our nature. (quoted on p. 619)
While Lobaczewski doesn’t provide all the names, I think a list would include many of the most influential political philosophers of recent centuries: the eighteenth-century French socialists (Rousseau and Mably) and materialists (Helvetius and Holbach), the nineteenth-century utilitarians (Bentham and Mill), communists (Marx and Engels) and social Darwinists (Malthus and Spencer), and the twentieth-century critical theorists (Marcuse) and their contemporary descendants. And probably many more.
For Lobaczewski, all modern state systems are thus hamstrung by the psychological impoverishments of their beginnings (including “liberal democracies”). Here’s what he had to say about democracy, for example:
Democracy, in its modern understanding, is one of the political-system doctrines that emerged at the end of the eighteenth century, the time of seemingly rational, emotionally charged thinking, but poor in psychological understanding. From the psychological point of view, democracy contains a defect we are already familiar with. It allows individuals who are too primitive mentally and morally to be able to act in the name of the common good, or even their own, to participate in the process of governing the country. As a rule, they are driven by an excessively short-sighted self-interest, or by the influence of ponerogenic groups that know how to take advantage of them. …
Democracy can develop properly under three conditions: when the nation has a sufficiently established tradition of self-governance that predates democratic times; when respect for moral values and honesty in political affairs is sufficiently widespread; and when the destructive faction is sufficiently small. If these conditions are not met, democracy degenerates into various forms of rule by special interest groups, with hidden ideologies and even totalitarian characteristics. This danger is an inherent feature of the ideology of democracy. (pp. 343-344)
Notice that bit about acting “in the name of the common good.” And recall Laswell’s description of politics from the opening as the rationalization of the displacement of private motives onto public objects in terms of public interests. Political schizoids (but not only schizoids) project their own peculiar ideas and resentments onto society or humanity at large, setting forth a vision of the solution to what they perceive as the root problems of society, which may have some basis in fact, but which are oversimplified to a degree that their proposed solutions will inevitably fail.
And to return to Stegiel’s comment, is this an engendering of psychosis? That’s what Louis Sass argued in Madness and Modernism (cited approvingly by McGilchrist—it’s where he got the idea that many modern philosophers were on the schizo-autistic spectrum). But here’s what McGilchrist had to say on the subject:
Might it be, then, that as a culture we were exemplifying not, of course, a sudden epidemic of schizophrenia [i.e. psychosis], but too heavy a reliance on the world as delivered to us by the left hemisphere, meanwhile dismissing what it is that the right hemisphere knows and could help us understand? (p. 308)
Whether it is the political theorists who have influenced our forms of government or the philosophers who have influenced the categories of our thinking more broadly, the result has been a trend McGilchrist identifies: we are increasingly left-hemisphere-dominant in our mode of thought, to our detriment. If Lobaczewski had factored in the hemisphere research into ponerology, I have little doubt he would have included it in his list of “ponerogenic factors.” Lobaczewski provides hints toward a solution to the wider problems of our overall worldview, but his book is focused primarily on the political dimension. For the bigger picture, I think McGilchrist’s book is indispensable.
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