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The Enemy Within
One problem with group politics is its blindness to the rot within
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Maybe I’m weird.1 Some guys go into fits of depression when their team loses. Especially if they lose consistently. I don’t watch much sports anymore. But when I did, I was more likely to be impressed than depressed if the other team scored a particularly skillful goal or pulled off a well-executed play. Call it what you will: a heartless rejection of team spirit, a partial immunity to conformity. Either way, it’s not exactly statistically normal.
With a few hiccups along the way, I think this tendency allowed me to avoid some of the pitfalls of identity politics. I never thought girls were gross, which made my future as a MGTOW unlikely. I didn’t tease Francois in fourth grade because he was one of the only French kids—though I did tease him because he was a bit of a jerk and had it coming. I had Asian and African friends, got along with members of all the juvenile cliques: nerds, jocks, stoners, goths, loners.
The schoolyard baseball field offers limited options. Either your team is picked for you, or each side alternates choosing from the pool of available players. On the Internet the pool is wide open. I’d much rather form my own “team” with the people I think best from a wide variety of existing “teams.” I’d probably be a terrible soldier. Then again, I think I’d have a pretty stellar team. (Plus I can engage in a bit of inside baseball with my fellow weirdos.)
So when I first read Political Ponerology at the ripe age of 21, a few of Lobaczewski’s ideas on the subject just struck me as common sense.2 But not everyone has the same response. I’ve spoken to a handful of individuals3 who have told me: “It’s not psychopaths who are the problem, it’s [insert arbitrary group here].” The Illuminati, the Jews, the Jesuits, the British, the Muslims, the bankers, the fascists (i.e. the cis-hetero patriarchy, AKA men)—take your pick. Some of these people had actually read the book (or at least claimed to). Others hadn’t. Either way, they miss the point.
Identity politics works on the level of the group. Maybe the group is defined by an immutable feature, like race or sex. Maybe it’s something most of the group were born into, like a religion, caste, or crime family. Or maybe it’s a group that you’ve chosen to join, like a revolutionary political movement or a deviant subculture (like TikTok or Instagram).
Naturally, all members of the group will have some things in common. But when it comes to anything other than the obvious, a group doesn’t define its individual members; its individual members define the group.4 And there will always be members who have more in common with members of other groups than with their own.5 You’ll never be right 100% of the time of you paint with a broad brush. In fact, if you’re making the kinds of criticism I’m talking about here, chances are you might not even approach 10 or 20%.
Even at the smallest level—the family unit—there’s enough variation between members to make guilt by association a game of chance. It’s the shotgun approach to moral judgment. Just hit everyone in the immediate vicinity and let God sort them out. But absolutely nightmarish families can produce gems, and good parents can produce ogres.
There’s a contradiction in our nature. I’m pretty sure no one enjoys being the object of collective punishment—being blamed for something you had nothing to do with. Yet don’t we all enjoy doling it out. “Burn the heretic, and her second cousins!”
If guilt by association and collective punishment are the shotgun and cluster-bomb of moral judgment, the sniper rifle or laser-guided missile are obviously more precise tools. Their targeting systems aren’t all that fancy, but they’re effective. And they’re effective because they’re rooted in the fanciest thing of all: human nature. This is what you’ll need: a basic psychological understanding of human nature and social dynamics, and their pathological forms. Call it refined common sense.
“Learn this ONE trick to make your judgment divine. Lesser gods HATE this guy!”
It’s ridiculously easy to form a tribe. So easy that the tendency itself should be acknowledged as a given in our nature. But that’s not to say it’s perfect.
Take a group of twelve-year-old boys. Separate them randomly into two groups. Set them up in the forest in separate camps, unaware of each other’s existence. Let them do what they do for a week or two and observe. Hijinks will ensue.
Jonathan Haidt discussed this classic experiment in his book, The Righteous Mind. During the first week or so, each group self-organizes into a cohesive unit. They give themselves a name (the Rattlers and the Eagles, in the experiment conducted by Muzafar Sherif), mark out and claim their territory, establish a hierarchy, consensually elect a group leader whose decisions they all defer to. Haidt writes:
Norms, songs, rituals, and distinctive identities began to form in each group (Rattlers are tough and never cry; Eagles never curse). Even though they were there to have fun, and even though they believed they were alone in the woods, each group ended up doing the sorts of things that would have been quite useful if they were about to face a rival group that claimed the same territory. Which they were.
This is exactly the type of group cohesion and cooperation that has been necessary throughout our history. From a group of hunters taking down large game, to a rival tribe moving in to exterminate the group and take their land, to even larger societies and their potentially hostile competitors—without this type of group unity, humanity wouldn’t have survived (or thrived).
On day 6 of the study, Sherif let the Rattlers get close enough to the baseball field to hear that other boys—the Eagles—were using it, even though the Rattlers had claimed it as their field. The Rattlers begged the camp counselors to let them challenge the Eagles to a baseball game. As he had planned to do from the start, Sherif then arranged a weeklong tournament of sports competitions and camping skills. From that point forward, Sherif says, “performance in all activities which might now become competitive (tent pitching, baseball, etc.) was entered into with more zest and also with more efficiency.” Tribal behavior increased dramatically. Both sides created flags and hung them in contested territory. They destroyed each other’s flags, raided and vandalized each other’s bunks, called each other nasty names, made weapons (socks filled with rocks), and would often have come to blows had the counselors not intervened.
We all recognize this portrait of boyhood. The male mind appears to be innately tribal—that is, structured in advance of experience so that boys and men enjoy doing the sorts of things that lead to group cohesion and success in conflicts between groups (including warfare). The virtue of loyalty matters a great deal to both sexes, though the objects of loyalty tend to be teams and coalitions for boys, in contrast to two-person relationships for girls.
That’s just how we operate. “Our” team becomes the good guys. “Their” team becomes the bad guys. This is all fun and good for the most part. And as noted, it serves a purpose. But when we this tribal tendency runs up against more complex problems, and guides our responses to them, cracks start to appear in our armor of virtue (which is really just basic instinct with little conscious input).
Think about it.
What if we’re the baddies? Or, more likely, what if one of us is a baddie? What if a some of their guys are really great? The tribal level of perception washes out all such distinctions. No doubt the kid mentioning such a possibility would be laughed at, maybe even roughed up a bit for entertaining such patently ludicrous notions. “Johnny, they’re Rattlers. We’re Eagles. Get it through your thick skull.” That might be enough for many people, but not for me. It’s too boring.
No, the ultimate level of analysis for many people is the group, and will remain the group. If one of our guys is a total douchebag, we will lie for him, slander his accusers, and stand by our own, defending him to the death. If one of their guys wrecks our camp, we’ll be satisfied taking our revenge on a representative sample of the other team. They’re all interchangeable, after all.
Similarity and Diversity Are Normal
The thing is, the Rattlers aren’t interchangeable. Neither are the Eagles. It’s normal to have a wide variety of people within a group. And it’s in the varieties and inequalities of human nature that our social creativity is to be found. It’s how the Rattlers and Eagles were able to form cohesive, cooperative groups with specialized roles. And it’s how we establish stable societies and cultures that persist through time. Lobaczewski writes:
Profound psychological variations may strike some as an injustice of nature, but they are her right and have deep, creative meaning.
Nature’s seeming injustice … is, in fact, a great gift of God and nature to humanity, enabling human societies to develop their complex societal structures and to be highly creative at both the individual and collective levels. Thanks to psychological differentiation, the creative potential of any society is many times higher than it could possibly be if our species were psychologically more homogeneous. [HK: Take note, socialist theorists.] Thanks to these variations, the societal structure implicit within can also develop. The fate of human societies—their dynamic development or decline—depends upon the proper adjustment of individuals within this structure and upon the manner in which diverse aptitudes are utilized.
Our experience teaches us that psychological differences among people are the cause of misunderstandings and problems. We can overcome these problems only if we accept psychological differences as a law of nature and appreciate their creative value. This would also enable us to gain an objective comprehension of man and human societies; unfortunately, it would also teach us that equality under the law is inequality under the law of nature. (PP, pp. 32-33)
The same applies on the level of societies. If nature prefers differentiation within groups, why would she prefer making all cultures the same? Here’s what Lobaczewski wrote about Europe in the 1990s:
… when it comes to European unification it is vital to oppose the creation of a colossus state. A Europe of independent homelands is necessary to preserve our cultural traditions and their creative role, and for the meaningful spiritual development of our citizens. (PP, p. 51)
Socialism aims to destroy individuality and make everyone the same. Modern globalization and messianic liberalism are destroyers of cultural diversity—purveyors of a bland political business franchise. McLiberalism. They aim to make all nations and peoples the same. Bless their hearts.
No, there is value in diversity—within groups and between groups. And conflict isn’t always inevitable. If varied members of a group can self-organize into a cohesive social structure, can’t varied cultures do the same, benefiting from each other’s strengths and creativity, while retaining the things that set them apart? You’d think. (Tell that to the EU and NATO, or North Korea.) Like the fake individualism vs. collectivism debate, so with the nationalism vs. cosmopolitanism debate. Here’s what Dabrowski had to say about on the matter:
Extreme and antagonistic forms of nationalism which involve hostility towards other nations and other cultures and spread the ideal of the purity of national tradition seem no longer tenable. There is no individual mental growth without concern for and use of outstanding achievements of other people. In the same way, to ignore cultural achievements of other nations, to look only at oneself, seems to impede the growth of the national tradition. Mental growth does not occur in a cultural vacuum. [At the same time,] Man lives in a concrete society and cannot find himself by trying to ignore his cultural roots or to disregard his ties and responsibilities toward his community. Consequently, extreme forms of cosmopolitanism are also discredited. (Mental Growth, p. 127)
Extreme examples aside (e.g. the Spanish and the Aztecs), vastly different groups can get along. Especially if they have to form alliances to defend against a common enemy.
We can do so because despite our differences, we pretty much all share a basic nature, the same basic soil from which our personalities, relationships, and cultures grow. Lobaczewski calls it our “instinctive substratum.” It consists in our basic emotional, instinctive, and cognitive functions. These are the things that allow us to communicate, form relationships, make families, establish social networks, grow up, learn, create. We may not think about such things very often, because we’re just too busy doing them: being human.
They’re so obvious that we don’t notice them.
But there’s a snake in the garden.
They’re also so obvious that we don’t notice when important functions are missing.
That Ain’t Normal
The human variations mentioned above are all variations of “normal,” more or less. Intelligence, memory, imagination, physical ability, aesthetic sensibility, emotional sensitivity. Some have more than others. But some are so different as to be almost incomprehensible. We might not even suspect they exist. Lobaczewski again:
This common human basis of our psychic life [our “instinctive substratum”] has made it possible for peoples throughout the centuries and civilizations to create concepts regarding human, social, and moral matters which share significant similarities. Inter-epochal and interracial variations in this area are less striking than those differentiating persons whose instinctual human substratum is normal from those who are carriers of an instinctual biopsychological defect [e.g. psychopathy], though they are members of the same race and civilization. (Political Ponerology, p. 27)
In other words, ordinary people of one race have more in common—psychologically—with ordinary people of other races than they do with psychopaths in their own race. Or, to flip that around, psychopaths of different races have more in common with each other than they do with ordinary members of their own race.
That’s not an argument for multiculturalism or for destroying cultural differences. It’s just to say that when dealing with psychopathology, the ordinary rules don’t apply, and can even be counter-productive.
Humanity has a ton of problems. Psychobiological evil is just one of them. But it’s a big one. At least in this case, we’d all be better off teaming up and realizing that humanity does have a common enemy: a small percentage that exists within every population and that is responsible for a hugely disproportional amount of crime and misery.
But that would require turning our gaze inward.
Sometimes the “other team” is right about us, and we’d be better off setting our own house in order and “taking the L.”6 And sometimes we’d be better off following the lead of the other team and its leader, especially if ours is terrible. When you have to defend pure evil or dangerous stupidity in your own group, you’re losing, not winning.
“He may be evil. He may be an idiot. He may be a sonuvabitch. But, goddamnit, he’s our sonuvabitch!”
Dens of Vipers
One of ponerology’s central messages is that it’s not any given ideology that is the root problem of evil (even socialism, which is one of the worst). Rather, it is the presence of certain types of people (who behave in similar ways) within all groups, who create and manipulate ideologies in characteristic ways.
If you want an accurate way of categorizing people, there’s your group: the subset of people who think, feel, and behave in ways traditionally characterized as evil. Your efforts will be better spent focusing on that group rather than “men,” “women,” Jews, Brits, or bankers.
But can’t there be evil groups? Aren’t some groups worse than others? Sure. Groups that implicitly select for pathology—like street gangs, revolutionary movements, nefarious secret societies, local school boards, and White House staffers—will have a higher concentration of pathological misfits than any more natural grouping. And some natural groupings will have higher percentages than others. (There’s that biological diversity in action again.)
It’s just that the larger the group, the less accurate the judgment will be for any individual member of the group. The only reason the Soviet system worked to the extent that it did, for example, was that there were enough normal or near-normal people in the Party or working as middle-men so that things could actually get done.
Maybe you’re a fan of the shotgun approach. I’m not. For one, it’s wasteful of human talent.
A good leader should be aware of all this: the basic tendencies of unconscious tribalism—its strengths and weaknesses—the presence and influence of evil-generating persons, the potential and need for broad cooperation. Often the things we dislike or hate in others are simply the manifestations of psychobiological evil. But we misdiagnose.7
Let me conclude with a story:
Imagine the leader of the Eagles is a real piece of work. While his team is busy taking part in their daily combat training, two of his lieutenants set fire to a portion of their own camp. Alerted to the commotion, the team rush to find their tool shed in ashes. One of the lieutenants announces that he saw a couple Rattlers running from the camp. The leader gives a rousing speech on the perfidy of Rattlers, and the valor of Eagles. They plan a night raid on the enemy camp.
The Rattlers are caught unaware, fighting valiantly but suffering several casualties in the initial chaos: a few black eyes, scrapes and bruises. The next day at their planned weekly baseball match, the lead Rattler takes to the pitch to give a speech of his own:
“Eagles, I have heard the accusations made against me and my fellow Rattlers by your leadership. Though my words may fall on deaf ears, let me assure you: none of my Rattlers were responsible for the destruction of your tool shed. At the time in question, we were all present and accounted for on a supervised canoe trip.
“I can’t condone your unprovoked attack on us last night, but I understand it. I would have done the same. You fought well, and under different circumstances I would be honored to fight by your side. But you have been deceived.
“I have come to know many of you on this very field. I know you are men of honor and talent. And I know you are not stupid. Some of you have privately shared with me your own doubts about the nature of last night’s attack. Here is my advice: clean up your own house. Clear out the rot within.
“So I give you a choice. Cease these childish games, agree to my proposed truce. We will even allow you the use of our own tool shed. I welcome your friendship. But know this: our patience is not endless. Now that we know how far some of you will go to create enmity between us, we will be prepared. The next attack upon us will be dealt with swiftly and without mercy.
“I sincerely pray you heed my warning. Now, let’s play some baseball. Last one on the field is a rotten egg.”
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What am I saying. Of course I am.
Though others took about 15 years to sink in. I’m sure my understanding will change in another 15.
Whether in the body or out of the body on Twitter, only God knows.
That’s not to say the group doesn’t influence its members in important ways. It does. I’m just saying that in the grand scheme of things, those influences are of secondary importance.
In Dabrowski’s terms, a Level IV Afghan is more likely to get along with a Level IV American than he would with a Level I Afghan. And even if your average Afghan might not get along with your average American, they still have more in common with each other than they do with the evil people in their own group.
This is unheard of in politics. Imagine the U.S., for instance, saying, “Well, we’ve done some soul searching and have concluded that sometimes the evil dictators of the world are correct in their criticisms of us.”
In the case of the old USSR, it wasn’t “Russians” or even “communists” that were the real problem. It was a gang of psychopaths using the communist ideology.