Editor’s Note: This is an excerpt from the author’s forthcoming book “American Extremist: The Psychology of Political Extremism”. Extremism is a top-down phenomenon, meaning that it is something that originates among…
Editor’s Note: This is an excerpt from the author’s forthcoming book “American Extremist: The Psychology of Political Extremism”.
Extremism is a top-down phenomenon, meaning that it is something that originates among the powerful and then floats downstream through the various institutions of power and influence. It is a widely held belief that political change arises organically from the bottom, but many a great scholarly work (C.A. Bond’s ‘Nemesis’ and Christopher Caldwell’s ‘The Age of Entitlement’, for example) utterly demolish this faulty perception. Nothing has ever occurred, whether we speak of the American Revolution, the Bolshevik Revolution, Mussolini’s or Napoleon’s rise to power, to use some recent examples, without the patronage of the upper classes. The extremist capture of the United States is no exception. Before we may begin, I must credit some of these insights to the work of Polish psychiatrist Andrzej Lobaczewski, who, after collecting several decade’s worth of work studying the psychology of totalitarian regimes (in particular the USSR), published them in 2006 in a book titled ‘Political Ponerology: A Science on the Nature of Evil Adjusted for Political Purposes’.
In his book, Lobaczewski described a ‘hysteroidal cycle’ whereby the privileged classes transmit maladaptive attitudes and behaviors over the course of multiple generations, the final result of which is a phenomenon he termed ‘macrosocial dysfunction’. Put succinctly, the dysfunctions of the few (the privileged classes) become the dysfunctions of the many (everyone else). These hysteroidal cycles consist of alternating durations of ‘happy times’ and ‘unhappy times’, where, in the former, moral and psychological knowledge pertaining to issues of psychopathology is suppressed, while the latter represents an excavation and exploration of this previously forbidden trove of knowledge. The subsequent recovery of this knowledge is then used to rectify problems created by the hoarding of this information.
Lobaczewski views social injustice as integral to the perpetuation of mass psychological dis-ease, seeing as, in his view, the upper classes necessarily exploit the lower classes in order to attain (and preserve) their wealth and good fortune (The happiness and prosperity of this first phase of the cycle itself may be predicated on the suppression and persecution of some minority group, or the under classes more broadly). Through conversive and hysterical reasoning, these privileged classes selectively perceive information in such a way that they can more easily justify profiting from their ill gotten gains and marginalizing the moral, mental, and labor values of those they exploit. Each subsequent generation suffers from a progressive “atrophy of natural critical faculties” (p. 170) which ultimately culminates in the censorship, persecution, and even genocide of those underprivileged classes, whose very existence challenges the pathological worldview of the privileged.
Control of the psychologically normal is achieved first by the embedding of a “pathologically hypersensitive censor” (p. 177) within the citizenry themselves. These are in effect, ego defenses deployed by the upper classes who seek to preserve their own positive self-image. It is these defects of the ego, in the form of “egoism, egotism, and egocentrism” (p. 177) which are the root psychological causes of what he terms characteropathic failings. Moreover, not only will these privileged classes adopt pathological – and ultimately violent – attitudes toward those they rule, but they will even develop contempt and antagonism toward competing nations that adhere to a healthier and more psychologically integrated approach in their governance. (We may easily look at the present day United States and see a manifestation of what Lobaczewski describes; the American upper classes regularly castigate their constituents for their moral failings, their lack of sophistication, et cetera, all the while decrying other nations which, however imperfectly they may be achieved, work far more diligently to protect and provide for their people. Countries such as Hungary, Poland, Russia, Iran, and China come to mind immediately).
In Lobaczewski’s ponerological model, a society is comprised of two essential psychological types: The characteropathic and the normal. Characteropaths are those individuals who suffer some biological condition (such as brain trauma) or genetic predisposition (for example, a personality disorder) and are thus given to a psychological disposition of evil. Whether they are the progenitors of such evil or merely the lackeys who happily execute the evil will of others is of little consequence. We may call these types maladapts. The ‘normals’ are greater in number than the maladapts, and have an innate moral character in addition to a well-adapted psychological profile, but are often incapable of recognizing (or even properly resisting) this psychology of evil due to their naïve condition.
Any institution can find itself infiltrated by maladapts who then work to bend that institution to their will, which in turn signals a fertile ground for other maladapts and pathocrats to gain entry (pathocrats being defined as any political actor given to a psychology of evil). It is the nature of the characteropath to exploit structural weaknesses in an organization so that he may overtake it, turning it to his own diabolical purposes. Should he fail it would be his death; if the characteropath cannot ascend to the role of pathocrat, he would either wash out of society due to his own weakness and lack of social utility or be driven out by those members of polite society who have become wise to his game. We may say then that subversion and domination are among the defining traits of the characteropath. They are a biological type who cannot thrive under normal conditions – they must destroy what is good and healthy in order to live. Fortunately for us, Lobaczewski argues that “the pathocracy’s dominance will weaken imperceptibly but steadily, finally leading to a situation where in the society of normal people reaches for power. This is a nightmare vision to the psychopaths. That the biological, psychological, moral, and economic destruction of the majority of normal people becomes, for the pathocrat, a biological necessity.” (p. 208). The essential civilizational struggle, in Lobaczewski’s view, lies between ‘the normal people’ and the pathocrats; it is a conflict which has occurred in every civilization for as long as human societies have existed and will persist for as long as our species draws breath.
As I have noted already, Lobaczewski looks to the sciences of biology and genetics to find the origin of the characteropath. It is of interest to note that Lobaczewski was among the last class of psychiatrists to be trained in these disciplines before the Soviets censored them and restricted the discipline to the study of Pavlovian concepts. (Here we see a clear bit of historical proof for Lobaczewski’s argument). While the science of psychopathology has progressed a great deal since Lobaczewki’s time as a student (and there still remains a great deal of disagreement over the proper diagnostic criteria for many of these conditions), I will reproduce his findings as he described them so that the reader may appreciate them in their full and unadulterated context. Primarily, Lobaczewski connects the biological dimension of the characteropath’s psychopathology to a condition of schizoidia. The schizoid is recognized by an acute hypersensitivity and characteristic distrustfulness; they are inattentive to the emotions of others, quickly adopt extreme positions, and retaliate harshly (and immediately) for perceived slights against them. Typically eccentric, they are prone to projecting (“superimposing” in Lobaczewski’s words) “erroneous, pejorative interpretations of other people’s intentions” (p. 123). In simpler terms, they are quick to malign others without sufficient reason for doing so. They are drawn to moral causes, although they “actually inflict damage upon themselves and others” (p. 123). Owing to their impoverished worldview, they are overly pessimistic and misanthropic with regards human nature. Schizoids have a “dull pallor of emotion” and “consider themselves intellectually superior to ordinary people” (p. 124). Interestingly, Lobaczewski points out that, demographically speaking, schizoids are represented most numerously among Jews (elsewhere, and repeatedly, Lobaczewski observes the overrepresentation of Jews among these pathocratic types).
However, we should not limit our concern to these dysfunctional individuals alone. Exposure to these types who exhibit dysfunctional personalities can twist the minds of a normal person, capturing them in the vortex of their mental illness, not unlike a starship caught in the tractor beam of some intergalactic warmonger. Proximity to characteropaths, then, is as great a risk to the average person as their mere existence is. The pathocrat is a natural parasite who can only thrive in an environment that is explicitly hostile to the needs and demands of the average person. As such, characteropaths frantically work to pervert the organizations they join by manipulating and distorting language so as to provide cover for their true intentions. The characteropath sets himself up as an integral member of the institution, enshrining himself as a necessary priestly type who may then provide the ideological weight for the yet-to-be-adopted belief system. Where these individuals (to use Lobaczewski’s phrase, “spellbinders”) are unable to directly influence and redirect the energies of a given organization, they will form alliances with more charismatic types who may themselves be less pathological, or simply possess an earthier charm and personal magnetism that allows them to capture the imagination of a people, even without any kind of intellectual or ideological acumen to support his campaign.
Often, these pathocrats are able to attract less dysfunctional types (Lobaczewski calls them “skirtoids”), who dutifully execute their dictates and assist in maintaining the new moral infrastructure. These skirtoids “are vital, egotistical, and thick-skinned individuals who make good soldiers because of their endurance and psychological resistance. In peacetime, however, they are incapable of understanding life’s subtler matters or rearing children prudently. They are happy in primitive surroundings; a comfortable environment easily causes hysterization within them. They are rigidly conservative in all areas and supportive of governments that rule with a heavy hand.” (p. 136). These psychopaths (pathocrats), often being physically incapable of enacting the methods they propagate through oral and written sophistry, are heavily reliant on these skirtoids and a third type, which he calls “jackals”. These individuals are “hired as professional and mercenary killers by various groups and who so quickly and easily take up arms as a means of political struggle; no human feelings interfere with their nefarious plans.” (p. 136). But Lobaczewski stops at the point of categorizing these types as fitting within either the skirtoidal or psychopathic dimensions of psychopathology, but rather suggests that “we should assume this type to be a product of a cross between lesser taints of various deviations.” (p. 136). Furthermore, he states “mate-selection psychology produces pairings which bilaterally represent various anomalies. Carriers of two or even three lesser deviational factors should thus be more frequent. A jackal could then be imagined as the carrier of schizoidal traits in combination with some other psychopathy, e.g. essential psychopathy or skirtoidism.” (p. 136).
It is critical for these pathocratic spellbinders to nudge the normal majority away from what Lobaczewski calls its “congenital instinctive infrastructure” (p. 60). He repeatedly emphasizes the necessity for the “common sense” (p. 188) of the normal majority to prevail in order for a society to maintain its moral center and to thrive intellectually, creatively, economically, and spiritually. To separate the majority from their common sense, the spellbinder employs the use of doubletalk as his chief strategy for nudging people away from their natural instincts. The process of ponerization (the overcoding of a society’s moral structure from moral to immoral) necessitates a dual semantic layer, wherein the outer layer is used rhetorically against the target while the inner layer reinforces membership among those psychopaths embedded within the power structure. In effect, these differing meanings serve to re-stratify the classes of a ponerogenic culture. The spellbinders (and their collaborators) immediately recognize its hermeneutic meaning; it is only after prolonged exposure (and great labor on the part of the masses) that the targets of this ponerogenic speech are ever availed of its true meaning. To put this in our current context, we may look at certain phrases (e.g., “Diversity is our strength”) and understand how the meaning differs depending on who utters it (diversity may be a strength for the spellbinder, but as Robert Putnam argued in his 2000 publication, “Bowling Alone: The Collapse and Revival of American Community” it proves to be a problem for those outside of the spellbinding class).
I have made this point already but it bears elaboration: Innately these spellbinders are people who cannot function in a healthy society, and moreover, feel wronged by it. As part of their paranoid ideations, they perceive themselves as marginalized and persecuted (although in a certain sense they are correct, given their predilection for manipulation and harm, the natural response is one of ostracism). The narcissism and self-absorption of the psychopath leads him to create a kind of hero myth that justifies his own actions (if not to himself than to those he seeks dominion over). By necessity, the characteropath casts himself as a savior – as one who has graciously taken up the causes of liberation and nobility. This approach proves advantageous for him if he operates within a society where actual injustice is present and easily identifiable (which is usually the case). Lobaczewski points out that these types construct ideological unions which are predicated upon 1) the exaltation of a wronged other, 2) the radical redressing of that wrong, and 3) the higher values of the characteropathic individuals who have usurped the organization.
Individual psychological failings (be they psychopaths, or abnormal and deficient in some other way) are then moralized into a revolutionary credo that gives them just cause for retribution, thus providing sufficient motivation to deny any self-examination. Were this technique not so repugnant, one could admire its ingenuity; the moral wickedness of their conduct (which would surely be apparent to any outsider, were it stripped of its romanticism and paramoralisms) is neatly excused and then expelled. Such a practice is especially important for counteracting the functional conscience in those with a more typical psychological profile. The fact that true injustice does exist, and that this new ideology claims to resist it means that inductees into this new culture will be more easily swayed into rationalizing the spellbinder’s doubletalk, and never question its truer esoteric meaning. Naturally, there is more to this story – and 21st century America is very different from the Soviet Republic of the last century. I will address these differences in a moment. For now, let us look once more at this phenomenon of spellbinding.
For the skeptical reader, we can dispel with the fanciful terminology and simply look to the very real circumstances we observe in our current situation. Take the language of victimization and its myriad expressions – racism, sexism, xenophobia, transphobia, homophobia, islamophobia, ableism, to name a few. Let us begin with the use of the term ‘racism’: Initially, the word was used to describe an irrational and seething hatred of other races. Those noble of heart and sensitive to the plight of, say, African-Americans, knew in their souls that they did not harbor animosity toward Blacks and therefore willingly acclimated to the changing cultural and political dialectics. But as per the hermeneutic tradition of the spellbinder, the term came to take on a new meaning – that of power and privilege. The eternal revolt against racial discrimination required a new meaning for a new time, against a new generation of foes. Now, to be racist no longer means being an unsophisticated bigot, full of hatred; instead, it means to enjoy the privilege of cultural, historical, and political continuity. To be a racist in 21st century America is to hold power, unearned power, over the dispossessed other. In one sense, that power is one of an unbroken continuity of being – but in a more immediate and political sense it is about institutional hegemony. Whites, being privileged, now find themselves swimming in a racist undercurrent, where every action, every errant glance, each thoughtless utterance is actually a demonstration of sinister, unjustifiable power and racial superiority that must be deconstructed. As the usage of this term and the ability to affect political and cultural change based on the desire to annihilate racism grows, more Americans find themselves scratching their heads at the new power this term wields. “How is that racist? That doesn’t make sense. I don’t hate Blacks or Hispanics.” And likely they don’t. Only one no longer has to hate non-Whites in order to be racist, one merely has to exist in order to be racist. The jargon of pathocratic psychopathy has thus emerged from its cocoon different, changed, and now more powerful than when it first appeared.
Sexism worked in this way too; the willful discrimination and marginalization of women meant something far different a few decades ago. Whereas any social role that was denied to women was understood to be sexist, now any circumstance which affects women differently is evidence of sexual discrimination and oppression. With such an elastic definition, instances of racism and sexism now explode with regularity. Similarly with homophobia, islamophobia, transphobia, xenophobia, and the like, the spellbinding hermeneutics of prejudice grant more power to the characteropath and further oppress the normal and the psychologically fit. Of particular insidiousness is the use of the suffix ‘phobia’; the use of a clearly understood medical and psychiatric terminology, ‘phobia’ has been grafted to a sociopolitical system of linguistics that overcodes an entire range of cognitions and affects, reducing them to a singular phenomena – fear – the use of which now paints anyone who demonstrates anything other than unflinching support (and submission) towards an underprivileged group could be considered fearful, despotic, and mentally ill.
A new meaning for millennia old biological and evolutionary normalcy’s was created to psychologically wound average people who are not nearly as Machiavellian and sinister as those spellbinders responsible for creating this new moral-linguistic landscape. A whole range of emotional responses (e.g., disgust, confusion, reticence, self-preservation, et cetera) are no longer legitimated for anyone outside of the spellbinding class, and especially for those unwilling to subjugate themselves to it. It is difficult to overstate the effect this has on the mind – by constantly changing the moral language and rules of social engagement, consciousness is split, and new sub-personalities are created which now exist in a constant state of conflict. Not only do these terms create a new moral, linguistic, and affective landscape, but they also radically redraw the sociopolitical structure, creating new castes of privileged and unprivileged members, and allotting people to these new classes based on their willingness to conform to an ever-changing set of demands.
Another example would be the constantly evolving charge of anti-Semitism. Clearly, it was once understood that claims of anti-Semitism were intended to characterize attitudes and conduct that were explicitly (and perhaps even implicitly) discriminatory or hostile toward Jewish people. Presently, (and much like the plastic definition of racism) it is now used to designate any othering of Jews, be it negative or positive. And so, folded into the original meaning of these terms (hatred and fear) is any impulse toward differentiation (another ‘common sense’ instinct as Lobaczewski would say). Interestingly, the very use of the term is curious because it creates a cleavage in the Gentiles understanding of who precisely is a Semite. Anti-Semitism is fundamentally about anti-Jewish sentiment, but the term Semite is a cultural, linguistic, ethnic, and racial designation that encompasses a far broader grouping of peoples than simply that of the Jewish individual. Once more we see how spellbinders use language to fracture and limit the cognitive abilities of the average person.
The originators of these spells create the circumstances by which a healthy society is carved up under the new rules of engagement. But as I have already pointed out, their progeny merely inherit this system of rules and logic, often without any insight into its genesis. This phenomenon is not unlike the transmission of rituals and taboos, whereby people unthinkingly inherit these dictums but are oblivious to their intention, and so merely act on them in rote, unconscious fashion. This is how psychopathic tendencies are transmitted intergenerationally – at first as an intentional means of control, and then merely as a commonplace and thoughtless habit, not unlike how one washes up after themselves. The situation becomes far worse for the inheritors of this system, as they merely acquire these attitudes through the mechanisms of conditioning and modeling. They are indoctrinated into a pathological worldview which dictates every relationship they enter, every career they take up, each choice and each breath. Children don’t just inherit the material or biological traits of their parents, but also their ideological ones (particularly the farther one goes up the socioeconomic ladder, where the stakes are higher). Of course, these conditions are guaranteed to degenerate over time, as the inheritors of this system possess none of the insight, none of the self-awareness of their forbears, and are subsequently left with fewer psychological tools with which to manage themselves or their pathological reactions. While they may acquire their power second-hand, it comes with a litany of irrational and hysterical impulses which can neither be contextualized nor dissipated. Heavy indeed is the head that wears the crown. Naturally psychopaths wound themselves with their psychological contortions, ego defenses, and general anti-social conduct. We understand very easily as well that they wound those who are made the targets of their pathology. But what is less well understood is how those around them, their wives, husbands, children, nieces and nephews, too, are victimized by their pathological and misanthropic outlook. Their impoverished psychological worldview becomes a mental prison that their kin rarely, if ever, escapes. Worse still, those that do escape become permanent outcasts, as they – not unlike cult members – have broken out of an inter-generational cycle of psychopathy only to find little in the way of community outside of it. However, it should be said that they often end up worse than cult members. In many cases, these individuals lose affiliations of race, religion, social class, and more personally, blood relations. It is difficult to quantify just which is worse for such individuals – the spellbinding that keeps them in a state of conformity or the ostracism they suffer as a result of breaking free. Each outcome is tragic in its own way.
It is not uncommon to come across people (even in the online dissident sphere) who believe that the upper classes are made up of individuals with relatively typical psychological profiles. This is not to say that they are just like us, but it is a kind of reflexive unwillingness to entertain the possibility – neigh, the existence – of evil. Such individuals may rationalize away the failures of leadership or even identify with their plight. There are some who believe in the existence of a One Weird Trick For Solving Political Strife, whereby all that is required to solve the problems confronting the over-class is to provide them with a better system or a better deal. I cannot in good conscience endorse this worldview. We simply know too much about the nature of the psychopathy and its prevalence among the leadership classes (Robert Hare and Hervey Cleckley have both written extensively on the over-representation of psychopathy among corporate and political leadership). All of this is not to say that every leader is a dastardly, mustache-twirling loon, or even that every psychopath presents a clear and present danger to the social order (psychopathy is defined by a variety of traits, and it is not necessarily the case that the psychopath is malevolent; often they merely lack that positive social feeling more commonly found among the normal population), but what I am saying is that these individuals are not, by and large, a class to be reasoned with. A sober analysis (such as the one I have provided) puts us in a superior position to organize and develop effective strategies for advancing our political aims, and not the aims of those who view us with contempt.
Andrzej Łobaczewski, Political Ponerology: A Science on the Nature of Evil Adjusted for Political Purposes, (Grande Prairie: Red Pill Press, 2006), 60, 123-124, 130, 136, 170-177, 188, 203
C.A. Bond, Nemesis, (Imperium Press, 2019)
Robert Putnam, Bowling Alone: The Collapse and Revival of American Community (Touchstone Books: Simon & Schuster, 2001)