Could There Be Negative Levels of Development?

Though many of you look to me as someone who understands Dabrowski’s Theory of Positive Disintegration (TPD) pretty well, I’m still not an expert.  I want to be clear about that, because today I’m tossing out an idea that popped into my head a couple hours before I started typing this.  I may ultimately decide this idea doesn’t hold up, but would love to think it through with you.

So.  A week after the Democratic Socialists of America’s biennial conference (digression: here‘s some solid reporting on us!), I’m still exhausted.  We’re seeing crisis after crisis; the tragedy in Charlottesville is the most recent and worst.  I wasn’t there, but members of my DSA chapter as well as courageous unaffiliated friends were; at least two were on the street to see a terrorist murder a comrade.

Which isn’t even why I started reading Angela Nagle’s Kill All Normies: Online Culture Wars From 4chan and Tumblr to Trump and the Alt-Right on Sunday; I had been planning to do that anyway.  I was only a couple chapters into it when it struck me that the book is about negative disintegration.  I’d even go so far—and here’s where I step out of TPD orthodoxy—as to describe it as a book about reintegration at a lower level.


To be sure, in TPD, there is such a thing as negative reintegration.  Dabrowski spoke of this happening, for instance, to people at the very unstable Level II, where their inability to discern higher and lower paths causes them to fall back to the known and stable primary integration of Level I.  (If you’re interested in digging further into the details, here are some good pages on Dabrowski’s levels and how he conceived of Level I.)  Basically, what gets you to the higher levels—Level III-V—is your recognition of a higher path.  Once a person recognizes this, she presumably incorporates it, autonomously, into her personality ideal.  That’s the culmination of Dabrowskian development.

So here’s a question: can someone’s personality ideal be negative?

Built into TPD is an assumption of pro-social values.  The role of empathy as one of the all-important dynamisms shows this clearly.  Dynamisms, in case you need a refresher, are the instincts, drives, and intellectual processes combined with emotions (Dabrowski, 1972, p. 294) that propel personality disintegration and reintegration.  There’s also the centrality of emotional overexcitability, which manifests through compassion and identification with others’ feelings.  Dabrowski was clear that without emotional OE, a person would not be able to reach the highest levels of development.  In other words, to score maximum developmental potential, you’ve got to be a good person, or at least have the capacity to be one.

And then there’s the darkest depths of the Internet.  I knew these people were out there lurking in virtual cesspools, but Kill All Normies gives you details you’ll wish you’d never heard about.  Mobs of misogynists who bombard women who speak up about sexism in gamer and atheist circles with rape and death threats.  People get their kicks from trolling parents whose kids who committed suicide.  All manner of white nationalism and other racist bigotry.  I’ll stop with the examples before everyone gets too depressed.


It seems to me that these trolls are not just lacking empathy, but exhibiting the opposite of it: an anti-empathy, a force that excludes, that actively feeds off of the suffering of people outside the troll’s circle.  And this is extra chilling because these losers otherwise might well look at TPD and say, hey, I went through disintegration, but now I’m acting in line with the third factor, pursuing my personality ideal!  I’ve reintegrated at a more evolved level!  I’m putting these words into their mouth, but if you try to imagine how they think of themselves, doesn’t it seem like something they might think?  The only thing that’s missing is that a certain ingredient—the dynamism of empathy, the lack of which is what defines psychopathy.  Consider this passage from Kill All Normies:

Norman Mailer posited the psychopath as a noble and transgressive figure in fiction.  He saw the hipster (which had somewhat different connotations at the time to the beard oil-applying variety of today) as borrowing from the tradition of the noble psychopath of fiction in his disregard for social conventions and the mainstream, and perceived the fictional psychopath as a symbol of being freed from sexual, social, and moral inhibitions.  The psychopath, like the artist, privileges id over superego and desire over moral constraints.  […] Also in Press and Reynold’s analysis, from One Flew Over the Cuckoo’s Nest to Michel Foucault’s Madness and Civilization and R.D. Laing’s The Politics of Experience, madness was consistently recast as nonconformity in this transgressive style.  For de Sade, the Surrealists, and later for the 60s anti-repression cultural politics most closely associated with R.D. Laing, insanity was considered a creative source, a rejection of mainstream norms and a political act of rebellion. (p. 31)

I’m not familiar with the work of Mailer, Blanchot, or Laing, and the term “psychopath” connotes something that is wholly different from the positive maladjustment of TPD.  In reintegration at a higher level, of course, inhibitions play a key role: you don’t let the impulses of the first factor guide you; and empathy is a big reason why.  But it sounds like these authors are talking about a maladjustment that looked positive from the perspective of the person going through it, citing freedom and creativity and clarity of purpose and so on.

Dabrowski wanted his theory to encompass everything from the best to the worst of human behavior, so he addresses psychopaths.  The language of TPD, however, offers less precise language for parsing the lower levels of humanity, placing decent-but-unreflective (and therefore integrated) people within Level I alongside psychopaths, whom Dabrowski describes as the most well-integrated people of all.  (They don’t have that pesky empathy to disrupt their pursuit of selfish impulses!)  Psychologist Elizabeth Mika addresses the breadth of Level I her paper on psychopathy and TPD:

Even though both an average person and a psychopath inhabit level 1, primary integration, they function differently most of the time. While a psychopath’s actions are expressive of negative maladjustment (disregard for social norms and conventions in pursuit of one’s own egocentric goals), an average person represents negative adjustment (a faithful, often unreflective adherence to social mores). The difference between the two, though disappearing in times of social upheaval and disorder, is the difference between evil and (often harmless, sometimes not) complacency with the societal and personal status quo.

Since he was trying to draw attention to the question of integration vs. disintegration, I can see why Dabrowski put all these integrated people on Level I.  We should also note that Dabrowski witnessed greater evil than most people on Earth today have seen in our lifetimes, so it’s not like he didn’t give the issue a lot of thought.  Nevertheless, I agree with what Mika is saying here: there’s a difference that matters, even within the bounds of TPD.

Let’s return now (sorry) to those Internet cesspools.  Reading Kill All Normies made me think that some of these people are actually going through a disintegration of the type that TPD describes—with the result being that they reintegrate at a lower levelThey aren’t merely lacking empathy; they appear to be experiencing that dynamic anti-empathy that combines with the third factor to create a human catalyst for evil.  They do have a personality ideal; it’s just one that most of us find abhorrent.

Don’t get me wrong: most of these self-proclaimed beta males are merely lacking empathy and following the most selfish impulses of the first factor.  It’s not worth proposing new levels of development devolution to describe what clearly fits in the muck at the bottom of Level I.  If my suggestion of negative levels has any use, it would be to describe the few negative catalysts who are giving the Level I trolls something to rally around.  Kill All Normies made me think that these people may well have passed through a level where they recognize a multilevelness of paths—a Negative Level III—and because they’re fueled by anti-empathy, their priorities are flipped.  There are even some Negative Level IVs: people who look like autonomous exemplars of a perverse ideal to those whose social worlds are wrong-side up.  (I’m not talking about POTUS, by the way.  I think he’s a pretty solid low Level I, having never experienced disintegration in his life.  The Negatives are more like leaders of alt-right movement. They’re the ones who could catalyze something.)

And that’s got frightening implications, as we saw this past weekend in Charlottesville.  As described in Elizabeth Mika’s paper:

Dabrowski maintained that the more individuals on the borderline of the average person and neurotics/psychoneurotics, the healthier the society and the better the chances that its most creative and developmentally advanced members will be recognized and appreciated for the universal human values they embody in their lives.  The more so-called ‘normal’ individuals bordering psychopathy, the greater possibilities of serious social maladies, since a society structured around low level values, represented most vividly in actions of prominent psychopaths, will create and foster “suffering, mass terror, violent oppression, genocide and the decay of civilization.” (Dabrowski et al. 1973, p.40)


This is all just calibrating a mental model, so perhaps it doesn’t matter if it’s “right.”  But if there’s value to what I’ve proposed here, it will be in helping us recognize and thwart those negative catalysts.  Maybe looking at TPD from an upside-down perspective can help us do that.  It also speaks to the need to empower the catalysts who are standing right-side up.  It’s much easier to let gravity pull us down, after all.  Let’s do everything we can to amplify the creative and empathetic authenticity of those trying to fly up.

So, what do you think?  Does this explain anything?  Are the leaders of the alt-right just highly integrated Level I’s, or does negative disintegration help make sense of them?  Remember, this is not orthodox TPD; I threw this idea out there for your pondering pleasure, so I invite you to post your thoughts below.


37 thoughts on “Could There Be Negative Levels of Development?

  1. I’m not convinced that we need a new scheme of negative development to explain the alt-right. The key may come down to how these individuals conceive of “society” and its members. I recently saw the following paper on the psychological profile of the alt-right:

    Essentially, this group of people completely dehumanizes minorities and other groups of people, thereby creating their own definition of what constitutes “society.” Someone like Adolf Hitler was very good at empathizing with and channeling the emotions of those people who he saw as true members of German society. We may of course disagree with his definition of society, but if the content of someone’s “higher path” doesn’t matter in assessing their level, then why does their definition of society?


    1. I would say that the content of the path does matter very much in assessing a person’s level; indeed, that’s what prompted this post. And yes, how individuals conceive of society is the key, as the dehumanization you cited is just what I meant by anti-empathy.

      So, I’m talking about the leaders of the alt-right, not the followers; the latter seem solidly in line with the orthodox Level I. But in a few leaders, there seem to be examples of the forces of disintegration and reintegration. Given the centrality (and usefulness!) of disintegration in TPD, it was significant to see some of the same processes going on there, but with the disintegrating person choosing the path that shrinks rather than expands the circle of empathy.

      And so my question is, does the process of dehumanization (i.e., anti-empathy) have a negative dynamic effect, and could it therefore result in something internally and/or externally different from your garden variety, primary integrated psychopath/troll? Does this hypothesized negative dynamism still create human catalysts — but for evil rather than good? If it does, then negative levels would aid us in understanding and responding to such people. If it does not, then they would not.

      Liked by 2 people

      1. An assumption in your idea is that leaders of hate groups do not have empathy. Based on my definition of empathy, I would completely agree with that. However, given that TPD is so individually and internally guided, I think it is more profitable to consider the personal definitions that people bring to those terms, even when we don’t like where that takes us. White nationalist leaders would tell you that they do have empathy – they just have it only for white people. So it may be that we need to look more at how we define our terms, rather than conceiving of negative levels (though I guess it would often amount to the same thing in the end).


    2. In response to your second comment, Dana, yes, so often these things come down to defining our terms! Though I’d say that even if a person thinks they have empathy, we don’t have to agree with their definition. That’s just the spot where I think their limiting of their circle of empathy is the more important factor.


  2. That’s a whole lot of psycho-speak… I wonder if there comes a point where trying to scientifically study and classify human behavior tips over into the absurd? I mean, the human brain is so complex, so embroiled within its own feedback loops, so un-isolatable in its environment, stewing constantly in a bath of hormones and memory and social pressures… Can we ever hope to examine human behavior through science?

    That said, I’m convinced that much of human behavior can be boiled down to one word — power. We’ve talked about this before.

    We all crave power.
    • But trolls garner power by imagining the psychological impact their vitriolic comments might have on their victims.
    • Other’s gather power by choosing to be kind; self-sacrifice is the demonstration of one’s power over one’s selfish tendencies.

    Power, or cosmic influence perhaps (?), manifests in myriad ways. I would say that mostly the direction by which this power is demonstrated is determined by one’s formative years. Your childhood environment may well be the only mold that matters — when it comes to determining what kind of person you become: a hater or a lover.


    1. Well, guilty as charged I suppose — it is “psycho-speak,” intentionally, as I try to live up to my promise to provide a place to explore Dabrowski’s theory. One goal for this post (among many!) is to offer those interested in the theory a chance to think at a slightly higher level about how it works. (I missed my calling as a social studies teacher, I think, but I would have hated not being able to design my own curriculum, and clearly no one would trust me to do that.) But I trust you don’t think it’s too far into the absurd, since you clicked “like” on it. 🙂

      Some other reasons that I think it’s valuable are that through the act of questioning and trying to build frameworks, we can’t help but grapple with issues that will always concern us — the question of where evil comes from, and why we are the way we are, and all those very human issues. I didn’t major in psychology (though if I went back for a PhD now, it’s what I would pick!), but I think we really can get closer to understanding human behavior through science…

      …while I would also assert that a healthy dose of the humanities is also essential to that understanding, and really, my most preferred method (despite the impression you might be getting in this blog) is through fiction. Narrative. I am planning to start a novel soon that will be the exploration in fiction of many of the things I explore in this blog. I think it’s the straightest way to the Truth, even if we’ll never find any path that’s truly and perfectly straight. And then I have a second novel lined up in the wings that has neo-Manichean elements to it. So I figure you can see how the pondering being done here in this blog could be background work for some character profiles there. 🙂

      Still another application of this pondering is much more immediately applicable to me. If the leaders of hate groups are indeed the products of reintegration at a level with a higher absolute value (even if the integer itself is clearly negative), then that would suggest different strategy to me as someone who opposes them. I can’t overemphasize how important this to me as someone who tends to always search for the good in people. Even though this sometimes blows up spectacularly. If this mental exercise can prevent that, then it’s far from absurd!

      As for power, hmm, that’s another issue entirely that I’d have to give some thought to. I am inclined to say that not everyone craves power, but if you went with “influence” and struck the word “crave,” then maybe. Actually, I think there is a subset of people who run from it and are more driven by freedom — specifically, freedom from (where “power” is freedom to.)

      Maybe we can find some science to explore this. 😉 Or some good fiction!

      Liked by 1 person

      1. Re: Power. I think I was trying to evoke the concept of, influence — yes that’s it somewhat, but maybe more along the lines of impact; whether negative or positive. Like “I want to leave a trail.” Now, whether that trail is one of happiness and joy, or tears and tragedy — the trail has still been left.

        “novel soon that will be the exploration in fiction of many of the things I explore in this blog. I think it’s the straightest way to the Truth”
        Hear hear! Great thought that. Fables, folklore, myths — are all fiction, stories, used to invoke a moral thread. I look forward to your novel efforts. I’ve written some minor bits, a novel, other bread-heals, and know that the task is both challenging and rewarding. Luck!

        Liked by 1 person

  3. I wasn’t sure whether to post here or on your FB so I pasted on both.
    The question of negative disintegration has been bothering me for a long time too. One possibility of addressing this question is how we define the Dabrowskian terms ‘third factor’ and ‘personality ideal’ which feature heavily in this problem. The third factor often referred to as an individuals ‘inner drive’ or autonomous thinking distinct from first and second factors. I have found this a confusing term as it alone may overlap with first and second factors. What we may see as new independent thought could very well be just first and second factor tendencies re-adjusted to new external influences.

    I have come to understand the following: If first factor is ego-centric; the Second factor is ethno/socio-centric; then I would term the third factor as conscience-centric. The centre of perceptual and motivational gravity shifts over time from narcissistic and cultural determinants to an engaged conscience. Of course, there is conscience within first and second factors but they are passive. Hence trolls and bigots also feel concern for their kin or peers but their empathy will always be limited to their sphere of passive conscience. The passivity of care or empathy will always be limited by first and second factor needs such as security, order, significance, power and on and on. In contrast, third factor is the maturation of emergent and engaged conscience. Conscience being the capacity and drive born out of an evolving sense of concern or care for the world. This deeper sense of empathic perception becomes more clear as it flowers through time. It is not narcissistic nor socially dependent. It may be informed by the ego and culture but its essential drive is more universal in nature. It’s primarily about the self but about the deeper view of the world, it exists within. Thus a ‘personality ideal’ is the forging of a broader multi-level personality. An identity which moves from passive first and second drives who identify as passive characters or figures in a given narrative be it personal or epic towards an engaging personality in which the agency of choice becomes ever more compelling. The ‘personality ideal’ therefore becomes the narrator of meaning in their world rather than the narrated who fulfil an inherited meaning. They are meaning makers.

    So back to the question of negative disintegration. The leaders of malignant movements whom some of which should know better than their minions, don’t really know better. They are just as co-dependent upon their followers as the followers are reliant on them. The relationship is mutually beneficial. The leaders provide first and second factors such as order and hope. The followers provide first and second factors such power and significance. The ideology is a means to achieve their core needs. They believe in them to the extent of their needs becoming met by them. In contrast, someone with strong third factor and a developed personality ideal could not in good conscience foster an environment of aggressive objectification or as you termed anti-empathy first and second factors.

    Liked by 2 people

    1. AishDos, thanks for such a thoughtful comment! (And also for being so nice as to post it in two places. That comment about “not posting ‘here’ was intended for people on my personal Facebook page, not the CounterNarration blog page, but it was past my bedtime at the time so I posted it in the wrong place. Oops! But I’m equally delighted to have comments on the blog page itself, or on the CounterNarration FB page. It’s when they’re on my personal FB page that they get lost and fewer people can appreciate theme.)

      Anyway, on to your content. I’m delighted that you went straight to defining the third factor, because as I was writing this post, I kept thinking that third factor is something I need to explore more, perhaps through some kind of blog post. And you’ve given us some really good material here to ponder in that process. For instance, I’m certain that some people think they’re experiencing third factor motivation when it’s really just first/second factor adjusting to new external circumstances. And I think your definition is powerful — “third factor is the maturation of emergent and engaged conscience.” Here’s a question for you as we think this through together: where do you see authenticity fitting into it? Is it separate but complementary, or is it necessarily woven in with the development of conscience?

      I also love the idea of the personality ideal as a narrator. I’m going to be playing with that some more.

      As for your parsing of the negative disintegration hypothesis, you make a compelling argument. The more I read about narcissism, the more I am inclined to disregard my idea. Narcissism explains it better. I do have one lingering potential “negative disintegration” example, but I’d have to study it more to see if narcissism or unilevel disintegration actually explain it better. Perhaps that will also merit a follow-up post!

      Liked by 1 person

      1. Jessie thanks again for this blog and your questions.
        You asked where do you see authenticity fitting into it? Is it separate but complementary, or is it necessarily woven in with the development of conscience?
        I would suggest that authenticity (within the context of Dabrowskian terms) is the externalization and expression of one’s personality ideal. Whereas the personality ideal is a new emerging language of identity, authenticity is the voice of this new language. Both relate to the embodiment of conscience. Personality ideal is the interior essence of the multi-level embodiment, authenticity is the surfacing of this essence as it meets the world in its tangibility.

        Pertaining to your inquiry of negative disintegration, here is another idea to the mix of what may motivate leaders of malignant political ideologies. The flip side of level 2 is not so much negative but ‘failed disintegration’ to those that experience it but fail to cross through themselves. The shadow of failed disintegration appears in many guises. The faces of ambiguity, loss, death, failure, betrayal are but a few of its visages. The failure to move into positive disintegration through level 3 produces anxiety of disempowerment as the individuals’ conscience remains stuck in its passive weakened narcissistic state. What better way to ameliorate this psychic angst than to create an ideology or movement in which ambivalence thrives.

        Liked by 1 person

      2. I like the way you put this. I think soon I’ll need to do a post diving more deeply into the notion of a personality ideal and what it means!

        And I agree about “failed disintegration” being the opposite of Level II. When I thought of negative reintegration, it struck me that it would only have meaning at Level III and above, which doesn’t make it a great schematic, suddenly jumping from II+ to III-. TPD is already clear that failing to move beyond Level II means you reintegrate at Level I. Ambivalence would indeed be something such people would likely crave!


  4. Hi, Jessie! Great blog and comments!

    Dabrowski talks about one-sided development where high intelligence and often significant special skills and talents are accompanied by emotional stuntedness, rooted mostly in deficits of empathy. Clinically (and generally), it translates into psychopathy and especially narcissism. This is what we frequently see in the members of various anti-social political and other movements. Their leaders more often than not fit the character profile of narcissistic psychopathy where the absence of conscience may be covered up with some bizarre and anti-social quasi-ideals that ultimately express the need for domination and control over others. You could call it an anti-ideal, I suppose.

    I’m guessing negative maladjustment may be a better descriptor of what’s going on there than negative disintegration, although that may apply as well, particularly in those who have several types of OE.

    Liked by 1 person

    1. Oh wow, Elizabeth, thank you for your comment and those kind words! You know, I was thinking of contacting you to see if you had any concerns about the way I was using your piece (or, you know, any other comments), and then you made it here before I even did so. How cool.

      Your piece about narcissistic psychopathy explains so much. It’s interesting how shame and guilt — dynamisms in Dabrowski’s theory — play out in narcissists. You note that guilt is alien to them, and though they experience shame strongly, it’s not in a way that could be called developmental. I’m also going to read some of the articles that you linked there (I already printed out the world despots one — political psychology is another interest of mine). Speaking of the overlap between OE and psychopathy, I’m reading a biography of Vladimir Lenin right now and (spoiler alert for an upcoming post!) I think he’s very much an example of an overexcitable person exhibiting one-sided development.

      After reading this, I’m thinking that narcissism (and the negative maladjustment it entails) explains the alt-right leaders more than my idea of negative disintegration. If I ponder this a bit more, I think I’ll also be able to answer some of my own questions about the personality ideal and what it really is (in combination with AishDos’s insights above). As I mentioned above, I have one lingering idea of an alt-right group that doesn’t appear to be exactly psychopathic; I’m going to try to learn more about them and keep narcissism, unilevel disintegration, and negative disintegration in mind as possible modes to see what (if any) might fit. Perhaps I’ll come up with another blog post!


      1. I am delighted to have come upon your blog, Jessie. Was looking for an URL of a TPD article when your blog serendipitously popped up. So much good stuff here — and that includes the comments!

        AishDos perfectly sums up the third factor as “the maturation of emergent and engaged conscience. Conscience being the capacity and drive born out of an evolving sense of concern or care for the world.” The awakening and actively engaging of our conscience is the basis of growth through positive disintegration. And we see this happening on a large scale now, world-wide, as a counter-reaction to the conscienceless forces that have openly taken over our politics. Confrontation with our shadow is often a catalyst to positive disintegration.

        I do hope to spend more time reading your wonderful posts. I may comment or “like” them as Aunt Emma, my WordPress nickname associated with my personal-ish blog.

        BTW, I have just recently given a presentation, at SENG, on “TPD as a Theory Whose Time Has Come” and would happily share the slides with you, as I suspect they may contain material you’d find relevant to the issues you explore here.

        Liked by 1 person

      2. Elizabeth, I just now saw your post, which got caught in the spam filter! Sorry for that delay, and I’m so glad it didn’t get lost permanently. I am indeed grateful to have so many thoughtful commenters who make this blog much more than what it would have otherwise been.

        I’d love to see your slides from SENG! I really wish I could have been at that conference and hope to go next year — and I hear the TPD convention may be in Chicago next year, too. 🙂

        And I’m going to use that definition, now endorsed by two people, for my upcoming post on third factor.

        Liked by 1 person

  5. The image that keeps coming into my mind is the scene from Peter Jackson’s Lord of the Rings where an elf is turned into an orc. Truly, dehumanizing others dehumanizes ourselves. I would like to think that the process is reversible… yet keeping in mind to defend what and who we love.

    Liked by 1 person

    1. Fred, now that you mention it, that’s exactly the right image to represent negative disintegration! Did any orcs ever recover? I do think real life humans have the capacity to do so, though it’s probably rare to do so from the very low levels, especially if they have an innate personality disorder that causes lack of empathy. Empathy seems more and more like the key to so many things in human society. (Which is why it’s interesting that there are books popping up that are now saying “empathy is bad, don’t use this as a model.” I should probably read them…but for now, I digress.)


      1. Hey Jessie, no, no orcs ever recovered. I agree with you that it is totally possible for real life humans to recover. Though I think it is very hard – it requires the help of other people, and it is quite a strain on those other people. Empathy is one piece of the puzzle, and an important piece. Though I am sure there are other pieces as well. For instance, we can understand how a nationalist probably has a low self esteem/self compassion, and blames his negative feelings on people who don’t look like him (lame and illogical), through empathy. It takes quite a bit of skill and guts to say, in as loving and accessible a way possible, to such a hate filled person, “well, I feel you, but you are in error and must change if you want to feel better.”

        Liked by 1 person

      2. And there’s the real challenge. That’s essentially what we have to do: find a way to say just what you suggested. “Well, I feel you, but you are in error and must change if you want to feel better.”

        But I do agree that there are other pieces. Very few applied social science questions are ever simple.


  6. Other possible explanations include eliminationism and the wetiko virus.

    When people rise through Dabrowski’s Levels do they lose the ability to use violence and be otherwise unpleasant, even if it’s in self defence or for a good cause? Andrew Vachss (pronounced ‘Vax’) has a reputation as the most vicious and terrifying lawyer imaginable. But as he represents abused and neglected children, all I can think is…good. Once a vehicle attack like Charlottesville is under way the only way to stop it is either to ram it with another vehicle or riddle it with bullets. Are people high up the Levels capable of such ugly necessities?

    How is the left responding to the attack?

    When in Lord of the Rings is an elf turned into an orc? I know it’s in the backstory that orcs are degenerated elves, but I can’t remember it happening on screen. An even more vivid illustration of the problem is to imagine an alternative ending where Gollum survived the destruction of the ring. What would his life be like afterwards?


    1. Man, I would have to rewatch. Maybe it was in the director’s cut? Episodes 1 or 2. It stuck in my mind though…

      Gollum’s wretched state was due to his addiction to power (the Ring). He foreswore the simple and happy life of a hobbit to fantasize and obsess over massive power. Yet we see that it was a simple hobbit that defeated the Ring. The end of Lord of the Rings was a “everyone lives happily ever after ending” so I imagine, if he survived, Gollum would be healed. In real life, we see humans recover from all sorts of self-inflicted errors, and seek to teach the correction of their errors, so that may be a path for a survived/healed Gollum/Smeagol.

      During the past few days I’ve read about the history of Antifa. It seems Antifa – though getting a lot of publicity now – actually began in Germany in 1945, as Germans saw that the root cause of their state was that tolerant people were wiped out by intolerant people. So since then, Antifa has sort of lurked in the background, and made fascists and nationalists’ lives miserable. Antifa consists of normal, everyday people, acting anonymously as necessary. Today, I hear of some of Antifa’s tactics, and they are warlike. It comforts me somewhat that they are an “anti” movement, so that if fascism goes away, Antifa goes away. There is a real problem behind the nationalist problem, however, and that is that globalism has become extreme, and jobs and livelihoods are being destroyed. The solution, however, if there is one, is not fascism or nationalism.

      Liked by 1 person

      1. I don’t think LOTR had a happy ending for anyone who had the ring for any length of time. Frodo was never quite right again and Bilbo went downhill quickly after the ring was destroyed. Bilbo was around 140 years old, so about 40 years past the usual hobbit life span. Gollum was 600+ years old by this point so assuming he didn’t crumble to dust almost immediately, they would have to get him out of Mount Doom, staight on a giant eagle and fly non-stop to Lothlorien or Rivendell for intensive ring rehab. In the books they had tried that before but it was useless while the ring was still intact.

        Gollum would be the worst case of complex post-traumatic stress disorder and dissociative identity disorder ever, in addition to the physical and spiritual damage the ring did. If he survived I could see him becoming a famous writer of titles like Living With Guilt and Relapse: When You Really Want To But Can’t. Probably travel guides as well, since he passed through and survived places nobody else could. If the two personalities didn’t integrate, Gollum and Smeagol could co-write, each giving their own perspective. Imagine what that book tour would be like. 🙂


      2. Yeah, Frodo was badly damaged by the Ring, wasn’t he? “We set out to save the Shire, Sam. And it has been saved…but not for me.” *tear*

        Oooh. Smeagol would have no trouble getting a literary agent.

        And Fred, yes, I concur with assessment of Antifa, and that it’s necessary but not enough to simply stop these evil people: we also have to address globalization and its effects.


    2. It’s striking how much fighting the wetiko virus turns out to be basically what I mean by “socialism!”

      I don’t know what Dabrowski would say in answer to your question, but at first glance there does seem to be a trend in Level IV-V eschewing violence. It seems to boil down to the idea of a Just War. Not saying he was an example of IV-V, but Einstein, for example, was a committed pacifist until WWII (or was it I? Well, whichever) when he saw that it was necessary to fight back against Nazis. So in the abstract, people at high levels of development can certainly see the need for self-defense….

      …but in the concrete example you give, we see one of the dangers, which is that frankly, someone with a gun on that street would most probably have made the situation worse, even if we can justify this as self-defense. The ideal there is that they’re a marvellous shot and managed to recognize quickly that the driver was aiming to plow people down, whip out the weapon, and fire accurately. But how likely is it to play out like that? A gun going off, especially in that situation, makes other guns start going off and things escalate, and more bodies pile up, and meanwhile, it probably takes a few shots to hit the driver, and…yeah. After the Aurora movie theater shooting I thought about this a lot. Suffice it to say that I am not convinced that adding guns to a situation will make people safer.

      Basically, it comes down to the advantage that destroyers always have over creators. While it may have taken some clever but evil person a lot of effort to devise a plan that involves hijacking a plane with enough fuel to burn at a high enough temperature to knock down the Twin Towers, this pales in comparison to the effort it took to build the Towers in the first place. I was struck by this while looking out over New York City from Rockefeller Center, all the worker-hours that went into building all those buildings. Builders and putters-in-order will always be at a disadvantage when compared to the forces of chaos and entropy. What is to be done about that? My main hope comes in that people are social creatures and that we therefore tend toward the good. Most people intuitively understand that life is an iterated prisoner’s dilemma, not a single round. It’s the people who don’t get that that start knocking things over.

      And the law is one thing they tend to have on their side, which is why a lawyer for the good guys being “vicious and terrifying” sounds like an appropriate use of viciousness; or isn’t true viciousness at all. Despite the superficial appearance, this isn’t an act of destruction.


    3. “When people rise through Dabrowski’s Levels do they lose the ability to use violence and be otherwise unpleasant”
      They don’t necessarily, as long as it makes sense.
      Meaning is what drives you then.


      1. You may or may not be right; and you certainly are entitled to offer your opinion and speculation, but it reads to me like you’re trying to state a fact about Dabrowski’s theory here. In which case, do you have a citation to the literature? This is something I’d like to read more about — indeed, it’s at the center of what I care about — but haven’t done much with that core concern yet. So if you could either elaborate as to why you hold this opinion, or cite the lit if you think it’s Dabrowski’s view, that would be very interesting.


  7. When I was in the Anti-Nazi League they always told us it was a political movement not a streetfighting gang. The example usually given was during the 1930s there were massive campaigns against evictions as well as against the British Union of Fascists. One family who were all BUF members were being evicted got no help from the fascists but the Communists protected them from eviction just like anybody else. After that they tore up their BUF membership cards.

    The other part of being a mass political movement was that you turn out in such vast numbers to oppose the fascists that you can drive them off the streets without relying on fighting skill or weapons. Obviously the Battle of Cable Street in 1936 and the Battle of Lewisham in 1977 were violent, but it was numbers that carried the day.

    But now there is a climate where a large crowd of people stops looking like a show of force and starts looking like a target-rich environment.

    If we can’t find a way to consistently protect protesters we may be looking at the end of the age of mass demonstrations. We can operate effectively in those conditions but then we’re back to the aforementioned streetfighting gangs. After the Second World War the 43 Group was formed by Jewish ex-servicemen and relied on small numbers and fighting ability. There were boxing and wrestling clubs that offered free training to anti-fascists. The idea of ‘Punch a Nazi’ is not a new one. 🙂

    But operating that way can store up problems for later. Famous gangster Jack Spot started off as an anti-fascist streetfighter and became an extortionist.

    One of the really galling things about the world today is groups like the drug cartels and ISIS have changed the definition of commitment. It’s almost like if you’re not beheading people on the regular you mustn’t care about your cause very much.

    Back to the specifics of ramming attacks, they are one of the nightmare scenarios. There are game wardens and professional hunters who can calmly fire five rounds into a charging Cape buffalo. Those things run at 35mph and the kill zone is only about a foot across, which is similar to shooting the driver of an oncoming car. But like you said, the problem of a car going through a crowd is there will be people either in the way or backstopping the shot if you miss. It’s actually better if the attacker is driving a truck with a cab over head height as that can be shot at without risking people at ground level. Another possibility is snipers in buildings who could shoot down and if they miss would likely just hit tarmac.

    Best case scenario you’d need a highly skilled and well practised security team who would be ‘eyes-out’ all the time looking for threats. I looked into the training of an all-round ‘operator’ who knows how to fight, shoot, drive fast, do advanced first aid, investigations, surveillance, bodyguarding etc. It actually wouldn’t take that long, maybe four months total training time, with another four months if you want to use informers and do undercover operations. But it would cost £10,000-£20,000 each, with a few thousand more each to equip them, so it’s not really a practical solution for us. Although if anyone has the resources and opportunity to learn, they should, then teach others.

    I’ve though about other ways to disrupt a ramming attack (particularly as guns aren’t an option here) and most of it sounds pretty desperate. Spears that could be driven through the windows as it passes. Weighted Roman pilums thrown through the windscreen. Paintbombs to cover the windscreen. If it slows down enough blocking the exhaust to stall the engine. Even a zombie apocalypse style attack where the crowd rush the vehicle, lift the drive wheels off the ground and pull the driver out. Like I said – desperate, and most likely to put more people in danger.

    The best I could come up with is using other vehicles. Either using parked cars to block roads (angled so attempts to ram through pushes them into walls or other objects and the way remains blocked) or fearless drivers in beefy vehicles to act as interceptors. And the latter still have the problem of no clear shot after the attack starts. After the examples of the ‘earthmover revolutions’ in Serbia, Turkey and Ukraine, I could see the whole thing degenerating into a Mad Max competition of who is best at weaponising vehicles and construction plant.

    But one thing I wouldn’t hesitate to recommend is body armour and shields, and possibly clubs. Along with ramming attacks, and often following them, mass stabbings are becoming common. That’s going to go to totally differently if the anti-fascists have turned out dressed for the Battle of Stamford Bridge. 🙂

    I think one of the lessons here is that there is no nobility in victimhood (I haven’t seen any egrigious examples of this attitude but I know it exists in some elements of the left). Even more than bringing about socialism, our job is to stop fascism and nobody is coming to save us. We have to come up with a solution to these kind of attacks ourselves, or we fail.

    Since you know the situation in America, what do you think would be the result if the left started going on anti-Nazi demonstrations ready for battle, including guns in open-carry states?

    On the subject of destroying being easier than building, the North Vietnamese damage control and repair crews took great pride in taunting the US bombing planners. Many times when a road was cratered and a bridge destroyed, by the time the bomb damage assessment recon photos were taken, the holes would be filled in and there’d be a new bridge, made of bamboo. 🙂


    1. I think the results of Antifa showing up armed for battle would be a mess of near-apocalyptic proportions from the perspective of an organizer for the Good Guys, and I hope this DOES NOT HAPPEN. More people then start ramming cars into crowds and so on. Escalation is BAD BAD BAD and leads to more of the martyrdom that you rightly decried. I disagree that nowadays people need to be beheading people to show that they care about causes! And I guess the proof of that is that white supremacists are still a threat despite having adopted only some of ISIS’s tactics (car attacks, but no beheadings). In opposing these evils, nonviolent activism has the benefit of winning (a.) the masses’ sympathy and (b.) the efforts of thoughtful people to their side. (a.) and (b.) are clearly different groups, but both matter. (I don’t deny that there are “thoughtful people” who have advocated violence, like Malcolm X for instance. But this appears to be a minority view in this group.)

      The thing about stopping fascism being even more important than achieving socialism is that I think that the only way to really stop fascism over the long term in the face of all we know that capitalism is going to do is to offer and then implement an alternative, i.e., that nebulous goal I call socialism. Honestly, that’s why I got involved in socialist causes in the first place — it’s the only way I see out of this mess for good.

      And your note about the North Vietnamese would be great if only we were up for lowering our standard of living quite a bit, which most socialist organizers tend to eschew as a strategy, except maybe some (not all) eco-socialists. (We could resume our discussion of the Second Law of Thermodynamics over here if you like!)

      But I recognize that I haven’t answered the core question. I have a friend whose cause is nonviolent activism, and she’s organizing a reading group on nonviolent responses to fascism. I’ll be paying attention to what they say, and using it to build a argument to have ready if anyone ever suggests showing up armed at a white supremacist protest. She was in Charlottesville, on the street where the attack was, so she knows what she’s talking about.


  8. Fellow foe of the alt-right here. I’m not well-versed in psychology, so I won’t say there’s nothing to what you’ve said (and there are DEFINITELY narcissists among them, no doubt about that). But…

    I don’t know that this is the best way to go about understanding the alt-right phenomenon. I don’t know that we can dismiss a movement as a kind of mental disorder (that’s like Michael Savage saying, “Liberalism is a mental disorder”). I think a better path is understanding/deconstructing the ideological underpinnings of alt-right beliefs — not psychologizing the individuals themselves.

    If you’re up for some heavy (and scary) reading, I’d say read Thomas Carlyle and Carl Schmitt, two “ancestors” of the alt-right. Another is Oswald Spengler, who expounded upon the “blood and soil” theme. Or if you’d rather not subject yourself to that, a man named Jeffrey Tucker just wrote a primer on the alt-right called “Right-Wing Collectivism.” (I know you’re a democratic socialist. He’s a libertarian. But he’s safe to read.)

    There was a time when I would have been more susceptible to alt-right ideas. I don’t know about the leaders, but I think a lot of the followers are just young men like me – confused, disheartened, looking for answers, perhaps driven by zeal, perhaps not even knowing the historical origins of their ideas. I don’t think they’re crazy or evil per se. I think they’re just wrong. (DANGEROUSLY wrong, but just wrong.)

    Just my take, for what it’s worth. Have a good evening.

    Liked by 1 person

    1. Joshua, thanks for this excellent comment. Am I right in presuming that the Theory of Positive Disintegration (TPD) is unfamiliar to you? (It is to most people, even many psychologists.) It’s useful, in that case, to hear how you parse this post, because one of the things I do in this blog is attempt to make TPD more accessible to people who are new to it. Based on your reading of this post, you might actually find it interesting, because it offers a very different take on what “mental disorder” is in the first place. (One of the books by TPD founder K. Dabrowski is called, for instance, Psychoneurosis is Not an Illness.) In line with that, I don’t disagree with your take that being a member of the alt-right doens’t imply being mentally disordered.

      Moreover, you’re right that we need to look at the ideology. That’s actually a place to highlight the TPD interpretation, because TPD isn’t value-neutral. Empathy is central to Dabrowskian mental health–which isn’t defined in the same way most modern psychologists define it. So in that sense, we could say that most on the alt-right are not mentally healthy, but then, neither are most people on the center, traditional right, or any part of the left. Mental health becomes a very high bar in TPD. (To use the term you used, “mentally disordered,” the theory would even posit that some too ordered and could do with some disordering of their beliefs and psychic structures.) But coming back to ideology: this would be the basis for their personality ideal, at which the person’s aiming. Basically I was speculating whether a person could have a personality ideal that most of us think is abhorrent (based on an ideology most of us would reject), but could still be progressing along a path of something that a neutral observer (which would have to be, say, an alien from an asocial species) could take as Dabrowskian development.

      Put another way, to use a great line I just read on your blog, you could say that these people are, like Darth Vader, winners at doing evil. Is that still winning? Who decides that?

      As for the more mainstream followers, I have sympathy for them to some extent, and don’t think they’re evil. I think lots of them are examples of Dabrowski’s Level II, which is a painful place to be — it’s full of confused, dishearted people who are looking for answers. I don’t know that this makes someone “crazy,” but I suspect it can lead to a person being dangerously wrong.

      Thanks also for sharing those alt-right authors! Alternate political views in particular are something I try to make a point to read, even if it’s unpalatable. Someone’s got to know what they’re talking about if we’re going to argue against it.

      Liked by 1 person

      1. To be perfectly honest, I know nothing about any of that. Completely outside my field of study, but perhaps I’ll look into it more. (I do think it’d be fun to see a psycho-analysis of Richard Spencer. A thoroughly unpleasant fellow.)

        Those men I mentioned — I wouldn’t call them alt-right authors. Just precursors to the alt-right who lived and died a long time ago. I suspect a lot of the alt-right don’t even know who they are. (But some of them do, no doubt, and they actually have some intellectual chops. It’s more sophisticated than mere racism).


        1. The only reason I brought it up is that it’s one of the main things I focus on in the blog here, and without that background, this post you jumped into probably doesn’t make much sense. 🙂

          And I’m quite interested in intellectual/ideological ancestors, and am certain it’s more sophisticated than just racism as we tend to think of it. Things tend to be more complex than popular discourse suggests.


  9. Without conscience, you can level up socially but the higher you get, the more paarnoiac you become because you got there by manipulating people or using brute force.

    Empathy allows you to put yourself in others shoes. Comparing how the other can possibly see ourselves and how we do is what makes us self-aware, like some kind of stereoscopy.

    When you put your brain in its default mode (check neurosciences about this), it will use this self-aware abilities to optimize itself.

    That’s why conscience and clarity cannot be reached out of empathy.


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