This (with edits) is the original essay discussing the “mechanics of strength and weakness.” At one point, I imagined that the libido-based model stood on its own, begging to be tested and requiring no further explanation, but I had underestimated the depth and extent of utterly groundless dogmatic antipathy to psychodynamic theory that’s rife amongst otherwise reasonable academics. One thing at a time!
The conflict of active and passive urgency in the normal personality and the relationship of that conflict to root/branch intellect type and past/future motivational orientation.
As a foreword, I have to say 1) that I’m expressing the concepts to the best of my ability, 2) but I also realize that more than likely that’s just not good enough, in which case, please don’t hesitate to get in touch and give me a chance to try to put it another way.
Before getting back to the data-stream model, let’s look very briefly at the early psychodynamic models that were to be so casually discarded as unscientific speculation.
A “libido” conflict was first posited by Freud who spoke in terms of the life and death instincts. An entirely different concept of a bi-directional “libido” was introduced by Jung in his theory of extraversion and introversion.
Jung’s extraversion (an upward and outward flow) and introversion (a downward and inward flow), and Freud’s altogether different bi-directional “libido” (life instinct and death instinct) both relate to an imagined flow of what they called psychic energy but the Freudian and Jungian theories of libido are utterly incompatible:
- The Jungian theory of libido gives us two personality types, extravert and introvert – neither one any “better” than the other, just different: one tending to be more outgoing, the other more reserved.
- Freudian libido theory confronts us with a much more serious proposition: a positive and a negative flow of “energy” – life-instincts and death-instincts – one intent on giving life and the other on taking it away, one building and the other destroying.
If the attributes of Jung’s extraversion/introversion libido are valid, clearly, one might think, those of Freud’s life/death instinct must be wrong and vice versa. They might both be wrong but they cannot possibly both be right, or at least, so logic would seem to dictate.
Jung’s libido theory is probably one of the most familiar psychological concepts to the general public and yet it’s hard to find a psychologist who knows anything at all about its origins. On what did Jung base his theory? He goes to great lengths to set out the wealth of historical testimony for the construct but very few psychologists have the foggiest idea as to what gave rise to the idea in his mind. If you get nothing else from this, at least I can answer that question.
It was a mere few decades ago when I first came across the phenomenon that had led Jung into this territory. I had realized, instinctively, in the midst of an argument, that the other fellow was (erroneously) forming the same opinion about my intellectual shortcomings as I was (possibly erroneously) about his. It was almost as if we were not speaking the same language – two diametrically opposed ways of approaching the same issue. We were discussing the violence in Belfast at a time when it was at its worst. At one point, however, I caught a look which told me that he thought he was talking to a complete fool. The irony astonished me!
His argument centred on the imagined ambitions of the Catholic minority: given the opportunity, they would do everything in their power to disempower and drive out the Protestant majority. For my part, I found it hard to get past the history. Instinctively rejecting the colonialist mindset, I saw Catholic resistance as a natural consequence of the cruelty and injustice of British rule.
I was listening to this man adduce fact after fact to prove the anti-Protestant intent of the Catholic minority and then I catch a look which tells me that he thinks I don’t have what it takes to follow his argument. The argument itself was a waste of time but it took on new life with this.
What, at essence, we were discussing was the motivation behind the then recent terrorist attacks. My argument in favour of the IRA’s armed struggle had no emotional basis. My loyalty as a UK citizen, however, had not diminished my facility to understand the motivation of people who opposed British dominion in their country just as violently as we, the British, would surely oppose their dominion here.
But what really got the adrenalin flowing was not the argument itself but the consistency with which I had presented a past-related explanation for the actions of the IRA and the consistency with which the counter-argument presented a future-related attribution of what they wanted to achieve, their aim to disempower. And that was what, in his mind, I was failing to understand. Each time that he put forward his reasonable argument regarding the aims and ambitions of the Catholic minority, I had failed to address it in the terms in which it was presented. He mistakenly believed I wasn’t understanding what he had to say. I, however, had been doing exactly the same thing, presenting historical fact and context as if that alone was the only relevant rationale.
This was not a five-minute argument and yet the consistency was 100% but this was not merely an argument from polarized positions on the armed struggle. This, it became increasingly clear, was an argument between two completely different types of intellect. What it came down to, on my part, was an instinctive tendency to assume all motivation to be explicable in terms of its origin, its cause. But this cause-oriented attribution has no resonance for those – let’s say maybe 10% of the population – for whom the aim or goal of every event and every action is instinctively proposed as an explanation for behaviour. Bear in mind that we’re discussing an underlying assumption here, an intellectual tendency, as opposed to an academic explanation of behaviour in terms of motives and necessarily limited, therefore, to intent.
Jung, as a third party, was witness to exactly the same communication phenomenon: Freud who could see only the cause and Adler who could see only the goal. In the introduction to only one of the editions of his “Psychological Types” that I’ve seen does Jung explain that the origin of his theory of extraversion and introversion was his observation of that past/future fixation communication problem between Adler and Freud, and his recognition, in the first instance, of the possible existence of an intellect typology in terms simply of past or future intellect orientation.
This was Jung’s starting point and, in some respects, it was also mine. Jung, however, was soon to abandon his initial idea of an intellect typology and, in its place, he postulated his well-known libido typology.
Intellect Orientation: Root Intellect and Branch Intellect
The premised past-oriented root intellect is typified by the tendency and aptitude to get to the root of the issue. Especially where the generalities of personality, motivation and behaviour are under discussion, the root intellect will always tend instinctively to focus upon cause. He will instinctively make the assumption that behaviour is best explained by events in the past. (The heated discussion that I mentioned earlier illustrates the difficulty of overcoming that instinctive tendency). Where there is a need to understand, it is in terms of the radical. It has been suggested that this is a difficult concept to establish experimentally but, in truth, it is as simple as that. The intellectual orientation can be established by testing for this alone: does the mind tend to the radical; does it focus upon the root of the issue? In particular, is the aptitude root and cause related? If it is, then it is a past-oriented intellect – a root intellect. It follows also that, for the root intellect, a high score for root/cause aptitude should be accompanied by a negative score for branch/goal aptitude.
The less common future-oriented branch intellect is typified by the tendency and aptitude to extrapolate and to deal with the goals, aims, consequences, and ramifications of the issue. These, therefore, are the two premised “intellect types” upon which this model and Jung’s theory of extraversion and introversion were initially founded.
Communication, as Jung observed, between root-intellect and branch-intellect types is frequently a frustrating business, neither being aware of the need to express themselves in terms which, from the other’s perspective, appear central or pertinent to the issue.
I am relying upon memory here but I believe, as an example, I can best cite the actual discussion which caught Jung’s attention. While Freud and Adler were arguing at length about a patient, Jung was studying Freud and Adler! This is always a danger when you put three psychologists in one room.
Freud (root intellect) and Adler (branch intellect) were discussing a particular case, a married woman whose hysteria, according to Freud, could be attributed only to an event or events in her past. Find the repressed memories and her hysteria could be cured. There was, Freud insisted, no other useful way of looking at the case. Adler conceded that her childhood may hold some secrets but he was equally adamant that, regardless of her past, she was in control of herself to a much greater degree than Freud seemed prepared to accept and that her hysteria was her way of gaining power over her husband. Her behaviour was not explained by events buried in her past but by understanding her aim, her goal – what she wished to achieve in the future. Jung, watching this clash of intellects, realized that both Freud and Adler were imposing their own intellect type upon the woman. Freudian (root intellect) and Adlerian (branch intellect) psychologists are doing the same thing to this day. I make this observation not as a criticism but as a matter of plain fact to be kept in mind.
As I have said, Jung’s observations led him, firstly, to postulate the existence of a past/future intellect typology. But in trying to explain this proposed intellect typology, he assumed that it had its foundation in the so-called libido. He went on, therefore, to hypothesize “object fixation” as an explanation for Freud’s apparent preoccupation with causes and origins. Assuming a causal relationship between the motivational orientation and the intellect orientation, he dismissed the possibility of Freud’s evident intellectual past-orientation being genetic. By proceeding to question what lay behind the phenomenon, and then identifying the individual’s “placing of emphasis” upon either subject or object, he actually moved from the principle to the derivative.
What I am suggesting is that, in this instance, experiment should proceed from Jung’s observations, not his conclusions. Freud’s intellect and intellectual aptitude was, I premise, fundamentally past-oriented (which I have termed root-intellect) while Adler was, equally unmistakably, future-oriented (branch-intellect).
I think it can be seen that the Freudian psychologists provide the most obvious ready-made pool of past-oriented intellect and, likewise, the future-orientation of the Adlerians pervades all their work. Since the past or future-fixated view of motivation, in both cases, is generally derived – if you will permit the assumption – from their imposing of their own intellect type, responses elicited from within these two groups should facilitate refinement of testing for intellect type in a more diverse population.
I believe, also, that there are parallels in Guilford and Hoepfner’s work on Convergent and Divergent intelligence – “The Analysis of Intelligence,” New York, McGraw-Hill, 1971. Again, this is an important work which documents the phenomena but fails to get to the core issue: past/future intellect orientation. The parallels between the root intellect and the “convergent” intellect are obvious. Likewise, the development of the divergent intelligence is anticipated in the concept of the future orientation of the branch intellect, i.e. the necessity of addressing the ramifications, the branches of probability, but the significance of their research is lost because the time-related intellect type giving rise to the observed convergence or divergence, never having been offered, could not be investigated.
|convergent root intellect||past||source, cause, origin||to reduce to the fundamentals|
|divergent branch Intellect||future||goals, aims, consequences||to extrapolate, to see ramifications|
The intellect orientation or type is, I believe, immutable. I am assuming that it has a biological basis, that if you are born with a branch-intellect mind, you will enjoy the aptitudes of a branch-intellect mind for the rest of your life. Consider, now, the concept of motivation. The idea that we are not necessarily conscious of our reasons for doing what we do does not appeal to some but there can be no serious dispute as to its validity; and motivation can be seen to have anything but a fixed orientation.
On the subject of motivation, I had, in those days, in the back of my mind, some nebulous but useful thoughts about the association of dualities and opposites and, in particular, the idea of positive and negative psychic energy (I was about twenty years old and had been studying Zen). I became focused upon the concept of positive and negative motivation. (By negative motivation I meant generally destructive motivation). The unconscious associations I had in mind were such as day & night, awake & asleep, creation & destruction, giving & taking, life & death etc. Accepting that association is a fundamental mechanism of the intellect, all of these seemed to me to have a bearing upon and to be in some form of perpetual relationship to motivation.
In this model, the concept of positive and negative motivation is dependent upon the validity of at least some of these associations and upon the validity of certain moral value judgements. If, for example, an individual were to avail himself of the opportunity to profit by the sale of drugs to some school children, I would consider him to have been negatively motivated. Psychology has created a generation of victims. The dealer is, according to some, a victim of his upbringing, his deprived social background or whatever, but, to the “man in the street,” this drug dealer is nothing more than a “selfish, evil bastard.” If this model is valid, the man in the street has been right all along.
It is a matter of degree. There is the extreme negative motivation of the sociopath and there is the trivial negative motivation which we, all of us, give free reign to every day but who cares?
As a youth, one of my most frequent errors, arising out of a natural and wholly justified lack of self-esteem, was to try, in conversation, to improve the other party’s opinion of me. I’d never stoop to bragging but I sometimes caught myself trying to impress subtly with a story.
In this case, to become conscious of what, moments ago, had been unconscious motivation, was a fairly simple (if unappealing) business of being honest with myself in answer to the question, “why on earth am I telling this person this story?”
This, however trivial it may seem, is an example of the kind of thing I understood as negative motivation. (I think I still do it sometimes – some days I wake up and I’m only ten years old – lol)! My concern, at that moment, was, “what does this person think of me?” Unfortunately, such is our capacity for self-deception, that some erudite professionals will argue that there was nothing unhealthy in my attempts to impress. Can’t be helped. I only mean to stress the width of the spectrum of passive motivation. Everything we do has its motivation and no-one is permanently positively (actively) motivated. We’re all steeped in sin, as the sermon goes.
Active and Passive Motivation
We give expression to our immaturity in a thousand different ways but there is one single underlying factor. As a child, our relationship to the world is almost exclusively passive. The infant is concerned not with what it is doing in the world but with what the world is doing to or for it. When it cries, it gets the attention it needs but even where it is (foolishly) allowed to manipulate the adults around it, its relationship with those adults is still passive.
I can’t resist the temptation to digress here, just for a moment. My wee nephew is four years old. A couple of days ago he was having what Scottish people might call a girny day. (It means he was doing a lot of crying). Eventually, my brother said to him, “you’ve been crying a lot today. Why’s that?” The answer he got was, “I just cry until I get what I want.” :)
The infant is completely and exclusively preoccupied with its own desires and that selfishness is the essence of its immaturity. It is perfectly healthy and natural for the child to exist at the centre of its world because its survival is dependent upon its carers but, thirty years later, that same degree of selfishness would be judged very unhealthy (possibly using the Hare checklist for psychopathic tendencies).
The most fundamental element of growing up is, I submit, not the acquisition of power or knowledge but the transition from that passive relationship with the world, the community and the family, to the active relationship which is natural to the (healthy) adult.
There coexists, in the normal personality, a bit of both the active and the passive but they are not just attributes or qualities which merely contribute “something” to the overall personality. Motivation – urgency – could, theoretically, be 100% active or 100% passive but, in the real world, we – all of us – sustain a substantial measure of passive urgency. What’s going to happen to me? – what will I get out of this? – what do people think of me? Active and passive urgency is therefore in perpetual conflict. It is, however, an enfeebling, mathematical, vector conflict in which one vector will generally secure a marginal prevalence, ensuring that, for the normal personality, the immense motivational potential of the individual is never remotely reached or even imagined.
The people we hold in the highest esteem are generally not venerated by us because they are the owners of the greatest intellects – Einstein is perhaps the exception that proves the rule. In every case, the “greatness” that we instinctively recognize and respect lies in their motivation, their complete commitment to serving needs outside of their own. In fact, Einstein himself recognized that his intellectual achievements were more a measure of his dedication than his intellect.
If you want to understand the motivation of the normal personality, don’t study the motivation of the normal personality! The active/passive urgency conflict of the normal personality renders motivation levels weak and indistinct. It is necessary, firstly, to consider that of those individuals – Maslow’s self-actualising personalities – whose unusually high levels of motivation (i.e. relative absence of conflict) would place them at the far reaches of the normal distribution. (Forgive, for the moment, the apparently dogmatic assertions).
Because his intellect is past-oriented (origins, causes), the Freudian root-intellect type, in its healthiest (or most extreme) form, instinctively derives motivation from the past, shaping his actions according to a cause or principle and almost totally without reference to consequence. Nothing is more empowering to the root-intellect personality than the vow, – “Ich Dien”- the oath of service. Honour persists as a principle motivation in the root-intellect type’s (dynamic) motivational hierarchy and the (extremely rare) completely positive root-intellect type will obey its dictates even with the understanding that the outcome may yield several possibilities for disaster for himself.
Consequence is, for the extremely positive root-intellect personality, merely an intellectual consideration and not a factor in the motivational mechanism. The healthy root-intellect’s self-perception is that of the originator of action and his urgency is, therefore, outwardly directed toward the object, extraverted. His unusually high level of urgency is referencing the needs of others. His well-defined self-image includes his own system of values, convictions and principles and he brings his sense of identity to every situation. At the core of this identity lies neither an egotistic sense of self-worth nor a passive sense of belonging to his social group but an unqualified commitment to serve. His urgency is highly extraverted because he is both intellectually past-oriented and almost exclusively past-motivated.
Where the healthy root-intellect has a sense of identity, the healthy branch-intellect, as Adler fully understood, has a sense of purpose. His personality is thus less obvious, less defined. His identity is inferred from his aims and purposes. His reputation of appearing to be more secretive or reserved is, to an extent, deserved but principally because his sense of purpose rather than identity is central to his existence. With the motivational hierarchy pertaining often to justice, the mind of the branch-intellect type, in its healthiest (or most extreme) form, has a clear aim in view. It looks to the future and understands action in terms of the intended result. As regards aptitude, there is frequently a marked tendency to be observant, to absorb, without effort, a proliferation of detail but this facility has, I believe, cascaded from the distinct core ability and tendency to extrapolate, to consider the purpose or consequences of an event – the ramifications. In this way, above all else, the branch-intellect can and, for reasons which I hope will become clear, should be identified. It is an intellect that, “by design,” is future-oriented and, out-of-the-box, it has the facility and the functionality to address the business of action in terms of consequence. The urgency of the healthy branch-intellect has its origins in the future, being derived from its purposes.
Past-oriented motivation is necessarily, i.e. without exception, passive (negative) for the branch intellect.
Incidentally – (I’ll indent this “aside” so that you can skip it completely) – one of the most famous branch intellects of the 20th century was British Premier, Margaret Thatcher. You will think I’m over-simplifying here but I feel that, for those who have made it this far and are still with me on this, it’s worth making the observation, albeit superficially. Thatcher’s outstanding aptitude for extrapolation was well-known in Government circles. She was also strongly (negative for the branch intellect) past-motivated: equally well-recognized was her sense of British identity, her sense of her own identity and her sense of her roots in the spirit of wartime England. In short, she was a strongly-past-motivated branch-intellect (future-oriented) personality. Assuming the validity of the model, we can say that while Thatcher may have been intellectually developed, motivationally, she was dangerously immature, i.e. she was strongly motivated by infantile passive urgency and, as such, her place in history was virtually guaranteed. For many, her lack of compassion was almost her trade mark. Amongst other widely-lamented monumental achievements, she was instrumental in shifting the culture of the UK (and, I would argue, the USA) further towards the general ethos of greed and self-interest from which we have yet to recover.
Thatcher was commonly described as a strong leader but it was her great weakness which defined her personality – weakness mistaken for strength – namely that she was stubborn, self-willed and headstrong. Her ability to push through ideological reforms was widely attributed to strength of character but, in reality, it was her drive, her motivational immaturity which set her aside from “lesser” men. It was her ruthless ambition and her lack of adult compassion which brought her the great respect of the men around her, men who were ambitious, perhaps, self-serving, perhaps, but not quite as ruthlessly ambitious as Thatcher herself.
The late Margaret Thatcher, “the Iron Lady,” is still regarded with great affection by most Conservatives. The left wing, though, interestingly, not New Labour, had a very different view of her qualities. Thatcher is a dirty word in most of Scotland. From the perspective of the miners, the steel workers, and most of the Scots nation, for that matter, Thatcher single-handedly brought misery and injustice into the homes of millions.
Her father, so we are told, had commanded a corner shop with good common-sense principles of economy. Mr Roberts’ self-reliance and prudent management, it seems, made a strong impression upon his ambitious daughter. The young Margaret Thatcher was also deeply moved and inspired by the spirit of British patriotism which had been so strong and universal in the wartime years. Under the leadership of Winston Churchill, the British people had come together and defied the might of Nazi Germany (the Americans helped, after a while). It must have been stirring stuff (if you weren’t actually wearing the tin hat): endless stories of British heroism abroad, British stoicism throughout the Blitz, Victory-in-Europe celebrations. But then came the grey hardship of the fifties followed by the growth of the power of the unions in the sixties. Then came the unrest of the seventies: strikes, protest marches and civil disobedience, queues of unemployed expecting the state to provide for their needs. Was this what our boys fought for? Margaret Thatcher’s time had come. What we needed was a return to the Victorian values of self-reliance and free enterprise… and that’s what we got.
Margaret Thatcher’s politics were not as radical as some would have us believe. What differentiated Thatcher from many a Tory politician before her was her ability to carry it through, her determination to see through the programme of reform that, in her opinion, her country needed. She had the apparent “strength” of character to take on the unions and effectively destroy their power to hold the country to ransom. Not a bad thing, some might say. Lesser Tories might have balked at the hardship and the suffering that ensued but Thatcher was defiant and triumphant in the face of all opposition, a modern-day Boadicea.
To this day, Margaret Thatcher’s personality is widely considered to be a prime example of strong leadership and yet there is another way of looking at this imagined strength. At an earlier stage in her career, she was reportedly rejected as unsuitable for employment with ICI on the advice of the company psychologist. I’m told that his conclusion was that she suffered from three identifiable weaknesses of character, describing her as “stubborn, self-willed and headstrong.” In his opinion, these weaknesses were sufficient to bar her from employment with ICI. Unfortunately, he was not vetting her for the office of Prime Minister.
While freeing all constraints upon the greed of the wealthiest, Margaret Thatcher brought the thrift of the corner shop to the welfare state. The battle of will between the unions and the government ended in a crushing defeat for the left. The destruction of British industry, the steelworks, the shipyards and all labour-intensive manufacturing were collateral damage. The destruction of union power was what mattered.
Like him or loathe him, Ted Heath would never have had the conviction to achieve that degree of ruthless tenacity or any part of the catalogue of injustice that was the hallmark of Thatcher’s premiership, but here we come to the crux of the matter: Ted Heath’s apparent relative “weakness” in comparison to Thatcher’s drive and determination was an illusion. Whatever we may think of the man, never mind of his politics, Heath was, by a long margin, the stronger personality of the two. There was simply a measure of morality at work there, in conflict with his ill-conceived right-wing ideology. There were lines which, Tory as he was, he would not cross. This was not weakness of character any more than Thatcher’s stubborn, ruthless determination to emasculate the unions at any cost was strength.
I sat, a few nights ago, listening to how great things would be if only women were in power. Most of what was said was thoroughly reasonable – it was all about male egos and testosterone – and had there been any sexist males in the company, the force of the feminist arguments would have left the men without a leg to comment upon – so I didn’t feel inclined to chuck a spanner into the enthusiastic consensus by pointing out just how great things used to be when a women was prime minister!
It’s almost a redundant statement but it is the degree of commitment to the cause or goal which determines the level of motivation, the outcome, in the case of complete commitment, being relatively unconflicted urgency, an exceptional level of drive. That degree of commitment is sufficiently rare as to lie outside of the experience of most psychologists (Maslow being the obvious exception) but it is only by understanding the mechanics of the completely-committed personality, be it the saintly figure or the freedom fighter, that we can understand the enfeebling nature of the conflicted urgency of the normal personality. At the other end of the scale, it might be said that the near-psychopathic personality, whether in the classic tabloid form of the serial killer or in the more common and often more vicious form of the corporate CEO, is completely committed, infant-like, to his own interests.
The model anticipates the extreme difficulty of properly investigating the motivation of the normal personality in a Western culture since the predicted near-equal conflict of active and passive urgency renders the urgency level – the effective level of motivation – weak, indistinct and obscure. I imagine the simplicity of this model also lends it a fanciful-seeming quality but the foundation of the model is the simplicity of the active/passive relationship between parent and child and, again, the simplicity of root/branch intellect differentiation.
Future-related motivation can only be in conflict with the adult root-intellect’s natural past-rooted and identity-based extraverted motivation. Motivation which relates to an aim, hope or goal is, for the past-oriented (root-intellect) extravert-type, always negative. In spite of all appearances to the individual, it is, in Freudian terms, a death wish. In the absence of any commitment to a cause – perhaps having watched the Gaza massacre or having become a parent – both are life-changing causes in my experience – it is vital for the root-intellect type who retains any aspirations to personal strength to learn consciously to avoid goal-seeking and to cultivate the ability to live in and to “achieve” in the present.
This is immediately obvious from my own (root-intellect) motivation-fixated point of view but, to put it in Jungian terms, in the case of the future-motivated root-intellect, the “energic” relationship between subject and object is reversed. It is passive in potential, rather than active. He or she is no longer the originator of action, but a potential recipient of what the future will bring. The child has decided the action.
The predominantly passive relationship with the object, the condition of the common somewhat negatively-oriented personality, is something with which we are all familiar – “a man who is wrapped up in himself makes a very small package”. He tends to think the world revolves around him. Preoccupied with his own desires or, on another day, his fears, his primary concern is how the world treats him. It’s all about him, his desires, his needs.
Altruistic motivation – an area almost completely neglected by modern psychology – is, I submit, a commonplace dynamic determinant of adult behaviour, only marginally influenced by but effectively independent of basic needs and gratification logic.
Active and Passive Urgency for each Intellect Type
|Intellect Type||Active (Positive/Adult) Urgency||Passive (Negative/Infant) Urgency|
|Root Intellect (past intellectual orientation)||Extraversion (past-related motivation)||Introversion (future-related motivation)|
|Branch Intellect (future intellectual orientation)||Introversion (future-related motivation)||Extraversion (past-related motivation)|
the motivation of an infant in the body of an adult
Further along the scale, any degree of morality, from the point of view of the near-psychopathic personality, is looked upon as weakness. This is true not only in terms of his personal experience but mathematically. His “strength” derives from his complete commitment to his own interests, his lack of conscience, his lack of empathy, his lack of conflicting motivation. What he doesn’t understand is that his “strength” amounts to no more than a gross immaturity. The psychopath can be defined as an adult with the almost completely passive motivation of an infant. Regardless of any apparent emotional and intellectual maturity, we’re talking about a baby. The most fundamental mechanism of the brain, that which controls action, is still working in reverse; it’s still approaching 100% passive, 100% selfish. Devoid of empathy, devoid of responsibility, devoid of remorse, resorting to manipulation to get what it wants, it moves among normal people causing untold damage and suffering, but nothing matters except that it gets what it wants. We were all born as psychopaths but we, most of us, grew out of it while we were still too small to do any damage.
In both the fully matured and the very immature libido, the relative absence of urgency conflict suggests the existence of a single, more or less unchallenged principle motivation: either commitment, on the one hand, to a cause/goal in service of the needs of another person or persons or, on the other hand, a complete surrender of the individual to his own desires to the exclusion or detriment of all other interests and considerations. “Do what thou wilt be the whole of the law.”
Think, in your own experience, on the difference between love and lust. A relationship may start out with a good healthy measure of lust but then when you “fall in love” it is the instinctive drive to literally care for the other person that has taken over. Survival of the family requires that we care for each other and for our children and, in preparation for the long-term relationship that a stable healthy childhood demands, our motivation is fundamentally altered. The infantile passive vector is greatly diminished, giving way to a personal commitment to the welfare of the other person. It’s a scary thing when you think back on it and, thankfully, it’s rarely put to the test, but most men will distinctly remember realizing that they would literally do “anything for her.” Love can be defined as a motivational state arising from a commitment to the welfare of another person, and anyone who has been in love has experienced the phenomenon, at least to some extent, of relatively unconflicted active urgency.
When you’re in love, you see the world afresh through the eyes of an adult. You seem to feel the awesome beauty of nature for the first time because you are no longer filtering your perception negatively and processing it subjectively in terms of “what good are these trees to me?” Just living is the breath of life for the grown-up personality.
The key to understanding morality is survival. Survival of the family and of the community places certain obligations upon its members. The healthy adult is aware that the needs of the family must take precedence over the desires of the individual. Weakness, however, breeds weakness. The unhealthy parent tends to impede motivational development in their offspring by placing insufficient emphasis upon encouraging empathy and upon the correction of selfish/inconsiderate behaviour both by instruction and, most importantly, by example. The selfishness of the individual in one situation emerges as an equivalent weakness or inadequacy in another. Again, the exception proves the rule, but the child which is exposed to the extreme selfishness of its parents can generally be expected to follow in their footsteps and, perhaps, eventually treat us to the joys of his narcissistic personality disorder. Depending on the depth of his pain, he may achieve some local notoriety as a sociopath. As long as we fail to recognize the simplicity – the direct relationship between selfishness and immaturity – we lack sufficient understanding to tackle the sickness at source.
Our instinctive recognition of the “drive” or “energy level” i.e. what we perceive as “strength” in others can be attributed equally to either side of the scale. When we speak of a “strong” leader, we make no distinction between active and passive motivation; we instinctively recognize only that the individual has more drive, more focus, more motivation: a higher level of urgency than more “normal” people.
At the extremes of passive urgency, we may, on occasion, identify the psychopathic personality but between mere selfishness/weakness and the absolute ruthlessness of the psychopath, lie some of the most dangerous personalities in existence. They can be found both in business and in politics. If an example helps, as I write, the name Rupert Murdoch springs immediately to mind. They have sometimes been termed the industrial psychopath. They owe their success not to their strength of character but, it might be said, to the strength of their weaknesses and to their defining failure to curb these weaknesses as might a more normal individual. They can generally rationalize their ruthlessness and lack of compassion by reasoned argument – “someone has to be strong enough to take the hard decisions” (Tony Blair) – but it is their great weakness, their motivational immaturity, their negative strength, be it plain greed or ego-driven ambition, that facilitates their rise in the corporate or in the political world.
The banking crisis has exposed to the public consciousness the flawed beliefs which brought it about. In particular, it was widely held that in order to attract “quality” people, it is essential to pay the highest salaries. This hypothesis, if valid, suggests quite the reverse. The highest levels of drive and focus are to be found equally on both sides of the psychopathy spectrum. “Quality” people with immense drive and power of intellect are to be found in every profession in this country. When I was young, our family GP in Glasgow’s west end, was William Blair, an absolutely outstanding and gifted individual whose dedication to medicine was absolute and not unconnected to a belief, shared, I imagine, by all at that Anniesland practice, that the National Health Service was a thing of immeasurable worth. He grasped the opportunity to serve the community with his substantial intellect and his continually-expanding knowledge of medicine. It would be absurd to suggest that a productivity bonus might have induced a man of that exceptional calibre to be on call for longer or to apply his considerable intellect more assiduously to the task of saving life and alleviating suffering (although I don’t imagine he would have turned it down)! It is only the motivationally-immature personality that is attracted and motivated by the high salary and the goal of the high bonus. The consequences of the influx of the self-serving, risk-taking, motivationally-immature personality into the banking industry are now being felt across the planet. There is nothing healthy about selfishness in any degree, nothing healthy about a grown man with the motivational maturity of a child and when a degree of hedonism is the norm, there is nothing healthy about the culture that has created that norm. Capitalism is the inevitable consequence of a dangerously immature and unhealthy culture, and vice versa.
If this model is valid, the psychopath represents nothing more than the extreme of the normal distribution but the destruction that he leaves in his wake does not begin to compare with the catalogue of death and destruction that can be attributed to the near-psychopathic personality whose ability to integrate successfully into society, together with his psychopath-like qualities, may have placed him in poll position for a successful career in politics (or, perhaps, in a media empire which exerts an irresponsible culture-corrupting influence). Unlike the mere psychopath, he can acquire power and influence; he can use his glibness and his penchant for deceit to advance his position. His manipulative skills, his ruthlessness and his lack of remorse are qualities that are rewarded with continued success.
Psychopathy is, necessarily, a moral construct and, understood within the framework of the urgency-conflict model, plain common or garden selfishness occupies merely a different position on the same finite scale of passive urgency as the full-blown psychopath. For any population, “normal” need no longer be (wrongly) assumed to be a benchmark for health. There follows, then, an inescapable statistical inference: the occurrence of the phenomenon of the psychopath can be predicted to increase exponentially as the centre of the normal distribution moves to the passive side. The more selfish the culture, the more psychopaths it can be expected to generate. Essentially, it is the culture itself that is sick.
One of the most central messages of Christianity was to persuade its followers that a culture of greed and self-interest is unhealthy and yet we have the USA, the most “Christian” country on the planet, at the vanguard of the drive to present greed and self-interest as a virtue. Capitalism is the ultimate expression of psychopathy. It encapsulates the essence of the unhealthy, immature culture. It is a self-sustaining barrier to human progress that must inevitably promote exploitation and oppression, generate war and dispense death and injustice in order to survive (although if you get your news from the BBC, you probably won’t know what I’m talking about)!
If this hypothesis is valid, the power to reverse the culture that produces state-level psychopathy lies with and only with the shared values of the ordinary people of every nation. A change in culture can be subtle and seemingly marginal and yet effective and it’s interesting to look back at the very marginal change in values that took place over such a short period during Thatcher’s time, albeit that it was in entirely the wrong direction. There was something attractive in the values that were passed around in those days like a bag of sweeties. We – not all of us but enough of us – liked the sound of what was on offer and said, “yes, let’s have some of that.” No-one’s personality changed overnight. No-one became greed-driven and self-absorbed who wasn’t inclined that way in the first place but the cultural shift was no less real and no less effective. The centre of the normal distribution moved towards psychopathy.
I have often asked myself, given research and validation of this hypothesis, what good it would do even if the simplicity of it were to seep through to the public consciousness, if it were to become common knowledge that selfishness and immaturity are one in the same. The answer lies in the normal distribution. In the eighties, it did not take an immense change in attitudes to achieve that translation from a not-particularly-healthy culture to a slightly more unhealthy culture and yet it brought the near-psychopathic personality to prominence in all fields of industry and commerce while drastically diminishing the incidence of the healthy altruistic adult personality. Those who are unfamiliar with the absolute power of statistics and probability will find that proposition difficult to accept but, if we were to disregard completely everything that this hypothesis tells us, that fact would remain. If the only valid proposition in the hypothesis were the psychopathy/altruism continuum, the unavoidable conclusion that must be drawn would be that it is the ordinary people who are in the driving seat and it is the attitudes and the shared values of ordinary people that control the incidence of both the strong altruistic and the near-psychopathic personality.
If we become even slightly more interested the welfare of other people both here and abroad, we shall inevitably move the curve towards altruism. I’ll leave it to others to explain the processes and confine myself to the fact of the plain statistical inevitability: the incidence of the psychopathic and near-psychopathic personality will diminish drastically while the incidence of the strong, healthy altruistic adult personality will increase. If our shared values even marginally incorporate the idea that selfishness and immaturity are one in the same, if selfishness can go out of fashion just as easily as it came into fashion in the eighties, that is what will inexorably follow.
I entitled this essay, “The Psychology of Compassion,” but it could equally have been entitled, “The Essence of Evil.” The relationship between the parent and the infant is pivotal to the psyche of each. There is absolutely no evil in the child’s passive relationship with the parent. Evil is the word we use when the infant’s deeply-self-oriented motivational state persists into adulthood.
I realize, in closing, that I didn’t elaborate much on the importance of “choices.” It is impossible to overstate that importance. It’s by that legion of trivial choices that we make a hundred times every day, that we either condemn ourselves to the mediocrity of “normality” or free ourselves to grow into the powerful and compassionate adult personalities that lie within our reach.
As I’ve said, the corruption of the world of capitalism, with its oppression, rampant inequality, exploitation, wars, untreated preventable disease, poverty, injustice and cruelty – not so much here in this green and pleasant land but in far away places that we needn’t think about – that corruption is a statistical inevitability that arises from the normal distribution of the psychopathy/altruism spectrum. By our seemingly-innocuous marginal self-interest, our perfectly “normal” preoccupation with our happiness and our desires, by our complicity as consumers in the capitalist culture, by our rejection of any personal responsibility, we, ordinary people, far from being powerless to change anything, are collectively and individually in the driving seat. We always have been.
Every day, by a hundred small, insignificant choices, we choose weakness or strength. Some of us have enough self-knowledge to be aware of our weaknesses but then we imagine that that is somehow a part of our identity. It is nonsense. Weakness of character is no different from weakness of muscle. For an adult, weakness is almost always a choice, rarely an affliction, but without the understanding that all forms of selfishness are expressions of immaturity and weakness, it can be hard to see how effortlessly we can change our own personalities, just by becoming increasingly aware of these small choices that we make which incrementally strengthen or weaken us.
I think it was the anthropologist, Margaret Mead, who said, “never doubt that a small group of thoughtful, committed citizens can change the world. Indeed, it is the only thing that ever has.” Even in the world of political activism, however, we see weakness and self-deception in the simple choices that individuals make. A demonstration against some act of gross cruelty or injustice might be expected to draw thousands in a major city but, for all the countless thousands who claim to support the cause of human rights, only a small percentage of those countless thousands will make the choice to be present on the day. Some will argue, against all the evidence of history, that civil unrest and mass demonstrations have little or no effect. Some will tell themselves that their individual presence can make no difference but, of course, if everyone were to take that view, there would be no demonstration. Some will just convince themselves that they have other more pressing things to attend to, but the truth is that, for whatever reason they might come up with, they have simply made a choice. Most of us care about injustice. Most of us, however, just don’t care enough. Most of us are simply too immature to choose, on the day, to get out on the street and try to raise awareness, try to make a difference. That’s the unvarnished truth. The sacrifice of a couple of hours proves too much. Choices!
Selfishness is commonly viewed as an undesirable characteristic that’s to be found in other people, but every single one of us has much more than our natural share. It is not “natural” to the adult personality. To think that it is, is to confuse natural with normal. Normal is purely a statistical term. It is normal in a tribe of cannibals to eat human flesh. It was normal in the Southern States of America and in white South Africa to imagine that whites are superior to blacks. For all I know, it may even be normal, in these times and in this enlightened country, to be indifferent to the suffering of the Palestinians and to fail to understand the urgency of the call by Palestinian civil society for Boycott, Divestment and Sanctions against the murderous, racist, settler-colonial state of Israel. Being sufficiently self-absorbed to be indifferent to the suffering of an entire people may well be normal but it is the natural state of the child’s personality.
There comes a time in everyone’s life when circumstances dictate that we grow up a bit. This is true also of our culture. By our apathy and indifference and our childish pursuit of happiness, we have allowed a small number of immature, greed-driven, narcissistic individuals to flourish in our community. We take no responsibility for their actions.
We know that the 85 wealthiest people in the planet have a combined wealth equal to that of the poorest half (3.5 billion individuals) of the entire population of the planet. We take no responsibility for that injustice, the reason being that we are like children: we do not want to think that it is in our power to alleviate unnecessary suffering. We prefer not to think about it.
The fact is that it is entirely within our power, as ordinary individuals, to reverse the trend towards more greed, more inequality, more injustice, more war, more oppression. Individually, and collectively, we just need to wake up and grow up, and care about the consequences of our comfortable consumer-hedonistic existence, not because we shall become better people and God will favour us with a place in Heaven when we die – how selfish is that!? – but because the trend towards increasing injustice could not have happened without our full complicity. We bought into the culture.
It could not have happened had we cared enough to take an interest. We’ve become so preoccupied with our desires and “what people think of me” and “what’s going to be good for me” that an entire culture has regressed towards the self-orientation and hedonism of infancy and spawned a legion of greed-driven narcissists who have set the gap between rich and poor back by a hundred years. But they are only the extreme of the normal distribution. We are the power behind it.
Our culture has become so infused with an acceptance of hedonistic childish desire that we spend disgusting amounts of money on all manner of utterly frivolous status symbols, while preferring not to think about the sweatshop labour that supplies leading fashion brands on the high street. Our insatiable need for energy – oil in particular – leads to our government shoring up and protecting vile and corrupt dictatorships in the Middle East while turning a blind eye to the serial racist atrocities and war crimes of the regional nuclear-armed superpower, Israel. We take no responsibility for that. We are just ordinary people. These things are surely the business of governments and the powerful corporate players on the world stage. The truth is that these great issues take their course as a consequence of our culture. If we don’t care much, the great and the powerful will care even less – very, very much less.
Television adverts manipulate the desires of the weak, making them weaker still. You desire a new car. You need to feel good. You need to look good… because you’re worth it! So many adverts prey upon the weaknesses of their audience and those weaknesses come in so many forms: insecurity, childish hedonism, narcissism, peer-pressure… If we are willing to settle for an immature culture and for all of its criminal consequences in the wider world, we need do nothing, but it’s not in human nature to be indifferent to suffering; we just don’t see the connection yet.
My mind is very much upon Gaza at this time. I lay every death at the door of the American Dream. I won’t start into international politics at this point but, contrary to what a few anti-Semitic conspiracy theorists might imagine, if the USA decided that enough was enough, Israeli state psychopathy would come to an end in a matter of minutes rather than days. To blame only the Israeli leaders is like blaming a vicious dog on a leash for its behaviour.
Death, blood, mutilation, torn flesh, severed limbs, agony, misery, terror, dead children lying in dust and rubble, parts of dead children lying in dust and rubble – is that worse? – a number of dead – over 1700 as I write – perhaps the number is meaningless? perhaps all of their lives were meaningless or at least they must have been meaningless to the pilots and the drone operators – distance murder – dead grandparents, dead brothers and sisters, a mother… dead… a father… dead… five children playing on the beach, shelled from a warship… one is still alive, and even talking; he’s talking about having lost his friends… 15 dead inside a UN school – dead neighbours, dead passers-by, dead farmer, dead car mechanic, dead fisherman, dead ambulance driver, dead schoolteacher, all dead when, before, they were animated, they were people, one thousand seven hundred personalities, with names, with likes and dislikes, and with school-friends and workmates. Does anyone still care, now that they’re gone? – now that they’re just corpses and bits of corpses to be reclaimed from the dust and rubble that used to be a street – homes, shops, busy with humanity, vibrant, bustling with life. Now we know. Even a street can die.
Is it appropriate, at this time, to be discussing a hypothesis addressing the motivation of the near-psychopathic personality? Could anything be more appropriate? Is it not time everyone understands exactly what kind of people the Israeli decision-makers are and exactly what kind of people in this country are sufficiently lacking in adult compassion to deny the serial criminal and terrorist behaviour of the state of Israel? One of them is the Prime Minister, David Cameron – not an evil man but not remotely mature enough for the job and he proves his immaturity ever time he fails to call Israeli state psychopathy for what it is.
Over the last few days, Lewis Carroll’s phrase “the time has come” has come into my head occasionally like a bad tune that perseveres however much you’d prefer to forget it. I may well be completely mad – I’d be the last to know – but sometimes the unconscious mind works like that, except that it should have been saying, “enough! It stops here! In the name of Christ, have these people not suffered enough?”
I see what is happening in Gaza right now and I can’t carry on treating this essay as some sort of academic intellectual exercise, repeatedly asking myself if I’m expressing the concepts with enough clarity. I no longer care. Meet me half-way, for Christ’s sake! THIS, as Mads Gilbert put it, certainly can’t wait while I finish the book. In every major Scottish city, the members of the Scottish Palestine Solidarity Campaign are out on the streets protesting, trying to raise awareness, organising, giving voice to the public fury at Israel’s crimes while, today, of all times, I’m not with them. Today, I’m sitting in front of the computer screen, and writing this but I think the time has come to do whatever it takes to get this out and get it researched.
My conclusions, in no particular order:
- the transition from motivationally-passive infant to motivationally-active adult is not an automatic process; it is a journey that only a very few ever complete
- at the extreme of human weakness, the psychopath can be described as an adult with the motivational maturity of an infant. He is completely devoid of the prime attributes of the healthy parent, namely compassion and responsibility. Like a healthy infant, he feels a sense of entitlement, an instinctive expectation that the world should provide for him. Like an infant, he is virtually 100% self-oriented, completely passively-motivated, requiring to manipulate others to address his needs.
- there is a continuum, on a scale of strength and weakness, ranging from the extremes of great weakness – the unchallenged infantile motivation of the psychopath – to the equally-rare unchallenged adult motivation of the completely-committed altruistic personality
- selfishness and motivational immaturity are one and the same
- a culture that promotes or encourages passive motivation whether in the form of a greed/consumer/market-driven economy or in the form of endemic racism can be predicted to produce a greater proportion of psychopaths and near-psychopathic personalities, the centre of the normal distribution having been translated toward the psychopathic end of the scale. Likewise, a lower incidence of “strong” altruistic individuals can be predicted.
- the American Dream, a culture claiming to be founded on Christian values but in reality promoting hedonism and self-interest in the name of freedom, and measuring success in terms of status, fame, power and wealth is an expression of substantial immaturity. It is that seemingly-innocuous culture itself that is responsible for the amorality of corporate America and for the serial psychopathic militaristic and imperialist foreign policy of the USA.
- Experiment will demonstrate, firstly, the existence of the synthesis of urgency as the neurological mechanism which, by maintaining the relationship between perception, time and action, initiates and moderates action by both dynamic data-stream and threshold trigger mechanisms. It should be relatively trivial (and inexpensive)! to identify the neural correlates of libido (and consciousness): those sets of neural oscillations most directly correlated with urgency.
- Secondly, experiment will demonstrate the existence of the root/branch intellect typology. (I have, as yet, been unable to find any research which has been undertaken in this area although, as I mentioned earlier, there are important parallels in Guilford and Hoepfner’s work on Convergent and Divergent intelligence – “The Analysis of Intelligence”  New York: McGraw-Hill).
- I would predict, finally, for each intellect type, a substantial correlation between the degree of identifiable non-pathological character weakness (ranging from the psychopath to the neurotic) and the level of passive-urgency, defined as motivation that is negatively oriented with respect to the root/branch intellect type. I already mentioned that we have a ready-made pool of root-intellect minds in the Freudian School together with an equally clear pool of branch-intellects with the Adlerian School. Additionally, initial testing of “sociopaths” for intellect type might help refine testing methods for a more diverse population.
I would be grateful to hear from anyone who might care to comment, and particularly so in the context of any proposed or pre-existing research touching on this. If you can help in any way, as always, it just comes down to a choice… and the urgency of action.
Copyright © Jimmy Powdrell Campbell 1996, 2014.