Psychopathy, Altruism and the Mechanics of Motivation in the Normal Personality

The conflict of active and passive urgency in the normal personality

The conflict of active and passive motivation in the normal personality

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The concept of libido had long since been discarded when, in the 1980s, I developed a hypothesis on the relationship between motivation and libido-conflict. You might ask why but, to be honest, I simply believed in it and I felt that, if the libido-conflict model is valid, it must be possible to propose research into the mechanism of libido as a neurological process.

Quantitative Motivation

The complexity of the brain obscures the simplicity of a mechanism that must have existed in some form for a few hundred million years. In its most basic form, motivation simply initiates and regulates globally the energy released to action, not only human action but that of all animal life. It has evolved into something more complex than its beginnings, but evolution doesn’t just cast something away if it’s still doing its job well; it builds upon it, integrates it with new structures, finds new uses for it. So it seems to make some sense to start at the beginning, a few hundred million years ago, long before the waters became muddied by the likes of brains and thoughts.

But, firstly, a human example for clarity.

In a life-threatening situation, your goal might be to remove yourself from danger. Programmatically, action (locomotion) can be initiated, regulated and sustained with a minimum of two variables:

  1. the goal itself – the logic of a change of location
  2. the quantification of the energy released to the actions necessary to achieve the goal.

Survival depends not merely upon the logic of moving from here to elsewhere. Clearly, the outcome may hang upon how long it takes to get there, i.e. how much energy is released to locomotion.

To eliminate the complexity of human motivation, we can hypothesize, firstly, that, at an early stage of animal evolution, a pre-existing facility for locomotion might be adapted to act as a stimulus response to, for example, olfactory cues indicating the proximity of a predator.

While survival may tend to favour the creature that has acquired that behaviour, a proximity-threshold trigger of any sort is grossly inefficient. It means bursts of release of unattenuated energy when, in some cases, a slower exit might be all that’s required, and while in others, flight may not be necessary at all and yet, of course, at this level of existence, conservation of energy is everything.

But consider now the survival advantage of the prey that has evolved the facility, common to all fauna, of responding to an assessment, however imperfect, of the attack speed and direction of the predator. The advent, perhaps four hundred million years ago, of locomotion in response to an assessment of an attack vector may have marked the first milestone in the evolution of intelligence and consciousness.

The predator’s approach involves perhaps an increase in the percentage of the field of vision it occupies or an adjustment of binocular vision. That increase or adjustment, as with any motion perception, has to be perceived over time to correspond to an assessment of speed, and that is what is most salient about the processing that this calculation involves: it requires the processing of time together with the data-stream of perception.

The stimulus response has now become dynamic. The calculation being made here might accurately be termed the urgency of flight, and it seems at least probable that survival would favour the adaptation which most successfully relates that urgency to the imminence of the danger.

This calculation of the imminence of danger may confer greater survival advantage both in terms of escape outcomes and in terms of conservation of energy. Temporal proximity, rather than spatial proximity, may have become become the survival-critical issue. Imminent danger requires urgent action. The spatial proximity of the predator is an extremely crude and inefficient trigger in comparison. Please take the time to weigh this proposition before moving on because it is central to approaching the idea of motivation as a neurological mechanism.

The data-stream calculation of the urgency of action is not only a logical trigger but a logical moderator of the energy allocated to locomotion. We have a direct relationship between the urgency of action and the energy required to be released to locomotion. We are now discussing a creature (an ancestor) that can modify its own speed and direction in a pursuit context in response to a data-stream perception of a dynamic threat. Action is initiated, and the allocated energy is regulated and sustained according to an ongoing assessment of the urgency of initiating and sustaining locomotion. This is a complex sequence of data-stream-based calculations which may represent the primitive beginnings of consciousness, defined, even at this level, as the ongoing processing of time and perception in order to initiate and moderate action. This is quantitative motivation (or libido) in its simplest and most accessible form.

If this proposition can be tested and if it proves valid, then, from the first, the measure of animal “motivation” was urgency and, I submit, so it may remain. Its utility seems to hold as true now as then, and even for the most sophisticated fauna on the planet, including ourselves. Human motivation is often described subjectively as having an “intensity” but, programmatically, neurologically, at the most fundamental level, the proposition is that it is the urgency of action, however complex the action or series of actions, that dictates, globally, the energy released to action to achieve the goal.

But “urgency” – the word itself – is misleading precisely because of its familiarity. In the first place, a sense of urgency is often (not always) accompanied by anxiety, so it is easily mistaken for a class of affect. But, perhaps even more importantly, when we speak of “a sense of urgency” or “no sense of urgency” the tendency is wrongly to assume that urgency has ceased to exist when its level has dropped beneath the level of perception. Sensory adaptation comes into play. We sense urgency only when it is elevated but, if the hypothesis is valid, the urgency variable must be available continually as the defining prerequisite of consciousness and readiness.

So where, in the brain, should we expect to find the correlates of something so uncanny as an urgency variable? Viewed from the lofty heights of gross ignorance, the problem of identifying the neural correlates of urgency seems trivial. If the hypothesis is valid, urgency is an ever-present (in consciousness) dynamic variable exercising a global influence affecting the legion of coordinated signals prerequisite to exertion. If an ordinary programmer were to be asked to write the software, he would probably just create an oscillator to output a variable frequency. In evolution, as in software development, simplicity is favoured over unnecessary complexity: if the hypothesis is valid, we should expect to find abundant evidence of neural oscillations correlated with urgency.

Being a natural optimist, I’m thinking EEG and time-constrained tasks with verbal interventions.

Let me give a example of the mechanism of quantitative motivation..

A man wakes up for work half an hour later than he should and his eyes focus on the clock. He is not motivated simply by the logic of the situation. Where, seconds ago, he might have felt a bit sluggish as he transitioned from unconsciousness, now, on focusing on the clock, he senses an immediate and unmistakeable urgency, the urgency of getting out of bed and getting ready for work. He is instantly wide awake and another way of saying that is that a new, elevated urgency level has been established. Everything he does from that moment onward will be done with some dispatch.

If we could monitor his urgency, we would see it remains pretty much elevated until he gets out of the door and starts walking for the bus which, just to put the tin hat on it, comes around the corner when he thought he had a couple of minutes to spare. The urgency frequency gets kicked up yet again and he breaks into a run.

Our man makes it just in time and takes his seat on the bus. The sense of urgency disappears… more or less along with the sense of the feeling of the seat that he just sat down on – adaptation. His motivation has dropped to closer to its normal levels but he’s still awake so it hasn’t dropped to zero. It is simply below the threshold of perception. When he gets off the bus, he walks the short distance to the office. Now he’s not in any hurry – no sense of urgency – but here is the point: if there were literally no urgency, our man wouldn’t be walking at all, he would just be standing (or lying) where he got off the bus. What he’s doing is walking with very little urgency; he is still motivated to walk to the office. His urgency is once again below the threshold of perception, that’s all.

He gets to his desk and makes a start on his inbox. “That flash git from sales is chatting up the new temp. How can she not see what a complete phony he is? All charm and pseudo-sincerity – that’s the only good thing you can say about that guy, he’s the best when it comes to shifting the product – salesman of the year, three times running – first in in the morning, last out at night – hardly ever stops – totally driven – flash git.”

The flash git sustains a higher level of urgency than our man. He had been head-hunted by HR because he is so obviously highly-motivated, because he has the level of “drive” they’re looking for.

We’re no longer talking about Bowlby’s switchgear-logic – a metaphor which, at least as regards motivation, crippled the thinking of a generation of psychologists – we’re now talking about a data stream, and so was Sigmund Freud. He spoke about psychic energy and he spoke about libido. He had absolutely no conception of a data-stream-based urgency variable but he wasn’t an imbecile. It may be far from obvious and far from intuitive, but I believe the measure of motivation is urgency. It is time itself that the brain is processing: the relationship between time, perception and action.

The Freudian concept of libido was based upon the recognition of the ubiquitous phenomena associated with the urgency data stream. The early psychologists, however, and naturally enough, described it as “psychic energy”, and that mistake was enough to allow lesser intellects, to their great satisfaction, subsequently to debunk completely these psychodynamic theories as being wholly without foundation. From that departure from joined-up thinking, going forward, any meaningful study of motivation based upon its manifestly dynamic nature was rendered impossible.



About forty years ago, I got into an argument. It was about the IRA and the violence in Belfast. The argument basically revolved around a bottle of 21 year old Bruichladdich. At one point, I caught a look which told me that the other guy thought he was talking to a complete fool, and it was at that point that it became interesting.

His argument centred on the imagined ambitions of the Catholic minority. Given the chance, he insisted, they would do everything they could to disempower and drive out the Protestant majority. On the other side, I found it hard to get past the history. 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 irony astonished me!

What, at essence, we were discussing were the motives (and, on my part, the motivation) behind the then recent “terrorist” attacks. But what really got the adrenalin flowing was not the argument itself but a sense of an underlying radical difference in approach to the subject: the consistency with which I had been presenting a past-related explanation for the actions of the IRA and a consistency in the counter-argument presenting a future-related attribution of what they wanted to achieve, their aim to disempower. And that was what he thought 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 but I had been doing exactly the same thing, presenting historical fact and context as if that alone was all that mattered.

This was not a five-minute argument and yet the consistency was 100%. I felt it was more than just an argument from polarized positions on the armed struggle. I couldn’t help thinking that it was like 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 ultimately to be explicable in terms of its origin, its cause. But this cause-oriented attribution has no resonance for someone for whom the aim or goal of every action is instinctively proposed as an explanation. Bear in mind that the question here relates only to an intellectual tendency, as distinct from an academic framing of behaviour in terms of cognition and motive.

So my starting point was indeed an n-of-1 but I wasn’t the first to find the idea riveting. Years after writing the first draft, I discovered that Carl Jung, as a third party, had taken notice of exactly the same communication phenomenon: a confrontation between Freud who understood behaviour only in terms of its cause and Adler who framed it only in terms of the goal.

In the introduction to one edition of “Psychological Types”, Jung explains that the foundation of his well-known theory of extraversion and introversion was his observation of that past/future-fixation communication difficulty between Adler and Freud, and he admits to his speculation, initially, on the possible existence of an intellect typology in terms simply of past or future intellect orientation.

Jung, however, soon abandoned this idea of an intellect typology and, in its place, he formulated his well-known libido typology. He hypothesized a bi-directional “libido” in terms of extraversion, an upward and outward flow, and introversion, a downward and inward flow of “psychic energy”. Freud, however, proposed a radically different bi-directional libido: life instincts and death instincts.

You can readily see that the two theories of libido were incompatible:

  • The Jungian theory – I’m over-simplifying to move on – 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 – one creative, life-giving, and the other intent on death and destruction.

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.

In my case, I simply didn’t get past the possibility of there being two different types of intellect. An idea can be a bit like owning a Lada (if you remember them). Before acquiring one, you hardly see them anywhere. Suddenly, when you have one yourself, they seem to proliferate. I termed the two intellect types root intellect and branch intellect.

The root intellect has the tendency and aptitude to get to the root of the issue. Especially where motivation and behaviour are under discussion, he will tend instinctively to assume that behaviour is best explained by events in the past. (For example, my insistence that the motivation behind the armed struggle lay in the catalogue of injustice at the hands of the British). Where there is a need for the root intellect to understand, it will be in terms of the radical. It has been suggested that this is a difficult concept to establish experimentally but it is as simple as that. If I’m right, intellectual orientation can be established by testing for this alone: does the mind tend to reduce to the radical; does it focus upon the root and cause of the issue and, in particular, is the aptitude root and cause-related?

The less common future-oriented branch intellect has the tendency and aptitude to extrapolate and deal with the goals, aims, consequences, and, for the Latin scholars, the ramifications of an event. Communication, as Jung noted, between root-intellect and branch-intellect types is often a frustrating business, neither being aware of the need to express themselves in terms which, from the other’s perspective, appear central to the issue.

I am relying upon memory here but I believe, as an example, I can best cite the discussion which caught Jung’s attention. (While Freud and Adler were arguing at length about a patient, Jung was studying Freud and Adler).

Freud (root intellect) and Adler (branch intellect) were discussing a case, a married woman whose hysteria, according to Freud, could be attributed to an event or events in her past. Find the repressed memories and she could be cured. Adler was equally certain that her behaviour was her way of gaining power over her husband. It was not about events buried in her past but simply what she wished to achieve in the future. Jung, watching this, guessed that both Freud and Adler might be 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.

Before proceeding, I think it’s worth noting that Jung’s “subject/object” concept of introvert and extrovert differentiation related to perception and value rather than action, i.e. the subject is aware of the object and attributes a relative importance to it. But the concept of extroversion is, of course, meaningless without reference to the libido and the concept of the libido assumes that the relationship between subject and object is not inert. If the libido is object-directed, it is not a matter of mere awareness; the relationship must have reference to the potential, either active or passive, of action in the widest sense. Perception, in this context, concerns the intellect only in as much as it is prerequisite to action. The possibility, potential, or intention of action of the subject in relation to the object or of the object in relation to the subject (which might be termed a passive potential) is surely what is of concern to both types, the “root-intellect” type requiring, at the most fundamental level, to frame or conceptualise action in terms of cause, the “branch-intellect,” in terms of its goal. The apparent importance which the two types attach to either subject or object is, if that is the case, a consequence of the two primitive intellectual framings of that which is the principal concern of the psyche: the potential actions and events which either actively or passively relate subject and object. In other words, Jung moved from the principle to the derivative. The observed fundamental intellectual orientation is, in fact, the reason for the extrovert/introvert differentiation which he hypothesised to explain it.

As I have said, Jung’s observations led him, temporarily, to consider the possible existence of past and future oriented intellect types. But he then set about looking for an explanation. He eventually concluded that the explanation must lie in the so-called libido. He dismissed the possibility of Freud’s evident intellectual past-orientation being simply innate.

I believe Freudian psychologists provide the most obvious ready-made pool of past-oriented intellect and, likewise, the future-orientation of the Adlerians pervades all of their work. Since, in both cases, their natural resonance with each school is derived, if you will allow the assumption, from their past or future-fixated view of motivation, responses from within these two groups should facilitate refinement of testing for intellect type in a more diverse population.

Intellect Type

type orientation focus aptitude
convergent root intellect past source, cause, origin to reduce to the fundamentals
divergent branch intellect future goals, aims, consequences to extrapolate, to see ramifications

But now to motivation. My early ideas about positive and negative motivation were pretty much about my own value judgements, right or wrong, so, for example, I would have considered someone selling drugs to school children to have been negatively motivated.

motivational immaturity: feet on the seatMental illness aside, I felt it was generally a matter of degree, ranging from the extremes of serious anti-social behaviour to the innocuous inconsiderate behaviour and negative motivation that we, all of us, give free reign to every day but who cares?

My interest in the subject was, at least to an extent, personal. I thought on myself as a weak person – maybe not the most typical of inferiority complexes because I knew I was fairly intelligent and fairly talented but I was a short, skinny kid and, post-adolescent, I had somehow expected to have matured in some obscure way so that I’d feel more like “a man” instead of still being a boy just looking deceptively older, although I have to say, decades on, I’m still looking forward to that process kicking in.

I thought I should explain that before proceeding but, it’s not the whole truth because I’ve always been fascinated by physics and I was always trying to come to a radical understanding of how things really work. I was also passionately curious about the “big” issues like the Second World War, the Holocaust, Nagasaki and Hiroshima, all of which were ongoing only the decade before I was born and, unlike a single unnatural death, it seemed these were yet to be treated to a proper inquest.

The urgency of the question of what motivates one person to take the life of another surely has to be multiplied by a very large number if not actually the full sixty million, and that question was always with me as “something very important that I know I don’t understand” since the days of the Eichmann trial when, as a child, it was explained to me that my schoolpal’s family would probably have been killed in one of the camps had they lived in Germany at that time just because they were Jewish. I remember watching the gaunt, skin-and-bone bodies of some of the survivers on TV and I’ve always felt that somehow our lives will always be connected with what happened there, that we are the generation with the responsibility to figure it out.

We understand the well-researched issues like obedience to authority, and the chain of command with its diminishing sense of responsibility. The separation of minor roles, each acting without the impediment of individual conscience but together enabling the machinery of mass murder is, again, well-understood. All of these things go some way to explaining how it was possible rather than why. It is the why that matters.

I felt the first step was to stop looking at Nazi Germany as something different from the UK and to start looking at our own capacity for slaughter on an industrial scale, start looking at what we really are and at our own complicity in endless cruelty abroad of which most of us don’t have a shred of awareness excepting perhaps a vague disquiet over something far removed from our own civilized lives, just as the Nazis did, right down to the engine driver who carried the cattle wagons of Jews to the camp, right down to the guard outside the shower-room, right down to the small business owners who managed to stay almost completely out of all the trouble. Above all, though, I felt we have to reach an understanding of the psychological mechanism, the why of evil.

So, whatever my underlying motives might have been, I wanted, firstly, to try to become aware of and understand my own motivation. On the last day of school, I walked out with the only thing I’ve ever stolen: The Life and Works of Sigmund Freud. I had actually planned a career in criminal law but that’s another story.

I had no lack of negative motivation to choose from but, to give one trivial example, people like me who have acquired a completely irrational unconscious conviction of their own inferiority might occasionally try to get some respect by seeking to impress another person in conversation. I tried to become conscious enough to ask myself, “why on earth am I telling this person this?” And what I found was a pattern: in my attempts to impress someone, my concern, at that moment, was always, “what does this person think of me?” And it was that notion of a pattern of passive intent which took the question of motivation in a new direction.

Active and Passive Motivation

As an infant, our relationship to the world is almost exclusively passive. The infant’s motivation does not reference its own action; it references what is being done to or for it. When it cries, it is the parent’s action it initiates. It says, “feed me – comfort me – I believe you might want to change my nappy.” It is passive motivation. The infant’s motivation is naturally passive, necessarily manipulative, referencing not its own action but the action of its carer.

My wee nephew (when I was editing this part) was nearly four years old. On one occasion, 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 preoccupied with its own desires and that gross selfishness is not a bad thing. It is perfectly healthy and natural for a child to exist at the centre of its world because its survival is dependent upon the actions of its carers and, to an extent, upon its own ability to persuade them to see to its needs, but, thirty years later, that same degree of selfishness, manipulation and entitlement would be judged very unhealthy indeed.

The most fundamental element of growing up is, I submit, the transition from that passive relationship with the world to the active motivation that is natural to the healthy adult, though not necessarily the normal adult.

If the model is valid, there coexists, in the normal personality, a measure of both active and passive motivation but they are not just attributes or qualities which contribute “something” to the personality. Motivation could, at least in theory, be 100% active or 100% passive but, in the real world, we – all of us – sustain a substantial measure of passive motivation. What’s going to happen to me? What will I get out of this? What do people think of me? Active and passive motivation is in perpetual conflict.

The motivational conflict of the normal personality renders motivation levels weak and indistinct. But it is not a confrontational conflict. It is an enfeebling, mathematical, vector conflict, ensuring that, for the normal personality, the immense motivational potential of the individual is never remotely reached or even imagined.

We instinctively venerate some uncommon individuals, not just for their talent or their intellects but for their level of motivation, their commitment to serving needs external to their own.

If you want to understand the motivation of the normal personality, don’t study the motivation of the normal personality. Firstly, look at those individuals – Maslow’s self-actualising personalities – whose unusually high levels of motivation would place them at the far reaches of the normal distribution. Because his intellect is past-oriented (origins/causes), the Freudian root-intellect type, in its healthiest state, instinctively derives motivation from an event or events in the past that shape his actions according to a cause and almost totally without reference to consequence. His unusually high level of motivation is referencing needs external to his own.

Where the healthy root-intellect has a strong sense of identity, the healthy branch-intellect, as Adler fully understood, has a sense of purpose. The mind of the branch-intellect type, in its healthiest (or most extreme) form, has a clear aim in view. And, as regards aptitude, there is frequently a marked tendency to be observant, to absorb, without effort, a proliferation of detail, and that facility has 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 an enhanced facility to address the business of action in terms of intended or potential consequences. But, for the branch intellect, past-oriented motivation is necessarily, i.e. without exception, passive (negative).

One of the most famous branch intellects of the 20th century was Margaret Thatcher. Thatcher’s outstanding aptitude for extrapolation was legendary in Government circles. She was also thoroughly past-motivated, equally well-known for her strong sense of British identity, her sense of her own identity and her sense of her roots in the spirit of wartime England when the British people had rallied together to defy the might of Nazi Germany – endless stories of British heroism abroad, British stoicism throughout the Blitz, Victory-in-Europe celebrations. It must have been stirring stuff, if you weren’t actually wearing the tin hat.

In short, she was a strongly-past-motivated branch-intellect (future-oriented) personality. Assuming the validity of this model, we can say that while Thatcher may have been intellectually developed, motivationally, she was dangerously immature, strongly passively-motivated to an almost infantile level and, as such, her place in history was virtually guaranteed. Thatcher’s ability to push through ideological reforms was widely attributed to strength of character but, in reality, it was her drive, her extreme motivational immaturity, i.e. 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.

Weakness mistaken for 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. He described 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.

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 motivation, 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 genuinely-altruistic philanthropist or the freedom fighter, that we can understand the enfeebling nature of the highly-conflicted motivation of the normal personality.

libido conflict graphic

The model anticipates the extreme difficulty of properly investigating the motivation of the normal personality since the predicted near-equal conflict of active and passive motivation renders 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, 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 last 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 is no longer the originator of action, but a potential recipient of what the future will bring. The child in the man has decided the action.

The predominantly passive relationship with the object, the condition of the somewhat negatively-oriented personality, is something with which we are all familiar – “a man 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 Motivation for each Intellect Type

Intellect Type Active (Positive/Adult) Motivation Passive (Negative/Infant) Motivation
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 in terms of the simple vector sum. His “strength” derives from his complete commitment to his own interests, his lack of conscience, his infantile lack of empathy, his lack of conflicting motivation. What he doesn’t understand is that his “strength” amounts to no more than a highly abnormal degree of motivational 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 deeply-rooted, 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 rare fully-matured and the extremely immature libido, the relative absence of motivational 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 people 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 “love” is the instinctive drive literally to care for the welfare of the other person. Survival of the family requires that we care for each other and for our children and, in preparation for the long-term relationship conducive to a stable, healthy, human childhood, it is our motivation that is fundamentally altered. We call it love. The infantile, passive, self-focused vector is greatly diminished, giving way to a personal commitment to the welfare of the other person. Love, as distinct from affection, can be defined as a motivational state arising from an instinctive 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 motivation.

You see the world afresh through the eyes of an adult. You seem to appreciate the awesome beauty of nature as if for the first time because you are no longer filtering your perception passively and processing it subjectively in terms of “what good are these trees to me?” Just being alive is the breath of life for the mature 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 the child by placing insufficient emphasis upon encouraging empathy and considerate, unselfish behaviour both by instruction and, more importantly, by example. The selfishness of the individual in one situation emerges as an equivalent weakness or inadequacy in another. 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 underlying sickness at source. I mean the culture of the society and I’ll expand on that.

At the extremes of passive motivation, 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 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 and rewards. This model, if valid, suggests quite the reverse. The highest levels of drive and focus are to be found equally on both sides of the psychopathy-altruism spectrum. “Quality” people with immense drive and power of intellect are to be found in every walk of life. 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 the Anniesland practice, that the National Health Service was a thing of immeasurable worth. He grasped the opportunity to serve the community with his continually-expanding knowledge of medicine. It would be absurd to suggest that a productivity bonus might have induced a man like that to be on call for longer or to apply his 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 immature personality that is attracted and motivated by the high salary and the goal of the high bonus, and we have all been there. It’s part of growing up – no shame there, unless we don’t ever grow out of it. I used to lust after fast cars almost as much as I lusted after beautiful women. I no longer even glance at the cars. You may think, at my age, I just can’t afford to divide the lust but the truth is I’ve just grown up (a bit).

The consequences of Thatcher’s legacy of an increased influx of the self-serving, risk-taking, motivationally-immature personality into the banking industry, which had always attracted more than its fair share, are still 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.

On a personal note, I come from a secular family but I remember being taught, when I was quite young, “out of the sweetness came forth strength, and out of the strength, came forth sweetness.” For most of my life, I believed I understood the meaning. Decades later, the penny dropped!

For the last three years of her life, my mother was motivated by something she watched on Al Jazeera over a 22-day period commencing on the 27th December 2008. Up until that point, like so many of us who used to put our trust in the BBC, she had given little thought to the oppression, dispossession and cruelty routinely inflicted upon the Palestinian people. Like so many of us, she had pretty much bought into the Israeli (and BBC) propaganda, “the cycle of violence”, “tit for tat,” the inversion of reality that presents the superpower and occupier as victim of the Palestinian people whom the settler-colonial state of Israel has been ethnically cleansing since 1948.

After watching the Gaza massacre, day and night for the full three weeks, watching the people of Gaza trapped, defenceless, and at the mercy of a racist, hate-filled Israeli military with all the power of modern weaponry at their disposal, after watching Israelis on the other side of the wall jump up and down and clap their hands with glee as white phosphorus rained down on rubble-strewn, panic-infused, blood-spattered streets, after listening to testimony given by surgeons at the impossibly under-equipped Shifa Hospital, running out of even the most basic medical supplies in the first days – the hospital itself, and even the ambulance crews, now targeted by “the most moral army in the world” – after hearing how airburst-delivered white phosphorus has burnt the flesh of children through to the bone, after watching as yet another precision-guided high-explosive missile pounded into the multi-story residential apartment blocks right in the heart of Gaza city, after all that, she had acquired a sense of the urgency of Palestine. She wrote letters, she spoke to politicians – she even got through to the Prime Minister’s office at one point. Even in the last couple of months of her life, now in a wheelchair and frail with the effects of cancer, she was putting boycott stickers on the Eden Springs water coolers in the hospital. Elsie Campbell was born in Dumbarton, lived her life in Scotland, and died a Palestinian. That is motivation.

The cognitive basis of empathy

Empathy is a survival-critical cognitive facility of parenthood. It is the facility to “feel” some representation of what the infant feels. It is because of the (healthy) parent’s capacity for empathic motivation that the infant’s communication of its own urgency can trigger, on the part of the parent, a measure of urgency to attend to the infant’s needs. Parenthood is, I believe, the root psychological basis of empathy and altruism.

The infant’s characteristic lack of empathy, its sense of entitlement and its passively-motivated manipulative behaviour are all natural and healthy. It is only unhealthy and detrimental to society when these characteristics, the indicators of predominant passive motivation, persist into adulthood.

I find it’s sometimes the simplicity of a concept that makes it difficult to grasp and, in some cases, it is also the evident simplicity that causes us to overlook its importance. This model proposes that:

  1. the data-stream-based synthesis of the urgency variable lies at the core of the neurological mechanism of motivation
  2. urgency (like action itself) can be either active or passive
  3. and it can be active or passive because life has two-stages: childhood and parenthood.

I am a man and that means I am a combination of two very different animals: I am at once the father of my son and the child of my parents. One of these will have been in charge for most of the day. How much of a man I have been today just depends upon which one was in charge.

Can it be that simple? I’m afraid that’s pretty much all there is to it and, when you get right down to it, there isn’t a single evil in the world that cannot be laid at the door of the habit of a simple choice, one that we make a hundred times every day: who is in charge at this moment, the child or the man? Through whose eyes do I see the world? With whose mind do I understand?

The answer to that question is not written in stone. For each and every individual, it is, in every case, a choice. Shall I procrastinate when the job that needs done doesn’t appeal? Shall I throw the toys out of the pram because things are not to my liking? A hundred times every day, we make the trivial choices that define us and, ultimately, define the world that we live in. It’s an empowering understanding, obscured only by its simplicity.

Through whose eyes do I see the world? The child or the man? I keep coming back to the so-called Israel-Palestine conflict (not least because, at the time of this edit, July 2014, Israel is once again inflicting a murderous collective punishment upon the people of Gaza – over 1700 HUMANS dead at this point – babies to grandparents – one thousand seven hundred human beings, extinguished). With whose mind do the architects of this carnage understand? It is of the very essence of the evil that has attached itself to Palestine that the government of Israel think as children and understand as children and behave like spoiled, scheming, lying, manipulative, disturbed children, but these are spoiled, disturbed children with F16s, Apache helicopters, drones, missiles, tanks and warships.

Psychopathy is not just about the serial killer of the tabloids; it’s about the real world.

I believe the time has come for us to grow up. And that, in a nutshell, is the urgency of this research.


Written by jimmypowdrellcampbell

December 1, 2008 at 10:33 pm

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