Essay: Political Ponerology
The book Political Ponerology: A science on the nature of evil adjusted for political purposes (2006) by Andrew M. Łobaczewski (1921–2007) (aka Andrzej Łobaczewski) contains ideas on large-scale inhumanity and its causes and possible prevention. The word "ponerology", meaning the study of evil, is re-used in a naturalistic rather than the usual theological sense. Controversial aspects of the book include both the so-far unverifiable background story of a secret research society, and much of the contents building on outdated early 20th century psychiatry. Some critics go further and brand it antisemitic and otherwise bigoted. Journalist Ramon Glazov notes how some of the older ideas have also appeared in connection with inhuman far right causes of the 20th century.
A more charitable interpretation of Łobaczewski's message would take him at his word concerning holding science and its progress above ideology, including above his own message, in contrast to taking his work as a finished product and using his more outdated building blocks as they are. The latter approach is a dead end, except as an exploration of antiquated, and at times hopelessly bigoted, ideas. A different variation of bigoted ideas, which more absurdly brutalizes Łobaczewski's message, has been spread by the main editor of the book, Laura Knight-Jadczyk (hereafter LKJ). Łobaczewski's message, despite all its flaws, was very different. The charitable view is that his book passes along the knowledge and ideas of older generations of researchers, in the hope that future generations will be able to develop a fuller psychological science useful for charting a course through history which avoids the old traps and bad cycles.
Many ideas in the book are dated or otherwise suspect and plainly would need reworking or replacing for scientific purposes, while others are more purely psychological and of types which may or may not turn out to fit future evidence or be useful in forming theories. Perhaps in some modified form, the proposed field of political ponerology could eventually be reborn on a sturdier foundation, though very likely no more than a little inspiration would be carried over from Łobaczewski's work in that case, despite his hope for it to amount to more. He also had a vision of a possible better future, sketchily proposing a societal ideal of "logocracy" which fully takes naturalistic principles and discoveries into account.[note 1]
Originally written in Polish in 1984 during his years in America, Łobaczewski had it translated,[note 2] but couldn't get it published in those years. He attributes this and other difficulties he and other politically targeted researchers from Poland experienced to the activity of the Polish secret police in America. His difficult life, experience of persecution, and perhaps LKJ's Polish husband, may in part explain his decision to turn to LKJ with his work upon finding some of her writings on psychopathy in the 00s. At that time, LKJ was simultaneously a paranoid conspiritualist and on the receiving end of vicious online stalking.[note 3]
Łobaczewski claims that scientists in Communist Poland and other countries, among which he was just one, were piecing together politically incorrect research, most of which was lost as the secret police was taking action against the spread of ideas and data concerning genetics, psychopathy, and more. Without the details of this older work, mainly ideas survive in the book Łobaczewski wrote, but more modern research on psychopathy, authoritarianism, and more, partially leads in a roughly similar direction. Political Ponerology however makes several large leaps which set it apart from more mainstream ideas.
The basic message of Political Ponerology is that there's not only a large difference between the vast majority of people and a small minority with malignant personality disorders, but that the latter can deform the psychology of groups and societies to the extent that they gain power, this being the great historical cause of large-scale inhumanity. To avoid such historical developments, humanity would need to smarten up about toxic psychology and cease to sometimes place the most toxic of people in positions of power.
When faced with "pathological material", with messages potentially eroding understanding and empathy, people need to be prepared to face manipulation and distinguish between what is basically healthy, and what is crazy (whether overtly or more subtly so). Belief in doctrines that don't take into account how people actually function can create gaps in awareness, making movements ripe for hijacking, and those devoted to advocating for the unethical tend to try to invert reality, using self-serving ad-hoc moralizations along with fallacious arguments in order to bend their audience to their will, to demonize detractors, and to scapegoat suitable "others".
Among the worst common human faults is egotism, not selfishness as such (egoism), but rather the measuring and judging of everything by personal criteria, by instinct or imagination or ingrained patterns, treating very personal preferences in how to deal with reality as if they were objective criteria. If it stays a more purely personal matter, it simply means a lack of psychological maturation. But some people desire to force others to adopt their subjective criteria and worldview as if it were objective reality, and this type of self-centered childishness is more extreme in the most toxic of people. Authoritarian regimes also embody that at the macrosocial scale.
Humanity is messy, and there's currently no credible recipe for a utopia. Simple doctrines that promise utopian results if only they are followed perfectly are, when persuasive and when people adopt the cause and fight for it, malevolent influences which need to be carefully understood so as to help make people immune to them. The greatest danger arises in times when basic psychological insight erodes among the masses, so that basically healthy argumentation and the type used by creators of doctrines with potential for large-scale inhumanity are treated as equally valid.
It's easy to recognize the pathological nature of organized crime, but what about organizations that begin as legitimate institutions and then gradually become more twisted? A core message is that toxic people tend to take over groups and organizations, and it can happen not only on the small scale but also on the scale of national government. Such a process of transformation increasingly pushes out basically healthy people and creates a climate of double-messages, in which the new inner ideology at odds with the old attracts more toxic people. The cause essentially transforms into one of elitism divorced from reality and relentless domination of all those who can be subjugated.
The language of Political Ponerology is complex and academic in style, and includes a mixture of medical jargon and dated psychological classifications, along with some terms coined by the author. Łobaczewski defines the non-standard terms used, so that it becomes obvious e.g. that the word psychopathy is not used in the same way as it is today, but rather refers to an older idea of a range of inherited personality disorders (among which "essential psychopathy" has the same features as the modern "psychopathy").
While Łobaczewski is very precise in some ways, he is rather fuzzy in other ways, e.g. in favoring the use of the word "normal" to basically mean the lack of the kind of psychological pathology which plays a part in bringing about destructive results. In short, "normal" is the opposite of "pathological" in his text. At the same time, he emphasizes that "depth and breadth of knowledge of human psychological variation is crucial", and such shorthand does not reflect a lack of richer concepts on his part. However, Łobaczewski does lack more complex, modern concepts regarding the origins of various mental disorders. More generally, he often seems to take his personal brand of common sense for granted, making the text less accessible to many.
Outside of quotes, dated and non-standard terms are replaced with conventional ones in this article. But a miniature glossary for some words, standard and non-standard alike, is worth including for clarity (and for the generally curious). The below highlights the differences from conventional language, but the descriptions may be too short and simple to truly capture Łobaczewski's thinking.
|egotism||Treating personal subjective criteria as objective criteria.|
|egocentrism||Treating all in the world as revolving around the self.|
|paralogism||Logically fallacious argument.|
|paramoralism||Ad-hoc manipulative moral argument.|
|pathocracy||Rule by the malignantly personality-disordered.|
|ponerogenesis||The genesis of evil (or inhumanity).|
|ponerology||The study of evil (used in a naturalistic rather than a religious sense).|
Apart from the use of outdated, early 20th century ideas, some other main criticisms connected to the key message are easy to summarize alongside it.
The big claim that knowledge of the kind which Łobaczewski provides is a great threat to power-hungry exploitative people seems, at a minimum, to be grossly exaggerated. Even if such ideas were targeted for stamping out by the Polish Communist establishment, there's so far no evidence that Łobaczewski's ideas make a significant positive difference when spread. And a conspicuous counterexample is the cult formed around the editor of the book, LKJ; its embracing and spreading of the ideas has not brought its members closer to psychological reality, nor has it helped the wider audience exposed to its "alternative news" incorporating such ideas, but rather Łobaczewski's entire intellectual framework has appeared to be used (albeit in distorted form) with ease for purposes of rationalizing a "Unified Conspiracy Theory" narrative pitting the cult against the rest of the world.
Where Łobaczewski himself seems to propose oversimplified ideas that do not fully take human nature into account, his work could be – as Ramon Glazov touched on in his examination of the book's message – compared to Łobaczewski's own category of "schizoidally" deficient doctrines. Glazov doesn't take the comparison further, to looking at proponents of the message who discard the most obviously flawed elements, who interpret it in less sensationalist and conspiracist ways, but such a comparison could also be made. To quote the way in which Łobaczewski describes healthy people interpreting such flawed messages...
The critically-corrective approach is taken by people whose feel for psychological reality is normal and they tend to incorporate the more valuable elements of the work. They then trivialize the obvious errors and fill in the missing elements of the schizoid deficiencies by means of their own richer world view. This gives rise to a more sensible, measured, and thus creative interpretation, but is cannot be completely free from the influence of the error frequently adduced above.
That stands in contrast to "pathological acceptance" and brutalization of ideas, which seems a good enough description for alt-right and conspirituality people who simultaneously believe in Political Ponerology at the level of quoting some ideas, while rationalizing that they are the only healthy ones in a sick world, and supporting views and agendas similar to those of QAnon. Nothing in Łobaczewski's message prevents people inclined towards extremism and doublethink from promoting it and views Łobaczewski would have viewed as psychopathic at the same time.
Łobaczewski briefly describes living through how, in Poland, the Stalinists seized control of academia, and psychology and psychiatry became censored fields tangled up in political correctness. Psychologists who found the new order imposed on society – and the persons advocating for the new dogma – psychologically pathological, were motivated to try to preserve and further research which had just become forbidden.
There's broadly two different types of psychological problems that people can have: those that mainly make the person with the problem miserable, and those that instead mainly make others miserable. In the second category, the most extreme is basically psychopathy. Genetics and the study of psychopathy (which was then viewed as genetic) were part of what became taboo when Soviet dogma began to dictate the curriculum. Comparing the years of normal education he had been through to the final year with compulsory Marxist indoctrination, Łobaczewski found psychology reduced to a mixture of Pavlovian conditioning and pseudoscience.
Old books with information that had become forbidden were systematically removed from university libraries, and students were forced to listen to new "professors" appointed specifically to propagandize and radicalize suitable followers with a pseudoscientific message. Most were confused and troubled by the message, and largely rejected it, but a minority of around 6% instead vigorously embraced what they heard and joined the new structure of ideological enforcement. This minority seemed to view themselves and their own "kind" as different and superior to all others, as if they had some secret knowledge to that effect.
Those engaged in or promoting research viewed by the new political establishment as subversive often became targets of the secret police. Łobaczewski's view is that such research was viewed as a threat because uncontrolled, it could easily begin to diagnose key persons in various roles and positions (including at the top of the political order), as well as the system as a whole, as being of a plainly unhealthy nature.
Łobaczewski claims that earlier work assembled in Poland and similar to Political Ponerology, but more purely research-oriented and with a lot more data, was prepared but lost to the secret police. Emigrating to the USA in 1977, Łobaczewski wrote a Polish version of his book in 1984, had it translated,[note 2] but couldn't get it published in those years. He attributes this and other difficulties he and other politically targeted researchers from Poland experienced to the activity of the Polish secret police in America.
On the book's editor
When Laura Knight-Jadczyk, the person who would later edit and (through her Red Pill Press) publish Łobaczewski's book, wrote her early web pages about psychopathy in the 00s, she compiled information about the classic research by Hervey Cleckley and more modern sources. After Łobaczewski encountered this attempt to popularize psychopathy research, he apparently believed he had found someone who could preserve and spread his message for the sake of the future. Old and in declining health, he died the year after the book was published, while LKJ went on to further psychologically corrupt her online community much like Łobaczewski has described pathological people doing in his book.[note 3]
A small but conspicuous distortion in the message of LKJ (and her Signs of the Times (SOTT) alternative fake news site) is the claim that 6% of humanity are psychopaths. This, apparently deliberately, confuses what in modern terms is called psychopathy with a different claim Łobaczewski makes in his book, that 6% of people have it in them to become radicalized to the point of taking on a psychopath-like personality as supporters of authoritarian inhuman causes. Political Ponerology estimates the number of "essential psychopaths", what corresponds to psychopaths in the modern sense, at a nowadays low 1/2% or a little above that. (The book however includes ideas of several other disorders a bit like psychopathy, mentioned as "other psychopathies", and a more blurry concept of "psychopathy" also including these would make for a number around 2%.)
While LKJ's 6% number is higher than current scientific estimates, she has gone beyond that in channeling various Cassiopaean messages, rationalized to be sensible and generally trustworthy by participants in her online community. For example, in early 2010 she channeled psychopathy statistics for 10 specific countries,[note 4] with Israel at 42% and China at 0.9%. LKJ and her online community, channeling included, have also embraced absurd authoritarian stances, e.g. having preferred for Donald Trump to have succeeded in a great QAnon-style revolution instead of the meager 2021 U.S. Capitol riot which took place, fundamentally at odds with Łobaczewski's most basic message.[note 5]
In considering LKJ's personal qualities as a cult leader, and how destructive personality traits are much the same in the worlds of politics and spiritual groups, some of Łobaczewski's descriptions seem to fit well, especially descriptions of "spellbinders" (who pull people away from the larger reality into the falsifications of the spellbinder, who convinces in part through a pathological lack of self-questioning), and paranoid personality. She demonstrates a paranoid imagination and persecution complex, and a disturbing divisiveness, an insufficiently critical audience then being swayed by her messages while projecting their own healthier psychology onto it (thus failing to see just how unreasonable the message really is). Such qualities are by no means unique to LKJ, and there's plenty of conspirituality and alt-right and other "us vs. them" kooks who do the same, with or without a cult following.
Societal vulnerability to developments bringing about evil come from hysteria and reality-blindness. A climate of emotionalism, lack of basic psychological sense, and a cultural "mania for taking offense", were common to Europe at the beginning of the 20th century and the USA of the early 1980s, according to Łobaczewski. In the case of Europe, this led to the drawn-out grand wreck and hell of the two world wars and part of their aftermath, and in the case of the USA, it still remains to be seen how far it all goes, though the psychology seems to have slid downhill gradually towards a very uncertain and dangerous time surrounding the years of the Donald Trump presidency.
In Łobaczewski's view, history repeats in a "hysteroidal cycle" of good and bad times changing places. Bad times force people to smarten up both intellectually and morally, and learn to be both constructive and discerning; without such effort, times remain miserable and people suffer and die needlessly. Good times instead lead to the decay of virtue and sound judgment, because a more safe and comfortable environment allows for slacker reality-checking and enables people to get away with ignoring inconvenient facts; furthermore, the collective pressure tends to become shaped in the image of the crass hedonism of the privileged. As a result, good times easily open the door leading to bad times, while bad times spur on efforts leading to good times. The best hope for breaking this cycle and making a better lasting future is to not only learn from the past and honor the reality of the present, but to truly get it down to a science.
Hysterical times come and go. Political Ponerology focuses especially on the developments in Europe around and after the beginning of the 20th century. Events in that time were followed by decades of peoples and their rulers making bad decisions worsening the situation in and between nations, all the way to the aftermath of World War II. In the crazy times around the outbreak of World War I, masses of people celebrated war as something nice and beautiful, until they experienced the horror of it. With incompetent emperors, revolutionary sentiments, and much more making up significant parts of the fabric of the times, the madness didn't stop there. German madness lead to more German madness in the form of the Nazi regime and its actions, and the upheavals in Russia led to the ruthless development and expansion of the Soviet Union. But after the end of WWII, Europe seems on the whole to have gone through decades of psychological maturation, compared to what was.
Łobaczewski's descriptions of hysterical mentality are roughly like a mixture of cognitive biases and the type of learned defects in reasoning described by George Orwell in 1984. Hysterical minds automatically replace elements of thought, arriving at the preferred or "acceptable" conclusions and slipping away from anything threatening those. Information processing errors of this kind range from the purely subconscious to a group hypocritically thinking up alternative facts and then accepting a "reality" together. Such bad mental habits make it easy for people to swallow bogus doctrines and for charismatic crooks to string others along, and that's why hysterical times so easily lead to authoritarian governments coming to power.
“”When the habits of subconscious selection and substitution of thought-data spread to the macrosocial level, a society tends to develop contempt for factual criticism and to humiliate anyone sounding an alarm. Contempt is also shown for other nations which have maintained normal thought-patterns and for their opinions. Egotistic thought-terrorization is accomplished by the society itself and its processes of conversive thinking. This obviates the need for censorship of the press, theater, or broadcasting, as a pathologically hypersensitive censor lives within the citizens themselves.
The role of injustice
Social injustice fuels hysteria and reality-negating "conversive thinking". A person with a conscience and in a privileged position, benefiting at the expense of others, naturally does not feel well with an accurate awareness of the larger situation. A dependence on more and less subtle forms of denial can develop, and spread across the generations; to some extent this may be the norm for how so-called good times are lived.
During “happy times” of peace dependent upon social injustice, children of the privileged classes learn to repress from their field of consciousness the uncomfortable ideas suggesting that they and their parents are benefitting from injustice against others. Such young people learn to disqualify [and] disparage the moral and mental values of anyone whose work they are using to over-advantage. Young minds thus ingest habits of subconscious selection and substitution of data, which leads to a hysterical conversion economy of reasoning. They grow up to be somewhat hysterical adults who, by means of the ways adduced above, thereupon transmit their hysteria to the next generation, which then develops these characteristics to an even greater degree. The hysterical patterns for experience and behavior grow and spread downwards from the privileged classes until crossing the boundary of the first criterion of ponerology: the atrophy of natural critical faculties with respect to pathological individuals.
A basic striving for justice and awareness of injustice wherever it exists, may be necessary for the sake of basic psychological hygiene, without which the descent into fuller macrosocial inhumanity comes more easily.
Personality and character disorders
“”I would like to warn those readers lacking knowledge and experience of their own in this area not to fall prey to the impression that the world surrounding them is dominated by individuals with pathological deviations, whether described herein or not; it is not.
Łobaczewski's thoughts on psychopathologies are, like conventional ones in psychiatry, in large part descended from the European early 20th century thinking at the core of the modern psychiatric paradigm. But by contrast, the development has branched out along a distinctly different road by around the middle of the century. Political Ponerology mostly leaves the task of closing the gap between the two, through further research and synthesis, for the future. Even when newer knowledge is available, Łobaczewski only rarely draws upon it (as when he refers to the work of Hervey Cleckley). This Eastern bloc offshoot may contain hard-won insights about harmful behavior, psychological manipulation, and both individual and societal dynamics, but lags behind the standard Western body of knowledge not only through missing data, but in some basic concepts being stuck in earlier paradigms. Where common ground can be found, there's often a difference in emphasis or overall angle.
The view on genetics vs. environment is dated, missing ideas and data regarding a more complex interplay between the two. The outdated view that some types of mental illness can be understood in terms of simple Mendelian inheritance is, ironically, also associated with Nazi involuntary sterilization. Łobaczewski also focuses a lot on types of brain damage as causes of personality deformation negatively impacting character.[note 6]
People with paranoid character disorders are described as often seeming largely reasonable as well as accurate in reasoning, until a significant difference in opinion enters the picture. When valued views are challenged, whether it happens visibly or only through implication within the inner world of the paranoid, the response can be unpleasant: illogical, manipulative, accusatory, and insulting. Political Ponerology emphasizes the aggressive aspects and varieties of the inner worlds and communication styles of paranoid people, along with describing causes of "paranoid characteropathy" plainly different from those of the conventional paranoid personality disorder.[note 7]
“”Paranoid character disorders: It is characteristic of paranoid behavior for people to be capable of relatively correct reasoning and discussion as long as the conversation involves minor differences of opinion. This stops abruptly when the partner's arguments begin to undermine their overvalued ideas, crush their long-held stereotypes of reasoning, or forces them to accept a conclusion they had subconsciously rejected before. Such a stimulus unleashes upon the partner a torrent of pseudological, largely paramoralistic, often insulting utterances which always contain some degree of suggestion.
More reasonable, mature, and logical people tend to find such behavior repulsive and therefore end up avoiding the paranoid. But less critical people may be swayed or psychologically beaten into submission, and the vulnerable include a large segment of young people, as well as people polarized by a struggle against injustice into being abnormally ready to make excuses for others in the name of a cause. Those earlier influenced or victimized by egotistical and disordered characters may be more vulnerable. There's also other possible psychological deficiencies that may add to vulnerability.
Łobaczewski emphasizes how "the power of the paranoid lies in the fact that they easily enslave less critical minds," and that they learn of and embrace their ability to control others with psychological violence through experience. Depending on the circumstances and how civilized the social environment is on the whole, the number of people who accept "paranoid argumentation" varies, "although it never approaches the majority." This may not matter to a paranoid aspiring leader if the object of crushing or disempowering the opposition is successful. As charismatic leaders, as in the case of Lenin, their lack of self-criticism and thorough-going demonizing of opponents makes it easy for them to spellbind larger audiences and define for them what is to count as ideologically pure and acceptable.
Named after the attributed cause, damage early in life to frontal parts of the cerebral cortex,[note 8] "frontal characteropaths" include Stalin, in Łobaczewski's view. Such people have very selectively impaired mental abilities. Their powers of more slow and careful abstract contemplation may be short-circuited, and over the years a character develops which is marked by quick intuitive decisions, and in "relatively vital people", belligerent risk-happy behavior and brutality in both word and deed.
The combination of good talent for understanding and influencing people and that type of damage is viewed as leading to "Stalinistic characters" who use their gifts in egotistic ways and become good at psychologically spellbinding groups of people.
While the use of the label "psychopathy" along with "schizoid" seems antiquated, and is sometimes used and sometimes not, Political Ponerology has a more negative view of such personalities than modern psychiatry, but not to the point of viewing them as being like the other types called psychopaths. Schizoidia is described as a genetic condition that impairs psychological instincts and understanding of others and human nature; schizoids tend to mess up when they try to to formulate philosophies requiring such understanding, and their good intentions easily translate into bad results. They are also described as being attracted to ideas of elitistic, authoritarian societies ordered around simple solutions unrealistically believed to lead to utopias.[note 9] In short, Łobaczewski's view has them trapped in a curious limbo in-between the "normal" and the "psychopathic" (for other uses of the word).
Schizoidia: Schizoidia, or schizoidal psychopathy, was isolated by the very first of the famous creators of modern psychiatry. From the beginning, it was treated as a lighter form of the same hereditary taint which is the cause of susceptibility to schizophrenia. However, this latter connection could neither be confirmed nor denied with the help of statistical analysis, and no biological test was then found which would have been able to solve this dilemma. For practical reasons, we shall discuss schizoidia with no further reference to this traditional relationship. [...]
Carriers of this anomaly are hypersensitive and distrustful, while, at the same time, pay little attention to the feelings of others. They tend to assume extreme positions, and are eager to retaliate for minor offenses. Sometimes they are eccentric and odd. Their poor sense of psychological situation and reality leads them to superimpose erroneous, pejorative interpretations upon other people's intentions. They easily become involved in activities which are ostensibly moral, but which actually inflict damage upon themselves and others. Their impoverished psychological worldview makes them typically pessimistic regarding human nature. We frequently find expressions of their characteristic attitudes in their statements and writings: "Human nature is so bad that order in human society can only be maintained by a strong power created by highly qualified individuals in the name of some higher idea." Let us call this typical expression the "schizoid declaration".[note 10]
Łobaczewski's view is that the worst thing schizoids do is to create doctrines perfect for use and abuse by other kinds of disordered individuals, as in the example of Marx and Engels and the later communist revolutions drawing upon their influence to create brutal dictatorships. In hysterical times, he claims, there's a certain persuasive power to oversimplified patterns of ideas providing simple and divisive answers. Furthermore, a movement based on psychologically deficient ideology also becomes more vulnerable to further derailment and corruption.
Schizoidia and Jews
In this area are the main reasons Łobaczewski's work has come to be associated with antisemitism. He viewed schizoidia as being relatively common among Jews, writing at the same time that 97% of Jews are not schizoids and that not all schizoids are Jews. He also apparently believed that the Protocols of the Elders of Zion were a genuine work and not a forgery, seeing it as a typical example of a schizoidal doctrine, but also rejected the idea of a larger international Jewish conspiracy. In an article critical of the book and its basic message, the journalist Ramon Glazov highlights how the talk of schizoidal fanatics and Jews, and also an association between Marxism and schizoid personality, are old far right themes – and mentions how the more general idea of schizoid Marxists as a problem was "dealt with" eugenically in Franco's Spain.
In a footnote, the book's editor inserted a correction pointing out that the Protocols are a forgery, though at the same time, in turn claimed in accordance with her own 9/11 truther worldview that the more general ideas in the Protocols are not a hoax, "since a reasonable assessment of the events in the United States over the past 50 years or so gives ample evidence of the application of these Protocols in order to bring about the current [George W. Bush] Neocon administration."
This is where the use of the word "psychopath" fully matches conventional usage. Łobaczewski sometimes elsewhere simply uses the shorter label to refer to the "essential psychopath". Comparing psychopathy to a kind of moral and emotional color-blindness, he mentions that psychopaths lack a sense of guilt for antisocial actions, are incapable of genuine love, and that their talkative rambling easily diverges from reality. They view the reactions of normal people as absurd and sometimes comical, and sometimes cruelly experiment on them. Psychopaths further seem to be able to recognize each other, and sometimes demonstrate a kind of elaborate knowledge of human psychology, formed through experience, which is like a cynical caricature of the knowledge developed by psychologists.
Essential psychopathy: Within the framework of the above [ponerology] assumptions, let us characterize another heredity-transmitted anomaly whose role in ponerogenic processes on any social scale appears exceptionally great. We should also underscore that the need to isolate this phenomenon and examine it in detail became quickly and profoundly evident to those researchers – including the author – who were interested in the macro-social scale of the genesis of evil, because they witnessed it. I acknowledge my debt to Kazimierz Dabrowski in doing this and calling this anomaly an "essential psychopathy".
Biologically speaking, the phenomenon is similar to color-blindness but occurs with about ten times lower frequency (slightly above 1/2%), except that, unlike color blindness, it affects both sexes. Its intensity also varies in scope from a level barely perceptive to an experienced observer to an obvious pathological deficiency.
Like color blindness, this anomaly also appears to represent a deficit in stimulus transformation, albeit occurring not on the sensory but on the instinctive level. Psychiatrists of the old school used to call such individuals "Daltonists of human feelings and socio-moral values".
Łobaczewski draws upon some descriptions by Hervey Cleckley[note 11] on how psychopaths imitate normality without fully understanding the differences between their pseudointent, pseudoremorse, pseudolove, etc., and the real thing. Psychopaths seemingly don't really understand what the opposite of hypocrisy is.
There are other more or less psychopath-like individuals who show various patterns different than the classic one[note 11] described by Hervey Cleckley. (According to Łobaczewski, the type of people who Cleckley studied – a large portion of whom went in and out of prisons and mental institutions several times – find roles they are naturally suited for in pathocracies, given their twisted institutions and criteria within them.) These somewhat differently or more subtly twisted characters are larger in number according to Łobaczewski, roughly two to three times as many as the "essential psychopaths". However these "other psychopathies" may be subcategorized, in total the individuals are fewer than 2% of the population.[note 12]
“”Once a group has inhaled a sufficient dose of pathological material to give birth to the conviction that these not-quite-normal people are unique geniuses, it starts subjecting its more normal members to pressure characterized by corresponding paralogical and paramoral elements.
Ponerization is a warping of an individual or collective psyche where the "evil" (ponero-) part has to do with distortion of moral contents, towards acceptance of inhumanity. Analyzed mainly in groups rather than individuals in Political Ponerology, it is viewed as a collective social disease with characteristic causes and ways of proceeding. Essentially, it happens when toxic people succeed in redefining reality and what is healthy and good, leading to acceptance of a psychopathological worldview. In groups, it can progress to the point of normalizing inhuman behavior on the part of a movement (whatever its ostensible aims) and even potentially lead a political movement to taking power in the form of a "pathocracy".
In initial stages, the largest role tends to be played by "characteropaths" (for example paranoid manipulative people), people whose disturbed psychological development has lead to deficient character, but who are not psychopathic or born the way they have ended up.[note 6] When psychopaths rise to the top in groups or organizations, it usually happens after earlier stages have already severely damaged collective psychological understanding, so that the psychopaths can fit in easily.
The full described ideal for how members of a group should be and work, in order to avoid vulnerability, is a tall order. While suitable for secular (especially research-oriented) organizations, it's essentially at odds with the nature of religious and spiritual organizations. The following description only fits what is realistically possible for human beings given their brains and cognition if taken in a somewhat relative way, rather than as an absolute (given the existence of cognitive bias and perfectly "normal" flaws), though various related practical rules are certainly possible (and often sensible) to arrive at.
“”If any group seeks to avoid ponerization, it will want to exclude individuals with any psychological dependence on subjective beliefs, rites, rituals, drugs, and certainly those individuals that are incapable of objectively analyzing their own inner psychological content or who reject the process of Positive disintegration.
Devotion to such principles and rigor seem to be key to Łobaczewski's vision of a scientific monitoring of society and exclusion of malignantly disordered people from positions of power. An institution with such a critical purpose would need to be built up in such a way as to be self-correcting rather than risk self-corruption.
"Turning into half-wits"
Any human group affected by the process described herein is characterized by its increasing regression from natural common sense and the ability to perceive psychological reality. Someone considering this in terms of traditional categories might consider it an instance of “turning into half-wits” or the development of intellectual deficiencies and moral failings. A ponerological analysis of this process, however, indicates that pressure is being applied to the more normal part of the association by pathological factors present in certain individuals who have been allowed to participate in the group because the lack of good psychological knowledge has not mandated their exclusion.
Thus, whenever we observe some group member being treated with no critical distance, although he betrays one of the psychological anomalies familiar to us, and his opinions being treated as at least equal to those of normal people, although they are based on a characteristically different view of human matters, we must derive the conclusion that this human group is affected by a ponerogenic process and if measures are not taken the process shall continue to its logical conclusion. We shall treat this in accordance with the above described first criterion of ponerology, which retains its validity regardless of the qualitative and quantitative features of such a union: the atrophy of natural critical faculties with respect to pathological individuals becomes an opening to their activities, and, at the same time, a criterion for recognizing the association in concern as ponerogenic.
In short, groups which fail to distinguish between the basically honest and decent and the basically crooked or dishonest are twisted. Such blindness becomes cemented by peer pressure, which can be experienced as a moral pressure or even a terror, when really toxic people are allowed to (re)define what the group or organization is all about in practice.
There's a basic difference in scale between e.g. political movements becoming inhumanly extreme and authoritarian while striving to grab more power, on the one hand, and smaller groups of other types producing absurd and painful dramas for their members and a few outsiders, but the basic nature of what unfolds is exactly the same, according to Łobaczewski.
Groups going through the type of psychological degeneration referred to as "ponerization" begin to use curiously inverted selection criteria for their members. To avoid being held back by possible defectors or troublemakers, they begin to reject, as quickly as possible, those with too much mental independence and too rich and nuanced worldviews. The proper way of being according to such a group, possibly including unconscionable features taking it all beyond being at odds with what is generally constructive and healthy, becomes a moral must.
For many people, such pressure of collective opinion takes on attributes of a moral criterion; for others, it represents a kind of psychological terror ever more difficult to endure. The phenomenon of counter-selection thus occurs in this phase of ponerization: individuals with a more normal sense of psychological reality leave after entering into conflict with the newly modified group; simultaneously, individuals with various psychological anomalies join the group and easily find a way of life there. [...]
People who have been thus thrown out of a ponerogenic association because they were too normal suffer bitterly; they are unable to understand their specific state. Their ideal, the reason they joined the group, which constituted a part of the meaning of life for them, has now been degraded, although they cannot find a rational basis for this fact. They feel wronged; they "fight against demons" they are not in a position to identify. The fact is their personalities have already been modified to a certain extent due to saturation by abnormal psychological material, especially psychopathic material. They easily fall into the opposite extreme in such cases, because unhealthy emotions rule their decisions. What they need is good psychological information in order to find the path of reason and measure. Based on a ponerologic understanding of their condition, psychotherapy could provide rapid positive results. However, if the union they left is succumbing to deep ponerization, a threat looms over them: they may become the objects of revenge, since they have "betrayed" a magnificent ideology.
This is the stormy period of a group’s ponerization, followed by a certain stabilization in terms of contents, structure, and customs. Rigorous selective measures of a clearly psychological kind are applied to new members. [...]
“”Psychopathic individuals generally stay away from social organizations characterized by reason and ethical discipline. After all, such organizations are created by that other world of normal people so foreign to them. They hold various social ideologies in contempt, while, at the same time, easily discerning all their actual failings. However, once the process of poneric transformation of some human union into its yet undefined cartoon counterpart has begun and advanced sufficiently, they perceive this fact with almost infallible sensitivity: a circle has been created wherein they can hide their failings and psychological differentness, find their own modus vivendi, and maybe even realize their youthful Utopian dream of a world where they are in power and all those other, “normal people”, are forced into servitude.
Not coincidentally, Łobaczewski's description of the full process matches the multi-stage development of what he describes as the pathocracy of the Soviet Union. Inspiration, in the form of the oversimplified and divisive revolutionary doctrine created by "schizoidal psychopaths" Marx and Engels, was used in brutalized form by "paranoid characteropath" Lenin to create his revolution and dictatorship. Next, the more twisted and destructive "frontal characteropath" Stalin took the new tyranny much further, while becoming dependent on "essential psychopaths" (psychopaths in modern terms, e.g. Beria) among the psychopaths who gained in influence and turned the system into their own in a longer-lasting way.
The case of Nazi Germany
“”Many thoughtful persons keep asking the same anxious question: how could the German nation have chosen for a Fuehrer a clownish psychopath who made no bones about his pathological vision of superman rule? Under his leadership, Germany then unleashed a second criminal and politically absurd war. During the second half of this war, highly-trained army officers honorably performed inhuman orders, senseless from the political and military point of view, issued by a man whose psychological state corresponded to the routine criteria for being forcibly committed to a psychiatric hospital.
In the case of the Nazi German pathocracy and how it came about, Łobaczewski describes a longer, multi-generational process of the people gradually losing its senses, leading to a perverse acceptance, and even hunger, for what Adolf Hitler had to offer. Around the beginning of the 20th century, Europe and its countries were going through a peak of hysterical mentality in general, with three of the countries ruled by emperors unable to competently deal with reality. The climate of the times may further have influenced hysterical rulers much like they in turn went on to add to the hysteria of their societies.
Germany's last emperor, Wilhelm II, was in Łobaczewski's view immature and incapable of reaching healthy psychological maturity, and generally incompetent on top of that. Beyond compensating for his feelings of inferiority through militaristic posing, Wilhelm II removed better-suited people from key roles in his government when they began to oppose or express dislike of him and replaced them with less competent sycophants. His impulsive responses to unfolding events further led to Germany's involvement in World War I, to his gradual loss of power, and then his abdication following Germany's defeat. A whole generation was negatively influenced by the disordered character of the emperor and his government.
“”Since the common people are prone to identify with the emperor, and through the emperor, with a system of government, the characteropathic material emanating from the Kaiser resulted in many Germans being progressively deprived of their ability to use their common sense. [...] It is extremely typical that in many German families having a member who was psychologically not quite normal, it became a matter of honor (even excusing nefarious conduct) to hide this fact from public opinion, and even from the awareness of close friends and relatives. Large portions of German society ingested psychopathological material, together with that unrealistic way of thinking wherein slogans take on the power of arguments and real data are subjected to subconscious selection.
Łobaczewski thought that after a generation of not quite wholesome influence, the collective psyche of the German nation became like that of a person raised by hysterical parents with pathological character. Therapists sometimes deal with individuals with such a past who become trapped in counter-productive, hurtful, possibly violent patterns, and it requires a large amount of skillful work to help such people recover a more realistic understanding of how life in the world among others work. But no one could help the German people as a whole, which after much suffering tended to view itself as the victim and to crave the opposite of realism, something akin to a drugged frenzy promising escape and relief through intensification of the sickness instead of its lessening. And so, in Łobaczewski's view, "A characteropathic personality opened the door for leadership by a psychopathic individual." In turn Hitler's government was one in which psychopathy became a central force of inspiration, in the image of which much was shaped.
- Publisher's website for Political Ponerology
- Official Ponerology blog (Maintained by Sott.net editors.)
- Systemsthinker.com's main Ponerology page (Independent descriptions and summaries.)
- (((Bearded schizoidal fanatics))): pathologising character in the Trump era (Critical article by Ramon Glazov.)
- Sott.net Interview with Łobaczewski on YouTube
- While Łobaczewski's "logocracy" is a secular ideal type of government, it is fundamentally opposed to dogmatic ideologies such as Marxism in which politically dictated pseudoscience usurps the role of science, no matter how secular it all may be. The "logos" part is about science having the final say as to the "how" going along with a basically humanistic "what".
- Ponerologia Polityczna was translated into English in 1985 by Alexandra Chciuk-Celt, then revised by Łobaczewski in 1998.
- To be fair, LKJ did get the work Łobaczewski cared about published and discoverable before his short remaining time came to an end. It's also difficult to know what the seasoned old psychologist actually thought about LKJ and what he really expected from her. Though presumably, Łobaczewski would spin in his grave if he were to see how perversely LKJ has appropriated the basic message as part of her personality cult over the years.
- These "Cassiopaean statistics" for psychopathy are listed in a table at Laura Knight-Jadczyk#Psychopaths and ponerology.
- LKJ appears to be playing paramoralistic redefinition and reinterpretation games. Having earlier endorsed Bob Altemeyer's work and general knowledge of authoritarianism, she nowadays continues to present authoritarianism as a problem – but it is apparently no longer what actual researchers think it is, but rather whatever opposes the authoritarian agendas she is supporting.
- Łobaczewski views "characteropathy" in large part in terms of brain damage and related physical defects, often but not always taking precedence over non-biological factors in psychological development. Newer ideas about physiological causes of disorders, as well as more modern discoveries about neuroplasticity and more, in large part leads away from Łobaczewski's emphasis on brain damage.
- "Paranoid characteropathy" seems unrelated to the schizo-family of disorders, and is described in a way that makes it look like it would fit better among cluster B personality disorders than among cluster A personality disorders. As for the proposed cause, "Most typical are those cases caused by an aggression in the diencephalon by various pathological factors... Particularly during sleepless nights, runaway thoughts give rise to a paranoid changed view of human reality, as well as to ideas which can be either gently naive or violently revolutionary."
- Specifically, damage to Brodmann area 10. This idea seems echoed in more modern work by Antonio Damasio, who in 2007 published an experiment showing that subjects with damage to the ventromedial prefrontal cortex reason coldly in ethical dilemmas seemingly without the emotional anguish of people with functioning empathy.
- While conventional modern psychiatry describes a covert grandiosity to schizoids which may at least in part match Łobaczewski's claim of their egotism, it's not at all clear that schizoids would all be the same in their tastes regarding elitistic divisiveness. Without clearer evidence, it seems sensible to suggest that life experiences, and/or other individual variations, may play a large part in such matters and generally what types of ideology schizoids are attracted to. The evidence which Łobaczewski builds upon is either missing or of types no longer accepted as credible.
- What goes wrong is, of course, that the "highly qualified individuals" turn out to be more toxic and destructive than the norm. Human nature does not change merely because ideologies or their creators or believers want it to, and when people having at best the same human nature as others think that throwing more hierarchical domination into the mix will create a better world for humanity, there's something very basic missing in their awareness.
- See the Wikipedia article on The Mask of Sanity.
- These "other psychopathies" and a total number of "psychopaths" around 2% when including them, where the majority are more well-adjusted and subtle than those described by Hervey Cleckley, begins to at least somewhat resemble ideas by some modern psychologists which increase the number of psychopaths or sociopaths (e.g. psychologist Martha Stout's higher 4% estimate) and/or emphasize ideas of more well-adjusted or professionally "successful psychopaths".
- Łobaczewski, Andrew M., Laura Knight-Jadczyk, and Henry See. Political Ponerology: a Science on the Nature of Evil Adjusted for Political Purposes. (Grande Prairie, Red Pill Press, 2006, ISBN 978-1-897244-25-8). Print
- Political Ponerology Home (Publisher's promotional website)
- "(((Bearded schizoidal fanatics))): pathologising character in the Trump era", Ramon Glazov, 26 June 2020, Overland
- "Ponerology 101: Lobaczewski and the origins of Political Ponerology", sott.net, 15 February 2010
- "In Memoriam: Andrzej M. Lobaczewski", sott.net, 16 June 2008 – includes an interview
- "Sott.net Interview with Andrew Lobaczewski Author of Political Ponerology", YouTube (Uploaded November 26, 2011)
- "Psychopaths rule our world!" image with SOTT's 6% number
- Cassiopaea Session 30 January 2010 – psychopaths in population percentages for 10 countries, Haiti earthquake artificially induced, and other secrets.
- Cassiopaea Session 30 January 2021 – discussing how the Deep State strikes back.