PONEROLOGY - THE STUDY OF EVIL
What is this evil? If we recognize it to be the root of all suffering, then even the Buddha dealt with it in his own way, yet it keeps harassing us. While living in the USA, I had the privilege of meeting Andrzej Lobaczewski, a clinical psychologist who coined the term PONEROLOGY from the Greek word for evil. He used this term to describe the results of his many years of research, which can be said to supplement ethics from the psychiatric point of view. Unfortunately he was not always able to get his message through, and the better part of his work was never published as far as I know. Closer contact with Andrzej Lobaczewski encouraged me to familiarize myself with other problematics on similar topics smuggled out of the Soviet Union and Hungary. Since I gave a series of interviews at that time (namely 1984) in connection with the publication of my work The Psychological Roots of Communism, I decided to devote an additional radio interview to this very subject. The statements made therein had been jointly formulated beforehand with Andrzej Lobaczewski, who didn ‘ t disclose his name at that time. Although this was all quite a long time ago, I believe the topic deserves wider renown.
May I attach an English translation of my Polish-language interview by Andrzej Holik, a Voice of America editor.
Andrzej HOLIK: You once spoke about how people affected by certain psychological anomalies can influence the development of relation-ships insociety. One of the chapters of your book is titled The SocialStructures of Evil. Could you tell us more about that?
Marian Wasilewski: I’m glad youaskedthat particular question even though the topic goes beyond the contents of that work. Sometime after I wrote the book, I met up with some of the results of psychological investigations end am thus eager to talk about them here. However, without some preparatory work it would be hard to grasp the essence of the matter. Above all, I would like to mention the so-called Social Filters constituting the outermost barrier of the consciousness of normal, mentally healthy people.
We know language to be such a filter. This function bestows upon the meaning of words an ambiguity, or rather duality, which allows us to protect our own ego, including psychological rationalization, and makes it easier to fulfill selfish desires. Another filter is the divalent true-or-false logic dominating our culture. Its main purpose is to comprehend the outside world, not the human psyche. Another is the social contents of experience, which make us adapt to the attitudes and opinions of others so as to avoid becoming isolated if our opinions and actions do not enjoy general acceptance. Other elements are also crucial, such as beliefs, stereotypes, habits, and the like. Healthy commonsensical thinking developed in such an environment. A refined common sense attempts to reconcile the reality of the outside world with our holistic emotional reactions and attitudes. It shapes the standards for coexistence and accepts moral outrage if these are violated. It is generally respected, and for good reason. But our healthy common sense is limited by the outermost barrier I just mentioned, which makes it hard to get an objective view of the world, especially of ourselves, other people, and our social matters in general.
A. H. : Does this means that psychology can break through this barrier?
I would say cross rather than break through. I think it isn ‘ t too early to say that the development of depth psychology, especially the enormous progress made by testing over the past dozen or so years, makes it possible to cross this barrier based on objective scientific research. But we must still conquer what one could call the paradigmatic inertia of our culture. We must also bear in mind that scientists are people too and have limitations of their own.
But I digress. Worldwide statistics indicate that in various countries and under various living conditions, between 2% and 4% of the people are mentally ill or handicapped. Their psychological normality is usually deficient in a variety of ways, but they are not a serious threat to other people and in no way jeopar - dize society as a whole. Normal people usually indicate great variety in terms of character, psychological types, interests and efficiency. This is a great gift of Nature because it allows humanity to develop in many directions.
However, there are some types of mental illness or psychological deficits whose symptoms are so moderate or covered up by dissimulation that other people fail to recognize them and generally evaluate the behavior of their carriers in accordance with commonsensical moral criteria.
A. H. : If such illnessesexist now, they must surely have existed before. Are we only able to detect them now because of modern methods of psychological research? Were they unknown in the past?
M. W. : Of course they have always existed and were noticed by many specialists. But society, meaning regular people, dit not notice them and still does not. On the other hand, the specialists had trouble with the diagnosis. Modern diagnostic methods, especially testing methodologies, now make it possible to individuate such cases, which are about double the number of people who are so mentally handicapped or ill that those around them notice it. But only some of them, relatively few, can be characterized as ponerogenic, meaning that they can be harmful to people around them or to society in general.
A. H. : Whattypes of sickness are you thinking of?Could you give us some characteristic examples?
M. W. : The specialists indicate certain characteropathies caused by organic damage to the brain. For instance, the frontal lobes of the cerebral cortex constitute a center for the internal projection of abstract concepts and the imagination, which allows them to be viewed and critically processed. Damage to these lobes, especially if it occurs perinatally or in early childhood, causes the persons thereby affected to develop pathological egotism, vindictiveness and fanaticism.
For instance, if a mother is affected by this psychological deficiency, it is sure to boomerang lethally upon the way she raises her children, causing the latter to develop serious psychological deviations. After all, the mother ‘ s influence upon her children takes place by means of identification, suggestion, and idolization, or else is countered by protest in terms of reaction-formation to such influence.
As I already mentioned, these people are usually considered mentally normal by the social environment, which interprets their behavior in accordance with moral criteria. They are thus able to unleash their ” charisma ” on the entire society.
There are many indications that this category of people may include Stalin, Pol Pot, or Khomeini. Based on the opinion of specialists, mostly from the Soviet Union, and whose names cannot be divulged therein, we may assume that Brezhnev did not indicate any such psychological deficiencies. However Andropov did manifest clearly psychopathic symptoms. Such macroscopic evaluations should be confirmed by means of specific clinical investigations, but this does not appear possible in practice. Later I will talk more about psychopathic anomalies because they are so very significant.
Another type of organic illness is damage to the diencephalon (interbrain), which is the regulatory center for the work of the brain itself. It also maintains the inhibitory tonus in the cerebral cortex. This center is sensitive to bacteriological attack.
In order to illustrate this type of illness, may I adduce an (unfortunately un- published) statement by a Polish clinician whose name I cannot divulge:
Their thinking process is rapid but insufficiently thorough. It is very easy for them to push inconvenient associationsout of their field of consciousness and arrive at paralogical conclusions. They are asthenic and generally gentle, but react to objective criticism with hurt resentment, sometimes even cursing the critic ‘ s person. Vassily Grossman wrote as follows on one of more severe cases of this type:
” … he was always considerate, gentle, and amiable. At the same time he was characterized by unmitigated severity, ruthlessness, and brutality against his political opponents. He never allowed the possibility that they might be even slightly right, or that he could be even slightly wrong. “
Such people have double personality to some extent. They maintain the normal human heritage based upon the proper instinctive foundation. Once the pathological deformations are filtered out, they can often serve the good of society. Small wonder, then, that they often find resonance in the consciousness of other people, weakening the latter ‘ s ability to use their healthy common sense.
A. H. : I suspect thisdescription refers to Lenin. Am I right?
M. W. : Perhaps. But I think we should be somewhat reticent in judging people who create ideologies. I only wanted to show that such creation may also be the carrier for pathological influences, attacking society ‘ s consciousness. For instance , science has not yet figured out how the German nation could possibly have chosen a psychopath as their Fuhrer and thereupon obeyed his orders even he was so mentally ill as to be certifiable for commitment. Now let me discuss a certain psychological anomaly which has a crucial effect on the course of ponerogenic processes on the societal scale. The charactero - pathies mentioned above are usually initiators, providing a fermenting patho - substrate, eating into the tissue of humanitarian ideology, and acting fascinatelly upon their environment. Then come the others who make it possible for the ponerogenic processes to develop on a scale such as found in today ‘ s totalitarian systems. These others are affected by psychopathy. Most specialists nowadays probably agree that the so-called specific psychopathy is inherited. Its frequency is roughly equal to that of color-blindness, i.e. about 3 per thousand. However, investigating the anomaly itself and its influence upon ponerogenic processes required us to differentiate between various versions of specific psychopathy and pathological phenomena with similar symptoms, the latter being over 10 times as numerous. According to the above mentioned clinical psychologist, specific psychopathy is most probably transmitted via the X chromosome via an incompletely dominant gene.
A. H. : You once mentioned that a psychopath is a healthy person…
M. W. : Yes. He is mentally and physically healthy. His anomaly consists of deleting certain emotional resonances characterizing normal people. Let me better characterize this anomaly by quoting from this unpublished clinician ‘ s work again:
The essence of the phenomenon consists of a partial deficit in the natural human instinctual reactions of the person ‘ s primary caregiver. Based on this deficit, the development period produces a corresponding deficit in higher feelings and a poor or deformed concept of a psychological, social, and moral world-view. This leads to feelings of being a stranger in a strange land dominated by normal people who make very high demands. They rebel against such a society which is ” always talking about these stupid ” and incomprehensible moral theories so as to destroy their freedom and joy of life. They feel different from a very early age ( … ). At more or less the same time, they develop a characteristic ability or unique resonance which makes it easier for them to recognize each other. Not only do they quickly build networks within societies; they also realize that they exist everywhere, in every social class and in every country. So they know certain bio-psychological facts that the average person is unaware of; nor has science yet sufficiently clarified such facts or made them widely known. We find typical psychopaths wherever evil has already germinated, wher- ever cunning and ruthlessness are paramount and the customs of normal human beings are scorned. They were and are Secret Police organizers and Kommandants, guards, and SS men in concentration and death camps, they are into organized crime and drug trafficking, they are the core of security appara- tuses. They can also be … ostensibly suave but repulsive diplomats.
It ‘ s interesting that a psychopath is almost as intelligent as a normal person. On Wechsler IQ tests his verbal score is always higher than for activities. So psychopaths are eloquent, but all they lack is top talent. Their world is always divided into us and them. A society governed by normal people condemns psychopaths, makes them submit to its laws, and pushes them into a marginal and often criminal existence. This is painful, and they consider it a raging injustice. They therefore actively parti- cipate in all types of social actions just like bacteria, especially those which already contain a pathological element introduced by individuals who are either characteropathic themselves or influenced by characteropaths. Psychopaths see unprecedented opportunities in revolutionary movements. They build pathological networks and start bending the movement in the direction of their own needs . They attract people with other psychological deficits which have weakened their critical faculties, as well as weak and mediocre individuals. Ideologies are their crucial armor. The more good is in their contents, the longer they serve as an external form while the internal contents of the movement are ravaged by a mysterious illness. The ideology ‘ s true believers are then deemed to be separatists and are treated like the worst of enemies — which they in fact are.
The relationship between the ponerogenic process discussed herein and the ideology it acquires is analogous to the relationship between mental illness and its delusional system.
A. H. : What do you think of remedies? What therapy should be brought to bear in order to eliminate this strange illness?
M. W. : Prevention above all! Merely creating the conditions for unhindered scientific research in this area requires conquering the scientific inertia I spoke about at the beginning of our conversation. This is no easy matter. In addition to opposition from many specialists, which is quite natural and occurs in every scientific domain as a reaction to fundamental concepts of progress, we must also cross society ‘ s barrier of common sense for the sake of an objective attitude which many people will find difficult to accept. We should also remember the charges made against such research, such as that they aim at curtailing personal freedom and pigeonholing people. This danger does of course exist. Let as not forget that virtually the sole purpose of psychiatry in the Soviet Union was fighting the political opposition. In the future, however, the most effective therapy to counter the social effects of the action of ponerogenic processes will probably be the dissemination of knowledge on the topic, especially as regards bringing up and educating the young. ” Immunizing ” people against ponerogenic influences can have an effect analogous to medicinal antibiotics, shattering and disintegrating the social structures of evil. Understanding this macroscopic phenomenon of evil, which has taken over much of our planet and scourges us all because it can infect anyone, will probably take more than just healthy commonsensical concepts and normal everyday language. After all, it lies beyond the confines of natural language, just as the structure of the atom lies beyond the confines of Euclidean geometry. This constitutes the secret of the power and incurability of the Communist system, and also of the weakness of democracy, since the latter is based exclusively on the affirmation of concepts formulated in natural language. Caring for persons affected by ponerogenic psychological defects requires extensive separate research. At any rate, it should be characterized by deep concern and - I don ‘ t hesitate to say it - love. Our actions must be geared toward eliminating the negative results and their effects while simultaneously avoiding the repression caused by moral outrage. The authors of the studies discussed herein insist that moral outrage fails to counter the causes of evil - quite the contrary, it leads to a moralizing interpretation of pathological phenomena and to an emotional involvement which encourages punitive cravings and vindictive feelings, thereupon leading to another evil.
I would further like to comment that we absolutely must make a clear separation between an ideology and the illness hiding behind it if we are to eliminate the social structures of evil causally, and thus effectively. If we wish to understand the phenomenon within its historical process, and there- upon counter it in a skilled and causal manner, we must first differentiate between its two members. Calling an ideology true or false is an oversimplification, and thus improper from this point of view. Attacking the ideology only reinforces the pathological process. Combating an ideology is analogous to destroying a mentally ill person ‘ s delusional images: as a result, the pathological process is reinforced rather than weakened. In this case, the contents of the ideology are secondary in importance, just as the type of delusions suffered by the mentally ill person is irrelevant. Being mesmerized by the contents of an ideology - which generally happens in the sphere of healthy commonsensical thinking - thus masks the true causes of the pathological process. It is therapeutically crucial that the illness be deprived of its ideological support, which means the positive contents of the ideology should be filtered out and included in society ‘ s developmental process as far as possible.
May I end on an optimistic note and point out that human nature does not change: it was shaped by instinct and the ability to think, transmitted phylogenetically over the generations. May I thus repeat what that clinical psychologist said:
If all the individuals in power were unable to distinguish red from green and tried to force society as a whole to stop distinguishing ripe red tomatoes from green ones, many citizens would be willing to eat green tomatoes while under the watchful eye of severe supervisors. But once the powers that be left, the citizens would simply down one for the road and make a salad using the nice ripe red ones.
Andrzej Holik: Thank you for this interesting conversation.