WEIRD Personality Traits as Stable Egoic Structure

Nearly every scientific field of study is facing a replication crisis and, although known about for decades now, it still has not been resolved. Most researchers are so limited in their knowledge and expertise that they lack any larger context of understanding. They simply don’t know what they don’t know and there is no incentive in siloed professions to spend time to understand anything outside of one’s field. In science, the replication crisis has numerous causes, sometimes because of bad study design or the difficulty of some areas of study. Nutrition studies, for example, has been dependent on epidemiological studies that are based on correlations without being able to prove causation; and, on top of that, are often dependent on notoriously unreliable self-reporting food surveys where people have to guesstimate what they ate in the past, sometimes over a period of years. More recent research has shown that much of what we thought we knew simply is not true or has yet to be verified.

Another problem is what or who is studied. There are problems with the lab animals used because certain species adapt better to labs, even though other species are more similar in certain ways to humans. Researchers’ preference for lab mice, for example, is not unlike the guy looking for his keys under the streetlight because the light was better there. This problem applies to human subjects as well, in that they’ve mostly been white middle class undergraduate college students in the United States because most research has been done in U.S. colleges; and, in medical studies of the past, this mostly involved men which meant women in healthcare were treated as men without penises. The first part is known as the WEIRD bias (Western Educated Industrialized Rich Democratic), and it has particularly rocked the world of the social sciences. Take personality studies where the leading theory has been the Big Five (openness to experience, conscientiousness, extraversion, agreeableness, and neuroticism), with an additional factor being added to form the HEXACO model (honesty-humility). Like so much else, it turns out that most of these personality traits don’t replicate outside of WEIRD and WEIRD-like populations. This challenge of non-WEIRD cultures and mentalities has been around a long time, as seen in the anthropological literature, but most experts in other fields have remained largely ignorant of what anthropologists have known for more than a century, that environment shapes mind, perception, and behavior.

The funny thing is that, even when studies have shown this problem with the Big Five, the WEIRD bias continues to hold sway over those trying to explain away the potential implications and to put the non-WEIRD results back into WEIRD boxes. This is done by asserting the bad results are simply caused by social desirability bias and acquiescence bias, since the answers given by non-WEIRD individuals seem to be contradictory. The researchers and interpreters of the research refuse to take the results at face value, refuse to give the benefit of the doubt that these non-WEIRD people might be accurately reporting their experience. There is almost a grasp of what is going on in pointing to these biases, since these biases are about context, but this comes so close only to miss the point. Non-WEIRD cultures and mentalities tend to be more context-dependent and so unsurprisingly give varying responses in being sensitive to how questions are being asked, whereas the WEIRD egoic abstraction of rules and principles operates more often the same across contexts. Only a highly WEIRD person would think that it is even possible to discover something entirely unrelated to context.

WEIRD personality traits are a kind of psychological rule-orientation where the individual adheres to a psychological heuristic of cognitive behavior, a strict and rigid maintenance of thought pattern that calcifies into an identity formation. The failure of cross-cultural understanding is that the very concept of a stable, unchanging personality might itself be part of the WEIRD bias and an exaggerated extension of the larger Axial Age shift when the ego theory of mind took hold, what some call Jaynesian consciousness in reference to Julian Jaynes theory about the disappearance of the bicameral mind that is a variation of the bundle theory of mind. This was then magnified by mass literacy, beginning with the Protestant Reformation, that alters brain structure, as argued by Joseph Henrich. It might not merely be that those very far distant from WEIRD culture not only lack WEIRD-style personality traits but might also lack egoic personality structures. Most WEIRD people can’t acknowledge non-WEIRD mentalities, much less grok what they mean and how to imaginatively empathize with them. The sad part is this also demonstrates a lack of self-awareness, as the bundled mind essentially exists in all of us, something that can be observed by anyone looking into their own psyche — this is why contemplative traditions like Buddhism adhere to the bundle theory of mind.

Another explanation of this psychological change of personality traits is that agriculture and later industrialization increased labor specialization that generally passed down the generations. These work niches were originally and largely still occupied by specific families, kin networks, castes, and communities over centuries or longer (e.g., feudal serfs and factory workers). It formed a stable environment and a stable culture that shaped the human psyche according to what was required. This is the opposite of hunter-gatherers who are forced to be generalists in doing a wide variety of work. Agriculture had led to some gender specialization, but even that specialization was often limited. It is definitely true, though, that hunter-gatherers are far less specialized where some like the egalitarian Piraha have little specialization at all, along with no permanent authority of any kind. It’s possible that represents how humanity lived for most of evolution when food was more abundant and life easier, as is the case where the Piraha live along a river surrounded by lush jungle. The study of the Piraha have helped challenge one area of WEIRD bias, that of seeing the world through a highly recursive literary culture. The Piraha apparently lack linguistic recursion; i.e., embedded phrases. By the way, they are an animistic culture with the typical bundled mind as overt 4E cognition (embodied, embedded, enactive, and extended). Such animistic cultures allow for personality fluidity, sometimes temporary possessions and at other times permanent identity changes.

Even gender specialization might be a somewhat recent invention, corresponding to the invention of the bow and arrow. For most of human existence, humans hunted with spears and the evidence now points to spear hunting having required the whole tribe, including women. Some of the earliest rock art also portrays men holding the hands of children, which indicates that men were either involved with childcare or not kept separate from it, maybe because the children had to be brought along on the hunt with the whole tribe. So, even the theory that there are two genetically-determined personality types based on men hunting and women gathering was a result of relatively recent changes. By the way, those changes were caused by the megafauna die-off. Smaller game replaced the megafauna and hunting smaller game motivated development of new hunting tools and techniques. The bow and arrow, once invented, allowed individuals to hunt alone and this more often was an activity of men. This forced women to take up a separate labor niche. The lower nutrition level of lean small game also made necessary a greater reliance on plant foods, which meant horticulture and later agriculture. The plow, like the bow and arrow, made another area of men’s work and further reinforced gender division.

The point is not all hunting is the same and so these different practices would create different personality structures. The same was probably true of gathering, particularly in terms of how early humans were also meat scavengers. To get into the effect of the agricultural revolution, this is reminiscent of research done on wheat and rice farming in China. What was found is that the two populations fell into the stereotypical patterns of Western and Eastern thinking, with wheat-based populations having less context-dependent thinking and rice-based populations emphasizing context, even though both populations were Chinese. The explanation is that wheat farming is typically done by one person alone working a plow or now a tractor, whereas rice farming requires highly organized collective labor. Interestingly, China stands out in that psychopathy is found equally among both genders, unlike in the West and some other places where it is disproportionately found among males. It would be interesting to study if this is primarily an effect of the larger populations involved in rice-growing and the culture that has developed around it. On a related note, research does show higher rates of psychopathy in urban areas than in rural areas. Is this simply because psychopaths prefer to remain anonymous in cities or is there something about city life that promotes psychopathic neurocognition?

Anyway, wheat farming is as different from rice farming, as bow-and-arrow hunting is from spear hunting. What stands out is that both rice farming and spear hunting are collective activities involving both genders, but wheat farming and bow-and-arrow hunting can be solitary activities that have tended to be done by men. In Western Europe, there never was rice farming. And, unlike certain populations, spear hunting in the West probably hasn’t been common in recent history. Yet there are still spear hunting tribes in various places. Some of those also do persistence hunting, probably the original form of hunting. Anyway, hunter-gatherers in general need more adaptable minds because they are dealing with diverse tasks and often over large diverse territories. This requires a more fluid and shifting mentality, one where the very concept of stable personality traits maybe simply does not apply to the same extent. Even in the West, research shows that personality traits can change over a lifetime and under different conditions, such as how a liberal can basically turn into a conservative simply by giving them a few beers. But it is true that modern WEIRD conditions are much more stable with narrow niches of work and living, often with racial and class segregation, not to mention the repetitive nature of modern life with little changes in activities from day to day, season to season.

This brings us to the worries some had in early modernity. Adam Smith thought public education was necessary because repetitive factory work made people stupid, which might be simply another way of saying that those individuals lose or else never develop cognitive flexibility, cognitive complexity, and cognitive diversity. Karl Marx explained this in terms of the transition from traditional labor where an individual constructed a product from beginning to end, often having involved multiple complex steps with various tools and techniques, each requiring different physical and cognitive skills. This gave the individual great sense of accomplishment and pride, not to mention autonomy as to be a tradesmen was to have immense skill. The dumbing down of the work force with industrial labor may have contributed to the WEIRD mentality. Even the average office worker experienced this narrowing down of activity. This allowed moderns to specialize, but in doing so sacrificed all other aspects of development. This relates to the creation of stupid smart people, those who are only capable of doing one thing well but otherwise are clueless. It’s not hard to see how this has forced people into niche personalities and hence making possible theories about how to categorize such personalities.

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Cognitive Scientist Shows How Culture Shapes Personality Traits
By Elizabeth Arakelian

Complex societies produce people with more varied personalities. […] But this covariation is neither random nor easily explained by genes. The social and ecological environments in which we develop, the scientists said, have a lot to do with how we develop. Our personalities are created by the patterns of behavior we exhibit that are relatively stable over time. But what creates those patterns, and why do they persist?

That’s the question Smaldino is exploring with collaborators from UC Santa Barbara, California State University Fullerton and the University of Richmond. Their research, published in the journal Nature Human Behaviour, suggests societies differ in the personality profiles of their members because of the different sociological niches in those societies. The diverse niches in a society — the occupational, social and other ways people navigate through daily life — constrain how an individual’s personality can develop.

Psychologists have traditionally relied upon the statistically derived “Big Five” personality traits to structure their research: openness, consciousness, extroversion, agreeableness and neuroticism.

Smaldino and his colleagues question the universality of this model in their work, instead exploring why certain traits — such as trust and sympathy or impulsivity and anxiety — bundle together as they do in particular places.

The researchers looked at personality data from more than 55 societies to show that more complex societies — those with a greater diversity of socioecological niches — tended to have less covariation among behavioral traits, leading to the appearance of more broad personality factors. They developed a computer model to create simulated environments that varied in their number of niches, which demonstrated the plausibility of their theory.

“The importance of socioecological niches basically comes down to this: How many ways are there to be a person in a given culture?” Smaldino said. “What are the number of successful strategies one can use to thrive? If you’re in a complex society, like the wealthy parts of America, there are just myriad ways to be.

“No matter how idiosyncratic you are, you can find a community that accepts you. On the other end of the spectrum, say in a small-scale foraging society, your behaviors are going to be a lot more constrained. This affects the ways in which behaviors cluster together, and the patterns that manifest as personality characteristics.”

Tests For the ‘Big Five’ Personality Traits Don’t Hold Up In Much of the World
by Megan Schmidt

So, why doesn’t the Big Five test hold up around the world? Lead author Rachid Laajaj, an economics researcher at the University of Los Andes in Columbia, said many of the reasons are rooted in literacy and education barriers. Many personality tests used in WEIRD countries are intended to be self-administered, designed for people who can read and write. But because of lower literacy rates in developing countries, tests may need to be given verbally. This introduces the possibility of translation or phrasing differences that could skew results.

Researchers also think that face-to-face questioning allows social desirability bias to creep into the process. This means that respondents may try to interpret social cues for a “right answer” or give answers they think would be viewed more favorably by others.

“Yea-saying,” or the tendency to agree with a statement even if it’s untrue, is also more common in developing countries, where there’s less access to education, the researchers say.

“People may have a harder time understanding abstract questions. Acquiescence bias may be accentuated when people do not fully understand, in which case it feels safer to just agree,” Laajaj said.

Additionally, the idea of personality tests — or personality itself — may not be a natural concept everywhere. Understandably, people who aren’t familiar with the idea of personality testing might be a bit wary of revealing personal details about themselves.

“Imagine that you live in a poor area and someone comes to you to ask you a bunch of questions, such as how hardworking you are, whether you get stressed easily or whether you are a polite person. If it is not common for you to fill out surveys, or if it’s not clear what will be done with it, you may, for example, care more about giving a good impression than being completely truthful,” Laajaj said.

Personality is not only about who but also where you are
by Dorsa Amir

To understand why industrialisation might be an influential force in the development of behaviour, it’s important to understand its legacy in the human story. The advent of agriculture 10,000 years ago launched perhaps the most profound transformation in the history of human life. No longer dependent on hunting or gathering for survival, people formed more complex societies with new cultural innovations. Some of the most important of these innovations involved new ways of accumulating, storing and trading resources. One effect of these changes, from a decision-making standpoint, was a reduction in uncertainty. Instead of relying on hard-to-predict resources such as prey, markets allowed us to create larger and more stable pools of resources.

As a result of these broader changes, markets might have also changed our perceptions of affordability. In WEIRD societies with more resources (remember that the R in WEIRD stands for rich) kids might feel that they can better afford strategies such as patience and risk-seeking. If they get unlucky and pull out a green marble and didn’t win any candy, that’s okay; it didn’t cost them that much. But for Shuar kids in the rainforest with less resources, the loss of that candy is a much bigger deal. They’d rather avoid the risk.

Over time, these successful strategies can stabilise and become recurrent strategies for interacting with our world. So, for instance, in an environment where the costs of waiting are high, people might be consistently impatient.

Other studies support the notion that personality is shaped more by the environment than previously thought. In work among Indigenous Tsimané adults in Bolivia, anthropologists from the University of California, Santa Barbara found weak support for the so-called ‘Big Five’ model of personality variation, which consists of openness to experience, conscientiousness, extraversion, agreeableness, and neuroticism. Similar patterns came from rural Senegalese farmers and the Aché in Paraguay. The Big Five model of personality, it turns out, is WEIRD.

In another recent paper, the anthropologist Paul Smaldino at the University of California, Merced and his collaborators followed up on these findings further, relating them to changes that were catalysed by industrialisation. They argue that, as societies become more complex, they lead to the development of more niches – or social and occupational roles that people can take. Different personality traits are more successful in some roles than others, and the more roles there are, the more diverse personality types can become.

As these new studies all suggest, our environments can have a profound impact on our personality traits. By expanding the circle of societies we work with, and approaching essentialist notions of personality with skepticism, we can better understand what makes us who we are.

A general theory of personality based on social selection and life-history theory
by Andreas Hofer

When it comes to personality psychology the Big 5 (or Five-Factor Model/FFM) are still considered the gold standard and many other personality tests, like the Myers-Briggs (MBTI) are considered pseudoscience. The FFM is even more useful and has more predictive power when a sixth dimension is added: honesty humility (HEXACO model).

However, adding new personality dimensions is of little use when it comes to understanding human nature, as not even five factors are human universals. Two of the factors that are often associated with mental disorders (neuroticism and openness to experience), never even show up in non-Western societies, which are called “WEIRD” (Western, educated, industrialized, rich and democratic) by Joseph Henrich in The WEIRDest People in the World (2020). Henrich points out the Big 5 are indeed WEIRD 5, as they are by no means human universals. Some societies yield only three or four factors. Subsistence-level economies often only have two factors. The Tsimane’  practise subsistence farming and Henrich writes about them:

So, did the Tsimane’ reveal the WEIRD-5? No, not even close. The Tsimane’ data reveal only two dimensions of personality. No matter how you slice and dice the data, there’s just nothing like the WEIRD-5. Moreover, based on the clusters of characteristics associated with each of the Tsimane’’s two personality dimensions, neither matches up nicely with any of the WEIRD-5 dimensions […] these dimensions capture the two primary routes to social success among the Tsimane’, which can be described roughly as “interpersonal prosociality” and “industriousness.” The idea is that if you are Tsimane’, you can either focus on working harder on the aforementioned productive activities and skills like hunting and weaving, or you can devote your time and mental efforts to building a richer network of social relationships.

Rice, Psychology, and Innovation
by Joseph Henrich

Decades of experimental research show that, compared to most populations in the world, people from societies that are Western, Educated, Industrialized, Rich, and Democratic (WEIRD) (4) are psychologically unusual, being both highly individualistic and analytically minded. High levels of individualism mean that people see themselves as independent from others and as characterized by a set of largely positive attributes. They willingly invest in new relationships even outside their kin, tribal, or religious groups. By contrast, in most other societies, people are enmeshed in dense, enduring networks of kith and kin on which they depend for cooperation, security, and personal identity. In such collectivistic societies, property is often corporately owned by kinship units such as clans; inherited relationships are enduring and people invest heavily in them, often at the expense of outsiders, strangers, or abstract principles (4).

Psychologically, growing up in an individualistic social world biases one toward the use of analytical reasoning, whereas exposure to more collectivistic environments favors holistic approaches. Thinking analytically means breaking things down into their constituent parts and assigning properties to those parts. Similarities are judged according to rule-based categories, and current trends are expected to continue. Holistic thinking, by contrast, focuses on relationships between objects or people anchored in their concrete contexts. Similarity is judged overall, not on the basis of logical rules. Trends are expected to be cyclical.

Various lines of evidence suggest that greater individualism and more analytical thinking are linked to innovation, novelty, and creativity (5). But why would northern Europe have had greater individualism and more analytical thinking in the first place? China, for example, was technologically advanced, institutionally complex, and relatively educated by the end of the first millennium. Why would Europe have been more individualist and analytically oriented than China? […]

Sure enough, participants from provinces more dependent on paddy rice cultivation were less analytically minded. The effects were big: The average number of analytical matches increased by about 56% in going from all-rice to no-rice cultivation. The results hold both nationwide and for the counties in the central provinces along the rice-wheat (north-south) border, where other differences are minimized.

Participants from rice-growing provinces were also less individualistic, drawing themselves roughly the same size as their friends, whereas those from wheat provinces drew themselves 1.5 mm larger. [This moves them only part of the way toward WEIRD people: Americans draw themselves 6 mm bigger than they draw others, and Europeans draw themselves 3.5 mm bigger (6).] People from rice provinces were also more likely to reward their friends and less likely to punish them, showing the in-group favoritism characteristic of collectivistic populations.

So, patterns of crop cultivation appear linked to psychological differences, but can these patterns really explain differences in innovation? Talhelm et al. provide some evidence for this by showing that less dependence on rice is associated with more successful patents for new inventions. This doesn’t nail it, but is consistent with the broader idea and will no doubt drive much future inquiry. For example, these insights may help explain why the embers of an 11th century industrial revolution in China were smothered as northern invasions and climate change drove people into the southern rice paddy regions, where clans had an ecological edge, and by the emergence of state-level political and legal institutions that reinforced the power of clans (7).

29 thoughts on “WEIRD Personality Traits as Stable Egoic Structure

    • None of us entirely knows what any of this means. That is the point. It shows how little we know. As the differences have been studied so little, our thoughts on how those differences developed is mostly speculation at this point. But it is speculation based on more than a century of study from anthropology, philology, etc; combined with the past half century or so of consciousness studies, neurocognitive studies, etc.

      We have some good reasons to offer particular hypotheses, if they still require further testing and verification. For example, anthropologists have been studying the animistic mind for a very long time and that is as different from the WEIRD mind as one can get. There is immense anthropological scholarship that has analyzed this evidence. And all of that informed the philologists and in turn influenced the likes of Julian Jaynes.

      The initial thing that caught out attention was that these researchers and commenters still couldn’t figure out what a non-WEIRD mind was like, even when the research indicated how different it might be. We just found it odd that personality researchers could be so utterly ignorant of the anthropological literature, considering they are both part of the same broad social sciences that are often studying the same kinds of issues.

      It was really amusing when they turn to cognitive biases to explain the differences away, as if they still couldn’t quite believe the differences were fully real. But here is amusement upon amusement, in that all we know about those cognitive biases has also come from study of WEIRD subjects. So, we don’t even know those biases operate the same way in non-WEIRD cultures and mentalities. They were applying yet more WEIRD research, as if that would solve the problem.

      None of this is to say we have to throw out all of the WEIRD research. Even if most of it only applies to WEIRD and WEIRD-like populations, that will increasingly be most of the population. Along with Westernization, such things industrialization, urbanization, technology, and literacy are powerfully affecting nearly every population on the planet at this point. The few traditional rural populations remaining are disappearing and only a few of them remain isolated from outside influences.

      This is the problem of cultural genocide. In some ways, this is just as bad as physical genocide because cultural genocide is akin to soul death. The very heart of a people is destroyed. But it is a great loss for all of humanity because all evidence of alternative ways of being are eliminated. That is the result of the WEIRD bias as Wetikio mind virus, intergenerational trauma, and victimization cycle.

      The WEIRD bias, in its abstract universal claims upon reality, has motivated Westerners to enforce cultural assimilation onto the entire world, in order to destroy any cultures who could challenge those claims. That is the saddest thing in the world. It’s hard to imagine the hundreds of thousands of diverse cultures once existed prior to modernity. Each of those would’ve had a variation on numerous patterns of psyche and personality.

      The cultural and cognitive diversity that developed over hundreds of millennia has almost been entirely annihilated and much of that was intentional genocide. Anthropologists and such barely captured records of it just as it was disappearing. This means we really can never fully test non-WEIRD populations because the vast majority of them no longer exist. There probably is only a miniscule fraction of a fraction of people on the planet who have not been influenced by WEIRD culture at all.

      • I suppose what you are inveighing against is the idea of a one tribe nation that denies the role of the million other tribes that live and make up the actual nation that is named by abstractions like “America” or “France”. As an American it’s easy for me to see France as one tribe, as a single tribe that speaks one language– which is also an abstraction that covers up a more diverse history– see “” . Which, if you are a GOT fan, makes for interesting reading considering the presence of the Dornish people in G. RR Martin’s novels.

        • Yeah. That would be part of it. Thanks for adding in some further context. WEIRD personality, culture, and bias was not fully developed and widely prevalent even in Western countries until modern history. Ethno-nationalism and the nation-states were part of this civilizational transformation. There are two examples I’ve used.

          During the French Revolution, most French people couldn’t even understand most other French, often not even those living relatively nearby. That is because there was no standardized French language. So, it wasn’t only that few French could read the revolutionary documents but they still might not understand them if someone were to read them out loud.

          Ironically, it was the French Normans many centuries earlier, in conquering the diverse British kingdoms, that began the process of constructing and enforcing an English identity. But even so, the cultural divide between the British regions remained so potent as fracture apart again during the English Civil War, with the inter-regional dynamic repeating in the American Civil War because of settlement patterns.

          It just occurred to me that the Merry Ol’ England of the Cavalier side of the English Civil War has resonance with the Southern France of the Troubadors. The former were opposed by the dour Puritans in northern England and the latter opposed by the dour Catholics in northern France. Maybe there was some cultural carryover. Indeed, the Cavaliers were descendants of the French Norman conquerors, but I’m not sure which region most of the Norman aristocracy came from that ended up in England.

          The Italian example is even more extreme. Prior to the founding of the country, there were no Italians as such. Most residents of the region did not speak Italian at all, much less there being a standardized Italian language. For most of human existence, the local community-centric clan and tribe were the main social identities.

          Even into early modernity, most Europeans in general were still primarily identifying with their local communities and regions until the World War era that decimated what had been remaining of traditional culture. A nationalistic identity was even slower to more fully take hold in the US. The idea of ‘Real Americans’ and ‘Make America Great Again’ only makes sense within a totalizing and totalitarian ethno-nationalistic mentality.

          The WEIRD mentality is prone to abstractions and hence dogmatism. But high levels of abstract thought don’t come easily to humans. It has to be taught, trained, and modeled into us from a young age. Some cultural factors are conducive to this. The main WEIRD theoretician argued that some major causes were the Catholic Church’s breakdown of clans with ever more restrictive marriage laws combined with the rise of mass literacy and a literary culture.

          By the way, the first factor involving the Church would go along with what is written in that book you linked to. The autonomy of local regions had to be destroyed to establish the Church’s control, as the limits of mere moral and cultural authority was no longer enough. That was the purpose of the marriage laws, both in terms of cousin marriages that maintained clan solidarity and in terms of married priests, among the aristocracy, who wielded local power independent of distant church hierarchy.

          I’ve read about the Troubadors, Cathars, etc before. One does wonder if there really might have been some direct lineage going back to early heresies and ancient culture. There had been much religious diversity in the ancient world and a lot of it was incorporated into Christianity, such as with Gnosticism. Some argue Paul was a Gnostic and, as his Epistles are the oldest surviving Christian writings, other go so far as to suggest Gnostics might’ve been the original Christians.

          One might note that Paul and early Paulinists, like the heretical Church Father Valentinus, emphasized the ideal of love; as is common in charismatic religions. Egalitarianism, including gender equality, was another defining feature of the early churches Paul was writing to. As an interesting archaeological point, there is no known evidence of gender role division prior to the invention of the bow and arrow shortly prior to the agricultural revolution. During most of the Paleolithic, humans hunted with spears and the whole tribe, men and women, hunted together in order to take down the large megafauna.

          The Axial Age was a renaissance of a sorts, in the return of egalitarianism that was taught by many prophets, holy men, and philosophers. Later on, this egalitarianism was further strengthened in the post-Axial teachers like Jesus. Though suppressed, it seems to never have been entirely eliminated because the Church’s power was largely constrained and indirect. Heresies kept popping up. But maybe, in some ways, there simply was no powerful and compelling motivation, in organizing large armies, to genocidally wipe out heretical populations en masse prior to the Middle Ages.

          Something changed around then. Maybe it was how literary culture was increasingly taking hold. That emerging and strengthening literary mentality made possible the spread of Troubador culture but also reinforced Catholicism as a universalistic religion of the book. It was exacerbating proto-WEIRD divide between proto-liberal, proto-progressive, and proto-egalitarian impulses on one side and proto-conservative, proto-reactionary, and proto-authoritarian impulses on the other; as already established long before in the Axial Age (e.g., Plato’s authoritarian republic as reaction to class mobile democracy).

          The Middle Ages are one of my favorite historical periods, as both a return to aspects of the ancient world and a turn toward what would become modernity, although I know less about the early era. There is a good example how more abstract identities were gaining a foothold long before there were any nation-states. There was the emergence of proto-racism where it wasn’t so much divided between ethno-regional populations but between broad classes.

          In the early Middle Ages, the various aristocracies and monarchies lived closer to the people they ruled over. But starting in the mid-to-late Middle Ages, as territories grew and governance centralized, the ruling elites perceived themselves as having more in common with each other than they had with the people they ruled over. These upper classes looked down upon the peasantry as a separate breeding population and sometimes talked of them as another species, such as cattle.

          This might’ve been what precipitated the many peasants’ revolts in the 1300s and 1400s. In British history, the English Peasants’ Revolt was the first time a modern-like working class identity began to clearly develop, specifically in breaking out into class critique and class war. Socioeconomic class identities are another kind of abstract category that took shape around growing inequalities.

          Like class, ethno-nationalist identities also formed under the conditions of increasing distance between the rulers and the ruled. The application of abstract thought to social identity can be an effective method of social control. But it’s not only about a greater capacity of social control. As or more important, is the mindset that sees the world in terms of control. The WEIRD and WEIRD-like mentalities are obsessed with control — toward self and other, human and non-human.

          Rather than highly controlled and controlling, ancient identities were more organic and that was even more true for archaic identities (i.e., Bronze Age). I’ve written about this before in terms of non-ethnic trade cultures like the Celts and Greeks that were adopted by populations that had no shared ancestry. These were more trade cultures than specific ethnicities. They were the cultural (mythological and sociopolitical) lingua franca across multiple regions. This was probably true of the ‘Vikings’ as well who had been trading across Eurasia, the Middle East, and North Africa for millennia.

          Think of the Irish who had a Celtic culture but were of Basque ancestry. Or consider the Greek colonial network. Many famous Greek cities were filled with non-Greeks. And many famous Greek teachers, philosophers, physicians, artists, playwrights, etc were not of Greek ethnicity. It’s maybe similar to how, among Native Americans like the Shawnee, anyone potentially could be adopted into the Shawnee and hence be considered Shawnee (e.g., Daniel Boone).

          This was also true of the early Israelites and Jews. To be Israeli simply meant someone living in Israel, many who were not Jewish or Semitic. One scholar pointed out that, in the ancient world, it was impossible to say for certain who was a Jew because social identities were looser, more fluid and overlapping back then. Other cultures, for example, also did circumcision; not that anyone likely tried to prove their identity by exposing their genitalia. On top of that, conversion to Judaism had been easy, informal, and common.

          So stuck within abstractions, we find the ancient world an incomprehensible foreign land. Or else we falsely project our modern identities onto the past.

          Social Construction & Ideological Abstraction

          The Violent Narcissism of Small Differences

          Racism, Proto-Racism, and Social Constructs

          Carl Jung’s Myth of the West

          Ancient Complexity

          Ancient Social Identity: The Case of Jews

          Who were the Phoenicians?

        • By the way, many years ago I began thinking about writing a post about the formation of ethno-nationalism and nation-states. I came across a bunch of info on the topic, including some scholarly books. But I lost motivation to ever get around to writing it, since I wasn’t sure there was a receptive audience. Part of my concern was the creation of Israel from setter colonialism in forming a new kind of Jewish identity.

          That aspect was reinforced in my mind when I was reading Ravenous by Sam Apple, a book about Nazi cancer research. One side comment caught my attention. The author mentioned that, prior to WWII, most German Jews did not hold Judaism as their main identity or even as an important identity. Many of them, at that point, were rather casual about their religion and ancestry. The nation-state was already taking precedence, even for German Jews, as many of them had been living there for centuries and many of them had served in the military during WWI.

          The formation of modern Judaism, like so much else, had it’s precursors in the ancient world. Mainstream Judaism, as we know it now, did not appear until around the time of early Christianity. It was essentially a new religion, as new as Christianity. Then the Diaspora began the process of rigidifying Jewish identity. The previous ancient Jewish identity disappeared and, with nostalgic historical revisionism, was forgotten. No Zionist today would be likely to admit to this history, in the rare case they weren’t completely ignorant about it, the kind of ignorance about traditional cultures and identities that has become the norm in the modern world.

        • The thing is for most humans today, particularly in WEIRD cultures, there is no living memory of traditionalism or even public awareness that they ever existed. In the modern West, the nostalgic revisionism of reactionary conservatism has completely erased and replaced traditionalism, co-opted it like a serial killer who removes the skins of his victims so that he can wear them in some demented fetish.

          There were still traces of traditionalism that persisted in the West into modernity, but most of those have been obliterated, slowly and steadily chipped away. The destruction began following the Glorious Revolution and sped up following the American Revolution, as I detail in the Enclosure of the Mind. In England, for example, the last official vestige of the Charter of the Forest that legally protected public land as the commons, as I recall, was only finally eliminated in the Thatcher era.

          And that was done in by conservatives who claim to represent traditional British culture. Their fantasy of traditionalism obviously excludes the Ancien Regime that, by way of early communitarian feudalism, was the inheritance of ancient Greco-Roman society. Yet the political right are the supposed defenders of Western CivilizationTM. It’s not that traditionalism merely died of old age but was murdered, assassinated, tortured to death, and then dismembered, it’s ashes scattered.

          We speak of dead languages like Latin. The ancient Latin people, as they once existed, are gone forever. Their living culture, worldview, and lifeway was lost long ago. All that remains are fossilized and formalized remains, such as the literary tradition of language taken from ancient texts and not the common tongue as it would’ve been spoken in everyday life. There is nothing left to breathe life into those now dead languages. Even as we can learn them, we will never understand and inhabit the world they once represented.

          The same could be said of ancient Israel and Judaism. It is a dead culture that persists only as a dead language and a dead religion. Modern Israel and Judaism is an invention, a social construction, an abstract idea, an authoritarian identity. That is what the reactionary mind does, not only for the political right but potentially for anyone in this reactionary age. It’s a stumbling block, a camouflaged boobytrap because we neither understand it nor acknowledge it, often not perceiving it’s existence at all. So, we place the shackles on our own necks and carry them with pride or else with a sense of inevitability, claiming that we always were shackled, that we were born that way.

          This goes to why I originally wanted to write about the rise of the nation-state and ethno-nationalism, and then this also contributed to why I never got around to doing so. An individual who used to comment here a lot is someone I still consider a friend, although he no longer spends much time online. He is highly informed, educated, and well-read; not to mention radically leftist. He is conversant in the history and social science on authoritarianism, the reactionary mind, etc. He has a brilliant and original mind, and we had many great and insightful conversations in this blog and at his.

          Nonetheless, because he has taken on a modern abstract identity of ‘Judaism’, in his mind Israel apparently can do no wrong. He won’t acknowledge Israel as settler colonialism and an apartheid state, much less admit to its military actions as morally unjustified state terrorism. He refuses to think about or discuss the fact that Israel is the client state and mercenary state of the US, the largest and most powerful empire in world history. That isn’t to blame all Israeli citizens, much less all Jews in the world, no more than all Anglo-Americans are to blame for the long history of Anglo-American imperialist violence. But the reactionary mind doesn’t tend toward such subtle nuances.

          Unreal in my friend’s mind, as infected by the reactionary, is the fact that Israel has one of the most advanced and most well-funded militaries in the world, the fact that the Israel military has ghettoized and terrorized their fellow Semites who are the descendants of the original Jews who never left the Holy Land, the fact that the Israeli military has killed a vastly disproportionate number of Palestinians and most of them children while targeting schools, hospitals, homes, etc. Dressed up in the musty attire from the Burkean wardrobe, none of this can be seen for what it is through the obfuscatory smoke-and-mirrors of the moral imagination.

          As US born and raised, he has never lived in or visited Israel. Yet, in many ways, he seems to identify and empathize with Israelis more than he does with his fellow Americans. A reified abstraction has replaced the immediate, concrete, personal relationships he experiences daily with the people and community around him. It’s fundamentally no different than white American identifying with their European ancestry while refusing to talk to their minority neighbors. It would like be an Irish-American calling themselves Irish while supporting an apartheid state that put the native Irish in ghettoes that are essentially a reservation or large internment camp.

          Most people can only see the reactionary mind, the authoritarian personality, and social dominance orientation in other people; but not in themselves. That is precisely what makes it dangerous. These tendencies thrive on and strengthen the conditions that undermine awareness, perception, and understanding; empathy, compassion, and moral concern. It’s the deadening of the heart, loss of the soul, what some call Wetiko — a virulent mind virus.

          The sad fact is that, though most people think of themselves as good people, most would have been Nazis in Germany, Stalinists in Russia, or white supremacists in the antebellum American South. If Double Highs gain control of the country, the majority of Americans will fall in line, rather than become critical voices, radical protesters, and freedom fighters. As such, my friend is basically stating that he’d gladly be an authoritarian, as long he could be included as part of the in-group. It’s just that, as a Jew, historically in-group status has been less certain until the option of moving to modern Israel.

          Still, I try not to be too critical. But for the grace of God go I. None of us are invulnerable. None of us morally superior. We are products of the world we were born into and none of us knows why we became the way we are. That isn’t to be fatalistic, though. Our environments may shape us, but we can in turn shape our environments. We Americans, in particularly, are so prone to reactionary authoritarianism and social dominance because we are so stressed, anxious, and sickly — sick in our bodies, sick in our minds, and sick in our souls.

          These aren’t primarily political issues, except in so far as we understand politics in terms of public health. Obviously, many Jews were severely traumatized during WWII; but less obviously is that trauma gets passed on for generations, not only in culture, family dynamics, and such but also in epigenetics. There are few Americans who has never experienced trauma and has no recent ancestors who experienced trauma: Native American genocide, African-American slavery, Irish famine, etc, numerous wars, failed revolutions, civil wars, oppression, terrorism, famines, refugee crises, etc.

          Even the physical health crisis alone right now (almost 9 in 10 Americans with some condition of metabolic syndrome; with a majority that is either obese or diabetic) could elicit a reactionary response. Research shows that pathogen exposure or high parasite load is strongly linked to higher rates of both authoritarianism and social conservatism, indicating how those two are inseparable as an evolution-formed instinctive response to stress, uncertainty, risk, and danger.

          It doesn’t matter how much intellectual knowledge one has, as long as one is too sickly to make use of that knowledge. And keep in mind most Americans have been so sickly their entire lives that they wouldn’t recognize health if they saw it, the reason Americans have such a hard time imagining a society that isn’t sickly. Non-authoritarianism has to be grokked deeply within one’s biology and psyche, which requires high levels of health. This is why liberalism has historically been a hothouse flower, as the rates of the diseases of civilization have been rapidly rising for centuries.

          Modernity began with peasants being kicked off off the feudal commons and out of feudal villages that were raised to the ground and then, in being forced into the cities, most of them became some combination of homeless, unemployed, indentured, imprisoned, starving, brutalized, and publicly executed. That is how the modern capitalist state was created. That was a process that happened mostly during the 1700s to the 1800s, although the last of the European peasantry survived into the 20th century. In the US, mass urbanization of the white majority didn’t happen until the early 1900s and for the black majority not until the 1960s or 1970s.

          This traumatic mass urbanization, combined with mass privatization and enclosure and industrialization, is one of the main components that socially constructed the WEIRD ideological worldview and cultural identity. Something had to be destroyed before something else could be created to replace it. The sense of loss and absence forms a vacuum that must be filled. This is the anxiety underlying and driving modern abstract identities that are like junk food that can never satisfy the hunger nor sustain health. But when junk food is all one has ever been offered, one will refuse to eat nutritious whole food because it doesn’t have the same intense flavor and addictive quality (The Crisis of Identity).

          From my view, other than the rare and near extinct species of genuinely traditional-minded folk out there, there is no one to speak for traditionalism other than the radical left, as oddly as that might seem. It requires not only leftist critical understanding and leftist historical knowledge, usually as part of a broad liberal arts education, but also the development early on of liberal-minded traits and neurocognitive ability that requires high levels of health from conception into adulthood.

          Such individuals are hard to come by, emerging from an unusual perfect storm of conditions, but they do exist. In a healthier society, though, healthy individuals would be common and, instead, it would be the sick souls of the reactionary mind that would be difficult to find and, when found, less extreme in their dysfunctionality and dangerousness. That is why I’ve come around to focus so heavily on health, particularly physical health as framed by public health with mental health being in the mix.

          Nation-states, as built on ethno-nationalism, is itself a disease or maybe more accurately the symptom of a disease. Honestly, I don’t think this kind of social order would exist or be possible if not for the past centuries of vast authoritarianism, social domination, dark personality leadership, poverty, high inequality, mass violence, oppression, dislocation, terrorism, overwhelming stress, anxiety, trauma, moral panics, culture wars, endless crises, malnutrition, and disease epidemics.

          People with optimal physical health, mental health, and social health would never be attracted to identifying as American, French, Israeli, White, Black, or whatever similar abstract categories. That is maybe why early modernity is so intriguing, as there were still many people around who had yet to be impacted by the sickliness of modernity. Despite the lack of quality healthcare back the, there were more people who were still living closer to the healthier conditions of traditional communities, lifestyles, and diets; at a time when traditional culture in general was very much a living and lived reality, if the first waves of victims of modernization were already on the scene.

          The example I so often turn to is that of Thomas Paine, as a perfect model of the old meeting the new. He basically grew up in a still functioning feudal village and was taught the family trade that went back to feudalism. It was one of the places that hadn’t been devastated by the enclosure movement. He had a stable family and community life, although the signs of modern authoritariansism had appeared. The gallows were in the view of his boyhood home and one of his boyhood friends, after stealing some food, was hung there (starving landless peasants ‘stealing’ food was a common crime to be harshly punished).

          Being raised in a family trade, Paine was of the respectable laboring class, prior to the industrialization that would make obsolete such trade expertise. Certainly, he wasn’t a landless peasant, wasn’t impoverished and starving. He probably had a typical healthy diet of nutrient-dense animal foods (dairy, eggs, meat, fish) and some plant foods, although far less grains and sugars than we eat today, not to mention everything would’ve been cooked in animal fats and not seed oils that are oxidative, inflammatory, and mutagenic. Also, prior to industrialization and modern agriculture, there presumably would’ve been little or no exposure to pollution, farm chemicals, food additives, carcinogens, hormone mimics / disruptors, and other toxins in air, water, food, clothing, bedding, and buildings.

          As far as I know, Paine had no major sickness until his voyage to the colonies. Then once in the colonies, he was living among a population that ate well from the abundance of inexpensive wild game and fish. Americans, from the 1700s to the 1800s, were well known as among the healthiest and tallest people in the developed world. What if it was that state of immense health that helped Americans to be so optimistic, idealistic, and radical; combined with opportunities for self-care and self-improvement — even an unemployed and homeless American colonist, as long as they weren’t crippled, could feed themselves well with hunting, trapping, and fishing; as was not the case in many parts of Britain and Europe.

          In the context of this society of great physical health, Paine was inspired not only to challenge colonial imperialism but also ethno-nationalism and authoritarianism in general. He argued for American independence based on the fact that, in many of the colonies, the majority of the colonists were not English: “Europe, and not England, is the parent country of America” (“…from every part of Europe.”). Only someone with the confident full blush of thriving health would likely would feel so self-assured, motivated, energized, and impassioned to stand up to the powerful.

          And this wasn’t the first time he expressed such moral courage. Back in England as a tax collector, Paine personally wrote a petition, gathered signatures, and hand-delivered it to Parliament; upon which he lost his job. What freaking audacity! Severely and desperately impoverished, malnourished, sickly, stressed, and traumatized people rarely act in that manner. Someone has to feel safe and secure in their person and in being able to take care of themselves to be in the psychological mindset of drastic risk-taking in putting everything on the line.

          There is a reason why bad health is associated with authoritarianism and social conservatism. Such conditions restrict, suffocate, and close down the mind, identity, and empathy; as does anything that induces stress, anxiety, fear, threat, pain, suffering, etc. The openness and optimism of liberal-mindedness are, unsurprisingly, associated with the complete opposite conditions. This is why those on the political left are so obsessed with healthy conditions for all individuals and communities across society, as liberal-mindedness is utterly dependent on these conditions.

          That is the thing. Paine wasn’t only challenging narrow identities in a bid for mere negative freedom (AKA legalistic liberty). The ideological vision he offered was a broader, more inclusive identity that would take it’s place. He called himself a citizen of the world. Benjamin Franklin told him that, Where there is liberty that is my country; and Paine answered that, Where there is not liberty that is my country. That is to say, we have a shared fate based on a shared reality and a shared identity. We are a common humanity living in a single world, ideas that first originated in the Axial Age: Brotherhood of Man, Cosmos, etc.

          Paine also had some intuitive understanding that larger conditions mattered. Having grown up in the tail end of feudalism, he experienced the Commons firsthand and he also observed what happened to the landless peasants who lost the Commons, when he visited London and saw the dirty poverty. Without a Commons, the poor and homeless had no where to turn to for food, materials, and shelter. They were forced into an impossible situation and then their suffering was made a crime. Even when they lived next to former Commons that had been privatized and remained unused, to even step one foot onto that land could land them in jail or on the gallows.

          This is why, in acknowledging what was stolen with the elite’s intentional dismantling and destruction of feudalism (as a crime against humanity, even if claimed as a necessary ‘reform’ of modernization), Paine argued that the harmed public was due compensation for every generation following. This was his Citizens’ Dividend; an early precursor of an old age pension and welfare rolled all into one, as a replacement for how feudal communities had parish welfare systems. It ensured that those who no longer had access to land and natural resources, because of plutocratic monopolization, could still have enough means to survive with basic health, nurturance, and shelter (an early hint of the New Deal and Second Bill of Rights).

          The enclosure movement was not only the privatization and monopolization of land and all that was on it. It was an entire enclosure mentality, identity, culture, and social order. All of the world was being enclosed and systematized — physically, geographically, and legally. It was a period of wall-building, road-straightening, river-channeling, law-enforcement, and border-control. This is what constructs the ethno-nationalism of the modern nation-state. Everything is controlled and determined by authoritarian hierarchies, concentrated power, and centralized governance.

          It’s easy forget that so much of this came late to the United States, though. As mentioned, mass urbanization began in Britain and Europe centuries ago, but only was accomplished this past century here in the States. Older identities lingered longer in rural America where most of the population, as yeoman farmers, had been resided for most of American history. While there was still living memory of rural communities and lifestyles, many rural practices lingered for generations into the industrialized urbanization.

          This rural sensibility was sustained partly because most land in the US remained open to the public until the World War era and, in many places, long after that. That is why, during the Great Depression, much of the population still did fine by increasing their diet and income from procuring natural resources for themselves, their families, and to sell on the market. My mother’s family lived in an industrial city and, all the way into the post-war period, they were still hunting and fishing every week (sometimes every day before work) in nearby farmlands, county lands, state lands, ponds, streams, and rivers.

          It’s an old cultural habit that was inherited from feudal tradition, as a sense of the Commons was still the cultural default. In many states up through the 19th century, there was actual legal protection of public use of open lands, even when they were privately owned. A legal owner of land could only deny use of it to others when they were actively using it, as defined by what they were able to fence in when fencing was difficult and expensive to build, repair, and maintain. Long after the laws changed in most places, people were still acting according to them as custom and social norm.

          A similar thing is seen with the imagined borders of nation-states as seen on maps but as typically invisible in the real world. For most of human existence, borders were rather vague, shifting, often undetermined, and regularly contested; but most importantly they were fluid and permeable. Such things as Hadrian’s Wall and the Great Wall of China have been rare and, when built, almost entirely ineffective.

          Most of human existence and most of history has been defined by various populations, large and small, regularly moving around with changing events and conditions. Rome, for example, supposedly was founded by Trojan refugees and continually shaped ever after that by a near endless flow of new generations of other refugees, immigrants, conquered people, etc across centuries. Every imperial project and trading culture, including the United States, has been shaped by such migratory multiculturalism.

          People crossing supposed borders has been the norm. Until recent decades in the US, there was no rabid, widespread, and mainstream politicization of undocumented migrant labor. Native Americans, Hispanic-Americans, and other European-Americans had been freely traveling across North America, whether or not there were claimed borders. American agriculture, for centuries now, has been dependent on this cheap migrant labor from other countries.

          But from a traditional perspective, one is forced to admit, acknowledge, and affirm that the pattern of migrant labor goes back to the time when most of North America was the territory of the Spanish Empire; with open-range cattle-ranching having been brought by the long independent Basque border people. The original American cowboys were the mixed-ancestry Mestizos who worked as migrant labor in the towns and ranches of the northern frontier region, what has since become the US Southwest and California.

          Conservatives, in invoking ethno-nationalist claims of a nation-state where borders must be controlled, are attacking the traditional culture(s) of America, that is to say America as a broad and organic identity with premodern roots. A modern nation-state can be liberal, progressive, egalitarian, open, multicultural, social democratic, etc; but by its very nature there will always be a threatening shadow upon it from the conservative, reactionary, authoritarian, closed, ethno-nationalist, oligarchic, etc.

          On the other hand, maybe the nation-state, when healthy enough conditions are established and ensured, can transform into something new. What has failed and what is dangerous can be left behind while the good can be salvaged and incorporated. It’s not about some perfect utopian solution. Under more optimal conditions, even far from perfect solutions can work well; whereas under bad conditions, even the best ideas and plans can go awry and turn horrific. The ethno-nationalism of nation-states is not necessarily to be blamed, since it’s maybe more of a result than a cause, more of a symptom than the disease.

          • In discussing the lost commons of Europe, I think the M.R James story you are looking for is “Count Magnus”. I wonder if it’s unfilmable?

            I too finding unlikely sources to support observations about history. The part about the freer travel over mostly fictional borders in earlier America finds a support in Wyatt Earp’s statement in the brief part where he mentions the Mexicans vaqueros and traders massacred and robbed in Skeleton Canyon by what he believed were the “Cow Boys” (Brocius and the Missourian Clanton brothers were called the name as two separate words to set them apart from more honest ranchers in Terfetiller’s bio of Wyatt). Notably Earp didn’t take issue with the traders crossing into the States with their precious metals and tequila– it was the cattle thievery that had Arizona citizens like George Parsons calling for the army to step in and take control of the unguarded badlands and timber country. The drug war with its famous marijuana prohibition didn’t take place till 1911 or so, and that would have shown the influence of several decade’s concern with ethnic purity and moral panic about degeneration of the American character– something Lasch and other historians traced to the fall of Reconstruction in the Southern U.S and cynicism in the North– which led to both the growth of repressive asylums like Fairview Training Center in Oregon as well as muscular Christianity as a response in the States.

            I’m not sure I can go in 100% with you on the idea that sickly people are far less likely to achieve spiritual or even civic excellence.
            The London that gave us Shakespeare was literally running with shit in the streets, and plague was cropping up even into the middle of the 18th century in the mainland of Europe. Then there’s figures like St. Francis with his exile from normal human society, or Abelard. castrated by a jealous hand before he wrote his immortal works.

            Yet the best example is probably Jean-Jaques Rousseau himself, who both Jefferson and Paine read avidly when forming their ideas.
            This can only apply to rare individual talents, and maybe it’s wrong to hold an entire country to that standard. I think one of Irving Babbitt’s weakest points was how he dismissed larger movements for social change as beside the point. But despite his praise of the individual’s “civil war in the cave”, he wrote about nationalism with unusual clarity and force for someone often claimed by the American right as an ancestor.

            “The triumph of egoism over altruism in the relations between man and man is even more evident in the relations between nation and nation. The egoism that results from the inbreeding of temperament on a national scale runs in the case of the strong nations into imperialism.[124]

            On the positive side, my argument aims to reassert the “law for man,” and its special discipline against the various forms of naturalistic excess. [em] At the very mention of the word discipline I shall be set down in certain quarters as reactionary. But does it necessarily follow from a plea for the human law that one is a reactionary or in general a traditionalist?
            For, though the word modern is often and no doubt inevitably used to describe the more recent or the most recent thing, this is not its sole use. It is not in this sense alone that the word is used by writers like Goethe and Sainte-Beuve and Renan and Arnold. [em] What all these writers mean by the modern spirit is the positive and critical spirit, the spirit that refuses to take things on authority.

            Now what I have myself tried to do is to be thoroughly modern in this sense. [/em] I hold that one should not only welcome the efforts of the man of science at his best to put the natural law on a positive and critical basis, but that one should strive to emulate him in one’s dealings with the human law; and so become a complete positivist.

            My main objection to the movement I am studying is that it has failed to produce complete positivists.”
            From the Intro to Rousseau and Romanticism

            I keep bringing up Rousseau and books about him as a way to counter my earlier fling with right-leaning influencers.

            I’d likely be put up against the wall for obscenity in any modern day “trad” restoration anyway.

            I find his life and art compelling, and troubling at the same time. But in a creatively fertile way; you could trace this grappling with aethesticism’s promises through writers from Mann to Ligotti.

            His (Rousseau’s ) large influence over European and American thought is done a disservice by influencers like Paglia and Peterson’s simple condemnations that overshadow any positive content they might bring in their books.

            [5] It is especially the notion of the creative imagination that is recent. The earliest example of the phrase that I have noted in French is in Rousseau’s description of his erotic reveries at the Hermitage (Confessions, Livre ix).

          • “In discussing the lost commons of Europe, I think the M.R James story you are looking for is “Count Magnus”.”

            Our familiarity with M. R. James is limited. We’ve read a little bit of his work, but it’s been a long while. We aren’t familiar with that particular story.

            “The part about the freer travel over mostly fictional borders in earlier America finds a support in Wyatt Earp’s statement…”

            No doubt, many such examples could be dredged up. Part of the American Revolution was motivated by those colonists who disliked the boundaries enforced by British treaties with the natives. One of our ancestors was illegally born on Indian territory (i.e., an anchor baby) when the British Empire was still in power.

            Maybe it was a somewhat distorted carryover of the Commons combined with racism and social dominance, not to mention plain greed. Early on, many Americans didn’t like to be told what to do, if this sense of liberty wasn’t generously extended to others, such as the natives.

            “The drug war with its famous marijuana prohibition didn’t take place till 1911 or so, and that would have shown the influence of several decade’s concern with ethnic purity and moral panic about degeneration of the American character– something Lasch and other historians traced to the fall of Reconstruction in the Southern U.S and cynicism in the North– which led to both the growth of repressive asylums like Fairview Training Center in Oregon as well as muscular Christianity as a response in the States.”

            We could note that the last of the Indian Wars continued into the 1920s and 1930s. That was the era of world war and ethno-nationalistic imperialism. But it was also a time of growing authoritarianism and totalitarianism in general.

            It is a fascinating era that we’ve covered in detail previously, using the work of certain historians. There was the beginning of the war on drugs and then Prohibition. The federal government really began to flex its muscles, as seen with the FBI’s attacks on anyone who asserted any independent power, be it the Klan or MLK. But it’s the strange moral panic (emasculation, juvenile delinquents, neurasthenia, white/WASP replacement theory, etc).

            It can be traced to the period following the Civil War, but that was part of a backlash that had was seeded in the Antebellum period with feminism, abolitionism, free love advocacy, economic populism, etc. There were public speakers giving lectures on sex education and Abraham Lincoln put a Marxist in his administration.

            “I’m not sure I can go in 100% with you on the idea that sickly people are far less likely to achieve spiritual or even civic excellence.”

            There is always nuance. Sickliness is a relative concept. It depends on what one is comparing to. Elizabethan England was a transitional period, on the cusp of new era. It was worsening in some ways, but maybe improving in others; or at least the populist voices growing stronger for demands of improvement, presaging later democratic upheavals.

            Certainly, that was a troubled time of increasing diseases of civilization, such as more writings on melancholy/depression, although having begun to crop up in the Middle Ages (Barbara Ehrenreich, Dancing in the Streets). This coincided with the emergence of colonial trade that brought more varieties of food for those who could afford it, if this exacerbated inequality.

            “The London that gave us Shakespeare was literally running with shit in the streets, and plague was cropping up even into the middle of the 18th century in the mainland of Europe.”

            One might assume the more well off classes and intelligentsia, such as Shakespeare, were eating a far more nutritious diet than the typical impoverished Londoner. Among the urban population, the worst public health conditions would’ve been in the poor neighborhoods, maybe not something Shakespeare was as affected by.

            Besides, as long as one is getting good nutrition, one typically has a strong immune system. And even as the landless peasants were beginning to show up in larger numbers, most of the English were still rural and feudalism with its Commons was still largely in force. That rural influence, besides bringing in nutritious animal foods into London for those of means, also carried with it the remnants of paganism that Shakespeare drew upon.

            Yet the conditions that had earlier incited the English Peasants’ Revolt remained unresolved. After all, the English Civil War was just around the corner when Shakespeare was writing. On the other hand, Elizabethan England was a bright spot of tolerance for that era. With tales from the New World, there was much utopianism in the air and that inspired ever greater radicalism and revolt.

            So, yeah, the world at that time was heading into a tough period of tumult in the centuries following. Besides plague, many other infectious diseases were spreading all the way into the early 20th century, regularly leading to reactionary and authoritarian moral panic, often in combination with romanticizing the past and the primitives.

            Interestingly, until public health reforms over the past century or so, the single greatest increase of Western health maybe happened after the fall of the Roman Empire when much of the population returned to a rural lifestyle and diet. But without much literacy and education or even infrastructure, that area of improved health couldn’t lead to any immediate progress. Instead, it was maybe a partial return to the archaic mind and identity.

            “Then there’s figures like St. Francis with his exile from normal human society, or Abelard. castrated by a jealous hand before he wrote his immortal works.”

            Where was St. Francis exiled to? From my understanding, it was the countryside where he spent much time in nature and among peasants. This might’ve meant he had access to a rural diet, not to mention a low-stress rural environment and lifestyle, if impoverished like the peasants he dressed like. For all the difficulties of his renunciation, it might’ve been a relief compared to brutal warfare, being a prisoner of war, and his domineering punitive father.

            As for Abelard’s castration, that doesn’t necessarily says much about his overall health and stress status, per se. But I don’t know anything about his life, much less the conditions of diet or anything else. In terms of diet specifically, what matters most for lifelong health is what one ate in childhood and young adulthood. Knowing their respective pasts, both Francis and Abelard probably ate well in their early years when most physical development occurred (neurocognition, immune system, etc).

            “This can only apply to rare individual talents, and maybe it’s wrong to hold an entire country to that standard.”

            All of these examples represent not just individuals but elites. Francis was born into wealth. Abelard came from nobility. Rousseau was raised in a comfortable middle class family with voting rights. We don’t know Shakespeare’s early life, but by the time he was a playwright he was probably doing fairly well.

            “At the very mention of the word discipline I shall be set down in certain quarters as reactionary. But does it necessarily follow from a plea for the human law that one is a reactionary or in general a traditionalist?”

            As you might be familiar from our work, we’d point out that rule-orientation, disciplinarianism, and legalism (like authoritarianism and abstract thought) are not ‘traditional’, and definitely ‘modern’, in the sense used on this blog. This is the mentality that, in being definitive of WEIRD bias, has increased over time and have increased the most during modernity. To our view, proclaiming such things, whether or not one perceives them as nostalgically ‘traditional’, can be part of the same reactionary impulse.

            Punishment and control is best understood in the light of William S. Burroughs, Johann Hari, and similar thinkers; as mind virus, as disconnection, as Wetiko. It’s what forms to maintain social order when weakens and disappears the more organic authorization of the ancien regime with it’s lingering traces of bicameral and animistic mentalities (i.e., bundled mind). That said, it has been taking hold since the Bronze Age collapse, if it didn’t come to full fruition until modern authoritarianism and totalitarianism.

            Prior to mass urbanization, rural communities (lifestyles, cultures, diets, structures, etc) helped maintain that other archaic mentality. It lasted surprisingly late in many places. The US wasn’t majority urbanized until the early 20th century. In some more traditional countries, for example, non-egoic voice-hearing is still considered the norm — that came up in one of the most recent works of Jaynesian scholarship.

            We were recently reading about traditional parenting and child development in rural communities, from the Maya to the Inuit. What stood out is how it was and still is the complete opposite of that modern disciplinarian approach with it’s rule-obsession. Children are rarely told what to do, not even given chores. Yet they appear to develop greater self-regulation, cooperativeness, and mental health than WEIRD children, both of liberal and conservative parents.

            “For, though the word modern is often and no doubt inevitably used to describe the more recent or the most recent thing, this is not its sole use. It is not in this sense alone that the word is used by writers like Goethe and Sainte-Beuve and Renan and Arnold. What all these writers mean by the modern spirit is the positive and critical spirit, the spirit that refuses to take things on authority.”

            Our use of ‘modern’ maybe doesn’t fit either definition. We simply mean the modern world and what formed it. Some consider the English Civil War to be the first modern revolution and class war. Others go so far as to suggest the English Peasants’ Revolt. There definitely were many modern-like aspects of the Renaissance and the Protestant Reformation that formed the foundation of what would follow.

            In our interpretation, ‘modernity’ and its precursors has been about Jaynesian consciousness, the propertied self, and WEIRD bias more fully taking hold; specifically in terms of literacy rates, literary culture, capitalism, enclosure movement, land reforms, marriage laws, community breakdown, urbanization, nuclear family, and individualism; but also authoritarianism, social dominance, dogmatism, dark personality, and such. So, if the positive and critical spirit is part of it, inseparable from it also is the shadow of an opposing force.

            “My main objection to the movement I am studying is that it has failed to produce complete positivists.”

            Our argument is that this has been caused by the repressed never having been acknowledged and assimilated, since what came before and what was lost had not been understood and appreciated. The conditions for the modern spirit, in Rousseau’s sense, is partly what we mean by liberalism; and in that understanding, we might translate Rousseau’s aspiration (discipline, human law) as pointing in the general direction of democratic proceduralism and civil rights.

            As often repeated around here, liberalism a hothouse flower requiring precise, if not perfect, conditions. It’s failure at present should be unsurprising. Like many now, many in the past, not limited to Rousseau (from Aristotle to Adam Smith), understood that high inequality was the death knell to freedom. That was one of the the great insights originally from the Axial Age when the memory of an earlier egalitarianism was still fresh in the collective psyche, the scent of which was carried by the communitarian winds of the Middle Ages to be picked up by the likes of Paine and Rousseau.

          • “As you might be familiar from our work, we’d point out that rule-orientation, disciplinarianism, and legalism (like authoritarianism and abstract thought) are not ‘traditional’, and definitely ‘modern’, in the sense used on this blog.”

            As I read the professor, he meant discipline in a far different sense than the legalist one. He was at pains to point out how the current academic understanding of the classical world–informed by over a century of poets and academics and military officers imagining they were ancient Greeks– held a fatal flaw.

            I think his use of the word discipline was more like a martial artist would use it, as a model that the artist “continually refers back to” in discipling his actions when they threaten to expand beyond the limits set by the chosen model. Since his chosen site of battle was American higher education–not to mention that his brand of conservatism was WWI era, when atomic research was just gaining power in the departments of higher ed– I think what he meant by discipline would answer some questions I have of the STEM department– “Since I can use software to create an infinite stream of data, why should I? And for what ends?”.

            Since I’m way out of my weight class already, I think what makes Babbitt’s ideas unique in American thought is the special meaning of terms like “discipline” in his work. It demands an inner check on nerds whose power has run away from any human grasp , not another list of demerits for goofball bums as they sweat out the sick on a concrete floor.

            Not that I hate nerds. I wish I could read this in full, without being enrolled in college–

            I have to use some discipline not to run straight at the wall of black ice that stands between me and the academic learning that’s locked away behind the merciless steel tower of Jstor.

          • We’re not limiting ourselves to legalism. Modern authoritarianism is the mirror image of individualism. That is because individualism is merely the internalization and interiorization of authoritarianism. The ego is the inner tyrant that oppressively rules over his self-declared realm, regulating the psychic borders, and enforcing control over the bundled mind.

            The very idea of ‘discipline’, external or internal, would’ve been alien to humanity prior to the earliest signs of Jaynesian consciousness, on the eve of Bronze Age collapse. Yet the previous bicameral mind, fractured as it was, lingered on and had a resurgence during the Middle Ages. This is the communal and communitarian identity that defined the Ancien Regime. That is what made the transition to modernity so stark.

            Obviously, modern scholars would struggle to grasp the premodern world when bicameral mentality was still in some force. Even the partial precursor of individualism of Classical Greece during the Axial Age, carrying much of the baggage from the prior era, was a far cry from what would emerge with modern hyper-individualism and it’s Cartesian anxiety. But ideas like ‘discipline’ were beginning to be formed back then.

            The void, as created by the loss of bicameral voice-hearing and archaic authorization, remains unfilled. It is the endless source of anxiety and nostalgia, culture war and moral panic. That is the bread and butter of modern conservatism, which is itself nothing more than the reaction to liberalism. Nonetheless, that sense of aching loss is real, if what we tend to fill it with is superficial and socially constructed.

            We are lost in the dance between modernity and postmodernity, but premodernity is not invited to join in. That is what has recently attracted me to metamodernism that seeks a dialectical synthesis of what came before, to leap over the psychic trap. Maybe that is why only the left can hope to gain some meaning from the past, as it is the left that is most likely to the way into metamodernism, whereas the right is more likely to get pulled into hypermodernism.

            We can’t speak for Babbit, though, since we are ignorant of his work and views. Maybe he wasn’t just another reactionary conservative. He might’ve had a premonition of something akin to a potential metamodernism that would be capable of reaching back to a genuine traditionalism, across the ideological marshlands of the modern-postmodern entanglement. But we cannot say, one way or another.

            That said, reactionary conservatives have been common these past centuries, particularly recent generations. Besides not being premodern, the are increasingly not modern either. As postmodernists, they question and critique the master narratives of modern science or scientism, along with similar things. But like Jordan Peterson, their postmodernism is unconscious and often self-hating, in simultaneously attacking a caricature of postmodernism.

            It’s murky waters, in this age of conflict and transition, not quite what came before and yet not quite something new either. That is what exacerbates the reactionary mind, in all areas of societies, including both major US parties, if it is most potent on the right. The recurring cycle of reactionaries reacting to reactionaries stirs up a lot of muck. But the flowing water of time will eventually clear it away.

            About Babbit’s ‘discipline’ as inner check, it might or might not be a useful concept. It depends. One wonders what it could mean in terms of the bundled mind, sans the extreme inner/outer dualism (Cartesian anxiety) of Jaynesian consciousness built on the container metaphor. And how could it be incorporated into a metamodern sensibility of transcending but including much of what came before. Just some thoughts.

          • By the way, to understand the pre-egoic equivalent to individualistic ‘discipline’, one might refer to the archaic sense of the Greek word ‘arete’, sometimes translated as ‘excellence’. It was later reinterpreted during the classical period and beyond, but the earliest meaning of it is fascinating. It invokes the bundled mind and demonstrates how disconnected are our notions of ‘traditionalism’ from the millennia of culture that precede our own age.


          • I won’t dispute with you about greek words. I have no grasp of that language except the limited power of reading supported by scholars who write in English.

            To be fair, if you’d like me to get into the meaning behind what discipline means, as I’ve interpreted Babbitt here, and why I use Rousseau as a cautionary model for my own life– I mean, as a partisan of the individualistic ego as you’ve termed me, this shouldn’t come as any surprise– it will mean revealing some pretty personal, painful up-close truths. And I’m willing to do that, but only for money. Why don’t we make that happen, I have a button on the side of my blog.
            And maybe it all comes down to my English language mind vs your often-online civilization spanning mystic cant? “Just offering thoughts”– Same here. I can understand if you feel deprived of a little respect. You’ve shown some disciplined restraint when I’ve tried to get tough on the internet before I knew how to write. I began my blather about 5 years ago after I blew up my life in a self-destructive way, and started reading again. I think it’s safe to conclude I said some stupid things about the Englightenment, especially about the value of “the second of the great religious reactionaries, De Maistre (with J.J Rousseau as the chief) “– as Morley and crew put it in Rousseau’s biography. I hope it’s clear that when I brought up the grumpiest Catholic French writer, it’s because his words terrified me at the time. “What if he’s right?” A similar rush to reading Ligotti I suppose, maybe far more dangerous to civilized life. I think it’s clear that my values shifted over the years, but not I believe, into a more rigid manner.
            I found something else when reading Babbitt, again because I considered myself at least to the left of Bernie and wanted to criticize the right from the strongest possible position. And in fact if you go from just the passages I quoted, the Ohioan professor is about as opposed to De Maistre as any left thinker would be, as a partisan of reason enthroned alongside feeling, and using imagination in a directed way, not placing the irrational above all else as both of those influential, artistically gifted French writers did–I find Babbitt’s writing about culture to be useful and interesting, as an antidote to the Paglian brew that I used to imbibe to impress some haute-couture types who once caught my eye. I may be stupid but I hope I’m not being inflexibly so, and if I didn’t respect you a little I wouldn’t even post here.

          • Our comment was mostly just the thoughts that have been developing over years, not entirely directed at you. At no point did we intend to term you “a partisan of the individualistic ego”. It simply seems to us that the ego theory of mind tends to slip into everything.

            And we weren’t demanding anything of you, personal or otherwise. If you want to share about yourself, that is your choice to make; but of course we are always willing listeners with much curiosity about others.

            As for the English language, we’re not sure what that has to do with it. we’re also an English speaker with all of the same limitations, if we seek to understand, however imperfectly, those limitations by reading about evidence on language from linguistic relativity, philology, etc.

            Anyway, we don’t “feel deprived of a little respect,” at least not here in our present dialogue. we can’t say we were feeling anything in particular. But yeah, it is a personal interest of ours, as someone who was raised in the egoic mindset of WEIRD culture.

            But we weren’t taking any of it personally here. Our focus primarily was on intellectual inquiry. There just seems something off about the entire individualistic framing of everything. And so we try to make sense of that. It wasn’t intended as a debate, though; much less perceiving you as a debate opponent.

            Certainly, we can’t even say we have a strong opinion about De Maistre, Rousseau, or Babbit; particularly as we’ve read none of their writings beyond quotes. But we’re always interested in learning more. That is why we left my thoughts open-ended about Babbit.

            We really haven’t a clue how Babbit does or does not fit in with the whole set of issues surrounding the premodern, modern, postmodern, hypermodern, and metamodern. We apologize if we came off as being critical or dismissive. That wasn’t our intention, but we realize we can come off that way sometimes.

          • I thought of a more satisfying way to put what I was trying to get at when I mentioned a martial artist as an example of the principle under discussion here. Since the most famous MA right now is probably Andrew Tate (who is no slouch in his form of kickboxing, but a good example of the superman who acts without inner restraint. The “temperamentalist” (as I. Babbitt terms him) type of figure that my favorite Harvard professor saw as the ruling form of character in the so-called civilized West in the years leading up to WWI). I want to use another example. I was a fan of MMA and keep up a little with the sport and every fighter I’ve ever met in person was down to earth and gracious in a way that’s hard to forget, so that’s also why I chose a martial artist. But I can be a terminal dork so that’s also why, and I don’t think it gets near the most important part of Babbitt’s work.
            It’s an odd example maybe for a celebrated conservative intellectual but this is refracted through what I’ve done with his ideas. I think this film is closer to what I’ve gotten out of reading “Rousseau & Romanticism” (which I don’t find easy at all).
            Brief summary:
            The runner Smith is incarcerated, after a theft in his neighborhood, at Ruxton Towers. He takes up cross-country as an escape from the grind of prison life and is poised to become a champion.
            If you watch from the beginning of the clip that gives more context I think. I like the way the filmmaker places a flurry of jump cuts that show why Smith chooses to make the larger contest of wills between himself and the warden (and the entire society that imprisoned him and his fellows) more than simply a psychological scrimmage.
            But to what I can figure of Irving Babbitt’s point here, the constant struggle of the will-to-power can only be escaped or overcome by the leader making the effort in the direction of drawing-in and making use of their higher will to limit their (more usually– his) expansive power ( both an individual and collective reality at the time he wrote, during the triumph of Wilsonian expansion after America’s entry into the European theatre of the 1st world war).

            And more to the point, is that the character in the clip, Smith, is imprisoned but he’s not made to run for the warden’s team. He finds that he genuinely likes cross-country running.

            I don’t consider myself any kind of Anglophile but these kitchen-sink movies I can return to again and again. I mean Morrissey is to blame for my theft of world culture here.

          • We might grasp some of what you’re getting at, and we’ll try to put it in context of our own understanding, as is our wont to do. Babbit’s ‘temperamentalist’ type, maybe partly carrying over elements of Homeric psychology, is supported by historical evidence. Some scholars have written about how, in centuries past, it was more accepted or even respected for a man to passionately express emotions, such as crying in public. A similar thing was exemplified in early America. It was common back then, at least among the aristocracy, for men to have intimate male friendships. Some have interpreted this as having involved homosexuality and it might have. But the larger point was that emotional bonding for men was more common; beyond the constraints of male bonding in team sports, military service, etc. Emotionality wasn’t yet as strongly and solely identified with women. Related to that, self-control and self-mastery were less compelling concepts, along with less widespread among the masses, compared to what they’d become. And all of that would have to do with the post-Enlightenment and post-revolutionary backlash that brought with it Romanticism.

            That seems to have begun to change across the 19th century with everything being modernized, often intentionally with large-scale reforms, but also seen in the broader culture. In the US, the disease of ‘nostalgia’, as defined by a certain kind of strong and uncontrolled and overwhelming emotionality, was perceived as being low-class and mostly limited to country bumpkins (i.e., the illiterate and uneducated). Toward the end of the 19th century, the preferred illness among the respectable became nervous disorders (nerves, neurasthenia, etc), similar to depression where there was a lack of emotionality, a sense of being drained, weak, and over-exerted and under the thrall of an oppressive mood. This probably coincides with the new demands of being a man, that of emotional repression and self-control; exacerbated by the worsening stresses of mass urbanization and industrialization. As one might interpret it, this appears to be the WEIRD personality taking hold (as literacy and literary culture took further hold). And that has everything to do with Julian Jaynes’ container metaphor of self, having arisen millennia ago with the first wave of literacy that was initially limited to a minority — into the early Middle Ages, many aristocrats still didn’t know how to read and write.

            The thing is for a long time that psycho-metaphorical container of egoic self remained fairly expansive and extensive, loose and porous. It took much societal development for cognitive and physical structures to be built to support a more fully contained self that was ever more consolidated, solidified, strengthened, and hyper-focused; and one might sense that links up to the notion of ‘higher will’. We live in a much more contained world now, contained in almost every way; and one can feel this modern orderliness even in the countryside of a place like Iowa with the regimented square farm fields and county roads meeting at right angles; a state that was bureaucratically plotted out before any significant settlement began (it should make the Chinese envious). That tight structuring has made possible, for good or ill, a different way of being, relating, and acting. But, as we’ve argued, it does come at a high cost; such as burgeoning rates of mental illness, particular mood disorders. Are the costs worth the benefits? Maybe or maybe not. One thing is clear. Modern civilization, as we know it, most likely wouldn’t have been possible without this change.

            Anyway, your interpretation resonates with our own in how you connect the individual and collective. You even focus on a similar era as pivotal change. The Wilsonian era heading into WWI was the height of neurasthenia as disease epidemic and gender crisis as moral panic, out of which emerged the American obsession with health, fitness, and dieting (e.g., Dr. John Harvey Kellogg, Seventh Day Adventist and vegan, who invented high-fiber breakfast cereals to reduce libido and protect boys from the supposedly damaging practice of masturbation). It was closely related to sexuality and libido, the idea of nervous energy as life force. It had to do with the increasing takeover of the capitalist self of rational self-control. Nervous energy was thought of as being psychic capital that could be earned, saved, and invested or wasted and lost. But this psychic energy was individualized, rather than collective and ancestral as was the case when the bundle theory was the dominant paradigm. In being contained, it wasn’t so easily replenished. An expansionistic expression of that energy was deemed harmful or even sinful; and if continued without control, would lead to wasting and withering away.

          • I won’t dispute with you about ancient words. I have no grasp of that language except a very limited power of reading supported by scholars who write in English.
            Despite my tough talk at times, if I didn’t respect you a little I wouldn’t even post here.

    • Keep in mind that, as always, personal thoughts, subjective experience, and anecdotal evidence is as welcome and desired as scholarly debate and intellectual analysis. No grand insights or detailed knowledge is required to contribute to discussion and dialogue. Even minor observations and commentary can be interesting, meaningful, and worthy.

      So, if anything comes to mind after further study and thought, please come back and share. Our own thinking as expressed in this post is rather tentative and speculative. Our main significant point is that there is obviously more goin on here, more than even the researchers likely realize. We will surely continue thinking on it.

        • That is understood. We find that the busyness of life has a way of getting in the way of such things. We just thought we’d invite further contribution but free of expectations of doing so; just if time, interest, and inspiration allows for it. We hope your trip will be enjoyable and not too stressful, as traveling can be.

  1. Dear Benjamin,

    I suppose that we can both be called WEIRDOS (Western Educated Industrialized Rich Democratic Operating Soul).

    Let us commemorate and celebrate the new reality, or rather, the new sensations of our being WEIRDOS with my musical composition entitled “New Sensations“:

    Let there be the new sensations of “WEIRD Personality Traits as Stable Egoic Structure”!

    Yours sincerely,

  2. Posts like this, in being tentative and speculative, act more like prompts for further thought. So, let us extend our thoughts a bit. We’re always surprised by the general lack of familiarity with the immense evidence in the social sciences that has been accumulating for generations now. Even among social scientists, they often know little outside of their narrow fields of expertise and so it’s mainly only anthropologists discussing anthropological evidence. But, in general, we wish there was more social science literacy in our society.

    This has occurred to us in reading political scientists and related scholars. An example is that of those writing about the reactionary mind, such as Corey Robin and Mark Lilla, neither of which ever draws upon the vast research and other evidence in the social sciences. Instead, they mostly rely upon historical texts, not looking into philological studies of older texts or cultural studies of other societies, nor neurocognitive research (e.g., low-status stress like poverty enlarges the amygdala and stunts the neocortex). Heck, in criticizing WEIRD bias, one might also note that these WEIRD scholars don’t look at historical texts outside of the West, likely because they only know the English language.

    In reading about right-wing authoritarianism (RWA) and social dominance orientation (SDO), we realized that the reactionary mind, although it has some links to RWA, is maybe more of a phenomenon of SDO. So much of the results of SDO research sound so similar to the scholarship on the reactionary mind. And, in particular, the SDO-E anti-egalitarianism on the SDO7 scale really fits into what many leftist commentaries mean by neo-reaction and in their criticisms of DNC elitist tokenism. SDO is more about inequality. But, of course, we have the problem that almost everything we know about RWA and SDO is, once again, based on studying the WEIRD.

    It does seem the reactionary mind as RWA and SDO has much to do with the WEIRD mind. There is an expansion within WEIRD consciousness in certain ways, but this comes at a great cost. Reactionary attitudes and politics might be less common in non-WEIRD populations, similar to modern-style liberalism and social democracy also being less common. Within WEIRD culture, the liberal is the light and the reactionary is the shadow. But that dynamic likely is simply non-existent in many other kinds of societies.

    This would likewise feed into the inequality issue, since inequality has been increasing for millennia. The earliest horticulturalists and bicameral city-state residents were more unequal than animist hunter-gatherers, the great agricultural empires of the Axial Age with their Jaynesian consciousness were more unequal still (particularly among wheat farmers), and industrialization brought inequality to an even greater degree (particularly in the West). That, of course, increasingly builds the structure that makes possible socioeconomic niches and labor specialization.

    Still, there is a big change from each era to the next. Bicameral societies, for example, were fairly advanced agricultural city-states that, later in the Bronze Age, were becoming empires. But, until right before the Bronze Age collapse, there was no sign of high inequality of hierarchy and inequality, specifically as we would recognize in terms of authoritarianism — no large centralized governments, no extremely stratified caste systems, no written laws, no police forces, no standing armies, no long distance warfare, no mass torture and murder, no sexual prurience and puritanism, etc.

    One thing we keep wondering about is the health angle, specifically in terms of public health. Across the millennia, that is strongly associated with diet and nutrition. As mentioned, the loss of the blubbery megafauna was a major blow to the human species, since that was the favorite food of humans through the ice age, during the broad paleolithic period, and maybe going back to the earliest hunting, once humans stopped being merely meat scavengers eating the scraps of more accomplished predators.

    That calorie-density and nutrient-density, specifically fat-soluble vitamins, never could be replaced. The shrinking of the human skull and human stature began then, although it shows up most dramatically with the appearance of agriculture. Humans became stunted and sickly for many millennia following that. We are only now catching up with the stature of paleolithic humans and we have yet to regain their skull size (i.e., brain size). Modern industrialization brought on all kinds of new nutritional deficiencies, even as some were remedied.

    It makes one wonder how this has altered neurocognitive development, far beyond general brain size. The Axial seems to be the main tipping point for almost everything. So much of what we consider modern originated or was shaped during that transitional period following archaic societies. Consider that, though agriculture existed before then, it had not previously been systematic. Bronze Age agriculture mostly involved semi-wild weedy fields, as the small city-states that dominated that era were still heavily involved in hunting and gathering with farming more as a backup source of food.

    This might be why it took so long for high inequality, stratified hierarchy, and brutal authoritarianism to appear. Those early city-states were often temporary affairs. They’d form during good times and then dissipate during bad times, switching back and forth between moderate hierarchy and varying degrees of egalitarianism. They weren’t generally stable societies as part of long-lasting civilizations over millennia.

    Balance of Egalitarianism and Hierarchy

    It’s maybe unsurprising that the bicameral mind that appears to have been common then was of the bundled variety that allows more flexibility and fluidity. Rather than individuals fitting into a niche, it was an entire collective mentality of this voice-hearing or another that determined social roles, probably where those taking up those roles were often temporary and less socially entrenched. There lack of large-scale stability is why Julian Jaynes thinks they collapsed in the late Bronze Age when they had grown too large for the bicameral mind to operate effectively.

    The bicameral mind was simply an adaptation of the animistic tribal mind. It couldn’t escape those constraints. Yet it set the stage for what followed. Those diverse voices of the voice-hearing tradition were also diverse personalities and hence unique personality structures. In the developing agricultural societies of the Aborigines, the songlines were such as voice-hearing structure where each songline expressed the personality of an ancestral spirit.

    The thing is anyone who knew the rituals and songs could access those personalities, as no one had only a single personality. But it is true that hierarchy was beginning to emerge, in that no single person knew all songlines and hence no single person had access to all personalities. There still would’ve been some basic specialization, if this operated in a much more loose manner. The personalities if controlled by those who controlled the songline knowledge were, nonetheless, not limited to any single person. They were collectively shared and maintained.

    That is precisely what came to an end in so many societies during the Axial Age. A hint of the old mentality still could be heard among the Homeric Greeks and lingered still among the poet-bards of Classical Greece, but they were increasingly eliminated as the major civilizations moved into the post-Axial period. The Bible talks of the voice-hearers intentionally being persecuted, to the point of being rounded up and executed; along with official decrees commanding parents to kill their own voice-hearing children.

    It became an authoritarian-demanded requirement that an individual has one and only one personality shared with no one else, in hearing one and only one voice that is perceived as contained inside of them and possessed by them. That was the prerequisite for forming individualistic personality structures that could be categorized, as began with the humoral theory of the ancient Greeks, or as seen similarly in Axial Age India, China, and elsewhere. It’s no accident that simultaneously agriculture, labor, and government was becoming more structured, hierarchical, and specialized.

    Even then, there remained large aspects of the archaic culture and semi-animistic/bicameral ways of being, in most post-bicameral traditional societies (e.g., context-dependence). The shift toward wheat farming and then mass literacy, not to mention the Church’s breaking apart of kinship networks, were the last few straws that finally broke the camel’s back, allowing for full-blown WEIRD. The proto-individualism of Jaynesian consciousness eventually became the hyper-individualism of capitalist self-ownership.

    And it just so happened this occurred first in the West, although other places are catching up with the influence of this WEIRD culture. Yet, in the West as well, these changes are rather recent. The spread of wheat farming remained limited until past few centuries, as wheat farming is extremely difficult. There were no consistent wheat surplus yields until the 1800s and so wheat was not common outside of the wealthy elite. As we noted in one piece, collective identities and probably more contextual thinking were still holding on in the West into early modernity, and they didn’t disappear easily or willingly.

    Enclosure of the Mind

  3. Thank you, again.
    If you have used this phrase before I don’t remember it, nor do I remember it from anywhere else. It explains so many things in a nutshell. It reminds me of Zorba’s response to the question “what work do you do?”
    “Listen to him. I got hands, feet, head. They do the jobs. Who the hell am I to choose?”

    • There are surely many posts where it is mentioned about ‘self-ownership’ or, as the Jaynesian scholar Brian J. McVeigh puts it, ‘propertied self’. Both of these descriptions are found in the post about enclosure of the mind, but also in other posts. The description as propertied self is maybe used more often. If you do a site search on the blog or using Google, you’ll find a number of other results. Discussion of the propertied self comes up around such topics as legalistic liberty.

      Cultural Freedom, Legal Liberty

      That is because the modern usage of liberty originates in the Roman Empire. It literally meant self-ownership, in a society where people were owned as slaves. To have liberty was to own oneself or, in religious sense, maybe to have one’s soul owned by God (the ultimate Self), even when physically enslaved (the natural law rhetoric articulated by the Stoics and inherited by the Christians). Even to this day, many fundamentalists sometimes speak of one’s relationship to God as that of slave. This rhetoric is even more common among Muslims.

      Ownership is an interesting concept. If one were a slave, one’s self and presumably one’s personality was owned and sense controlled by another who could tell you to be and how to be. The essence of that sensibility was arising more widely during the Axial Age and immediate post-Axial period. It had to do with the systematization of ownership as legal systems and hence social systems. This relates to the rule-orientation of the WEIRD mind and the legalistic nature of liberal proceduralism where everyone is equal before the law, similar to how Axial Age prophets declared everyone equal before God as lawmaker.

      With the systematization of ownership, there was the systematization of land as property, in relation to the systematization of agriculture. Everything was becoming more controlled which has to do with creating clear demarcations within the self (e.g., what Jaynes refers to as ‘I’ and ‘am’) and clear demarcations between myself, other selves, and the world; not to mention demarcation between kinds of selves (socioeconomic class, caste, status, roles, positions, and identities; with corresponding personality structures). That is built on the Jaynesian container metaphor of self with an inside and an outside.

      That is all about what is contained, how it is contained, and who is doing the containing. To own and control something is to have it contained. That containing has long been a defining feature of property. All the way into the late 19th century United States, many states had laws that stated one only effectively owned what one was actively using, no matter what one theoretically owned in terms of paper documents. What this required was that one could only deny use of land to another if one had that land fenced off; i.e., contained. Otherwise, everyone was free to use any open land, indicating how there were large aspects of identity that had yet to be contained.

      This goes back to John Locke’s notion of ownership and why Native Americans were not perceived as owning the land they used. And, from the elitist propertied mentality, one could not own oneself if one did not own property; the reason many governments limited voting and political position to landowners. This was also the perceived lower status of Native Americans. It’s not that Native Americans weren’t farming as many were farmers but that their way of growing plants was less systematized in the way that was most common in the major civilizations prior to the Axial Age. Many, if not necessarily most, colonial era Europeans had forgotten that earlier kind of mentality.

      But some Europeans still could grok its reality and significance. Roger Williams, the radical dissident and founder of Rhode Island, did consider Native Americans to own their land and he articulated this form of land rights before John Locke. Certain groups like the Ulster Scots were still practicing small scale informal farming more akin to the Native Americans, and they had less attachment to land because slash-and-burn farming required constant relocation. This might be why the early Ulster-Scots, along with the Scottish, fraternized with Native Americans as those British populations still had a lingering tribal culture and hence a more communal identity.

      This issue between an emerging propertied elite and the unpropertied masses was the conflict described in the enclosure of the mind post. It’s not merely that most of the landless peasants lacked property but lacked a propertied self. They still maintained much of the non-WEIRD sensibility as expressed in a more communal identity of feudalism, if elements of the WEIRD mentality had already taken hold during the Middle Ages. Those shared identities needed to be destroyed through authoritarian measures.

      That began a couple of centuries ago around the time of shaping of modern ideologies of left vs right, liberal vs conservative; and the arising of the reactionary shadow, along with nostalgia as a disease and what became described as nervous disorders (nerves, neurasthenia, etc). The emergence of modern ideological identity structures probably is closely related to the strengthening of modern personality identity structures. Jaynes argues that Jaynesian consciousness drains energy from the psyche and so, in combination with dietary changes, probably contributed to increasing physical and mental illnesses over the past few centuries.

      By the way, Zorba’s comment reminds me of a couple of things. In the bicameral mind, there was not a single coherent self, not even as body-mind. Separate body parts could have their own minds and voices. The body was considered to be an amalgam of external forces that were controlled by ancestors, spirits, gods, etc. This could still be heard in some of what Jesus taught, such as if some body part sinned or offended then get rid of it. In Islamic theology, even though the bicameral voices are officially silenced, they shall return in the End Times when inanimate objects and one’s own body parts will testify against each individual.

      Zorba the Greek is a story about fairly recent times. That shows how long that archaic mentality still maintained its hold over so many, including in the West. The WEIRD mind really has only become fully entrenched over the past century. Much of the problems of conservative-mindedness is that they find themselves ripped apart by the force of the ego self and the bundled self. Being in that transitional phase is the hardest. That was probably much worse during the Axial Age when the conflict between the old and new would have fractured all of society. But obviously that fracture has not yet been resolved,

      It would be interesting to study the most WEIRD, those who measure the highest on FFM openness and HEXACO honesty-humility while measuring the lowest on the highly correlated social dominance orientation, right-wing authoritarianism, narcissism, and Machiavellianism (the last three being the Dark Tetrad; or, with sadism added, the Dark Tetrad). This could also be measured with brain scans in determining those who have relatively larger neocortexes and relatively smaller amygdalas. And specifically study the most WEIRD in the most well-functioning WEIRD societies; i.e., Scandinavian social democracies.

      Why do some adapt better to the WEIRD mentality than others? American conservatives are more WEIRD than in the past, no different than they are more liberal than liberals of the past. All of American society is slowly adapting, but the strength of the reactionary shows that adaptation is extremely imperfect and partial for many. Is the reactionary simply a transitional phase? Or is all of the WEIRD, including reaction to it, a temporary period that will be followed by something entirely else?

      I ask that because of the New Media with its powerful impact. Yes, we only became majority literate quite recently, particularly beyond barely functional literacy of reading simple signs and labels as was what literacy often meant in past centuries. Text has increased over the past decades, such as more books published recently than in all of prior history combined, partly because literacy has increased all over the world. Yet, at the same time, imagery and audio have become increasingly dominant. One wonders if there will be an integral process of the WEIRD ego-mind transcending but eventually including and incorporating the pre-WEIRD bundle-mind. There might be a return of aspects of the bicameral-animistic mind.

      If the change is dramatic enough, the WEIRD bias might go in multiple directions and so increasingly become problematic. Much of the past century’s social science research might not only not apply to non-WEIRD societies elsewhere and in the Western past but also not apply to the new identity structures that are arising among the younger generations and will become ever more different over the coming centuries. It might turn out that this past century was a unique moment that disappeared as quickly as it appeared. So much of research, from the perspective of the future, might simply be looked upon as an artifact of highly specific conditions that only existed briefly to never be seen again.

      We might be correct about the WEIRD mentality, as extreme Jaynesian consciousness, being part of a larger civilizational project. Also, we might be correct in our understanding of its basic causal origins, contributing factors, pathways of development, and the general patterns of the forms it has taken. But our knowledge, even for the few of us paying attention, is still largely vague in its full implications. We have no idea where it might be leading and what might be its ultimate results and consequences.

      The WEIRD that is presently dominant might be a temporary phase, not the ultimate endpoint of the trajectory initiated during the Axial Age. As far as that goes, there might never be any single endpoint, as there might not be any single trajectory. Consider how different the world might become if the West collapses and a very different culture comes into global power, such as the Chinese. Western WEIRD might be a momentary blip in a larger development, a minor offshoot of larger trends we have a hard time seeing in our WEIRD reality tunnel.

      The Great Weirding of New Media

      Battle of Voices of Authorization in the World and in Ourselves

      The Great WEIRDing of the Jaynesian Ego-Mind as a Civilizational Project

        • It’s interesting to think of what social science research would look like and what would be found if social scientists worked from the understanding of the mind as fundamentally bundled and porous, fluid and flexible (animistic, bicameral, etc); the mind as 4E cognition (embodied, embedded, enactive, and extended). What kinds of personality traits, identity structures, and/or experiential selves would be seen in studies? And how would that inform every aspect of our society (social order, cultural relating, cognitive behavior, economic systems, governance, etc)?

  4. Let us play off of our previous comments. There is a distinct possibility of what could be emerging, something unique and new. Let us go with the notion that WEIRD bias (with its liberal-reactionary dynamic) simply represents a particular stage; or, to use spiral dynamics language, a particular value meme (vmeme). That brings in the transcend and include that Ken Wilber goes on about.

    This gets at a point that has been challenging our perspective on left-liberalism. As we’ve earlier suggested, the political left has never really been any single thing, maybe not even entirely egalitarianism. The idea is that the left has always pointed beyond the present order and so always points beyond even its own position within the present order. It is a marker of the unknown, of human potential and social possibility.

    This makes sense from a historical view. Originally, modern leftist was a direct response specifically to unquestioned monarchical rule, and over time this more and more took on the broader meaning of anti-authoritarianism and anti-dominance, anti-hierarchy and anti-inequality. The thing is the earliest leftists had no single shared ideology other than being opposition to the king, be it loyal opposition of reform or radical opposition of overthrow.

    This is what differentiates it from the political right. There is only one way to be on the side of the king and that is to submit to the king, be obedient, do what one is told, and defend the social order at all costs. But there is potentially an infinite number of ways to oppose the king and to imagine something else. That is a vast difference that, one can easily argue, remains basically true across the past centuries. Leftists are both malcontented and optimistic.

    The ancien regime was the old social order of feudalism that maintained external boundaries closer to the archaic context-dependent bundled mind. At the time, the WEIRD propertied self as liberty-minded individuality, liberal proceduralism, and principled rule-orientation undermined that ideological realism by creating strong internal boundaries that could operate independently of or even in contradiction to external boundaries.

    But once traditionalism was destroyed, as well as the monarchy deposed (US, France, etc) or made largely irrelevant (UK), those who sought to defend SDO-D dominance and SDO-E anti-egalitarianism were forced into creating an entirely new social order. This was the first full appearance of the reactionary mind that was immersed in WEIRD classical liberalism. This is why conservatives, right from the start, have just been another variety of liberal.

    As the reactionary is the shadow of liberalism, so liberalism is the frame of conservatism; and, all of that combined, forms the dominant WEIRD mentality and culture. Initially, it was the left that most strongly embraced WEIRD individualism because it was the weapon used to attack and destroy the previous authoritarian rule. But, once WEIRD individualism became the new dominant system, the reactionary right co-opted it in defense of a new authoritarian rule.

    This began to free the left from WEIRD individualism in order to explore other possibilities. The left, in the moment reactionaries became conservatives proper, was already looking to learn from the communal and collectivist past to remake society. This is why, ironically, it is the future-oriented left that has been more honest in its appraisal of the past while the nostalgic right has attempted to hide past realities under the guise of historical revisionism and invented traditions.

    This has been a struggle, though. The left was simultaneously trying to build off of the advancement of WEIRD mentality while not accepting it without question. According to spiral dynamics, as the right increasingly shifted from blue vmeme of traditionalism to orange vmeme of individualism, the left moved onto the green vmeme of pluralism. Now, as the right is taking up the green vmeme of postmodern relativism (e.g., neo-reaction), the left is once again moving onto the next stage which is yellow vmeme, the first development of the integral.

    Every time this happens, the leading edge initially denies the immediately prior vmeme, in order to establish the next vmeme, before moving on and only later incorporating what had previously been denied. So, with the left ever more being defined by the integral yellow vmeme and beyond, the orange vmeme individualism of two vmemes prior is now safe enough to be brought back into a leftist ideological worldview.

    This might be what we are seeing with the ‘white liberal’ demographic being the first to be measured as having a pro-outgroup bias. In an another post, we argued that this is a misunderstanding, as arguably no one has an actual pro-outgroup bias. It’s simply that, unlike the white conservative demographic, white liberals simply no longer think of themselves as white liberals. Their circle of concern has come to include a greater number of those outside of the white liberal demographic.

    There is one thing we maybe didn’t quite grasp before. We might have been too quick to dismiss the sense of the othering effect that happens as the WEIRDest of the WEIRD enters into integral vmeme. This is what some refer to as the potential of a transparent self. The pro-outgroup bias is the claim that people can come to identify more with others than they do even with themselves or rather their supposed selves.

    This might mean the rigidity absolutism of WEIRD hyper-individualism is loosening, the demarcations are become less clear between self and other, between inside and outside. As such, the container metaphor maybe is breaking down. We explored this with New Media. The younger generations, using new technology (e.g., wireless earbuds), are injecting diverse voices (videos, audiobooks, podcasts, music, etc) directly into their heads. They hear these external voices as if they were inside their skulls.

    There is an intimacy to New Media and this intimacy is pervasive and increasingly all-consuming for those immersed in it. It’s affecting even adults, but it might be utterly transforming the mentalities of the young in ways that might not be apparent at present. This could be a re-emergence of the bundled mind that might be able to include the egoic mind as one of multiple ways of being. Such a bundled mind can’t be explained for it can only be known through experience.

    That is why we’ve given up on debate or discussing such ideas with anyone who doesn’t already grok it. We no longer are interested in arguing with or trying to convince anyone. Understanding in the greater society will follow, not precede, the changes themselves. Basically, what is being discussed here won’t gain purchase on the public mind, much less the elite mind, until at least decades if not generations or even centuries down the road.

    We Are All White Liberals Now

    The Transparent Self to Come?

    The Crisis of Identity

    • As we said, the bundled mind cannot be explained but must be experienced. Experiencing the bundled mind is a simple task, in one sense, considering everyone’s mind is inherently and fundamentally bundled. But the difficulty is that the egoic structure hides this reality of the human psyche. Intellect is not enough because abstract and critical thought is used and claimed by the egoic mind. All that intellect will likely do is give a false sense of understanding that takes the place of experience. There is an element of the reactionary in this psychological maneuver of reification, the abstract playing the role of the concrete that further disconnects, maybe similar to symbolic conflation.

      That egoic structure has to somehow be deconstructed or disrupted, intentionally or as a side effect of something else. Long-term meditative practice can accomplish this, particularly in terms of Buddhism and some Hindu traditions that specifically focus on experiencing reality beyond the ego. Other methods include psychedelics and shamanistic practices (involving breathing techniques, rhythmic drumming, ecstatic dance, etc), which can be an easier path for the Westerner unused to meditation. One way or another, the egoic pattern has to be interrupted. A less dependable and more dangerous method is trauma or other acute stress that breaks open the rigid protective boundaries of the ego-mind, but this could lead to an unhappy state of spiritual crisis or psychosis. You might simply end up medicated and in an institution.

      In modern WEIRD cultures, bundled mind experience is rare or at least it’s rare in terms of conscious experience and even more rare in becoming integrated into identity. With awareness, to experience it and understand what one experienced is no easy task. Even many (most?) people who discuss the bundled mind, including most Jaynesian scholars, probably have never gotten beyond the intellectual level. It’s more of an abstract idea than a lived reality, if nonetheless a highly compelling idea because intuitively we can sense it is far beyond merely an idea. That intuitive sense, though, can so easily draw one into experience, if one allows oneself to be drawn; but the ego mind will constantly seek to reinforce the defenses. Once experienced, it becomes much harder to ever fully put those rigid boundaries back into place. The experience can’t be unexperienced, and it potentially could change one’s sense of identity, humanity, and reality.

      Still, the bundled mind even as a mere idea might be a powerful memetic mind virus. Like Buddhist teachings and stories, it could prime the mind for the actual experience, motivate one to seek direct understanding as gnostic anamnesis (unforgetting). That is why there is much value in the scholarship on the bundled mind, from anthropology, philology, and consciousness studies to archaeology, philosophy of mind, and cross-cultural religious studies. It slowly prepares the ground upon which a revolution of mind is more likely to occur. Yet that is a slow process. David Hume, probably drawing upon the 19th century missionary accounts of Buddhist, is the first known modern Western thinker to speak of the bundled mind; soon followed by Friedrich Nietzsche, Carl Jung, and others.

      We are at least at the point where respectable people can finally entertain the idea of the bundled mind, which was not true less than a half century ago when Julian Jaynes was writing about it. And Jaynes never claimed to have experienced it himself. He was simply working as an academic in having built upon the scholarship of those before him. But to assert one has experienced the bundled mind is still perceived as putting one in the company of the insane; although even that is starting to change with more research showing how common are non-ordinary experiences like voice-hearing, not to mention some voice-hearers having established international organizations. Yet, as expected, there remains much resistance.

      We’ve read the published dialogues between Julian Jaynes and his protege Brian J. McVeigh, the latter also having written on the related topic of the propertied self. In one section, they spoke of need to strengthen Jaynesian consciousness. This made us realize that some might study about the bundled mind not to seek experience of it but precisely to protect against such experience as a perceived threat, which is not entirely unreasonable with how the repressed bundled mind can erupt as the hypnotizing effect of authoritarianism. This is a problematic attitude, though, because it is only dangerous to the degree we continue to repress it and so refuse to integrate it.

      But those like Jaynes and Jaynesian scholars probably don’t tend to have much knowledge of integral theory and so maybe don’t see beyond to what else might be possible. Academic scholars and other respectable thinkers tend to focus on what is or what was, not what might be, the latter being the wildlands of radicals and idealists. That is where we get into left-liberal thought. There is an argument we have repeated many times over the years. Liberalism, as ideology and mindset, can tolerate, allow, and include conservatism in a way that is not possible the other way around. It is the default position of conservatism, when in power, to exclude and eliminate or otherwise delimit and constrain all that is not conservative.

      That is the nature of spiral dynamics vmemes as holarchy. A holon can simultaneously be the whole containing parts and be a part of another whole. So, a holarchy is the inclusion of holons as parts in ever greater holons, but where the parts remain holons in their own right. This is integrating function of transcend and include that eventually allows an integral vmeme that, in theory, would transcend and include all that came before. This is where one can make the pre/trans distinction. There is the pre-conscious bundled mind and the trans-conscious bundled mind, only the latter being integral. It’s the integrated bundled mind that can contain the egoic mind, whereas the egoic mind could never do likewise with the bundled mind, not even with the pre-integral bundled mind.

      The egoic mind, in not being integral, can’t help but see itself in conflict with the bundled mind and so it treats it as a problem that could cause harm. This might be why reactionary conservatism co-occurred with the rising dominance of orange vmeme individualism, as the shadow of classical liberalism. That the reactionary mind, expressed as neo-reaction, is starting to move into green vmeme postmodern relativism might be a good sign. Based on this line of thought, what we’d predict is that conservatives will increasingly see the egoic mind as a threat, which will allow left-liberals in the integral yellow vmeme to tag team orange vmeme individualism into a larger sense of transparent self that, one could argue, will be a variant on the bundled mind.

      This post and the comments is part of larger set of considerations we’ve had lately, particularly about the Western world and the larger Westernized world. Having begun with Jaynesian consciousness and having been strengthened with WEIRD mentality, particularly as measured over the past century or so, there has been a general corresponding increase of literacy, literary culture, linguistic recursion, abstract thought, cognitive complexity, cognitive empathy, tolerance for cognitive dissonance, IQ (primarily fluid intelligence), FFM openness, HEXACO honesty-humility, social liberalism, left-liberal politics, social democracy, anti-authoritarianism, egalitarian views, etc. The rising average IQ is called the Flynn effect and Steven Pinker argues that it goes along with a moral Flynn effect of simultaneous decreasing violence rates, if there is much debate about that claim.

      The main thing that is relevant here is that of cognitive empathy, as theory of mind. In line with the bundled mind coming first and only the egoic mind later, some have argued that individual humans develop a theory of mind first in understanding others and only later internalize a theory of mind in building a privatized and propertied self concept and identity (“I is an other”). But, of course, in animistic and bicameral cultures, theory of mind wouldn’t require ever developing an egoic personality construct. There are many possible kinds of personality constructs and the bundled mind allows for multiple personality constructs in each individual and shared across individuals. Though once an ego personality construct is developed, there is then the possibility of consciously incorporating it back into the bundled mind that never really went away. If so, the egoic personality would merely be one of many personality constructs, not as the sole authoritarian ruler of the mind.

      One suspects this pluralistic mentality would require not only greater cognitive empathy but also cognitive complexity and other forms of cognitive ability. It would mean holding multiple personality constructs in the mind, something we already do to some extent with having theory of mind about others, an already advanced degree of cognitive ability. This is what liberal-mindedness (with its on average larger neocortex, prefrontal cortex, and anterior cingulate cortex) allows to a greater extent, as cognitive empathy broadens in being more inclusive. What if this greater capacity for cognitive empathy also complexifies? In that case, there wouldn’t be a single set of stable personality traits that would remain the same across contexts. Rather, individuals would have much wider and easier, more fluid and flexible access to a fuller range of personality traits, including the development of new kinds of personality traits.

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