Saturday, January 21, 2017

Reason #3: Trump’s psyche & the tribalization of America (4th of 4 posts)

My third reason is that Trump is prone to act like a tribalist — a tribal chieftain or warlord — who is intent on tribalizing others. This was most evident during the campaign — just look at his rallies. It was less evident lately, while he focused on personnel and policy matters. But it was on display yesterday in his very tribal (and tribalizing) inaugural speech. And now that he is in office, it may not take much to trigger his penchant for tribalism, setting Americans against each other and against outsiders. Indeed, to offer an allusion to Trump’s slogan, if he keeps arousing malignant tribalism, far from making America “great”, he will instead make it “grate” again.

Americans are not used to thinking in terms of tribes, tribalism, or tribalization. Mostly we use other words about how people get divided up — words like race, ethnicity, and identity, or words like partisans, factions, gangs, and fans. These are good words too, but once you get the hang of thinking and analyzing in terms of the tribal form, the T words become more illuminating.

I write a lot about the tribal form — tribes, the “T” form — as a result of coming up with the TIMN framework about past, present, and future social evolution. So maybe I should say a little to clarify that, before applying it to Trump’s psyche.

Reminder about TIMN theory:

In brief, TIMN theory finds that, over the ages, people have come up with four cardinal forms of organization for constructing their societies: tribes (or the T form), hierarchical institutions (the I form), markets (M), and information-age networks (N). Each form of organization has different purposes and uses, along with different philosophical and strategic implications. Each form also has both bright and dark sides, and can be used for good or ill; societies can get them wrong as well as right, in ways that affect their usage of the other forms.

For various reasons, these forms have arisen and matured at different rates and in different eras — tribes (T) took shape first, hierarchical institutions (+I) were next, then markets (+M), and now information-age networks (+N) are increasingly on the rise. Societies progress according to their abilities to add and combine these forms (and their resulting sectors of activity). How people manage to use and combine these forms, their bright and dark sides, pretty much determines what kind of society they have. Advanced societies depend on people’s abilities to use all four forms in a coherent, well-balanced, well-functioning whole.

In notational terms, this means that societies have evolved across the centuries in a preferred historical progression: from monoform (T-only), to biform (T+I), to triform (T+I+M), and now potentially to quadriform (T+I+M+N) types of societies. For example, Russia today is still mostly a biform T+I society — for it lacks much of a true market system, and suppresses NGO networks. Liberal democracies, with their advanced capitalist economies, equate to triform T+I+M societies — indeed, only +M societies can become liberal democracies. Some, notably our United States, are just beginning to evolve into a quadriform T+I+M+N society (though it remains unclear what +N will bring).

Thus, according to TIMN theory, when matters go well, societies advance by adopting and using these forms properly and in progressive stages. When matters do not go well — for example, if leaders make a mess of the institutional (government) and market forms, or if people cannot find places for themselves in the institutional, market, or emerging network sectors — then many people revert to organizing and behaving in terms of the tribal form, often in dark ways.

Nature and recognition of the tribal (T) form:

No society can do well without the tribal form evolving properly. Its main dynamic is kinship, which gives people a distinct sense of identity and belonging. It is initially expressed best in families, clans, and classic tribes; later in community spirit, civic clubs, patriotic nationalism; as well as in positive group identities about religion, ideology, and ethnicity, and even through being fans of sports teams and commercial brands — all exemplars of “togetherness”. The tribe is the first and forever form behind social evolution, the bedrock of all societies.

TIMN thus recognizes the crucial importance of the tribal form and its bright sides — the beneficial tribalism manifested in thriving families and communities. It undergirds all societies and their prospects for evolutionary progress. In the TIMN sense, tribes and tribalism per se are not a bad thing; some is good and necessary. But TIMN also explains that dark sides — malignant tribalism — may show up too, as in violent urban youth gangs, organized crime gangs, sectarian militias, partisan cliques, millenarian movements, charismatic cults, hate groups, etc.

For decades, ever since I became aware of the importance of the tribal/T form, the usage I used to see most often for matters here at home was synonymic. Tribe-related words cropped up as substitutes or synonyms for words like partisanship, faction, incivility, polarization, and divisiveness, not to mention identity politics. Words like tribal and tribalism were tossed into write-ups and talks more as flourishes than as concepts about distinct patterns of thought and behavior. Tribe-like words seemed weighted with ancient anthropological baggage; few analysts saw merit in applying them to modern society.

Over the past few years, however, the usage of these terms has become more systematic. As I will specify in a later post, prominent journalists and op-ed writers writers are increasingly recognizing that a distinct form of organization and behavior is at work, and that American society is becoming more tribalized. I see this in opinion columns in the New York Times and other newspapers, in magazine articles I happen across or that colleagues point out to me, in a handful of recent books, and in a bunch of blogs I follow. Comprehension of the T form is growing, albeit slowly.

President Obama too has warned about tribalism several times in recent months, seeing it as a reaction to globalism and a cause of Trumpism. During a November 2016 press conference in Athens, he said: “I do believe, separate and apart from any particular election or movement, that we are going to have to guard against a rise in a crude sort of nationalism or ethnic identity or tribalism that is built around an ‘us’ and a ‘them’.” He surely does not have TIMN in mind; but his recognition of tribalism adds to my argument here.

No Republican politicians have voiced similar concerns. Yet the conservative movement has been rife with tribalists for years, and the Republican party is now largely split between tribalists and institutionalists (the Establishment). As marks of their tribalism, the former constantly dwell on the nature of identity — what it means to be a conservative, what conservatism stands for, why “us” are different from and better than “them” — even as they deride liberals and progressives for playing identity politics. Republican “rules” (e.g. the “Hastert Rule”) that no Republican shall speak ill of any other, nor shall any negotiate with a Democrat, are more than partisan — they are tribalizing. Indeed, many litmus-test issues that social conservatives keep bringing to the fore — like immigration, marriage, abortion, religion, gun ownership — pertain more to T than to any other TIMN form. Trump’s rise as a kind of charismatic warlord with tribal appeal reflects this.

Trump and tribalism:

Around the world, time after time, people exhibit similar patterns of thought and action when they turn darkly tribal, no matter their religious, political, ethnic, or other group affiliations: They divide the world between “us” and “them”. They tout group identity, loyalty, unity, and solidarity. They extol honor, pride, dignity, and respect. They flash totems and slogans. They claim purity for their side. They vilify and demonize opponents. They readily turn combative and uncompromising. They call for revenge and retribution, often as payback for past humiliations, insults, and grudges. They force people to take sides, without question. They shun and demean moderates once on their side. They engage in magical and conspiratorial thinking about their prospects. They believe it’s morally okay — maybe not politically correct, but tribally correct for sure — to lie to, and about, outsiders. And of course they accuse the other side of excessive tribalism.

I’ve made these points for years, and many now seem to apply to Trump, his surrogates, and his “movement”. Trump also behaves in additional ways that signal his tribalness: He amplifies resentments that his supporters hold about their identity and place in life. He dismisses and deflects blame for alleged misconduct or shortcomings, using theatrical reactions that further divide and tribalize (see my “scoundrel’s script” post). He seeks to delegitimize mainstream (i.e., less-tribal) media, in favor of tribalized media that show devotion to him (e.g., Fox News). He decries political correctness — but then clamors for what amounts to tribal correctness. He urges a unity of all Americans, but it sounds like unity in tribal terms where people are either for “us” or against “us”, and it’s unclear what “Americans” and “our people” mean. He voices a xenophobic, populist, even nativist kind of nationalism and patriotism.

Again, this angry tormented divisiveness fits a key TIMN proposition: When people feel disconnected from and distressed about what’s happening with the +I and +M forms (not to mention +N), many people revert to thinking and acting in terms of the T form. That is, they turn tribal — and some become extreme tribalists, bitter and nasty in all sorts of ways. What is going on today in America conforms to this TIMN dynamic. America is becoming newly tribalized.

And what may be the implications if Trump continues this way?

Well, here’s what often happens to societies and their governance systems when tribal values prevail over institutional and market values? They turn corrupt and corruptible, rife with nepotism, cronyism, and favoritism, along with secretive kickbacks, payoffs, and sweetheart deals. People engage in factional divisiveness. Demagogues and dictators are hard to resist. Media fragment into bubbles and black-holes. Duplicitous hypocrisy becomes a norm. Political theater displaces factual truth. Free thinking succumbs to memetic addictions (what Russian info-war theorists term “reflexive conditioning”), often in the form of push-button sound-bites and doctrinaire catch-phrases. What should be science and religion give way to pseudo-science and pseudo-religion. What once was deemed class conflict gets riddled with tribalized conflict. Et cetera.

It’s one thing for such tendencies to exist in underdeveloped undemocratic societies where the tribal form remains quite strong, as in parts of Africa, Latin America, the Middle East, and Asia (in TIMN terms, societies that are designed around T+I with bits of +M). It’s another matter for these tendencies to grow in America and Western Europe, where the tribal form has long been subdued and most people focus their lives around later forms of activity, especially the market form (in TIMN terms, advanced liberal democratic societies designed around T+I+M with an emerging potential for +N).

As to what may be next if the tribalization of America deepens and hardens, here’s a list of what else may go hand-in-hand with malignant tribalism: A sharpening of identity clashes. A further distortion and shrinkage of liberal democracy. If there’s political order, then a turn deeper into patrimonial corporatism (a system that authoritarian tribalists often like). If there’s political disorder, then a turn into some kind of information-age fascism. Meanwhile, a further growth of public and private domestic security forces, plus a further growth of public and private surveillance and censorship. In many settings, factionalism between doctrinaire tribalists and principled institutionalists.

Those are easy points to list. Most have been made by many analysts and commentators. In my view, these points are consistent with TIMN theory — but with a difference: While other analysis normally refer to an array of political, economic, social, and cultural factors as the underlying explanations, TIMN treats the relative appeal and content of the tribal form itself as a key explanation. For TIMN, it is simpler, more systematic, and makes better sense to do so.

Those then are some worries about Trump’s ascension, based on TIMN. In closing, I’d add three more points that are rarely made but derive directly from TIMN:

— From a TIMN perspective, the reasons for “American exceptionalism” lie mainly in our approach to the T form. We have welcomed immigrants and found ways to enable people from all backgrounds and orientations to live together. Trumpish tribalism will undermine that basis of American exceptionalism, especially if he and his cohorts claim to be restoring it.

— TIMN implies that malignant tribalization will make our society far more vulnerable to information warfare. The ultimate goal of strategic information warfare at the societal level, whether waged by foreign or domestic actors, is to tribalize a society, the better to divide and conquer it.

— According to TIMN, America is moving into a new/next phase of social evolution — it’s evolving from a triform into a quadriform society. Just what the addition of a +N sector will mean is far from clear, and this is not the place to elaborate. But I do want to note that Trumpish tribalism, if it doesn’t abate, seems likely to imperil the prospects for getting to +N for years to come (though I can also see opportunities arising in some respects).

Well, I’ve rambled on long enough, and begun drifting away from Trump’s psyche. So I shall end this post, with apologies for not writing as well as I used to.



Sources: Publications and blog posts about tribal forms of organization and behavior, notably In Search Of How Societies Work: Tribes — The First and Forever Form (2007), plus blogspot posts on “We face a turmoil of tribalisms, not a clash of civilizations” (2009), “Q’s & A’s about “TIMN in 20 minutes” (1st of 7): TIMN as a set of narratives” (2012), “Why the Republicans lost: excessive tribalism — a partial TIMN interpretation” (2012), “The problem is preternatural tribalism, more than Islamic extremism — a reiteration” (2015), and “The NRA in light of STA:C and TIMN (Part 1 of 2)” (2016).


Short summary version posted on my Facebook page on January 21, 2017.

Sunday, January 15, 2017

Reason #2: Trump’s psyche & “the scoundrels script” (3rd of 4 posts)

As noted a couple posts ago, Trump relies heavily on what I’ve termed “the scoundrel’s script”. His surrogates are adept at it as well. Heavy usage of this script is another worrisome sign about Trump’s psyche.

The “script” is from a slippery storyline I noticed a decade ago that has become way too common for society’s good. It’s about people who do something they want to keep private and hidden, esp. if they know it is wrong. They get away with it for a while, but then are found out. As they feel the brunt of unwelcome questioning if not outright blame, they slide into a standard three-act script to deceive and disorient their accusers.
  • Act one is to deny and dismiss wrong-doing: “The accusations are false … nothing of the sort happened … there’s no evidence … my record is clean … I gave no such orders … trust me … show respect.”
  • If denial fails and evidence mounts, act two is to diminish the taint: “It was just a one-time mistake … a few bad apples … we thought we read the rules right … we were given bad information … I didn’t know until later … our system works fine; it’s not to blame … we fixed the problem … the media exaggerate … those are not the facts … that’s not what happened … I wasn’t my true self … I didn’t mean it.”
  • If that still fails to work and evidence and pressure keep growing, act three is to deflect and displace the blame: “Who are you to judge me … their hands are dirtier … they’ve done far worse … they provoked it … they gave us bad info … there’s a conspiracy … we were being threatened … look at what they’re doing … everybody’s been doing it ... I’m being victimized … they’re to blame.”
Not all wrong-doers or shadow-seekers enact the entire script. People who have a sound conscience and a positive sense of strategy — that is, they’re not total scoundrels — may own up and accept responsibility during step one. Others, if fully exposed while dissembling in step two, may fold quietly rather than move into step three. Yet, moving into step three is common for individuals and organizations that are determined to resist getting caught.

This deny-diminish-deflect pattern is all too human. It arises in the maneuvers of respectable folks as well as rogues. And, sadly, it can be found all over the place these days — in politics, business, entertainment, religion, etc. (e.g., the Clinton email fiasco).

Americans are rarely surprised to see the scoundrel’s script unfold in news from other nations. But it’s awfully prevalent here now too. A major episode at a time once seemed the norm (e.g., Nixon reacting to Watergate). But lately it is not unusual for multiple instances to fill the media, simultaneously involving figures from Wall Street, Washington, and elsewhere.

Must I name names? I suppose we each have our own lists of favorite examples. (Frankly, I’ve forgotten many names on my own list by now.)

This adds to signs that American society is corroding. American-style capitalism, democracy, and culture already look increasingly dysfunctional. The rising incidence of the scoundrel’s script only makes matters look worse — it’s become as American as apple pie, amplified by new media that are suckers for whoever uses this script adroitly.

I have lost track of all the instances and issues where Trump and his surrogates have resorted to this script. But to my knowledge, they have deployed it more than anyone — and this seems likely to continue after he is sworn in. The issues I recall right now include aspects of his tax records and business practices, shifts in his policy opinions over time, and his ways of using Trump University and Trump Foundation, not to mention sexual antics. I’m sure more could be added to this tentative listing.

By itself, Trump’s frequent usage of the scoundrel’s script may not be a big deal. What makes it seem more significant to me is it’s relationship to the other two reasons I posit in this series of posts for worrying about his psyche. I’d hypothesize that the script is particularly likely to emanate from leaders who have a hubris-nemesis complex (reason #1) and who are prone to tribalism (reason #3). Usage of the script can reinforce and be reinforced by those other two dynamics.

Source: Blog post titled “The scoundrel’s script: deny, diminish, displace” (2008).


Further comment: The scoundrel’s script is not the only script being deployed by Trump and his surrogates (or by others). But it is the one script that has come to my attention because of my work on TIMN and STA:C.

My sense is that reversions to the tribal form — tribalism and tribalization, especially when voiced in the media — increase people’s use of the scoundrel’s script. It’s a way to manipulate people’s space-time-agency perceptions. Reversions to the tribal form may also increase the appeal of hubris and nemesis scripts.

The information technology revolution may account for some of this, for it provides both scoundrels and their detectors with new opportunities and capabilities. The new technologies — e.g., new record-keeping and information-sharing devices, huge computerized databanks, various types of surveillance and monitoring systems, plus email systems, blogs, websites, and online chat rooms that enable multiple isolated victims to find each other faster and more effectively — make it more difficult for scoundrels to hide. The growing vigilance of investigative media and watchdog NGOs also make it likelier that scoundrels will eventually be exposed. But this won’t stop new ones from coming along. For these same technologies also enable scoundrels to fight back and reposition themselves.


Slightly edited version of text first posted on my Facebook page, December 30, 2016.

Saturday, January 14, 2017

Reason #1: Trump’s psyche & “the hubris-nemesis complex” (2nd of 4 posts)

Trump’s psyche exhibits a “hubris-nemesis complex”. Analysts often note that his personality is riddled with narcissism. What I call the “hubris-nemesis complex” (1994) is a dire form of this, a step beyond ordinary narcissism.

The hubris-nemesis complex reflects an ancient dynamic in Greek mythology. Accordingly, hubris is man’s vainglorious pretension to be god-like, the capital sin of arrogant overweening pride. Nemesis is the goddess of divine vengeance and retribution; she strikes down people who display hubris. That is the classic dynamic. The myth of Narcissus illustrates it. So does the Christian saying “Pride goeth before a fall”. Likewise, the fates of President Nixon and later the Shah of Iran.

Normally, the two forces — hubris and nemesis — function apart. However, rare leaders sometimes arise who embody both forces — they have enormous hubris, and also want to be the Nemesis of an external force they accuse of greater hubris. That is, they have a hubris-nemesis complex. Modern exemplars include Hitler, Mussolini, Castro, Ahmadinejad, and Moby Dick’s Captain Ahab (also, maybe some self-exalting hypercritical talk-show hosts?)

In such leaders, the complex means more than exhibiting hubris and nemesis as separate qualities. The integration of the two forces and their interaction appears to result in something more complex, more pathological, than the description of either force alone may imply at first glance. For, to be as powerful as their hubris requires, such leaders must act as the nemesis of an outside power; indeed, it is part of their hubris to be a nemesis. At the same time, to fulfill the nemesis role against such a power, they yearn for expanded if not absolute power for themselves at home and abroad — they want the capability to impose their hubris.

In the classic dynamic, then, the two forces stand apart, opposing and contradicting each other. In this extraordinary dynamic, the two forces no longer stand apart. They get fused in a single psyche. They become compatible contradictions — mutually reinforcing each other in a fusion that, far from destroying the bearer, imparts enormous invigorating energy, ambition, dynamism, and charisma, along with a thirst for absolute power. The two forces feed on each other such that the stronger one is, the stronger the other may become as well.

The mentality and behavior of a leader under the spell of both forces will be substantially different from those of a leader affected by only one or neither of the two forces. A hubris-nemesis complex seems to impart a rationality that differs from a conventional cost-benefit rationality. A leader inflated with that much grandiosity and vengefulness tends to believe that he or she is above the law. They may not make what are normally regarded as reasonable pragmatic calculations of interests, goals, benefits, costs, and risks. They prefer unbounded space-time-agency perspectives.

From what I’ve seen and learned, Trump has regularly shown signs of hubris and of wanting to play nemesis against one actor or another (e.g., the Establishment, Washington, the Media, whatever is “rigged” — not to mention specific individuals). He repeatedly displays the tremendous energy, ambition, arrogance, charisma, and even demagoguery that attends this self-exalting complex. And he repeatedly displays a vengeful desire to confront, humiliate, punish, and defeat whomever he deems an adversary guilty of hubris (even just a questioning critic).

In sum, I worry that he has a hubris-nemesis complex that is going to prove troublesome. The American political system, with its checks and balances etc., is designed in ways that should temper and contain leaders who have an excess of hubris or nemesis or both. Other aspects of Trump’s psyche, as well his family dynamics, may also help temper and contain his hubris-nemesis impulses. But I still see reasons to continue wondering and worrying.

Sources: Monograph titled Beware the Hubris-Nemesis Complex: A Concept for Leadership Analysis (1994), plus a blog post on “Space-time-action orientations of leaders who have a hubris-nemesis complex” (2014).


Speculative aside: To the standard explanations for Trump’s appeal, I have wondered about adding an aspect of Hollywood. Its movie and TV industries are often said to be rife with liberals who exert liberal influences on our culture, to the chagrin of conservatives. But what about the following?

Over the past decade or so, there has been a vast increase in movies and TV shows that revolve around super, magical, extraordinary, and special powers — indeed, around scripts and roles filled with hubris and nemesis dynamics. Some of these shows are fun entertainment. But there is so much of this now, it may not only reflect something amiss in our society but also be serving to tilt people in less rational directions, away from preferences for ordinary narratives and explanations.

Trump, more than any candidate, was able to present himself like a superhero who has special powers. Meanwhile, Clinton and other candidates continued to talk in terms of large mundane factors and forces — an ordinary way of thinking out of step with how aggrieved populists may now be inclined to think. My guess is that, if you asked people to list favorite kinds of movies and TV shows, Trump voters would prefer the kinds noted above, Clinton voters much less so.

If so, this would amount to quite a shift in how Hollywood may be said to influence our society.


Slightly edited version of text first posted on my Facebook page, December 28, 2016.

Friday, January 13, 2017

Three reasons to wonder and worry about Trump's psyche: the hubris-nemesis complex, the scoundrel’s script, and the tribalization of America (1st of 4 posts)

Overview and implications

As I’ve wondered (and been asked) what to make of Donald Trump’s ascension, I’ve noticed much to worry about: not just in his emerging policy positions — some may yet turn out okay — but mainly because of his unusually aggressive psyche. My work on social evolution (TIMN) and cognition (STA:C) indicates three reasons to worry about his psyche as he ascends into having more power than ever:
  1. It looks like he has a “hubris-nemesis complex” — a rare mentality whereby a leader not only has hubris (the pretension to be god-like) but also wants to play Nemesis (the goddess of divine vengeance) against another actor who is accused of greater hubris.
  2. He is very adept at deploying “the scoundrel’s script” — a rhetorical strategy for first denying, then diminishing, and if that doesn't work, ultimately displacing blame for alleged misdeeds or shortcomings that have come to light.
  3. He is prone to behave like a tribalist intent on tribalizing others — look at his rallies where he rails like a tribal chieftain or warlord — in a time when America is already turning evermore tribal to it's detriment.
I'll clarify each point in three separate follow-up posts. But first, a few overview remarks.

Of the three points, Trump is far from unique in deploying the scoundrel's script. Many other political, business, and social leaders have relied on it too. But his usage seems awfully skilled and determined. On the other two counts, he is quite unique: his penchant for tribalism is unusually high among political leaders, and his self-exalting hubris-nemesis complex is terribly distinctive.

This is a potentially dangerous risky combination. To the extent that these three patterns matter, we may have to be wary of a future fraught with political flimflam, economic skim-scam, and strategic whim-wham — a future more about theater than truth. This combination may also make our society even more vulnerable to corruption and cronyism, and to stepped-up efforts at surveillance and censorship. A kind of information-age fascism seems increasingly likely, as I've long worried (even as I know that word "fascism" may not be quite accurate). His psyche seems more conducive to patrimonial corporatism than to liberal democracy.

Many other observations — good, bad, and otherwise — can be and have been made about Trump's psyche. I am focusing on these three simply because they are the ones that emerge from my work on TIMN and STA:C. It remains to be seen how significant they will prove to be.


Slightly edited version of text first posted on my Facebook page, December 26, 2016.