How a Hostile Morality Plants the Spirit of the Lie in the Human Psyche

The “problem of power” strengthens the Spirit of the Lie in the human system in two main ways.

The more obvious one is the one well exemplified by Karl Rove and the whole Republican propaganda machine. (See This Evil Force Can Be Seen Moving Through Time– III: The Spirit of the Lie“.) An evil power gets people to serve itself — unwittingly at their own expense — by deceiving them about its own nature and purposes, about the stakes in the battles being fought, and about their own true interests.

But there is another dimension to the prospering to the Spirit of the Lie. It is the way that power generates within the human psyche an attachment to the Lie, a need for the Lie. That’s the dimension I will focus on here.

In an earlier posting, I described how the emergence of civilization led to an inevitable struggle for power, and how this struggle — combined with the open-ended possibilities for cultural innovation — led to the selection for the ways of power among the cultural possibilities, and how the selection for the ways of power meant that the civilized societies that survived would make demands upon their members that were hostile to human nature and in conflict with human needs.

Cultural systems have nonetheless varied in how harsh their demands have been. The more hostile those demands, the more a person grows up internalizing a war. The more impossible it is to settle that war –i.e. the less able the growing human being is to reconcile the demands of the society with his/her inborn nature and needs — the greater the growing person’s need to escape from the reality (the truth) of his/her experience.

One main way for the person to escape from their real experience from internalizing a harsh morality is to “identify with the aggressor.” In this case, I am applying that psychoanalytic concept to mean that — beset by a painful and irreconcilable conflict between what he/she by nature is, and the image imposed by the culture of how a person must be — the person will declare themselves to be only what they are allowed to be. By that declaration — “I am what the culture — the society, the parents — require me to be, I do not have the feelings, impulses, needs that the culture forbids.” — the person gets to deny the painful inner conflict and to avoid painful injury or rejection from the world.

But that declaration is a lie. It’s a lie, as I’ve indicated whose roots And the brokenness of that lie — a lie whose roots lie in the overarching human system that mandated that societies be shaped by power and not human needs. And the brokenness of that lie circles back, in turn, to generate further brokenness in the larger human system.

In an an earlier essay on “The Concept of Evil”, I illustrated the problem this way:

The broken regime of racial persecution in the American South —- as Lillian Smith showed in her classic Killers of the Dream— built upon the broken psyche of white Southerners brought up with harsh moral strictures that prevented the harmonious integration of natural sexual impulses. The forbidden impulses were then projected out to be rediscovered —and punished—in the darker race.

In Nazi Germany—as Alice Miller showed in her book For Your Own Good—the broken regime of ethnic annihilation built upon the psychic brokenness created by generations of child-rearing practices that legitimated the systematic brutal treatment of children. What was driven underground in the child emerged with a fury against inferior peoples” to be destroyed in the name of the noble Fatherland.

In each case, the pattern of brokenness gets spread from the culture to the individual and then back again. The harsh culture, making war against the natural needs and will of the growing human, spreads its pattern of division by preventing the human creature from reconciling —- or even acknowledging -— the elements within it.

At its core, the lie of false righteousness is a lie to oneself -— a basic split between a person’s real inner experience, which is rejected for being intolerably painful, and the false representation of that experience — fabricated to provide an escape from that pain.

The Roman poet Horace wrote, “You may drive out nature with a pitchfork, but she will still hurry back.” Harsh morality is one form of attempting to “drive out nature,” and the consequences exemplify that when war is waged against “nature” there is a price to be paid. Evil feeds upon the lie that the war on human nature foments.

The human being’s needs do not disappear simply because they are disallowed. Indeed, the pain and rage of the culture’s insistence on rejecting and frustrating those needs compounds the element of conflict in the situation. The solution of the problem for the human being facing this dilemma — the need to express the festering impulses within combined with the prohibition of expressing them in their true way against their true object — is to adopt the structure of the Lie.

That lie of false righteousness provides the cover that enables the forces of brokenness can wage battle under the banner of order. Under the banner of super-patriotism, the person driven by an overly harsh morality to embrace a lie about what he is and what motivations drive him can fight to destroy the order that has so badly injured and insulted him.

(This was one of the insights — if I recall — developed under the rubric of the concept of “the Authoritarian Personality,” an idea developed in the wake of World War II as part of a wave of attempts of serious social thinkers to understand how is was possible for one of the most “civilized” of nations could become the instrument of such an “evil force. It seems that it is the shock of confronting great evil that leads people to develop new ways of understanding it. That’s certainly how it has been for me these past ten years.)

Which is precisely what we see happening now with the Spirit of the Lie that’s arisen in our times on the political right. (See my piece When Traitors Think They’re Patriots .) This was at the heart of what I tried to convey as a candidate for Congress in Virginia. It was one of the two main themes of that six-minute video of mine that went viral: that the Republican Party was a fraud, that it was not only not what it claimed, but the very opposite:

** A conservative is one who honors and protects his societies norms and traditions. But today’s Republican tradition has repeatedly conducted itself in UNPRECEDENTED ways, doing great harm to the established traditional order of the American political system.

** A patriot is one who is willing, when necessary, to sacrifice his own advantage for the good of his nation. But today’s Republican Party has consistently damaged the country in its quest for more power for itself.

** A Christian is one who follows the teachings of Jesus. But — see the following entry, What Kind of Christianity Is This? — today’s Republican Party has followed the very opposite spirit from that preached by Jesus on the Sermon on the Mount and in the Golden Rule.

The fraudulence of today’s Republican Party is an exact match to the internal fraudulence of the individual who can find peace in the world of his upbringing — with the imposition of an excessively harsh morality — only by identifying with what he is not and by denying what he is. Such a person is well prepared to buy the fraud being sold by the evil force.

In this way, the evil force — growing out of the problem of power — expands its power and expands the power of the Lie in the human system.

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  1. This is a great piece, another wow from me.

    What I have to add is minor, just that though it may come as a surprise to some, it is possible to believe in one or another of various concepts of God, the teachings of Jesus, and also sex, all at the same time. Some Christians believe that the concept of sin is an evil concept not in accord with true Christianity.

    I do not want to distract too much from Andy’s writing with my little comment. By the way, Andy, I very much appreciate the reference to the bookFor Your Own Good, by Swiss psychoanalyst Alice Miller (2002, 3rd edition). I have just been looking at the reviews and comments. Her study fits with the thinking I have, acquired with no small assistance from other sources, and looks as though she had much to add that is useful.


  2. Once a group seizes power, the difficulties begin. Denying power to a singular group would require a custodian of sort, which in this day and age is lacking. I was once confronted by an individual who pointed out that there was a power that could not easily be defined and what WAS I TO DO ABOUT IT. I WOULD FIGHT AGAINST IT, I IMAGINED BUT, AS A young person my experience did not lend me any credence. The above description of same, identifies a certain power advantage by these patriots, but is this the hidden power that was pointed out to me in my youth; anyway it seems moot to dwell on it, if the population at large does not know about this hidden force. They would not know what you are talking about in any event.

  3. Wow — substantial in both length and depth dimensions posts coming pretty fast these days. I can’t really keep up. So this time can comment only on a few typos spotted and maybe I missed some of those. These days I have little time to access the web — no connection at all from home.

    (1) “But, there is another dimension to the prospering to the Spirit of the Lie.” should not have a comma.

    (2) “The more impossible it is to settle that war –i.t. The less able …” should end “… — i.e. the less able”

    (3) “I illustrated the problem this way:

    vThe broken regime” — extra “v” at start of “vThe”

    (4) “— as I showed in WHAT KIND OF CHRISTIANITY IS THIS> ” — should have no “>” at the end

    (5) “individual who can find peace in the world of his upbringing –with the imposition of ” need a space after the dash

  4. Richard H. RAndall

    One of the most powerful pieces yet–and the recapitulation describing earlier work is most helpful. Well done.

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