A New Paradigm Perspective on Emotional Identity Issues in Current Politics: Paper presented by UK psychotherapist and psychohistorian Nick Duffell at the ‘New Paradigm in Politics & Economy’ conference May 24th 2017 for the Laszlo Institute of New Paradigm Research. © Nick Duffell August 2017.

In this paper I argue for a depth-psychological approach to politics focussed on emotions and identity, which sheds light on needs, values and the process of change.

It is common knowledge that politics and economics are driven by emotions, yet psychotherapists traditionally steer clear of this “outer” world, keeping their powerful knowledge of inner and unconscious processes safely in the private, lucrative world of the consulting room.[1] But psychotherapy can get bogged down in the myth of individualism, running from the political to hide in the private, morbidly afraid of generalisations, systemic perspectives, national characteristics. Our world no longer has time for such indulgence, I fear.

In the multi-disciplinary approach that is part of a New Paradigm perspective, psychotherapists could now embrace the socio-political sphere, where their skills are needed — especially at this time of heightened polarisation.

The personal is …

In my youth I was rather left-wing, but in 1969 on a demonstration in Oxford I had the insight that most of us were, in fact, marching against our fathers. It was my first psychological thought. My second occurred in India. Teaching at a school set in a Mogul fort and former British cantonment, I began to wonder how the British had dealt with the assault on the psyche that was India, ruling a whole continent with so little men. The short answer is from the inside, but it took me another 20 years to get anywhere near this.[2]

In the meantime, my personal rebellion had ended in breakdown, leading me to therapy and eventually into psychotherapy training. Amazed at the power of psychological understanding to cut through conventional narratives, I harboured some reservations that therapy was over-loaded towards privacy, confidentiality, going inside, eyes closed, the Inner Me, finding the True Self, listening to the Inner Child, etc. This “Self as Island” notion sailed too close to Margaret Thatcher’s 1987 assertion there was “no such thing as society.” I found validation in Jungian scholar James Hillman’s critique, but my questions remained.[3]

· Do we “exist” except through our relationships and our communities?

· Does anyone ever “find their Self”?

· Or is it the journey that gives the psyche depth?

Assuredly, there are parts of us that operate like crystallised selves that are resistant to change and need special attention. These include Roberto Assagioli’s “Sub-personalities,”[4] and my own “Boarding School Survivors” personality structures that are cultivated to avoid vulnerability and consume will.[5]

In 2010, when the UK elected politicians exemplifying the pathology I had been researching, I decided I had to come out of the precious consulting room. In Wounded Leaders (2014) I argued that British society was doomed to poor political leadership because of a golden path to power running from elite boarding intuitions through prestigious universities to high office.[6] I showed how children wrenched away too young from their families hid their trauma and anxiety in confident, pseudo-adult masks. How under the “Entitlement Illusion” they compensated for the loss of childhood and the disavowal of all forms of vulnerability. Later, they would be unable to properly govern a nation that inevitably included the socially vulnerable or make meaningful relationships with foreigners, I reasoned.

Following Brexit, an article promoting my book in The Guardian got 200K Facebook shares, as readers sought an explanation for such duplicitous political leadership. I was vindicated that politics can no longer manage without psychology. I now speak to various groups about using a psycho-spiritual understanding to raise the game of our politics and mainstream media, which remains the vital bridge between citizens and politicians.

The SIMPOL Solution

Having read an early draft of Wounded Leaders, the entrepreneur and activist John Bunzl invited me to co-author an introduction to his SIMPOL project.[7] My main brief was to analyse the psychological resistances to his revolutionary idea for cross-party electoral pressure by ordinary voters to drive politicians towards the international cooperation needed to address global problems.

The SIMPOL campaign had some successes with electoral candidates but, despite its conceptual simplicity and the detail in which Bunzl had worked out the international ramifications, was not greeted enthusiastically by NGOs and other social justice campaigners. The Spiral Dynamics model helped Bunzl understand why, paradoxically, there was resistance from those who were most pushing for change. The shift towards genuine world-centric thinking that the Simultaneous Policy requires means abandoning the postmodern perspective, which imagines itself the high point of current consciousness evolution.

I was in full agreement (more below), but thought we needed to factor in the complex dance between emotions and identity that occurs at both individual and group level and underpins resistance. Politics is run by conscious and unconscious emotions, through identifications and dis-identifications, or dissociation. For example, the Wounded Leader’s unconscious internal script is “I am not the Vulnerable One,” so those who do identify with vulnerability become the despised enemy. The Far Right specialises in split-off and projected emotions leading to the politics of blame, scapegoating immigrants, benefit-scroungers, Healthcare beneficiaries. Correspondingly, the Left disowns its emotional complexes about ideal and non-ideal authorities (parents), resulting in good versus bad identifications and more blame.

Lots has been written about “Identity Politics,” mainly about the Right and less about the Global Justice Movement, who have been the most resistant to SIMPOL. In identifying “Destructive Global Competition” as the obstacle to international cooperation, Bunzl is asserting “we are all in the same boat” so blaming corporations or governments is futile. This represents a major challenge for those whose identity rests in being the political “good guys” bravely fighting against the “bad guys.” Such an identity is seductive but rigidly keeps political polarisation alive and well.

Emotions and identity

Identity is the central question in human psychology. It affects all our thinking and behaviour. Equipped with the self-reflective neo-cortex the human animal is permanently searching for identity, whether we know it or not, and usually we know it not. A voice inside is constantly posing the question “Who am I?” So it is no surprise that some spiritual methodologies concentrate uniquely on intentionally repeating and reflecting on this question.

The problem is that it is near impossible to switch this “Who am I?” software off. Its’ an amazing advantage but also a great weakness. Driven by feelings, our minds always have some answer, for they are endlessly associating our identities with qualities. For example, each time we look in the mirror we inevitably generate an automatic emotional commentary on what we see there, and therefore who we are. It could be “ugly”, “fat” or “having a bad hair day” or even “not bad for your age!”

Our sense of self is formed of identifying adjectives that describe where we belong or who we believe ourselves to be. Identity can expand and contract, but in the absence of greater context for the self it often it gets rigid and serves a very limited egoic purpose. It can help us feel more important if we have a little crocodile on our polo shirts, or that we are part of an in-group at the expense of another identity group. If I am for Chelsea then Arsenal are clearly rubbish!

So when SIMPOL asks people to shift their thinking and stop blaming other groups and become truly global it is a big challenge. Interestingly, Brexit’s master spin-doctor Dominic Cummings recounts that the least popular slogan proposal tested by his focus groups was “Go Global.” Those who felt they were losing out under globalisation did not want to identify with the word “global”. Armed with this knowledge in the latter stages of the campaign, Cummings employed a bevvy of techies to target digital messages spreading fear over immigration. That worked.

Identity and values

Identity is the royal road towards values, the heart of any political discourse. Values are also very connected to emotions as the neuroscientist Antonio Damasio has shown.[8] But values are frequently employed erroneously and divisively as part of Identity Politics. Talk of “British or American values,” for example, assumes they can be owned. Neo-platonic psychologies like Psychosynthesis see this as a category error: understanding values as self-existent, we can only try to invoke or align with them.

An alternate view is that values are context-dependent. In the 70’s psychology professor Clare Graves reasoned:

“Man’s nature is not a set thing … values change from system to system as his total psychology emerges in new form with each quantum-like jump.”[9]

Evolutionary theories based on Piaget’s, Maslow’s and Graves work show how values are differ and succeed each other in complexity as consciousness and identity evolve towards an increasingly inclusive and global perspective. Corresponding needs, wills, and worldviews have oppositional pull at different levels, but when satisfied reveal new solutions. These then lead to other emerging challenges.

Graves’s called his theory “The Emergent Cyclical, Double Helix Bio-Psycho-Social-Systems Model” but his students Beck and Cowan simplified and developed it into “Spiral Dynamics.”[10] Their useful colour coding has been widely adopted, though it misses some of the inner significance of the tension between belonging and autonomy.[11] DNA has a double helix spiral, so we can imagine our evolutionary dichotomy between safety and freedom embedded, or nested, in human form (and therefore human consciousness) including the primal archetypes of Mother and Father.

Graves argued for the increase of psychological health, but in a process rather than an ultimate end-state. He organised his research data into two categories: “Sacrificial” and “Expressive” — for the sake of the group or the self — in a hierarchy of sophistication and complexity with values differing according to the level attained. Patriotic (sacrificial) Traditional Blue is the currently largest group and in urgent need of understanding. Modern Orange (expressive) has faith in individualism and technology while Postmodern Green’s religion is diversity and relativism. This has important implications for politics.

Transition from lower levels to higher are subject to a process best described by consciousness theorist Ken Wilber as “transcend and include,” meaning that the new worldview encompasses and supersedes the previous.[12] This upward pull is evolution in action. According to Franciscan friar Richard Rohr, all maturation processes including psychological and spiritual growth happen in stages that are subject to a “falling upward” dynamic:

“This is why mature societies were meant to be led by elders, seniors, saints, and the initiated. Without them the blind lead the blind.” [13]

When Green doesn’t mean Go.

Hierarchical value-based levels of consciousness and context have some built-in difficulties. First, the next level is nigh impossible to appreciate from the previous. To Traditional Blue, Modern Orange looks like selfishness: “experts and elites abandon us for their profits!” To Postmodern Green, Metamodern Yellow looks like Blue, because it restores hierarchy and authority (through discrimination) and Green abhors hierarchy. A colleague told me how difficult it was consulting to one of the foremost environmental NGOs: since everyone and every topic was supposed to be equal they were unable prioritise agenda.

Secondly, those at one level tend to think they have THE truth and discount the values of preceding levels. This becomes crucial at the point that Graves called the shift from “First Tier” (levels ending in Green) to “Second Tier” (beginning with Yellow). According to Graves, profound changes in behaviour occur when individuals start believing that psychological health should be both expressive of self and simultaneously taking care of others — the reconciling of belonging and individuation needs, as Depth Psychology would put it.

At this point people begin to have truly world-centric perspectives and can appreciate the value of campaigns like SIMPOL. However, though Green is the first level to fully embrace our worldwide spiritual and cultural heritage, its obsession with diversity and relativism prevents such a perspective. Postmodernism has a massive resistance to change because of its direction of travel — sideways rather than upwards — and its rigid identity narrative: “We are the 99%, the good guys,” which is perhaps the toughest obstacle. Wilber sees what he calls “Mean Green Meme” as the current stumbling block. [14] It dissipates everything in what he calls “Flatland” where you keep feeling good about yourself, not challenging your own thinking, and consciousness stalls.

I offer a further explanation. Jungian Depth Psychology suggests that in ancient times the difficulty built into transitioning from one major contextual level to another was recognised but expressed in mythic terms. Levels of consciousness or context were seen as different worlds. These domains were patrolled by specific guardian deities — usually female — such as the Sphinx in ancient Egypt, or Baba Yaga in medieval Russia. To get past the guardian, the hero — one who was on a maturational journey — had to answer a riddle. This doesn’t mean we have to get good at crosswords; rather, in order to “fall upwards” we have to get rid of dualistic or polarised thinking

I see the Second Tier shift as defensively guarded by a particular psychic entity — the “Rebel Sub-Personality.” I have elsewhere described at length the static problems of this Sub-personality, which maintains a stance of freedom and expresses outrage in the name of values but at the expense of its hyper-rigid identity formation. I know it very well from my own history. I have argued that it is amongst the most difficult personality structures to treat psychotherapeutically.[15] The rebel always needs a cause, a “them and us” situation, so is committed to oppositional thinking. The Rebel Sub-personality is forever young; it refuses to take up the Sphinx’s challenge and instead calls for more equality from the bad authorities. It is embedded in Green –perhaps its icon — and maintains polarisation.

Evolution and Change

We now know that consciousness itself is subject to evolution, both on the macro and micro scale, while defensive resistance inevitably permeates the change process.

We see this everyday in group-psychotherapy: when people feel safe, listened to and make an effort they begin to open their hearts to one another.[16] When they start to deal creatively with difference, to recognise they have been projecting and blaming because they were being run around by their fears their perspective on the world begins to shift dramatically. They now inhabit a new world, and, as we know from the new interdisciplinary studies taking place within psychotherapy and neuroscience, their nervous systems align accordingly.

On the other hand, as Maslow told us, when people are fighting for survival — especially if their fears have been politically over-stimulated — personal evolution isn’t an option. This applies both to the socially deprived and to the hyper-rationally educated elites I have written about.

On the macro scale, our shrinking world dictates the imperative to embrace difference. This is no postmodernist call for plurality but a realistic necessity. We can evolve, but if we look to other species we note that their evolution hasn’t always happened unconsciously: competing species often had to learn to cooperate, for example. Today, we have to think beyond the familiar concept of the Nation State if we want to tackle global issues like climate change or tax havens.

An objection to this view comes from Indra Adnam, founder of the Soft Power Network and the UK Alternative Party, based on Denmark’s Alternativet. This party, which has several elected parliamentarians, formulate debating principles — one of which is “Listen more than you speak“ — from their six core values.[17] Indra argues that people need to be listened to compassionately at the level they are, rather than being ask to embrace the unknown.

Fair enough. However, we always have to make an effort over things that are difficult — why should it not be so in evolution?

In fact, according to evolutionary biologist John Stewart, intentional evolution seems to be Nature’s favoured route up the ladder. Equally, getting stuck in fear can autonomically send us slipping down the snakes; malicious, manipulative intent will kick-start a regressive landslide. We may well imagine how the fear-mongers of the Far Right have harvested this regression over the years.

Our world is at a point of profound transition largely brought about by digital connectedness. Technological revolutions force us to see the world with completely new eyes, and we have to reorganise our world accordingly. Because we have entered what Bunzl calls “a new context for governance” we have to govern ourselves entirely differently. This is the kind of challenge for the human mind predicted by futurist John Naisbitt:

“The most exciting breakthroughs of the 21st Century will not occur because of technology, but because of an expanding concept of what it means to be human.”[18]

Technology always develops in a creative rush: changing the “operating system” of human beings is much harder. Thirty years experience of psychotherapy familiarised me with the change process — especially how resistant we are. I have frequently seen regression occur when an old way has become out-dated and a new way yet unclear. We all fear the unknown and react instinctively against it, sometimes choosing a path less good for us than the untravelled road that beckons — sometimes masochistically.

Currently the big political regression we are experiencing is understandable because we are on the brink of a “Second Order Change,” and the unknown is very scary. A great leap of consciousness is required to reorganise ourselves to become truly global, connected and cooperative. The emerging New Paradigm suggests this has to happen. But we will need all disciplines including the psychological and political to work together, to prevent the resistance and disconnected selfishness having irreversible consequences.

[1] Nick Duffell, “Odd Bedfellows: Psychotherapy, History and Politics in Britain,” Self & Society: An International Journal for Humanistic Psychology Vol. 43, Issue 3 (2015): 248–254.

[2] A longer answer can be found in Nick Duffell, Wounded Leaders: British Elitism and the Entitlement Illusion — a Psychohistory (London: Lone Arrow Press, 2014).

[3] James Hillman and Michael Ventura, We’ve Had a Hundred Years of Psychotherapy — And the World’s Getting Worse (New York: HarperCollins, 1993).

[4] Roberto Assagioli, Psychosynthesis: A Manual of Principles and Techniques (New York: Viking, 1965).

[5] Nick Duffell, The Making of Them: the British Attitude to Children and the Boarding School System (London: Lone Arrow Press, 2000).

[6] Duffell, Wounded Leaders.

[7] John Bunzl and Nick Duffell, The Simpol Solution: Solving global problems could be easier than we think (London: Peter Owen Publishers, 2017); and (forthcoming) The SIMPOL Solution: A New Way to Think about Solving the World’s Greatest Problems (Amherst NY: Prometheus Books, 2018).

[8] Antonio Damasio, Descarte’s Error (Pan Macmillan, London, 1994).

[9] Retrieved from https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Clare_W._Graves 12 July 2016.

[10] Don Beck and Chris Cowan, Spiral Dynamics — Mastering Values, Leadership, and Change (Oxford: Blackwell Publishing, 1996).

[11] In the eighties I trained in Systems Theory and Psychosynthesis, before I realised I had to learn psychoanalysis in order to run a clinical practice properly. I studied many of the same sources as Graves and made a remodelling of Maslow’s Hierarchy of Needs through a grid of two poles — safety or belonging and autonomy — which I called “The Pump.” see: Thurstine Basset and Nick Duffell, Trauma, Abandonment and Privilege: A guide to therapeutic work with boarding school survivors (London & New York: Routledge, 2016).

[12] Ken Wilber, Sex, Ecology, Spirituality — The Spirit of Evolution (Boston: Shambhala, 1995).

[13] Richard Rohr, Falling Upward: a spirituality for the two halves of life (London: SPCK, 2012) p.9.

[14] http://integral-life-home.s3.amazonaws.com/Trump%20and%20a%20Post-Truth%20World.pdf?mc_cid=7bc27b87f1&mc_eid=34717dc571

[15] Duffell, The Making of Them; Duffell, Wounded Leaders; Basset and Duffell, Trauma, Abandonment and Privilege.

[16] For more on this, see: Nick Duffell, “Steps to a Politics of Heart,” in Humanistic Psychology: Current Trends, Future Prospects, ed. Richard House et al. (Abingdon and New York: Routledge, 2017).

[17] Duffell, “Steps to a Politics of Heart.”

[18] John Naisbitt, Megatrends 2000 (New York: HarperCollins, 1991).