portland independent media center  
images audio video
newswire article commentary global

health | political theory

Dabrowski’s Theory of Positive Disintegration: Domination as Psychopathic

Overview of psychologist Kazimierz Dabrowski's Theory of Positive Disintegration and its implications for domination vs. humanism.  http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Theory_of_Positive_Disintegration
The Theory of Positive Disintegration is theory of personality development proposed by Polish psychologist (and poet) Kazimierz Dabrowski in the mid 20th century. It outlines a model of personality development very different from any other because it maintains that not all or even most people will go through the process it outlines. His estimate allowed for about a fifth of the world's population has the potential to do so due to highly sensitive nervous systems—he called this quality overexcitability. (This has since been verified by recent studies of Highly Sensitive People, and seems to represent a phenomena in many species, not just humans.)
To those who manage to complete (indeed to survive) this process, Dabrowski attributes all major contributions to social, political, and artistic progress, emphasizing their humanitarian mentality. On the lowest level of his model he places both criminals and politicians alike, those with no regards to others' wellbeing, those whose only incentive is power and personal gain.
His model of personality development includes five spectrum-like levels:
1. Psychopathic
2. Average Person / Neurotic
3. Psychoneurotic
4. Transitional
5. Personality
The first and second stages include characteristic mental quiet, while mental turbulence increases through the crest of the second stage, culminating in the third in extreme anxiety and depression. This is the same phenomena that Jean Paul Sartre termed "existential crisis", in which self-reflection and metaphysical realizations of insignificance pummel the ego with despair and neurotic uncertainty. Social roles and routines loose their significance, because you realize it is all a sham. This is the realm of suicide.
But after transcending this realm (often through means of spiritual realization and philosophic inquiry), the fourth Transitional stage is spent clearing the mind, until mental quiet is once again attained through self realization and purification. In this process values are restructured from a lateral to a multi-level framework. In this stage individuals begin to realize their Ideal by always reaching for the higher virtue. Once this Ideal has cleared the mind of doubts and fears, the mind is once again free of turbulence as a Personality, the ultimate goal of his process.

The relation of this theory to anarchism is a complex one. But perhaps the relation to psychology comes more into focus if, instead of thinking of the abstract notion of an anarchist society we remember that society is first and foremost a collection of individuals. Obvious as this is, it is usually glossed over by grandiose rhetoric about more abstract ideas. But we have to remember that everything from the state to laws to the social roles of policemen are just psychological. You can't point to the State. If you strip a CEO of his suite, or a soldier of his uniform, they are just people. It's all extra psychological garb which makes up their identities. Unlearning our social roles is a painful process, but a necessary one if we wish to reimagine our world.
I don't necessarily mean that we must be suicidal before we can be human, but when you really evaluate our current state of affairs, with all the hunger, oppression, war, and environmental destruction, depression and anxiety may not be as irrational as we like to think. And furthermore, after passing through the gates of death in which we realize that living itself is optional, all closed doors open themselves and new possibilities emerge which could never have been conceivable while stuck with a compartmentalized identity. This theory is also a useful tool of analysis when you consider again that Dabrowski places both politicians and criminals on the same level.
I just wanted to share this theory. It's a good foundation for social critique and it's almost completely unrepresented in American academia. It's also pretty helpful if you're at any stage of this process. You're not an alien, there's nothing wrong with you, in fact you're on the right track. If you're struggling I suggest studying Buddhist thought, spending time with great art, spending (not too much!) time alone while deepening your friendships and loving connections, making positive contributions where you can, and even perhaps taking psychedelics if you're comfortable with that. Any thoughts?

indeed! 15.Feb.2009 12:13

a veteran of the psychic wars

I've read Dąbrowski. And I've been deeply involved with anarchist organizing for several years, with mixed results. I agree with your insight and reflections, finding the theory to be, apparently, consistent with anarchist values. in reference to your point that he's not well know in the US: I try to share his work with others as much as possible, when it seems appropriate.
All the best to you!