Is Donald Trump a Manchurian Candidate?

Queen Anne Lowboy, photo Mike Beiser, April 2019 — about 200 hours for those that are curious

As I’ve mentioned in a previous post, I’ve recently connected with the Intellectual Father of much of what I base my own work around — Mel Conway, of Conway’s Law fame. I found him on Twitter, interestingly enough. We’ve a had a lot of fun bouncing ideas off each other in the meantime. For me, it’s kind of a Bladerunner moment, where the android gets to meet his maker and ask him questions. Considering Mel’s advanced age, I hope he’s getting one of those “it’s never too late to have a happy childhood” moments.

Mel recently floated the idea of Donald Trump as a Manchurian Candidate type of persona, subject to hypnotic suggestion by a larger Russian psy-ops program. Well, maybe. But probably not. For those that don’t remember the cultural allusion, a Manchurian Candidate is a person brainwashed to do a foreign government’s bidding. The title comes from the eponymous novel about a Medal of Honor winner who almost gives the Presidency to the Communists.

Far more likely is that Donald Trump is just a garden-variety, super-rich narcissistic psychopath. And largely why we can’t seem to wrap our heads around Trump as an individual with a deep empathy disorder is because we, as a society, have such a poor understanding of how empathy disorders, as well as empathy in general works. The reason, as I’ve said in the past, we have such a poor understanding, is the structures we’ve set up to explore new knowledge– academic institutions– are empathy deprived in their fundamental social structure. They just don’t get empathy as a connecting force, because they don’t connect, and can’t conceive of it as an important dynamic. Check the link above to understand how egocentric academic understanding can be.

And when it comes to understanding disorders of empathy, what that means is the people that study what psychopathy is are very good at listing endless, fragmented characteristics of a given individual. But those same people in charge of our shared understanding are uniformly awful for understanding how these individuals work inside systems.

This matters greatly for the present moment, because the President of the United States is a narcissistic psychopath. I’m not the only person that’s said this (though I did call it early! 🙂 ) But what’s lacking, again, is how someone like a narcissistic psychopath operates inside a social system.

Two very important characteristics matter in understanding how narcissistic psychopaths operate. First is the primary emphasis on mirroring empathy, with the extremely short-term time- and spatial scales that dominate that mode. No one would deny that Donald Trump is fundamentally impulsive — all you have to do is look at his Twitter feed to understand exactly how impulsive he is. Just like The Joker in the movie The Dark Knight, Donald Trump is a dog chasing cars. He wouldn’t know what to do with one if he caught it. Look no further to the story of his transition team into the Presidency.

The second is delving deep cultural knowledge on how narcissistic psychopaths have been viewed in the past — the iconic image of The Vampire. Vampires are characterized by the following:

  1. Concerned to the exclusion of almost everything else regarding their personal appearance.
  2. Possessing no reflection in a mirror (indicating no profound internal definition of self.)
  3. Fear of daylight.

I’ve called the condition “collapsed egocentricism” — there is nothing else in the world of Donald Trump but Donald Trump and his desires. This lack of boundaries also directly links to a profound inability to make or maintain personal attachment. The end result of this is endless relational disruption of the social network in his reach, which, unfortunately extends out past his Cabinet, and to the rest of our nation.

The problem with all this is that Trump also tends not to respond well to anyone below him in titular authority. That means basically everyone in the United States. He IS President, after all. All here are beneath him.

That means he has to look outside of the country to find someone who he might consider a peer. That means other heads of state. And he’s naturally going to gravitate to people whose brains are wired like his. Kim Jong Oon, the head of North Korea, is probably the best (and most recent) example. The problem with all this is Trump is really only receptive to suggestion from other authoritarian heads of state, like Vladimir Putin and Xi Jinping.

The problem with having these folks as your operative Old Boys Club is that these folks aren’t stupid. Donald Trump got to his current status as President through an instinctive reading of media markets. Anyone denying his insight on how new media works needs to start adopting a performance-based ethos toward realizing that Trump was no accident, even if the currents of history favored his ascendancy. He had the one characteristic that mattered in the face of an ossified political system — the ability to use new media channels to turn the rage over neglect of a majority of the country economically into political support. That talent propelled him into the White House.

But Putin, and Xi are different animals. While both are most definitely authoritarians, both rose through myriad political Authority-driven hierarchies to become top dogs without either a.) landing in jail, or b.) getting killed. Donald’s been flying around on an airplane, making screwy business deals and whoring. These other two guys mean business. They may both be Authoritarians, and potentially narcissistic, but the circumstances they evolved in demanded far more sophistication for basic survival. Sophistication demanded they learned to control their darker impulses.

So when it comes to getting Trump to do what they want, they know how to manipulate someone with empathy mirroring distortion. Until, of course, something inside Trump’s brain starts squawking that they’re moving up in status above him. And then he threatens trade sanctions.

Or war. That’s the deep problem with all of this. One of the pathologies of the condition is called splitting. While the phenomenon is well described in infants, it is disordered thinking in a 70+ year old man. Referred to sometimes as ‘black and white thinking’ it is the sudden shift in thinking someone is your friend is now your enemy. This is hardly OK on the playground between six-year-olds. But one can see the peril in this among world leaders. Lots of people have made fun of Trump watching Fox News all day, and carrying on with the hosts. I’m different — that kind of news makes me happy. The last thing we need is for that guy to be more active.

Which then brings me full circle to Conway’s Manchurian Candidate hypothesis. It’s not that it might not be true. Those Russkies are an interesting bunch. But I’ve seen so much incompetence at elite levels in the last ten years, in all sorts of institutions, I’ve become convinced that there are few world-class players who could pull something like that off. Most folks are there through a combination of sophistication, suppression of ego, at least temporarily, and a good bit of luck. The last enlightened authoritarian I witnessed was Deng Xiaoping, and it was clear that empathetic evolution was taking place in his brain throughout his life. The fact that he got sent to prison by Mao and emerged alive is amazing.

But I’ve never favored any organized conspiracy when that same behavior could be explained with emergent dynamics. Donald Trump, as a relational disruptor/collapsed egocentric is prime for above-board manipulation. Being locked in with low-order empathetic functioning — dysfunctional mirroring is all that other world leaders need. Manchurian Candidate? More likely Vampire of New York.

P.S. For a little more lighthearted world-leader influence, this message from (ex) President Vicente Fox is awesome.

Unfortunately, using the logic from above, Trump isn’t likely to listen. Fox is out of office.

18 thoughts on “Is Donald Trump a Manchurian Candidate?

  1. The American system of wealth and power is Dark Triad. Not just the individuals who control and benefit from it but the system itself. Dark Triad is not simply a set of psychiatric labels to describe individuals for it is also about how people relate. And of course, that fundamentally is what society or any social organization is about.

    If we were to treat social organizations as people, others have noted that corporations within corporatist late stage capitalism are, by definition and design, psychopathic. And indeed corporations are now legally persons. Maybe there is something more to that than simple rhetorical ruse. What if we really can speak of such things on a collective level? And what if entire societies can go insane?

    https://benjamindavidsteele.wordpress.com/2017/12/10/dark-triad-domination/

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    1. Yeah. But the backsliding can be a real doozy sometimes. The backsliding can take many centuries or, for some societies, a millennia.

      There was backsliding after the collapse of the Bronze Age civilizations, until the Axial Age came along. Then there was backsliding after the Bronze Age civilizations came to an end, later to finally pick back up with the Renaissance and Enlightenment. What if we are coming to the concluding era to yet another historical perio? This might be the end game of this particular civilization. Of course, that usually requires centuries of decline, although climate change could speed up the process.

      Even ignoring larger and long-term prospects, one simply has to look back to the backsliding after the 19th century revolutions in Europe and after the Civil War in the US. Many authoritarian forms of power followed, from Jim Crow and the KKK to the Nazis and Stalinists, the Nazis taking much inspiration from the American eugenics. I’m thinking of the collective insanity that set in before and following WWI. And that always reminds me of the insanity that always seems to set in when inequalities grow large, as explained in great detail by Keith Payne in The Broken Ladder.

      One definitely can feel the insanity that is building up. Not only stress and unease. People are ever more acting weird. The system itself is going whacky, such that someone like Trump even could get into power. The elite aren’t quite in control right now, not that they ever had as much control as they thought they had. Hubris typically precedes catastrophe. Societal evolution or its attempt ain’t always a pretty process.

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  2. There’s a longer response here on how tribal societies are actually low empathy, and how their differentiation between members is more aligned with the ‘what’, as opposed to the ‘who’. People also don’t understand psychopathy at all. Psychopathy was a necessary wartime survival mechanism and ‘genetic mixer’ that tribal people used to bring genetic variation into closed groups. People that were boundary violators, or attachment disordered, were necessary as part of keeping small populations viable. There’s MUCH more to say here, and plenty of historical evidence, but it is unflattering, and hey — I’ve gotta keep my day job. I’m very familiar with the WEIRD work, which landed Joe Heinrich a gig at Harvard from UBC. I actually corresponded with him for a while. I understand that people have no reason to believe my interpretation — but species survival works in strange and mysterious ways. The idea that psychopathy is ‘bad’ may indeed be true in this day and age. But it wasn’t always bad. It gave tribes warriors who were so crazy they would kill the enemy without mercy, and give pause to other tribes looking to exterminate them. And then there is the whole sexual thing, which likely kept small populations viable. It should also be said that sophisticated tribes ritualized these various types of behavior, to keep their psychopaths in check. A longer post for sure.

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    1. Some aspcts of empathy are much more useful and necessary among strangers. It has nothing inherently to do with morality and compassion. Even to be able to quickly size up a stranger one passes by on the street requires empathy, even if one’s intention is to rob and murder them. Tribal people didn’t need to do this as they could safely assume their family, friends, and neighbors were essentially like them.

      I’d bet that differences of experience and personality, beliefs and values, culture and lifestyle, etc are far smaller in a tribal village than in a city or nation-state. There is certainly far less socioeconomic class divide. Hunter-gatherers share a common worldview, a common sense of place and identity. They live and work together, sharing their time and resources, not to mention regularly bonding through social activities. They don’t need to try to incessantly mind read and analyze the motives of others.

      This might be a lack of a certain kind of empathy. But it also might actually be a higher level of another kind of empathy, the kind we no longer value as much. We modern urbanites, especially in WEIRD societies are obsessed with cognitive empathy. I don’t know if we are better at affective empathy, though. Hunter-gatherers might have greater talent in sensing the emotions of others and relating on that level, even if it doesn’t result in a strong theory of mind from cognitive empathy.

      About psychopathy and violence, I’ve never seen any evidence that tribal societies are on average worse in comparison to other societies. I know it has been popular in the mainstream for centuries, from Whigghish historians to contemporary public intellectuals like Steven Pinker, to assume that empathy and peace (in relation to wealth, IQ, etc) is increasing with the advancements of (typically Western and Westernized) civilization. Maybe so, but it is pure speculation. Based on the evidence, the complete opposite can and has been argued.

      https://benjamindavidsteele.wordpress.com/2017/11/20/percentages-of-suffering-and-death/
      https://benjamindavidsteele.wordpress.com/2017/11/24/state-and-non-state-violence-compared/

      I tend to take a more middle position. Some hunter-gatherers were violent and some were peaceful, no different than seen among nation-states. I’ve previously shared one example with you. The Piraha have been in contact with Europeans for centuries and no one has ever recorded violence among them, not war, capital punishment, child abuse, spanking, homicide, or even suicide. Yet the nearby Yanomami are notorious for their violent culture.

      A probable explanation is that, during colonialism, the Piraha found themselves in a relatively isolated region and the Yanomami found themselves in a contested borderland (borderland people tend to be more violent because of the conflict between governments; a more well known example being the Scots-Irish that originated at the border of Scotland and England). The Yanomami, in dealing with the new situation, became violent to survive. That in no way tells us anything about what the Yanomami were like before colonialism.

      A similar comparison can be found in the non-human world. Chimpanzees and bonobos live on opposite sides of the same river. Though labeled as separate species, they are close in genetics. Their behavior, for certain, is far different. Chimpanzees are violent and patriarchal, whereas bonobos are peaceful and matriarchal. It might not be a coincidence that, like the Yanomami and Piraha, there is a difference of life experience that have shaped each population over recent history. Chimpanzees live in a zone of violence, encroachment, environmental destruction, and poaching. Bonobos do not.

      Are we observing inherent nature or merely cultural development?

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      1. Great comment, Ben. Actually Diamond noted much more violence in tribal societies. But you’re exactly correct — cognitive empathy IS low, due to a lack of discovery of others. Since no one really knows how to measure affective empathy, there aren’t any good studies. But when everyone is like you, it does tend to create harmony. And of course, it’s not inherent nature — but psychosocial development.

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      2. I know Diamond made that argument. But I don’t agree with it. The evidence is far too lacking and biased for a strong conclusion in either direction. Still, I understand that some will defend a strong conclusion.

        My bias, though, tends toward skepticism. I want better data before I decide. I must admit that initially I was swayed by the Whiggish-style of historical interpretation as expressed in Pinker’s work and I suppose in Diamond’s work. But for some reason I’ve found it less compelling over time, as I’ve read more widely.

        That doesn’t mean, of course, that I’m right. Maybe a strong conclusion is justified. We’ll see how the debate develops over time as further research is done, although I don’t feel confident that the disagreement will ever be resolved. We simply can’t go back in time to see what tribal societies were like before contact and colonialism.

        I guess that is why I’ve ended on a middle position of equal opportunity skepticism. I see no particular reason to assume hunter-gatherers were either noble savages or vicious savages. But that doesn’t stop me from enjoying a good speculation or from offering my own. I’m always willing to listen to all sides of a debate.

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      3. My own bias is definitely in being the product of WEIRD society and from having grown up in the heart of it. My parents raised me middle class with my mother having been a public school teacher and my father, after leaving factory management, having been a professor. We moved to a liberal college town at a pivotal age of my childhood, and liberal college towns are WEIRD culture condensed down to its purest form.

        We attended New Agey churches, from Science of Mind to Unity, and that definitely shaped my childhood self and continues to be a part of me even now. There is a Whiggish strain to New Age thinking. In my 20s, that is what attracted me to the likes of Ken Wilber with the Whiggish Spiral Dynamics. But because of chronic depression, I was pulled in another direction as well. That brought me to the likes of Derrick Jensen. Reading his books, it is hard to come to the conclusion that empathy overall and in its most important forms really has increased.

        There is something strange about cognitive empathy. In many ways, maybe fundamental ways, cognitive empathy is built on abstract thought. It is creating a mental model of other people and then projecting it onto others. It might not only be how we understand ourselves but, through social structures and cultural indoctrination, how we maintain a specific social order. We control ourselves and others by controlling our experience. Theory of mind isn’t a passive empathy for it constructs a particular social reality. This maybe relates to the Dark Matter of the Mind, as Daniel Everett discusses it (with some overlap of linguistic relativity, a topic studied by his son Caleb Everett).

        There is also the odd part that some have argued in that maybe we develop theory of mind in application to others before we internalize it as self-identity. The abstract model then becomes our personal reality. There is a splintering quality to modern abstract thought in its relationship to thick-boundaried egoic consciousness. We simultaneously have more cognitive empathy and less ability to connect with others, maybe even to connect with ourselves. Something has become suppressed, maybe as Julian Jaynes argues, and so we’ve become divided within ourselves, as Iain McGilchrist argues.

        This distorts what empathy means. A human quality gets lost in the change. This is apparent when we look at how different humanity used to be, as detailed in the work of numerous thinkers (anthropologists, philologists, and psychologists). A larger ‘world’ (or rather ideological worldview) inhabits our minds now, but this has caused us to increasingly be lost in our heads instead of present to the world immediately around us. It’s hard to know if this is a net gain of empathy. We are like idiot savants with our overly developed abstract thought and cognitive empathy.

        Even as the most WEIRD (i.e., the most comfortable and mostly middle-to-upper class white Westerners) might be less violent interpersonally (as compared to poor brown-skinned people), we have become so disconnected that we have increased our mass violence in ways that we are oblivious to. Billions of people have suffered in my lifetime because of the actions of Western governments that I have benefited from, but for the most part people like me have never had to directly experience and see that suffering. It’s not real to us. It does not touch our highly advanced cognitive empathy. Once empathy has become an abstract system of thought, is the essence of empathy still fully empathetic or has it become something else?

        I don’t know. Just some thoughts tumbling around in my head.

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    2. Whether or not psychopathy is greater or lesser than in the past and/or other kinds of societies, I’d definitely agree with you that there are probably cultural differences in how psychopathy would be understood, expressed, and controlled. One might even argue that there is no objective category of ‘psychopathy’, in the way that many other psychiatric categories have come under question. If so, it might be problematic to project the modern Western social construct of ‘psychopathy’ on other societies.

      Think of it in the context of linguistic relativity. Language powerfully shapes and, in some cases, determines thought, perception, and behavior. Maybe psychopathy as such is created through the way we think and talk about it. Social conditions would play into this as that is inseparable from such things as language and culture. According to the data, we do see an increase in mental illness, from depression to psychosis, especially among urban residents and showing up at starkly growing rates among the younger generations.

      It’s hard to know what it all means. And speculation, though one of my favorite activities, might be problematic until we do better research. I sense that we are still too much trapped in old thought patterns. I’ve been studying the arguments and debates about diet and, even as the scientific research has advanced, the same basic views are being expressed about diet as were expressed in the 1800s and in many cases going back to the Middle Ages and even ancient Greek thought. Much of modern dietary ideology is essentially a repackaging of Greek theory of humors.

      Humans are strange creatures. We are brilliant at rationalizing the worldviews we are born into.

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  3. Actually, there has been enough work to show that psychopaths are pretty neuro-differentiated from normal human brains to recognize that it’s deep biology. How you get there is another question. Simon Baron-Cohen has written about this (and I’ve corresponded with him.) BTW — totally agree with that last line!

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  4. Here is something that might interest you. It’s part of a longer post, but only one part of it is relevant to our discussion here. This shows why it is important to clarify the distinction between affective empathy and cognitive empathy.

    A psychopath, technically speaking, isn’t necessarily lacking in empathy in a total sense. It’s true that there is a deficiency in affective empathy and yet their can be highly developed cognitive empathy. I’m tempted to connect that to the fact that, in our WEIRD society, cognitive empathy has come to dominate over affective empathy. If that were the case, this might be why a psychopath blends into our society in a way an autistic can’t do as easily.

    https://benjamindavidsteele.wordpress.com/2013/04/30/what-is-empathy-and-what-good-is-it/

    “…it has been theorized that psychopaths and autistics are mirror opposites. Psychopaths have impaired affective/emotional empathy, but may have unimpaired cognitive empathy. Even if they perfectly understand people (their beliefs, thoughts, motivations, etc) on an intellectual level, they won’t express much sympathy or compassion (especially to distress). Autistics have impaired cognitive empathy, but may have unimpaired affective/emotional empathy. They are strongly affected by the psychological state of others (especially distress), even though they have a hard time of understanding others. So, a psychopath can relate better to others than an autistic and also more likely to harm others, a dangerous combination. […]

    “Autistics have strong empathic distress with weak empathic concern (as a result of the impaired cognitive empathy) which causes social awkwardness and dysfunction. People are more likely to irritate or stress out an autistic than draw out a response of sympathy and compassion or even normal sociability and friendliness. This social distress is exacerbated with observing other people in pain which causes them to want to avoid the situation rather than offer help. However, when they understand someone’s state of mind, empathic concern is expressed normally.

    “Autistics lack a strong sense of Theory of Mind and can’t easily identify emotions even in themselves, much less in others, despite feeling emotions strongly. Empathizing is relational and so there is a close connection between self-awareness and social-awareness. Some theorize that autism may be an extreme male profile of neural functioning. What differentiates the genders is that men tend to have a smaller corpus callosum and so fewer connections between the two hemispheres. So, one might expect that men and autistics would have more difficulty than average with empathizing while analyzing or using both in concert by easily and quickly switching back and forth… or something like that.”

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    1. Maybe there is something that tends to become oppositional between affective empathy and cognitive empathy. It’s possible that it is hard to maintain both equally at the same time. This could explain extreme disorders like psychopathy and autism.

      I think it’s fair to say that cognitive empathy has increased over time. But what if simultaneously affective empathy has decreased? And what if it is a trade-off or at least has been so far in social development? Is this inevitable or is there something about our society that has put these two into conflict?

      If cognitive empathy is the newer human capacity and has to some extent superseded affective empathy, at what cost has come this sacrifice for this high level development? And is it possible that we might be able to “transcend and include”, that is to find a way to balance both before we get too far down the road of societal self-destruction?

      What is it that we could better understand about our own society? And what could we learn from other societies?

      Just some more thoughts and questions.

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      1. I’ve kind of written about this a lot. Since the basic empathy patterns emerge from the three primary brain areas, there’s nothing that says development happens linearly through stages — though obviously higher levels are scaffolded by lower levels. And yes — I’ve got to hope that we transcend and include. I don’t see a fundamental conflict between the two — you can see where, in Europe, both are increasing. But you do have to train for both. They are more learned than gifted to an individual.

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      2. I was just considering that maybe cognitive empathy isn’t another level of development, as compared to affective empathy. Rather, it might be an entirely separate track of development.

        It’s not that a single person or a single society can’t develop high levels of both, but maybe in the way some rare individuals develop great capacity at both science and art. So, it’s not a fundamental conflict. It’s more that we have limited resources to focus on what we develop. The more we invest in one areas is the less we invest elsewhere.

        Still, some societies might have enough resources to better balance investing in more areas of development. This wouldn’t tend to be found in wealthier but low inequality societies, as research correlates high inequality with decreased empathy, in particular among the rich.

        This is a hypothesis. I don’t know exactly what kind of data would confirm or disconfirm it. I haven’t come across research that measured both cognitive and affective empathy in comparing diverse populations.

        Related to this, I’d like to see a breakdown of the rates of autism and psychopathy in determining if there is a correlation to inequality, as psychopaths seem to rise to the top of high inequality societies as data shows (the rates of psychopaths who work as CEOs is the same as seen in the prison population, from American data as I recall).

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      3. The research I was talking about I think actually was about upper management in general, not limited to CEOs.

        Anyway, my father worked in factory management for many years and he was working his way up the corporate ladder. He finally quit because of how cut-throat it was. People in management were willing to harm others, even harm the company, to ensure their own career advancement. It is the kind of social Darwinism we see throughout capitalism or rather corporatism. To become successful in that environment probably does require immense cognitive empathy, in order to read people and predict their behavior. Con men and social dominator types are likely among those with the most advanced capacities of cognitive empathy. Trump isn’t a brilliant guy, but he obviously has some intuitive skills at cognitive empathy, in the typical fashion of the bully who knows where to make it hurt.

        I don’t know if affective empathy is increasing in Europe. I suspect it would be decreasing anywhere inequality is increasing, though. Some European countries have managed to keep down inequality, but not all. Even in populations where affective empathy is increasing in the general population, that doesn’t necessarily say much about who dominates and controls that society, who determines the media and the culture and the education system, who decides the policies that will shape society for generations.

        My guess is that to the degree a ruling elite exists is the degree to which psychopaths are disproportionately found at the top of a society. That goes back to the issue of high inequality. Tribal societies have the lowest inequality among all forms. The Piraha, for example, lack any kind of chief, council of elders, or permanent leadership positions. They don’t even have shamans and medicine men. And of course, they have no warrior class. All roles that individuals take on are temporary and typically limited to a single activity or event. Maybe it is no coincidence that this low inequality correlates also to low violence.

        As civilization has advanced, so has inequality increased and along with mass violence and slow violence. Violence in the modern world has become so pervasive that we have no way of measuring it. The externalized costs are beyond imagining and those externalized costs equate to probably billions of lives harmed and cut short, but there is rarely an attempt to measure them (assuming they can be measured at all) and so don’t show up in the data.

        But because we are so disconnected from the violence done on our behalf, there is no way for affective empathy to play a role. Our highly developed cognitive empathy can barely sense what it might mean, but still fails us for cognitive empathy is impotent without affective empathy to give it a moral punch. In fact, cognitive empathy without affective empathy to balance it is genuinely dangerous and psychopathic. And even if affective empathy is present, if it is disconnected from cognitive empathy and if cognitive empathy lacks genuine comprehension of larger realities (e.g., environmental destruction as a hyperobject), then it is a severely dysfunctional empathy that can never lead to moral results.

        It’s a lot more complicated than the presence or lack of empathy.

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  5. Those are two great posts, Ben. You wanna write a guest blog post?

    All the patterns of empathetic development, when discussed, end up getting discussed in a meta-linear fashion. Things move up through stages, with higher stages slowly coming on line. Even a 6 year old who’s relatively developmentally normal starts developing rational empathy/Theory of Mind, along with increasing levels of emotional/affective empathy as they grow. I think of all of it like a dynamic spectrum, with different bars moving mostly up, but sometimes down, as we age.

    But there’s no denying this is an average view, and that actual empathetic development of really The Big Four (mirroring, affective/emotional, cognitive/rational, conscious) is highly nonlinear. That’s because so much of human development is driven by trauma, of course, and other unpredictable things from the outside.

    There’s no escaping the fact that the brain is a massively connected neural computer, that doesn’t really super-neatly break up into segments. So I don’t disagree with anything you’ve said. What I’m doing is creating a model, and attempting to not get people lost in the exceptions, or lower probability events.

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    1. For a guest post, I’m not sure what I could add. My thoughts aren’t all that systematic on the matter. I’ve just had some observations and speculations accumulated over time.

      The main thing that has interested me is the difference between affective empathy and cognitive empathy. But I mostly know of that in terms of autism and psychopathy, not how it may or may not play out in entire societies and across large-scale development.

      It would be nice to have more and better data, as always. I guess I feel uncertain, at present, what is a rule and what is an exception. I haven’t settled on a single model for empathy, not that I’ve given it enough thought to dismiss any particular model either.

      I haven’t heard of The Big Four. Where does that come from?

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