A recent article sent me down the Rabbit hole of the intersection of politics, psychiatry, and spirituality. It has laid bare for me the difficulty of how to share the spiritual path in a secular society as well as how to live the spiritual path oneself. Here is the journey:
The Martial Personality (MP) archetype was recently explored in the Psychiatric Times by Ronald W. Pies, MD.[i] Ronald’s opening statement may resonate with our shared readers:
“The great challenge of our moment is the crisis of isolation and fragmentation, the need to rebind the fabric of a society that has been torn by selfishness, cynicism, distrust, and autonomy. At some point there will have to be a new vocabulary and a restored anthropology, emphasizing love, friendship, faithfulness, solidarity, and neighborliness that pushes people toward connection rather than distrust.”1
Dr. Pies estimates this is a causal factor of societal disintegration in the US has only worsened in the past three years. He sees the MP archetype’s growing prominence—and, in some circles, acceptance as a significant driver. He even provides us a mythical creature for reference: the “Aresian Personality”—named for Ares, the Greek god of war!
Ares aside, Psychiatric diagnosis and clinical presentations often cut across several diagnostic categories that can muddy the waters of MP: “Despite substantial overlap with several conditions or disorders, I believe that a distinguishing feature of the MP is the individual’s sheer delight in causing harm, discomfort, or chaos: something akin to schadenfreude (from the German, Schaden (“damage, misfortune”) + Freude (“joy”). Though this term is usually defined as “malicious joy in the misfortunes of others,” psychologists Shensheng Wang, Scott O. Lilienfeld and Philippe Rochat have argued that “The process of dehumanization may lie at the core of Schadenfreude.”9 Indeed, I would argue that schadenfreude turns one’s fellow human beings into objects whose sole purpose is to feed one’s twisted need for pleasure, power, and control. Think, “School yard bully meets Machiavelli.” This is not a bad conceptualization of Ares, and of the MP.”
These are powerful words that loom large in both our historical consciousness and current day threats to world peace and individual suffering. Who can you identify today in your social circles, workplace, or the political stage today that exhibits these Machiavellian behaviors? Whatever we call this personality type it is definitely antithetically opposed to a healthy social contract or a spiritually lived life.
Dr. Pies wrote this article from his field of expertise and was very careful to insert language into his piece to say this is not an attack piece on Donald Trump – but a societal issue. This logic follows as we see this behavior increasing in every sphere, and its acceptance by people allows it to flourish. What this means is it does not let Donald Trump, Republicans, Democrats, you or I off the hook for supporting people who dehumanize life.
Dr. Pies though turns to Anthropology though for answers. The field of anthropology itself has a strong propensity to be hostile to religion and spirituality in all its forms despite many of its experts being “Christians hiding in plain sight.” The article does not mention spirituality’s demise and modernism’s rise at all as a potential key to an Anthropological solution despite calling for “emphasizing love, friendship, faithfulness, solidarity, and neighborliness.”
As a biased Catholic I here Pope Francis (modern day) and biblical references providing us the solution to today’s inhumanity to man:
- “But the fruit of the Spirit is love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, goodness, faithfulness…” Galatians 5:22
- “A new commandment I give to you, that you love one another, even as I have loved you, that you also love one another.” John 13:34
- “In everything, therefore, treat people the same way you want them to treat you, for this is the Law and the Prophets.” Matthew 7:12
- “Teacher, which is the greatest commandment in the Law?” 37 Jesus replied: “‘Love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your mind.’  38 This is the first and greatest commandment. 39 And the second is like it: ‘Love your neighbor as yourself.” Matthew 22:36 to 40
In the International Journal of Humanities and Social Science had an article called “The Crisis On Modern Day Spirituality” from a Muslim perspective:
“Humans would be more humane if spirituality is always included in intact personality, they do not separate between the world and hereafter, the material and spiritual, and the existence of equilibrium so humans could bring this world into a civilization that is humanizing a man.”[iii]
The modern-day atheist or secularist will invariably point out that both Christianity and Muslim religions are responsible for the world’s greatest divisions. At their extremes, they become vehicles of hate and persecution of non-believers. There is ample evidence to support this assertion if you do a little digging.
Let me make a distinction here that I believe anthropologist will support as well. Belief in a spiritual reality existential to our human understanding can be vastly beneficial for individuals and society. Religion run riot can definitively be a harmful tool when in the wrong human hands and distinctly non-spiritual. The test of one’s true ownership of spirituality (and organized religion) is in the thoughts and action of the believer judged against discerned and authentic higher spiritual principles.
Alcoholics Anonymous comes to mind as a small-scale test of this idea. Alcoholics Anonymous (A.A.) uses the phrase “Self-Will Run Riot” to describe the mindset of an alcoholic that his needs dictate everything without consideration for others. This could easily fit into the Martial Personality! A.A. is a grounded example of a spiritual program that is a self-help group grounded in spiritual steps. They go to great lengths to use the phrase like God of your understanding, Higher Power, or Power Greater than ourselves to ensure the program is free of religious affiliation and available to all who are suffering from alcoholism. And yet their program is distinctly a spiritual program. The members that truly take the deep dive into the 12 steps in thought and action are most likely to recover and lead happier, and richer lives filled with purpose and meaning.
Let us return here though to the macro problem faced in our westernized secular society today. Most Americans recognize a decline in basic human values and in anger are pointing rage at others for societies major issues. A neighbor of mine from Cuba, in accented English, once lamented they need to build a church on every corner, not for me, not for me, but for these kids these days! He may have had a few expletives as well. In other words, his lament was kids these days lack a moral compass. Nowhere in our conversation was our moral failings or what our spiritual response should have been to the miscreants who spray painted my fence twenty years ago! At that time, I was in a good spiritual place and had l kept a can of paint in case of repeat and was calmly painting the fence. I believe this calm response angered my neighbor even more! We were entitled to our rage and retribution!
A spray-painted fence is unimportant. Job security, access to health care, slander, violence, hatred, meanness, greed, and countless other vices (think seven deadly sins) grip our families and society today despite or perhaps even contributed by our nation’s wealth of resources and desire to maintain or add to our perceived elevated status globally.
Our current president thrives on “Make American Great Again” with a form of nationalism that is fueled by hate, fear, and division. Many of his followers staunchly support his views with a religiosity that leaves no room for objective discussion. It is difficult to engage healing the rift as most Americans are so entrenched in their political identity (red or blue) that genuine reflection and authentic soul searching is beyond their grasp – top threatening their very existence. Our nation has been at war with some nation or nations 93% of the time that our nation has been in existence.
There must come the point where we have to reconcile as a nation our spiritual fabric versus our internal and external relations. How can we as a nation support “emphasizing love, friendship, faithfulness, solidarity, and neighborliness” to each other and to the world community? How can we use our leadership position in the world to change the way the world is supporting dehumanization today?
If we have Martial Personalities in power, it is because we support what that means as a nation. We must face the hypocrisy of our nations dialectical positions when they are presented to us and demand realignment both domestically and internationally.
An article on societal disintegration that omits any reference to spirituality is a glaring sign of how far we are from spirituality as a society. Our original monetary proclamation “Out of Many One” and its successor “In God We trust” affirms our nation was born a spiritual nation. Eisenhower said the slogan on the dollar affirms “the transcendence of religious faith in America’s heritage and future; in this way we shall constantly strengthen those spiritual weapons which forever will be our country’s most powerful resource in peace and war.”
Our society needs spiritual warriors now more than ever. Not the preaching type with the megaphone. No, spiritual warriors in every stratum of society that live and model spiritual principles in every walk of life – educators, janitors, senators, lawyers, plumbers, artisans, nurses, bus drivers, sportsmen, clergy, accountants, bankers, policymakers, media, farmers, traders, retailers, CEOs, and all the other fields of labor. Pontification is not the answer. Living and seeking spiritual perfection is our ultimate calling as individuals and as a nation.
The rubber hits the road when sacrifices are called for to address global issues of poverty, global warming, immigration, violence, and growing scarcity of resources. Our nation’s elite and our people, in general, do not want to cede the economic advantages that we hold today globally. We fear our high moral road will place us at a severe disadvantage to other world powers that will not follow the same spiritual path.
Our politicians are acutely aware that voters support ideas but not necessarily sacrifices to achieve these ideas. They need to see that in their communities, in their inbox, and at the ballot box to give them the courage to promote real change. As long as we are wedded to money (and what it buys) and political ideology before principles, we will be adrift in misery and turmoil.
“No one can serve two masters. Either you will hate the one and love the other, or you will be devoted to the one and despise the other. You cannot serve both God and money.” Matthew 6:24
Oddly many readers and friends will agree with me on these spiritual points and the meaning of life. Actualizing and living up to these standards is a daunting task moment to moment. Who is your master today? What motivates your behavior every day? Are you on autopilot or do you consciously consider your thoughts and actions as they relate to a higher spiritual principle than your self-gratification?
For example, would I pay 3.99 for a coffee from a brand that only pays living wages throughout its distribution chain including the labors on the front line or chooses the 2.99-dollar coffee brand whose profit margin is driven by cheap labor and exploitation of children and underdeveloped nations? Can I even afford to buy fair labor products if I supported only fair wage products? Probably not. I would probably have to purchase less and pay more if I truly support fair wages and truly do not support child exploitation and world poverty. At least in the short term. In the long term if everyone shopped this way supply and demand chains would force policymakers and corporations to adjust their economic models that put profit over people.
Our products and markets count on lack of transparency. If you knew the shirt you were buying for $27 was capitalizing on child labor or paying its workers below poverty wages would you still support that brand? I am afraid we do this every day. In fact, in our business circles, there is great pride in widening the profit margin by deflating wages, increasing working hours, suppressing benefits, and even increasing risk of negative outcomes (think health and safety in health care, environmental contamination, or food chain safety).
Unless we demand products and services that are built on and produced by ethical companies that support human dignity, we are individually and collectively partly responsible for dehumanizing conditions all over the world including in our very own backyard. Here are some examples of initiatives to support this idea:
Imagine trying to sell these points in a political campaign – the masses eyes will glaze, and your opponents will marginalize your ideas as socialist, naively idealistic, and perhaps even anti-American and evil. And rightly so. It is not a message that can be sold – it must be lived by many through devotion and practice of genuine spiritual principles on an individual level to inform macro level economics and political ideologies. What is your 401 K had a fund that invested in only labor-friendly stocks and provided a return of 9% but a sister fund making the same widgets returned 12% without fair labor practices – which fund would you pick? Do you even know what your investments support worldwide?
What do you choose today: “to feed one’s twisted need for pleasure, power, and control” or to feed a society based on “emphasizing love, friendship, faithfulness, solidarity, and neighborliness?”
I argue we do not have a Trump problem or even a Martial Personality Disorder problem – but a societal problem of spiritual poverty (not necessarily religious orientation). This poverty makes us vulnerable to permit passively behaviors and actions that we would not be able to stand for if we were intimately connected with our innate spiritual cores known by many different names. Anthropologically, philosophically, psychiatrically or sociologically you do not have to look far to see that our nation is suffering from a deficit of morality and spiritual groundedness – with the latter including many people with firm religious affiliations. Religious affiliation does not assure spiritual groundedness.
Spiritual transcendence takes patience, faith, love, and action. And even then we have not assured anything – and yet I say this is the path to pursue true happiness and peace. I myself am high maintenance and struggle with this pursuit daily. I envy those believers who seem to just float on a cloud of belief, at least externally. Even my envy is counter to my spiritual desire of acceptance of divine providence.
My faith challenges me to accept my own faults and the faults of others while not becoming complacent with what is and to seek what should be individually and collectively with my fellow man within my sphere of influence. Clearly, most of us cannot individually change our nations political climate, leaders, or worldwide positions. Nor can we individually change other people’s actions, especially those on the MP continuum! We can however collectively moment by moment change our immediate environments and relationships with everyone we meet – which in turn can cascade into changes that appear outside of our sphere of influence.