I was googling for links describing the Right Man syndrome (for, of all things, a post to the AV Club’s review comments on this week episode of The Good Wife), and I found 2 things – there’s still not a vast amount of stuff on this vital model of extreme male behaviour, and something I wrote on the subject for the Dark Christianity LJ is still on the first page – and I don’t have it reprinted here. So, here it is (mostly, as you can see, quoting RAW) & a few additions after.
I’ve often mentioned here the theory of the Right Man/Violent Male as a model for the behaviour of the Dominionists. This was created by AE van Vogt and later developed by Colin Wilson – but there’s not much about it online.
Here is a lengthy but excellent consideration of the model by Robert Anton Wilson, which puts the model in context.
“If, as Colin Wilson says, most of history has been the history of crime, this is because humans have the ability to retreat from existential reality into that peculiar construct which they call The “Real” Universe and I have been calling hypnosis. Any Platonic “Real” Universe is a model, an abstraction, which is comforting when we do not know what to do about the muddle of existential reality or ordinary experience. In this hypnosis, which is learned from others but then becomes self-induced, The “Real” Universe overwhelms us and large parts of existential, sensory-sensual experience are easily ignored, forgotten or repressed. The more totally we are hypnotized by The “Real” Universe, the more of existential experience we then edit out or blot out or blur into conformity with The “Real” Universe.
Concretely, the Violent Male—the extreme form of the Right Man1—edits out the suffering and pain he causes to others. That is only appearance and can be ignored. In The “Real” Universe, the victim is only one of Them—one of all the rotten bastards who have frustrated and mistreated the Right Man all his life. In existential reality, a large brutal male is beating a child; in The “Real” Universe of self-hypnosis, the Right Man is getting his just revenge on the oppressors who have abused him.
We have repeatedly employed Nietzsche’s metaphor in which existential reality is abysmal. In one dimension of meaning, this merely asserts that it is endless: the deeper you look into it, the more you see. It has the sense of infinity about it, whether or not it is topologically infinite in space-time.
The “Real” Universe—the model which has become experienced as the real universe—is, on the other hand, quite finite. It is compact and tidy, since it has been manufactured by discarding all the inconvenient parts of existential experience. This is why those self-hypnotized by a “Real” Universe of this sort can be so oblivious to the existential continuum around them. “How could a human being do something so cruel?” we sometimes ask in horror when an extreme Right Man is finally apprehended. The cruelty was “only” in the world of existential appearances; it does not exist in the edited and improved “Real” Universe of the Right Man. In The “Real” Universe, the Right Man is always Right.
The ghastly acceleration of violent, inexplicable and seemingly “pointless” crimes by Right Men in this century—and their hideous magnification into mass murders and war crimes by Right Men in governments—indicate the prevalence of this type of self-hypnosis and what Van Vogt calls “the inner horror” that accompanies it. This “inner horror” is a sense of total helplessness combined with the certainty of always being Right. It seems paradoxical, but the more totally Right a man becomes, the more helpless he also becomes. This is because being Right means “knowing” (gnosis) and “knowing” is understanding The “Real” Universe. Since The “Real” Universe is, by definition, “objective” and “outside us” and “not our creation,” we are made puny by it. We cannot act but only re-act—as The “Real” Universe pushes us, we push back. But it is bigger, so we will lose eventually. Our only defense is in being Right and fighting as dirty as possible.
This, I think, is in succinct form the philosophy of Adolph Hitler. It is the philosophy of the Marquis de Sade, and of any rapist or thug you can find in any prison in the world. Where Single Vision reigns—where The “Real” Universe is outside us and impersonal—this shadow-world of violence and horror follows in its wake.”
The new stuff: Found a couple of excellent pieces on the subject from blogger PHinn – here’s a shortish quote, drawing mostly from Colin Wilson’s A Criminal History of Mankind:
“The notion of ‘losing face’ suggests an interesting alternative line of thought. It is obviously connected, for example, with the cruelty of Himmler and Stalin when their absolute authority was questioned. They were both men with a touchy sense of self-esteem, so that their response to any suspected insult was vindictive rage. Another characteristic of both men was a conviction they they were always right, and a total inability to admit that they might ever be wrong.”
“Himmlers and Stalins are, fortunately, rare; but the type is surprisingly common. The credit for recognising this goes to A.E. Van Vogt who is also the author of a number of brilliant psychological studies. Van Vogt’s concept of the ‘Right Man’ or ‘violent man’ is so important to the understanding of criminality that it deserves to be considered at length…”
“In 1954, Van Vogt began work on a war novel called The Violent Man, which was set in a Chinese prison camp. The commandant of the camp is one of those savagely authoritarian figures who would instantly, and without hesitation, order the execution of anyone who challenges his authority. Van Vogt was creating the type from observation of men like Hitler and Stalin. And, as he thought about the murderous behaviour of the commandant, he found himself wondering: ‘What could motivate a man like that?’ Why is it that some men believe that anyone who contradicts them is either dishonest or downright wicked? Do they really believe, in their heart of hearts, that they are gods who are incapable of being fallible? If so are, are they in some sense insane, like a man who thinks he is Julius Caesar?”
“Looking around for examples, it struck Van Vogt that male authoritarian behaviour is far too commonplace to be regarded as insanity. [...] [For example,] marriage seems to bring out the ‘authoritarian’ personality in many males, according to Van Vogt’s observation.”
“… ‘the violent man’ or the ‘Right Man’ [...] is a man driven by a manic need for self-esteem — to feel he is a ‘somebody’. He is obsessed by the question of ‘losing face’, so will never, under any circumstances, admit that he might be in the wrong.”
PHinn knows what he’s talking about and is well worth reading on the subject.
For me… Colin Wilson makes a good case in Criminal History that the Right Men were the drivers of civilization – they tend to be charming when not pushed, smart and driven at what they do, and usually unconcerned by the consequences of their need to be Right – in short, excellent generals, leaders and despots. But the price of having them eventually becomes too high.
I think that time is now.
Dunno about you, but I’m seeing signs that this habit of thought is appearing more and more, especially in the intersection of politics & religion.
It’s impossible to negotiate with a Right Man – so a prevalence of them appearing in, say, the leadership of various extreme Dominionist Xtian paths makes any kind of resolution of opposing philosophies almost moot. They Are Right. Can’t argue with that. But, knowing how their rage cannot fail but descend if you insist (however politely and calmly) that they are in error… well, I leave that as an exercise for the combat philosophers in the audience. (And I know there’re a few – Hi Damien!)
The fewer of these in the world, the better. I don’t mean slotting them – I mean breaking them. Force them to show their monstrous nature whenever possible. Taunt them, tell jokes, satirize them where they can’t help but see it. Drop these fuckers like Cain dropped Abel, like Godzilla dropped Tokyo. Break their wills, so hard and strong but oh so easily shattered.
Because they’re as Wrong as men can be.
(Colin Wilson’s books on the Right Man, Criminal History… The Killer & Written in Blood are all still available, as is van Vogt’s initial Report on the Violent Male.)