Core Complex Theory: The Demon

The Demon is a psychic ordering principle that serves as one of the two dominant organizational principles in the psyche (the other is the Self system).  Whereas the Self system is primarily inherent, complex, dynamic, adaptive, and distinctly "biological" (at least qualitatively), the Demonic system of order is an environmental or cultural introject that operates on reliable and consistent laws, moves toward stasis, resists true adaptation (although its resistance can be very protean), and behaves more like an "intelligence" than an organism.

The Demon seems to acquire or borrow personality traits or structures from the individual's psyche . . . especially in reaction to the shadow, which is the Demon's gateway into the psyche.  If we think of the personal shadow as the pieces of identity where we feel most vulnerable, confused, needy, and impotent, then the Demon introject is a strategic defense against falling into identification with the shadow.  Much of the personal shadow is defined by the cultures and immediate social environments we grew up and continue to live in.  At least initially, it is the parents, the tribe, the world that both criticize/ostracize the personal shadow and teach us how to conceal and overmaster it.  We might call this "maturation" or learning discipline or civilizing, but it is equally an indoctrination and conformation.  Often enough, these civilizing/indoctrinating scripts or rules of thumb enable us to be more socially successful (as the particular social environment we live in defines such success).  But much of what is discouraged by society is also destructive and limiting to the natural personality.  The innate factors of personality (the Self) are not much benefited by social conformations, especially when these conformations do not facilitate the innate potentials and predispositions of the individual.

Society as we know it is not an individual-facilitating system, but a normalizing system.  Nor does modern society function as a whole (i.e., a singular tribe) based on universal ideologies . . . rather, it is complex and emergent.  The facilitation of the individual is driven primarily by the Self system which urges and organizes adaptivity, survival instincts, and homeostasis.  But the introjected normalization of social conditioning also works to construct a personality or identity that is "fit" by the terms of that society.  But because this norm of fitness represents a kind of ego- or superego-ideal, it is functional for the individual in direct contrast to the facilitation of his or her innate predispositions and potentials.

In many instances, especially where the childhood environment of the individual is "good enough" (and therefore facilitates the individual's innate potentials to a relatively high degree), the Self system has significant influence on the individual's fitness and may not be embroiled in much conflict with social normalization.  If one is the child of two doctors who both lovingly encourage the child to learn and achieve, and that child grows up to become a doctor, she or he has succeeded in achieving an ego ideal that society venerates.  If that individual feels fulfilled by the life and identity s/he has developed, the normalizing aspects of society are both appeased and kept at bay.

But if this individual ended up pursuing the medical profession and identity "artificially" and only in order to appease his or her parents and social normalization, then a serious existential conflict between the Self system and the Demonic system is brewing, probably causing a great deal of anxiety and depression for the individual.  Of course, not everyone is capable of becoming a doctor or other high-status person.  There are limitations placed on the number of high status people in any society.  Sometimes these are economic limitations, political limitations, limitations of prevailing cultural prejudices, other times they are biological limitations (for instance, inadequate innate intelligence), other times still, the limitations could be a matter of a parenting or peer environment that is not "good enough".

But social status is disproportionately invested in certain roles and ego ideals, and the vast majority of people cannot fit comfortably and satisfyingly into these ideals . . . nor would society function very well if everyone could.

The Demon is experienced as the introjected personality that drives one to become some form of ego ideal, some kind of high status norm.  If the normalizing voice of society (a kind of impersonal and lowest common denominator opinion of how one "should" be) could be reduced to a single personality construction and implanted into the psyche and subconscious of an individual, that would be the Demon.  We are all exposed to this hijacking informational virus, and it infiltrates us at a very early age.  It is an inevitable factor of socialization and human relationality.  This isn't to say that all socialization is "bad".  Some socialization facilitates the Self system.  And trying to find a hard line between socialization that facilitates the Self and socialization that normalizes personality in opposition to the Self is impossible.  There are many gray areas, and as a result of this grayness, the internal representations of the Demon and the Self are frequently conflated and blended together in certain attitudes and ideas.

The differentiation of the Demon and the Self is often not possible or manageable until adulthood, and even then, it must be enabled by the onset of an individuation process.  That is, a process where the Self system emerges in a psychic reorganization attempt to counteract the overly Demonized or normalized ego that has become dissociated from its Self system.  This is necessitated only by the breakdown of the Demonized ego that has sacrificed too much of its nature in order to follow a social ideal.  The individuant becomes aware that the Demonic force in the personality is impeding the Self system's dynamic organizing principle.  The treatment of this is complex and extremely difficult, and I won't go into it here.  But it is the hallmark of the individuant that there is consciousness that something in the personality must change, and the individuant aligns egoically and consciously against the Demonic on behalf of the Self system.  At least she or he desires to do so.

Where the personality falls into depression or some other dysfunction related to an overly Demon-impeded Self system, there is often a correspondence with early developmental problems in the parental environment.  That is, if something significantly hindered the facilitation of the Self in early childhood, the adult personality is much more likely to collapse under the control of the Demon.  The Demon, in this instance (especially where there was early childhood trauma) manifests not as the "benevolent dictator" and superego of individuals who have not had to endure childhood traumas, but as a truly terrible abuser.  Another way to look at this is to see the ego as "shadow-identified".  As one begins to identify with her or his dysfunctions, weaknesses, diseases, impotence, etc. more and more, s/he will find that the Demon seems more and more a malicious, abusive psychopath, a genuinely evil torturer.

In a sense, the Demon is always like this, always terrible to the shadow . . . but when the ego identifies or sympathizes with the Demonic program toward the shadow, one tends to overlook the atrocity of the Demon.  The shadow, much of the time, is deemed less-than-human and not worthy of human rights.  Those people and things we do not extend this full humanity to are treated without empathy.  Take for instance many laboratory animals used for testing.  Imagine being that rat who is pumped full of deathly chemicals or has portions of its brain removed in order to serve the experiment.  This is how a person might feel in relation to the Demon when the person becomes shadow-identified.

There are many implications to seeing the Demon introject in this way.  For instance, we can easily derive from such observations that the society we live in, if it could be rendered as a personality, would be a psychopath.  Additionally, that psychopathy can be said to live inside all of us (via introjection, if not also inherently).  And if we are ever to dehumanize another person or group, we become capable of psychopathic cruelty toward them (or at least the condoning of such cruelty).

Why society is psychopathic is another issue (and one I am exploring in my project on the Problem of the Modern).  But in investigating the Demon as it is represented in individual fantasies and dreams, we are also led to ask: what is it about our innate psyches that allows them to be hijacked by a psychopathic personality construct?  This is largely mysterious and difficult to study, but it seems to me that the Demon introject can root down in the soil of our innate, early impotence.  Psychoanalysts have made much of so-called "infantile grandiosity", but I find this construct rather suspicious.  The entire psychoanalytic construction of the "Infant" strikes me as deeply flawed and riddled with odd projections.  At times, the psychoanalytic attitude toward the Infant resembles the attitude of the Demon toward the shadow.  At other times, the Infant is romanticized and used like a cookie cutter on the adult personality.  Both of these usages disturb me, especially on an intuitive level.

But I do not doubt that infants and young children (not to mention people of all ages) can feel terribly powerless at times.  Even if the full extent of their vulnerability and dependency is not consciously comprehended, there is no doubt at least as much familiarity with feelings of impotence as there would be with an inflated or grandiose protection (from the "Breast" or whathaveyou . . . although I am not a fan of the Good Breast/Bad Breast languaging of this).  As the psychoanalytic attitude reflects, it is socially conventional for us to see children and our own childhood selves as shadowy.  We look back at our disempowerment, compulsiveness, and vulnerability judgmentally much of the time.  Even if we do not "blame" our childhood selves for these things, we specifically resist the attitude that this mentality represents, and by making that attitudinal allegiance, we necessitate shadow.  We don't fare nearly as well at generating respect for our childhood selves and tend to reserve our positive considerations for wistfulness, escapism, fantasy, and euphemization of childhood.

The Demon does seem to have a distinctly infantile core of instinctual rage and fear.  And its desires and demands are also typically infantile.  It wants what it wants when it wants it, and it can't endure not getting this precisely.  There is no empathy or compromise with the Demon.  It has no valuation of what is other (part of its psychopathy).  Moreover, it doesn't seem to grow or develop.  Even as it takes on many superficial forms and attitudes, the objective of these forms and attitudes is to maintain a static personality, orientation, and set of goals and desires.  Therefore it is a part of the personality that doesn't grow and that resist growth at all costs.

This needs to be differentiated from the aspect of the Self that could be associated with the Child archetype.  This Child does have needs and appetites, but it primarily represents the delicate potential of the personality that would need to be actively nurtured in order to develop.  The infantile Demon does not want to be nurtured, it merely wants to be fed, served, and obeyed.  The Demon is a usurpation and imitation of the Self in this and many other regards.  The response of the Self to vulnerability and fragility is to grow, complexify, interconnect, and interrelate.  This could be seen as parallel to the human need to interrelate in a community in order to aid survival and adaptation of both the group and the individuals in it.  The Demon, by contrast, reacts to vulnerability with all manners of fortification and defense against what is other or outside.  It tolerates no direct vulnerability or mutuality and will relate to others only manipulatively as tools to increase its power, impenetrability, and fortification.

Faced with the Demon construct, we would have to ask how such a powerful, psychopathic, parasitic personage could invade and seize control of individuals  so unanimously today.  It sounds like something out of a dystopian sci-fi story.  I must first note that my construction of the Demon principle is obviously very negative . . . and the vast majority of people living in the modern world will not experience this level of negativity from the Demon as it exists in their personalities.  Many people find the Demon to represent their "better selves".  Moreover, the Demon is not truly "maladaptive" as far as human survivability goes.  Modern human civilization and evolutionary success go hand in hand with the Demon.  I don't think the Demon is responsible for driving our success or innovations, but it is certainly willing to take credit for these things.  I would characterize this as part of our myth of modern willpower.  This myth is defined by its aggrandizement of and emphasis on the ego as the seat of greatest intelligence and psychic worth in the personality.  It is seen as the "divine spark", our rational mind and godlikeness, our speciesist supremacy, mark of global entitlement and bestowal of divine right to do with this planet as we please.

This myth has ancient roots, but clearly reaches its fruition in the beginning of civilization as we know it, the beginning of recorded history and writing.  This myth is also the self-justification of modern patriarchy that triumphs by conquering Nature and imposing the patriarchal, "heroic" brand of order on everything it touches and sees.  This myth is very well described in the Epic of Gilgamesh, perhaps the oldest work of literature in the world.  That Gilgameshian brand of patriarchy that cultivates the Demon as we still experience it is definitely effective at asserting a controlled human environment upon nature.  And within that controlled environment, there is a great deal of room for human reproductive success.  That success is the product of the ability to control the environment in which our species lives.

But by controlling the environment in this way (in a way that seeks to make it hospitable to humans . . . at least those humans with the most power and status), humanity no longer has an active "evolutionary relationship" with its environment.  That is, by adapting an environment to human beings, human beings' ability to adapt to environment is greatly curtailed or even stalled.  Yes, we are still evolving (and perhaps quicker than ever), but we are only evolving in relationship to what penetrates our environmental fortifications.  Most of all, this would be disease, which still has the ability to significantly affect our reproductive success.

It seems to me perfectly legitimate to argue that, the Demon aside, our ability to control our environment and isolate ourselves from its harshness is a substantial achievement and well worth the cost of a little parasitic psychopathy.  I don't have any predictions to offer regarding the future of humanity.  Our species may continue to prosper even without evolving on some kind of ethical or psychological level.  My concern is with the fallout of living with the kind of hypertrophic Demon we have in the modern world.  Most tangibly, this fallout is a matter of high rates of anxiety, depression, and feelings of disconnection, loss of meaning/"soul".  We are increasingly recognizing that these things are unhealthy for us.  But even if they take years off of our lives (and make many of the years we live less satisfying), science, medicine, and technology seem to be more than compensating.

The ethical complications are more serious but harder to determine.  That is, what are the ethical externalities of incorporating (and aggrandizing) what is essentially a psychopathic element into our personalities?  At times, this psychopathic susceptibility has helped enable monstrous destruction and abuse . . . such as the atrocities of genocide, mass murder, and world war that color the 20th century.  There are no indications that such things cannot happen again or that either human psychology or human civilization has seen the error of its ways and taken preventative measures.

Social reform is beyond my focus, though.  I'm interested primarily in studying the psychological mechanism of the Demon and the apparatus of our sociality.  Therefore my investigation leads backward rather than forward.  And I am driven to contemplate why it is that our species appears to be so susceptible to Demonic "hijacking".  This line of questioning evokes the meme arguments of Richard Dawkins and Daniel Dennett, who have compared the religion meme to a similar hijacking.  That argument essentially states that religion is "bad" for us as well as irrational, so we would have no motivation for creating and practicing it unless we were being possessed by some other self-interested "agent" (in this case, a meme).  I don't have much use for the Dawkins-Dennett meme construct (especially when it comes to religion), but there is a notable parallel with my construct of the Demon as introject.

It seems to me that meme theory breaks down where it assumes a kind of motivation for the informational meme.  The drive to self-replicate is not a trait of information, which means that meme theory is metaphorical.  And as metaphor, it gets an attitude or opinion across.  But I find the masquerading of meme theory as science (including the gene-imitative naming and construction)  to be more of an ideological ploy banking on the "rational dignity" of science to cover up an utterly unscientific idea.  The Demon does not seek self-replication, but fortification and empowerment as a compensation for vulnerability.  In other words, it exhibits a psychology and bears more resemblance to an archetype than it does to a gene or anything biological (even if its behavior could be described as parasitic).

But, like a meme, the substance of the Demon is informational, a collection of ideals, scripts, and laws.  The basis of its "personality", though, is borrowed from our dissociable human psyche, which seems to be able to subdivide into numerous personages (splinter psyches or complexes, in Jungian terms).  What I think makes us susceptible to the Demonic introjection is not a kind of weak link or irrationality in our minds.  Rather, we would only be susceptible to the extreme degree we are if we had evolved in a way that such susceptibility was fit for our survival.  In other words, introjection would only be so readily possible for human beings if it was the medium through which our instincts were functionally expressed into or imprinted with our environment.

Human culture is the primary vehicle through which our instincts are interpreted and implemented in organizing survivable behavior.  I am not talking about intentioned "learning", per se.  It is not knowledge that is introjected, but identity.  Identity (as we commonly experience it) is a social phenomenon . . . not an individual one.  And the social construction of identity is the means by which our instinctual ordering principles (i.e., the Self) adapt to the environmental niche in which we live (the informational environment of culture).  Culture itself is (or was, in our environment of evolutionary adaptedness) constructed through the largely unconscious expression of human sociality instincts.  It self-organizes based on the collective input of individuals and is then fed back into those individuals as identity construction.  So, identity constructs culture and culture constructs identity . . . and for the most part, we are unconscious of this and exert no real control over it.

But this complex culture/identity feedback system evolved along with human sociality instincts that are essentially tribal and not well adapted to modern population density.  I feel that, instinctually, this evolved system is trying to drive adaptation to an environment that no longer exists.  It becomes a square peg in a round hole phenomenon . . . and as the "abrasion" from this is multiplied over many generations, the effect is exponential: an entirely new cultural environment emerges.  And that somewhat foreign emergent culture is fed back into individual identity construction, skewing identity in a way that deviates from the instinct-facilitating construction that would take place in an "evolutionarily ideal" environment.  This scenario could lead to a kind of "fitness" that perpetuates genes very effectively while also creating some degree of discord and anxiety in individuals.  And the more successful humans are at conquering nature and controlling/insulating their environment, the more "genetic fitness" and psychic satisfaction or homeostasis can diverge.

What's more, there is a low likelihood that we would somehow adapt to our new, emergent environment when that environment is "designed" to increasingly isolate us from evolutionary/environmental pressures.  Our consciousness is overwhelmed by the complexity of designing a "utopia" with mental tools not equipped to do so (i.e., they are equipped to work unconsciously in the culture/identity feedback system).  This sense of being ill-equipped to design societies can work metaphorically as an "original sin", a trait that seems innocent enough at first (or is entirely unapparent) but snowballs under complex iteration until is becomes a fatal flaw.  And that fatal flaw becomes a major opponent in the battle to survive and prosper.

The idea of the fatal flaw is part and parcel of the tragic hero.  This tragic, patriarchal hero "conquers" nature's supposed darkness and transforms it into a resource for culture (and ego).  But as much as he accomplishes, some karmic force pulls him into his tragic fate.  Not infrequently (in myths, epics, and legends), the original sin and fatal flaw of the tragic hero is hubris.  Greed is a common alternative or accompaniment.  Rage or wrath is another.  The fatal flaw is like the devil claiming the soul of one who had merely leased status or power (with a terrible interest rate).  Such is life lived in the service of the Demon.  It's a life stolen or not truly earned or deserved.

In more modern terms, we have the so-called externalities of engaging in unsustainable behavior.  That is, with our quest to privilege the ego, not only the instinctual Self, but also other people will end up suffering.  But it isn't just "vulgar human nature", our "animal instincts", that determine these fatal flaws.  Quite the opposite is true.  Instinct is the wellspring of empathy and altruism, of functional, adaptive social organization.  This isn't to say that we are not powerfully self-interested.  But instinctual self-interest is not always the same thing, behaviorally, as selfishness (take, for instance, reciprocal altruism).  Selfish self-interest becomes excessive and dangerous to others primarily when one seeks inordinate amounts of power and status . . . and can manage to get away with murder in the name of pathological self-empowerment and -fortification.  The very idea that we "need" so much in order to be valid is a notion (not created but) promoted by modern status-based society.  We are instilled with social values that favor public success, power, and wealth . . . as opposed to values that, for instance, favor kindness, generosity, and tolerance for others.

What this means is that it is not primarily "human nature" that drives modern egoism.  It is the modern cultural cultivation of the ego that creates such a disparity between feelings of vulnerability and impotence and the fantasy of power and potency.  The introjected Demon becomes the landlord of our infantile fatal flaws.  It's important to note, of course, that although we may envy and be fascinated by "tragic heroes" in our culture who attain great power and status only to be undone by fatal flaws . . . most of us are not such tragic heroes.  And our Demonic inheritance is not purely a kind of megalomaniacal selfishness.  Rather it is an Orwellian "endless war" between the power-mad impulse to be "heroic" and the curtailing social mores that discourage most people from seeking or obtaining such power.

But to a significant degree, this conflict is artificial and keeps the ego in thrall to the Demon through distraction, misdirection, and consumption of the resources needed to rebel.  These social mores also help preserve a social status hierarchy in which those elites on top do not have to abide by the same morality as those below them.  Other problems of status hierarchies aside, the failure of modern society to sustain a universal sense of morality is one of the most significant departures from premodern tribalism.  I don't mean to argue that status was a non-issue in tribes (although anthropologists seem to feel that tribes are and were generally more egalitarian than modern societies).  But tribal rites and ceremonies were meant to organize a sense of participation in a universal tribal identity . . . and that means a universal tribal morality and ideology, as well.  The tribal elders, chiefs, and shamans were the promoters and maintainers of the tribes social mores.

How much of the unfolding problems of modern society have to do with the singular development of wealth (thought to have originated along with the agricultural revolution) is unclear.  No doubt the creation of wealth has had a massive impact on cultural constructions of identity and ideology.  But despite wealth's notable evils, it seems untenable to me that modern societies could be sustained as communes or massive tribes.  Tribal organization or human sociality is (genetically) limited to a relatively small number of members.  Beyond those numbers, the manufacture of true egalitarianism may be impossible.  Equally, any social architecture we endeavor to take on may have to take into account the number-limited sustainability of tribal communities . . . and focus less on less on the relationship between an individual and a society and more on inter-tribal relationships.

Whatever the case, we seem to be still quite far away from understanding the relationship between human nature and social organization in the modern world.  And as long as modern society is introjecting Demonic attitudes and traits, any reform or progress will likely be very slow if not impossible.  Most personalities are so consumed by and devoted to the Demonic organizing principle that it is hard to know how or where to begin to treat human sociality.  It is a classical Jungian idea that the treatment of society is best accomplished through the treatment of individuals.  I find this notion both intriguing and totally inadequate.  Obviously social injustice abounds and can be effectively (although perhaps not absolutely) countered with various social behaviors and policies.  We are all dependent on this kind of social activism to even approach a place where individuals can confront and work to depotentiate their introjected Demons.

But those individuals who do manage to make some headway against the Demon do so at the cost of their participation mystique with others in society (which is also the vehicle through which they have influence on that society).  The Demon is unwittingly sanctioned and protected by our tribalism, even as the Demon perverts the adaptability of that tribalism.  I have no answers to these grand social problems, but I think it could only be beneficial for us to develop a better understanding of the Demon, to know it exists and how it exists within and among us.  This would bring us into direct confrontation with various mystiques of our identity construction and face us with more ego-depotentiating realities of our nature.  The movement toward a recognition of our naturalistic "animalism" could not only be a relinquishment of hubris, but also a way of reconnecting with complex nature as a macro-ecosystem to which we belong.  The sustenance, facilitation, and treatment of this ecosystem indirectly treat our species . . . and therefore treat the human soul.  In previous eras, the treatment of the human soul was approached more egoically and Demonically.  Culture or religious dogma was supposed to be the Good Medicine that saved us from our devilish instincts and impulses.  It may now be that our instincts will begin to save us from our cultural "medicines".  But first, they would have to triumph adaptively.


For further discussion of the Demon, please see the collection of Essays on the Contents page entitled "Differentiating the Shadow in Jungian Theory".