Cultural Psychology

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Pitirim Sorokin’s Personality Theory

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Pitirim Sorokin is best known as a sociologist. However he also developed a fairly detailed and interesting theory of human personality. Unfortunately, no psychologists seem to be aware of this theory, even though it dovetails nicely with modern subpersonality theory (Lester, 1995, 2007; Rowan, 1990; Schwarz, 1995).

Sorokin first systematically presented his personality theory in 1947, in Society, Culture and Personality (Chs. 19 & 48). He revisited the theory in 1954 in The Ways and Power of Love (Chs. 5 & 6). It is the later version that we will consider here.

Sorokin didn’t like Freud’s personality model, and, in part, developed his own to remedy the deficiencies of Freud’s. It will be helpful, then, to begin discussion with a review of Freud’s model.

Freud’s Personality Model

Freud’s well-known personality model postulates three principle entities (Figure 1). First is the   id, which contains our instinctive, biological drives (food, aggression, sex, etc.). Because we are social organisms, such that to act on every instinctive drive would conflict with other human beings (who similarly wish to gratify their instinctive urges), society conditions us to certain norms, restrictions, and inhibitions. These taken collectively Freud calls the super-ego.

Freud's personality model

The id and the super-ego are in perpetual conflict. For instance, should one give in to an angry impulse to yell at an unruly teenager, or should restrain oneself and set a good example? To resolve such conflicts is the task of the third entity, the ego. In Freud’s model, the ego is the level at which we consciously operate most of the time, at least if we’re functioning healthily.

This simple model has become so engrained in our cultural consciousness that it’s easy to overlook some very serious problems with it. One is fairly subtle: Freud is almost sneaky in labeling the normative component of the scheme the super-ego. The adjective super suggests that it is somehow above the ego, but in reality it isn’t. It’s basically on the same level as biological instincts or id: merely an accident of the material world (in this case, the social world, which, in Freud’s materialistic theory, is simply a product of evolution and chance). The norms of Freud’s super-ego have no spiritual or ultimate moral basis; they are relative, and differ in each society. In some societies, for example, the super-ego may insist that it is right to aggress. The super-ego, in other words, is nothing like the traditional concept of a moral conscience; but by naming it as he does, Freud, whether intentionally or not, creates the illusion that it is more like moral conscience than it really is.

So the first criticism is that Freud’s model has no place for a genuinely transcendent dimension of the human psyche. Second, Freud is certainly mistaken in assuming that our normative social constraints are mere arbitrary conventions. Rather, many of our social inhibitions derive from genetically determined instincts. For example, parents nurture and protect their children not simply because society teaches these behaviors!. These are also familial instincts, found in other animals besides humans. Similarly, if we look carefully, we’ll see that many social inhibitions similarly derive from instincts: to act in a dignified way in public, to share in necessary work and not be lazy, to win the approval of others, etc.

A third criticism is that Freud’s model makes it look like we have only a single ego. This fails to account for the fact, fairly plainly evident, that we actually have many different egos. These egos come and go as circumstances change. We have a work ego, a play ego, a family ego, a citizen ego, a church ego, and so on. Importantly, these egos, or sub-egos as we may call them, may themselves conflict with one another. Indeed conflict among sub-egos is one of the most difficult aspects of our mental life, yet Freud’s theory doesn’t directly address them.

Sorokin’s Model

Figure 2 shows Sorokin’s personality model. Like Freud, Sorokin allows that we have biological drives and instincts. Unlike Freud, Sorokin argues that individual biological instincts may have their own ‘dedicated’ egos. For example, the aggression instinct may give rise to an aggression ego. Alternatively, we can call this a sub-ego, to acknowledge the fact that our ‘ego’ in general (the large circle) consists of many different sub-egos which may take charge of our actions at any given time. Biological instincts and biological sub-egos together comprise the realm of the bioconscious.

Sorokin's personality model

In a similar way, we have many different social instinct and drives. Some are innate (parenting instincts), and some are associated with cultural roles. These create unconscious pressures on us to behave in certain ways, and we develop social egos or sub-egos in order to do so. Our unconscious social drives/instincts, together with our socially-oriented sub-egos comprise what Sorokin called the socioconscious.

But in allowing that we have not one, but many (in fact, potentially a very large number) of alternative sub-egos, any of which may be ‘in charge’ at a given time, we are faced with a huge problem: how to decide which sub-ego should be in control. Freud largely ignores this problem, which is the very essence of the human condition and the problem of free will.

What in us chooses the operative sub-ego in the current situation? And by what criteria? Is this a skill which can be consciously developed, and if so, how? It would seem that this speaks directly to the art of living well, yet it’s absent in Freud’s mechanistic model of personality.

Using examples drawn from his impressive mastery of many fields, including philosophy, religion, history, and art, Sorokin argues that there is a level above the bioconscious and the socioconscious, which he calls the supraconscious. We could, if we wish, simply regard this as a “black box”: an unknown entity whose existence is inferred from considerable empirical evidence (such as the reality of artistic genius), but the exact nature of which we are ignorant. Alternatively, we could allow that this is the traditional conscience or higher Reason which traditional religions claim human beings possess. Mostly either view is compatible with Sorokin’s theory. The important point is that there is something within us, a deep moral sense, which guides our actions. Thus, unlike as with Freud’s model, there is something outside and truly above ego which guides ego’s choices. (A major practical problem with Freud’s model is that, by failing to teach people that they have a moral conscience, they fail to direct their attention to it, and might as well not have it!)

We should mention that for Sorokin the supraconscious is oriented to love, understood as a universal principle and a transcendent fact of the universe. Sorokin ‘mysticism’ in this regard is very rational, and well connected with established philosophical and religious traditions of humankind. Nevertheless he showed a great deal of courage and integrity in insisting the love be taken seriously by scientists — and this uncompromising position certainly contributed to his lack of popularity in his own time and since.

Sorokin’s Model Revised

Sorokin’s interests in personality theory were clearly subordinate to his greater interests in sociology and culture. Partly for that reason, many details of his personality theory are not completely elaborated, some important features remain only implicit. Here I’d like to sketch a slightly more complex version that articulates some of these implicit principles. Figure 3 shows the revised model.

Sorokin's personality model extended

The concept of ego pluralism, and the bioconscious and socioconscious levels remain as with Sorokin’s explicit formulation. The first innovation is to divide the supraconscious realm into a non- or unconscious (abbreviated ucs.) component, and various conscious egos which act on intuitions and inspirations supplied by this higher unconscious. For simplicity we call these the religious (sub-)egos, but understand them to include a variety of sub-egos associated with moral growth, spiritual development, artistic creativity, and the like. That is, we use the word religious here in a very broad way to mean all that by which we re-connect (religio) ourselves with ourselves — i.e., with attainment of inner harmony, integrity, individuation, etc. Regardless of what we call them, just as we have multiple biological sub-egos and multiple social sub-egos, it’s fairly clear that we have multiple religious/moral/creative sub-egos as well. (For example, I have a yoga sub-ego, a Christian sub-ego, and a Roman Catholic sub-ego, and so on.)

In addition, Figure 3 postulates the existence of a unique, central sub-ego, whose responsibility it is to decide which sub-ego — be it religious, biological, or social — is in charge at any given time. Initially we can call this the governing ego, although the Greek term hegemonikon suggests itself as an appropriate term. One main implication of this model is precisely that for optimal personality integration a person must develop a hegemonikon sub-ego in the first place (this might not happen by default, but may require conscious effort and special education), and, secondly, the hegemonikon must become skilled at what it does.

I would propose that one form of effective hegemonikon is what we could call the philosopher sub-ego. That is, at some point in personality development, at least if all goes well, a person realizes that they need an inner philosopher to guide them through life. This is a momentous event, and in a sense marks the boundary between psychological childhood and adulthood. Without going to far into it here, I would propose that what Plato is seeking to do in his writings is precisely this: to awaken within readers the realization that they need such a guiding sub-ego, and that the best form this can take is that of a “lover of Wisdom” — a philosopher sub-ego in the truest sense. This sub-ego becomes a new fixture of the personality and then helps guide psychic integration and growth.

That all for now. I’m not invested in this model, but it does seem scientifically plausible and consistent with certain empirical and literary evidence. Whether I’ll allude to it again remains to be seen. In any case, now it is available for reference. It may prove useful in further explorations of psychological symbolism in the Bible.

But at the very least we’ve given Sorokin credit for his valuable innovations as a personality theorist.


Lester, David. Theories of Personality: A Systems Approach. Washington, DC: Taylor & Francis, 1995.

Lester, David. A Subself Theory of Personality. Current Psychology, 26, March 2007, pp. 1–15.

Rowan, John. Subpersonalities: The People Inside Us. Routledge, 1990 (repr. 2013).

Schwartz, Richard C. Internal Family Systems Therapy. New York: Guilford, 1995 (repr. 2013).

Sorokin, Pitirim A. Society, Culture, and Personality: Their Structure and Dynamics. New York, 1947 (repr. 1962).

Sorokin, Pitirim A. The Ways and Power of Love. 1954 (repr.: Templeton Foundation Press, 2002).














A Better Alternative to Facebook

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Now back to social commentary.

Here are some reasons you don’t want to use Facebook:

1. Basically lousy software: often doesn’t work; inflexible; lacks useful features;
2. Ads, ads and ads;
3. Unsettling feeling that you’re a pawn in Facebook’s get-rich-quick scheme;
4. Ultimately, Facebook is a tool of the corporatist/government/news media power structure, deceitfully hidden under the guise of a “community-building social network platform”.

They want to build a community alright – of dumbed down, brainwashed, stressed out, divided, agitated and confused  consumer units.

The user-unfriendliness of Facebook is deplorable.  Any decent software engineer could design a better interface over a cup of coffee (and probably implement it in a week!)

As proof, consider how easily we could lay out specs for a better system.  It could be as simple as this:

1.  Instead of subscribing to Facebook, you (and everybody) set up a personal blog, or just a Tumblr account.
2. Whenever you see an interesting web page or news story or have a picture or comment, post it to your blog or Tumblr page instead of FB.  (These days you can do this automatically from your web browser.)

3. One more thing is needed. Each person needs a blog aggregator web page.  This is basically a page you own, which has feeds to all your friends’ blogs.  If one of your friends posts something to their blog, a notice is given on your accumulator page.  This can easily be done using RSS feeds.  Very possibly there is already way to set up such an accumulator page (or the equivalent) in Tumblr, WordPress or Blogspot etc.

4.  If you see an interesting item on your accumulator page and want to comment, simply go to your friend’s blog and comment there.

Voila!  A better alternative to Facebook, without ads, where you totally control the content.  Someone with just a little programming knowledge could easily design a customized personal front-end page (i.e., accumulator page), in any format desired.  For example, you could have your friends’ comments, news headlines on topics of interest, and announcements from business or organizations you like in separate columns or sections.

Another possibility would be to have some third-party service set up accumulator pages for people for free or a very nominal price.

(Yes, I know that, in theory, Google and Yahoo offer this feature; but you can only personalize the pages they supply to a very limited extent.)

This sort of thing — a fully personalized ‘news and views’ front end page is the whole point of RSS feeds anyway.  These totally personalized pages should be routine.  A likely reason people aren’t already using them is because the big corporate entities — Facebook, Google, etc. — are trying to co-opt the Internet for their nefarious purposes.

So, ultimately, Facebook is not needed – unless maybe you find it somehow beneficial to know how many of your friends’ ‘friends’ are illiterate, boring or nuts.

Written by John Uebersax

August 11, 2012 at 12:37 am

Positive Catholic-Muslim Relations

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We are seeing more irresponsible and inflammatory statements in the world news media concerning Pope Benedict XVI and Catholic-Islam relations.

Can we just state matters simply? Very well, here are things stated simply:

  • The problem is not Catholics.
  • The problem is not Pope Benedict XVI.
  • The problem is not Islam.
  • The problem is the news media.

Christians and Muslims in the modern world need to comprehend and deal with the fact that at this point in human history, the “enemy” is no longer another nation or religion. The “enemy” is a complex system of human institutions–of which the news media are a prime component–which seeks to diminish and de-humanize human beings. We have, in effect, created a monster of technology. We have created a new Tower of Babel. But unlike the old one, this one is active, dynamic, intelligent. The new Tower of Babel is intelligent–because it has motives and adapts–but is not conscious; it is soul-less; it is a machine. It is a mega-system, a mega-institution, more complex and insidious than anything humanity has faced before.

As is true with any intelligent complex system, one of the primary motives of this Tower of Babel is to preserve itself. And to accomplish this it must, as one of its first priorities, seek to destroy, diminish and oppose the parts of human nature–love, intelligence, spirituality, peace, wisdom–that threaten its existence.

So that is what we have. Christians, Muslims, Jews, Buddhists, Hindus–people of all faiths: wake up and smell the coffee! It’s time to join together and face the
common enemy, which is this thing I call the new Tower of Babel.

Perhaps the first thing on our agenda (that is, after having prayed for help and guidance) is to define exactly what this thing is. It is not, strictly speaking, identifiedwith any particular institution. It is not the United States government–though we can all too easily point to ways in which parts of the US government are compliant in the service of this thing. President Eisenhower once told Americans to “beware the military-industrial complex.” Nobody has defined what a “military-industrial complex” is, but we all have a general intuition that it is a kind of huge, organized, intelligent system–a complex. So, we have a precedent of sorts for our understanding. This thing we face, this new Tower of Babel, is, I propose, a member of this same general categoryof entities as the military-industrial complex–though even vaster and more insidious. But it remains for us to understand what this category of things and how to cope with it.

Now, as to whether the Vatican has any kind of anti-Muslim bias, that is utter absurdity. This is a fabrication of the news media designed to sell newspapers by fostering anxiety, jealousy, fear and hatred. If there is any doubt about the genuine friendly feelings of the Vatican towards Islam, and other religions, I call attention to two recent representative statements released by the Pontifical Council for Interreligious Dialogue.



Message for the end of Ramadan – ‘Id al-Fitr 1427 H. / 2006 A.D.

Christians and Muslims: in confident dialogue aimed at solving together the challenges of our world

Dear Muslim friends,

1. I am happy to address this message to you for the first time as President of the Pontifical Council for Interreligious Dialogue, and to extend the Council’s warmest greetings as you celebrate the conclusion of the fast of Ramadan…

4. As Christian and Muslim believers, are we not the first to be called to offer our specific contribution to resolve this serious situation and these complex problems? Without doubt, the credibility of religions and also the credibility of our religious leaders and all believers is at stake. If we do not play our part as believers, many will question the usefulness of religion and the integrity of all men and women who bow down before God…

7. With sentiments of sincere friendship I greet you and entrust to you my thoughts for your consideration. I beseech Almighty God that they will contribute to the promotion everywhere of the relations of greater understanding and co-operation that have arisen between Christians and Muslims, and thus offer a significant contribution to the re-establishment and strengthening of peace both within nations and between peoples, in accordance with the profound desires of all believers and all men and women of goodwill.

Paul Cardinal Poupard, President


Message of the Pontifical Council for Interreligious Dialogue
TO the Hindus on the Feast of Diwali 2006

Dear Hindu Friends,

God loves us all without exception and his love is unconditional. Our human response to God’s love must be spelt out in concrete stewardship of God’s creatures, especially to human beings. It is urgent and necessary that believers of different religions manifest jointly to the world that hatred can be overcome by love…

Written by John Uebersax

November 29, 2006 at 12:00 pm

Conference: Engaging the OTHER

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Conference Announcement

Engaging The OTHER

October 26-29, 2006 – Kalamazoo, Michigan USA

An International Conference examining concepts of “The OTHER” from a multidisciplinary, cross-cultural perspective to promote wider public dialogue about concepts of “Us and Them.”

Sponsored by the Common Bond Institute, in collaboration with HARMONY Institute, the International Humanistic Psychology Association, Fetzer Institute, and Western Michigan University.

Goal: The focus of the program is to explore the dimensions and dynamics of “The OTHER” on both an individual and group basis, including fear-based belief systems, negative projection, negative stereotypes, prejudice, and scapegoating. Concepts are explored through psychological (intra-personal and inter-personal), social, cultural, anthropological, historical, philosophical, and spiritual perspectives.

Example themes:

  • The Other – as humankind’s oldest and most resilient foe.
  • Our shared identity as The Other.
  • The role of religious belief systems in requiring the presence and embodiment of innate evil in the world, and an ever-present Other as it’s expression.
  • Dynamics of the energy of fear and exclusive group identity in formulating devaluing, dehumanizing and demonizing stereotypes that allow result in objectifying entire groups to the point of justifying inhumane treatment.

Conference website:

Written by John Uebersax

June 3, 2006 at 8:13 pm

Article – Peace as an Organizing Principle

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Article: Peace as an Organizing Principle, by By Louise Diamond, Ph.D.

Peace as an organizing principle is an intriguing and revolutionary idea that, if applied at the global, national, and individual levels, would radically change the world we live in. To explore that further, let us consider how it would be if peace were truly the set of assumptions, values, and behaviors around which we organized our political, economic, and social lives and institutions…

Full article:

Written by John Uebersax

April 28, 2006 at 7:19 am

What can I do?

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You ask, but what can I do?


Written by John Uebersax

April 19, 2006 at 6:42 pm

Posted in Theory


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Welcome to my Peace Psychology blog.

For now, this format is just an experiment, as it appears much easier to keep a weblog like this than to keep my various websites up to date.

The basic motivating philosophy is this:

  1. That how we, as human beings, construe reality is determined by mental patterns or schema, which (a) pre-select and pre-structure what we perceive, and (b) determine the kinds of conclusions, inferences and beliefs derived from what we perceive.

  2. That, up to this point, perhaps for Darwinian reasons, our schemas are dominated by themes of aggression, hostility, conflict, and competition.

  3. That these schemas are not exclusively “hard-wired”—but rather mainly learned and culturally propagated.

  4. That we have come to a point where if we do not address this, we face destruction of ourselves, our society, the environment, and perhaps the planet itself.

  5. Yet just as this occurs in human history, we have also developed the intelligence to understand the nature of our own minds, of schema-shaped reality. And we can choose other schemas. We are now self-conscious, and potentially self-creating to a new degree.

Our task, therefore, is to create a new culture based on principles of peace, love, and prosperity through cooperation to replace the culture that sees all in terms of conflict and aggression.

This is, I believe, first and foremost a challenge to psychologists and the discipline of psychology.

Written by John Uebersax

April 19, 2006 at 4:16 pm

Posted in Theory