In this interview, Steve Taylor introduces some of the key ideas and inspirations in his new book, which he describes as having built up over many years. When he sat down to write “DisConnected: The Roots of Human Cruelty and How Connection Can Heal the World”, it poured out in just six weeks.
FH: Let’s start by situating your new book within the overarching trajectory of your writing. Would you agree that connection has always been a central theme, from a separation state of ego consciousness, to connection with an expanded sense of awareness, which you call an awakening experience?
ST: Yes, exactly. Much of this book deals with the negative aspects of disconnection. It’s quite different from most of my other books as it deals with social and cultural issues, including the political effects of disconnection. It’s based on a model which I have called the continuum of connection. It begins on the extreme left side with what I call hyper-disconnected people who exist in an extreme state of disconnection. They’re totally self absorbed, to the extent that the external world is slightly unreal to them. They are disconnected from the world in a general sense, from other people, from nature, and from their own deeper being. They live in a highly constricted state of ego consciousness. In mainstream psychology or psychiatry those people are often diagnosed with conditions like psychopathy or narcissistic personality disorder. I consider this kind of hyper-disconnected personality and the effects that these people have on their societies and on the world.
FH: So would you say what they’re connected to is their ego consciousness and own material goals?
Steve Taylor: Yes, since they live in an extreme state of disconnection or separation they experience an extreme sense of lack, on an unconscious level. They’re like fragments broken away from the whole. This manifests as a strong desire for material accumulation and especially for power, adoration, and constant attention. Such people are always hungry to dominate others to make up for their sense of lack. A lot of research shows that people with psychopathic traits are drawn to positions of authority and leadership, especially politics. Many prominent politicians are hyper-disconnected people, as you can see from the present UK government and other governments around the world. These personalities are just drawn to power, like moths to a flame. There’s a lot of research into the psychopathic traits of CEOs and highly powerful people in business or corporations. People born into a lower socio-economic background or with less opportunity often channel their psychopathic or disconnected traits into criminality.
FH: How about people on the other end of the continuum of connection?
ST: They’re always altruistic and very empathic, but because they are connected they don’t feel a strong urge to add anything to themselves. They don’t need power. They don’t need wealth because they don’t feel anything is lacking. So they tend to live simple, quiet lives and are not generally attracted to leadership positions. They may end up there accidentally, or may have a strong altruistic drive which impels them into a leadership position to improve society or the world. But they’re generally pushed out of the way by the disconnected personalities who have a really strong drive for power and are willing to exploit, lie and deceive to get their way.
FH: What about the environment that allows this to happen? Many people want to step up as conscious leaders to participate in making the world a better place, but current systems and structures just push them out and don’t let them get to the stage of running for a general election, for example.
ST: That’s right. If you live in a hierarchical society, as we do, where a lot of power is invested in the higher positions, it just attracts ruthless, manipulative people, whereas the altruistically inclined find it difficult to thrive because their egalitarian approach is alien to the whole of our social structures. Towards the end of book I suggest ways of improving the situation. There are lots of indigenous cultures in the world which have protective mechanisms to stop hyper-disconnected people getting into power. In many hunter-gatherer tribes, Alpha males who thirst for power are usually ostracized or ejected from the community to preserve its egalitarian nature. We need similar measures to stop hyper disconnected people getting into power.
FH: What kind of systemic change or co-regulation mechanisms would you suggest?
ST: You could have a board of psychologists to assess every potential member of the Government. I think somewhere in the book I use the metaphor that if you want to drive a car you must have many lessons and pass quite a rigorous test. But if you want to drive a country, you don’t need any training. There’s no vetting at all. You can just put yourself forward into the driver’s seat and then drive as recklessly as possible, bringing the whole world to ruin. It’s an absurd situation that we take for granted. All around the world there are so many malevolent leaders who push themselves into power through their ruthlessness, and it’s even worse in countries with no democratic processes to constrain these people. I use the term pathocracy in the book, government by psychologically disordered people. I think certainly in the twentieth century pathocracy was the most common form of government in the world, and it has caused incredible amounts of destruction and murder.
FH: Much of your previous writing has focused on individual spiritual awakening and personal transformative experiences. You’re now discussing social awakening and transformative experiences. Is this the same concept at a different octave?
ST: There is certainly a strong collective aspect to awakening, which I discuss in the book. I include another model that I call the social continuum of connection. On the extreme left side you have what I call psychopathic or hyper-disconnected societies with high levels of hierarchy, patriarchy and authoritarianism. No democracy, no equality, very little justice, no freedom of speech. These societies are often highly religious and sexually oppressive, like some in the Middle East. They’re the equivalent to psychopaths in social form. But on the further side you have connected societies which are egalitarian, with democracy, justice and fairness. Those societies don’t tend to be religious in a traditional sense. They tend to be quite secular and sexually quite open. The UK and US are probably somewhere in the middle of that continuum. But obviously, if you are an individual in a psychopathic society, there’s a much higher possibility that you will become hyper-disconnected too. Whereas if you are an individual in a connected society there’s a higher chance that you will become a connected person with empathy and morality, and so forth.
FH: This reminds me of that a quote I love from Gabor Maté, who says you create your world, but first the world creates you. If you’re in a traumatized dysfunctional family or society then that’s how your neurobiology will respond. We’re naturally wired for connection but trauma disrupts this.
ST: Yes, I agree. One of the things I emphasize in the book is that connection is our natural state, so disconnection is aberrational. I look into the causes of disconnection, and it seems to be partly the result of living in a disconnected society with values of patriarchy and a lack of altruism and empathy. If you’re brought up in a brutal society you will become hard. To some extent you’ll take on those traits, and repress your natural empathy and connection. But I believe the main factor that creates disconnection is childhood experiences. People who are hyper-disconnected tend to have had very traumatic childhoods with abuse, lack of attachment, attention and affection. Almost every serial killer and dictator had a severely traumatic childhood, and they become disconnected to protect themselves from pain. They unconsciously shut down their empathy, and close themselves off. This applies to modern day pathocratic politicians like Donald Trump or even Boris Johnson – they had traumatic childhoods with a severe lack of attachment and attention. So one solution is to try and ensure that all children are brought up with attachment and affection, without trauma. This would be the ideal solution to create a more connected world. But it’s very difficult to create those conditions.
FH: Do you think there is more of a move towards connection in the world?
ST: Yes, towards the end of the book I suggest there are two opposing forces in the world. There are connective traits which are emerging, and there are the old disconnective traits that are trying to maintain themselves, feeling threatened by this rising tide of connection. In response, the old traits are trying to assert themselves more strongly. So it’s a struggle between rising connection and traditional disconnection trying to maintain itself.
FH: Connection is also at the heart of spirituality, which you’ve explored in depth elsewhere. Yet in a materialist paradigm it’s just pushed aside and not even considered.
ST: Yes, that’s right. I have a chapter about spirituality, and I refer to spiritual experiences as connection experiences. It’s about connection to nature, connection to your own deeper being, connection to other people and to the whole cosmos. It’s about transcending separation. I refer to spiritual paths as paths of connection. All spiritual paths take us beyond separation into increasing connection. The original spiritual paths, like the Hindu, Buddhist and Daoist paths, developed at roughly the same time, about 600 BC. I suggest that they emerged from an intensely disconnected world at that time, as ways of transcending disconnection and all the discord it brings. Some very wise beings developed paths of connection to allow human beings to find some inner harmony in a world full of suffering. These paths are obviously still viable nowadays. So in that sense, spirituality is a very important way of transcending disconnection. It’s not about finding connection or cultivating connection, but about uncovering the connection which is always there, innate to us.
FH: How does this relate to the continuum of disconnection that you describe? Could it just as well be called a continuum of spirituality?
ST: Yes, although obviously on the left side of the continuum, which deals with disconnection, there is a complete absence of spirituality. There are 3 models in the book. I have the general continuum of connection, the social continuum and the spiritual continuum. The spiritual continuum applies to religion as well. Fundamentalist religion, for example, is completely disconnected, and devoid of spirituality. It’s a form of religion based on ego, on strengthening and maintaining the ego. And you have cults which are based on the worship of hyper-disconnected people, who become cult leaders. Some spiritual teachers reveal themselves to be malevolent, corrupt people who exploit and manipulate their followers. That’s the archetype of the corrupt guru, the hyper-disconnected person who creates his own spiritual community so that he can be worshipped, and creates his own laws and transcends all normal limits of acceptable behaviour. They masquerade as enlightened beings but are situated at the polar opposite of the continuum of connection.
FH: This sounds like just another pathocratic leader, wearing spiritual robes instead of political ones.
ST: Instead of wearing a suit and tie they’re wearing a white robe! In the book I ask, imagine if you were a careers advisor and a hyper-disconnected person came to you. What advice would you give? The career advisor could say, “Well, one option is traditional crime. You could be a gang leader or a drug dealer. Maybe a serial killer, if you have really extreme traits. Or you could enter politics. Or you could become a spiritual teacher and form your own commune.”
It’s is a real problem, because as I point out in the book, hyper-disconnected people are very attractive. They project confidence and decisiveness. They lack inhibitions and normal human emotions of doubt or fear. People who are more inhibited and feel anxious, like most people, are attracted to these seemingly incredibly confident and charismatic people. If they do become political leaders, or cult leaders, or corrupt gurus, many people find them appealing. Many people are willing to abdicate their lives and their own will and hand it over to them. In the book I identify a phenomenon that I call the abdication syndrome. This is when a person abdicates responsibility and hands it over to a hyper-disconnected person, such as a guru or a political leader. I explain it in terms of returning to childhood, when you believed that your parents were infallible, and could protect you from the world, and run your life for you.
FH: You mentioned on social media that you feel this is your most important book to date. Why?
ST: I always say that, with every new book! But seriously, it’s because the book has a wider perspective than some of my other books. It’s not just about spirituality or spiritual experiences, it’s about the problems and suffering which have filled human societies for the last few thousand years and how we can transcend these. It offers a new understanding of human behaviour, societies and human nature. It highlights a path towards a more harmonious world. Connection is the most essential human trait that explains human behaviour and human character. The model of the continuum of connection is very simple, but I think it has a lot of explanatory power.
DisConnected: The roots of human cruelty and how connection can heal the world https://www.johnhuntpublishing.com/iff-books/our-books/disconnected-roots-human-cruelty-connection-heal-world was published on 1st May 2023 by Iff Books