Opinion psychology

Toxic People are Zombies

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Toxic people are zombies. They are the Walking Dead, the White Walkers – brainless, but physically present, they march towards one goal, to convert every living thing in their path to their own ideology – or rather, the dominant ideology within them. Nietzsche had an interesting idea – that we have many sub-personalities and that they all compete for ultimate power over the individual.

Ultimately, the most powerful and relentless personality takes control. It may be the part of you that wants to do nothing but get intoxicated. This sub-personality is the enemy of self-awareness and the past, it wants to forget about the time it has wasted, the mistakes it has done, and it tricks you by convincing you to believe in a lie: that by consuming a certain substance, you are living in the moment, and being adventurous, when in truth, you are shirking away from adventure, and unconscious of the present moment.

But the predicament this sub-personality finds itself in, is that it is competing with its siblings, the other sub-personalities, some of whom are gym enthusiasts, nymphomaniacs, problem gamblers, foodies, gamers, and chronic media consumers. The siblings are in conflict, like children vying for attention from their parents, or more exactly from the decision maker, the conscious self that is constantly in the act of trying to keep everyone happy. And yet, as regulator, you are prone to error, for you may favor one of your children too much, that they grow up to be a tyrant that bullies everyone else.

Your challenge is to find the appropriate balance, and to keep your children from rebelling violently (if they are too strongly repressed and subjugated). It is obvious that you should be strict with the self-destructive types, it is common sense not to over-indulge in bad behavior, but often, even good behavior must be regulated, your well-behaved children cannot be given full control. The psychoanalysts have warned us of the consequences this. You should be a competent boss, but you cannot be a dictator, a process of negotiation is necessary.

Too often, a sub-personality becomes so powerful that it controls you. And if you think you are not susceptible to losing control, consider situations where you tell yourself you are going to do something, either to complete a project, or finish an email, or read a book, and you find yourself procrastinating. You are not a perfectly coordinated entity – you are in constant disagreement with yourself. But with practice, you can create a more harmonious self.

Toxic people are those who have given up this fight. They have let the destructive forces within them take control – the part of them that only wants to be critical of others, or only wants to gamble, or only wants to talk about the people and things they hate, has taken over. They become predictable. You won’t hear them tell you anything you don’t already know, unless it’s gossip about someone they hate – they are only attuned to information that appeases their toxic sub-personality.

Like all zombies, if you let them get too close to you, they will chew you up, bit by bit, until you become one of them – until they have converted you to their lifeless cause. And, of course, like zombies, they have no strength as individuals, they are weaklings when faced with anyone on their own. They only have strength in numbers. That is because they are slow (pun intended), and they can only catch you when you are complacent, when your guard is down.

It is not only toxic people that are zombies, but you are also one, or more accurately a collection of zombies, since your sub-personalities are all essentially miniature unconscious life-forms all vying for power.

If you haven’t been extremely cautious, it is likely that there’s a part of you that’s dominant, and if you don’t question whether this part has your best interests in mind, you can find yourself slipping into an oblivious state quite rapidly, whether into hedonism or workaholism.

In the Maps of Meaning lectures, Peterson recalls the story of Pinocchio. In the cartoon, there is a scene in Pleasure Island, the place that all the kids that want to escape responsibility go to. There, they are free to do whatever they want. They can smoke, drink, and play games, with no adult supervision. It is a never-ending party. And their underlying philosophy is that they don’t need school – only chumps sacrifice pleasure for learning.

But what we learn is that living that way literally turns you into a donkey – a beast of burden. It is first conveyed when Jiminy Cricket, Pinocchio’s conscience, sees crates of trapped children being sent off to slavery. And the second instance is when Lampwick, the demonic child character who thinks he knows everything about the world already, grows donkey ears, before transforming completely into a donkey, and Pinocchio only grows donkey ears, he’s halfway there, but has a small window of hope to save himself.  With the help of Jiminy, he manages to escape.

It isn’t that the abandonment of responsibility turns you into a beast of burden, because being a donkey is your default state, you are born a slave to your passion, and it is only through discipline and self-control that you can manage to tame your animalistic urges, and attain the key to personal freedom.

Of course, Pleasure Island isn’t a place, it’s a metaphor. It’s your ritualistic bad habits, whether smoking, drinking, or using your smartphone for too long. And most of us think that we need Pleasure Island to get by, it’s a story we tell ourselves. We also deceive ourselves into believing that we are above our guilty pleasures, that we have control over what we do, and we engage in this systematic form of self-deception to live with ourselves, even though it makes us feel disintegrated and weak. It takes courage to be honest about your weaknesses, and have an accurate memory of the past, rather than the distorted version that will let you cheat yourself in the present.

"Silence is the best expression of scorn" - G.B. Shaw

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