Mindsets

So here’s some work in progress.

Many words have been written about how authoritarians operate, their playbooks, and the similarities between things that are happening now in the US (and several other countries), and how authoritarians have risen to power before. We know authoritarians value power over just about everything else, and their followers seem to be fine with that.

We know that they and their supporters really *think* differently about the world than those who don’t value authoritarianism. But the details remain a bit murky, at least to lay people. So this chart focuses on what may be important underlying values and beliefs where authoritarians and social justice oriented (collaborative) folks differ.

This current work describing differing mindsets can stand alone, meaning does not need to be linked at all to the larger Cultural PTSD theory, although it definitely complements the theory.

Differences in mindsets can have hugely important implications for how people think about life and what they value. They are personal. And they are often not things we are fully conscious of. In fact, people can (and do) go their entire lives without realizing exactly what kind of assumptions and values drive them at the mindset level.

So this chart can be used by anyone interested in thinking consciously about what values, assumptions, and priorities they hold -and- whether or not they are happy with holding these values. It can also help us understand those who seem to hold very different ideas about the world, including those that support authoritarians.

Dominate Or Be Dominated/Might Makes Right/ Dominator Mindset (linked to authoritarianism)
Partnership/Collaborative/Nurturing Mindset (linked to social justice orientation)

Focus on rights of self and immediate “in group”
Focus on rights of everyone
Belief that competition for power is a “natural” way to prove superiorityBelief in compassion for the well being of people is a worthy way to live
Egalitarianism and Pluralism are seen
as threatening-
Egalitarianism and Pluralism are seen
as desirable-
Belief that their group should have or maintain dominance over others, belief they are superiorbelieve people can be different in a variety ways, and all who believe in equality should be treated with equality

Importance, and relevance of people and ideas are ordered in hierarchal ways (creating castes that hold varying amounts of status)
Assumes many points of view (sees various stakeholders and perspectives as important, rejects arbitrary caste or status)
believes people in “higher” social groups have more credibility, listens to people from certain groupsbelief that authority comes from expertise, listens to people who make logical or compassionate sense on the topic at hand
Use of cooperation is seen
as risky
Use of cooperation is expected,
seen as healthy
Tends towards hubris,
seeks to get own way
tends toward appreciation of others,
seeks consensus when possible

Deceit is excusable, trusting Others is not expected nor a goal
Good Faith arguments are expected, trust in Others is expected or at least a goal
Tends to believe information that fits preconceived notions- trusting information that confirms beliefs (and thus more easily deceived by propaganda)Tends to trust information by its adherence to logic and sound reasoning. Uses trusted information to inform beliefs.
Use of force can be seen as legitimateUse of force is not seen as legitimate, although containment of fascist elements is seen as necessary
Impulse is to control in order to create a sense of safety for self and immediate groupImpulse is to seek to understand how things work for self and others (everyone)
Ideal is to feel and be in control (of others)Ideal is to feel and be present/open/connected (with others)
Obedience to authority is encouraged and/or enforcedAdjusting and creating new norms is expected, encouraged and seen as normal as understanding grows
Tradition is seen as importantEvolution is seen as important
Assumption of fixed expertiseAssumption of lifelong learning/growth and building upon (see Barbara Fredrickson’s Broaden and Build theory)
Fear of differences-
conformity is desired
Embracing accepting of differences-
creativity is desired
Tends to need to belong to a group, strong affiliative needsTends to value their convictions, may not need others to “verify” the correctness of their beliefs.

Transactional orientation -people use others in very instrumental ways

Motivation is: I will do for you -if- you do for me: Quid pro quo
Connection based/relational orientation, people connect with others

Motivation is: I will do the right thing based on the needs of all involved.
Walling off of assets Sharing of assets
Thinking tends towards either/or, linear causalityThinking assumes many interlinked factors work to create a situation, more holistically oriented

Look out for number one, attaining wealth and status for self is valued

All for one and one for all, attainment of security for all is valued
Ability to accumulate wealth for self as an end is valued
Ability to increase wellbeing for everyone is valued as a worthy end to attain
Building Walls (for perceived safety)Building Bridges (for perceived safety)

Likes to feel powerful and in charge- pursues power over others

Likes to feel happiness and connected with others, pursues joy in life
Default tendency to judge unknowns as good or badDefault intention is to discern and seek to understand, curiosity is valued

Being vulnerable is seen as a wholly undesirable state, it is avoided whenever possible and thought of as a flaw or weakness

Vulnerability is seen as an essential part of being fully human, necessary to really understanding others
(Unacknowledged) fear plays a large part in how people behaveCuriosity plays a large part in how people behave
Status, power, and/or money are pursued as ends for self
Status, power and money are seen more as tools to help advance a common good
Tends toward hubris, seeks to get their wayTends toward collaboration, seeks consensus
seeks to dominate over emotions by suppressing themembraces emotional sensitivity, values understanding one’s self at a deep level
seeks to perform the perceived role they are in as well as possibleacts from convictions about what is the right thing to do
tries to know what is expected of their role -and will “act” as role would requireknows self and tries to act “authentically”

This chart is non exhaustive, and very much in progress. It’s an almost back of the envelope brainstorm. It is based on my readings and personal observations that people do have very different values, priorities, and assumptions that they are -often- not fully aware of having. Further, these values, priorities and assumptions can be DRASTICALLY changed by cultural norms and consciously manipulated by those engaging in propaganda.

This entire chart is directly inspired by Riane Eisler’s work. I’ve taken her main ideas about Dominator and Nurturing social systems, and reworked them a bit to illustrate the differences in mindsets of people living in and promoting those systems.

I think Eisler’s articulation of these differing systems is quite accurate, hugely important, and still very much undervalued in the 21st century.

I believe much of the reason her work has been undervalued is that it points out quite a number of unflattering facts. So it seems like an indictment of how we’ve been living. And, it is clear that many of those in power in the main system currently in use (the Dominator System) are still actively trying to soft pedal, minimize, avoid acknowledgement and or avoid any public reckoning with the negative impacts of the system they hold power in.

Anyway, her work often focuses on the pressures and actions in the larger social systems -as do many race/class/gender critiques. This chart is more of a description of individual and cultural level *assumptions* or psychological orientations people tend to hold that makes them gravitate to and away from those systems.

It is also very much worth noting that the Dominator mindset can also be called a colonizer mindset with only a very few adjustments. Like it or not, all of us living in cultures developed or majorly affected by Western Civilization come out of histories that fully held both the beauties of renaissance thinking, and the stuntedness of colonizer mindsets. 

This chart is, again, a work in progress. Humans are complex, and we all hold some conflicting values. We all hold values and assumptions we are not consciously aware of as well. Further, our social consciousness and our mindsets are always evolving, both on personal and the collective levels.

The differences between the mindsets depicted here are probably best thought of as points of difference that people have along continuums, rather than us being wholly one way or another.

And, just because we live in a system, doesn’t mean we have to buy what the system sells us hook, line, and sinker. Collectively, many millions of us are aligned with and have evolved toward a Nurturing Collaborator mindset, but as Ayanna Presley put it in a July 2020 speech, our power structures have not caught up to that more equitable way of living.

Finally, since we are often not fully conscious of the values and assumptions of our mindsets, the beauty of thinking about them, is that when we are able to consciously think about these values, we can more consciously choose what values or assumptions we want to hold, what we want to try to avoid, and in what areas we’d like to grow as we think about how we want to live our lives. Becoming aware of our current values at these levels can also help reduce defensive reactions when we first encounter new ideas about “how equity/compassion really can manifest at cultural levels”, as well.


Living in the US in the early months of 2022, it is obvious to me (and millions of others) that there is a very conscious push to try to induce more people to embrace the Dominator mindset by some actors on the right. And, directly as a result of that push, we are experiencing a great deal of conflict in the US and in other parts of the world by those seeking to regress to authoritarian ways of living.

And: Yes, I emphatically see the Dominator Mindset as highly problematic in the 21st century. Obviously, all beliefs in the supposed innate superiority of one group over others are something that all societies see less and less of as they get healthier. Also obviously, seeing violence as a legitimate way to get your group’s vision accomplished is not only highly problematic, but utterly stunted and depraved.

In short, I see Collaborative Mindsets as much more healthy than Dominator mindsets. I also see Dominator Mindsets as hugely dysfunctional in the Anthropocene. This mindset may have had merit in earlier times, but so did us walking on all fours. We evolved out of that, and we need to culturally grow up and out of the Dominator Mindset. Full stop. I’m not going to apologize for that statement, or try to hide it.


Sources: The roots of my thinking on this go back to ideas that writers like Riane Eisler first articulated in her book, The Chalice and the Blade, and have been further refined by her book Nurturing Our Humanity. Also, I was first exposed to the concept of mindsets, and how they influence and shape our worldviews via a great accessible book: Mindsets, by Carol Dweck.  The intersectional concept of oppression articulated by Kimberlé Crenshaw and people building on her work has been instrumental in helping me think along these lines. Reading Caste by Wilkerson was painful as hell, but also helped me understand how supremacy based thinkers/cultures NEED to develop false social hierarchies in order to exist, and that those hierarchies can take many, many forms (it’s a great book even if that’s a lousy way to recommend it).

Pure psychological research trying to define and operationalize authoritarianism and the qualities of those who become prone to authoritarianism and social dominance orientation are critical pieces that need much more study, and I applaud those who are already doing so.