HomePersonalDemocratic PeaceDemocide20th C. DemocideMegamurderersLesser MurderersWhy DemocideDimensionsConflictMethodsTheoryPolicyLinks

Volume 2

Expanded Contents


1. Introduction and Summary
2. The Concept of Field
4. Freedom and Intentional Humanism
5. Perceiving Another
6. Intentions, Attitudes, and Interests
7. Perceiving and Behaving
8. Behavior
9. Social Behavior and Interaction
10. Types of Social Interaction
11. The Equation of Social Behavior
12. The Transition to a Sociocultural Field
13. The Sociocultural Space
14. The Field of Social Forces
15. The Sociocultural Field
16. Distances
17. Status Distance
18. Status Distance and Behavior
19. The Fundamental Nature of Power
20. Social Power
21. The Family of Power
22. Social Fields and Antifields
23. Groups and Antifields
24. Class
25. Social Class And the Class-Literature
26. Conflict
27. Conflict in the Sociocultural Field
28. The Elements of Social Conflict
29. The Process of Conflict
30. Social Fields and Types of Societies
31. The State and Political System
32. Societies, Politics, and Conflict
33. Societies in Empirical Perspective
34. Testing for the Existence of Exchange, Authoritative, and Coercive Societies
35. Is Conflict Manifest as Theorized?

Other Volumes

Vol. 1: The Dynamic Psychological Field
Vol. 3: Conflict In Perspective
Vol. 4: War, Power, Peace
Vol. 5: The Just Peace

Other Related Work

The Conflict Helix: Principles and Practices...


Chapter 3

Reality And
The Intentional Field*

By R.J. Rummel

However it is, "human nature" is a potentiality. It can be known only as it has been actualized in achievement and history, and as it makes itself today.
---- Perls, Hefferline, and Goodman, 1951


Any approach to violence and war requires some theoretical perspective and conceptual framework for understanding, describing, and explaining these phenomena. In my theoretical framework each of us is an individual, a dynamic psychological field of dispositions and powers. We are then a dialectical balance of these individual fields, an intentional field comprising our sociocultural environments and physical ecology.

To clarify this framework, consider our perception. Clearly, an understanding of perception is basic to comprehending conflict and violence; indeed, some have reduced war's causation to processes of misperception. However, an adequate discussion requires some assumptions about the reality perceived and a clarification of the structural and dynamic psychological context within which perception occurs.

Perception is a dynamic balance between reality and our mentality. It is not sufficient to consider only perception to understand conflict; both the outer reality and inner mentality in this balance must be weighed and the nature of the balance itself must be comprehended.

Now, reality is divisible into three levels: potentiality, actuality, and manifestation. Potentiality is the infinitude of multifold and intersecting possibilities underlying an actuality of dispositions and powers, of determinable things striving to become determinate, specific, manifest. As dispositions, things have a power bearing upon us, compelling our attention and their specification. We are not passive victims of these external powers, but their active combatants. We transform reality by our perspective on it, a perspective consisting of our physical location (our station); sensory receptors; cultural matrix of schema, meanings, and values; and dynamic psychological field. Perception is then the resultant of the dialectical conflict between an actuality trying to become manifest through us and our perspective transformation of this reality.

The complex manifold of potentialities, dispositions, determinables, and powers are latents underlying reality's specific and ephemeral manifestations. These latents themselves combine in intricate overlapping ways, but nonetheless are reducible to patterns enabling us to understand our perceptions, to give order to the world, and to predict the consequences of our behavior. These patterns form latent functions or spatial components of our physical world, sociocultural environment, and dynamic psychological field.

Perception then occurs in a dynamic field of forces straining to maintain a cognitive balance between the percipient's sensations, personality, dispositions, and expectations. This balance is a facet of our perspective, and the psychological forces maintaining balance are part of our active perspective transformation of reality. Among these forces is our multidimensional personality. It is delineated by a variety of components (latent functions) defining our motivations (needs, roles, and sentiments), temperaments, abilities, moods, and states. These components span the psychological space bounding our dynamic field.

Perception is thus a confrontation between us and reality--a balance between the two. As such, it is a mixed sensual-conceptual awareness of external dispositions and powers. What then we perceive is a situation.


Perception is only one aspect of the complex we must understand. Another concerns our behavior. Violence and war are, after all, collections of human actions. To place such actions within the broader context of our mutual behavior, we must uncover the linkage between perception of situations and behavior--the equation connecting processes and forces within us to what we see and do.

Now, within the psychological field is a space of our behavioral potentialities. These define our possible roles, behavioral patterns, responses, and the like, as bounded by our culture and environment. Depending on our multidimensional personality, we actualize particular behavioral potentialities as dispositions. That is, we are disposed to behave in particular ways, which we may call habit, custom, practice, addiction, routine, etiquette, tradition, and so on.

Behavioral dispositions are one aspect of a tetradic structure of our dynamic field. The other three are our personality, our perception of a situation, and our expectations. Expectations refer to the anticipated consequences or outcomes of our behavior. Thus, the tetradic structure consists of what we see, our character, our inclinations, and our intuition about the results of our actions.

How we do behave is influenced jointly by the weighting of our behavioral dispositions by our expectations, and of our personality by the perceived situation. This is the behavioral equation. We behave toward a situation as we perceive it on the basis of those aspects of our personality engaged by the situation, our relevant behavioral dispositions, and our expectations.

The situation we perceive comprises the distances in our psychological space between ourselves and others. This distance is our perception of the powers and dispositions of another relative to ourselves. We act toward another on the basis of these distances in their relation to our personality, dispositions, and expectations.

Moreover, through behavioral interaction with external reality we establishe a routine, an accommodation with the external world through conflict with it. This routine involves a pattern of behavior and a structure of expectations that will continue until a trigger event precipitates a change. This is the conflict helix of which I will have much to say later.

The behavioral choice we make in a situation hinges on two things: the balance between our ongoing, routine behavior and our dynamic field; and the occurrence of an appropriate trigger event. This trigger is filtered through the field and eventuates in our choosing a new, nonroutine behavior, depending on our perception of the situation, and our personality, expectations, and behavioral dispositions.

Behavior is thus seen from the actor's point of view. It is defined relative to our subjective perceptions, expectations, situations, and dispositions--in short, our dynamic field.


It is not enough to structure the dynamic field and clarify the relation between reality, perception, and our psychology, nor to specify the equation linking manifest behavior at one end with the situation or occasion at the other. We are an active participant in reality. We are not just a structure, but a directed field. We have needs, drives, goals, and interests which are the seat of dynamic potentialities. War and violence do not just happen to us. We go to war purposefully to achieve certain goals. For a complete picture of our psychological field, we must move to the center of our field, to our intentions.

At the dynamic level, the psychological field consists of energy of varying regional strength whose organization is delineated by our personality components. This energy is the seat of potentials with varying power to be manifest, and the power-tension-defines the strength of the dynamic field. Within this field is a particular configuration of dispositions and powers constituting a balance between the self, perceptions, abilities, motivations, temperament, roles, memories, and so on. This equilibrium constitutes the self regarding a superordinate future goal.

As needs energize regions of the field, the self actualizes potentials constituting a particular perspective through which some needs will be gratified, some will be blocked from gratification, and some will be absorbed into the psychic equilibrium.

To understand motivation is to comprehend our superordinate goal and secondarily the tensions that beset us and the experience we have had. More specifically regarding needs, their organization, and the nature of the superordinate goal, I can assert the following.

Our needs have evolved into a lattice of attitudes and interests. An attitude represents a disposition to manifest specific behavior regarding some goal and needs. Interest is then an activated attitude. The attitude is our basic motivational unit and an interest, its power.

The psychological framework organizing attitudes consists of seven primary elements: conscious id, unconscious id, physiological needs, unconscious memories or complexes, ego, superego, and context. These elements are interdependent and at a higher level form four independent patterns of the integrated self, unintegrated needs, physiological-autonomic elements, and context. The extent of integration is the most important psychological characteristic of attitudes.

The source of attitudes lies in our fundamental biopsychological needs. At least seven major needs have been identified from psychoanalytic experience and multivariate research. These are sex, hunger, gregariousness, protectiveness, curiosity, security, and self-assertion. Regarding some widely assumed needs, drives, or instincts:

(1)A drive for (coercive) power is not a common need or temperament, but is a sentiment of importance for some who find in it a gratification of their self-esteem or self-assertive need; moreover, the assertion of power is for some rooted in a dominance temperament;

(2)A need for achievement is reflected mainly in the need for self-assertion and in strong egos and dominating temperaments;

(3)a need for status is similar but distinct from an assumed need for achievement and is identical with the self-assertive need, related to the self-sentiment, high ego strength, and in cheerful, sociable, energetic dominating temperaments;

(4) an authoritarian personality is a type of person who has high dominance, high ego strength, and is tough-minded with paranoidal tendencies;

(5)there is a tough-minded versus tender-minded temperament, which correlates with idealistic versus realistic perspectives on life;

(6)a radical versus conservative temperament clearly exists, and spans views on religion, politics, morality, and so on;

(7)an inward versus outward directedness exists as a general introversion versus extroversion temperament;

(8)a need for security has been isolated in empirical research on motivation;

(9)some evidence exists for a pugnacity need, which will be explored further in the Vol. 3: Conflict In Perspective;

(10)aggressiveness is both an attitude subsidiating to the needs for self-assertion (status striving) and pugnacity, and a temperament some carry through life involving dominating others and a tendency towards paranoia, and will also be discussed in detail in the Vol. 3: Conflict In Perspective also;

(11) an integrative need is bound up with the protective need.

As attitudes share a similar goal, they cluster into sentiments. Six major ones are the self-sentiment, superego sentiment, religious sentiment, career sentiment, sentiment to sports and games, and material-mechanical sentiment.

Of particular interest is that roles are part of the attitudinal lattice, a clustering of attitudes that share provocation by or invocation in the same situation and have a common goal or action.

Turning to the most important sentiment, the self-sentiment defines attitudes clustering around our superordinate goal: the enhancement, development, and maintenance of self-esteem, or self-actualization. We are therefore future oriented, centrally striving towards self-esteem. We are an intentional creature and our approach to understanding our behavior, therefore, must be teleological.


A mistake often made in assessing the psychological basis of conflict and violence is to ignore the sociocultural context. We are a dynamic psychological field, yet also a social animal. We interact with others and create a social plane. And it is on this plane that conflict, violence, and war occur.

How do we then bring the psychological and social levels together? Without going into social processes and structures, which are a major concern of this book, Vol. 2: The Conflict Helix, I believe that personality, society, and culture form a continuous whole that is more than the aggregation of these elements.

Society and culture infuse the dynamic field through (1) a cultural matrix which gives stimuli perceptual interpretation, (2) the social roles which are part of our attitudinal lattice, (3) the bounding and definition of our behavioral potentials, (4) and our structure of expectations. We organize our cognition and perception of reality in terms of cultural meanings, values, and norms. Our world is intrinsically subjective; physical objects serve only as vehicles of meanings and values.

Most generally, cultures are a system of meanings, values, and norms which vary along language, philosophy-religion, ethics-law, science, and fine arts components. These components span the space of cultural potentialities in which the world's cultures cluster into sensate (or materialistic) and ideational (or otherworldly types), depending on their particular system of meanings, values, and norms. Moreover, societies share the system of meanings, values, and norms of their culture and in addition add the status components of wealth, power, prestige, and class.

In total, the whole that is our intentional space consists of our biopsychological, social, and cultural spaces, and the spaces of our environment and vehicles. The intentional space is us in our componential structure, which defines our motivations, temperaments, abilities, moods, and states. In addition there are the meanings, values, and norms components of religion-philosophy, science, language, ethics-law, and fine arts; the status components of wealth, power, and prestige and the component of class, and finally the four space-time components of our physical world.

At the center is our dynamic nature, our motives, attitudes, sentiments, and above all our superordinate striving for self-esteem and self-actualization. 


* Scanned from Chapter 3 in R.J. Rummel, The Conflict Helix, 1976. For full reference to the book and the list of its contents in hypertext, click book. Typographical errors have been corrected, clarifications added, and style updated.

For citations see the Vol. 2: The Conflict Helix REFERENCES

Go to top of document