Posts Tagged ‘Psychology’
Although many elected officials lay claim to the title of “leader,” it is becoming increasingly self-evident that such a title only applies insofar as they are leading us off a cliff. It is profoundly problematic that the media unquestioningly reinforces such baseless claims to leadership by routinely using so inappropriate a term to describe these officials.
While various “leaders” may market themselves as catalysts for social change, and seek to secure the confidence of voters who also seek social change, a change in “leadership” rarely brings about the promised social changes. Not only is electoral politics first and foremost a means of legitimating those very power structures voters would seek to change, but belief in leadership is furthermore a tool to enforce conformity among voters, since following leaders is a form of conformity. Conformists don’t bring about social change.
That few officials, out of humility, demure that they are not “leaders” but, rather, public servants, offers an important glimpse into a profoundly disturbing dynamic underlying the facade of “politics as usual.”
Many politicians are literally sociopaths. Compare the behavioral profile of the sociopath with the actions and attitudes of the typical politician: sociopaths don’t have normal moral reservations about manipulating people like objects; this is precisely how politicians get elected. Sociopaths understand little about human emotion beyond ego gratification; the prestige of high office satisfies this desire for the politician. Sociopaths wear a facade of normalcy and are often charming, but lie compulsively. Politicians speak in polite terms while plotting to stab their colleagues in the back. If they’re not telling outright lies, they’re “spinning” facts to suit their needs. Sociopaths don’t feel guilt or remorse or empathy; no US official to date has apologized for invading Iraq on false pretenses, turning five million Iraqi’s into refugees, pumping Fallujah full of depleted uranium, or engaging in torture. Nobody in government has publicly investigated the Bush Administration’s use of torture or civil liberties violations. Sociopaths are glib, superficial, impulsive; their goal is the creation of a dependent, willing victim. Elected office is the ideal job description for a sociopath. The desire to attain office should disqualify a person from holding such a position.
The term “sociopath” is imprecise. Often, “sociopath” is used interchangeably with “psychopath,” whereas other times, “psychopath” is used to designate a genetic predisposition, and “sociopath” a set of learned behaviors. Either way, the prevalence of this sort of anti-social personality disorder among the general population is estimated at between 1-4%.
It may not be a coincidence that 1% of the population controls some 40% of the wealth in the US, and that the top 5% controls close to 70% of the wealth. Competitive society is in many ways optimized to benefit those who exhibit sociopathic personality traits, and it reinforces sociopathic tendencies among the general population as a behavioral adaptation.
In competitive society, people are trained by sociopaths to think like sociopaths. The public relations and marketing firms employed by both commercial and political interests train people to be opportunistic and calculating, to always be on the lookout for ways to treat other people as means that can be manipulated to various ends. People are taught to be individualistic and egocentric rather than compassionate and cooperative. Much of the advertising with which individuals are daily inundated promotes impulsive behavior and acculturates individuals to the distortions of reality that characterize most advertising and marketing. As young people are brought into the fold, they become adults who are active participants in this process of training others to think like sociopaths — to think in the terms expounded by commercial marketers and political spin doctors — to such an extent that genuinely different worldviews become completely incoherent, in virtue of a sociopathic lack of empathy.
Beyond accommodating the lies and distortions that characterize so much advertising, marketing, and political posturing, individuals are, in numerous other ways, trained to think like sociopaths. The aesthetic appreciation of violence in films, TV, and video games is an obvious example; a less obvious example is the popularity of “funniest home video” programs.
While slapstick comedy may be the cultural context in which “funniest home video” programs are appreciated, these programs contain none of the observational humor or physical ingenuity that characterize most slapstick. The “funniest home video” programs are not, in any substantive terms, the products of creativity or skill. They harvest moments of trauma from among the general population, and, in terms of their presentation, they train audiences to override natural empathy responses and to find humor in the misfortune of others.
Without an awareness of these dynamics, little can be done about them. It is hard to criticize or correct a social trend without being able to even name it. But such contemporary developments as the imposition of “austerity measures” or the renewed effort to disrupt labor organization and revoke “collective bargaining rights” can be understood in a precise historical context; to the extent that ordinary citizens support such measures, these citizens are being manipulated by criminal sociopaths.
In The Second Treatise on Civil Government, John Locke wrote, “he that in the state of society would take away the freedom belonging to those in that society or commonwealth must be supposed to design or take away from them everything else, and so be looked on as in a state of war” (¶19). John Locke is not some fringe figure; the Preamble to the US Constitution is more or less a summary of Locke’s basic ideas on legitimate authority. What is happening today has happened before, has been studied, and named, and diagnosed already. In the past, monarchs caused civil unrest; today it is powerful sociopaths who have rigged the game to serve their own ends, who create for themselves an aura of respectability, and thus wrest from citizens assent to a degenerate state of affairs.