Wednesday, May 18, 2011

Notes on Capitalism and Psychopathology

To paraphrase the American Psychiatric Association, there are seven characteristics that identify psychopaths. However, in order to considered a real “psychopath”, only three of these characteristics needs to be in evidence. They are:
Repeated anti-social or socially unacceptable behaviour (that would normally be thought of as inconsiderate or openly rude).
Repeated lying or deceit; conning others for personal gain or pleasure.
Impulsive or thoughtless behaviour; failing to plan or think ahead.
Recklessness towards the safety or yourself or others.
Consistent irresponsibility; not fulfilling social, work or financial obligations.
Lack of guilt towards the harm you have caused or may cause others.
Aggressive or easily turned violent (i.e. with an explosive and short temper).

In other words, psychopaths tend to be aggressive and violent; find excuses for causing evil actions; have no sense of responsibility to others; are reckless; are impulsive and have little sense of the future; lie, cheat, conspire and trick others for their own ends; and have no concept of social rules.

To paraphrase the ideas of Capitalism as explained by Ayn Rand of the “Objectivist” school of thought, the key principles of Objectivism are:
To be against all forms of control (either by governments or other people) except for those necessary for maintaining “law and order”
Believe that people are by nature rational (though some may not be; see below).
Mankind progresses through each individual using the mind independently and not depending on others for their survival.
Those that depend on others are therefore, by definition, irrational; those that do not use their minds are morons.
Selfishness is therefore the highest virtue. Selflessness and altruism are the highest forms of evil as they disrupt a person’s ability to think for themselves and impose controls of people’s decisions.
Society functions through the value of exchange in a “free market”; all actions are carried out for the sake of what can be got in return.
There can be no such thing as “social rights”, as “society” is an artificial construct; the only rights are “individual rights”.
There can be no such thing as “democracy”; this is the rule of the mob, and therefore philosophically no different from tyranny.

To paraphrase George Orwell, every liberal is always a few steps away from being a fascist. Comparing the principles of Capitalism and the behavioural characteristics, it doesn’t take long for a pure Capitalist to turn into a psychopath.

Let’s compare the characteristics of both.
In order to be a Capitalist, one, by definition, has to have a negative (cynical) view of governments and society as a whole. A psychopath also has a cynical view of humanity; this is how they justify exploiting and using people for their own benefit.
A Capitalist believes that people are usually rational; the caveat is that those who are not must therefore be “lesser” human beings – irrational animals rather than rational humans. Believing that some people may be “lower” than others is also a mentality that can be held by psychopaths; this is how they would give a second justification to guiltless behaviour.
Just as a Capitalist believes that all actions by a “rational” human being are done for what they can get out of them, so would a psychopath. A psychopath is not interested in other person’s feelings and attitudes; neither is a Capitalist. Capitalists consider “feelings” and “emotions” to be sentimental leftovers of an animalistic and irrational mind, and get in the way of the exchange of goods and services.
For this reason, friendships and human relationships, to a Capitalist, are purely for the purpose of benefit to the self. To have a human relationship for the purpose of “helping others” is an anathema to a Capitalist. The same could be said of a psychopath.
As there is no such thing as society, Capitalists see the world as a state of informal “war of exchange” between a mass of individuals. While a “light touch” government maintains the minimum of law of order, a state of nature close to chaos exists in reality, allowing the strong and mentally adept to take the most advantage of the situation. A psychopath would feel well at home in such an environment.
As Capitalists do not believe in artificially imposed “social norms” (as they are leftovers of an irrational, medievalist mind), people therefore would have no need to worry about their social behaviour. If people are free to act as they please, provided they do not actively control other people’s actions, then naturally there would no need to respect “old-fashioned” social norms. This fits neatly with the thinking of a psychopath, who also has no need to respect social norms.
When a “rational” Capitalist encounters a person in a much direr situation than them, what would the result be? A Capitalist, by definition, would refuse to help those in a much direr situation than them; so the outcast will eventually die without help. The Capitalist, logically, would know this to be the case also, all things being equal. This would make the Capitalist an indirect party to the death of the outcast. From an intellectual point of view, because the Capitalist is “rational”, he is of greater consciousness of his actions than the “irrational” outcast; therefore, the Capitalist would legally take the greater responsibility for failing to prevent a previously knowable death. The “irrational” outcast cannot be equally to blame for his own death for he knows no better than to ask for help; in this way, the Capitalist therefore acts with the same rationale as a psychopath: by being knowingly reckless and irresponsible towards the safety of others. He literally does not care if the outcast lives or dies – worse, he intellectually would be able to rationalise the death to himself.
To the Capitalist, the death of the outcast would be the fault of the outcast. The Capitalist has no right to interfere in the actions of another individual. To the psychopath, the death of another person is no concern of his. The effect is the same; only the rationale is subtly different. The psychopath is mentally deranged, so has no obvious rational faculty; but the Capitalist is, as we have seen, a “rational” human being. Which, then, is more evil: death through the indifference of a mentally disturbed psychopath; or death through the “rational” omission of the Capitalist?

These things being the case, we can see that a Capitalist easily matches most of the behaviour perpetrated by psychopaths; certainly the majority of these characteristics. In fact, in some ways, Capitalism, after this intellectual and psychological analysis, seems even more inhumane than the madness of psychopathology: at least psychopaths have the excuse of mental illness for their behaviour. But Capitalists are capable of almost the exact same behaviour, yet still able to claim a “rational” mind.
How is this intellectually possible?

A psychopath is generally considered as someone who is by nature violent. This perception is a stereotype: violent behaviour, as we can see from the list of most common behavioural traits of psychopathology, is merely one symptom. Psychopaths are not always violent. Violence is just a side-effect of a syndrome that is indifferent to other’s fate, and a possible behavioural outcome. In this way, violence is an option to a psychopath that a rational person would not normally consider.
Capitalists are, by nature, non-violent. The principles of Capitalism forbid violence as they are a form of control on others, breaking the fundamental principle of free-will. However, Capitalists are, by nature, also indifferent to others’ fate (like psychopaths). Moreover, they are able to rationally justify such behaviour into their belief system. Although a Capitalist may be non-violent, they would also be indifferent to violence committed onto others, provided it does not affect them directly. There is a psychological term for this behavioural trait: passive-aggressive.
This is the difference between the direct violence of psychopaths (who have no sense of right or wrong), and the indirect violence of Capitalists (who are indifferent to the fate of others): as said earlier, the effect is the same, only the method and rationale is different.

Here is a typical example in point: a psychopath as a national leader can justify the killing of a segment of the population as a necessary act to “maintain order”. A Capitalist as a single person can rationally justify deaths of millions through starvation and neglect because those people chose to neglect themselves and starve. There is no sense of “morality” to either the psychopath or the Capitalist because these questions are not his concern and “morality” is a considered a socially-artificial concept. The only concern to the psychopath and the Capitalist is the self. Society and “social responsibility” is an alien concept; therefore, they are both indifferent to it.

A Capitalist does not need to be a psychopath in order to be successful, but psychopaths can make very successful Capitalists.

A discussion of this issue continues here

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