Saturday, January 18, 2014

Politics and psychopathy

It's well-established that politics attracts psychopaths.

Finance is another industry that has been known to attract psychopaths due to the many opportunities for fraud and manipulation it provides, the high esteem those individuals are afforded in modern (Capitalist) society, the low risk of being caught, and finally the light punishment received relative to the harm caused to individuals and companies if they are caught.
The above points explain a lot about why the financial crisis happened, and why economic crashes are a regular feature of modern Capitalism.

Psychopaths are drawn to power, and "educated" psychopaths are drawn to those careers that enable the greatest opportunities with amoral power for the least risk; apart from finance, you are next most likely to see them in big business, the legal industry (even within the police itself) and even within the medical profession. It comes as no surprise that one of the UK's (and the world's) most prolific serial killers, Harold Shipman, was a doctor.

In an earlier summary of the main attributes of psychopaths, I compared the psychology and motivations of Adolf Hitler and Joseph Stalin. Psychopathy consists of a number of variables, and as Kevin Dutton (author of "The Wisdom Of Psychopaths") suggests, it can lead to different "types" of psychopaths (a "mixing deck" approach).

As I said in a previous article about Hitler and Stalin:
"Joseph a prime example of an amoral sadist. This is the "classic psychopath" amoral use of sadism for the purposes of pure convenience eg. a psychopath dictators' unflinching use of mass murder to achieve a particular result (i.e. the preservation of power), without any show of empathy for the victims; likewise, a psychopathic CEO who fires thousands of staff at a stroke, or recklessly causes an environmental disaster (such as in Bhopal, India thirty years ago) could also be classified as signs of "amoral sadism". This psychopath does not feel any measurable "pleasure" from such actions; he simply does it to achieve a result that benefits him. 
By contrast, Adolf Hitler could more realistically be called a "malicious sadist". This is a psychopath who has more a malignantly narcissistic syndrome channeled into a need for "revenge" against perceived enemies or to "right" or a long-perceived "wrong" at the expense of "the enemy"; Hitler's sadism was obviously directed at the Jews (and others who he felt had maligned him in the past). With the "malignant sadist", it is the overwhelming narcissism that is the main motivation for sadism"

The psychopathy of Hitler and Stalin appeared to be "wired" differently. They were both drawn to politics for different reasons, and displayed their "type" of psychopathy in different ways. I mentioned the "classic psychopath" (such as Stalin) and the "malignant sadist" (such as Hitler). More simply, the "classic psychopath" in the political arena seeks amoral power for its own end; the "malignant sadist" seeks power for the purpose of sadistic "revenge", or something similar.

In modern, democratic politics, it is possible to hypothesize that at least some of those people in politics may well fit into this description, simply according to the law of averages and the natural attraction that politics has to the psychopath. 
But using the two "types" highlighted before, it's also possible to hypothesize that a "classic psychopath" and a "malignant sadist" in the modern democratic political system could be drawn to different ends of the political spectrum to achieve those ends.

Put more simply, there is a natural reason why poorer people tend to be left-wing and richer people tend to be right-wing: self-interest.

"The politics of envy"

In the UK, one of the most common criticisms by the right-wing (and the Conservatives in particular) of the Labour Party is that their politics represents "the politics of envy". In the USA, the Republicans and The Tea Party make the selfsame accusations at the Democrats.
Regardless of the motivations for this accusation (more on that later), the redistribution aspect of left-wing politics in general makes the inherent implication that, come the accession to power, there will be "winners" and "losers", and the past "wrongs" will be "righted". Those who were in positions of power and wealth have everything to lose as the status quo is up-ended. 

In this scenario, a "malignant sadist" may be able to exploit the situation: using populism, for example, such a demagogue-like figure may be able to manipulate his faction's willingness to right the injustices enacted by the status quo (the establishment), and may also use other scapegoats to target for his own purposes. It should not be forgotten that Hitler (the original example I gave of "malignant sadism") created a party called the "National Socialists", which was originally more a blend of nationalism and old-style socialism.

"There is no such thing as society"

Thatcher's famous quote has been used by the left to demonstrate that Thatcher's vision, continued in today's Conservatives in The UK government, have no interest in the common good. Their current "austerity" feels a lot like an unofficial war on the poor. Right-wing politics tends to favour the inclinations of the rich because the rich will, naturally, want to preserve their situation the most and have government affect them the least.
It is for this reason why the rich have difficulty understanding the needs of the poor; because they are rich, they assume the poor are that way because they are lazy, or stupid. 

The rich resent paying taxes for services they do not use (such as the NHS in The UK); in this way, they have an "anti-social" view of society - or, in other words, refuse to act like responsible members of society. This is where the psychology of the "classic psychopath" appears: a lack of empathy and understanding for others, and the amoral pursuit of power for its own end. This explains why they would support the actions of the current Conservative government in The UK regarding "austerity": the state should be smaller because they see it as useless.
Some of them would rather pay no tax and simply hire private security to protect their assets; indeed, many already do, while legally avoiding paying as much tax as possible. Because they don't need to use government services, they cannot see why they should pay for them. They fail to see tax and government services as the "price of civilisation" and their responsibility as a functioning member of society; instead, those that use government services (that they pay for through tax) are called "skivers" or "benefit cheats".

They talk about "the politics of envy" because they cannot see what they do as an injustice on the rest of society, as the left-wing sees them. The fact that much of their good fortune in life is either due to an inherited lifestyle or through corrupt connections is ignored. The psychology of David Cameron and others like him reflects this.

In this way, right-wing politics (best reflected in Ayn Rand's thinking) reflects much of the world view of the "classic psychopath": where an individual cannot relate to others' lives (especially those in a worse situation), and refuses to act constructively with the rest of society. For these people, there is no such thing as society; only the amoral dog-eat-dog world of the individual.

While my original example of Stalin hardly fits into "right-wing politics", the wider point I was making was how Stalin was an example using amoral methods to achieve his own success at the expense of others, and preserving his status ruthlessly once he was at the top. In this way, he more closely resembles a modern-day venture Capitalist than a Socialist.

A vicious circle of hate

When psychopaths achieve status at both ends of the political spectrum, the result can be ugly.

Politics in the The USA has long been called cynical, due to the amount of negative language used against each side, while all the time the lobbying industry keeps things corruptly ticking over. American politics is widely seen as dysfunctional compared with other democracies in Europe. This is what happens when corporate interests have so much power over the views of politicians, and when negative politics is seen as the only way to achieve power.

I said at the start of the article that politics attracts psychopaths. So a system like in The USA, where an amoral and cunning politician can make lots of money from "selling" his vote to the highest corporate bidder, may well attract them even more. Let's not forget that, at a conservative estimate, there are at least 300,000 psychopaths in The USA. The truth may be double or triple that.

A two-party system (where there is one ostensibly "left-wing" and one "right-wing" party in control of the system) can be manipulated by psychopaths at opposite ends of the political spectrum, so that there is a "vicious circle of hate" where each side feels the need to out-do they other at polarising rhetoric.The end result of this can be horrific, as in Germany in 1932, when the Nazis and the Communists were competing for power, or more recently in Egypt since the "Arab Spring". 

In an office environment, psychopaths manipulate others to breed mistrust and in-fighting, leaving them to walk over the bones of others.

In the political environment, psychopaths can achieve far worse. 

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