Undernews is the online report of the Progressive Review, edited by Sam Smith, who has covered Washington during all or part of one quarter of America's presidencies and edited alternative journals since 1964. The Review has been on the web since 1995. See main page for full contents

March 31, 2009


Sam Smith

The problems we face and the problems we face getting out of the problems we face have more than a little to do with the culture of narcissism that has enveloped our politics, corporate life and entertainment over the past three decades.

We have been taught to regard personal success as more significant than cooperation, community, joint achievement, common advancement, or shared values and systems (such as democracy and fairly regulated commercialism). Better, in short, than qualities that benefit large numbers of citizens rather than just a few. Having accepted the very values that helped push us over the edge, we are now in a poor position to recover from the mess they have created. Add to that all the isolating factors in our society from television to population growth to Ipods, and it makes finding a common way back to social, political and economic sanity extraordinarily difficult.

A good place to start would be to jettison our heavy adulation of leaders in the arts, business, sports and politics for their appearance and attitude rather than for actual achievement. We need to free ourselves of hyper-manipulated dependence on hyper-exalted individuals.

For example, in politics we find ourselves increasingly huddled in the glow of favored individuals rather than united in a cause or joined by values. It doesn't really matter if it is Sarah Palin or Barack Obama. It's the same phenomenon: politicians about whom we know far too little upon whom we are taught to project far too many hopes and dreams.

Most Obama supporters, for example, had extraordinarily little idea where he stood on a large variety of subjects and now will only learn randomly and by chance over time. Neither was there much evidence of experience, but in today's culture, a sufficiently attractive if unfamiliar man can apparently leap from being an unknown state senator to the White House in four short years. What this says is less about Obama and more about how we deal with issues like war, the environment or the economy. We just put the right personal brand on them and hope for the best.

We only ask that the politician in question acts enough like a leader. We are thus behaving not as citizens but as directors of a reality show version of West Wing.

For this to occur, you basically need two things: an easily obsessed audience and a character actor willing to exploit that obsession. It is small wonder that the ambitious notice this and play to it.

Obama, mind you, is only the most prominent example of this phenomenon. The reason he was able to win was because we had long come to accept a similar principle in film, business and the news media. Ideas, issues, principles, record and known skill have faded in importance. Whom we trust with these things has become what matters.

This is an open invitation for control of our lives by narcissists.

As a culture it is not something we talk about. We have drifted into this approach with help from TV fantasies, bad books claiming to explain good management, parents who teach their children that they are the world's best, and an approach to leadership modeled on car dealers from back in the day when they were still able to sell cars. Thus it is not surprising that Bill Clinton's stepfather was a gun-brandishing alcoholic who lost his Buick franchise through mismanagement and his own pilfering. He physically abused his family, including the young Bill. According to FBI and local police officials, his Uncle Raymond -- to whom young Bill turned for wisdom and support -- was a colorful car dealer, slot machine owner and gambling operator, who thrived on the fault line of criminality.

An abused kid raised by hustlers. Not a bad formula for narcissism. But it can also come from being constantly told how wonderful you are, say like a black Harvard law school student or handsome black state senator when there aren't that many. Or it can be taught in business school as good management or exceptional leadership. Or you can learn it from the movies. Or watching who makes the most money in baseball or on Wall Street.

We are, in short, a culture that cultivates, teaches, celebrates narcissism and its results. And this may prove to be one of the hardest obstacles in our recovery from our recent past.


Anonymous Jay said...

Many psychopaths and sociopaths share these characteristics. It is not hard for me to see narcissism as a character pathology, making a narcissist a type of characteropath.

The point at which a narcissist steps over the line into criminality or otherwise manifests evil seems to be an important criteria. Surely some of what you describe goes beyond the hedonistic needs of narcissism and into the terrain owned by the Political Ponerology of psychopaths.

April 1, 2009 7:05 PM  
Anonymous Bruce Anderson said...

We cover local politics here in Mendocino County in depth (www.theava.com). The phenomenon Mr. Smith describes permeates politics at all levels, not just at the top. Combine it with demographic election rigging, a refusal and/or inability to read, and an amnesia epidemic and you have a permanent class of incompetents in positions of power who think they're great and doing a great job and that they are supported by their constituencies. But even a casual glance at what they're actually doing reveals exactly the opposite. (PS. See the late Christopher Lasch's late 70s book, "Culture of Narcissism." We're now in the third accelerating generation of what Lasch described.)

April 2, 2009 5:02 PM  
Anonymous Bruce Anderson said...

We cover local politics here in Mendocino County in depth (www.theava.com). The phenomenon Mr. Smith describes permeates politics at all levels, not just at the top. Combine it with demographic election rigging, a refusal and/or inability to read, and an amnesia epidemic and you have a permanent class of incompetents in positions of power who think they're great and doing a great job and that they are supported by their constituencies. But even a casual glance at what they're actually doing reveals exactly the opposite. (PS. See the late Christopher Lasch's late 70s book, "Culture of Narcissism." We're now in the third accelerating generation of what Lasch described.)

April 2, 2009 5:02 PM  
Blogger marxist-socialist said...

Hello all: What a great article by Sam, what a greate piece of psychological article about USA society. And indeed, the USA is itself a very narcissist society, it is real hard to make friends in this libertarian economic system. Read this cool article about it:


Laura Knight-Jadczyk


July 30, 2003: KAH - The subject of the extremely narrow point of view of most Americans as opposed to the majority of other peoples in the world came up in a conversation the other day. The people having the conversation were, as it happens, mostly American. One of them commented that Americans had been "programmed" to their point of view by mass media propaganda for a very long time and that it was simply a very normal part of American life and basically, always had been. She concluded, "Whoever denies it is either ignorant or has an agenda."

That may be so. It may be true that the "pied pipers" of denial have an agenda. But what, then, does one say or do about the ignorance of the vast majority of Americans? Why and how is it that the trap of Fascism is closing on them before their very eyes and no matter how many voices - the number is increasing every day - are raised to point out this danger, they simply do not seem to get it?

The conversation continued with a comment from another individual suggesting that one must take into account how effective the "official culture" actually is in the US. It isn't just a question of ignorance, but a question of the long-term thoroughness of the propagandizing that began in the early days of the last century. It was proposed that this propaganda is so complete that not only are most people in the US ignorant of what is taking place on the US political scene, and in the world as a direct result of US policy, they are ignorant of the fact that they are ignorant. They have been inculcated with the view that their view is the only "right" one" and, consequently, they really "don't know any better". In short: "What do you do if you don't know that you don't know something?"

Well, the thing is, at some point in time, no matter how thorough the programming has been, most people will eventually end up coming across some bit or piece of information that isn't going to quite "jibe" with the "official culture;" it isn't going to "fit" in with their view of reality, with what they have been taught, and it is usually just a little bit uncomfortable when this happens. Or it ought to be.

My question is, why is complete denial, even aggressive behavior in some instances, the reaction of some when the objective facts of reality are pointed out to them, while there are others who react with an increased sense of curiosity, an increased desire for additional information?

Why do some shun knowledge and others crave it?

Why do some resist the programming, and others welcome it?

It is as though with some people - those who most avidly embrace the "we are right" view - have minds that are closed from the very get-go, and they are entirely incapable of opening them, even just a crack. There is no curiosity in them. There are no questions in their minds. There are no "what ifs?" or "maybes".

It seems to me that the propaganda of the Official Culture then, while quite effective, may not be the sole reason why so many Americans are apathetic when it comes to what their government is doing, both in the US and abroad. It seems as though there may be some distinct differences in human beings at a very basic level that needs to be considered here.

In my opinion, (KAH), all of us who were raised in the US have been duped via this Official Culture mind control imposed through the educational system and the mass media. But there are some of us who seem to have the ability to question, to wonder, to open our minds to other possibilities - even if they seem far-fetched. And invariably, this opening of the mind to other views has been enriching and rewarding on many levels, not the least of which is a humanitarian view of all peoples and cultures.

Is being able to open your mind and ask questions just a matter of "courage?" Is a closed mind simply evidence of being a coward? Is resistance to the "official culture" a consequence of a fundamental "rebellious nature" and are those who "go along with the crowd" better "team players," even if the team is on the moral low-road?

Is the difference one that exists between people who are willing to face the "terror of the situation" and those who simply cannot live in the state of tension produced by having to make moral decisions themselves?

Or, is there something deeper here? If so, what is it? And whatever it is, why is it so "active" in the present day and time? What is the "fog" that surrounds America and the minds of its people?

In the past, I have encountered many people who I considered to be open-minded, but ultimately discovered that they are not so when they absolutely refuse to even admit the possibility of what is so obvious to so many intelligent and compassionate people. For example, the obvious psychopathy of Bush and other world leaders, certainly reveals to us that the "terror of the situation" is manifesting on quite a grander scale than any of us might have dreamed possible a few years ago. There it is. Clues and signs everywhere. It's as plain as the nose on your face. But most Americans would rather cut off that nose with the result that they spite the face.

It is terrifying enough when one realizes that the Bush Reich and other elite groups around the globe are wreaking havoc on the planet without regard for life in any form, apart from their own, but when we also have to face the fact that there are so many people out there, that - even when faced with the certain facts of this global tinder- box - either cannot see it or WILL not see it, well, that makes this situation just a little bit more terrifying.

Again, we return to the problem: what is WRONG with Americans?

We already know that the "Land of the Free" is gone, but what about the "Home of the Brave?" It never takes courage to support a bully - but it takes a LOT of courage to stand up against one. Has America lost that courage that gave them the intestinal fortitude to stand up to the most mighty military power in the world of the time - England - to declare their independence from bullies and to stand for what was right? What happened to "Give me liberty or give me death?" Because surely America has chosen death in giving up their liberty!

When I was growing up in the West, my brothers and I were subjected to very intense "racist attitudes" from our step-parents. We lived in a small farming-ranching community where that sort of belief system is generally passed on from one generation to the next and nobody ever really questions it.

However, at a very early age, I instinctively rebelled against this view of the world. It seems that I had a sort of natural, intrinsic love, respect and a fascination for other cultures and peoples. Of course, it drove my step-parents CRAZY. There was a lot of tension between us because of this.

My love for and curiosity about other cultures led me to travel extensively as I grew up. I was curious; I wanted to explore; I wanted to KNOW. When I eventually married outside my own culture, well, I had crossed the line and all contact with my family had to be terminated. The price they were willing to pay for their racist beliefs was high - in my opinion - moreso for them than for me, though certainly this rejection was painful.

My point is, I resisted this racist program intensely. It was all around me, in the town, the schools, the church we attended. But I wanted no part of it. It seems that it went against my very nature. But for others, it seemed very "natural" to "fall for" this cultural programming - to be "comfortable" within a milieu that excluded nearly everyone else as human beings.

Is it just "ignorance?" Are Americans just ignorant and ignorant of their own ignorance? Is this ignorance strictly due to "official culture programming" - programming that seems to be designed to encourage ignorance?

Again it seems as though there may be two different types of people and two different ways to deal with the question of one's own ignorance.

Some individuals, when faced with certain facts about their own ignorance, deny vehemently that they ARE ignorant and resort to platitudes and cliches even including that old saw about the difference between "book learning" and "common sense." Others, when confronted with their own ignorance, immediately set about rectifying it no matter how painful it might be.

When I first moved abroad at the age of 21, I quickly realized that I was, like most Americans, abysmally ignorant with regard to politics. I discovered - to my great dismay - that in my host country, most of the average people around me - shopkeepers, hairdressers, taxi-drivers - knew more about what was going on in the USA and the rest of the world than I did; a LOT more! I had no IDEA of the things that were going on that were common knowledge to other peoples in the world. And here, it wasn't simply a matter of having a different opinion than others. It was a matter of an almost complete lack of INFORMATION within the very country that promotes democracy as the rule of an "informed citizenry." I realized with striking clarity exactly how ignorant I was at that point, and I admitted it to myself. Further, I was embarrassed for myself and other Americans who were seen (rightly so) as equally ignorant and "in the dark" politically and culturally speaking. BUT, due to this embarrassment and realization of the extraordinary extent of my ignorance, I determined to do something about it.

But there are so many Americans who - when faced with similar situations, faced with their own ignorance - deny it aggressively. And generally, the "last word" for them is: "Oh, he/she doesn't know what the hell they are talking about! They're 'foreigners'." And that's the key: "foreigners."

"Foreigners" can't possibly know anything because they aren't American. And Americans, by default of having the most bombs on the planet, always "know" what's up. Or, at the very least, their leaders do and we just don't have to think about such things. That's what we elect our leaders for, isn't it? So they will handle all that boring and tedious political stuff and leave us alone to watch "Survivor" and the Super Bowl and wash our new SUV so that the Joneses can be green with envy!

And they leave it at that. It's the preferred way to handle all such questions. Forget the entire issue of an "informed citizenry" and any possible outrage that citizens of the US are not only NOT informed, they are being deliberately DIS-informed!

They don't even realize that "Survivor" is programming them to the very attitudes that are being displayed by their leaders - normalizing it, so to say - and at the present moment these attitude are being manifested in their own lives in a direct and terrifying way. For many in the US, their future is that there won't be any more Super Bowls, and the SUV certainly doesn't get enough gas mileage to get them far enough away from the terror that will confront them when they are "voted off the island" in the global game of "Survivor."

Why does this condition exist? Why are so many people so susceptible to the "official culture" and the mass media propaganda? Why are so many people willing slaves to it? And why do some others - once the questions have been raised - begin to seek the knowledge that reveals the man behind the curtain?

Perhaps it is more than simply a matter of very clever and intense programming. Perhaps it is also a matter of the nature of a person?

LKJ: In recent times, I have considered many ideas in an attempt to answer this question. The members of the Quantum Future School have been engaged in studying psychopathy and pseudo-psychopathy for about two years now. This has certainly prepared most of us to be able to see the man behind the curtain, or, in this case, behind the "mask of sanity." But it still doesn't answer the question as to why psychopathic behavior seems to be so widespread in the US. (That is not to say that it doesn't exist everywhere - that's a given.)

Linda Mealey of the Department of Psychology at the College of St. Benedict in St. Joseph, Minnesota, has recently proposed certain ideas in her paper: The Sociobiology of Sociopathy: An Integrated Evolutionary Model. These ideas address the increase in psychopathy in American culture by suggesting that in a competitive society - capitalism, for example - psychopathy is adaptive and likely to increase. She writes:

I have thus far argued that some individuals seem to have a genotype that disposes them to [psychopathy].

[Psychopathy describes] frequency-dependent, genetically based, individual differences in employment of life strategies. [Psychopaths] always appear in every culture, no matter what the socio-cultural conditions. [...]

Competition increases the use of antisocial and Machiavellian strategies and can counteract pro-social behavior…

Some cultures encourage competitiveness more than others and these differences in social values vary both temporally and cross-culturally. [...] Across both dimensions, high levels of competitiveness are associated with high crime rates and Machiavellianism.

High populaton density, an indirect form of competition, is also associated with reduced pro-social behavior and increased anti-social behavior. [...] [Mealey, op. cit.]

The conclusion is that the American way of life has optimized the survival of psychopaths with the consequence that it is an adaptive "life strategy" that is extremely successful in American society, and thus has increased in the population in strictly genetic terms. What is more, as a consequence of a society that is adaptive for psychopathy, many individuals who are NOT genetic psychopaths have similarly adapted, becoming "effective" psychopaths, or "secondary sociopaths."

(Many experts differentiate between primary and secondary sociopaths. The first is a sociopath because they have the "genes" and the second is more or less "created" by their environment of victimization. Other experts refer to these two categories as "psychopaths" for the genetic variety and "sociopaths" for the reactive variety. We prefer this latter distinction.)

Of course, because they are not intellectually handicapped, these individuals [psychopaths] will progress normally in terms of cognitive development and will acquire a theory of mind. Their theories, however, will be formulated purely in instrumental terms [what can claiming this or that GET for me?], without access to the empathic understanding that most of us rely on so much of the time.

They may become excellent predictors of others' behavior, unhandicapped by the "intrusiveness" of emotion, acting, as do professional gamblers, solely on nomothetic laws and actuarial data rather than on hunches and feelings.

In determining how to "play" in the social encounters of everyday life, they will use a pure cost-benefit approach based on immediate personal outcomes, with no "accounting" for the emotional reactions of the others with whom they are dealing.

Without any real love to "commit" them to cooperation, without any anxiety to prevent fear of "defection," without guilt to inspire repentance, they are free to continually play for the short-term benefit.

At the same time, because changes in gene frequencies in the population would not be able to keep pace with the fast-changing parameters of social interactions, an additional fluctuating proportion of sociopathy should result because, in a society of [psychopathy], the environmental circumstances make an antisocial strategy of life more profitable than a pro-social one. [Mealey]

In other words, in a world of psychopaths, those who are not genetic psychopaths, are induced to behave like psychopaths simply to survive. When the rules are set up to make a society "adaptive" to psychopathy, it makes psychopaths of everyone.

Now, do not be fooled by the word "psychopath." Many individuals equate this term with mass murderers or "foaming at the mouth" madmen. By any name, this dangerous personality disorder presents three unsettling realities: Its prevalence seems to be increasing, it is far more common than previously thought, and there is no cure.

What makes the psychopath so frightening and dangerous is that he or she wears a completely convincing "Mask of Sanity". This may at first make such a person utterly persuasive and compellingly healthy, according to psychiatrist Harvey Cleckley. Dr. Cleckey was first to describe the key symptoms of the disorder.

Psychopaths can be very sociable, even though they are antisocial behind their "mask" in the sense that their "emotions" are completely fake. They are masters at manipulating others for their personal gain. Their charm, in fact, is legendary. "As a therapist, you run across this all of the time, where a man is mysteriously controlled by a sociopath," explains psychologist Melvin Sinder, co-author of Smart Men Bad Choices.

Psychopaths are experts at using people. They can ask anything of anyone without embarassment and because of their outgoing seducing friendliness, their use of "poor innocent me! I am such a GOOD person and I have been treated so BADLY!" the victim invariably gets sucked into giving the psychopath what they ask for - no matter how outrageous.

Psychopaths are masters at faking emotions in order to manipulate others. One psychologist reported that if you actually catch them in the act of committing a crime, or telling a lie, "they will immediately justify their actions by self pity and blaming another, by creating a heart-rending scene of faked emotional feelings." These fake emotions are only for effect, as the careful observer will note. The Psychopath considers getting their way or getting out of trouble using faked emotions as a victory over another person.

Psychopaths are incapable of feeling concern or remorse for the consequences of their actions. They can calmly rationalize their insensitive and bizarre behavior all the while attributing malice to everyone but themselves. When caught in a lie, they will manipulate others or stories to their own advantage without any fear of being found out - even if it is obvious to everyone around them that they WILL be found out.

Psychopaths cannot feel fear for themselves, much less empathy for others. Most normal people, when they are about to do something dangerous, illegal, or immoral, feel a rush of worry, nervousness, or fear. Guilt may overwhelm them and prevent them from even committing the deed.

The psychopath feels little or nothing.

As a result, the threat of punishment, even painful punishment is a laughing matter for the psychopath. They can repeat the same destructive acts without skipping a heartbeat, as well as seek thrills and dangers without regard for possible risks. This is called "hypoarousal." That is, very little - if anything - really arouses them; they are more machine-like than human-like.

The psychopath seems to be full of something akin to deep greed. They manifest this inner state in many ways. One of the most common ways is to steal something of value to their victim (valuables), or to hurt/slander the victim or something or someone the victim loves. In the psychopath's mind, this is justified because the victim crossed him, did not give him what he wanted, or rejected him (or her).

Psychopaths lie for the sake of lying. They can convey the deepest hear- felt message without meaning a word of it. They can also tell the most outrageous stories simply in order to be at the center of attention and to get what they want.

An example is told by a researcher in psychopathy: Melissa was a girl that was very attractive and very outgoing. She met with an attorney regarding getting a divorce from her husband and convinced the attorney that her husband was ruining her life.

The attorney felt sorry for her as she carried on about the abuse she had suffered. She was so convincing, that the attorney wanted to help her personally. With her seductive charisma, he became hopelessly infatuated and began to date Melissa. At a certain point, the attorney refused to take illegal and immoral actions against her estranged husband that Melissa requested.

At this point, she filed sexual harassment charges against the attorney to try to force him to do what she wanted. She didn't realize that, by doing this, she had exposed herself for what she was and there was no possibility that the attorney was going to bow to her blackmail pressures. After much pain and heart break all around, Melissa dropped the law suit and moved to another state. The attorney commented that he had never been so emotionally overwhelmed in his entire life.

Indeed, using their "emotional performances," these individuals can be truly overwhelming. Their charisma can be so inspiring - their emotion so deep and sincere-seeming - that people just want to be around them, want to help them, want to give all and support such a noble, suffering being. What is generally not seen by the victim is that they are feeding an endless internal hunger for control, excitement and ego-recognition.

The psychopath is obsessed with control even if they give the impression of being helpless. Their pretense to emotional sensitivity is really part of their control function: The higher the level of belief in the psychopath that can be induced in their victim through their dramas, the more "control" the psychopath believes they have. And in fact, this is true. They DO have control when others believe their lies. Sadly, the degree of belief, the degree of "submission" to this control via false representation, generally produces so much pain when the truth is glimpsed that the victim would prefer to continue in the lie than face the fact that they have been duped. The psychopath counts on this. It is part of their "actuarial calculations." It gives them a feeling of power.

It is all too easy to fall under the spell of the charismatic psychopath. There are many who do the psychopath's bidding without realizing that they have been subtly and cleverly controlled. They can even be manipulated to perform criminal acts, or acts of sabotage against another - innocent - person on behalf of the psychopath. Very often, when this is realized by the victim, that they have caused suffering in innocent people at the behest of a liar, again they prefer to deny this than to face up to the truth of their own perfidy and gullibility.

Psychopathic behavior seems to be on the rise because of the very nature of American capitalistic society. The great hustlers, charmers, and self-promoters in the sales fields are perfect examples of where the psychopath can thrive. The entertainment industry, the sports industry, the corporate world in a Capitalistic system, are all areas where psychopaths naturally rise to the top. Some observers believe that there is a psychological continuum between psychopaths (who tend to be professionally unsuccessful) and narcissistic entrepreneurs (who are successful), because these two groups share the highly developed skill of manipulating others for their own gain. It is now being thought that they are actually the "same" but that the "unsuccessful" psychopath is merely flawed in their calculating abilities. They are unable to recalculate based on new actuarial data. Successful Narcissists might seem to be perfectly able to add to their actuarial database and "recalculate" and shift course and develop new subroutines based on ongoing input.

In general, the successful psychopath "computes" how much they can get away with in a cost-benefit ratio of the alternatives. Among the factors that they consider as most important are money, power, and gratification of negative desires. They are not motivated by such social reinforcment as praise or future benefits. Studies have been done that show locking up a psychopath has absolutely no effect on them in terms of modifying their life strategies. In fact, in is shown to make them worse. Effectively, when locked up, psychopaths just simply learn how to be better psychopaths.

Since the psychopath bases their activities designed to get what they want on their particular "theory of mind," it is instructive to have a look at this issue. Having a "theory of mind" allows an individual to impute mental states (thoughts, perceptions, and feelings) not only to oneself, but also to other individuals. It is, in effect, a tool that helps us predict the behavior of others. The most successful individuals are those who most accurately predict what another person will do given a certain set of circumstances. In the present day, we have Game Theory which is being used to model many social problems including psychopathy.

When two individuals interact with each other, each must decide what to do without knowledge of what the other is doing. Imagine that the two players are the government and the public. In the following model, each of the players faces only a binary choice: to behave ethically either in making laws or in obeying them.

The assumption is that both players are informed about everything except the level of ethical behavior of the other. They know what it means to act ethically, and they know the consequences of being exposed as unethical.

There are three elements to the game. 1) The players, 2) the strategies available to either of them, and 3) the payoff each player receives for each possible combination of strategies.

In a legal regime, one party is obliged to compensate the other for damages under certain conditions but not under others. We are going to imagine a regime wherein the government is never liable for losses suffered by the public because of its unethical behavior - instead, the public has to pay for the damages inflicted by the government due to unethical behavior.

The way the payoffs are represented is generally in terms of money. That is, how much investment does each player have to make in ethical behavior and how much payoff does each player receive for his investment.

In this model, behaving ethically, according to standards of social values that are considered the "norm," costs each player $10.00. When law detrimental to the public is passed, it costs the public $100.00. We take it as a given that such laws will be passed unless both players behave ethically.

Next, we assume that the likelihood of a detrimental law being passed in the event that both the public and the government are behaving ethically is a one-in-ten chance.

In a legal regime in which the government is never held responsible for its unethical behavior, and if neither the government nor the public behave ethically, the government enjoys a payoff of $0. and the public is out $100 when a law detrimental to the public is passed.

If both "invest" in ethical behavior, the government has a payoff of minus $10. (the cost of behaving ethically) and the public is out minus $20. which is the $10. invested in being ethical PLUS the $10. of the one-in-ten chance of a $100. loss incurred if a detrimental law is passed.

If the government behaves ethically and the public does not, resulting in the passing of a law detrimental to the populace, the government is out the $10. invested in being ethical and the public is out $100.

If the government does not behave ethically, and the public does, the government has a payoff of $0. and the public is out $110 which is the "cost of being ethical" added to the losses suffered when the government passes detrimental laws. Modeled in a Game Theory Bi-matrix, it looks like this, with the two numbers representing the "payoff" to the people - the left number in each pair - and government - the right number in each pair.

No Ethics Ethical
No Ethics -100, 0 -100, -10
Ethical -110, 0 -20, -10

In short, in this game, the government always does better by not being ethical and we can predict the government's choice of strategy because there is a single strategy - no ethics - that is better for the government no matter what choice the public makes. This is a "strictly dominant strategy," or a strategy that is the best choice for the player no matter what choices are made by the other player.

What is even worse is the fact that the public is PENALIZED for behaving ethically. Since we know that the government, in the above regime, will never behave ethically because it is the dominant strategy, we find that ethical behavior on the part of the public actually costs MORE than unethical behavior.

In short, psychopathic behavior is actually a POSITIVE ADAPTATION in such a regime.

The public, as you see, cannot even minimize their losses by behaving ethically. It costs them $110. to be ethical, and only $100. to not be ethical.

Now, just substitute "psychopath" in the place of the government and non-psychopath in the place of the public, and you begin to understand why the psychopath will always be a psychopath. If the "payoff" is emotional pain of being hurt, or shame for being exposed, in the world of the psychopath, that consequence simply does not exist just as in the legal regime created above, the government is never responsible for unethical behavior. The psychopath lives in a world in which it is like a government that is never held responsible for behavior that is detrimental to others. It's that simple. And the form game above will tell you why psychopaths in the population, as well as in government, are able to induce the public to accept laws that are detrimental. It simply isn't worth it to be ethical. If you go along with the psychopath, you lose. If you resist the psychopath, you lose even more.

The [psychopath] is unfamiliar with the primary facts or data of what might be called personal values and is altogether incapable of understanding such matters. It is impossible for him to take even a slight interest in the tragedy or joy or the striving of humanity as presented in serious literature or art. He is also indifferent to all these matters in life itself. Beauty and ugliness, except in a very superficial sense, goodness, evil, love, horror, and humour have no actual meaning, no power to move him. He is, furthermore, lacking in the ability to see that others are moved. It is as though he were colour-blind, despite his sharp intelligence, to this aspect of human existence. It cannot be explained to him because there is nothing in his orbit of awareness that can bridge the gap with comparison. He can repeat the words and say glibly that he understands, and there is no way for him to realize that he does not understand. [Cleckley, H.M. (1941). The mask of sanity: An attempt to reinterpret the so-called psychopathic personality. St. Louis: The C. V. Mosby Company]
It also means that such a person is free to choose to do things that are potentially self-destructive without giving a single indication to another "player" that his or her choice is based entirely on a delusion. Very often, they "win" because of the sheer boldness of their actions which is unrestricted by conscience which is a construct of emotions.

It's like a poker player who has absolutely nothing in his hand, but because he is so intent on winning, and is so unmoved by the possibility of losing because lying produces absolutely no internal, emotional reaction of fear of being discovered or the potential shame or disaster inherent in such an event, is able to bluff so convincingly that the other players - any of whom might have a winning hand, fold and walk away because they are convinced by the psychopath's confidence that he must have the winning hand of all time.

Only he doesn't.

And this means that the psychopath's strength is also his Achilles heel. Once he has been spotted, identified, understood, he no longer has the power to bluff. Once knowledge enters the game, the psychopath is exposed, and has no more ability to "con" the other players. The sad part is: he also has no ability to learn from this experience anything other than how to make his bluff better and more convincing next time. The psychopath never gets mad because he is caught in a lie; he is only concerned with "damage control" in terms of his ability to continue to con others.

Societies can be considered as "players" in the psychopath's game model.

The past behavior of a society will be used by the psychopath to predict the future behavior of that society. Like an individual player, a society will have a certain probability of detecting deception and a more or less accurate memory of who has cheated on them in the past, as well as a developed or not developed proclivity to retaliate against a liar and cheater. Since the psychopath is using an actuarial approach to assess the costs and benefits of different behaviors (just how much can he get away with), it is the actual past behavior of the society which will go into his calculations rather than any risk assessments based on any "fears or anxieties" of being caught and punished that empathic people would feel in anticipation of doing something illegal.

Thus, in order to reduce psychopathic behavior in society and in government, a society MUST establish and enforce a reputation for high rates of detection of deception and identification of liars, and a willingness to retaliate. In other words, it must establish a successful strategy of deterrence.

Since the psychopath is particularly unable to make decisions based on future consequences, and is able only to focus attention on immediate gratification - short term goals - it is possible that such individuals can be dealt with by establishing a history of dealing out swift social retaliation. That is, identifying and punishing liars and cheaters must be both immediate and predictable that it will be immediate.

And here we come to the issue: concerning the real-world, human social interactions on a large scale, reducing psychopathy in our leaders depends upon expanding society's collective memory of individual players' past behavior.

Any reasonable scan of the news will reveal that lies and cheating are not "covered up" as thoroughly as American apologists would like to think.

Even the less well-informed Americans have some idea that there was certainly something fishy about the investigation into the assassination of JFK. In recent years, the man in charge of the Warren Commission, Gerald Ford, also a former president, admitted to "cheating" on the report.

Then, there was Watergate followed by the Iran-Contra affair, not to mention "Monica-gate." And here we are just hitting some highlights familiar to all Americans.

What consequences did the cheaters of society suffer?

None to speak of. In fact, in nearly every case, they were rewarded handsomely with those things of value to the psychopath: money and material goods. If anyone thinks they were shamed by public exposure, think again!

But what is of CRUCIAL interest here is the fact that the American people have simply NOT responded to the revelations of lies in government with any outrage that could be considered more than token. At the present time, there isn't even "token outrage."

Don't you find that odd?

But we have already noted the reason: the American way of life has optimized the survival of psychopathy and in a world of psychopaths, those who are not genetic psychopaths, are induced to behave like psychopaths simply to survive. When the rules are set up to make a society "adaptive" to psychopathy, it makes psychopaths of everyone. As a consequence, a very large number of Americans are effective sociopaths. (Here we use "sociopath" as a designation of those individuals who are not genetic psychopaths.)

And so, we have George Bush and the Third Reich calculating how much they can get away with by looking at the history of the reactions of the American People to cheating.

There aren't any because the system is adaptive to psychopathy. In other words, Americans support Bush and his agenda because most of them are LIKE him.

But that is not because they are ALL born that way. It is because psychopathy is almost required to survive in Competitive, Capitalistic America.

As a society gets larger and more competitive, individuals become more anonymous and more Machiavellian. Social stratification and segregation leads to feelings of inferiority, pessimism and depression among the have-nots, and this promotes the use of "cheating strategies" in life which then makes the environment more adaptive for psychopathy in general.

Psychopathic behavior among non-genetic psychopaths could be viewed as a functional method of obtaining desirable resources, increasing an individual's status in a local group, and even a means of providing stimulation that socially and financially successful people find in acceptable physical and intellectual challenges. In other words, the psychopath is a bored and frustrated sensation-seeker who "does not have the intellectual capacitiy to amuse and occupy himself" internally. Such individuals may begin their lives in the lower socio-economic levels, but they often rise to the top.

In America, a great many households are affected by the fact that work, divorce, or both, have removed one or both parents from interaction with their children for much of the day. This is a consequence of Capitalistic economics.

When the parents are absent, or even when one is present but not in possession of sufficient knowledge or information, children are left to the mercies of their peers, a culture shaped by the media. Armed with joysticks and TV remotes, children are guided from South Park and Jerry Springer to Mortal Kombat on Nintendo. Normal kids become desensitized to violence. More-susceptible kids - children with a genetic inheritance of psychopathy - are pushed toward a dangerous mental precipice. Meanwhile, the government is regularly passing laws, on the demand of parents and the psychological community, designed to avoid imposing consequences on junior's violent behavior.

As for media violence, few researchers continue to try to dispute that bloodshed on TV and in the movies has an effect on the kids who witness it. Added to the mix now are video games structured around models of hunting and killing. Engaged by graphics, children learn to associate spurts of "blood" with the primal gratification of scoring a "win."

Again, economics controls the reality.

While everyone will readily admit that there is probably too much violence on television and that the ads are probably pure balderdash, very few people have a real conception of the precise nature and extent of the hypnotic influence of the media. Still fewer have any idea of the purposes behind this inducement. Wallace and Wallechinsky write in The People's Almanac:

"After World War II, television flourished... Psychologists and sociologists were brought in to study human nature in relation to selling; in other words, to figure out how to manipulate people without their feeling manipulated. Dr. Ernest Dichter, President of the Institute for Motivational Research made a statement in 1941... 'the successful ad agency manipulates human motivations and desires and develops a need for goods with which the public has at one time been unfamiliar -- perhaps even undesirous of purchasing.
"Discussing the influence of television, Daniel Boorstin wrote:

'Here at last is a supermarket of surrogate experience. Successful programming offers entertainment -- under the guise of instruction; instruction -- under the guise of entertainment; political persuasion -- with the appeal of advertising; and advertising -- with the appeal of drama.'

"Programed television serves not only to spread acquiescence and conformity, but it represents a deliberate industry approach." [quoted by Wallace, Wallechinsky]

Aside from the fact that television has been conjectured to be extremely detrimental to children and that it is now thought that most of the deteriorating aspects of society can be attributed to the decaying values portrayed on television, there is a deeper and more insidious effect upon the human psyche. As quoted, it is a planned and deliberate manipulation to spread acquiescence and conformity and to hypnotize the masses to submit to the authority of the masters of economics through their false prophet, the television.

Allen Funt, host of a popular show, Candid Camera, was once asked what was the most disturbing thing he had learned about people in his years of dealing with them through the media. His response was chilling in its ramifications:

"The worst thing, and I see it over and over, is how easily people can be led by any kind of authority figure, or even the most minimal kinds of authority. A well dressed man walks up the down escalator and most people will turn around and try desperately to go up also... We put up a sign on the road, 'Delaware Closed Today'. Motorists didn't even question it. Instead they asked: 'Is Jersey open?'" [quoted by Wallace, Wallechinsky]
A picture is forming of a deliberately contrived society of televised conformity, literate and creative inadequacy, and social unrest and decadence. It is apparent that the media is in charge of propagating these conditions, and the media is controlled by what?

Capitalistic, competitive Economics.

It would seem that the motivation masters would, in the interests of their industrial clients, plan programming to bring about beneficial societal conditions - which they could, in fact, do. It is apparent that the final authority on televised programming is in the hands of the advertisers, backed by the industries whose products are being sold. With all the psychological input to which they have access, it would seem that they utilize programming to correct societal conditions which cost them money. Over 25 billion dollars a year is spent to teach workers to read and write, after graduating from the combined effects of a public school system and the television. It is accepted that the burgeoning crime rate, which also costs these industrial giants vast sums of money, is mostly attributable to the frustrations and dissatisfactions engendered by the false view of reality presented over the television.

Why don't they use their financial resources to back the motivation masters to figure out how to present programming which could effect positive changes?

Can it be that the conditions of society, including the programed response to "minimal signs of authority" are planned? Would anyone care to suggest that the figures and studies relating to the detrimental influence of programming is not available to them and that they don't realize that it is costing them money? If that is the case, then they are too stupid to be arbiters of our values and we should disregard them entirely in any event. If it is not the case, then we must assume that there is an object to this manipulation.

There is much evidence to support the idea that this purpose, or the object of this manipulation, is to create psychological and social disunity - social psychopathy - sufficient to permit the instituting of a totalitarian government at the behest of the people. It is further theorized that the "wealthy elite" seek to control the entire world from behind the scenes and it is to this end that they mastermind and fund the various actions which appear to the masses as political and international "accidents".

FDR. said:

"Nothing in politics ever happens by accident; if it happens, you can bet it was planned!"
And he was in a position to know.

There is much evidence to support the notion that wars are fomented and fought to redistribute these balances of financial power behind the scenes and that, though our fathers, brother, grandfathers, uncles, cousins and sons die in these actions, they are merely games of "International Relations" played by those whose money and position give them absolute power to shape our reality to some nefarious end.

The psychic stresses of our world are right in the home. There they can easily act on any kid who believes that "the world has wronged me" - a sentiment spoken from the reality of existence - a reality created by economic pressures instituted via Game Theory.

Is there a solution?

The obvious solution would be a world in which, at the very least, the psychopath - in government or in society - would be forced to be responsible for unethical behavior. But game-theory modeling demonstrates that selfishness is always the most profitable strategy possible for replicating units.

Could it ever be an evolutionarily stable strategy for people to be innately unselfish?

On the whole, a capacity to cheat, to compete and to lie has proven to be a stupendously successful adaptation. Thus the idea that selection pressure could ever cause saintliness to spread in a society looks implausible in practice. It doesn't seem feasible to outcompete genes which promote competitiveness. "Nice guys" get eaten or outbred. Happy people who are unaware get eaten or outbred. Happiness and niceness today is vanishingly rare, and the misery and suffering of those who are able to truly feel, who are empathic toward other human beings, who have a conscience, is all too common. And the psychopathic manipulations are designed to make psychopaths of us all.

Nevertheless, a predisposition to, conscience, ethics, can prevail if and when it is also able to implement the deepest level of altruism: making the object of its empathy the higher ideal of enhancing free will in the abstract sense, for the sake of others, including our descendants.

In short, our "self-interest" ought to be vested in collectively ensuring that all others are happy and well-disposed too; and in ensuring that children we bring into the world have the option of being constitutionally happy and benevolent toward one another.

This means that if psychopathy threatens the well-being of the group future, then it can be only be dealt with by refusing to allow the self to be dominated by it on an individual, personal basis. Preserving free will for the self in the practical sense, ultimately preserves free will for others. Protection of our own rights AS the rights of others, underwrites the free will position and potential for happiness of all. If mutant psychopaths pose a potential danger then true empathy, true ethics, true conscience, dictates using prophylactic therapy against psychopaths.

And so it is that identifying the psychopath, ceasing our interaction with them, cutting them off from our society, making ourselves unavailable to them as "food" or objects to be conned and used, is the single most effective strategy that we can play.

It seems certain from the evidence that a positive transformation of human nature isn't going to come about through a great spiritual awakening, socio-economic reforms, or a spontaneous desire among the peoples of the world to be nice to each other. But it's quite possible that, in the long run, the psychopathic program of suffering will lose out because misery is not a stable strategy. In a state of increasing misery, victims will seek to escape it; and this seeking will ultimately lead them to inquire into the true state of their misery, and that may lead to a society of intelligent people who will have the collective capacity to do so

April 3, 2009 10:37 AM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

Think a moment on Carl Jung's concept of archetypes, and the shadow in particular. Where does this shadow project to? Out of one's self and onto others. Society is a collection of shadowers, people too afraid to look at themselves. The people who suffer from this the most are those who understand how to look within. If you don't know about this phenomenon, google it.

April 7, 2009 12:51 AM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

the real question is, can intellectuals bail themselves out of pessimism?

April 14, 2009 4:39 PM  

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