Posts Tagged ‘Sociopaths’

Donald Trump and the power of sociopathy

January 15, 2019

Donald Trump is what I call a sociopath.

This not a psychiatric diagnosis, but an observation that he cares nothing for moral and ethical rules, for the law, for his pledged word, for objective facts or for the consequences of his actions to other people.

The power of a sociopath is that normal people have norms of behavior—at least to some extent—and don’t know how to deal with people who don’t recognize norms.

President Trump’s signature pledge during the 2016 presidential campaign was that he would solve the problem of unauthorized immigration by building a wall along the southern border, and make Mexico pay for it.

The cost of building a physical barrier along the entire 1,900-mile border with Mexico would be enormous.  The idea that Mexico can be compelled to pay for it is absurd.

Yet he is willing to close down the government and threaten to declare a national emergency in order to build a barrier along a relatively small portion of the border.  It is more important to him to win this symbolic victory than to have a functioning government.   He doesn’t really care whether the United States has a functioning government at all.

But the fact that establishment Washington politicians and journalists put up so little resistance to Trump shows how little these supposed norms have come to mean.

During the Bush and Obama administrations, the “norms” included invasions and proxy wars against countries that did not threaten us Americans, resulting in the deaths of hundreds of thousands of people, maybe a million all told, who never harmed us.  It meant prosecution of whistleblowers for telling the truth about abuse of governmental power.  It meant refusal to prosecute financial fraud and other crimes committed by members of the financial elite.

There is little that the Trump administration is doing, including governmental shutdowns, that does not have some sort of precedent.  What the Trump administration shows us is how acceptable sociopathy has become.


What Is a Government Shutdown? by Kimberly Amadeo for The Balance.

Government shutdown: the border wall fight explained by Dara Lind for Vox.

Biggest Effects of the Government Shutdown by Ryan Bort for Rolling Stone.

Here’s What’s Really Happening at the Border by Kevin Drum for Mother Jones.

The Wall May Be a Waste, But It Is not a Crisis by Peter Van Buren for We Meant Well.

Wall B.S. and the Politics of 2020 by Peter Van Buren for We Meant Well.

Why Pelosi and Schumer Should Back Down Now by Joseph Cannon for Cannonfire.

The power of sociopaths and psychopaths

June 19, 2013

If you look at what’s going on in the country—bailouts of crooked bankers, protection of high-level criminals from prosecution, corporations forcing down wages, public institutions such as the postal service and public universities being strip-mined for private gain, the erosion of civil liberties, the militarization of local police, the crackdown on protest and whistleblowers—there seems to be a pattern.  The pattern is concentration of power and wealth at the top, and preparation to defend that concentration from a popular uprising.

I discuss this a lot with a good friend of mine, and we wonder to what extent this is deliberate and to what extent it consists of powerful and privileged people just doing what comes naturally.   I find it hard to believe that it could be deliberate.  But maybe I’m wrong.   This documentary, narrated by Peter Coyote, suggests that we are vulnerable to being ruled by sociopaths and psychopaths, people without conscience or normal human feeling.

The first 30 minutes consists of interviews with psychologists who have studied sociopaths and psychopaths.  They say such people are skillful at mimicking human feeling and manipulating others, and therefore have a natural advantage in rising to the top in organizations.

The only actual fact presented in support of this was a study of 203 high-potential senior managers, eight of nine of which proved to have psychopathic characteristics.  This is about the same proportion as in the general population, but the eight or nine reportedly had a higher degree of psychopathy.

The next 15 minutes are the most interesting.  It is about how Prozac and other anti-depressant drugs give users some characteristic of psychopaths.  Anti-depressants make people more self-confident, but less emotionally aware.  They help people focus on a task while ignoring all other considerations, which is characteristic of psychopaths.

The final 30 minutes are about what ordinary people can do to avoid being manipulated by psychopaths.  Coyote cites the Milgram experiments on submission to authority, in which participants inflicted intense pain (as they were led to believe) on helpless subjects because somebody in authority told them to do so.  But a lesser-known part of the Milgram experiment was that when somebody was seen to defy authority out of conscience, almost all the participants also defied authority.

Everybody is influenced by friends and also indirectly by friends of friends and friends of friends of friends, psychologists told the filmmakers.  That means anybody who sets an example of integrity influences not only their friends, but their friends’ friends and their friends’ friends’ friends.  No matter what our situation, we are not helpless and what we do matters.

The documentary isn’t proof of anything, but it is thought-provoking.  It is long, but you don’t have to watch it all at once.

Click on SociopathWorld for a web log by someone who claims to be a sociopath.  Hat tip for the connection to marginal revolution.

Click on Wisdom from psychopaths? for an article in Scientific American by a writer who sees a positive side to psychopathic charm, focus and ruthlessness.

Click on The psychopathic 1 percent for an earlier post of mine on this subject, and more links.

Click on The Logic of the Surveillance State for reasons for suspecting our society is run by sociopaths and psychopaths.