How Many Sociopaths Does it Take to Screw up a Country?
So I have been accidentally elected to the Nederland, Colorado Board of Trustees (BOT). As indicated clearly below, this little document does not represent the opinions of anyone but myself as a private citizen. However, as a member of the BOT, I am confronted at every meeting with Nederland citizens who have strong opinions. Some bring serious data and speak in full sentences offering persuasive arguments worthy of my serious review. Others spew irrelevant vitriol accusing me and my colleagues of slaughtering unicorns in the nearby alpine forest. For a liberal, trained to take criticism seriously leading to an intense examination of conscience, this is a daily ongoing nightmare.
The vitriol is ejected from the mouths of angry, determined seekers after cult authority or their fawning sycophants screaming in emulation. The leader sees their followers and, as far as possible, the BOT as sources of value which must be rendered to the limits of civility. They use high-school grade tricks to influence, such as beginning with praise followed by insults ending in more transparent praise driving the naïve liberal to believe that the insults were sincere criticism. They volunteer for the occasional committee so as to gain from the reciprocity rule. They are, nonetheless, people who see others as objects to be manipulated and this is the very definition of the word sociopath.
When one of these sociopaths criticizes, I must work to avoid taking the criticism seriously because I have been taught to take all criticism seriously. For these people who have openly lied and clumsily misdirected in order to get what they desire, I must hear only white noise, and that is very difficult. Imagine what it must be like to be the Walmart associate helping a sociopath find a product and, upon failing to fully satisfy, is loudly abused and derided for a fault that is not eir own. Imagine being the young female bartender at a Covid-19-secured drinking establishment, ejecting those without masks, accepting abuse for not serving the fourth drink and rebuking the sexual advances of horny, drunk men who have no internal regulator for their behavior.
I’ve discussed this with bartenders and the experience is common — people treating other people as objects to be abused in their abject will to power. Proving their superiority by deriding and minimizing others. Those who have to endure this (whether town trustee or “menial” worker) must turn off a part of themselves. The natural tendency to take others seriously and listen to their concerns must be muted. Depending how much you have to endure, this state of frozen empathy is stultifying. It requires one to intentionally damp mental processing so that it will not monopolize one’s entire conscious attention for the next several days. The rational actor must invest emotional energy in order to avoid trying to reason through the abuser’s claim that the target of the criticism is in fact “a flabby faced delinquent who strangles kittens in lieu of an obsessive tendency toward self-abuse.” A rational human being will listen to this and struggle with what it could possibly mean. People don’t just lie, do they? How long does one need to consider the possibility that this may be some kind of metaphor revealing an actual character flaw which must be assessed and corrected?
This shunting of natural empathic reaction to the shadowy cave of repression yields an individual who must behave in a manner which is uncharacteristic of a fully aware human. To respond with cold indifference to a clearly stated critique requires a certain isolation: something of our humanity has to go dormant.
A sociopath is a person who completely lacks what most people would call a conscience. They never experience remorse. Isolated from all rewards that accrue through sincere interactions with other humans, the sociopath feels satisfaction only in conflict and conquest. Other people are merely objects to be manipulated in furtherance of their own goals and they will do anything anything to further their goals.
Sociopaths tend to advance in our society because they are not burdened by a severe restriction that holds back the healthy person: scruples. You would be incapable of starting Amazon because you would be morally averse to trapping human beings in a warehouse competing against robots at serf wages to make you rich. You would be incapable of running for public office on a platform of small government and corporate autonomy because you understand how unfettered capitalism threatens personal freedom. You would be incapable of speaking publicly on the subject of foreigners pouring over our borders because you know it isn’t true. And yet 1 in 25 Americans have no problem at all engaging in these nefarious behaviors because they are sociopaths.
A World of Sociopaths
Confronting a sociopath is exhausting for a liberal. The choice is simple but unsatisfying: listen carefully and examine your conscience or ignore every word as the malevolent farts of a ruthless misery machine. In order to deal constructively with a sociopath, one must become a sociopath. To listen and react sincerely is to become the victim of a sociopath. Your natural understanding of the social contract we all understand is the handle by which the sociopath will take their advantage.
Stupid sociopaths are in jail, they took what they wanted without remorse and were caught. Intelligent sociopaths are running multi-national companies that legally exploit workers and customers for outrageous profits. Mediocre sociopaths find their own small ways to gain pleasure from exploiting and abusing others in legal but annoying ways. The self-important business-person abusing the minimum-wage employee behind the counter because the latte is five degrees cooler than specified in the brochure. The cagey realtor cleverly revealing the shortcomings of the property in a carefully worded disclosure that obscures the fact that the land will not sustain a septic system. The policeman who legally kills a black motorist because the authorities tend not to hold policemen responsible.
These sociopaths poison the world for ordinary people. Those individuals are forced to recognize the sociopath as a tainted and hopelessly crippled human who is beyond help (modern psychology has developed no cure for personality disorders like sociopathy). This person shouting verbal abuse cannot be calmed by reason. The unscrupulous marketer cannot be corrected by an appeal to empathy. The banker repossessing a home during the Covid crisis cannot be turned by an appeal to eir inner humanity — no inner human is present.
An average, emotionally sound individual forced to interact with a sociopath must relinquish some measure of eir humanity in order to block off the vulnerable parts that the sociopath would exploit. Even worse, an emotionally vulnerable person may be incapable of such a defense. The healthy human must become a reactive sociopath in order to respond without yielding essential value that the sociopath would wrongly claim. One sociopath brings into existence new sociopaths temporarily forced to react with intentional indifference so as to simply survive the interaction with an inhuman mechanism of abuse.
The Sociopath in Practice
The Republican Organization serves as a sociopathic nexus. As I discussed in The Two Party State it is difficult to understand the “Republican Party” in terms consistent with our general understanding of a political party. Mitch McConnell has violated the rules of the Senate in every way that satisfies his goals in order to subvert the U.S. judiciary for the purpose of enriching himself and his rich benefactors. His transparent corruption yields no remorse and in fact is a source of personal pride. He acts to injure U.S. citizens for his own profit absent all qualms as would be expected from any functional sociopath. His actions are not isolated, they are supported by all Republican operatives who justify this malevolent behavior at every opportunity defining, I argue, all Republicans as either conspirators or dupes.
Despite this obvious collective mental aberration, the Democratic leadership naïvely proclaims that cooperation is possible with an organization that has clearly and repeatedly defined itself as a political crime family. The Democratic Party responds to the Republican Organization like the abused child of an alcoholic: “Oh no, Daddy will be fine today. Yesterday he was just a little impaired…”
Here we see two things:
- Sociopathy attracts sociopaths and sycophants.
- Rational people have a devil of a time admitting that sociopaths can possibly exist.
Ilhan Omar, Alexandria Occasio-Cortez and Sheldon Whitehouse show evidence of a true understanding of their opposition while seemingly rational actors such as Chuck Shumer, Nancy Pelosi and even Al Franken appear to believe that a party of sociopaths may cooperate in order to advance the goals of ordinary citizens. The Democratic leadership has been entirely and successfully gaslighted by an organized cabal of sociopaths and the nation will not be free of this corrupting force until it is challenged by those who recognize it for what it is.
Maybe this challenge will come from The Greens or the newly formed People’s Party but the sociopath cannot be deterred by appealing to eir non-existent humanity. Instead the reward the sociopath derives from eir activities must be neutralized. It must become clear to the sociopath that eir victim is no longer open to abuse; that the dessicated reward of selfish conquest is no longer available through this venue.
So this is the immediate problem. The United States has a larger percentage of sociopaths than most other countries because our curated myth of the manly man promotes the delusion of the successful individual isolated from the community. Sociopathy is a disease that plagues the country. Each sociopath forces healthy people to reflect that disease and each sociopath (real or reactive) challenges the social contract that brings people together into a loving and supportive community. Only in community can the ills of society be addressed and only in community can the healthy individual find the comfort of home.
Therefore, let us rebel actively against the sociopathy that threatens our country. Let us openly proclaim our pride in community and consensus. Let us work to achieve a loving and communal rejection of the dessicated corpse of isolated individual achievement. Let us pull together the vibrant and healthy body of humans acting in concert for the betterment of all. A rich and inclusive body armed with the full knowledge of their inhuman opposition. A body unified and befleshed in the common goal of the sacred future of humanity.
Julian S. Taylor is the author of Famine in the Bullpen, a book about bringing innovation back to software engineering.
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This work represents the opinion of the author only