A country run by psychopaths

| June 12, 2011 | 63 Replies

At Common Dreams, David Schwartz points out that the United States is now run, for the most part, by psychopaths, people who are “smart, personable, and engaging, but who have no consciences . . . [They] suffer no remorse, no guilt, no shame.” They look normal from the outside, and you can only really know them by the effects of their actions. In short, they are quite capable of appearing affable, and their PR machines are well-tuned to make it look like these psychopaths “care.” The problem is that they have become busier than ever creating a world in their own image and likeness, and we are all paying a huge price for this, both in actual damage, but even more in lost opportunities to invest in an economically and socially sustainable version of America.  He points out that the corporate/government of the United States has become “a perfect habitat for psychopaths.” He quotes Kurt Vonnegut, from A Man Without a Country, in point out the main problems with psychopathic leaders:

. . . they are so decisive. They are going to do something every fuckin’ day and they are not afraid. Unlike normal people, they are never filled with doubts, for the simple reason that they don’t give a fuck what happens next. Simply can’t. Do this! Do that! Mobilize the reserves! Privatize the public schools! Attack Iraq! Cut health care! Tap everybody’s telephone! Cut taxes on the rich!

The pyschopaths in charge of the U.S. have the perfect skill sets for destroying most of the country in order to profit from it:

In a country in which much of human culture has been rendered into machines for the manufacture of money, psychopaths are the ideal leaders. They are very focused. They are outcome oriented. They are frequently charming, and usually very bright and able. They can lay off thousands of people, or deny people health care, or have them waterboarded, and it does not disturb their sleep. They can be impressively confident. Psychopaths can be dynamic leaders of enterprises, but are handicapped by their lack of feelings for relationships. They may be accomplished captains of industry, or senators, or surgeons, but their families are frequently abused and miserable. Most psychotherapists have seen the wives or husband or children of such accomplished people.

Since psychopaths are usually very smart, they can be quite competent at impersonating regular human beings in positions of power. Since they don’t care how their actions affect people, they can rise to great height in enterprises dealing with power and money. They can manufacture bombs or run hospitals. Whatever the undertaking, it is all the same to them. It’s just business.

Our existing political/corporate/media dystopia has now become so incredibly inhospitable to well-intentioned empathetic normal people rising to leadership positions that it’s difficult to envision how to bring about substantial and lasting improvement anymore.  In short, very few good people are willing to destroy their families and reputations running for national office. The trick is to reverse this trend.  I would attack the problem by getting private money out of the elections system.  I would do this by promoting clean-money elections, for instance.  This particular problem is where the United States Supreme Court has become, perhaps, the most nefarious contributor to the problem (and see this statement by Bernie Sanders).  And note that the United States Supreme Court has already dealt a death knell to meaningful clean-money election systems.

Of course I’m not arguing that our political and corporate leaders are diagnosed psychopaths; rather, they are functional psychopaths.  I’m assuming that their psychopathy is situational, though it’s not necessarily conscious, and it’s driven by the money and authority/threats of which the politicians and corporate leaders are exposed every day. That’s my assumption–that if you yank these terrible decision-makers out of their current environments, they would be defanged. They might make decent child-rearing tax-paying neighbors. I agree with Hannah Arendt that the majority of heinous evil flows from the failure to think, consequently the failure to empathize. These people are daily exposed to situations that very much encourage them to wear attentional blinders. This situation also reminds me of the Milgram experiment , where authority figures similarly functioned as attentional blinders, leading to terrible decision-making. I’ve written extensively on my belief that many dramatic “moral lapses” result from ill-advised attentional strategies; we engage in heuristics to get us through the day, for good and bad, and our attention is easily warped by the existence of money and power.  For a lot more on low level lapses leading to “moral” lapses, consider also this excellent talk by Phillip Zimbardo. The bottom line is that Washington DC is a toxic stew into which we immerse vulnerable human beings, some of them severely damaged goods even before they set foot in DC.

I wish I could say that the People will rise up to clean out this insanity, this psychopathy, but they would need a vigorous, wide-open, well-intentioned media to carry this out, yet our media is largely corporate-owned, which means that it is extremely hard for non-monied outsiders to get any momentum.  The logical next-step would be to use the powerful tools of the Internet to consolidate the power of ordinary citizens to deal with this issue, but the People are so wrapped up in abject consumerism that it is difficult to get sufficient numbers of people to care, and the FCC has been more than happy to sell out on net neutrality, putting at risk what is perhaps the last potential means to take on the psychopaths in an organized way.

These are all extremely difficult hurdles, but they are surmountable, especially when the psychopaths bring us down to a low enough point . . . I believe, they are close to doing when they blatantly propose “reforming” Medicare and Social Security in ways that pisses off even members of the Tea Party.



Category: Corruption, Orwellian, Politics, Psychology Cognition

About the Author ()

Erich Vieth is an attorney focusing on consumer law litigation and appellate practice. He is also a working musician and a writer, having founded Dangerous Intersection in 2006. Erich lives in the Shaw Neighborhood of St. Louis, Missouri, where he lives half-time with his two extraordinary daughters.

Comments (63)

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  1. Erich Vieth says:

    At heart, Hare’s test is simple: a list of 20 criteria, each given a score of 0 (if it doesn’t apply to the person), 1 (if it partially applies) or 2 (if it fully applies). The list in full is: glibness and superficial charm, grandiose sense of self-worth, pathological lying, cunning/manipulative, lack of remorse, emotional shallowness, callousness and lack of empathy, unwillingness to accept responsibility for actions, a tendency to boredom, a parasitic lifestyle, a lack of realistic long-term goals, impulsivity, irresponsibility, lack of behavioural control, behavioural problems in early life, juvenile delinquency, criminal versatility, a history of “revocation of conditional release” (ie broken parole), multiple marriages, and promiscuous sexual behaviour. A pure, prototypical psychopath would score 40. A score of 30 or more qualifies for a diagnosis of psychopathy.

    . . .

    This brings up the issue of treatment. “Psychopathy is probably the most pleasant-feeling of all the mental disorders,” says the journalist Jon Ronson, whose book, The Psychopath Test, explored the concept of psychopathy and the mental health industry in general. “All of the things that keep you good, morally good, are painful things: guilt, remorse, empathy.” Fallon agrees: “Psychopaths can work very quickly, and can have an apparent IQ higher than it really is, because they’re not inhibited by moral concerns.” So psychopaths often welcome their condition, and “treating” them becomes complicated.


  2. Erich Vieth says:

    On the difference between psychopaths and sociopaths:

    Sociopaths tend to be nervous and easily agitated. They are volatile and prone to emotional outbursts, including fits of rage. They are likely to be uneducated and live on the fringes of society, unable to hold down a steady job or stay in one place for very long. It is difficult but not impossible for sociopaths to form attachments with others. Many sociopaths are able to form an attachment to a particular individual or group, although they have no regard for society in general or its rules. In the eyes of others, sociopaths will appear to be very disturbed. Any crimes committed by a sociopath, including murder, will tend to be haphazard and spontaneous rather than planned.

    Psychopaths, on the other hand, are unable to form emotional attachments or feel real empathy with others, although they often have disarming or even charming personalities. Psychopaths are very manipulative and can easily gain people’s trust. They learn to mimic emotions, despite their inability to actually feel them, and will appear normal to unsuspecting people. Psychopaths are often well educated and hold steady jobs. Some are so good at manipulation and mimicry that they have families and other long-term relationships without those around them ever suspecting their true nature. When committing crimes, psychopaths carefully plan out every detail in advance and often have contingency plans in place. Unlike their sociopathic counterparts, psychopathic criminals are cool, calm, and meticulous.

    The cause of psychopathy is different than the cause of sociopathy. It is believed that psychopathy is the result of “nature” ( genetics) while sociopathy is the result of “nurture” (environment).


  3. Erich Vieth says:

    “The most successful stockbrokers might plausibly be termed ‘functional psychopaths’— individuals who on the one hand are either more adept at controlling their emotions or who, on the other, do not experience them to the same degree of intensity as others.”


  4. Erich Vieth says:


    In his landmark book on psychopathy, The Mask of Sanity, researcher Hervey Cleckley theorized that some people with the core attributes of psychopathy — egocentricity, lack of remorse, superficial charm — could be found in nearly every walk of life and at every level, including politics. Robert Hare, perhaps the leading expert on the disorder and the person who developed the most commonly used test for diagnosing psychopathy, has noted that psychopaths generally have a heightened need for power and prestige — exactly the type of urges that make politics an attractive calling.

    There is more at work than just the drive to seek office, though; psychopaths may have some peculiar talents for it, as well. Research has shown that disorder may confer certain advantages that make psychopaths particularly suited to a life on the public stage and able to handle high-pressure situations: psychopaths score low on measures of stress reactivity, anxiety and depression, and high on measures of competitive achievement, positive impressions on first encounters, and fearlessness. Sound like the description of a successful politician and leader?

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