The Scientific American has an interesting article in its October 2012 edition, titled “The Wisdom of Psychopaths”. Traditionally when many people hear the word psychopath or sociopath, they conjure up images of wild-eyed serial killers that are incapable of controlling their baser urges. TV shows like Criminal Minds on CBS revolve around behavioral analysis, which enables them to track down the killers in one short episode. In reality, it takes a lot longer, as witness the Hunt for the Green River Killer, which took decades.
The article illustrates the fact that not all social pathology is the same, that there are varying degrees of pathology that can have different effects on the sufferers daily life. Not all psychopaths or sociopaths become wanton killing machines. There is a continuum along which we can place social and psychological pathology. There are, however some traits that some people seem to share, and this got me thinking.
The article has this to say;
“traits that are common among psychopathic serial killers – a grandiose sense of self-worth, persuasiveness, superficial charm, ruthlessness, lack of remorse and the manipulation of others – are also shared among politicans and world leaders. Individuals, in other words, running not from the police. But for office“…(Scientific American Oct 2012, pp76)
Far be it from me to say that any particular politician is psychopathic or sociopathic, there are certainly some traits that seem quite common in American politics.
The trait that I believe illustrates the point quite clearly, and which is not listed above, is empathy. A good politician ought to be empathic towards the people he represents. If he is only there to advance his own career, regardless of the people, he will often show a lack of empathy. This is typical of many in Congress, mostly on the Republican side of the aisle.
When considering social programs like Medicare and Social Security, Republicans in particular and conservatives in general are quite happy to either end these programs, or create much riskier programs that places enormous burdens on those that cannot afford them. Conservatives spend a lot of time talking about entitlement reform, which really means cutting essential social programs, create VoucherCare instead of Medicare and reducing Social Security benefits.
Medicaid, the medical program that helps millions of poorer Americans get medical care, is dangerously close to eradication, placing the lives of millions in the balance. Conservatives, and their flag bearer, Mitt Romney, are happy to cut the program, and will, if Romney attains the White House. Paul Krugman, columnist of the New York Times, wrote that if Romney wins, Medicaid will face savage cuts, which along with the end of Obamacare, will place the lives of 45 million Americans in jeopardy.
This demonstrates the complete lack of empathy with which conservatives view the people. They talk about cutting the deficit ostensibly to ensure that future generations of children do not have to deal with enormous debts. This begs the question, what about the rights of the children today? Do the children of today not also have the right to healthcare, education and an end to poverty? The fact of the matter is that conservatives do not care about the children of today. We are going through tough economic times, and all conservatives think about is the deficit, rather than dealing with the economy today, getting people back to work. The fact is that they don’t care about the economy, what they care about is gutting essential programs and destroying the Middle Class.
This brings me Mitt Romney, the standard-bearer of the Republican Party. Om order to become their presidential nominee, he has shown his underlying personality, and why he is representative of conservative values. He has shown a spectacular lack of empathy with regard to the people. His plans to defund Planned Parenthood, which provides essential cancer screening, mammograms, and some abortion to women in dire need of their services, shows his complete lack of compassion for millions of women. Plans to cut funding to Medicaid, Social Security, Medicare and other essential government services, also shows this personality deficit.
The plans of a Romney administration to cut back on food stamps, which helps millions avoid hunger, again shows the moral decrepitude of conservative ideology. It is all very well to insist that people take responsibility for themselves, but it is difficult once a person is in a difficult position to get out on their own. Sometimes people just need a little help and they can do the rest themselves. Conservative just throw the person away.
This brings me to the rest of the quotation in the Scientific American. The wealthy especially, and Mitt Romney in particular, do have a grandiose sense of self-worth, a fervent belief that they became wealthy entirely through their own efforts, without the help of thousands or hundreds of thousands of employees, customers and government help. They all believe that they deserve their wealth and good fortune, that it is preordained, or even arrogantly, God’s will. Romney believes that the Presidency is his birth right, that his rapacious approach to business qualifies him for the office of the Presidency. He truly believes that he occupies a lofty position that endows him with the right to gaze down on the great unwashed and pontificate over their worthlessness.
Romney is also endowed with a certain persuasive nature, an ability to convince others of his abilities, whether or not they truly exist. He takes in far too many gullible voters with his ingratiating personal style. This is the style that he once used in business dealings, hiding his demeanor behind a mask.
There is no doubt that Romney possesses a superficial charm, but he has to work hard to maintain it, and caught unawares will show his inner nature. Where President Obama is naturally charming and empathic, Romney has to overcome his loathing of the poorer classes, certainly in public. Once he attains the object of his desires, however, the hard truth will swiftly take over. It is my belief that he cares little about the poor and will do whatever it takes to attain his goal.
Considering the vulture capitalism for which Bain Capital, Romneys company is reknowned, it is quite clear that Romney is entirely ruthless. The way Bain Capital buys companies, pays himself enormous dividends, regardless of the fact that the company is in financial difficulties, fires the workers and allows the company to sink into bankruptcy, while reaping huge rewards for himself, shows his utter ruthlessness.
Ruthlessness, combined with a lack of empathy are two of the more ominous aspects of psychological pathos. While there is something to be said for such an attitude in business, in a political leader they are dangerous. This nation cannot afford to have a leader, combined with a Republican led Congress composed of ruthless men, with a lack of empathy. The consequences for the people of this nation, and those of other nations that may incur our wrath are sobering indeed.
A lack of remorse is another attribute typical of those with social empathy disorders. The consequences of cutting essential social programs to those people most in need do not affect the conservative desire to enforce those cuts. They do not experience, either vicariously or personally, the dramatic effects that cutting services can have on those that need them. It can quite literally be the difference between perhaps a subsistence existence and homelessness, disease and worse. Conservatives are quite willing to cut back on essential services with no conscience, no remorse, no regret for the accompanying suffering.
The last attribute mentioned above is the manipulation of others. This is plainly shown by the Romney campaign, which will do whatever it takes to seize the White House. The prevarication, the hubris, the entirely disingenuous nature of the campaign is shown by many of the adverts the campaign produces. Romney has lied continually throughout the campaign, showing himself as someone he is not, claiming an ideology that is not his. The ad claiming that Jeep is outsourcing jobs was a blatant lie, as is the ad claiming that GM is outsourcing jobs.
This is what happens when we have politicians without a conscience running for public office. People believe what the ads say, regardless of the truth. This is something the Romney campaign has noticed and is using to greater and greater effect during this campaign. If people followed the campaigns closely and found out the truth before voting, the campaign would not be this close.
There are some attributes of true psychopaths that are not in the list above. An “A-list” psychopath, from what I understand, is far more likely to be a violent offender, often in trouble with the law. Romney has demonstrated a tendency to bully others, including school colleagues, his employees and the Democrats in Massachusetts. Someone like President Bush showed a complete contempt for the law, spying on his people, torturing despite legal impediments to torture, and invading nations without a legitimate mandate. Conservatives in general show a flagrant disregard for the law, and for the Constitution. There is no reason to believe that Romney will be any different.
I cannot say one way or the other whether any member of Congress has a psychological pathology, despite the evidence that they do share a number of traits with such people. I can question the ethics of their ideology, the lack of empathy that they show for people and leave it up to others to speculate about the true nature of the extreme right-wing.
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