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More about sociopaths in American politics

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Headlined to None 1/8/09

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 On 11 December I wrote an Article for OEN about this: Opportunities to deal with sociopaths in American politics  Since then, I've been collecting examples to prove my point. Just recently I discovered one of the most egregious examples to date, described in a recent Mother Jones blog by Jonathan Stine in which he wrote this:
 
"Alberto Gonzales: Pathetic? Deluded? Crazy?

Short fiction writer Alberto Gonzales is confused, asking in a recent interview, "What is it that I did that is so fundamentally wrong, that deserves this kind of response to my service?"

If Gonzales is trying this unctuous nonsense in an attempt at image-rehabilitation, he needs to hire a professional PR company. If he's asking this question in earnest, he is demonstrably insane.

As Think Progress points out, the answer to Gonzales' question includes: corrupting the DOJ by insiting on ideological purity tests in hiring; firing US Attorneys that refused to toe the Bush Administration line; signing off on torture as White House Counsel; trying to strong-arm a hospitalized Attorney General into authorizing domestic spying despite widespread opposition within the federal government; lying about said episode and the domestic spying program in general; and lying about pre-war intelligence. Gonzales also stonewalled Congress when they sought answers on a number of these subjects and had his aides do the same.

So the question is, was Gonzales this pathetic/insane when he joined the Bush Administration, or was there something about the experience that affected his brain? Did he do so much mental work to convince himself that what he was doing was acceptable, even needed, that today he simply has no ability to engage with reality? Did he go so far down the rabbit hole that he has no ability to get out?"  [end quote]

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Because we 96% of ordinary folks generally lack the ability to recognize the 4% of us who are sociopaths, we tend to simply call their behavior crazy. But they are not, in the conventional sense. These are not the ravings of a lunatic. This is a normal response that a sociopath will make, once he/she realizes their cover is blown.

First, this. The last person to recognize that a sociopath is a sociopath will be the sociopath her/himself. What they do, they think is "normal" behavior. However, a sociopath by definition has no conscience, and therefore cannot feel guilt nor remorse like the rest of us. That's the first tip-off, or "tell," as professional poker players call it.

Sociopaths do not feel what the rest of us feel and wander thru their lives wondering what all the fuss is about. Without a conscience, they cannot ever know what we know and learn from our feelings.

The second "tell" is exactly what's going on here with Gonzales (and what is happening as GwB and Poppy try to put on a happy face to the horrors that have been done these past 8 years, as GwB exits the White House and loses his megaphone). And this is to create PITY. To be seen as deserving pity is the primary defense mechanism sociopaths use to divert attention away from discovery of any aberrant behavior. Sociopaths somehow instinctively recognize that most folks will not beat up on a pathetic person. [Pathetic: arousing pity, sorrow; pitiful] And they work their play for our sympathy to the hilt.

The third "tell" is that sociopaths cannot sincerely apologize for anything. Oh, they may, but always as a card played to gain pity by appearing to be submissive. An hour later, they're back in the saddle again. Or an apology is often used to divert attention from some greater horror they are trying to conceal. One thing sociopaths are: masters of deception.

Gonzales cannot imagine that he has done anything wrong. After all, he's a lawyer, and he was the Attorney General of the United States, one of the most powerful people in the government of the world's most powerful nation. BTW: the word "unctuous" used above is not a misspelling. It means "oily or greasy, characterized by a smooth but insincere show of deep or ernest feeling."

Well, we know where that comes from. This response is so ingrained into the brains of sociopaths that it is as automatic as breathing for them. We often call this behavior by it's less onerous title: denial. 

Johnathan raises one of the most puzzling questions about sociopaths, which is this: Are they born without a conscience, or do they move onto this one-way street sometime during their lifetime? It's the old nature vs. nurture question that has plagued psychology and psychotherapy since their beginnings.

At one point in my writings, I rationalized this by calling some: "systemic sociopaths," meaning that they are created by the system into which they enter. But that was just a guess. So little is known about sociopathy that gets out into the world us ordinary folks live in. It's also part of why we have such a difficult time recognizing them.

One of the reasons I'm writing this article is because after a period of time, Comments cannot be posted to previous OEN Articles. To my original Article Opportunities to deal with sociopaths in American politics, was posted a Comment that said sociopaths can be recognized by brain scans. I discussed this at length with a retired doctor who has a curiosity about the subject and reads a lot written on sociopaths. He feels there may be something to it, but says understanding what brain scans tell us is far from an exact science.  

Surely, we'd love a magic bullet that could sort sociopaths from the rest of us, especially before they become politicians, lawyers, CEOs or Executive Directors. Or just the sob you're married to. Sociopaths take control, no matter how large or small the territory is. They sense power centers, and are drawn to them like a moth to a flame. For some, it's a matter of abilities or talents holding them back: better to be a big fish in a small pond than a little fish in a larger pond.

Do we, as a society, create sociopaths from those born with tendencies? Is our abnormal fixation with competition the driving engine? Politics, sports, capitalism and many people's notion of "success" depend entirely on competition. 

There is an alternative: cooperation. But learning to cooperate instead of compete is not nearly so exciting. It's actually a rather calming endeavor, for those of us who practice it. But weaning generations away from competition to cooperation is an ongoing lifetime challenge. Will it take as many generations to undo it as it took to create it?

One of our most helpful tasks would be to learn to recognize sociopaths for what they are, and -- as I taught myself to do in my early life before I even knew the word -- just cross the street, walk on the other side, and avoid them. 

But now that my life is drawing to a close, I'm not so sure this is a good idea. It leaves them to grow and multiply, wreaking havoc and chaos, leaving burned ground of pain, death and destruction in their wake.

 

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For 17 years Gene Messick studied and taught Design at NC State University and Cornell. Co-founding the Visual Design Program at NCSU, he established the Photography Program at Cornell, where he taught in the Architecture Department, most interested (more...)
 
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I heard an interesting discussion on CNBC yesterda... by Laudyms on Thursday, Jan 8, 2009 at 12:55:45 PM
First, it seems that many sociopaths demonstrate t... by Bob Trowbridge on Thursday, Jan 8, 2009 at 1:52:17 PM
Political Ponerology--good book, pick it up.... by William Whitten on Thursday, Jan 8, 2009 at 5:25:56 PM
http://ponerology.blogspot.com/2006/01/paramoralis... by William Whitten on Thursday, Jan 8, 2009 at 5:27:06 PM
Reversive blockade: Emphatically insisting upon so... by William Whitten on Thursday, Jan 8, 2009 at 5:34:28 PM
For some all it takes is an illness or brain damag... by nightgaunt on Saturday, Jan 17, 2009 at 3:25:12 PM
. . . which adds to the confusion in identifying t... by Gene Messick on Saturday, Jan 17, 2009 at 5:42:48 PM