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Opportunities to deal with sociopaths in American politics

By       Message Gene Messick     Permalink

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opednews.com Headlined to H2 12/11/08

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Frequent arrest of Senators and Congressmen, and now arrest of the Illinois Governor, forces a question that has been far too long ignored: How do we deal with sociopaths in our government?

Most Americans have a mistaken belief that sociopaths in America are a rare breed, that they are wild eyed, murderous lunatics who are regularly recognized, put away or executed. Most unfortunately, nothing could be further from the truth.
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What's a sociopath? Why do we not recognize them for what they are? How do we protect ourselves from them?

Reading early FBI descriptions of the crime spree of Illinois Governor Blagojevich and other accomplices is like reading a 3rd rate piece of horror pulp fiction: surely, this did not actually happen! How could this go on and the many people involved NOT know that what they were doing was wrong? How could anyone believe that such cynical behavior as trying to sell a Senatorial Seat is acceptable in America today?
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To understand this fully, we must first understand what a sociopath is, how many are freely wandering around America, and why they gravitate toward positions of control and power found in public government and private corporations.

To help understand this peculiar situation, I have repeatedly recommended that us ordinary folks read a book by Dr Martha Stout, entitled: the sociopath next door: 1 in 25 ordinary Americans secretly has no conscience and can do anything they want without feeling guilty.

The essence of Dr Stout's discovery is that being without the blessing of a conscience, sociopaths cannot feel guilt nor remorse like the other 96% of Americans. According to a doctor friend who spends time observing them, sociopaths spend their lifetime staring at the rest of us, wondering what all the fuss is about. The fact that others of their kind are regularly arrested and jailed has little effect on the behavior of other sociopaths.

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Being a sociopath is not  like having a mental disease, and therefore, it is not treatable nor curable. Sociopathy is a deficiency. It's akin to being born without fingers. It's an absence of something most of the rest of us have, not the addition of a disease, condition, or mental illness. Sociopaths do NOT lack the capacity to know right from wrong. They lack the capacity to care. Whatever advances their goals, whether right or wrong, is fully acceptable behavior. 

All sociopaths are narcissists; but not all narcissists are sociopaths. Narcissism was named after a mythical creature who sat beside a pond, incessantly infatuated with its own reflection. A narcissist in psychotherapy is one with a preoccupation with self-image, self-worth, and self-indulgence, to the exclusion of a healthy respect for others.

Not knowing how to classify sociopaths, most recently they have been stuck in as a subset of Narcissism. But Narcissism is treatable. Sociopathy is not. The brain of a sociopath lacks the capacity to change. We know of no way to add to a human brain what someone was not born with, as we can with prosthetic devices for missing limbs.

Some professionals believe that a disproportionate number of politicians and corporate executives are sociopaths, drawn to power like a moth to a flame. We have no problem in accepting that Hitler, Stalin, bin Laden, and hundreds of others guilty of murdering multitudes of innocent ordinary people are sociopaths. But when it comes to our own leaders, somehow we cannot accept that many of them are driven by similar forces we're not able to feel nor understand. How many times have you wondered how such extremists imagine they can get away with their aberrant behavior? It's because you have a conscience, and they do not.

Certainly, GwB, Cheney, Rove & Co, along with their NeoCON string pullers, fit the definition. Daily involved in murder, not one of them has ever expressed sincere feelings of guilt nor remorse for their actions. Sociopaths cannot. A sociopath can look you right in your eye, and tell you lies without blinking. It happens to us every day.

Usually sociopaths hide themselves behind a pretense of being able to feel what the rest of us feel. Their very survival depends on being able to blend in, by imitating what they see around them, but cannot themselves feel, ever. Those most successful are those who con us best.
 
So why is it that sociopaths are not called out more often? Why is this term never used in descriptions of their behavior? Is it only because we cannot understand how they think, because we cannot think that way?

That's part of it. A significant, but small part. Another is an innate conditioning among law enforcement and prosecutors that labeling someone a sociopath is far too close to saying that they are criminally insane, and therefore not able to stand trial under existing law. A prosecutor explained it this way: there is no law against being a sociopath. To be sure, there is no legal definition for what a sociopath is. When delving into the processes of the human mind, the law is seriously deficient. So those responsible for protecting us must dance around a reality they all too well understand, but have to search for more acceptable legal charges to bring. There's no law against being evil. Only the results of being evil can be prosecuted.

Consequences of such avoidance has produced a wall behind which sociopaths conveniently hide. Each failure to condemn them for what they are only emboldens them. They believe that if they are clever enough, successful acquisition of their goals is inevitable. Ethics and morality are for sissies.

This is true only because we allow them to succeed. The more we decline to hold sociopaths accountable for their crimes against us--and crimes against humanity--the more extreme they become. Why haven't Bush, Cheney, Rove & Co been impeached and prosecuted long ago? Why does Senator Stevens believe he did nothing wrong? Why does Governor Blagojevich say he has no intention of resigning? Why are CEOs on Wall $treet, who financially wrecked their corporations, allowed to remain as CEOs, and expect bonuses despite all the pain they caused? And when will we realize that sociopaths cannot feel guilt nor remorse like the rest of us, and hence will never self-correct their abuses of power?

What in God's Name do we do with these malformed humans? That's a question that can only be addressed once we are willing to ask why sociopaths are free to roam among us, and why we seem impotent to curb their excesses. The longer we wait, the more powerful they become. 



 

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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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