I wrote this piece on sociopathy in high places about five years back. It seemed appropriate to repost it on this national day of mourning.
Jonathan Zap, in his essay “”Foxes and Reptiles; Psychopathy and the Financial Meltdown,” wrote, “Many have commented that the SEC tends to employ those trained in finance but who are not as clever, ruthless or determined as those they are trying to monitor. I would suggest that they be open to hiring psychopaths with MBAs and offer them multi-million dollar bonuses and recognition, celebrity recognition if possible, for catching high level scams. Since psychopaths are a force of nature we are unlikely to eliminate, we should instead harness their unique talents to serve the socially useful purpose of catching other psychopaths. Who could possibly be better qualified, better able to pierce strategies of deception, than other highly motivated psychopaths? To use Wall Street metaphorically, we need a highly motivated team of clever reptiles and foxes to catch other reptiles and foxes.”
A key principle in medicine is that few things are toxic in and of themselves, or rather, that the amount of the toxin is what determines its effect: a large amount might result in death, but the right amount might heal us of a dangerous disease. The way that the toxin is introduced would play a role. “First, do no harm,” wrote Hippocrates. If only things were so simple! For “what harms can heal.” In their different ways, Allopathy and Homeopathy make use of this principle, which perhaps can be more generally applied. The current global laissez-faire economy is like a body without an immune system.
Death is imminent; doing nothing is not safe. No laws protect us, and a vast shadow eats the animatronic organs of Democracy, which should leave, in the near future, just a shell. It has been 66 years since happy US soldiers jitterbugged with nurses in the street, or grabbed random strangers to kiss. We had beaten the Axis powers. The Free World loved us. We were a beacon to the dispossessed. Now Corporate Fascism rules. Lawyers are the new Luftwaffe. Judges are the SS. Hedge funds are the new Reich Bureau of Occult Affairs. MSNBC, FOX, and CNN compete for the mantle of Reich Ministry of Public Enlightenment and Propaganda. They report all the news that’s fit to be projected, that is to say: Before its Time, and provide us with all viewpoints from A to B.
In love, from childhood, with the American Dream, we are hesitant to acknowledge that the year is not 1948. A few dollars are left; they will be sent to an off-shore bank in the Caiman Islands. We are not what we were, but at least let it be said that we have kept up our appearances. No one knows when the Barbarians walked casually in through the gates. Now, they are more inside than we are. They are closer to the Mad Fetus in the control room than we ever were, except, perhaps, at ceremonies for dead heroes in their transfer tubes. At such ceremonies, the presence of the Mad Fetus hovers over us. The dead are a priceless resource. Our grief is a kind of food, which he consumes.
There are rings inside of rings, with fail-safe mechanisms at key bioenergetic points. The gods that descend from the Black Sun must be fed. Select Stockholm Syndrome victims may be called upon to remove the remnants of the burnt offering from the table, at which point the law specifies that it be ritually re-sanitized. The Barbarians wasted no time in dismantling the gates, in order to put up their own gates, which keep us from getting out. The life of the Republic is hanging by a thread. The Supreme Court will soon meet to decide a case about scissors. Perfectly dressed, a force that is not quite human has been scheduled to attack. There are those who say that our response is several decades behind the curve.
And so, to develop our analogy: If we think in terms of “the sociopath-as-toxin,” then we had best be prepared for each possible side-effect in advance, and, in each test case, pay close attention to determine just what it is that we see. We could also compare the two systems in terms of “the sociopath-as-virus.” In Allopathic medicine, whose key principle is supposedly that “opposites treat opposites,” it is—oddly enough—accepted that a neutralized form of a disease might also serve to catalyze the cure. Homeopathic theory is supposed to be the opposite, 180 degrees off, on the other side of the circle, but the key principle is “let like be cured by like.” This is not that different in the abstract from mainstream immunology.
What does this tell us? Perhaps it tells us that opposites interact in ways that we don’t expect. Perhaps it tells us to put aside pet theories in order to focus on whatever works. An almost occult correspondence exists between the toxin and the symptom, such that a small amount of something can help to protect us against a larger and more threatening quantity of the same. A virus attacks, and, once our system has gained access to its encrypted DNA, we are able to manufacture the corresponding antigen. Unseen to the world, a transfer of life-altering data has occurred, which brings the earlier right/ left opposition to a halt, as it redefines the nature of the contest. In Chapter eight of the “Tao Te Ching” we read, “The supreme goodness is like water…It gathers in unpopular places. Thus it is like the Tao.”
The best defense is to co-opt one’s enemy, and to get him to do exactly what one wants. In a similar fashion, Jonathan Zap has suggested that we could use a sociopath with an MBA to root out other sociopaths on Wall Street. If bureaucrats are impotent, and less sharp than those they monitor, then sociopaths may be the necessary agents—whether calibrated toxins or pre-processed viruses—to prompt healing in the Body Politic.
Brian P. Akers, one of the participants in the Reality Sandwich forum for this essay, was somewhat horrified by the suggestion. He wrote, “Any notion that evil or manipulative psycho-malignancy can be hitched up to our wagons plays right into its hands. Evil loves such good but misguided ideas…To afford it an opening, of any least kind, is only to woo, court and flirt with disaster…Psychopathy rests on inherently violent interests or abusive purposes. Period…(We must) recognize that stuff for exactly what it is, and deal with it accordingly…Otherwise, we become its host or prey, no ifs ands or buts." I would categorize this as the classic “You’re either with us or you’re with the terrorists” approach. Well, that isn’t always foolproof, as we have seen. Evil does exist, but it can be a mistake to attribute to it vast mythological powers. Much evil is, indeed, banal, and only appears strong because of our ignorance and the mystique that we lend to it.
As a society, we make a great many “bargains with the Devil,” and, whether rightly or wrongly, we believe that our very survival depends upon some use of “controlled lethality.” On Wall Street, for example, we trust sociopathic hustlers to make vast amounts of money for themselves, in the hope that some portion of the wealth will “trickle down.” And it’s not as if we are unaware of what Wall Street firms are capable of; financial speculation and corruption have fueled countless boom and bust cycles, which have caused incomparably more suffering than all the serial killers who ever lived. Why is it such a problem to employ a sociopath to attempt to take back a little of what another sociopath stole?
The military is another illustration of a bargain with the Devil. In the current climate, Guantanamo and Abu Ghraib are not aberrations, and then there are all of the dead Iraqi civilians that nobody seems to notice or to talk about. 120,000 is one official estimate—but who knows? It is so unimportant that we have not really bothered to count. We could no doubt do things in far better ways. My point is that, in practice, most societies do tend to do exactly what Jonathan Zap suggests—to strategically make use of the particular talents of the sociopath, or, at a minimum, to activate and harness their members’ sociopathic shadows. Sometimes this works. At other times, such as now, it tends to blow up in our faces.
In spite of wholesale surveillance programs, such as the NSA’s NIMD—or “Novel Intelligence from Massive Data”—and the FBI’s now (supposedly) defunct “Carnivore”(!), there can be no prophylaxis against Evil. But we can ask questions that might help to keep us conscious, such as: "Have we incorporated the enemy on purpose or by accident?" The key thing is perhaps transparency. It would probably be best, too, to remove the fox from his role as supervisor of the chicken coop. Somehow “regulation” has become a dirty word.
As Baudilaire said in "The Generous Gambler," “The lovliest trick of the Devil is to persuade you that he doesn’t exist.” In the same way, sociopaths in high places have convinced us that “markets are self-regulating,” that the jet-setting heirs to family fortunes are heroic Ayn Randian “job creators”—veritable Atlases!—and that the best thing that the victim of the Stockholm Syndrome can do is to kiss the hand of his/ her captor. So too: that the 3497 of our 9/11 dead must be avenged by the murder of 120,000—and still climbing—innocent civilians in Iraq, that US citizens can be arrested and detained for a lifetime without being charged, and that midnight military tribunals are a substitute for Justice. A bit of intelligent oversight might be nice.
In the end: Sociopathic evil, as sly and charismatic as it is, is generally not quite as strong as goodness that is active—as opposed to merely polite—and that does not allow itself to be treated like a mark.
(Illustration: Victor Brauner) )