Invasion of the Sociopaths — and Worse
Imagine you’re driving home during rush hour, and some crazed madman runs up and starts pounding on your window (lock the door!) yelling, “Look, you fools, you’re in danger! Can’t you see? They’re after you! They’re after all of us! Our wives and children, everyone! THEY’RE HERE ALREADY! YOU’RE NEXT!” That was actor Kevin McCarthy, late in the 1956 film “Invasion of the Body Snatchers.” He played Dr. Miles Bennett, trying to warn us that aliens were taking over human bodies and minds, turning them into emotionless drones. It’s much the same as a 1953 Sci-Fi classic, “Invaders From Mars.” In that one, a young kid sees a flying saucer land in a nearby field. Next morning his dad goes to investigate and returns changed, emotionally cold, not the same. Both films featured people who looked just like us, but were unable to feel emotion. In both cases these invaders promised things would be better from then on, no more wars, crime, or poverty. They were parables about alienation due to the frantic rush of everyday life and the encroachment of technology threatening to turn us into mindless automatons.
I’m not as far gone as Dr. Bennett, but I’ve been seeing the same thing happening all over America. More and more, people seem to just do whatever the hell they feel like, and why should they care about how their actions affect others. It’s as if they had no concept whatever of what a society is, how we’re all supposed to be in this together. There’s even a political movement for them; they’re called libertarians. They truly believe that if everyone simply follows his or her self-interest, everything will somehow balance out. That sounds to me like anarchy, but I’m a simple country boy from Wyoming, so what the hell do I know?
When thoughtlessness and lack of consideration for others becomes a consistent pattern, it can be considered what’s clinically known as ASPD, antisocial personality disorder. The types we’re concerned with are the sociopath and psychopath. Though they share most of the traits listed below, there are differences. Psychopathy is linked with genetics or abnormalities in the frontal cortex, whereas sociopathy is more a learned response to early child development trauma and parental abuse or neglect. If it is a learned behavior, maybe it can be unlearned. Another scene from that body snatchers film is pertinent to our discussion. Dr. Bennett muses: “In my practice I’ve seen how people have allowed their humanity to drain away. Only it happened slowly instead of all at once. They didn’t seem to mind. All of us — we harden our hearts, grow callous. Only when we have to fight to stay human do we realize how precious it is, how dear.” My webmaster and long-time friend and I were talking several years ago about what the hell has happened to America, and he said “This country has lost its humanity.”
The main difference in the two seems to be one of degree. The sociopath may manipulate you, cheat or rob you, but a psychopath will kill you without a second thought. In the sociopath the empathy and conscience centers are disabled, but in the psychopath that neural wiring is completely absent. The psychopath is more of a predator. Several characteristics are common to the psychopathic personality, with consistent agreement throughout the psychiatric community. They are:
— skilled in social situations, charismatic, intelligent, able to read people quickly, highly manipulative.
— ability to make rational, coldly emotionless decisions without anxiety.
— impulsive, with the nability to learn from experience.
— pathological lying.
— incapacity for empathy or love, lack of remorse, shame, or conscience
— inability to think of long-term consequences, focused on short-term gains.
— an inflated sense of self worth.
— overwhelmingly they are men.
Serial killers are usually high-functioning psychopaths, careful and calculating; think Hannibal Lecter of film. Or take real-life serial killer Ted Bundy. Good-looking, charming, but always in his stone cold darkness, trolling for his next victim. Just like in the movies, they look and act just like us, but they are not us. Empathy is part of being a human being.
Those with ASPD make up about 4% of the general population in the U.S., psychopaths are about 1%. But when we look at politics or business, where great wealth and power are up for grabs, they’re perfect feeding ground for the high-functioning psychopath. Several studies agree that the psychopathic personality among corporate CEOs is around 4%, four times that of the general population. When you look at the characteristics that make for business management, you find charismatic people, skilled socially, able to make rational, emotionless decisions without anxiety. You also find the inability to think in the long-term, the latest or previous Quarterly Statement having the primary focus. One such study was Snakes in Suits: When Psychopaths Go to Work,” by Paul Babiak, Ph.D., and Robert Hare, Ph.D., 2006. Hare is a Canadian psychologist who developed the PCL-R, the Psychopath Check List Revised. In 2010 they examined 203 subjects in various management training programs, and found roughly the same percentage of psychopathic personalities, 4%.
The U.S. Supreme Court’s Citizens United decision, along with previous legal precedents, bestowed personhood on corporations. “Corporations are people, my friends,” said Mitt Romney in 2012 (to hoots and laughter). Does a corporation have the ability for empathy? No. Does it (per the Board of Directors) make coldly rational and emotionless decisions? Yes. Is it primarily focused on the latest Quarterly Report? Yes. Do they get away with murder? Yes. You know what this means, don’t you? That’s right — corporations are psychopaths, my friends! Since corporations pretty much regulate the government, not the other way around, we basically have a country being run by psychopaths. It explains a lot.
Sociopathy is endemic to the modern Republican Party of the last several years. In 2010 Newt Gingrich gave his opinion of unemployment insurance: “I’m opposed to giving people money for doing nothing.” More recently, there was Donald Trump at the first presidential debate, talking about the violence in the inner cities: “It’s terrible what’s been going on in Chicago. I have property there.” I could go on and on, believe me.
Let’s take a recent prime example. A year ago, 32-year-old Martin Shkreli, a former hedge fund manager, bought Turin Pharmaceuticals. It manufactures the drug Daraprim, widely used to treat toxoplasmosis and HIV. The company immediately jacked the price from $13.50 per pill to $750, a 5000% increase. He quickly became America’s most hated man, but he justified it, even wished he would have raised the price more: “My investors expect me to maximize profits.” He should have stopped there, but couldn’t help himself: “The attempt to public shaming is interesting,” he smirked, in a Vanity Fair article. “Because everything we’ve done is legal.”
Shkreli is a real piece of work. Google any picture of him, and he’s always wearing this smirk. I think he’s not only a psychopath but a sadist. There’s a German word for a face badly in need of a good punch — backpfeifengesicht. He showed his true colors again on TV last month, being asked about another pharmaceutical screw job — EpiPen, an injectable form of epinephrine, a life-saving drug used to treat severe allergic reactions. The price had gone from $100 for a two-pack to $600, overnight.
CBS’ Vanita Nair: These are life-saving drugs. People don’t have a choice whether they can buy them or not.”
Shkreli’s response: “Well, that’s up to insurance to pay for them. Like I said, it’s $300 a pack. $300. My iPhone’s $700, okay?”
Vanita Nair: “But you don’t need an iPhone to exist.”
Shkreli: “Yeah, it doesn’t matter, though. It’s $300 and 90% of Americans are insured.”
Even if true, I’ll bet that 70% of that 90% have deductibles in the thousands of dollars. And what about the other 10%, 32 million Americans? “Yeah, it doesn’t matter, though.”
I was listening to radio talk show host Thom Hartmann a year or so ago, when he was talking about all this. He asked, what does it say about us as a society that we’ve constructed a system that rewards sociopathic and psychopathic behavior? What do you call a system that not only permits but encourages psychotics to rise to the highest levels of political and corporate power and wealth? Maybe a pathocracy, or a psychopathocracy. And now we’re about to elect a repulsive, malignantly narcissistic psychopath to the presidency. God help us all.
For further reading:
Stout, Martha, The Sociopath Next Door (2005).
Ronson, Jon, The Psychopath Test: A Journey Through the Madness Industry (2011).
Lobaczewski, Andrzej, Political Ponerology: A Science on the Nature of Evil adjusted for Political Purposes (2006). Ponerology is the study of the nature of evil. I’ve read excerpts from this book, and it’s difficult reading, but well worth it.