Wednesday, February 8, 2012

Brightly Normal on the Economic Front

My mood these days is up and down like a jet-powered yoyo, and being me—a person who likes to see the oneness of it all—I tend to project what I experience out onto everything. Probably we all do. We see with what we are and therefore see what we are; we cannot not project. Anyway, this moodiness suggests to my ever-alert intuition that humanity is moody too. Not each individual without exception, but that a vibration of wildly fluctuating hope and despondency characterises humanity’s emotional/cultural state. Movements like The Tea Party, The Arab Spring, the uprisings in Spain and Greece, and Occupy Wall Street bloom, promise, then seem to decay. There seems to be a seesaw of wills between The Powers That Be and the New Powers That Want To Be, with the markets and economic data as trotted out by government the mounted knights of the former; mass protest and people power the raggedy band of outlaws fighting for the latter.

The situation is perverse and conflicted. Speaking for myself (though I’m sure I am not alone in this), I get a cheap thrill when economic data and markets show signs of weakness. Then, when they strengthen, a smidgen of despair, yet also a flicker of hope; all that good news might filter through to my little old life—perhaps finding income (which I really must do) won’t be too difficult. I am emotionally and intellectually invested in the new—which requires the collapse of the old—, while still needing the old to feed me and mine. This dissonance is the source of my mood swings, and I suspect the source too, more widely, of the societal schizophrenia I intuit.

I tend to refrain from peddling data here, because I don’t trust it. Last week the stock markets obediently surged on ‘good’ news from the US employment statistics. 200,000 jobs added! The UK has recently posted encouraging figures in both manufacturing and services, Germany coughed up warmer than luke GDP growth figures, and the Euro has not imploded. These are the ‘victories’ of the status quo. (Good articles by Golem and Karl Denninger help expose how manipulated this data is, in case you’re interested in how irrelevant to Main Street the figure are.)

Meanwhile, Greece and Spain and Hungary are in obvious free-fall. Greek government revenues fell by 7% in January, against a ‘predicted’ 9% rise. A 7% fall in a month is catastrophic. The country is down and out.  Spain’s youth unemployment rate has touched 50%. 50%! Greece is not far behind, with Portugal putting in a good showing. Europe wide, youth unemployment is at 20%. These are catastrophic figures. Hungarian debt was downgraded to junk last month, and Austria’s nose is deep in that doggy doo. Growth cannot emerge from this barren soil, but other things can, and are. Violence is one of course, but so is a new way of thinking, a new set of ambitions not coaxed forwards by consumerism. These new desires are the biggest threat to the status quo. 

Contagion, folks, contagion. We’re all interconnected now. So, against these hurricane strength headwinds, the ECB and the US Federal Reserve are printing money like there’s no tomorrow. There is indeed no tomorrow. Even if conditions on our economic ground were conducive to growth, the environment will not have any of it. As northern Europe endures a bitter cold snap and pipes burst across Russia, the UN is calling for new economic thinking. Yet on blogs and nooz sites discussing this lefty temerity, concern for the environment is equated with socialism. The ‘free’ market must be given more head, the money data proves this. For the love of life, are we ready for the end of growth? Can we, culturally and deeply, really appreciate what this means, tell ourselves new stories, fashion new desires?

Jein. Sometimes I think yes, sometimes I think no. Today, I think, ‘no way no how.’ Death is coming, and he’s mad as hell. The virtual reality of Nooz, Game Shows, MTV, Gadgets and Perpetual Human Ascent is too strong, its web too complex and bewildering, the erosion of trust too complete, our cynicism and ignorant cleverness too brittle, shallow and vain. We are infatuated with the wrong illusion, the one with its hands around our necks using our infantile love of it as the energy it needs to squeeze ever tighter. And as we begin to gasp and retch, as our faces turn purple, all we can muster is limp tantrums going nowhere.

30 comments:

Игры рынка said...

It is always quiet before a storm.

Toby said...

There are lulls in storms too. I think the storm is active, blowing, raining, raging, and tearing lives apart, and has been for years.

But the battling, that withering to-and-fro, is sliding the wrong way; perhaps it can only slide the wrong way. In this war—The War of Value as I call it—there can be no victory for either side until the common enemy is identified: our ignorance. Recognition and acceptance of ignorance is critical. (As Tao said a few posts back, we should all strive to doubt more, and this is a rich irony, one of many.) Right now (and for too long) ignorance fuels paranoia and antipathy, distorts our view, giving rise to hunger for deadly, or Pyrrhic, outcomes.

Игры рынка said...

While I do share your general mood, I am also a tiny bit less pessimistic. From my perspective I feel like this world has just turned around and is now trying hard to get smaller. And becoming smaller looks like an inevitable outcome of the current war of ignorance on both sides of the fence. We desperately need to get smaller. Because of our ecological footprint. Because of our values diluted by the globalized machinery. Because of disconnect between us and them. Because of our lost identity, pride, dedication and reward.

Humans are social animals but our current "society" is hardly social at all. Capitalism has stolen everything social from us because mass production requires mass consumption. However the instruments of mass consumption invented by capitalism like facebook etc are likely to backfire and already do backfire. It is difficult to turn facebook into money machine but the "social" revolutions spreading on internet are too chaotic and unpredictable to control for "them". Unless they shut it all down. But then it by definition means getting smaller.

So yes, it is very depressing to observe the obsession with statistical job reports and gdp growth. But no, we are on our way to regain ourselves back from the masters of statistics. Yes, the fight will be painful to most people, but the future is bright. Or at least brighter than our todays world. And keeps me going.

Toby said...

Thanks Sergei, every now and then I need a hug, and whether you intended it or not, that was one (as I perceived it). ;-)

Moods come and go. I share mine because I like to be open and honest, both about moaning and being human, but also about needing help from others from time to time.

And I agree with your assessment 100%.

Frank Powers said...

I don't really know where I actually got it from, DownSouth perhaps over at NakedCapitalism, but during the last days I took a look into the late Łobaczewski's idea of ponerology, and it made me think...

In short, Łobaczewski's theory amounts to the assumptions that a) a significant proportion of actual psychopaths is living among "us", "normal", empathic, conscience-equipped people, and b) tend to get "into power" time and again, which (in the broadest sense) shall account for humanity's history of violence.

Assumptions of prevalence of actual psychopathy vary from author to author (and depend a great deal on the actual, not totally agreed upon definition of psychopathy applied), but the more conservative figures are that around 2% of the population may actually be psychopathic more or less, i.e. without conscience, especially when one applies the more comprehensive definition of psychopathy by Hare.

To make a long story short (or at least try to): Might it be that we are actually dealing, at least in part, with forces and agents of those forces that are, in fact, fundamentally different in their psychological set-up from "the rest of us"? Migt we be dealing with people that are free from remorse, unhindered by conscience, and only bound by their own impulses?

It's a fascinating (and frightening) thought. A lot of things in this world could actually (and superficially) be explained by way of that argument. On the other hand, it opens up right another differentiation into "them" and "us", which may (or, most surely, would) result in new problems. The question is: how real, how factually grounded are Łobaczewski's assumptions? So far, even though having been trained as a psychologist myself, I really cannot satisfactorily appraise his theory (or the whole body of work independently done by Hare on that subject, for that matter). But it's a fascinating thing to ponder, and would in a way change the whole assessment of the problems we're facing as humanity...
Or wouldn't it?

Frank Powers said...

Forgot to link to ponerology, so here I do.

Toby said...

I have that book as a pdf on my iPad, Frank, and have read a couple of chapters, but could not want to read much further. But I agree, psychopathy (and sociopathy) are highly significant issues. If, like me, you resonate with E. O. Wilson's term "biophilia", which is the expansion of empathy outwards to embrace all life, you sympathise with a perspective on, or feeling for 'progress' which suggests we are becoming less and less psychopathic in our desires and dreams, in a system which is sociopathic at its heart, is fertile soil for the rise of psychopaths. The dissonance is palpable, the cracks plain to see.

We need socioeconomic institutions and systems which are open, simple and transparent, encourage general and open reciprocity rather than negative reciprocity; that is, remove the conditions which make information asymmetry 'beneficial' and 'profitable', and thus, slowly, pull the rug out from under psychopathy's feet. Not easy by any means, but such is one aspect of the set of challenges we face.

Frank Powers said...

I've read parts of Łobaczewski's book, and also would not really want to read much further - out of denial, perhaps, because it's paints a picture of a world I would not really want to live in... (But perhaps we do.)

Anyway, I agree with you take on the matter. Yet, on another hand, the whole psychopathology-matter resonates strongly with another idea I had and still have: to have sort of a "moral screening" of everyone applying for public office. (We don't hire pedophiles as kindergardeners, either.)
In fact, moral development is a pretty well researched issue, and I know there already exist structured interviews and stuff that enable us to actually assess a person's level of moral development - and should the tools in existence deemed inadequate, it wouldn't be impossible to come up with better tools.

Of course, that won't happened, as it would mean the end for the careers of (I believe) much more than at least half of our "elected representatives". But still, I really like the idea.

Debra said...

Since I have psych credentials, and spent a long time in the psych labyrinth before moving out, I am going to offer myself the luxury of commentin a book/idea which I have not read, and will not.
A month ago I had lunch with a clinical psychologist friend, and we agreed that the "psychopathology" that caracterizes her current, and my previous patients was the mirror reflection of... the way liberalism and the secularization of Christian ideals are STILL playing out in our society.
"Our" still current ideas about morality STILL have a profound debt to our Judeo Christian.. MORALITY which is more and more under attack.
Social Darwinism, and the glorification of POWER AND FORCE in a dog eat dog world, well, that kind of ideology is a great petri dish for what you like to call psychopathy, but what i would call the result of the decline of the COLLECTIVE SUPEREGO that religion instilled in us.
Just how long can we go around puffing out our chests and gleefully proclaiming that God is dead, and that as a result... anything goes, without this attitude producing.. AN EFFECT ??
I am not a conventional Christian at all, if indeed I am one, but I can sure see THE DEBT we still have to Christian ideas.
I don't think ignorance is our major problem.
I think that our loss of FAITH and BELIEF is the major problem that is corroding our social systems, of which money is only one element.
And I really dislike the economic blogs (except yours, Toby), because the majority play to the us/them mentality which allows US to wriggle off the hook, and not examine OUR CONSCIENCES.
Good post, Toby.
As individuals... most people I know are really trying to do something in their lives.
This bottom up action WILL have an effect... ON A FREE MARKET SYSTEM.
But.. in a planned economy ?
No way...

Toby said...

The effect the book had on you, reminds me of my experience of it, though I detected too the old hand of Cartesian Dualism in there, which always frustrates me nowadays.

Otherwise, and to give support to Franz Hoermann in his trouble days, yes, when we interact with the public, take from and give to it, we should do so transparently. Qualifying for positions of responsibility is important, and I guess there could be ways of assessing people's moral sensibilities. The danger here is a kind of McCarthyism or witch hunt, which Debbie is rightly so concerned about. My preference is always to look at underlying supporting conditions rather than at surface patchwork solutions, even though mine is by far the harder route. We need to rearrange the sociological soil so as to inhibit the rise of psychopaths to positions of power, rather than screen them away from power that's there for 'normal' people to abuse. That is, fixed, institutional hierarchies must be opened up and made less concerned with power, and that's a big challenge.

Abundance and cooperation as our foundational operating principles seem to me inescapable here. However, such deep change is only going to begin to be affected, if ever, after serious collapse of various patch-work fixes failing to hold it all together. The dissonance between what we should be doing and what we are doing is so shrill, it is constantly astounding to me that TPTB can keep this behemoth, this Ungeheuer in some semblance of forward momentum.

Toby said...

"Social Darwinism, and the glorification of POWER AND FORCE in a dog eat dog world, well, that kind of ideology is a great petri dish for what you like to call psychopathy"

Indeed, well said (see my answer to Frank just before your came in). And my small calls for rearranging things, cannot do any justice to the enormity of the task. We are the system. Yes, there are those in power abusing it, and yes, there are the indoctrinated, and yes, schools and propaganda are very effective in perpetuating unthinking obedience, but the New Way I constantly eulogize has to emerge from us, it cannot be imposed by some Super Smart Dudes who Really Know What They're Doing. Even though there are victims and criminals here, it is up to us to sort this out, for pragmatic reasons. Otherwise we'll get a new boss, and he'll be just like the old one.

As to it not happening in a planned economy, well, that's what we have. Planning (control) is what this system is about. There can be no 'free market' economy until money is both 'free' (not under monopoly control) and encourages environmentally aware economic activity. I have a lot of time for the position that says no money can do this, but more time for the Eisenstein position of flowing money, guaranteed income (social dividend), growth of the commons, environmentally-tuned taxation (if required), and other elements which together create the framework which can slowly end our 'addiction' to immature, narcissistic hedonism.

Frank Powers said...

@Toby:

Huh, I'd love to see everybody operate on a level-6-moral basis, but you're right: not being there yet (and getting there would definitely involve big societal changes, if it was possible for a majority of people to actually get there ever at all), the possibility of creating "witch hunts" in spite of the best intentions might be very real (although I'd guess that those would be rather furthered by the people sorted out by "moral screening").

My preference is always to look at underlying supporting conditions rather than at surface patchwork solutions, even though mine is by far the harder route.

Hard indeed, but sometimes only the hard things are actually worthwhile. I, for one, still think that the indivudual development of consciousness might be the high (and perhaps only) route to that kind of future of "abundance and cooperation as our foundational operating principles".


@Debby:

Indeed - psychopathology in all its forms might, in a way, even be the logical "reaction" (insofar one can speak of a reaction in regard to a, at least in part, genetically influenced/induced condition) to the world we have wrought. Dog-eat-dog... (And even dogs normally aren't that doggish, only we are.)

Frank Powers said...

@Debra:
Sorry for calling you Debby. Been following Toby's blog and the comments for too long already, apparently. ;) No offense meant.

Tao Jonesing said...

Toby,

That was very well written. You have summed up quite well what I and others I know have been going through for the last few years.

A partial solution is to refuse to stay up on "current events." These are distractions. Today's outrage is reported so that you will forget about yesterday's outrage, which was never resolved (and never will be). Today's good news is based on falsified economic and financial data of yesterday to hide the depths of human despair and suffering that are being heaped on the masses so imaginary bits of wealth won't die in reality.

The "moodiness" that we are experiencing is, in fact, our brains at work. Human beings do not experience life, we interpret it. We compare what we observe to what we expect, the difference giving rise to an emotion that, in turn, gives rise to an action.

When we believe that observed reality is within the realm of the expected, we remain in a metastable state between mania and depression. A great deal of effort goes into shaping both our expectations (e.g., through the societal values enforced by our social institutions) and our observations (e.g., the propaganda of the past and present) so that we stay in this metastable state. As long as we are certain that everything is okay, we are comfortable. As long as we are comfortable, we are tractable. But when we become uncomfortable, we will become more uncomfortable unless and until we become certain that everything will be okay. Left uncomfortable long enough, this positive feedback effect drives us to oscillate between the emotional rails of mania and depression. That explains your moodiness.

You will never be comfortable in the reality that is being broadcast because you know that it is false. Accept that truth, and you will cease looking for confirmation of what you know in current events as reported (we all get cheap thrills when we confirm what we think we already know). Current events remain valuable in understanding the magnitude and direction of the underlying reality.

At least that is how I try to deal with what you've described. I am comfortable that I understand the underlying human function that drives the social process, and with that I no longer feel the need to seek confirmation of any static reality in the reporting of current events. I now respond mostly to the magnitude and direction of the tone of reporting, although I still can't help myself sometimes and dwell on the outrage of the day, which gets me flipping between moods.

Tao Jonesing said...

@Frank,

Lobaczewki's book has been on my nightstand since shortly after DownSouth recommended it (where is he these days, by the way?).

My problem with Lobaczewski is that he seems to assume that our society started pure and was made impure by the psychopaths. I believe Western society was created by the psychopaths to control the masses, and that what Lobaczewski describes as "ponerology" is merely the realization by the masses of the reality that they are controlled, which leads them to demand change. If there is enough of a hew and cry, the psychopaths nominally change the rules, but without ever changing the control structure. The "Social Contract" is the Covenant of Judaism and Christianity. But its just business to the psychopath, and they have no problem breaching their contracts.

Toby said...

Well said, Frank. It's out of our control, this consciousness evolution, but that's fully ok, as Tao suggests. And the more we feed the healthier process, the more sustenance and nourishment this emerging consciousness receives.

And well said, Tao. Actually, I haven't watched TV for about four years now, and, for the most part, stay away from 'data.' And yet the part of me that was for so long adn so thoroughly conditioned to wait for Mummy and Daddy figures to tell me what's right and wrong, what the truth is, is still there. I suspect it always will be. I give voice to it here not because I expect anything to change, but to share openly what I'm going through, in the conviction that others are going through it too.

And very good points about manipulation and propaganda. I must look up a long, somewhat mystical article I read some time ago about psychopathy as a spiritual disease that has humanity in its grip—you might like it. I actually like your analysis, but would probably put 'alpha male' in the place of psychopath, though the difference is probably cosmetic. It's an ad hoc process, there's no real master plan, no grand conspiracy, just opportunism and circumstance favouring the sociopath/psychopath type. Now we 'empaths' are enslaved, so to speak, but we are the only ones who can 'free' us. No one else is going to. And even this rendering is too Us and Them for my taste. I'm very wary of its dangers and traps.

Toby said...

Found that article, Tao (and anyone else of course). Here's the first para, to whet or not whet your appetite:

"In the book Columbus and other Cannibals, indigenous author Jack D. Forbes lucidly explores a psychological disease that has been informing human self-destructive behavior that Native American people have known about for years. After reading his book, it was clear to me that he was describing the same psycho-spiritual disease of the soul that I wrote about in my book, The Madness of George W. Bush: A Reflection of our Collective Psychosis. I introduce the idea that from the dawn of human history our species has fallen prey to a collective psychosis which I call malignant egophrenia. Speaking about this very same psychic epidemic, Forbes writes, "For several thousands of years human beings have suffered from a plague, a disease worse than leprosy, a sickness worse than malaria, a malady much more terrible than smallpox."[i] Indigenous people have been tracking the same "psychic"[ii] virus that I call malignant egophrenia for many centuries and calling it "wetiko," a Cree term which refers to a diabolically wicked person or spirit who terrorizes others. Professor Forbes, who was one of the founders of the Native American movement during the early sixties, says, "Tragically, the history of the world for the past 2,000 years is, in great part, the story of the epidemiology of the wetiko disease."[iii] Wetiko/malignant egophrenia is a "psychosis" in the true sense of the word as being a "sickness of the soul or spirit." Though calling it by different names, Forbes and I are both pointing at the same illness of the psyche, soul and spirit that has been at the root of humanity's inhumanity to itself."

http://www.realitysandwich.com/greatest_epidemic

Frank Powers said...

@Tao:

A partial solution is to refuse to stay up on "current events." These are distractions. Today's outrage is reported so that you will forget about yesterday's outrage, which was never resolved (and never will be).

So very right you are. I actually managed to be unaware of current events for about six consecutive years (living in a small town at the edge of the country, owning no TV and having only a modem-internet connection helped, of course). In hindsight (it's always only in hindsight), those were the happiest years of my life. Of course, those were also my college years. Anyway, it was good to get a distance between me and the daily madness.

You will never be comfortable in the reality that is being broadcast because you know that it is false.

Yeah, we've all tasted from the Red Pill. Consequentially, we know we are living a lie, at least partially. And living a lie means cognitive dissonance: We have to remain in this world, to "make a living"; yet, we know the game is rigged, and we've catched a glimpse of "the more beautiful world our hearts tell us is possible", to quote Eisenstein.

My problem with Lobaczewski is that he seems to assume that our society started pure and was made impure by the psychopaths

Regarding Łobaczewski, you've hit the nail on the head: psychopathy might be one of the many problems humanity faces, perhaps even an important problem, giving its prevalence, but the main hypothesis of "ponerology" somehow already seems flawed. I'd guess that all those people without conscience (that DO exist, just take a look at "current events") might rather be successful parasites than the exact root of the problem. Externalising "guilt" is always a messy affair, and I doubt that all would be well once we've defeated those damned psychopaths... (Who'd be next?)

Also, part of the psychopathy-problem is us falling for the psychopaths, given they indeed occupy the power structure (and yes, it's quite possible): as long as we react to "power", "hierarchy" and, as a medium of those, "money", putting our own sense of morality last in order to "meet (psychopathic) expectations", we'll remain victimised. That's why I believe that "spiritual", conscious growth is the only way out of the otherwise neverending spiral of suffering (thanks to the Buddha for that one)...


@Toby:

I love that quote. I'll follow up on it!

Debra said...

Well, it's about time that I relate my experience as our volunteer library person in charge of contacting the people who are late returning a book...
It may sound extremely prosaic, but it is not.
I have been in this position for the past eight months or so, and I handle it pretty much alone.
When people are over two weeks late returning a book, I find them on our computer listing, and contact them by telephone in a very diplomatic manner, suggesting that we MAY have made an error (hey, TO ERR IS HUMAN, TO FORGIVE DIVINE, that's written somewhere) and asking them to look for the book(s) and bring them back to the library.
In over eight months of calling people, I have only had two bad experiences, where people have become all huffy.
And how many books have been.. LOST ? STOLEN ?
A negligeable number.
I have noticed something, though.
THE MORE YOU ASSUME THAT SOMEONE IS GOING TO BE DISHONEST, THE MORE YOU MULTIPLY THE CHANCES THAT HE WILL BE.
That's right.
That assumption functions like a self fulfilling prophecy.
That is why in all my daily life, I cultivate naïveté, and believe people very easily.
You would really be surprised at the effects.
As for the number of psychopaths..
I really don't particularly believe that one.
Because I have spent a lot of time with "Macbeth", and to me, "Macbeth" is a much more accurate picture of human nature.
STILL RIGHT NOW, as a matter of fact.
That is why constant harping on corruption and dishonesty is very bad for the social body.
It plants... nasty ideas in our very suggestible minds...

Debra said...

The number one reason for not necessarily voluntary "psychopathic" behavior, in my opinion ?
Mindless concentration of business structures in such a way that people no longer can identify with the FLESH AND BLOOD PEOPLE who they are supposed to be representing, at all levels, including the directly political level, of course.
When the faces become numbers, in other words...

Frank Powers said...

@Toby:

If, like me, you resonate with E. O. Wilson's term "biophilia", which is the expansion of empathy outwards to embrace all life,(...)

By the way, "biophilia" is also the expression Erich Fromm used in his famous book "Anatomie der menschlichen Destruktivität" (no English Wikipedia article available, unfortunately)... It's a small world!

(Did Fromm and Wilson know each other?)

Frank Powers said...

@Toby:

Alright, Fromm was first:

In der Einleitung heißt es: Die ständig zunehmende Gewalttätigkeit und Destruktivität auf der ganzen Welt lenkte die Aufmerksamkeit der Fachwelt wie der breiten Öffentlichkeit auf die theoretische Erforschung des Wesens und der Ursachen der Aggression. Fromm bekennt sich dort zu einem soziobiologischen Standpunkt – fünf Jahre bevor Edward O. Wilson und Richard Dawkins den Begriff Soziobiologie popularisierten. Fromm meint damit nicht primär die Genetik, sondern seinen Versuch, das Wesen des Menschen und seiner Leidenschaften aus seinen anatomischen, neurologischen und physiologischen Grundlagen sowie aus seinen anthropologisch belegbaren Lebensbedingungen abzuleiten.

Should have reread the article, not just linked to it...

Frank Powers said...

@Toby: Last comment for today. Just skimmed Paul Levy's article that you quoted:

"In the book Columbus and other Cannibals, indigenous author Jack D. Forbes lucidly explores a psychological disease that has been informing human self-destructive behavior that Native American people have known about for years. After reading his book, it was clear to me that he was describing the same psycho-spiritual disease of the soul that I wrote about in my book, The Madness of George W. Bush: A Reflection of our Collective Psychosis. I introduce the idea that from the dawn of human history our species has fallen prey to a collective psychosis which I call malignant egophrenia.(...)"

It starts off on the right foot, but then goes off the deep end. He lost me somewhere in the vampire section. Too post-modern an approach for the likes of me. What do you think?

Toby said...

Hi FP,

wow, lots of leg work today! Or rather, finger work. But all good stuff...

I know very little about Fromm and Wilson. They are on my 'to read' list, so I don't know if they met.

I read that wetiko article last year and can't remember vampires. I just had another look, and it seems to be using myth as one of multiple avenues into a deeper understanding of psychopathy, or wetiko. For me, the scientific view of the 'disease' seems to be merely a modern take on a phenomenon humanity has had to deal with for millennia, and myth proves this. In this way, myth is proof of Tao's assertion that psychos 'took over' a very long time ago, and have held on to that power ever since. The language we use to describe and the methodologies we use to analyze what we experience changes over time, but the phenomenon is the same.

I have to say that the guy's work is too rich for my blood too, but it is well written and deeply researched, and offers insight into just how old and even pervasive (across cultures) this problem is...

Tao Jonesing said...

@Toby,

Thanks for the link to the article. I look forward to reading it.

I disagree that "psychopath" = "alpha male." The difference is that a psychopath views his followers as prey, while an alpha male can (but does not necessarily) view his followers as being under his protection. A psychopath is always a hunter. An alpha male can be a shepherd.

Another reason I disagree with the alpha male analogy is that it implies the "survival of the fittest" meme of Darwinism, which may be true in the animal kingdom but is not true in the kingdom of man. Those who thirst for power (as opposed to those of us who take it because nobody else will) typically resort to lies and subterfuge that, once discovered, lead to their downfall. The best liars are not the fittest but the weakest. That's why the control structures were created in a manner to obscure those who actually hold the power: you cannot depose a leader you do not see.

The higher you rise in a modern corporation, the higher the percentage of "psychopaths." I don't use that word as a pejorative because I don't equate psychopathy with evil. Only actions are evil, and one who consistently engages in evil actions cannot be trusted. A person cannot be viewed as evil by his nature, only by his actions. To me, "psychopathy" merely means without a "conscience," which in turn means the absence of a mediating effect on individual behavior by societal norms. The psychopath does not care about the collective, only himself or herself. And that's okay.

But there are few pure psychopaths. Everybody I've ever hated had somebody who loved him/her. Even Hitler had Eva Braun.

Once I'm done with my current gig, I'll share more thoughts on this topic. Every day I get to witness psychopathy in action, and I find it both tragic and comical. I even engage in it, but as a shepherd, not a wolf. This does not assuage my conscience, however.

Tao Jonesing said...

@Debra,

Your last two comments are good ones (which is not to imply that those that came before are not).

Personally, I trust until I have a reason not to do so. My experience is that the vast majority of people want to please others and, therefore, will not willfully transgress trust once provided. Indeed, most people who betray a trust do so stupidly and without thought.

But the number of "psychopaths" is larger than you think (although I agree with you that most are merely the necessary result of the rules set that is enforced in modern society). At the top of the pyramid there are real, live psychopaths in the purest sense of the word. (Which again is not to say that there is an inherent evil in these people or their actions, just a different calculus in decision-making).

Again, I will share more when I'm done with my current gig.

Toby said...

No, psychopath does not equal alpha male, but the conditions which allow for both to become leaders are the same, hence the dynamic which allows one to shine, allows the other to thrive too. That was what I meant. Hunter gatherers were ruthless in dealing with alphas, if those alphas refused to conform to the groups demands. Judging by that article on wetiko, 'primitives' also knew about psychopaths, and I imagine they would have gone to great lengths to kill them too, to protect the group. And no doubt psychopathy would have been seen as spiritual possession. Perhaps it is, my mind is open.

I read a long paper a few years ago on psychopathy (by Linda Mealey) which talked of primary and secondary psychopaths. Secondary psychopaths 'learn' or are socialized to become psychopaths and can be 'cured.' Primaries are born that way, and are hence 'incurable.' They are congenitally incapable of empathy, yet they have a dark fascination with empathy, fear and all of the human emotional world. In another article I read, which echoed the conclusions of the former, the proposed solution was to find or create socially healthy roles for people incapable of empathy. Apparently ancient Egyptians identified and gave roles to psychopaths, buy I have yet to look into this for verification.

Toby said...

I forgot to mention, Mealey said that 2-4% of the population are psychopathic (if memory serves), there are far more male than female psychopaths, and that secondary psychopaths by far outnumber primary. I'd have to look into again for the figures, but don't have time...

Debra said...

Interesting comments.
Frank, would you mind translating your Fromm comments, please ? I haven't read Fromm.. in ages, but what I read a long time ago impressed me.
On the alpha male topic... last week I finished reading a book by Tony Anthony, called "The Eye of the Tiger".
Tony has an extremely impressive life story : he started out as an English child born to an immigrant Chinese mom, and an Italian dad.
Kidnapped at 5 or so by his Chinese grandad, he was trained to become a Kung Fu master, in order to perpetuate family tradition. This... training, obviously, comprised treatment that would have qualified as.. ILL TREATMENT in our countries, but elsewhere... well, other cultures have different ideas on this subject.
As an adult, Tony was a bodyguard to some pretty important, wealthy politicians/managers, etc, and following the death of his fiancé, he lost control of his... alpha male impulses ??, engaging in extremely violent behavior for the sadistic pleasure of it.
Imprisoned in Cyprus in appalling conditions, he meets patient... evangelists who convert him to Jesus, through tenderness, integrity.
And... from an extremely violent... PSYCHOPATHIC person, Tony becomes an ardent defenser of Jesus, and a vision of VIRILITY which is 180° away from what he has learned as a child.
I taught my son this HONOR CODE OF VIRILITY, TOO.
Force IN THE SERVICE of weakness, in order to protect. (What you call the shepherd, Tao, and which, obviously resonates with our millenia tradition of... the shepherd.)
Freud talked about the intrication of our sadistic impulses with tenderness, and the desire to protect.
WHEN YOU SEPARATE THEM... you get people who are like Tony BEFORE he found a greater cause ? to devote himself to.

Toby said...

Wow, now there's a life. I'd never heard of the guy. When's the movie coming out? ;-)

But I don't think he was at any stage of that story psychopathic, at least from the few details you have given, Debbie. However, he is proof positive that profound transformation is possible, and that fact (whatever that is) is often stranger than fiction (whatever that is).