The World Is Run By Political Psychopaths. It often occurs to me that we live in the best of times and the worst of times, to quote Charles Dickens. It is the best of times because the intellectual achievements advanced by humanity hold some promise of solving many horrendous, seemingly intractable problems. It is the worst of times because the political climate is a tinderbox with psychopaths holding all the matches, while the dual threats of nuclear war and climate change could kill us all.
From the psychological sciences we have just begun to make huge advancements in the study of human goodness and empathy. Many books have been published about empathy and compassion as essential human traits. One book, Mirroring People: The New Science of How We Connect with Others 1st Edition, by Marco Iacoponi (right) describes a fascinating new discovery in neurobiology, in which humans, and apparently some other species, can sense what another being is feeling because mirror neurons instinctively reproduce the experience in our brains, so we can feel what another feels. Essentially, we have learned that normal people within our human species have evolved, through our genes and brain anatomy, to be empathetic and cooperative creatures. Mirror neurons may form the biological basis of empathy, morality, self-awareness, and the ability to connect deeply with others.
And just as humanity becomes aware of the true nature and power of goodness, we at the same time are confronting scientific evidence about the nature and power of evil. Many people are in denial about evil. I used to think, like many people, that basically everyone is deep down really good at heart. And I do think that is true, for about 90 to 95% of the population. But genetic, anatomical, and psychological studies have discovered that there are psychopaths among us. (I am defining a psychopath as someone who has no empathy for the feelings of others and has no conscience about what they do.) They make up about 4-6% of the population (with another 12-15% or so who have a genetic predisposition and can be converted to psychopathic behavior through early child abuse, domineering parenting, and a few other factors.)
In my opinion the best book about psychopathy in general and political psychopathy in particular, is the masterpiece Political Ponerology: A Science on the Nature of Evil Adjusted for Political Purposes, by Andrew M. Lobaczewski. The author of this book, a psychologist who witnessed the takeover of his homeland by the Nazi regime, calls for a new academic discipline to study psychopathy in the political realm. There is no other book like this one; it is not to be missed! It opened my mind, terrorized my heart, and changed my life. Although a hard read because of dense text and brand-new ideas that will cause your head to spin, it is well worth your time. I have read it four times and still not grasped it all.
Written by a psychologist about his experiences in Poland during the rise of the Nazi occupation before WWII, this book posits that there is an expanding global network of psychopaths who rule nations and subsequently ruin the lives of their people. According to the scientific studies carried out by Lobaczewski, about 1% of the human species are essential psychopaths, meaning that at birth their genetic and neurological structure is set for psychopathic behavior and nothing can prevent its development. Another 3-5% are psychopaths created through predispositions in genetics and neurology, combined with a mixture of these factors during childhood: abusive care taking, head injuries, exposure to certain childhood diseases, and exposure to dominant, psychopathic personalities. Together, these two groups comprise about 4-6% of the population.
In addition to these groups, Lobaczewski claims another 15-18% of the population are willing followers, or easily manipulated to follow psychopathic leaders, who then remain forever loyal to him. This is an important thing to remember about political leaders, political parties and political campaigns. With 4-6% as true psychopaths who attempt to become leaders, and about 15-18% of people as the loyal cult followers of these leaders, about 20% of all the people in a given population can be true believers of a psychopathic regime. How terrifying! This means that approximately 1 in every 20 people you know, through family, friends, school, work, and the general public, is a psychopath (having no empathy and no conscience). How terrifying! (But do remember, also, that 85-90% or more are normal, having empathy for others and a conscience to guide good moral behavior. They do constitute the majority of human souls.)
In this book, the author examines causes and types of psychopathy. He also explains that psychopaths are attracted to positions of power, so rising up the political ranks is natural for them, and frightening for us. The only antidote to evil rising in nations is knowledge and citizen activism.
So, if we are to believe Lobacjewski, for the past 10,000 years or so, since human have lived in cities, the majority of normal people, somewhere between 80 to 90% of a population, depending on child-rearing practices, the prevalence of disease, and many other variables, have been dominated by the 10-20% of people who are psychopaths or psychopathic followers of an evil leader. The psychopaths have included historical figures like Attila the Hun, Genghis Khan, Vlad III the Impaler of Wallachia, King Henry VIII, Ivan IV the Terrible of Russia, Pol Pot, Idi Amin Dada, The Kim dynasty in North Korea, Mao Tse Tong, King Leopold II of Belgium, Stalin, Lenin, Mussolini, and Hitler, who ruled Germany with other psychopathic leaders like Heinrich Himmler, Hermann Goring, Adolph Eichmann, Martin Bormann, and Joseph Goebbles, and tens of thousands of other true believer psychopathic followers.
So is the history of humanity one long story of psychopaths ruling over normal people?
The answer is “Yes,” according to Lobaczewski. In Political Ponerology, Lobaczewski adopts the term “pathocracy” to refer to “a system of government . . . wherein a small pathological minority [consisting of those he calls ‘pathocrats’] takes control over a society of normal people,” and details the process by which, over and over again throughout thousands of years, such evil governments have risen to power.
What about the US? In this land of near unlimited resources, has there always been here a ruling elite, a wealthy ruling class, who dominated with money and power, leaving the vast majority of normal people to scrape by?
What about today? Who really rules America? The GOP? The GOP and Democrats? The wealthy 1% elite who finance their campaigns? What do you think?
For a second excellent introduction to the topic of political psychopathy, I suggest the website The Systems Thinker. The author summarizes most of the best thinking on psychopathy and related topics. Don’t miss this site! Here is a sample:
“Throughout history, psychopaths have managed to dominate power arrangements and shape institutions – and possibly even entire social structures – in their own image. Theorists in the field of ponerology, especially its pioneer Andrew M. Lobaczewski (see above), describe how this relatively small number of people then used their positioning to exert significant control over a generally submissive population that tends to follow the lead of authority figures. Through these mechanisms, psychopaths – along with those with BPD, NPD and other personality disorders – have contributed to generating the seemingly endless parade of massive wars, man-made death, environmental disasters and other ruthless destruction that characterizes modern history. They continue to wield surprising levels of influence over events in our world today.
How is it that this relatively tiny minority has been able to achieve such a remarkable feat? The answer lies in a combination of the abilities made possible by the psychopath’s unique traits and talents and certain characteristics of modern society’s structure which they themselves may have helped create.” (See section below on characteriestics,)
One of the most hair-on-fire ideas the author presents is that some researchers of psychopaths believe that since normal people have a conscience and psychopaths don’t, normal people belong to the homo sapiens species, while psychopaths may be a sub-set of this species, or even a para-Homo Sapiens. As the author says,
“Others have gone even farther, drawing the perspective out to its ultimate conclusion by classifying the psychopath as a separate subspecies of humanity – what Andrew Lobaczewski (see above), in one interview, termed “a para-Homo Sapiens.” For these thinkers, empathy and conscience are so fundamental to what it means to be a normal human being that a person without those traits represents a new evolutionary branch.”
As a third excellent resource, I recommend Systems Engineer Barbara Oakley’s exceptional book Evil Genes: Why Rome Fell, Hitler Rose, Enron Failed, and My Sister Stole My Mother’s Boyfriend sets out on an exploration of evil, or Machiavellian, individuals. Illustrated by advances in brain imaging that have illuminated the relationship of genetics, emotions, and brain physiology, Oakley describes detailed case histories of famous evil psychopaths like Slobodan Milosevic and Mao Zedong, interspersed with a commentary on her own sister’s life. With evidence from genetic and neurological research, Oakley posits that they all had personality disorders, primarily antisocial personality disorder, often called psychopathy.
(Note: in this site I refer to political psychopaths as men. This is because the incidence of psychopathy is much smaller in women, and because the incidence of women as political leaders is also very small. So my wording is intentional but based on what I’ve observed and read.)
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What makes a psychopath? Here are some characteristics of particular note to politics. They are taken from a classic 1970 book on the topic, by psychologist Robert Hare. Note: A person does not need to possess all characteristics to be a psychopath.
- Lack of Conscience, Lack of Empathy, and Callousness — A lack of feelings toward people in general; cold, contemptuous, inconsiderate, and tactless.
- Glib and Superficial Charm — Tendency to be smooth, engaging, charming, and verbally facile. Psychopathic charm is not shy or self-conscious, or afraid to say anything.
- Grandiose Self-Worth — A grossly inflated view of one’s abilities and self-worth, self-assured, and opinionated. Arrogant, believe they are superior human beings.
- Pathological Lying — In moderate form, they will be shrewd, crafty, cunning, sly, and clever; in extreme form, they will be deceptive, deceitful, underhanded, unscrupulous, manipulative, undependable, and dishonest.
- Cunning and Manipulative — Deceit and deception to cheat, con, or defraud others for personal gain; exploitation and callous ruthlessness, as reflected in a lack of concern for the feelings and suffering of one’s victims.
- Lack of Remorse or Guilt, and Failure to Acknowledge Mistakes — Lack of conscience, lack of feelings or concern for the losses, pain, and suffering of victims; a tendency to be unconcerned, dispassionate, cold-hearted, and non-empathetic. Often demonstrate a disdain for one’s victims. Never apologize or say, “I’m sorry.”
- Failure to Accept Responsibility for Own Actions — A failure to accept responsibility for one’s actions, an absence of accountability, antagonistic manipulation of others through this denial, and blaming others for one’s actions.
- Poor Behavioral Controls — Irritability, annoyance, impatience, threats, aggression, verbal abuse; inadequate control of anger and temper; impulsiveness.
- Promiscuous, Predatory Sexual Behavior — Brief, superficial relations, numerous affairs, an indiscriminate selection of sexual partners; inability to form long-term relationships; a history of attempts to sexually coerce others into sexual activity, taking great pride at discussing sexual exploits or conquests, possible sexual predatory actions, assault and rape.
- Early Behavior Problems — A variety of behaviors prior to age 13, including lying, theft, cheating, vandalism, bullying, sexual activity, fire-setting, alcohol use, and running away from home.
- Juvenile Delinquency — Behavior problems between ages 13-18; mostly behaviors that are crimes or involve aspects of antagonism, exploitation, and aggression.
- Criminal Versatility — A diversity of types of criminal offenses; taking great pride at getting away with crimes.
- Impulsiveness — Behaviors that are unpremeditated and lack reflection or planning; inability to resist temptation, frustrations, and urges; a lack of deliberation without considering the consequences; foolhardy, rash, unpredictable.
- Irresponsibility — Repeated failure to fulfill or honor obligations and commitments; such as not paying bills, defaulting on loans, performing sloppy work, being absent or late to work, failing to honor contractual agreements.
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After reviewing these characteristics, there can’t be any doubt that psychopaths live among us. And there can’t be any doubt that political psychopaths live among us. In fact, they rule our world. Masha Gessen is a Russia- born journalist who examines the life and times of Russia’s President, Vladimir Putin, a psychopath living in psychopathic culture, in The Man Without A Face, The Unlikely Rise of Vladimir Putin. A NYT columnist, Masha Gessen has said “Lack of imagination is one of our greatest handicaps as humans and as citizens.” Americans, she asserts, are in denial about the prevalence of evil in political and corporate arenas, and we also lack a catastrophic imagination. Perhaps that is because, she contemplates, compared to most other countries in the world, the US has not suffered on our own lands bombing raids, drone strikes, great hunger, authoritarian leaders. But she assures us that a psychopathic ruler and psychopathic culture can, and with some probability, will happen here, in the US. Indeed, it may be in process right now.
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In summary, these are my beliefs about psychopaths and evil, very simplified and condensed, as suggested by the brilliant sources listed above.
One, human civilization evolved for 200,000 years largely in small tribes of perhaps 20 to a few hundred people at most.
Two, one in about 20 people, or about 5% of our population, is a psychopath or easily becomes a psychopath with the right conditions (a mixture of genetic predisposition, extensive child abuse, childhood exposure to psychopathic personalities, and childhood head injury or disease).
Three, psychopaths by nature gravitate to positions of power in whatever group they find themselves, and so become dominant leaders, or the alphas among powerful males.
Belief four, because about one in 20 people is psychopathic, because we evolved in groups of about 20 to 200, and because psychopaths gravitate to powerful positions, then it’s reasonable to assume the possibility that small tribal societies throughout human evolution may have been ruled by psychopaths. (And if this is true, perhaps the seeds of human civilizations were sewn from psychopathic cultures, structured by frameworks of autocratic leadership and hierarchical power structures).
Belief five, about 10,000 years ago, the mini ice age ended, climate became more predictable and people-friendly, and humans began agriculture. This led to the beginning of cities, as human tribes combined and collective systems began. The Biblical creation myth was imagined, written down, and made into strong customs and laws. All of this, of course, was done by the cities’ psychopathic leaders. In belief five, the creation myth conceived by psychopathic tribal leaders led their followers to the belief that they were their God’s “special” and “chosen ones”. And worse, they were led to the belief that their God commanded them to exert control over everything on earth – animals, trees, plants, the oceans, drinking water, gold and emeralds and oil, and arable land – and to use all of it for their own needs and pleasure.
Six, populations grew, the hierarchical systems remained, and psychopaths retained power throughout time, cultures, nations, various revolutions, and even today, in 2017.
Seven, the history of humanity has essentially been one of psychopathic leaders dominating everyone and everything around them. Their legacy has included the waging of wars over territory and resources, the theft of people and lands and oil, the genocide of groups in opposition to them, and other unspeakable evils. Their legacy has also included the suffering of the normal population, those people born with empathy and a conscience, who were forced to act as common workers doing the bidding of their psychopathic leaders’ – those masses who were wounded and killed as soldiers, stolen and sold into slavery, conscripted as heavy laborers doing the back-breaking work that made (and still make, today) their psychopath leaders wealthy and powerful. Uncountable men, women, children, and animals domesticated and undomesticated provided the labor needed to advance civilizations and great wealth for the few, all over the planet.
Eight, throughout the evil terror of human history, even though normal humans were primarily dominated by psychopathic cultures and leaders, normal humans were still able to make life bearable, even at times enjoyable, by creating art, music, literature, romantic customs, good child-rearing practices, and attempts at democratic rule, such as in the US. The psychopathic rulers were busy creating conflict and war and suffering because of their inherent deficits in emotion and imagination, while the normal human beings, filled with intense emotion and imagination, created art, music, dance, romance, literature, and everything else that makes human life fun and fulfilled and enjoyable.
If we reread a section of the page The Common Good Party, we read that through our first 240 years, citizens of the US “were driven by The Common Good moral compass, and with the blood, sweat, and tears of residents and immigrants, achieved things certainly never even imagined in 1776.”
We must remember that psychopaths made none of these great things. Belief nine is that psychopaths are generally of average intelligence and possess only shallow emotions, so they do not have the mental capacity, emotional depth, and artistic creativity to create anything soulful, meaningful or of lasting value. They are foreigners to deep human emotion — they never feel the empathy, love, joy, romance, and intimate human connection that are essential to create peak human accomplishments.
Only normal people, who had tremendous empathy for the feelings of others and great talent in writing could have written The Declaration of Independence, the US Constitution, The Bill of Rights and other Amendments, and embraced the Freedoms of Speech, Expression, and the Press. Only normal people, with deep empathy and for the lives of others, could have led the movements giving the right to freedom to slaves, the right to vote to all adults, and the right to safety and protections under the law to disabled and LGBTQ people. So belief ten is that only normal people have the intellect and emotional gifts necessary to create the peak achievements in science and technology, the natural sciences, the social sciences, the health care sciences, and innovations in architecture, business, and national defense, in the US and elsewhere. Only normal people in the US could have produced American culture in art, music, film, television, radio, and literature. Only normal people in any culture or nation can contribute positively to the development of human civilization.
As the eleventh belief, I am convinced that now in this momentous time in human history, a saturation point of psychopathy has been reached, so never has their influence over world affairs been greater. Due to the population explosion, due to the reality that psychopaths have been successful in manipulating their way into most positions of power in politics, business, and the military, and due to the fact that they have convinced us normal people that psychopaths or evil people really do not exist – that evil exists in everyone – the number of psychopaths is the highest it has ever been in history, and the sphere of influence they control is the whole world.
What can we do about this? Is there anything that we normal human beings can do?
Which brings us to belief twelve – it will be only the normal people, the non-psychopathic, empathy-filled, compassionate normal people, who will bring the changes needed to alter the lethal, self-destructive march of autocratic, capitalist culture. It will be the normal, love-your-neighbor-as-yourself-, I -am-my-brother’s-keeper, treat-others-as-you-want-to-be-treated human beings who will, through their millions of acts of defiant rebellion, through their withdrawal of consent, through their questioning of authority, through their writing and art and music-making and organizing and marching, through picking up their weary sisters and brothers along the way, and mostly through their voting in massively unheard of numbers – it will only be these passionate, conscious, loving, informed citizens who have any change to bring about the end of life as we know it and to someday manifest the promise of a real, truly human civilization.
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I was blessed with an idyllic childhood, loving parents, wonderful siblings, the beauty of nature, and lots of mirror neurons. I have always understood kindness and the Golden Rule. I have never understood evil, not in its purest form as I describe in these pages.
My early childhood seems to have included, more than anything, a series of questions: “Why is there so much suffering and why haven’t we stopped it? If there is enough of everything to meet everyone’s needs, why do some have more and others don’t have enough? Who organized the world this way and how can we change it?”
Sometimes I have what I call a Gesthemene Experience, when I feel the pain of the world so strongly I cry. This is a picture of an olive tree in the Garden of Gesthemene in Jerusalem. Its roots are over 2,000 years old, so the tree may have been in the presence of Jesus when he wept there the night before he died. In the story I was told, Jesus wept at the evil done by psychopathic people and wept for the suffering it caused to normal people, for tens of thousands of years. And it continues even today.
I am still looking for answers. And sometimes I cry.
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“I practice an engaged spirituality that is active within the world to help heal injustice, hatred, oppression, fear and violence with justice, loving-kindness, equanimity, courage and nonviolence, to not cooperate with common evil and bring about The Common Good.” –Mahatma Gandhi