The Ascendence of Sociopaths in US Governance
Living as an international man used to be just an interesting possibility. But few Americans opted for it, since the US used to reward those who settled in and put down roots. In fact, it rewarded them better than any other country in the world, so there was nothing pressing about becoming an international man.
Things change, however, and being rooted like a plant, at least if you have a choice, is a suboptimal strategy for surviving and prospering. Throughout history, almost every place has at some point become dangerous for those who were stuck there. It may be America's turn.
For those who can take up the life of an international man, it's no longer just an interesting lifestyle decision. It has become, at a minimum, an asset saver, and it could be a life saver. That said, I understand the hesitation you may feel about taking action; pulling up one's roots (or at least grafting some of them to a new location) can be almost as traumatic to a man as to a vegetable.
As any intelligent observer surveys the world's economic and political landscape, he has to be disturbed even dismayed and a bit frightened by the gravity and number of problems that mark the horizon. We're confronted by economic depression, looming financial chaos, serious currency inflation, onerous taxation, crippling regulation, developing police states and, worst of all, the prospect of a major war. It seems almost unbelievable that we are talking of the US which historically has been the land of the free.
How did we get here? An argument can be made that miscalculation, accident, inattention and the like are why things go bad. Those elements do have a role, but it is minor. Potential catastrophe across the board can't be the result of happenstance. When things go wrong on a grand scale, it's not just bad luck or inadvertence. It's because of serious character flaws in one or many or even all of the players.
So is there a root cause of all the problems I've cited? If we can find it, it may tell us how we personally can best respond to the problems.
In this article, I'm going to argue that the US government, in particular, is being overrun by the wrong kind of person. It's a trend that's been in motion for many years but has now reached a point of no return. In other words, a type of moral rot has become so prevalent that it's institutional in nature. There is not going to be, therefore, any serious change in the direction in which the US is headed until a genuine crisis topples the existing order. Until then, the trend will accelerate.
The reason is that a certain class of people sociopaths are now fully in control of major American institutions. Their beliefs and attitudes are insinuated throughout the economic, political, intellectual and psychological/spiritual fabric of the US.
What does this mean to the individual? It depends on your character. Are you the kind of person who supports "my country right or wrong," as did most Germans in the 1930s and 1940s, or the kind who dodges the duty to be a helpmate to murderers? The type of passenger who goes down with the ship or the type who puts on his vest and looks for a life boat? The type of individual who supports the merchants who offer the fairest deal or the type who is gulled by splashy TV commercials?
What the ascendancy of sociopaths means isn't an academic question. Throughout history, the question has been a matter of life and death. That's one reason America grew; every American (or any ex-colonial) has forebears who confronted the issue and decided to uproot themselves to go somewhere with better prospects. The losers were those who delayed thinking about the question until the last minute.
I have often described myself, and those I prefer to associate with, as gamma rats. You may recall the ethologist's characterization of the social interaction of rats as being between a few alpha rats and many beta rats, the alpha rats being dominant and the beta rats submissive. In addition, a small percentage are gamma rats that stake out prime territory and mates, like the alphas, but are not interested in dominating the betas. The people most inclined to leave for the wide world outside and seek fortune elsewhere are typically gamma personalities.
You may be thinking that what happened in places like Nazi Germany, the Soviet Union, Mao's China, Pol Pot's Cambodia and scores of other countries in recent history could not, for some reason, happen in the US. Actually, there's no reason it won't at this point. All the institutions that made America exceptional including a belief in capitalism, individualism, self-reliance and the restraints of the Constitution are now only historical artifacts.
On the other hand, the distribution of sociopaths is completely uniform across both space and time. Per capita, there were no more evil people in Stalin's Russia, Hitler's Germany, Mao's China, Amin's Uganda, Ceausescu's Romania or Pol Pot's Cambodia than there are today in the US. All you need is favorable conditions for them to bloom, much as mushrooms do after a rainstorm.
Conditions for them in the US are becoming quite favorable. Have you ever wondered where the 50,000 people employed by the TSA to inspect and degrade you came from? Most of them are middle-aged. Did they have jobs before they started doing something that any normal person would consider demeaning? Most did, but they were attracted to not repelled by a job where they wear a costume and abuse their fellow citizens all day.
Few of them can imagine that they're shepherding in a police state as they play their roles in security theater. (A reinforced door on the pilots' cabin is probably all that's actually needed, although the most effective solution would be to hold each airline responsible for its own security and for the harm done if it fails to protect passengers and third parties.) But the 50,000 newly employed are exactly the same type of people who joined the Gestapo eager to help in the project of controlling everyone. Nobody was drafted into the Gestapo.
What's going on here is an instance of Pareto's Law. That's the 80-20 rule that tells us, for example, that 80% of your sales come from 20% of your salesmen or that 20% of the population are responsible for 80% of the crime.
As I see it, 80% of people are basically decent; their basic instincts are to live by the Boy Scout virtues. 20% of people, however, are what you might call potential trouble sources, inclined toward doing the wrong thing when the opportunity presents itself. They might now be shoe clerks, mailmen or waitresses they seem perfectly benign in normal times. They play baseball on weekends and pet the family dog. However, given the chance, they will sign up for the Gestapo, the Stasi, the KGB, the TSA, Homeland Security or whatever. Many are well intentioned but likely to favor force as the solution to any problem.
But it doesn't end there, because 20% of that 20% are really bad actors. They are drawn to government and other positions where they can work their will on other people and, because they're enthusiastic about government, they rise to leadership positions. They remake the culture of the organizations they run in their own image. Gradually, non-sociopaths can no longer stand being there. They leave. Soon the whole barrel is full of bad apples. That's what's happening today in the US.
It's a pity that Bush, when he was in office, made such a big deal of evil. He discredited the concept. He made Boobus americanus think it only existed in a distant axis, in places like North Korea, Iraq and Iran which were and still are irrelevant backwaters and arbitrarily chosen enemies. Bush trivialized the concept of evil and made it seem banal because he was such a fool. All the while real evil, very immediate and powerful, was growing right around him, and he lacked the awareness to see he was fertilizing it by turning the US into a national security state after 9/11.
Now, I believe, it's out of control. The US is already in a truly major depression and on the edge of financial chaos and a currency meltdown. The sociopaths in government will react by redoubling the pace toward a police state domestically and starting a major war abroad. To me, this is completely predictable. It's what sociopaths do.
There are seven characteristics I can think of that define a sociopath, although I'm sure the list could be extended.
The fact that they're chronic, extremely convincing and even enthusiastic liars, who often believe their own lies, means they aren't easy to spot, because normal people naturally assume another person is telling the truth. They rarely have handlebar mustaches or chortle like Snidely Whiplash. Instead, they cultivate a social veneer or a mask of sanity that diverts suspicion. You can rely on them to be "politically correct" in public. How could a congressman or senator who avidly supports charities possibly be a bad guy? They're expert at using facades to disguise reality, and they feel no guilt about it.
Political elites are primarily, and sometimes exclusively, composed of sociopaths. It's not just that they aren't normal human beings. They're barely even human, a separate subspecies, differentiated by their psychological qualities. A normal human can mate with them spiritually and psychologically about as fruitfully as a modern human could mate physically with a Neanderthal; it can be done, but the results won't be good.
It's a serious problem when a society becomes highly politicized, as is now the case in the US and Europe. In normal times, a sociopath stays under the radar. Perhaps he'll commit a common crime when he thinks he can get away with it, but social mores keep him reined in. However, once the government changes its emphasis from protecting citizens from force to initiating force with laws and taxes, those social mores break down. Peer pressure, social approbation and moral opprobrium, the forces that keep a healthy society orderly, are replaced by regulations enforced by cops and funded by taxes. Sociopaths sense this, start coming out of the woodwork and are drawn to the State and its bureaucracies and regulatory agencies, where they can get licensed and paid to do what they've always wanted to do.
It's very simple, really. There are two ways people can relate to each other: voluntarily or coercively. The government is pure coercion, and sociopaths are drawn to its power and force.
The majority of Americans will accept the situation for two reasons: One, they have no philosophical anchor to keep them from being washed up onto the rocks. They no longer have any real core beliefs, and most of their opinions e.g., "We need national health care," "Our brave troops should fight evil over there so we don't have to fight it over here," "The rich should pay their fair share" are reactive and comforting. The whole point of spin doctors is to produce comforting sound bites that elude testing against reality. And, two, they've become too pampered and comfortable, a nation of overfed losers, mooches and coasters who like the status quo without wondering how long it can possibly last.
It's nonsensical to blather about the Land of the Free and Home of the Brave when reality TV and Walmart riots are much closer to the truth. The majority of Americans are, of course, where the rot originates the presidential candidates are spending millions taking their pulse in surveys and polls and then regurgitating to them what they seem to want to hear. Once a country buys into the idea that an above-average, privileged lifestyle is everyone's minimum due, when the fortunate few can lobby for special deals to rake something off the table as they squeeze wealth out of others by force, that country is on the decline. Lobbying and taxation rather than production and innovation have never been able to sustain prosperity. The wealth being squeezed took centuries to produce, but it is not inexhaustible.
In that light, it was interesting to hear Mitt Romney, the presumptive Republican nominee, speak about the lower, middle and upper classes recently. Romney is an empty suit, only marginally better than the last Republican nominee, the hostile and mildly demented John McCain. In any event, Romney is right about the poor, in a way there is a "safety net," now holding 50 million people on Medicaid and 46 million on food stamps, among many other supposed benefits. And he's right about the rich; there's no need to worry about them at the moment at least until the revolution starts. He claims to worry about the middle class, not that his worries will do anything to help them. But he's right that the middle class is where the problem lies. It's just a different kind of problem than he thinks.
People generally fall into an economic class because of their psychology and their values. Each of the three classes has a characteristic psychological profile. For the lower class, it's apathy. They have nothing, they're ground down and they don't really care. They're not in the game, and they aren't going to do anything; they're resigned to their fate. For the upper class, it's greed and arrogance. They have everything, and they think they deserve it whether they do or not. The middle class at least in today's world is run by fear. Fear that they're only a paycheck away from falling into the lower class. Fear that they can't pay their debts or borrow more. Fear that they don't have a realistic prospect of improving themselves.
The problem is that fear is a negative, dangerous and potentially explosive emotion. It can easily morph into anger and violence. Exactly where it will lead is unpredictable, but it's not a good place. One thing that exacerbates the situation is that all three classes now rely on the government, albeit in different ways. Bankruptcy of the government will affect them all drastically.
With sociopaths in charge, we could very well see the Milgram experiment reenacted on a national scale. In the experiment, you may recall, researchers asked members of the public to torture subjects (who, unbeknownst to the people being recruited, were paid actors) with electric shocks, all the way up to what they believed were lethal doses. Most of them did as asked, after being assured that it was "all right" and "necessary" by men in authority. The men in authority today are mostly sociopaths.
WHAT TO DO
One practical issue worth thinking about is how you, as someone with libertarian values, will manage in a future increasingly controlled by sociopaths. My guess is poorly, unless you take action to insulate yourself. That's because of the way almost all creatures are programmed by nature. There's one imperative common to all of them: Survive! People obviously want to do that as individuals. And as families. In fact, they want all the groups that they're members of to survive, simply because (everything else being equal) it should help them to survive as individuals. So individual Marines want the Marine Corps to survive. Individual Rotarians want the Rotary Club to prosper. Individual Catholics leap to the defense of the Church of Rome.
That's why individual Germans during World War II were, as has been asserted, "willing executioners" they were supporting the Reich for the same reasons the Marines, the Rotarians and the Catholics support their groups. Except more so, because the Reich was under attack from all sides. So of course they followed orders and turned in their neighbors who seemed less than enthusiastic. Failing to support the Reich even if they knew it had some rather unsavory aspects seemed an invitation to invading armies to come and rape their daughters, steal their property and probably kill them. So of course the Germans closed ranks around their leaders, even though everyone at the top was a sociopath. You can expect Americans to do the same.
Americans have done so before, when the country was far less degraded. During the War Between the States, even saying something against the war was a criminal offense. The same was true during World War I. In World War II, the Japanese were all put in concentration camps on groundless, racially based suspicions of disloyalty. During the early years of the Cold War, McCarthyism was rampant. The examples are legion among humans, and the US was never an exception. It's even true among chickens. If a bird has a feather out of place, the others will peck at it, eventually killing it. That out-of-place feather is deemed a badge of otherness announcing that its owner isn't part of the group. Chicken Autre must die.
Libertarians, who tend to be more intelligent, better informed and very definitely more independent than average, are going to be in a touchy situation as the crisis deepens. Most aren't going to buy into the groupthink that inevitably accompanies war and other major crises. As such, they'll be seen as unreliable, even traitors. As Bush said, "If you're not with us, you're against us." And, he might have added, "the Constitution be damned." But of course that document is no longer even given lip service; it's now a completely dead letter.
It's very hard for an individualist to keep his mouth shut when he sees these things going on. But he'd better keep quiet, as even HL Mencken wisely did during both world wars. In today's world, just keeping quiet won't be enough; the national security state has an extensive, and growing, file on everybody. They believe they know exactly what your beliefs, desires, fears and associations are, or may be. What we're now facing is likely to be more dangerous than past crises. If you're wise, you'll relocate someplace where you're something of an outsider and, by virtue of that fact, are allowed a measure of eccentric opinion. That's why I spend an increasing amount of time in Latin America. In truth, however, security is going to be hard to find anywhere in the years to come. The most you can hope for is to tilt the odds in your favor.
The best way to do that is by diversifying your assets internationally. Allocating your wealth into real assets. Linking up with sound, like-minded people who share your values. And staying alert for the high-potential speculations that inevitably arise during chaotic times.