Politics these days just doesn't make sense, does it? Sure, it has never quite made sense in the past, but these days it really doesn't make sense. Or does it?
I hear the frustration and confusion on Air America every day. At times, I get the sense that some of the hosts know they are missing something, but all too often they seem to blithely assume that the Bush administration is merely incompetent. I think they are missing something, and I don't agree that this administration is incompetent. I think this administration is fiendishly competent and knows exactly what it is doing.
What they are missing is the element of psychopathy. We've been conditioned to think that psychopaths are all of the Silence of the Lambs, Hannibal Lecter sort. A little research on the subject will show you that this is not the case. Psychopaths make up, conservatively, about 4% of our population. I say conservatively, because that is the figure estimated by the psychologists who specialize in the study of psychopathy. Professionals in any field must always work with conservative estimates. Anything less than conservatism puts their professional credibility on the line.
Let's start with a brief definition of psychopathy. A psychopath is a person who, apparently genetically, is without a conscience. They have no feeling whatsoever for other people. They live their lives without compassion, without empathy, without love and, most importantly for this discussion, without any remorse for any action they take. The overriding goal of a psychopath is to fulfill their needs, and anything they do in service to that goal is just fine with them.
A small percentage of psychopaths become killers of the sort we have been told about in books and movies. Others become thieves. These type will eventually end up in prison and get marked as aberrations, but there are plenty of others who successfully mask their true identities and live "normal" lives. These are, in some respects, the most dangerous of all.
Psychopaths are, naturally, drawn to positions of power. Stop for a moment and think about what life would be like if you had no conscience, no feeling for your fellow humans, at all. What sort of career would you choose? The sort in which people willingly give you power over you, of course. The sort where you get the most of what you want for the least expenditure of energy. Positions of authority, like teacher, counselor, or politician. Each of these careers carries with it an air of normalcy and authority, masking the identity of the psychopath while making the fulfillment of their needs as easy as possible.
Given that psychopaths would tend to gravitate toward these positions, and that the general population contains conservatively 4% psychopaths, we can also conservatively estimate that about 10% of people in these positions are psychopaths. The higher we go in in the power structure in any of these careers, the more psychopaths we are likely to encounter. Why? Because lack of conscience makes them exceptionally suited to rising in the ranks. Think about it. Who is the most likely to succeed in climbing the "corporate ladder," the person who can do anything without remorse, or the person who hesitates because they have some feeling for others and the pain they might cause? We've all witnessed the answer, even if only from a distance in the form of stories or news articles.
The picture we are painting here is a dire one. By the time we get to a level of power like that of the presidency, we can assume that probably one in four people is a psychopath. I don't have solid data to back up those numbers, though, so let's make it even more conservative. Let's say that only one in ten is a psychopath. Still, considering that they have the competitive advantage in feeling no remorse for any action they take, we can well imagine that the one-in-ten psychopath is going to have a very high position, capable of forcing the non-psychopaths below them to carry out a psychopathic agenda.
It doesn't take an in-depth reading of the news to see the marks of psychopathy in the highest positions of the current administration. Witness the lack of emotional response of Dick Chenney to his recent hunting accident and think about how you would have reacted to shooting another person in the face. Personally, I would have freaked out, rushed him to the hospital and done anything I could to make amends. What did Dick do? He had a dinner and a drink. Are these the actions of a person with a conscience?
I propose that we cannot possibly understand the actions of the current administration without taking into account the possibility that our country is being run by psychopaths. When looked at logically and mathematically (statistically) we can't imagine anything else, really. So, why do we have such a difficult time as a nation seriously entertaining the idea? Why do we seem to habitually overlook this critical bit of data when doing our political analysis?
Psychopaths are not, in the classical meaning of the term, mentally ill. Someone who is schizophrenic might do things because the voices in their head told them to, be considered legally insane and, so, not responsible for their actions. Not so with the psychopath. They understand perfectly what they are doing. It is just that what they do does not include compassion for others, or conscience. The psychopath calculates their moves, and does so more rigorously and better than the average person. After all, calculation is all they have to go on.
Consider, for a moment, what you would do if you were in the position of the psychopath? How would you go about meeting your needs with the least possible amount of opposition? I'm not asking this as a mere rhetorical question. What would you do? What is the best method of deflecting opposition? I submit that the best method is always control of perception. Anyone even mildly interested in the history of Nazi Germany knows the name Joseph Goebbels. Why? Because he was in charge of propaganda for the Nazi party, which was critical to the rise to power of Hitler. He was in charge of controlling the perception of the Nazis. In the case of the psychopaths running the show in the U.S., making the definition of the word "psychopath" something so specifically abhorrent that the average person refuses to pin the label on any but the most degraded members of society is one of the techniques they appear to employ. In other words, they work to cement in the mind of as many as possible the picture of Hannibal Lecter in association with the word psychopath.
I can see how that might seem counterproductive at first glance. You are a psychopath and you are making the label psychopath fit the most horrifying figures of our nightmares. But, the point is to set the bar as low as possible. Only the worst of the worst are correctly identified. The rest are believed to be just like you and me, conscience and all. This gives them a free pass to move in society without fear of being found out.
This puts a different spin on the popularity of films like The Silence of the Lambs, doesn't it? One might well figure that any industry like the movie business (with the power it holds over molding the collective dreams of the culture and the amount of money and influence available for doing very little) would be the sort of business a good psychopath would want to be a part of. It is, in fact, exactly the sort of business that a psychopath would not only want to be a part of, but would excel at. Given their penchant for calculated moves, we can also assume that movies that paint psychopaths as not only cold blooded killers but people that we could all recognize, even without the ominous music playing in the background, are meant to intentionally shift our perception of the psychopath from what we commonly find around us to the type we would rarely, if ever, encounter. Very clever, really.
Explore the situation for yourself. If you have been scratching your head concerning the machinations of the current administration, perhaps you have been manipulated to not consider a critical bit of data. If so, think about what that critical bit of data means to the whole equation...and think about what all this means. If you are the "typical" American, you likely assume that others are acting from some level of feeling for others, bound by their conscience to do what is "right." What if that is not the case? What if the people in power can lie, manipulate and kill without batting an eyelash? What if they do not play by the same rules that you and I take for granted?
It is a sobering thought.