To close out this look at political psychopathy, in a nutshell, psychopathic tendencies should be of “significant concern to society.” If only we could require brain scans of all candidates, consultants and staff — at least then we’d know what we’re dealing with.
This is from Jonathan Zap’s article at RealitySandwich.com titled “Foxes and Reptiles: Psychopathy and the Financial Meltdown”:
Functional MRI scans of the brains of psychopaths show that their patterns of brain response to words and images of strong emotional content have a fundamental difference with non-psychopaths. Ordinarily, limbic regions of the brain process emotional content, but for psychopaths, activations occur in regions of the brain associated with comprehension and production of language suggesting that things which evoke emotion in normal people are experienced by psychopaths as linguistic categories.
Another question: How can a politician stay in office year after year while things continually get worse — and yet they seem content to not have any appreciable positive impact on the process? Have they no conscience? No shame? Zap explains that psychopaths are “notoriously un-empathetic” even while they’re seen as charming, charismatic, and even intelligent.
Here are a few other traits mentioned by Zap that I’ve witnessed in the many politicians, consultants, and staff that I’ve worked with or encountered:
- Psychopaths seem to be particularly high on themselves.
- Psychopaths lie with such ease and coolness that they can become addicted to it and will often lie when it serves no practical purpose.
- Psychopaths also lie to themselves and may get deceived by complex beliefs about their own talents, powers and abilities.
- Psychopaths lack remorse, shame, guilt, and empathy.
- Psychopaths are usually very poor at mentally picturing the consequences of their actions.
- Psychopaths don’t notice the inconsistency between their enormous sense of entitlement and their stunning disregard for the rights of others.
- Psychopaths are often ruthless, cunning and coldly rational.
- Psychopaths are often confident, decisive, and demonstrate coolness under fire and relentless drive.
Although psychopathy, like every other psychological attribute, has an environmental component, its source may be biological.
At one point in his research, Zap wondered if he had anything new to add to the subject:
After some consideration I realized that although the main hypothesis was already well established by others, I had a few new points to add and, in any case, the subject is so important, and with such vast implications for society, that I felt obliged to continue. The damage that psychopaths do to the global economy, and human civilization in general, is incalculable.
In my view he’s dead-on right. For example, single anecdotes are only worth so much, but one of my favorite historical film clips was taken on November 11, 1918, right after the Armistice was signed and World War One officially ended. At one point on the front lines, British and German troops climbed out of their trenches to meet the men who were only minutes earlier their enemy. They commiserated, laughed, posed for pictures, and traded chocolates and cigarettes with each other.
That old black and white film clip has always made me ponder the idiocy of World War I all the way up the chain of command to the top. It’s been my guess that those front line soldiers enjoying the company of the men they were just shooting at were, by and large, normal people who had been fooled into insane action by the psychopaths leading their countries and their armies.
Here’s an important paragraph from Zap’s piece regarding “sociopaths”:
Non-psychopaths who act like psychopaths are frequently called sociopaths. Sociopath is a term that many researchers dislike since it is often incorrectly used as a synonym for psychopath. A sociopath is someone who acts in an anti-social way, who commits transgressions without taking moral responsibility. Most psychopaths are sociopaths, but many sociopaths are not psychopaths.
In his conclusion, Zap writes:
To understand how economies work and how we can manage them and prosper, we must pay attention to the thought patterns that animate people’s ideas and feelings, their animal spirits. We will never really understand important economic events unless we confront the fact that their causes are largely mental in nature.
Strike the word “economies” and restructure the sentence using the word “politics” instead. As my friend John Sullivan suggested, it’s time for brain scans to become a part of the candidate vetting process.
Click here to read Jonathan Zap’s important article.
(First published July 2012)