Friday, April 04, 2003
Thumb, the Comment King, has some thoughts on why we are all feeling discombobulated by this administration. The psychos are making us psycho:
Are psychopaths running our government?
Throughout the 90's we employed anywhere from 6-15 people at any given time. Of all the destructive traits we had to contend with the sociopath was both the most destructive and the most difficult problem employee to identify. After several near ruinous encounters with this type of employee I developed a simple test; if someone made me psycho, they were a psychopath. On the small scale that is our company this has worked fine for years but now I find this same curious effect occurring with our present administration; they're making me psycho.
Greater luminaries than I have declared this group to be Psychotic Personalities (Kurt Vonnegut recently caught flack for suggesting as much) but I wanted to know if there was any means by which to make a more serious medical diagnosis than "because they make me crazy." There is. Giles Whittell, writing for the Times On Line, interviewed Dr. Robert Hare, who, along with his colleague Dr Paul Babiak, will publish a book called Snakes in Suits: When Psychopaths Go To Work later this year. Hare defined psychopathy for modern scientists with an exhaustive questionnaire called the Psychopathy Checklist (PCL-R). Introduced in 1980 it has become an internationally recognized tool for identifying psychopaths. From the article:
. . . the PCL-R revealed that psychopaths are everywhere. Most are non-violent, but all leave a trail of havoc through their families and work environments, using and abusing colleagues and loved ones, endlessly manipulating others, constantly reinventing themselves. Hare puts the average North American incidence of psychopathy at 1 per cent of the population, but the damage they inflict on society is out of all proportion to their numbers, not least because they gravitate to high-profile professions that offer the promise of control over others, such as law, politics, business management ... and journalism. [emphasis mine]
Hare and Babiak will also produce a new diagnostic tool based on the PCL-R but designed to help businesses to keep their recruits and senior management psychopath-free.
Enter the B-Scan. It won't be available to everyone, and it won't be free. If you are B-Scanned, it won't be you answering the questions. It will be your colleagues, grading your personal style, interpersonal relations, organizational maturity and antisocial tendencies according to 16 buzz words, none of them uplifting. They include the following: insincere, arrogant, insensitive, remorseless, shallow, impatient, erratic, unreliable, unfocused, parasitic, dramatic, unethical and bullying.
Yikes. Who isn't most of these things, at least some of the time?
I meet Dr Hare in a London hotel and find him used to such anxieties. I know, I know, he says. People read this stuff and suddenly everyone around them is a psychopath. They pick up on three or four of the characteristics and say "yeah, he's one". But it's not like that. It's a medical syndrome. You've got to have the whole package.
Not having access to the specific B-Scan test or the ability to personally interview administration colleagues I'm going to use the next best thing, a recent article in USA Today describing Bush by those close to him that can be run through the filter of The serial bully: Identifying the psychopath or sociopath in our midst.
He rarely jokes with staffers these days and occasionally startles them with sarcastic putdowns.
- is frequently sarcastic, especially in contexts where sarcasm is inappropriate and unprofessional
''He's got that steely-eyed look . . .'' says a friend who has spent time with the president since the war began.
- often reported as having an evil stare, sometimes with eyes that appear black rather than colored
He's infuriated by reporters and retired generals who publicly question the tactics of the war plan. Similar complaints continue, and some people outside the administration are pressing current Bush advisers to urge him to retool his war plan. The president's aides say he's aware of those efforts but ''discounts'' them.
- displays a compulsive need to criticize whilst simultaneously refusing to value, praise and acknowledge others, their achievements, or their existence
His history degree from Yale. . .
- often fraudulently claims qualifications, experience, titles, entitlements or affiliations which are ambiguous, misleading, or bogus
. . . makes him mindful of the importance of the moment.
- has a short-term focus and often cannot think or plan ahead more than 24 hours
He's a critic who sees himself as the aggrieved victim of the news media and second-guessers.
- feigns victimhood when held accountable, usually by . . . claiming they're the one being bullied and harassed
- presents as a false victim when outwitted
Bush, who was drilled in corporate style while earning his MBA at Harvard, prefers his days to be structured.
- is fastidious, often has an unhealthy obsession with cleanliness or orderliness
Bush has imposed an almost military discipline on himself.
- finds ritual important and comforting, and frequently indulges in ritual and ritualistic activity
He understands that he is the one person in the country, in this case really the one person in the world, who has a responsibility to protect and defend freedom.
- is selfish and acts out of self-interest, self-aggrandizement and self-preservation at all times; everything can be traced back to the self
- is convinced of their superiority and has an overbearing belief in their qualities of leadership but cannot distinguish between leadership (maturity, decisiveness, assertiveness, co-operation, trust, integrity) and bullying (immaturity, impulsiveness, aggression, manipulation, distrust, deceitfulness)
- wraps himself or herself in a flag or tradition and usurps others' objectives, thereby nurturing compliance, reverence, deference, endorsement and obeisance; however, such veneration and allegiance is divisive, being a corruption for personal power which exhibits itself through the establishment of a clique, coterie, cabal, faction, or gang
Of course this is all simply anecdotal evidence that our Commander in Chief is certifiable, but there is one more distinguishing test that Dr. Hare uses to determine if someone is indeed a psychopath:
Babiak certainly counsels caution. Being psychopathic is not a sin, let alone a ground on its own for dismissal. But underpinning the PCL-R is hard science, hard to ignore. Before he published it, Hare performed two now-famous studies which suggest that psychopaths really are different from the rest of us. In the first, subjects were told to watch a timer counting down to zero, at which point they felt a harmless but painful electric shock. Non-psychopaths showed mounting anxiety and fear. Psychopaths didn't even sweat.
Could Bush's jocular demeanor, his "Feel good" as he prepared to declare war fit this description?
In the second, the two groups had their brain activity and response time measured when asked to react to groups of letters, some forming words, some not. Words such as "rape" and "cancer" triggered mental jolts in non-psychopaths. In psychopaths they triggered precisely nothing.
In the absence of such word association games lets instead look back to the morning of 9/11/01. The president is reading to a class when one of his aids approaches and whispers to him that the WTC towers have both just been struck with hijacked airliners. The towers are burning out of control and thousand are presumed dead in the worst terrorist act ever committed on American soil. With zero visible reaction, from a man who is serially unable to hide his emotions (think smirk), the president immediately goes back to and spends the next half hour reading to the class.
People read this stuff and suddenly everyone around them is a psychopath. They pick up on three or four of the characteristics and say "yeah, he's one." But it's not like that. It's a medical syndrome. You've got to have the whole package."
Being a psychopath is not something that ordinary people aspire to, but neither does it have to involve face-eating cannibalism (Hannibal Lecter probably wasn't a psychopath at all). The central qualification is to show no conscience; to fail to empathize.
They reveled in risk, took no account of its potential cost to others or themselves, and rose to power during a time of chaos and upheaval.
Are we there yet?
digby 4/04/2003 12:17:00 PM