Sociopaths, Losers, and the CluelessThis is part of a series on politics and psychology. You can jump to other parts here:
Prologue: A Tale Of Two Blogs
Part 1: The Most Annoying Thing
Part 2: Sociopaths, Losers and the Clueless
Looking back over the approximately forty years that I’ve lived, it’s a strange observation that in spite of modern ideals, like socialism for example, it can appear at first glance that as a society we are devolving. Conservatism seems stronger than it ever was, at least in places like the U.S.A and Australia. And what’s more it is gradually becoming more idealistic and extremist. While conservative governments have always had some bad ideas, when you compare the likes of Tony Abbott to John Howard, or George W. Bush to Ronald Reagan, it seems almost as though we’re living in some kind of dystopic world. Those politicians that many once saw as villainous seem almost leftist by comparison, which is a sad state of affairs indeed. So why is this happening? There are several possibilities that come to mind.
The first, and perhaps the most intuitive, especially to right leaning people, is that left policies are out of control. We’ve gone too soft and our society is headed for doom. Only flipping the switch the entire opposite direction can possibly save us now. There are two reasons for which I would discount this theory. Firstly, this idea comes out of a sort of collection of morals and ideals that were common to pre modern times. That is to say things like, every person should earn his own living, food is scarce and everyone needs to pull up their boot straps, or even to say that there is an abundance of employment and anyone who is not working is lazy. I’m not criticising this view point, per se, but rather pointing out that this viewpoint is the basic ideal of conservative parties. Surely if this was the reason driving a return to conservatism we must believe that a massive number of otherwise left thinking people suddenly changed their minds about everything and became conservatives. This is unlikely beyond belief. In fact studies have shown that many who vote conservative actually have ideals that support left policies, like fairness and equal access to jobs, health, education and so forth. The second reason I find this hard to believe is that the underlying basis of the position is absolute bollocks and I suspect that people are as a species more intelligent than we give them credit for.
Another leading argument is that the standing governments are on the take and through the power of financial investments have ceased to listen to the common person, who is too stupid to realise it. This does sound appealing to myself and I suspect many generation x’ers. We grew up amongst scandals like watergate, so we learnt to distrust the position of politician. There is also a lot of circumstantial evidence to suggest this, such as special meetings with tycoons such as Rupert Murdoch or Gina Rhinehart, or policies that go against all scientific evidence in favour of big business. I am tempted to believe this is the truth, but I fear I would be lacking objectivity. There may be more than a few grains of truth to this theory, but at the end of the day I must throw suspicion on this as a total explanation of current affairs. Firstly it breaks the adage “you can’t fool all the people all of the time”. There are cognitive biases such as illusory superiority, the tendency to believe we are above average, that allows us to be convinced that everyone else is stupid. It’s an easy leap to make, but difficult to prove, and I think there’s more to it. Something specific must have changed because it’s safe to assume people are not dumber now than they were in the eighties, and we didn’t have regressive policy then.
In order to understand the reasons for the resurgence of conservatism, there are a few ideas we need to understand: the psychology of politicians, the psychology of the voter, and, perhaps the most important part, the economics of political parties and affiliations. But first politicians.
I’d like to borrow an idea here from one of my favourite bloggers Venkatesh Rao (although this specific idea he borrows somewhat from an earlier source). If you’ve never read The Gervais Principle I highly recommend it. It is the kind of article that can change how you view all interactions. The idea we’ll be talking about is that the world is made up of three basic types: sociopaths, clueless and losers. It took Venkatesh six extremely long posts to cover so I won’t do it here, just explain the basic mechanism.
Sociopaths in this model are essentially detached realists. They see the world for what it is and will do anything that benefits themselves in some objective way (money, happiness, power etc). That’s not to say that they are all morally bankrupt, per se, just that they do not bind themselves by a traditional sense of what is wrong or right. Sociopaths set their own morals.
The clueless are the opposite. They are naive and driven by a repressed lack of basic childhood needs. For example, if a clueless grew up without family they may seek to have an unrealistic number of friends. The clueless ARE morally bankrupt, not necessarily because they’re not good people nor want to be, but rather they never learnt to understand moral reasoning to begin with. Their morals are held by society at large and they look to society to validate or disallow their behaviour.
The third group, the losers, are the every person. Not meant in a negative sense (and ignorant of the fact that most losers value more social things and are therefore much happier, at least in the sense that they believe they are happy) the term indicates those that give up the lion’s share of the economic pie in return for security (eg a wage job). To put it in a (possibly too) simplistic manner, if life were a game of monopoly the losers would be, well, the losers.
The hypothetical relationship between these three groups is as follows: the sociopaths promote the clueless to positions of power as a buffer to take all the anger and hate from the losers (apt readers from Australia may have some idea where this is heading).
Amongst the three, in a political sense, it is perhaps the clueless that are the most dangerous. Sociopaths may be immoral, but at least we can make predictions of their behaviour based on past actions. The clueless however are unpredictable. Their behaviour depends entirely on the zeitgeist of the moment. It wasn’t because Adolph Hitler was crazy with power that tragedy occurred (although he was crazy with power). One man alone can not execute so much destruction. It was the fact that THE CLUELESS FOLLOWED HIS LEAD that lead to actual atrocities being committed. In fact it has been commented by many that one of the leading reasons for complicity was the common following of the Lutheran church, that teaches people to obey their elected leaders, the religion of the clueless if there ever was one.
Never attribute to malice that which is adequately explained by stupidity.
You don’t have to look very far to see this in action. For years we mocked one of the stupidest men in political history, by the name of George W. Bush. But apart from being clearly out of his depth, and somewhat naive, was he really an arch villain? Or was he just the pawn of more powerful men? Still today the mention of his name will cause flames to appear in eyes everywhere, but does the same visceral anger appear when we remember the investment bankers that almost brought the world economy to a stand still in 2008, or the oil companies that lobby for regressive laws that put our very climate at stake? Of course, we all have a feeling those things are bad, but we reserve the real anger for politicians. That’s fine. That’s exactly how the sociopaths with the real power want it. They don’t want to be your friend so they don’t care too much if you are a little upset at them. Anger, on the other hand can be a motivating factor for change. It needs to be funnelled away. And that’s where politicians come in.
There are two basic types of politicians in the modern world, and if you understand this simple point you will be better equipped to see that in fact the different factions of politics are in fact not similar at all, and in fact, DIAMETRICALLY OPPOSITE.
The first politician is the one that some would believe all politicians are (to their own detriment). The politicians that genuinely care about their country and their people. It’s fairly easy to spot these politicians. They don’t champion groups or specific people, they champion ideas. As they say, follow the money. If there’s no obvious direct beneficiary (eg oil cartels) then the only rational conclusion is that the politician, at least believes, they are doing the righteous thing.
The second type of politician is the polar opposite. The bottom feeders of the psychopolitical spectrum, they eat the scraps falling off the table of their masters, in return for policies that grossly increase the powers of said masters, and further the economic divide between those that have power and those that do not. If a politician talks about specific interests, for instance, specific industries, and specific fears, such as the DRASTIC personal effects you will suffer if you do not give way, then you can bet a pony you’re talking to the clueless.
The clueless don’t even UNDERSTAND that the rationale thy pedal is ignorant nonsense. They haven’t evolved past a three year old mentality. Everything boils down to, what do I PERSONALLY lose, what do I PERSONALLY gain, and IS ANYONE ANGRY AT ME? It often doesn’t have to be things of material value. To the clueless the prestige of being in a position that they clearly have no right to attain can be reward enough.
Take modern Australian politics. Just when we’d finished spending years laughing at America, and could only assume that a stupider leader would never be elected again, Australia, not one to be beaten at anything, topped the expectations of even the most pessimistic of observers. We elected Tony Abbott, such an imbecile that he SOLD OUT THE FUTURE OF THOUSANDS OF STUDENTS for a mere SIXTY THOUSAND DOLLARS. Let’s look at some facts: recent comments from the University Of Western Australia suggest that fees would increase by thirty percent under new legislation. Let’s take a conservative position and suggest that they have only one thousand students per year at the lowest expected cost of sixteen thousand dollars. This equates to a windfall of no less than THREE MILLION dollars a year. This is not the type of corruption we imagine in the movies, this is an imbecile trying to play with the big boys, and getting short changed in the process.
It’s no coincidence that Tony Abbott resembles, almost to a T, Hugo Weaving’s character, Agent Smith from The Matrix, in his most insane moments. Hugo once described his performance as trying to portray a robot, that has no concept of emotion, attempting to mimic the emotions of humans. Is it coincidence then, that many of the most iconic photos of Tony Abbott show approximate, yet at the same time, completely inappropriate expressions? Is it political opportunism or simply a child trying his best to be recognised as appropriate by his peers?
And finally, at the risk of giving away the villain before the end of the story, if you need more convincing take a look at the infamous Fox News. The comments that flood from the presenters are all the evidence you need to see that the clueless really are the center of attention. Is it any wonder? Remember that the clueless have some overpowering need, and the need for attention is one of the very earliest childhood needs that can be oppressed. When presenters on the likes of Fox take a dog eat dog attitude to the world, it’s not just because they are ignorant, it’s that by and large these people have never known real empathy. They are incapable of feeling ethics for themselves so they gather together, never even aware, that they truly are the blind leading the blind.
That’s it for the clueless for now. There are more parts to this puzzle as we will explore in coming parts. In the mean time, remember the old saying, “two dumbs don’t make a smart”.