Tuesday, September 29, 2015

Embrace Your Inner Dexter

 One of my readers (thanks Valerie) asked me if I had read Dutton’s The Wisdom of Psychopaths.  Yes, I have.  It’s a popular book, with a simple idea – you can be more successful if you don’t give a fuck about other people.

Takes one to know one

  Is Everyone A Predator?

The Fuck You Generation and the Fuck You Very Much Generation are shaped by the neoliberal worldview -- in which compassion is nothing but a faux, feel-good gesture. Liberals and conservatives both stand for dog-eat-dog, bunny rabbit-eat-bunny rabbit monopoly capitalism. Everyone is a predator.
A bunny-eat-bunny world
I want to think Dutton is wrong, wrong, wrong.  I want to think people are better than that. And I am neither liberal nor conservative.

Now Dutton is clearly misguided about some things.  He clearly confuses the kind of  psychopathy that we associate with serial killers -- which is a matter of neurological abnormality -- with what I would call situational psychopathy -- which depends on social perception and indoctrination (what used to be called "education") -- something we all have the capacity for.  The fact is that we cannot always care about others.  Not from the standpoint of species behavior. Not the from standpoint of social adaptation. Not from the standpoint of commonsense

But....while I would really like to dismiss Dutton as a total idiot, I can't -- not completely -- for I  must remember that what I want to see as idiocy may hide uncomfortable facts that bear examination.  

For example, it is obvious that almost all modern industrial or "post-industrial societies  are to some degree psychopathically driven by conscience-less neoliberalism and corporatism.  Yes, fellow Bunny Rabbits, even Sweden.

To fit in -- to survive --most of us have to be able to suppress our capacity to care, at least some of the time.  It's a greased slide -- and at the bottom?  The  bottom line:  Me and Mine.  And fuck you Jack.  What to do?  "Situational" psychopathy has been normalized.

After all, I work in PR and branding. What could be more soul-less than that?

Now Dutton says that we need psychopaths to get stuff done – because not caring let's them  focus on the job at hand.   He implies that all the top people -- in every field -- the "one percent" of achievers -- are really psychopaths    

Steve Jobs.  Check.  
Sociopath or psychopath? 
Six of one, half a dozen of another

All geniuses.  Check.

Almost all....

The surgeon cutting into your chest cavity.  Check.  

That doctor is as oblivious to your pain – as Ted Bundy was when torturing a victim, thinks Dutton (more about Bundy later).   

We need  these guys, right?   Like we need running water and flush toilets and iPhones.  And maybe we should try to be more like them if we want to get ahead, right?  Superman as Psychopath.

 Superman as Psychopath.

We saw this point of view once upon a time with Ayn Rand.

What did Rand admire so much about Hickman? His sociopathic qualities: “Other people do not exist for him, and he does not see why they should,” she wrote, gushing that Hickman had “no regard whatsoever for all that society holds sacred, and with a consciousness all his own. He has the true, innate psychology of a Superman. He can never realize and feel ‘other people.'”

Have You Cut Up Any Kids Today?
Psychopathy Is Not Creativity

But there is a fallacy here in Dutton's implied argument.    

Creativity and genius do not require psychopathy -- in fact, they are limited by it.  By and large, both are enhanced by altruism -- which promotes authentic social connection and retarded by psychopathy, which inhibits it.  Both creativity and genius generate their own kind of flow and focus.
 A self that is only differentiated - not integrated - may attain great individual accomplishments, but risks being mired in self-centered egotism. By the same token, a person who self is based exclusively on integration will be well connected and secure, but lack autonomous individuality. Only when a person invests equal amounts of psychic energy in these two processes and avoids both selfishness and conformity is the self likely to select complexity.
 Mihaly Csikszentmihaly
So creative people and genius's have flow and focus. 

Flow and Focus
Psychopaths have obsession.

Andy liked Marilyn -- a lot!

Returning to Dutton and doctors --  most surgeons really do care about human suffering. Under the knife you are not in pain -- that's why they use anesthetic. And believe me -- morphine is fun!

Now back toTed Bundy -- he was as professional in his way as any guy at Goldman Sachs -- -and also really, really empathetic with a high EQ -- truly feeling his victims pain  (and enjoying it mightily).  He looked "integrated" socially -- but eventually the pretense broke down.  He made mistakes. 

If he hadn't forgotten the wrench he could have
been CEO of Goldman Sachs
Of course, you must keep in mind that empathy and EQ are not really the same as caring -- although caring people necessarily exhibit both.

This psychopathy stuff is complicated.
The Point Repeated

Just to beat you over head with my the point -- embracing my inner psychopath-- 99% of  surgeons do not start by cutting up puppies and kittens and move on to people.  Manual dexterity, yes. Dexter, no.

High EQ Guy Relaxing

 Surgeons learn to focus only on the operation to avoid mistakes and do it right – just as a concert pianist focuses only the piece he is playing and not on the audience. The surgeon concentrates on cutting and sewing -- he cares about his patient -- after the fact, yes, but he cares 

Surgery is art
 The concert pianist cares about his work – and he cares about his audience – which is why he plays for them.  But the emotional connection has to come later. 

 "Care" is like a light.  You have to have it. But you can't leave it "on" all the time.
Save energy

 For creative people and genius's,  the reward is intrinsic – in the doing itself, play. 
Creative people have fun

To the extent that they are also altruists, like, say, Einstein:  their  extrinsic satisfaction comes from  saving a life or improving quality of life for another or just doing the right thing -- that is, from altruism. 
"nuff said

Of course, such talented people can also be  egotists or have other personality problems -- but inflated self-regard should not be confused with psychopathy.    Bipolar people, for example, can be very creative -- and do care about others -- just not all the time, which can make them a pain the ass -- but still worthwhile people .  

The "focus" and "flow" which is characteristic of talented people has little to do with any psychopathic obsession with cutting off heads or sex with the dead-- or getting ahead,as with CEOs, who rape entire populations and practice economic necrophilia. 

 As Mihaly Csikszentmihaly points out creativity is limited by social solipsism.  

Psychopaths as narcissists

As mentioned, real or genetic psychopaths do not lack empathy – they know what others are feeling.  And they have lots of EQ-- knowing how to work with people -- and most importantly, work them.   For them, you're just an object.

As natural "objectivists" in the Ayn Rand sense , people are just things-- either an obstacle or a resource in achieving goals that are generally  immediate and extrinsic, narrowly defined in terms of personal gratification.

Situational Psychopathy -- Switching Off Care

Genetic psychopaths lack  altruism -- completely -- because the part of the brain that looks after this function is just not there, perhaps as a result of  different brain chemistry.   Everything they do is subordinate to self –aggrandizement.  Fuck you very much.   But if you do not care for others -- you are socially disconnected -- you cannot integrate on any level with any community, however small.
So you need to pretend really well.  

Are conservatives psychopaths?

As I said, however, we all have the capacity to turn off "caring".  And sometimes trauma and other factors can impair our natural ability to care, whatever the situation.  Call it what is.  An impairment of the ability to love.      

Andy Warhol was an emotionally damaged, sociopathic sissy who, by his own admission, “stopped caring” after several of his cats died in the 60s, and subsequently showed virtually no emotion or empathy for anyone or anything after that trauma 

Warhol Or Just Asshole?
Warhol would have been a better artist if he had been less fucked up.  As it was,  he tended to be obsessively repetitive and shallow -- although this has made him a favorite of advertising people.

The unfortunate truth is that we are all Andy to some extent.  Shit happens.  And the emotional scars often don't heal.

At best, we are temporarily Situational (normalized)  Psychopaths -- when circumstances call for it.  

I had a Grand Uncle who was an RAF bomber pilot -- a nice man, a good father and husband who went to church -- but also a mass murderer who had no remorse for the thousands of women and children and innocent people who he had killed.  "It had to be done", he would say.

The Other

The Germans were "other".   But imagine if my Grand Uncle had owned his guilt. Could he have survived psychologically?  

A lot of people are just lazy.  They are selectively psychopathic because their family and friends are --"othering" all sorts of people -- the rich or the poor, black, white, or brown.  Women or men.  People in other countries.  Jews, Christians, Muslims.  

Or even sentient beings like dolphins and whales and chimps. 

By their fruits, ye shall know them

The Japanese are an insular people.  And their is a link between their "othering" of groups like the burakumin, the Chinese during WWII...and now dolphins and whales (fuck you world). 

 Hah! "One of those crazy Enviro's", you say. "Why connect People with animals?"  

Remember what Einstein said about the "circle of compassion" and embracing "all living creatures" -- that's a pretty good definition of altruism.

Remember too the well-established link between mistreatment of animals and psychopathy. 

So it's Japanese culture.  So Japanese culture, like most is psychopathic.  So fucking what?

Mindless cruelty is also part of our evolutionary heritage, and, as I will explain later. mob behavior.

Still, until recently, most people weren't proud of it.   Nobody wanted to be seen as a callous bastard or selfish bigot.   Nobody wanted to be Dexter.

Now, since Dutton's book, you have lots of people on the Internet boasting about being psychopaths -- when in fact they are just shallow, insecure and narcissistic.
Do they?

As mentioned, real genetic psychopaths of course are at pains to pretend to care -- and look sincere and empathetic -- "I feel your pain".  They want to do what they do and not to be stopped.

 But ultimately genetic psychopaths are tribes of One. They are exceptionalists -- just like that most psychopathic of cultures -- the US of A.     Every other  is  alien -- to be used or destroyed as is convenient.    And material success if the only thing that matters.

Are you getting yours?

That brings us back to evolution.

Of course, like our primate cousins we evolved as hunting and gathering creatures, living in small, eusocial tribal groups.  

Other tribes existed --we tried to keep our distance --  and if we had to compete for resources, we would first try to negotiate, as with Bonobo's fuck parties.   If  Make Love Not War didn't work, we would fight savagely.   In that case,  We were Us. And They were Other . Kill, kill, kill.

Modern societies exceed the Dunbar Limit (mentioned in previous posts) by many times.  They are huge hives, composed of many tribes or communities, each no more than 200 people, in inter-meshed symbiotic relationships.  

Early industrial societies tried to break simplify and systematize internal complexity by breaking the bonds that connected communities -- alienating individuals from one another.   all human groups, organizations, and institutions prioritize their own survival, above that of others – this is basic human behavior, which we share with other primates, not that chimpanzees, however badass, have a Chimp Microsoft-- they are not that degraded.  

Groups are inherently selfish. They have no conscience.  

Our Moral Superiors

And neither do their members, when they act out their roles within the group.

In our paleolithic past, we belonged to tribes.  Other tribes existed --we tried to keep our distance --  and if we had to compete for resources, we would first try to negotiate -- preferably to our own advantage, of course.  If that didn't work, we would fight savagely.   We were Us. And They were Other.   Let us remember that the oldest participatory democracies were tribal, including the Six Nations confederacy, which politically at least was  in most respects was far advanced over what we have today. 

When the first Europeans came to the Americas, the natives were friendly -- they tried to talk --  until we started taking their lands and raping and killing and enslaving them. Then they fought. 

Europeans civilizing the savages

Psychopathy is part of human nature, yes-- and not a very pleasant part.

Think of all those lynch mobs in the American South --  otherwise nice white middle class people collecting the body parts of dead or dying black people as souvenirs.  

Are you a Christian?

Think of drone pilots, bombing rescue and medical teams after a strike.  Think of anyone who works for Monsanto or Goldman Sachs.  "I'm just doing my job", they say.  Many of them praying to  Gentle Jesus every Sunday.    Think of Barack Obama unctuously signing off on the death of women and children before a round of golf.  Think of the Hillary, speaking of Gaddafi:  "We came, we saw, he died" -- as she reduced the most prosperous and best functioning nation in Africa to a failed state, at the cost of thousands of innocent lives. She giggled as she said that -- thinking it ever so clever.

Sorta like the first Europeans in the Americas.  "We can, we saw, they died".

This kind of psychopathy can be understood as natural tribal behavior -- situational suspension of conscience and individual choice. But tribal groups had ways of maintaining balance: we do not.

  Who did you kill today?

The social philosopher Hannah Arendt is famous for her concept : the banality of evil, which owes much to her mentor and sometime lover Martin Heidegger who argued that human communities maintain consistency by "forgetfulness" of  individual being and non-being (, being, death).  Whatever the ontological argument, the fact is that ordinary people commit the worst crimes.  And if they do not commit them directly -- they permit them.  

You were right all along.  Your boss is a psychopath.  So is your mother-in law.  So, we are all accessories.  All guilty.

Think of that the next time you vote for a mainstream political party.     Do you really want your kid to get an MBA from Princeton?  Do you want him to go for work for, say,  Exxon?

Most of us make choices. in our best interest -- and and in the interests of those closest to us-- but - in that case, we should not  pretend there is any altruism involved -- it's all about us.   

If you are going to be selfish -- take responsibility for it --but don't pretend, not to yourself anyway. 

The Last Word

Of course, some people are just forgetful -- of everything. Just lazy.  They get their information about the world from Fox News or CNN -- and they don't bother to vote.  Don't be a thing. Be a person.

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