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Sep 4, 2011           

More about evil genes and politics

Yesterday I wrote about "Evil Genes", a book by a linguist-turned-engineer called
Barbara Oakley, and here is a little more on the subject, because it seems to me to have considerable explanatory potential of the personalities and families that are successful in politics:

Those who succeed in politics and religion, far more often than those who succeed in other fields, tend to be psychopathic personalities, that is, people who combine narcissism with a lack of conscience, stand out as crafty deceivers and manipulators, and indeed make a career and profession on the basis of ideological or religious myths, promises, and deceptions: Fundamentally, they are con men dealing in political or religious delusions.

As I said yesterday, I haven't read Oakley's book, but I am a philosopher and a psychologist, and I can name quite a few books about politics or related themes that strongly support the thesis that leading politicians and their willing executioners differ from the ordinary men who accept their leadership:
I could list considerably more titles and authors, but the above have been highly acclaimed by many, and are all very much worth reading. Especially the last is quite revealing about the points I have in mind, that may be best made if I quote again from yesterday and the Wikipedia:

Those who succeed in politics or religion often belong to this type of personalities:

Psychopathy (..) is a mental disorder characterized primarily by a lack of empathy and remorse, shallow emotions, egocentricity, and deceptiveness. Psychopaths are highly prone to antisocial behavior and abusive treatment of others, and are very disproportionately responsible for violent crime.

You'll find a whole galery of them in Montefiore's book - and I  should note four things before going on, lest my meaning is mistaken:
  • First, while it probably is mostly a matter of genes, and may run in families (the Ceasars come to mind: Read Suetonius, if you want the evidence), it has nothing to do with race, creed or ideology, and is relatively rare, and personal, if mediated or facilitated by genetical constitution.
  • Second, while it is best documented in the case of various political leaders, such as Stalin, Hitler, Mao and quite a few more, it also extends to their helpers, henchmen, seconds and thirds in command, who in fact tend to do most of the dirty work, as is made quite clear by e.g. Montefiore's "Stalin" and also by De la Boetie's "Discourse on voluntary servitude".
  • Third, it doesn't apply merely to dictatorships: It applies to politics and religions in general, and indeed political parties and churches are best seen as selection instruments where the arrived elite select their successors, who must excel at deception and lack of real morality, hidden by a successful pretense of high morality, in order to rise high in the political or religious institution.
  • Fourth, especially the successful political psychopaths in politics and religion do not seem to be mad at all, generally excel in the arts of deception and manipulation, often may appear to be quite charming in public, and are good at cultivating a seemingly benevolent and moral public persona.
This doesn't mean there may not be any decent leaders in politics and religion, but it does mean that, as also fits such evidence as I know, these are the exceptions rather than the rule, and serve to help maintain the illusion that their fellows mean well, for which reason their fellows tolerate them. (Lenin's phrase applies, from a leninist - political realist - point of view: "Useful idiots".)

The basic reason is that those who lead political or religious institutions lead organizations based on the furthering of illusions and the salesmanship in promises of the radiant future or bliss in heaven - as is or ought to be clear to most when considering those politicians, parties and religions one does not belong to nor believe in oneself: Lies and deception are quite clearly their core business, tools of trade, and what they excel in.

Indeed, to quote another Wikipedia lemma I also quoted yesterday, that very well applies to the tales political and religious leaders trade in:

The defining characteristics of pseudologia fantastica are that, first, the stories told are not entirely improbable and often have some element of truth. They are not a manifestation of delusion or some more intense type of psychosis: upon confrontation, the teller can admit them to be untrue, even if unwillingly. Second, the fabricative tendency is long lasting; it is not provoked by the immediate situation or social pressure as much as it is an innate trait of the personality.

Third, a definitely internal, not an external, motive for the behavior can be discerned clinically e.g. long lasting extortion or habitual spousal battery might cause a person to lie repeatedly, without the lying being a pathological symptom. Fourth, the stories told tend toward presenting the liar favorably. For example, the person might be presented as being fantastically brave, knowing or being related to many famous people.

Clearly, the first, second and fourth characteristics are also quite true of the web of tales and promises spun by political and religious leaders to enthrall their audiences: Their stories have some plausibility and indeed possibly some truth; the tellers are not evidently insane, and indeed often socially quite successful, and apparently really well meaning; while the tales they tell make especially them and their parties stand out as morally benevolent, desirable  and worthy of admiration and support.

The third characteristic may not quite apply (although both Hitler and Stalin, for example, had quite abusive fathers) but it does apply if slightly reformulated: The internal personal motive of political and religious leaders is a craving for personal power or riches, that often is not pathological itself, but merely human-all-too-human. (Here Montefiore's book is again quite good, namely on the corruption and venality of Stalin's courtiers and henchmen.)

In summa: All power corrupts, and the corrupt seek power the most. I have seen very few political or religious leaders who did not seem to be thoroughly corrupt, if only because the sort of promises political and religious leaders make are rarely such as they can possibly guarantee or know, even if they had wanted, and generally were such as they could not possibly know to be true, but could very easily know to help deceive most of their audiences.

And while it probably is true that one cannot lead in politics or religion without deceiving one's audience to some extent, it is also true that most political and religious leaders lie on a far larger scale than is necessary to be a successful and effective leader - and the main two reasons for that are the facts that their political and religious opponents do it as well, and anyway most are precisely of the type that should not but all too often does succeed in
politics and religion, namely those with little or no conscience, a vast craving for power, and an above average intelligence.

P.S. Corrections, if any are necessary, have to be made later.
-- Sep 6, 2011: Added some qualifying terms to clarify what I mean.

As to ME/CFS (that I prefer to call ME):

1.  Anthony Komaroff Ten discoveries about the biology of CFS (pdf)
3.  Hillary Johnson The Why
4.  Consensus of M.D.s Canadian Consensus Government Report on ME (pdf)
5.   Eleanor Stein Clinical Guidelines for Psychiatrists (pdf)
6.  William Clifford The Ethics of Belief
7.  Paul Lutus

Is Psychology a Science?

8.  Malcolm Hooper Magical Medicine (pdf)
 Maarten Maartensz
ME in Amsterdam - surviving in Amsterdam with ME (Dutch)
 Maarten Maartensz Myalgic Encephalomyelitis

Short descriptions of the above:                

1. Ten reasons why ME/CFS is a real disease by a professor of medicine of Harvard.
2. Long essay by a professor emeritus of medical chemistry about maltreatment of ME.
3. Explanation of what's happening around ME by an investigative journalist.
4. Report to Canadian Government on ME, by many medical experts.
5. Advice to psychiatrist by a psychiatrist who understands ME is an organic disease
6. English mathematical genius on one's responsibilities in the matter of one's beliefs:

7. A space- and computer-scientist takes a look at psychology.
8. Malcolm Hooper puts things together status 2010.
9. I tell my story of surviving (so far) in Amsterdam with ME.
10. The directory on my site about ME.

See also: ME -Documentation and ME - Resources
The last has many files, all on my site to keep them accessible.

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