CommunityPam's House Blend

Did someone say "sociopaths"?

Over in the “Bush was briefed about the gravity of Katrina” comments thread, a few of us got around to talking about the sociopathology of the Bush Administration. My question is this: why is anyone surprised? Bush is the empty suit representing the corporate world, the first MBA president, the CEO of BushCo Int’l (a division of The Carlyle Group)… and there is nothing more sociopathic than a corporation.

Sometimes when I’m researching an idea for a post, I just go to Google and type in a couple of words to find relevant information. For this post, I was interested in making a point about how corporations are considered “natural persons” with respect to our legal system, i.e., they have all the rights of free speech, petitioning the government, not incriminating themselves, etc. The main point was how if a corporation is a person, then he is a sociopath. He exists solely to maximize his own profits and has no need of empathy for anything — environment, people, or the economy — that stands in his way.

Thanks to Google, I find I’m not the only person to have made this comparison. I found this on a listserv for the Journal of Memetics – Evolutionary Models of Information Transmission:

A psychiatrist by the name of Eric Altschuler pointed out a few years back that the biblical hero, Samson, was a sociopath, at least according to the description of him in the Bible. Of the seven criteria for diagnosis, he fit six. Only three are required for diagnosis.

Samson would have benefited his tribe as long as his violent tendencies were unleashed primarily on a different tribe, the Philistines. But eventually his behavior became intolerable, and his own people delivered him to the Philistines, who were more than happy to execute him. The sociopathic personality type is selected up to a point, beyond which it’s more trouble than it’s worth.

I think we see a similar situation today in the case of large, predatory corporations. Part of the strength of the US is that it encourages sociopathic tendencies on a large scale. Every great corporation is a sort of institutional Samson, slaying the Philistines, lying and cheating, and taking no responsibility for its actions. What’s striking about the DSM-IV criteria for “antisocial personality disorder” is how perfectly they describe large corporations: […and George W. Bush, too]

1) repeatedly performing acts that are grounds for arrest [NSA wiretapping, check]
2) deceitfulness, repeated lying, use of aliases, conning others for profit [“[Nobody] could have anticipated the breach of the levees.”, check]
3) impulsivity or failure to plan ahead [Iraq, check]
4) aggressiveness [Abu Ghraib, check]
5) reckless disregard for safety of self and others [sitting in a classroom during 9/11, check]
6) consistent irresponsibility, repeated failure to honor obligations [rebuilding New Orleans, check]
7) lack of remorse, indifference to the suffering of others [Superdome, check]

Corporations produce immense amounts of wealth for US society, and despite the horrific social and environmental costs, they are always rewarded for their efforts and rarely reprimanded. They break laws at will, routinely lie about their transgressions, never consider the future but remain fixed on current profitability, are extremely aggressive in the face of communities and other corporations, demonstrate no regard for the safety of their own workers, of consumers of their products, or of people living near their factories, feel no obligation to the communities that nurtured them in their early years, and always deny wrongdoing of any kind, fighting to the bitter end any lawsuit that would force them to pay a dime for the suffering they’ve caused. What’s really interesting is the “use of aliases” in criterion two. A corporation is, in essence, an alias used by its directors to shield them from responsibility for their actions. This is the meaning of the term, “limited liability corporation.” Commit a crime against nature, and it’s your alias that pays the penalty.

Corporations are treated as “natural persons” with the full array of rights enjoyed by actual persons. Yet they are not individuals. So how can they demonstrate, as groups, the same personality types displayed by individuals?

Let’s say a corporation is founded by a sociopath. The corporation is successful for the same reason the sociopath is successful. It lies, steals, cheats, and attacks at every opportunity. The outlook of the sociopath infects the people working for him. What is habitual for the individual becomes habitual for the group. The bridge between the sociopath and the corporation is the meme. An otherwise normal person becomes a virtual sociopath when he enters the executive suites. He abides by a normal set of memes on the outside and a pathological set of memes on the inside. Ultimately, this schism must give way. Either society banishes its Samsons, or it becomes them.

The success of sociopaths is a measure of the pathology of society.

Well, then, what does that say about oil companies posting world record profits ten quarters in a row in country being “run like a business” by its first MBA / CEO president?

[Cross-posted, of course, at Radical Writ]

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