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Can We Really Blame Sociopaths?

Obama speaking to a joint session of Congress in the Capitol

Sociopaths, all?

I’ve been hearing increasingly from multiple quarters that the root of our problems is psychopaths and sociopaths and other loosely defined but definitely different beings from ourselves. Rob Kall has produced a quite interesting series of articles and interviews on the subject.

I want to offer some words of caution if not respectful dissent. I don’t think the “because chickenhawks” dissent found, for example, in John Horgan’s The End of War is sufficient. That is to say, just because a politician doesn’t want to do the killing himself or herself doesn’t mean the decision to order killing in war, or in prison, or through poverty and lack of healthcare, or through climate change, isn’t heartless and calculating. Psychopaths could be running our world from behind desks.

But are they?

When I look at national politicians in the United States — presidents and Congress members — I can’t identify any meaningful place to draw a line such that sociopaths would be on one side and healthy people on the other. They all bow, to one degree or another, to corrupt influences. They all make bad compromises. There are differences in both policy positions and personal manners, but the differences are slight and spread along a continuum. They all fund the largest killing machine in history. The Progressive Caucus budget proposes slight increases in military spending, already at 57% of the discretionary budget. Some support wars on “humanitarian” and others on genocidal grounds, but the wars look the same from the receiving end either way.

The slightly better Congress members come from slightly better districts, have taken slightly less money, and begin with slightly more enlightened ideologies. Or at least that’s true much of the time on many issues. Often, however, what makes the difference is personal experience. Senator Diane Feinstein supports warrantless spying on everyone else, but objects when it’s turned against her. Six years ago, Congressman Mike McNulty said he was voting against war funding because his brother had been killed in Vietnam. Weren’t four million people killed there? Didn’t many of them have brothers and sisters and other loved ones? Shouldn’t we oppose mass murder even if nobody in our immediate family has died from mass murder? In Washington, no one is ashamed to explain their positions by their personal experiences; on the contrary, such rationales are deemed highly admirable — and not just among a certain group who stand apart as the sociopaths.

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