Monday, April 27, 2009

SOCIOPATHY IN THE 21ST CENTURY: How the Craigslist Killer, the Taliban, and Today's Left are Psychologically and Ideologically Connected

Wretchard has two excellent and separate posts up that I think are philosophically and psychologicaly connected.

The first, titled "Predator vs Prey" is about the Craigslist murderer.
A search for terms “sociopath” and “profile” brings up a multitude of articles which attempt to characterize the warning signs of a sociopathic behavior. But if it’s so easy to spot trouble, why do people keep getting into it? How was it, for example, that people didn’t see trouble when they saw Charles Manson?

One reason for the continuing success of killers, I think, is that sociopaths know how to sneak up on people who are blind to them, just as on the Serengeti plain predators come in downwind of their prey. Charles Manson and Ted Bundy knew how to avoid people who would recognize them as threats. They knew how to use filters in their favor. The Craigslist killer, whoever he may turn out to be, may have employed a different approach than that of the classic stalker. He employed ambush predator tactics.

The post goes on to discuss the ways the internet make it easy for this type of predator by bringing the gullible and unsuspecting prey to the site of the ambush, where no escape is possible. This whole article is definitely worth a read, because it gives an insight into what we in psychiatry refer to as psychopaths or sociopaths, the extreme variant of an antisocial personality.

The second post, "Caving" which includes a horrific video (circulated by the Taliban) of a young woman being beaten for not being with her husband or a male family member, discusses the Pakistani government-sanctioned concession of the Swat Valley to the vicious Taliban and the psychological denial (though he doesn't use that term) that was behind the government's decision:
I think part of Hanif’s problem with understanding the ascendancy of the Taliban arises from the inability to compare the toughness necessary to push back against a regular government, even one as corrupt as Pakistan’s and the toughness necessary to fight armed terror. People boast of how they fought the repression of George W. Bush and defied the fascism of America’s right wing in the same tones one would use in describing an assault on Iwo Jima, thinking they are describing their heroism when what they are really describing is their membership in the little leagues. The examples are all around us: artists who will depict a cross in bottle of urine but tremble at the thought of handling a Koran without white gloves; ‘feminists’ who are very aggressive about the life span, or lack thereof, of babies, but who can’t find their voice when women are beaten, mutilated and beheaded; countries which think it’s the height of nobility to prosecute American war criminals but depend on them for safety. It’s not surprising at all that a “Pakistani civil society [that] has driven a military dictator from power and managed to force an elected government to restore our top judges to the bench”. You could face down the first with demonstrations and civil disobedience; but try that with al-Qaeda. To them a crowd is a just a big target-rich environment. (Emphasis mine)

He concludes with this incredibly insightful (typical for Wretchard) comment: What are they to do to fight the Taliban? Would he like to hear it? Nobody likes to hear it, and I think part of the reason Barack Obama was elected was the hope it would never have to be faced.

Again, this is another must read post.

Now, what links these two posts in my opinion, is a critical question: What happens when a group, culture, society, or nation facilitates the development of psychopathy in its members?

It would seem that in the 21st century, never have so many wanted to kill or destroy so much because doing so is so essential to their identity.

For a start, here is someone considered an "authority" in his culture, who is a bit unclear on the concept of "antisocial". One need only glance at the various translations and videos of "authorities" like this (just browse the MEMRI site) to begin to appreciate why the glorification of psychopathy/sociopathy [i.e., the glorification of those individuals who lack a conscience, enjoy manipulating and hurting others; are intentionally cruel and have an almost unlimited need for controlling others] is such a hallmark of Islamic culture.

Why is this sort of hate and viciousness celebrated in the Islamic world? I note in a series on the psychopathology of terrorism that along with parenting issues, cultural factors play an extremely strong role in personality formation and can under certain circumstances "stack the cards" against normal develoment even if all other factors are benign (which they aren't, actually, but read the entire two-part article if you are interested).

Several key factors that contribute to the development of psychopathy include:

  • Genetics
  • Constitution/temperment
  • Parenting
  • Culture

  • Children who happen to be born into authoritarian or tyrannical regimes are frequently systematically indoctrinated and programmed (by teachers or political authorities) to develop habits of thought and behavior at variance with healthy parenting and inconsistent with normal human values. Such programming can easily deform personility development in a variety of ways--none of them very healthy, humane, or "social". It is easy in such tyrannical regimes to become rigid; or mindlessly obedient; or cruel; or rebellious, bitter etc.

    Psychologists have studied people who are from fringe or outcast social groups (such as gangs), and found that the members of such groups often behave respectfully and honestly toward others within their own group, but treat outsiders as if they were not human, without any sense of wrongdoing.

    The ringleaders of such groups are often the the true psychopaths, and these leaders have a seemingly unlimited supply of morally weak or immature individuals (many of them very young)--who embrace antisocial behavior under group pressure.

    Having already a predisposition because of dysfunctional parenting issues, the culture of Islam "stacks the deck" further by:

  • encouraging the subjugation of women by men by giving it a religious basis
  • This is nothing new in the history of the world, and it certainly occurred throughout the history of Christianity too. But the idea that women are inferior to men has been challenged for a thousand years, and as women have taken their equal place with men in the countries promoting women's rights, there has been an incredible improvement in those countries' economic and political standings. The culturally sanctioned misogyny of Islam results in the dysfunctional family unit that has tremendous impact on both male and female personality development.

    The Koran says (Sureh 4, Verse 35) that men have authority over women (not just the wife but sisters, daughters, and all females). If they disobey, "first admonish them, then refuse to sleep with them, and then beat them". In Islamic countries, women are second-class citizens. They are counted as one-half a witness in a legal proceeding; and they can inherit only one-half as much as a man. Their sexuality is considered so inflammatory, they must be hidden under clothing that prevents anyone from seeing them. In Saudi Arabia, sons may be sent to foreign universities but daughters are not even allowed to drive. Under the Taliban, women were beaten and murdered for showing their ankles.

    Now, why are women's rights issue--or rather, the lack of them-- of importance in developing antisocial psychopathology? Well, in the case of Islam, the religion has set-up an ongoing potentially abusive situation in the family; in heterosexual relationships;and in the culture. It breeds sadism, because taking out your frustrations or impotence on the socially-sanctioned "lesser" half of the population, it teaches an important lesson that all developing psychopaths come to appreciate: "I am more important and powerful because I can hurt or kill this weak person".

    Through a process that Anna Freud called "Identification with the Aggressor" it also breeds the same sadistic tendency in women, though they have many fewer cultural options for acting it out (female suicide bombers; mothers who cheer the deaths of their sons and daughters in Allah's cause; and who are willing participants in the honor murders of their daughters--these are several culturally accepted ways for women to act out their sadistic fantasies.)

    Male children in societies that demonize or debase women must overemphasize their "maleness" in order to separate from the shameful female/mother. As grown men, far from being able to mitigate the aggressive impulses of a child, such men will actively encourage these impulses in order to "prove" to the world at large that they (and later, their sons) have not been "feminized".
    Cultures where women have extremely low status almost always encourage the development of inadequate, "macho" men, who need to prove their manliness and strength constantly because of the stark terror that female sexuality stimulates within them. It is not a coincidence that a pervasive current of homosexual behavior--which is ubiquitous, but tacitly unacknowledged and denied societally--runs through Islamic culture. With a boy or another man, you cannot be shamed by your are always in control; and this is not true in relationships with the demonized woman whose sexuality is so threatening and feared that it must be contained at all costs.

  • A second factor that culturally "stacks the deck" in personality development is the perpetual war against the infidel inherent in externalization of the concept of " jihad"

  • Those who perceive "jihad" as an inner struggle of faith will not generally evolve into psychopaths, because (one would hope) by internalizing the process it would foster insight and self-awareness, rather than brutality and violence against others.

    However, it is noteworthy that even the "moderate" practitioners of Islam do not stand up and loudly contradict the psychopathic elements in their religion; rather, they invite these elements to come "teach" at their mosques and abdicate leadership roles to them.

    Those who are not strong personalities become the disposable fodder that can then act out the psychopaths' scripts for them. They become the stooges--the suicide bombers--who mindlessly carry out their leaders' orders without every once considering that if holiness and sainthood are guaranteed by becoming a human bomb for Allah , then why is it that their leaders are not jumping with joy to grab the opportunity for themselves?

    Islam has become toxic, infusing the entire Middle East with a culture inimical to not just the 50% who are female; but equally to the half who are male and consider themselves "superior". Children are raised in a misogynist family and cultural environment and the young boys are thus encouraged to hatred and violence. This has been going on for decades among the Palestinians in particular; but everywhere the jihad mindset has spread it cancerous message.

    The educational tenets of this toxic culture, centered in the Saudi Arabian madrassas are exported around the Middle East and the entire globe. Even the most balanced analysis that I read of these schools (here) suggests that many madrassa students have violent personalities due to long harsh treatment by their teachers. They are politically charged and attached blindly to their respective interpretations of their faith and ideology. They seldom have the capability to analyze developments taking place around them. Although they are not a formal part of any pan-Islamic movement or Muslim Brotherhood campaign, and they are not being trained by bin Laden or anyone else against a superpower for jihad, they have a love bond with Islam and the Islamic ummah, and this can trigger the violent man inside them as they have blind faith and rigid standards. Certainly, then, they are catalysts for jihad because of the influence and education they receive in the madrassas.

    But you can also think of many of these madrassas as being a Stanford Prisoner Experiment as it applies to a larger culture. Even a normal, loving child can be carefully molded and shaped into a monster who is more than willing to hate, kill and destroy his fellow man.

    Every culture has its share of psychopaths and predators like the Craigslist murderer, who undermine and subvert those values that facilitate the growth and maturation of the culture. When they are in positions of political power (e.g., the leaders of Iraq, North Korea or Venezuela for example) they can cause a great deal of societal and cultural damage.

    But, culture is not a neutral participant in personality development.

    It is an important source of values and as such is one of the most important factors responsible for either encouraging or discouraging the psychopathic traits that are biological or genetic. A culture that actively and enthusiastically encourages psychopathy and the accompanying sadistic and terroristic behavior, is in the process of destroying itself. A group, culture, society, or nation that encourages the predator within is going backwards in the establishment of civilized behavior.

    SC&A note:
    How does political and/or ideological indoctrination work? Surprisingly, the process is fairly simple. Wilfrid Bion explained the process:

    The child (or even adult) is taught that he is part something much bigger than him or herself. The individual is taught that because of that affiliation, the are very special, and expression of narcissism that celebrates the self (an expression of which is necessary component of every healthy individual) is frowned upon. It is because of that affiliation with the group, they are loved.

    Those outside the group are rejected at best and hated and reviled at worst. This is not hard to grasp: Within the group, there is love. Non members or members of different groups are ignored or rejected- they are outsiders. If and when those outsiders reject the group or cling to their own group, they become hated.

    It bears remembering that for every action, there is an equal and opposite reaction.

    When the ‘love’ offered by the group by virtue of attachment to that group is so strong, so to is the hate proffered by that group, directed at outsiders. The group leaders control the ‘volume’ of hate. The closer group leaders control their followers, the more they focus that hate on the chosen ‘others.’

    What we see in the Middle East are members of a group so desirous of love (worthiness) and attention, that they make a deliberate choice to opt out of the rules that define civilized society.

    A combination of cultural and social factors in Islam facilitates the development of many traits that make up the psychopathic or antisocial personality type. The predominance of this personality pattern both fosters and feeds on the phenomenon of terrorism and in turn recycles the cultural underpinnings that support and insure its continuation.

    Let us turn for a moment to consider why there is so much hate and viciousness in the words and behavior of the political left. I wrote about this most recently here where I discussed the idea that the left is united in hate with America's foes. As a result, I was the recipient of the most vile and vicious emails and comments attacking me personally--from my looks to my professional credentials and behavior. Quite noticeably, there was little in the way of actual comment on the points I raised to document the thesis. But then, most conservative or Republican writers are the object of such attacks on a regular basis. I speak about a group and an ideology; while they attack me individually.

    Don't get me wrong, thepolitical left does not have exclusive rights to hatred or viciousness by any means--it is a human trait, but as a group in thrall to a toxic ideology, they truly fit in with the "ambush" predator psychopath discussed in Wretchard's first article above. The internet is a perfect way to ambush prey and remain anonymous and out of reach (often changing IP addresses each time) while going in for the kill. As a writer and blogger, I am out to destroy toxic ideas and the ideologies they come from; the various trolls and those who pen the personal and ad hominem diatribes are out to destroy me personally.

    This is because they are so wrapped up in their ideology that it totally defines them, and any questioning of that ideology; any alternate view threatens to puncture their artificially inflated self-esteem and delusional view of themselves and their motives.

    In this post, I discuss two types of malignant narcissism: sociopathic selfishness and sociopathic selflessness.

    It is the latter that is rampant among the minions of today's left, and which helps them disguise their sociopathy under the veil (so to speak) of "compassion" and "love". They want to manipulate and control you--for your own good and the good of the collective. Just as the Taliban beat that woman who transgressed against their particular ideological utopian vision of the world.

    As Wretchard notes,
    People boast of how they fought the repression of George W. Bush and defied the fascism of America’s right wing in the same tones one would use in describing an assault on Iwo Jima, thinking they are describing their heroism when what they are really describing is their membership in the little leagues. The examples are all around us: artists who will depict a cross in bottle of urine but tremble at the thought of handling a Koran without white gloves; ‘feminists’ who are very aggressive about the life span, or lack thereof, of babies, but who can’t find their voice when women are beaten, mutilated and beheaded; countries which think it’s the height of nobility to prosecute American war criminals but depend on them for safety.

    But he is mistaken in thinking these guys are in the "little leagues". Yes, when it comes to heroic or "virtuous" behavior--which the way they like to look at themselves, much like the Taliban, I would suggest--but they are definitely in the big leagues when it comes to sociopathic behavior. It is true that they manage to rid their conscious mind of the incredible damage they do to the larger society and culture as they pursue their oh-so-virtuous utopian agenda; but, like the ambush predator that Wretchard describes, they rearrange rhetoric and reality (the tools they use in the hunt for those who oppose their will) in such a way so as to bring their prey to them.

    SC&A have also written the following regarding the Arab world:
    In their world, heroes are mass murderers… In our world, heroes come to liberate and give life.

    What shame there must be in the Arab world…

    But, in a way, he could also have been writing about today's left, whose heroes are dictators and thugs; and who demonize those who liberate and save lives.

    It is not an exaggeration to say that most of human history has been a battle between forces which advocate one or the other of these two absolute ethical imperatives. The self-GS[or ,the "GRANDIOSE SELF] says unequivocally that I should always pursue my own happiness, regardless of its impact on others; while the self-IO[or, the IDEALIZED OBJECT/SELF] demands that I always sacrifice myself for others and/or the "greater good"; or, that an individual's happiness is nothing compared to the happiness of others.

    Individuals, as they go through life, often run head-on into this seeming dilemma; and if they do not find a way to resolve it within their psychological self they will forever bounce back and forth between what I have termed "sociopathic selfishness" and "sociopathic selflessness".

    It is my contention that the adoption of either of the extreme ethical systems derived from the developing self will inevitably leads to disastrous consequences for both for the individual and for society, and is the cause of most human suffering. Both extremes represent a form of malignant narcissism with which our world is plagued.

    The unopposed Grandiose Self gives rise to tyrants big and small; to megalomaniacal dictators and dictator wannabees; to unbelievable corporate greed and plundering; and to the typical criminal sociopath in all his/her glory. The damage that such individuals do in individual relationships, in business, in politics and in all spheres of human behavior, is well documented and appreciated in the world. Most children are abjured repeatedly never, never to be "selfish". To always consider others. Laws are set up to protect people from victimization at the hands of these unrestrained grandiose monsters, unable to see other people as distinct individuals separate from their own self. These "others" exist only as the means to achieving their own desires.

    But far more menacing to humanity is the unrestrained IO, which has unlimited potential to cause human misery and death; and whose destructiveness we have seen dominate the 20th century. The countless dead bodies that are the direct result of this form of malignant narcissism are quickly forgotten because they died as some nations, religions, ideologies attempted to implement their IDEAL in the real world.

    This second type of evil is more subtle, and it derives from the ethics of the IO side of the self. The IO also does not see other people as distinct individuals with needs and desires of their own, but only as fodder for the expression of an IDEAL; or as pawns for the wishes of a deified GS. People with this narcissistic defect completely reject the needs of the individual and enslave him or her to the service of their IDEAL. Eventually, the enslavement--whether religious or secular--snuffs out human ambition, confidence, energy, self-esteem, and life. These mindlessly malignant "do-gooders" -- like our Nobel Laureate mentioned at the start of this article-- do far more harm than good and their ideologies can lead to genocidal practices and unbelievable atrocities on a grand scale, all in the name of an IDEAL or GOD.

    The malignant and sociopathic potential of both the grandiose self and part of the self derived from the idealized object are inherent in the human species. One side cannot exist without the other--in other words, they are flip sides of the same narcissistic coin. And unless a balance or synthesis is found within each individual; unless the culture or society encourages the development of that balance or synthesis; then you have all the makings of malignantly narcissistic (i.e., sociopathic) individuals and the cultures and societies in which they thrive.

    UPDATE: John Derbyshire is absolutely correct that the left is the "True Stupid Party":
    Is the political Left the true Stupid Party? I've been hearing versions of the following argument over the past few days. (See, for example, the blog titled The Cold Equations.)

    The administration is going all out to discredit the intelligence services and neuter the War on Terror, while downgrading border & entry security. If there is another major terrorist attack, it will be a terrific blow to the Left. Everybody will be saying: "At least W kept us safe for seven years. Then this new crowd came in, dismantled the security apparatus, and we got hit again."
    From a game-theoretic point of view, the administration strategy is simply terrible. The only advantage to releasing these memos, gutting immigration control, and striking moral poses on torture — or "torture" — is to get cheers from the hard-Left base. The downside is potentially lethal to the administration (not to mention a possible several thousand Americans).

    As a strategy, it's barely even rational. The Left is what it is, though. Like the scorpion in Æsop, they can't help themselves.

    When you have to expend so much psychological energy just to maintain a high degree of denial and projection so that your unbounded narcissism does not take a hit, then reason, truth, and reality all have to be thrown under the bus. I would almost feel sorry for them--except it is all Americans who will suffer for their stupidity.

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