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Malleable social reality

by ThatBritGuy Thu Oct 14th, 2010 at 12:16:41 PM EST

Ted Welch's Rawls diary was running out of space so I'm pulling this into a new diary.

Here's the seed exchange:

ARGeezer:

That is what I mean when I boldly assert that reality is a social construct and is therefore inherently malleable

JakeS:

On the contrary. There exists a physical reality whose laws are not malleable. If you exit your apartment by the window on the twenty-second floor, you are not going to make it to work that day. This is not a social convention, it is an empirical reality. On the other hand, there is also a reality of social convention, which is malleable.


Some points following on:

  1. There's a massive distance between Enlightenment notions of rationality, and how people actually act, both individually and in groups.

  2. Historically, politics has largely been about violent animalistic struggles for absolute power. Democracy with a true universal franchise is a relatively recent idea. In fact it's so recent it's less than a century old in most of the world. In spite of this a lot of people, especially in the West, seem to think that it's somehow naturally ordained and inevitable. In reality it's so exceptional that it has never happened before - and that makes it more fragile than it looks.

  3. Social and personal reality have never been calibrated. In the same way that you can't make measurements in science without accurate references, you can't create a rational political and economic system without good models of social psychology that take into account both innate and social distortions of perception and desire.

  4. Politically and economically, what we have now exists because it exploits distortions of perception and desire. Chaos and irrationality are inevitable until this changes.

  5. Social ethics have changed out of all recognition over the last century - and bizarrely, hardly anyone has commented on this. Historically, there is nothing outstanding about the cruelty, violence and stupidity of Hitler, Mao, Stalin and Bush. In previous centuries their actions and beliefs would have been considered normal. In this century they're considered aberrations and outliers. I think this is very interesting.

  6. One of the things that has changed is improved psychological awareness. We now have a concept - sociopathy - that describes violent exploitation and lack of empathy. And we also have a medical model that assumes sociopathy is a pathology, not a choice. This is also very interesting, because it's a completely new development in human thought. Historically extreme sociopaths have been considered cruel, evil and perhaps even unusual. But they've never been considered ill before - at least not in the West.

  7. Personal interactions have some limits on sociopathic behaviour. Lying in personal relationships still seems to come under caveat emptor, but cheating and scamming victims or physically assaulting them can lead to jail time.

  8. This isn't true in policy. Politics and economics still include feedback loops that reward sociopathic behaviour. Many people are at least reasonably good at cooperation. But if you have filters that give power to people who act pathologically, sociopaths will tend to crowd out rational people from the control structures that run your culture. From the narcissism of middle and upper management to the extreme derangement of much of the banking industry and the Washington consensus, this seems to be the chief political problem of the time.

This is why the arguments of people like Rawls, and also of better known theorists like Zizek and even Chomsky, are politically ineffective and irrelevant. You can't use rhetoric and disapproval to make irrational people act rationally. The absolute best you can hope for is a groundswell of disapproval that votes out transgressors.

But that's not nearly enough. Sociopathy gains individual and collective power by distorting non-malleable truths and perverting social moralities. Promoting competing moralities that are 'better' isn't an answer, because sociopathic ethics has no concept of fairness, of rational debate, of respect for the opposition, of consensus, or of consequences.

So there's no room for a rational or cooperative morality, because the moral space inhabited by sociopaths is already filled with their own negation of same.

Synchronistic update: I hadn't quite finished this when Migeru posted this from Monbiot:

Progressives, he shows, have been suckers for a myth of human cognition he labels the Enlightenment model. This holds that people make rational decisions by assessing facts. All that has to be done to persuade people is to lay out the data: they will then use it to decide which options best support their interests and desires.

A host of psychological experiments demonstrates that it doesn't work like this. Instead of performing a rational cost-benefit analysis, we accept information which confirms our identity and values, and reject information that conflicts with them. We mould our thinking around our social identity, protecting it from serious challenge. Confronting people with inconvenient facts is likely only to harden their resistance to change.

Our social identity is shaped by values which psychologists classify as either extrinsic or intrinsic. Extrinsic values concern status and self-advancement. People with a strong set of extrinsic values fixate on how others see them. They cherish financial success, image and fame. Intrinsic values concern relationships with friends, family and community, and self-acceptance. Those who have a strong set of intrinsic values are not dependent on praise or rewards from other people. They have beliefs which transcend their self-interest.

'He' turns out to be Tom Crompton of WWF, who is making the radical and unheard of suggestion (unless you read ET) that psychology may have something useful to contribute to political theory.

Following on from this, it's obvious that we still have pre-Copernican policy, where rhetorical tricks of persuasion are used to manipulate unconscious feelings, and consequences are largely irrelevant. Lawyers and other professional persuaders know that facts are tangential to persuasion. They're useful if they're on your side, but you can deploy a library of tried and tested rhetorical techniques against them if they're not.

Sociopaths also know this. Sociopaths are known for their effortless ability to lie convincingly. If you put them into situations where there's no external checking for truth and lies are rewarded by status, they'll always prosper.

The answer isn't more rhetoric and persuasion, but a calibration of the unexamined internal models that shape how people really think. Eventually this can lead to a reinvention of politics and economics with different feedback loops that are less likely to collapse into the default unconscious distortions that cause so many problems.

This might sound unlikely. But 20th century morality, with its new dislike of previously acceptable horrors, would have been difficult to imagine in the 19th.

So far we're ten years into the next century. I'd like to think further surprises are possible.

Display:
[ET Moderation Technology™]

Updated with link to Monbiot.

(and h/t to Colman for Monbiot's piece in the first place)

By laying out pros and cons we risk inducing people to join the debate, and losing control of a process that only we fully understand. - Alan Greenspan

by Migeru (migeru at eurotrib dot com) on Thu Oct 14th, 2010 at 12:37:46 PM EST
I only wish that you had caught my response to Jake, which clarified my meaning:
That is what I mean when I boldly assert that perceptual reality is a social construct and is therefore inherently malleable

This has been rather well understood in academic anthropology for twenty years at least, but, as it affects how social, political and economic power is perceived, it seems to be better understood within a discipline the further that discipline is from the routine use of the "levers of power". The Wizard does not usually pull back the curtain of his own accord.

"It is not necessary to have hope in order to persevere."

by ARGeezer (ARGeezer a in a circle eurotrib daught com) on Thu Oct 14th, 2010 at 01:02:40 PM EST
hey TBG, where are you? off in the salon and points beyonder while your diary lies slumbering?

people have offered interesting reactions, have none of them moved you to respond?

European Tribune - Malleable social reality

but a calibration of the unexamined internal models that shape how people really think.

this has been a recent, recurrent theme in your posts, one i find mighty intriguing.

if you could be said to have a hobby horse, this appears to be it. with what tools does one calibrate unexamined internal models that shape how people really think? do you think there could be a standard general way to gauge these models? (for efficiency or robustness?)

are you alluding to all the mindbending people are subjected to, the sauce bernays, a la mad men? or older model shapers as philosophy or religions?

i think you're on the scent of something here, just a gut feeling, like i have about chris' energy units. i feel you have some psychological insights that are some layers of the onion closer to the centre than most, kinda hard to english.

i also think that there is an unconscious, silent pact people make to waste time together, so not to have to face certain aspects of life. it's a complex play, with secure roles, as long as folks stick close enough to their 'characters' and lines, remember their cues etc.

this is a kind of truman show, a pseudo-reality, that is rooted in sharing symbols and enacting 'scenes', to ensure continuity and reinforce the pact, which as it seeks to hermetically close off some vital parts of our nature, is doomed to fail, wither and become vestigial, or suffocate on its own unreality.

events conspire to unwind this wrapping of comfortable rituals and reveal the sham, leading to more denial and movement to double down the self-deception.

for example, it is at the most banal of situations, where every line seems scripted like some fatally uninspired soap opera, ie most calculated to unite the participants in the cozy glow of complicity, and you can hear the ragged edge creeping into the voice tones, the throttled shrillness, the tics, the mental gearbox grind as the veneer of normality buckles under the stress of the internal contradictions, and the sheer effort of holding back the dam of fear behind which all that is unexpressed weighs thick and heavy, like toxic sludge upvalley from the vulnerable cluster of fantasies that constitutes the increasingly tenuous, threatened sense of self, and a manageable life.

once scenes of 'normality' are seen through this lens, (and what fine detail it can provide!) one can too easily conclude that there may be no such thing, that darwinian dictates diversify all human encounters and the neuroses/baggages that stem from them, and all patterns are partially or wholly defined by their anomalies...

to calibrate you need calipers and a yardstick, don't you? seeing how fluid psychology is, especially social psychology, what will you sample from to measure?

sorry for banging on so long, but your diary has stirred up these questions, and it seems natural to try and get more clarity, if possible.

cool diary anyroad. you are getting to some nub or other, please keep on reflecting, it is fascinating to speculate on (what i think you might) mean.

'The history of public debt is full of irony. It rarely follows our ideas of order and justice.' Thomas Piketty

by melo (melometa4(at)gmail.com) on Mon Oct 18th, 2010 at 09:07:15 PM EST
[ Parent ]
Seems like this comment thread in response to an observation by Jake should go here:


Jake:
   Indeed, I am increasingly convinced that society itself is best analysed as an interlocking grid of Good Old Boys' networks, all of which shape and are shaped to a greater or lesser extent by the other GOB networks they interact and/or share parts of their membership with.

This is coming close to Ludwik Fleck's ideas of "thought collectives" as discussed in Mary Douglas's How Institutions Think, Syracuse, 1986. Fleck built on Durkheim's sociological epistemology which upgraded the role of society in organizing thought and downgraded the role of the individual. Durkheim maintained that the categories of space, time and causality have a social origin:

   They represent the most general relations which exist between things; surpassing all or other ideas in extension, they dominate all the details of our intellectual life. If men do not agree upon these essential ideas at any moment, if they did not have the same conceptions of time, space, cause, number, etc., all contact between their minds would be impossible, and with that, all life together. Thus, society could not abandon the categories to the free choice of the individual without abandoning itself....There is a minimum of logical conformity beyond which it cannot go. For this reason it uses all its authority upon its members to forestall such dissidences... -- Durkheim, Les formes élémentaires de la vie religieuse, 1912

It would seem that Durkheim's insights were at least fifty years ahead of his time, except, possibly, for Fleck and the linguistics work of Benjamin Whorf. Given the highly individualistic self view of much of western society and Fleck's status as an outsider to philosophy Fleck's work The Genesis and Development of a Scientific Fact, 1935, was generally ignored until Thomas Kuhn made reference to him in The Structure of Scientific Revolutions, 1962.

In his 1935 work Fleck wrote:

   Cognition is the most socially-conditioned activity of man, and knowledge is the paramount social creation. The very structure of language presents a compelling philosophy characteristic of that community, and even a single word can represent a complex theory....every epistemological theory is trivial that does not take the sociological dependence of all cognition into account in a fundamental and detailed manner.

The foreword Kuhn wrote to the 1979 translation of The Genesis and Development of a Scientific Fact reveals that he is not comfortable with the implications of Fleck's work:

   ...for me these cluster, as they did on first reading, around the notion of a thought collective...I find the notion intrinsically misleading and a source of recurrent tension in Fleck's text. Put briefly, a thought collective  seems to function as an individual mind writ large because many people possess it (or are possessed by it). To explain its apparent legislative authority, Fleck therefore repeatedly resorts to terms borrowed from discourse about individuals. (-- English Translation U. of Chicago Press, 1979)

Mary Douglas then states the reason, which is the reigning, unquestioned presumption:

   In sum, thinking and feeling are for individual persons. However, can a social group think or feel: This is the central, repugnant paradox. Kuhn appreciates in Fleck's book a number of separate insights, but not Fleck's main argument. By rejecting it, Kuhn is sharing discomfort with many liberals. John Rawls' philosophy of justice is founded on outright individualism; in his view society is not "an organic whole with a life of its own distinct from and superior to that of all its members in their relations with one another" (Rawls, 1971, p. 264)

    It is true that there are now several movements of ideas in the direction to which Fleck was urgently pointing. For instance, we can deal more easily with the uncomfortable terms. The translators considered and rejected several alternatives for denkkollectiv such as school of thought" or "cognitive community" Before they adopted the literal translation "thought collective." But now the term "world" has acquired the right sense. Thought world (including distinguishable theology worlds, anthropology worlds, and science worlds) in place of thought collective would be faithful to Fleck's essential idea, while linking it appropriately to Nelson Goodman's Ways of Worldmaking (Goodman, 1978) and to Howard Becker's  Art Worlds (Becker 1982). Fleck's subject was scientific discovery, Becker's is artistic creativity, and Goodman's is cognition in general

That is what I mean when I boldly assert that (perceptual) reality is a social construct and is therefore inherently malleable, if not easily malleable. It is also the reason which I reject the individualistic visions of liberalism as inappropriate to the experienced reality of myself and those with whom I chose to affiliate. It also was the foundational premise for my old sig line: If sanity be culturally normative, then, by the norms of this culture, I claim insanity.

All of the references are from the cited work by Mary Douglas.

"It is not necessary to have hope in order to persevere."

by ARGeezer (ARGeezer a in a circle eurotrib daught com) on Thu Oct 14th, 2010 at 01:44:27 PM EST
The link is to the comment thread. It is only one of my comments that I brought over.

"It is not necessary to have hope in order to persevere."
by ARGeezer (ARGeezer a in a circle eurotrib daught com) on Thu Oct 14th, 2010 at 01:45:38 PM EST
[ Parent ]
Another couple of choice quotes from the same line of discussion [I've dispensed with quote tags for the stuff I wrote myself, although the order is altered a bit for the purpose of exposition]:

Universities represent another conflict with the liberal democratic principle of transparency and external review: If you try to subject scholarly research to external review by people who have not been trained in the subject in question, they will do stupid things that impair the functioning of said scholarly research. And if they have been trained in the subject in question, then they're part of the self-selected Good Old Boys' network.

And if they have been trained in the subject in question, then they're part of the self-selected Good Old Boys' network.

I take it this is a "tongue-in-cheek" caricature too :-)

Not at all. Any academic schooling is going to socialise you into the way of thinking that prevails in the academic community in question, and the patronage networks that exist in same. And modern scholarly efforts being what they are, you will need to remain in both that culture and that patronage network if you wish to remain (regarded as) competent in the field in question.

The scholarly investigation of the political economy provides a very distinct example, because the favoured theories are such utter garbage with precious few redeeming virtues of any kind. This makes it easy to see that theories can be maintained by patronage rather than because they accurately describe empirical reality. But you shouldn't believe for a moment that the social dynamics that make the study of the political economy so incredibly dysfunctional are not equally applicable to chemistry, physics, linguistics and any other scholarly pursuit. In other areas of study, the socially dominant paradigm just happens to be compatible with empirical reality, making it a lot harder to distinguish between theories that are supported out of social convention and theories that are supported because they are correct.

Indeed, I am increasingly convinced that society itself is best analysed as an interlocking grid of Good Old Boys' networks, all of which shape and are shaped to a greater or lesser extent by the other GOB networks they interact and/or share parts of their membership with. In this model, a functioning society is one in which every social network enacts some measure of influence upon every other social network that they share a physical territory with. Social dysfunction occurs when a network, or cluster of networks, becomes detached from the other networks that occupy the same physical territory. Examples of the latter include hoodlums, biker gangs, the City of London and assorted brownshirt movements through the ages.

- Jake

Friends come and go. Enemies accumulate.

by JakeS (JangoSierra 'at' gmail 'dot' com) on Thu Oct 14th, 2010 at 02:02:23 PM EST
Any academic schooling is going to socialise you into the way of thinking that prevails in the academic community in question,..

Very much Fleck's point.

...and the patronage networks that exist in same.

More along the lines that Mary Douglas took and a very important addition to the critique.

"It is not necessary to have hope in order to persevere."
by ARGeezer (ARGeezer a in a circle eurotrib daught com) on Thu Oct 14th, 2010 at 03:31:23 PM EST
[ Parent ]
Super diary TGB! I will note again that there are those who have realized the malleability of the perception of social reality and who have used it to their advantage. Karl Rove springs to mind. That is the danger of becoming self conscious regarding the "doors of perception". But the horses have long since left the barn and some have been captured, saddle broken and are being ridden by the right wing, whose backers can clearly see the value in funding such endeavors.

It is a daunting situation, but I agree with you that it is far from hopeless. In fact, despair is the enemy. Those who despair of a good solution cede the field to those who are promoting self serving solutions. Ultimately, optimism becomes a choice. We have to learn to control our own emotions lest they be used against us.

"It is not necessary to have hope in order to persevere."

by ARGeezer (ARGeezer a in a circle eurotrib daught com) on Thu Oct 14th, 2010 at 03:55:05 PM EST
Amen....

now socipaths are really trained to develop the required characteristics...at least most of them...but sometimes I guess it is just chance, bad family or bad epigenes.

The question is how do we change our cultural myths to make sociopathy unthinkable. That's a question for you!!!! Go at it...

A pleasure

I therefore claim to show, not how men think in myths, but how myths operate in men's minds without their being aware of the fact. Levi-Strauss, Claude

by kcurie on Sun Oct 17th, 2010 at 10:32:18 AM EST
now socipaths are really trained to develop the required characteristics ...

Sociopaths

The terms sociopath or psychopath often bring to mind images of sadistically violent individuals such as Ted Bundy or the fictional character of Dr. Hannibal "The Cannibal" Lecter in the book and movie The Silence of the Lambs.  But I believe the defining characteristic traits of sociopaths actually cover a much broader spectrum of individuals than most of us would ever imagine.  The sociopath is that truly self-absorbed individual with no conscience or feeling for others and for whom social rules have no meaning.

Neurological causes - or are they effects? - of socio-pathology have been studied and there are strong correlations¹ between sub-standard manufacture/use of dopamine in the mesolimbic and mesocortical pathways.  

IF findings from longitudinal twin studies researching schizophrenia can be applied to socio-pathology² the genetic basis for the dysfunction is:

Evidence suggests that genetic vulnerability and environmental factors can act in combination to result in diagnosis of schizophrenia. Research suggests that genetic vulnerability to schizophrenia is multifactorial, caused by interactions of several genes.

Replacing "schizophrenia" with "socio-pathology."

Biology, even molecular biology, is not destiny.  But it is strongly indicative.  Coupled with external, social, reinforcement - from whatever source: parents, peers, ad hoc - completes the internal/external reinforcement cycles for Long Term Potentiation of the neural pathways resulting in full 'flowering' of a sociopath.

OK, my point here is, for FSM's sake, ANY discussion of sociopathy must include acknowledgement of the neurological side of the dysfunction apparent in the Brain/Mind Unity.

[Note:  I may be over-reacting here due to my own neurological Long Term Potentiation from massive external stimuli of Behavioral Psychology during my impressionable years.  :-) ]

¹  Correlation is not causation

²  My position is they can be with care and only as a starting point for further research

She believed in nothing; only her skepticism kept her from being an atheist. -- Jean-Paul Sartre

by ATinNM on Sun Oct 17th, 2010 at 01:03:01 PM EST
[ Parent ]
Sorry, schizophrenia has nothing to do with sociopathy.
Schizophrenia has a clear epigenetic origin plus some biological element (not necessarily genes). It is present in almost every culture and it always appears at the time of maximum stress in any given culture. It is a clear Main/Brain /Culture product.

On the other hand sociopathy has nothing to do with loose genes or anything similar.. here culture drives the brain.. that simple. The number of cultures with no sociopathy can be counted on the hundreds... The biological  predispositions may exist .. but are practically irrelevant. There are hundreds upon hundreds of studies on anthropology and pshychology about that. The main driving force of sociopathy are myths and social structure (as Delong said there were no sociopaths among any tribe/group before the development of hierarchical agriculture).

A pleasure

I therefore claim to show, not how men think in myths, but how myths operate in men's minds without their being aware of the fact. Levi-Strauss, Claude

by kcurie on Mon Oct 18th, 2010 at 04:21:39 PM EST
[ Parent ]
I agree the two pathologies are different, with different etiologies.  I disagree there is no neurological component/basis for sociopathic behavior.  There are clinical histories of patients with dysfunctional sociopathy who exhibited symptoms as children , before socialization and enculturation processes are complete.  

I went through this exact discussion about schizophrenia during the heyday of Behaviorism and Freud.  They pointed to "hundreds of studies from anthropology and psychology" proving (sic) Bateson's (et.al.) Double Bind Theory.  Doubt many people take it seriously in 2010.

She believed in nothing; only her skepticism kept her from being an atheist. -- Jean-Paul Sartre

by ATinNM on Tue Oct 19th, 2010 at 08:58:40 PM EST
[ Parent ]
I'll make a distinction between clinical sociopathy, which is based on faulty neurology, and quasi-sociopathy. The latter appears when social feedback loops reward sociopathic behaviour, and also disguise the consequences of sociopathic decisions.

Profit and loss accounting is a good example of how consequences are hidden. The numbers can hide a multitude of horrors, but as they're 'only numbers' the individuals who deal with them never have to encounter those horrors personally, or the effects they have on the people who fall victim to them.

But the way to highlight this is to find new ways to tell those stories. Activist language tends to convince activists, but rebounds off those who aren't so politically minded.

This is an excellent message, but packaged amateurishly, making it easy to ignore.

A more professional effort would be an interesting thing.

by ThatBritGuy (thatbritguy (at) googlemail.com) on Wed Oct 20th, 2010 at 04:33:13 PM EST
[ Parent ]
TGB
# Social and personal reality have never been calibrated. In the same way that you can't make measurements in science without accurate references, you can't create a rational political and economic system without good models of social psychology that take into account both innate and social distortions of perception and desire.

# Politically and economically, what we have now exists because it exploits distortions of perception and desire. Chaos and irrationality are inevitable until this changes.

# Social ethics have changed out of all recognition over the last century - and bizarrely, hardly anyone has commented on this.

It has only been since the 1960s that significant elements of our societies have been consciously aware of how social, economic and perceptual reality have been constructed. This has mostly been in the academic disciplines of Sociology, Antrhropology, History and in Critical Theory in Literature and the Arts. The majority of the population still take these factors as a given and would deny that there are any practical alternatives, even in the face of demonstrably different forms of organization.

Scarier still is the thought that we could consciously take control of this process and must do so if we are to survive and flourish. That thought is frightening enough that many will be most happy just to rush back into the arms of God the Creator for reassurance. This, of course, leaves the field open for the manipulative sociopaths.

Those who have the needs of the broader society at heart are at a disadvantage in that they see the need to find out what those needs are rather than only having to find the most personally advantageous solution and go for it. Some version of these concepts need wider recognition, if for no other reason than to better enable people to protect themselves from powerful sociopaths. A broader ability to recognize what folks like Rove, Obama, Cameron, Sarkozy and Berlusconi are doing is essential to our ability to influence the situation.

"It is not necessary to have hope in order to persevere."

by ARGeezer (ARGeezer a in a circle eurotrib daught com) on Sun Oct 17th, 2010 at 11:38:02 AM EST
Democracy with a true universal franchise is a relatively recent idea. In fact it's so recent it's less than a century old in most of the world. In spite of this a lot of people, especially in the West, seem to think that it's somehow naturally ordained and inevitable. In reality it's so exceptional that it has never happened before - and that makes it more fragile than it looks.

I think it could be put more strongly than that. Universal franchise democracy is not fragile, it's an experiment in governance that shows no signs of practicality. For well-tested practical government, look towards the feudal system, with a semi-inherited (usually for only three or four generations before a reset) aristocracy and a docile peasantry. Preferred system for 1000+ years in Europe and Asia.

This new-fangled "everybody gets a say" concept is farcical from first glance...

by asdf on Mon Oct 18th, 2010 at 10:57:56 AM EST
German tribes - and thus early Scandinavian kingdoms - used to elect their leaders. They also had rule of law of sorts. It was fairly stable for a long time.

Of course, it was only some who had some real say in the matter, and the possible candidates were even fewer - generally one candidate per important enough clan, often as few as two candidates, similar in everything except which family they belong to. The advantage over pure inheritance is that totally mad or totally incompetent leaders are sorted out before the election.

I see certain similarities.

Sweden's finest (and perhaps only) collaborative, leftist e-newspaper Synapze.se

by A swedish kind of death on Tue Oct 19th, 2010 at 10:08:35 AM EST
[ Parent ]
TBG
The answer isn't more rhetoric and persuasion, but a calibration of the unexamined internal models that shape how people really think. Eventually this can lead to a reinvention of politics and economics with different feedback loops that are less likely to collapse into the default unconscious distortions that cause so many problems.

We have significantly, though far from completely, calibrated "the unexamined internal models that shape how people really think" over the course of the 20th Century. But a major problem is that the knowledge has been compartmentalized. In business, it is the domain of marketing, which is taught in business school and the foundations of Marketing and Economics are far more ad hoc and disparate in assumptions and approaches than were various branches of physics in 1900.

In politics, deep understanding of the operation of the minds of the public as a whole is the black art of campaign consultants and communications directors. To the extent it is publicly discussed it is largely to lament its very existence. This is an echo of the popular attitudes towards Machiavelli for the four to five hundred years following the publication of The Prince.

As cultures we tend to excessively concentrate on teaching what ought to be at the expense of teaching what is in the false belief that to do so would be to corrupt the minds of youth. At a minimum what is and what ought to be should be clearly identified. It would also be helpful were the oughts to be presented on a secular and arguable basis instead of on the basis of supposed divine revelation, but more important is accepting that discussion of what is must be a discussion of fact, not of belief.

We must teach that ugly facts are to be preferred to soothing lies and teach the importance of being on guard against anything that is too flattering and self satisfying. This is not so hard to teach to teens, who tend to be suspicious of any possibility of adult hypocrisy, but it can be difficult for those who are charged with teaching to accomplish without being pilloried or worse, such as Socrates, for so doing.

"It is not necessary to have hope in order to persevere."

by ARGeezer (ARGeezer a in a circle eurotrib daught com) on Tue Oct 19th, 2010 at 01:15:21 PM EST
Just to add a comment before this dies. There's a common thread in the comments that suggests something obvious, but unacknowledged.

Socially and politically we are living in a pseudo-reality, which is woven from a combination of hopes, myths and outright lies. In the 60s and 70s the hopes seemed achievable, and the gap between mythology and political reality was smaller than it is now.

Now the gap is increasing, and the pseudo-reality is starting to unravel, revealing some very disturbing truths about how our political and financial systems actually work, and how they're designed to concentrate and distill power and access to resources at the expense of the wider population.

Reality-based policy has to deal with political truths - and at the moment the truth is that the Capitalist Counter-Reformation is succeeding, and that the best possible goal is a return to the social conditions of the 19th century, when the poor were literally disposable slave labour.

A useful calibration is to understand that there is no politics of fairness any more. It's likely there never was outside the West, but internally we're used to the privileged assumption that we're equal participants in decision-making, who are due an equal share in prosperity.

Clearly that's not true any more. In the Anglo world the forms of popular democracy remain, and so do shells of some of the institutions. But there is no economic democracy. If we're not in the ownership class, we don't get a voice, we don't get a choice, and we certainly don't get a fair share.

I've no doubt the owners are feeling very pleased with themselves now, but the only possible outcome is utter disaster - eugenically, economically, and ecologically.

There may not be easy answers, but spreading awareness of the new reality may help snap the population out of the mistaken assumption that the ownership class isn't capable of starving them, robbing them, making them homeless, or murdering them.

by ThatBritGuy (thatbritguy (at) googlemail.com) on Wed Oct 20th, 2010 at 04:23:57 PM EST
I'll cut that out and frame it.

You can't be me, I'm taken
by Sven Triloqvist on Wed Oct 20th, 2010 at 04:46:39 PM EST
[ Parent ]
Stolen from here.

Profile of the Sociopath

This website summarizes some of the common features of descriptions of the behavior of sociopaths.

    * Glibness and Superficial Charm

    * Manipulative and Conning
      They never recognize the rights of others and see their self-serving behaviors as permissible. They appear to be charming, yet are covertly hostile and domineering, seeing their victim as merely an instrument to be used. They may dominate and humiliate their victims.

    * Grandiose Sense of Self
      Feels entitled to certain things as "their right."

    * Pathological Lying
      Has no problem lying coolly and easily and it is almost impossible for them to be truthful on a consistent basis. Can create, and get caught up in, a complex belief about their own powers and abilities. Extremely convincing and even able to pass lie detector tests.

    * Lack of Remorse, Shame or Guilt
      A deep seated rage, which is split off and repressed, is at their core. Does not see others around them as people, but only as targets and opportunities. Instead of friends, they have victims and accomplices who end up as victims. The end always justifies the means and they let nothing stand in their way.

    * Shallow Emotions
      When they show what seems to be warmth, joy, love and compassion it is more feigned than experienced and serves an ulterior motive. Outraged by insignificant matters, yet remaining unmoved and cold by what would upset a normal person. Since they are not genuine, neither are their promises.

    * Incapacity for Love

    * Need for Stimulation
      Living on the edge. Verbal outbursts and physical punishments are normal. Promiscuity and gambling are common.

    * Callousness/Lack of Empathy
      Unable to empathize with the pain of their victims, having only contempt for others' feelings of distress and readily taking advantage of them.

    * Poor Behavioral Controls/Impulsive Nature
      Rage and abuse, alternating with small expressions of love and approval produce an addictive cycle for abuser and abused, as well as creating hopelessness in the victim. Believe they are all-powerful, all-knowing, entitled to every wish, no sense of personal boundaries, no concern for their impact on others.

    * Early Behavior Problems/Juvenile Delinquency
      Usually has a history of behavioral and academic difficulties, yet "gets by" by conning others. Problems in making and keeping friends; aberrant behaviors such as cruelty to people or animals, stealing, etc.

    * Irresponsibility/Unreliability
      Not concerned about wrecking others' lives and dreams. Oblivious or indifferent to the devastation they cause. Does not accept blame themselves, but blames others, even for acts they obviously committed.

    * Promiscuous Sexual Behavior/Infidelity
      Promiscuity, child sexual abuse, rape and sexual acting out of all sorts.

    * Lack of Realistic Life Plan/Parasitic Lifestyle
      Tends to move around a lot or makes all encompassing promises for the future, poor work ethic but exploits others effectively.

    * Criminal or Entrepreneurial Versatility
      Changes their image as needed to avoid prosecution. Changes life story readily.

Other Related Qualities:

   1. Contemptuous of those who seek to understand them
   2. Does not perceive that anything is wrong with them
   3. Authoritarian
   4. Secretive
   5. Paranoid
   6. Only rarely in difficulty with the law, but seeks out situations where their tyrannical behavior will be tolerated, condoned, or admired
   7. Conventional appearance
   8. Goal of enslavement of their victim(s)
   9. Exercises despotic control over every aspect of the victim's life
  10. Has an emotional need to justify their crimes and therefore needs their victim's affirmation (respect, gratitude and love)
  11. Ultimate goal is the creation of a willing victim
  12. Incapable of real human attachment to another
  13. Unable to feel remorse or guilt
  14. Extreme narcissism and grandiose
  15. May state readily that their goal is to rule the world

(The above traits are based on the psychopathy checklists of H. Cleckley and R. Hare.)

NOTE: In the 1830's this disorder was called "moral insanity." By 1900 it was changed to "psychopathic personality." More recently it has been termed "antisocial personality disorder" in the DSM-III and DSM-IV. Some critics have complained that, in the attempt to rely only on 'objective' criteria, the DSM has broadened the concept to include too many individuals. The APD category includes people who commit illegal, immoral or self-serving acts for a variety of reasons and are not necessarily psychopaths.

DSM-IV Definition

Antisocial personality disorder is characterized by a lack of regard for the moral or legal standards in the local culture. There is a marked inability to get along with others or abide by societal rules. Individuals with this disorder are sometimes called psychopaths or sociopaths.

Diagnostic Criteria (DSM-IV)

1. Since the age of fifteen there has been a disregard for and violation of the right's of others, those right's considered normal by the local culture, as indicated by at least three of the following:
    A. Repeated acts that could lead to arrest.
    B. Conning for pleasure or profit, repeated lying, or the use of aliases.
    C. Failure to plan ahead or being impulsive.
    D. Repeated assaults on others.
    E. Reckless when it comes to their or others safety.
    F. Poor work behavior or failure to honor financial obligations.
    G. Rationalizing the pain they inflict on others.

  1. At least eighteen years in age.

  2. Evidence of a Conduct Disorder, with its onset before the age of fifteen.

  3. Symptoms not due to another mental disorder.

Antisocial Personality Disorder Overview (Written by Derek Wood, RN, BSN, PhD Candidate)

Antisocial Personality Disorder results in what is commonly known as a Sociopath. The criteria for this disorder require an ongoing disregard for the rights of others, since the age of 15 years. Some examples of this disregard are reckless disregard for the safety of themselves or others, failure to conform to social norms with respect to lawful behaviors, deceitfulness such as repeated lying or deceit for personal profit or pleasure, and lack of remorse for actions that hurt other people in any way. Additionally, they must have evidenced a Conduct Disorder before the age of 15 years, and must be at least 18 years old to receive this diagnosis.

People with this disorder appear to be charming at times, and make relationships, but to them, these are relationships in name only. They are ended whenever necessary or when it suits them, and the relationships are without depth or meaning, including marriages. They seem to have an innate ability to find the weakness in people, and are ready to use these weaknesses to their own ends through deceit, manipulation, or intimidation, and gain pleasure from doing so.

They appear to be incapable of any true emotions, from love to shame to guilt. They are quick to anger, but just as quick to let it go, without holding grudges. No matter what emotion they state they have, it has no bearing on their future actions or attitudes.

They rarely are able to have jobs that last for any length of time, as they become easily bored, instead needing constant change. They live for the moment, forgetting the past, and not planning the future, not thinking ahead what consequences their actions will have. They want immediate rewards and gratification. There currently is no form of psychotherapy that works with those with antisocial personality disorder, as those with this disorder have no desire to change themselves, which is a prerequisite. No medication is available either. The only treatment is the prevention of the disorder in the early stages, when a child first begins to show the symptoms of conduct disorder.

THE PSYCHOPATH NEXT DOOR (Source: http://chericola57.tripod.com/infinite.html)

Psychopath. We hear the word and images of Bernardo, Manson and Dahmer pop into our heads; no doubt Ted Bundy too. But they're the bottom of the barrel -- most of the two million psychopaths in North America aren't murderers. They're our friends, lovers and co-workers. They're outgoing and persuasive, dazzling you with charm and flattery. Often you aren't even aware they've taken you for a ride -- until it's too late.

Psychopaths exhibit a Jekyll and Hyde personality. "They play a part so they can get what they want," says Dr. Sheila Willson, a Toronto psychologist who has helped victims of psychopaths. The guy who showers a woman with excessive attention is much more capable of getting her to lend him money, and to put up with him when he strays. The new employee who gains her co-workers' trust has more access to their chequebooks. And so on. Psychopaths have no conscience and their only goal is self-gratification. Many of us have been their victims -- at work, through friendships or relationships -- and not one of us can say, "a psychopath could never fool me."

Think you can spot one? Think again. In general, psychopaths aren't the product of broken homes or the casualties of a materialistic society. Rather they come from all walks of life and there is little evidence that their upbringing affects them. Elements of a psychopath's personality first become evident at a very early age, due to biological or genetic factors. Explains Michael Seto, a psychologist at the Centre for Addiction and Mental health in Toronto, by the time that a person hits their late teens, the disorder is almost certainly permanent. Although many clinicians use the terms psychopath and sociopath interchangeably, writes psychopath expert Robert Hare on his book 'Without Conscience', a sociopath's criminal behavior is shaped by social forces and is the result of a dysfunctional environment.

Psychopaths have only a shallow range of emotions and lack guilt, says Hare. They often see themselves as victims, and lack remorse or the ability to empathize with others. "Psychopaths play on the fact that most of us are trusting and forgiving people," adds Seto. The warning signs are always there; it's just difficult to see them because once we trust someone, the friendship becomes a blinder.

Even lovers get taken for a ride by psychopaths. For a psychopath, a romantic relationship is just another opportunity to find a trusting partner who will buy into the lies. It's primarily why a psychopath rarely stays in a relationship for the long term, and often is involved with three or four partners at once, says Willson. To a psychopath, everything about a relationship is a game. Willson refers to the movie 'Sliding Doors' to illustrate her point. In the film, the main character comes home early after just having been fired from her job. Only moments ago, her boyfriend has let another woman out the front door. But in a matter of minutes he is the attentive and concerned boyfriend, taking her out to dinner and devoting the entire night to comforting her. All the while he's planning to leave the next day on a trip with the other woman.

The boyfriend displays typical psychopathic characteristics because he falsely displays deep emotion toward the relationship, says Willson. In reality, he's less concerned with his girlfriend's depression than with making sure she's clueless about the other woman's existence. In the romance department, psychopaths have an ability to gain your affection quickly, disarming you with words, intriguing you with grandiose plans. If they cheat you'll forgive them, and one day when they've gone too far, they'll leave you with a broken heart (and an empty wallet). By then they'll have a new player for their game.

The problem with their game is that we don't often play by their rules. Where we might occasionally tell a white lie, a psychopath's lying is compulsive. Most of us experience some degree of guilt about lying, preventing us from exhibiting such behavior on a regular basis. "Psychopaths don't discriminate who it is they lie to or cheat," says Seto. "There's no distinction between friend, family and sucker."

No one wants to be the sucker, so how do we prevent ourselves from becoming close friends or getting into a relationship with a psychopath? It's really almost impossible, say Seto and Willson. Unfortunately, laments Seto, one way is to become more suspicious and less trusting of others. Our tendency is to forgive when we catch a loved one in a lie. "Psychopaths play on this fact," he says. "However, I'm certainly not advocating a world where if someone lies once or twice, you never speak to them again." What you can do is look at how often someone lies and how they react when caught. Psychopaths will lie over and over again, and where other people would sincerely apologize, a psychopath may apologize but won't stop.

Psychopaths also tend to switch jobs as frequently as they switch partners, mainly because they don't have the qualities to maintain a job for the long haul. Their performance is generally erratic, with chronic absences, misuse of company resources and failed commitments. Often they aren't even qualified for the job and use fake credentials to get it. Seto talks of a patient who would get marketing jobs based on his image; he was a presentable and charming man who layered his conversations with educational and occupational references. But it became evident that the man hadn't a clue what he was talking about, and was unable to hold down a job.

How do you make sure you don't get fooled when you're hiring someone to baby-sit your child or for any other job? Hire based on reputation and not image, says Willson. Check references thoroughly. Psychopaths tend to give vague and inconsistent replies. Of course the best way to solve this problem would be to cure psychopaths of their 'illness.' But there's no recipe for treating them, say psychiatrists. Today's traditional methods of psychotherapy (psychoanalysis, group and one-on-one therapy) and drug treatments have failed. Therapy is more likely to work when an individual admits there's a problem and wants to change. The common problem with psychopaths, says Sets, "Is they don't see a problem with their behavior."

Psychopaths don't seek therapy willingly, says Seto. Rather, they're pushed into it by a desperate relative or by a court order. To a psychopath, a therapist is just one more person who must be conned, and the psychopath plays the part right until the therapist is convinced of his or her 'rehabilitation.'

Even though we can't treat psychopaths effectively with therapy, it doesn't mean we can't protect ourselves, writes Hare. Willson agrees, citing the most important factor in keeping psychopaths at bay is to know your vulnerabilities. We need to "realize our own potential and maximize our strengths" so that our insecurities don't overcome us. Because, she says, a psychopath is a chameleon who becomes "an image of what you haven't done for yourself." Over time, she says, "their appearance of perfection will begin to crack," but by that time you will have been emotionally and perhaps financially scathed. There comes a time when you realize there's no point in searching for answers; the only thing is to move on.

Taken in part from MW -- By Caroline Konrad -- September 1999

THE MALIGNANT PERSONALITY:

These people are mentally ill and extremely dangerous! The following precautions will help to protect you from the destructive acts of which they are capable.

First, to recognize them, keep the following guidelines in mind.

(1) They are habitual liars. They seem incapable of either knowing or telling the truth about anything.

(2) They are egotistical to the point of narcissism. They really believe they are set apart from the rest of humanity by some special grace.

(3) They scapegoat; they are incapable of either having the insight or willingness to accept responsibility for anything they do. Whatever the problem, it is always someone else's fault.

(4) They are remorselessly vindictive when thwarted or exposed.

(5) Genuine religious, moral, or other values play no part in their lives. They have no empathy for others and are capable of violence. Under older psychological terminology, they fall into the category of psychopath or sociopath, but unlike the typical psychopath, their behavior is masked by a superficial social facade.



She believed in nothing; only her skepticism kept her from being an atheist. -- Jean-Paul Sartre
by ATinNM on Wed Oct 20th, 2010 at 04:57:29 PM EST
[ Parent ]
Consistent with or partly abstracted from, but definitely not "stolen from". :-)

"It is not necessary to have hope in order to persevere."
by ARGeezer (ARGeezer a in a circle eurotrib daught com) on Wed Oct 20th, 2010 at 06:11:29 PM EST
[ Parent ]
Thanks for the effort to "rehabilitate" me.

Alas, it was stolen.

With foresight, tho' not with malice.

;-)


She believed in nothing; only her skepticism kept her from being an atheist. -- Jean-Paul Sartre

by ATinNM on Wed Oct 20th, 2010 at 06:21:54 PM EST
[ Parent ]
Speaking in a concrete rather than the universal context, isn't the follwoing question interesting: How malleable is the social reality today? Do new technologies and global economic ties allow more manipulative social environment than ever? Would grand scale manipulative attempts lag technology at all?

It is interesting to recall this long lecture of 14 years ago. The first (conspiracy) half of it is still a standard narrative of the presumed Masonic/financial conspiracy towards New World Order or whatever. Nothing that is said there is proved definitely wrong yet. Contrarily, even the most nutcase projections (like world wide currency, population microchipping) are more talked about, and events of the last decade only give much more food for the particular picture of manipulation. If we are good in forming social reality for sheep, why fellow humans would not be approached?

Recently I read a psychological text in Russian with a classification of 7 psychological types, or rather radicals that form human character cocktails. Although the theory is rather straightforward, I cannot trace a similar description on the internet. Nevertheless, the theory looks reasonable, explanatory and helpful personally, apparently supported by professional practice and clinical observation of extreme cases. It would not be a big revelation to those who studied psychology, I suppose. What struck me is a neat differentiation and complementarity of the psychological types - asif they evolved not in competition but in consonance with each other. (One type is apparently even determined by early developmental rather than genetic conditions, and a schizoid radical is quite hard to rationalize evolutionarily). One type manically seeks attention and approval, other type (but not others!) respects hierarchical order and place competition enormously, yet other type is able to concentrate and organize around some goal... Each type is quite limited in social perception and... quite susceptible to manipulation in some or other way. No wonder that big empires or industrial societies had been built. And one other observation: the modern social-economic pressures of stereotypical market competition, self-improvement and career making put unequal pressure on the psychological types. If this a form of artificial selection, it is shrewdly favorable to grand scale manipulation, I could say.

by das monde on Thu Oct 21st, 2010 at 03:02:20 AM EST
A more complete reference to the Russian text, along with a somewhat more detailed description of the typology and inter-typical dynamics, if any, would be appreciated.  

"It is not necessary to have hope in order to persevere."
by ARGeezer (ARGeezer a in a circle eurotrib daught com) on Thu Oct 21st, 2010 at 10:44:08 AM EST
[ Parent ]
Apparently I came across the typology of Victor Ponomarenko. Here is rough naming of the radicals, in rather ignorant translation: hysteroid, epileptoid, paranoiad.., emotive, schizoid, hypertimate.., alarmed... Anything missing? I could not find the same description in English. (Try Google translate?) A concise translation of the colorful characterization I have would require a diary - if I would dare spend time on that.
by das monde on Sat Oct 23rd, 2010 at 12:26:28 AM EST
[ Parent ]
Thanks for the effort.

"It is not necessary to have hope in order to persevere."
by ARGeezer (ARGeezer a in a circle eurotrib daught com) on Fri Oct 29th, 2010 at 10:45:14 AM EST
[ Parent ]


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