Does Our System Select for Incompetent Sociopaths?

Tyler Durden's picture

Submitted by Charles Hugh-Smith of OfTwoMinds blog,

What is the shelf life of a system that rewards confidence-gaming sociopaths rather than competence?

Let's connect the dots of natural selection and the pathology of power.

In his 2012 book The Wisdom of Psychopaths: What Saints, Spies, and Serial Killers Can Teach Us About Success, author Kevin Dutton described how the attributes of sociopathology are in a sense value-neutral: the sociopathological attributes that characterize a dangerous criminal may also characterize a cool, high-performing neurosurgeon.

As Dutton explains in his essay What Psychopaths Teach Us about How to Succeed (Scientific American): 

Psychopaths are fearless, confident, charismatic, ruthless and focused. Yet, contrary to popular belief, they are not necessarily violent. Far from its being an open-and-shut case--you're either a psychopath or you're not--there are, instead, inner and outer zones of the disorder: a bit like the fare zones on a subway map. There is a spectrum of psychopathy along which each of us has our place, with only a small minority of A-listers resident in the “inner city.”

While there is obviously a place for high-functioning sociopaths in professions which reward those characteristics, what about sociopaths who substitute deviousness and deception for competence? For some context, let's turn to the Pathology Of Power by Norman Cousins, published in 1988.

Cousins was particularly concerned with the National Security State, a.k.a. the military-industrial complex, which at that point in U.S. history was engaged in a Cold War with the Soviet Empire. Cousins described the pathology of power thusly:

"Connected to the tendency of power to corrupt are yet other tendencies that emerge from the pages of the historians:

1. The tendency of power to drive intelligence underground;
2. The tendency of power to become a theology, admitting no other gods before it;
3. The tendency of power to distort and damage the traditions and institutions it was designed to protect;
4. The tendency of power to create a language of its own, making other forms of communication incoherent and irrelevant;
5. The tendency of power to set the stage for its own use.

In broader terms, we might add: the tendency of power to manifest hubris, arrogance, bullying, deception and the substitution of rule by Elites for rule of law.

Natural selection isn't only operative in Nature; it is equally operative in human organizations, economies and societies. People respond to whatever set of incentives and disincentives are present. If deceiving and conning others is heavily incentivized, while integrity and honesty are punished, people will gravitate to running cons and embezzlement schemes.

What behaviors does our Status Quo reward? Misrepresentation, obfuscation, legalized looting, embezzlement, fraud, a variety of cons, gaming the system, deviousness, lying and cleverly designed deceptions.

Let's connect the pathology of power and the behaviors selected by our Status Quo. What we end up with is a system that selects for a specific category of sociopaths: those whose only competence is in running cons.

No wonder we have a leadership that is selected not for competence but for deviousness. What's incentivized in our system is spinning half-truths and propaganda with a straight face and running cons that entrench the pathology of power.

What is the shelf life of a system that rewards confidence-gaming sociopaths rather than competence? Unless we change the incentives and disincentives, the system is doomed.

Of related interest:

The Normalization of Sociopathology in America (October 16, 2010)

The Federal Reserve and the Pathology of Power (November 18, 2010)

The Banality of (Financial) Evil (November 9, 2010)

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ebworthen's picture


General Alexander and the N.S.A. fit the #1-#5 checklist for "Pathology of Power" to a T.

Vampyroteuthis infernalis's picture

This backs one of the conclusion of mine recently, why seemingly smart people lose all their senses by becoming a libtard. It is simple; they have massive egos which leads to arrogant thinking, believing they know everything. In reality, they know nothing!

The Juggernaut's picture

No.  Its the People.  Its the People that lethargically accept the abuse government throws at them.  Its the People that settle for mouthpiece propaganda.  Its the People that let the minority think for them.  Its the People that fail to realize they have all the power (responsibility) to achieve Liberty this very second.

john39's picture

the problem is that those most able to handle power without it corrupting them are the people who typically shun power anyway, while on the other hand, the people most susceptible to corruption from power, are the very people who crave and lust after power.   

NotApplicable's picture

I'd say the problem is people who cannot divest themselves of ownership of collective abstractions.

"Our System" = stupid squared.

imaginalis's picture

Does a bear shit in the woods?

insanelysane's picture

The US education system's mission is to educate people into believing they are educated.  Thinking is no longer necessary if you already know everthing and it is especially usefull for people that don't know anything.  Although more Americans are college educated, the percentage with science and technology degrees is actually decreasing.

Steve in Greensboro's picture

Let's be clear.  The real sociopaths are attracted to government power, because that is where the real power lies.

Anusocracy's picture

A flaw in the article.

Sociopaths aren't really 'attracted' to power/control, their ancestors the alpha-males of social hierarchies, created it millions of years ago to improve their survival. Over evolutionary time, their influence developed the compliment to their rule: the dupes/sheep.

That's the unwanted gift from the animal world that is forced on the modern world. It's savage nature is counter-productive to a civilized world based on a positive sum economic system. The savage alpha that may have killed or injured a competing male is now a psychopath that may kill millions or even billions, while at the same time being wholly incapable of improving the wellbeing of humanity.

The operating system of a million years ago can't run a modern economic (and freedom) program

Nick Jihad's picture

Everyone overlooks women, but they are a majority of voters, and they are chosing our political leaders. All this focus on alpha male, beta male, wierd-greek-letter-male, overlooks that women are the voting bloc that is demanding big government socialism. They simply elect male politicians to deliver it.

JLee2027's picture

Limiting the vote to property owners only solves that issue. Like the Founders intended. There is no reason why women cannot be property owners and have a vote. Instead we gave them the right to vote, wrong path to take.

JLee2027's picture

Millions of years?

You act as if evolution were proven fact. The weight of unbiased scientific evidence - lack of transitional fossils of any kind - says evolution never happened. You cannot blame it for behavior.

Herd Redirection Committee's picture

Its not what you know, its who you know.

Or rather, its what you know about who you know (blackmail, any one).

Ms No's picture

It is, it is.  If anyone is interested in reading the science behind group psychopathy this is a must read.

This problem has a pretty simple solution.  Empathy is a trait that can be easily tested for based on physiological responses to disturbing videos or images.  These responses cannot be hidden.  If you see a kid being beat to hell and you don't have a response of horror, fear, anger etc...  You are a psychopath.  Politicians and financial leaders should be tested, this small group of people have ruined life on Earth long enough.

Uncle Remus's picture

Voight-Kampf the mfers, then retirement.

Oh regional Indian's picture

Dune says it best...

  • All governments suffer a recurring problem: Power attracts pathological personalities. It is not that power corrupts but that it is magnetic to the corruptible. Such people have a tendency to become drunk on violence, a condition to which they are quickly addicted.
    • Missionaria Protectiva, Text QIV (decto)
Ms No's picture

That quote is so dead on.  It refutes the inaccurate, defeatist attitude that living in a society controlled by paths is the normal state of things and that there is nothing we can do.  Greece solved this problem for a time by forcing good men to hold office and holding their assets and themselves responsible for corruption.  These were not men who craved power, these were men that were truly chosen by the population.

KickIce's picture

We've also allowed them to discount the lessons of our Founding Fathers and dismiss their messages as outdated.  They understood tyranny all too well and that is a lesson that should be heeded by every generation.  We've also allowed them to take God out of our schools.  I'm sure I'll get junked for this but Church and State is not equal to God and State, even Harvard used to put emphasis on God in their classrooms.

McMolotov's picture

The phrase "our system" implies that we've all worked together, for good or ill, to get to this point. I think it should be quite obvious by now that there are some very competent sociopaths behind the scenes, that they're the ones who are ultimately in charge, and that their plan is to concentrate power even further. There is no "our system" because the system belongs to them.

The "incompetent sociopaths" are cogs in the machine, chosen to be the face of the system, and their incompetence is, for all intents and purposes, either insignificant or an illusion because it is part of a larger plan.

acetinker's picture

Some years ago, a fellow named John Carson knocked on my door and asked for my vote for a state rep position.  He said, "what would I have to say to earn your vote"?  I told him that he'd have to say that he wouldn't wish this job on his worst enemy, but that he needed it in order to restore a semblance of honor and integrity to state government.

He thought for a second, and responded, "Nobody's going to say that."

Clueless, he was.  Now he is my state rep.

Blammo's picture

I call this, the "tyrant gene"......Those who seek power have it. Those who don't seek power don't have it. Catch 22ish!

Buck Johnson's picture

Exactly, and even back thousands of years ago they couldn't get it right. 

Canoe Driver's picture

I'm not sure they all SHUN power. It's more like the sociopathic powerful instinctively suppress the honest and competent in their midst. Do not forget that the Khmer Rouge took to shooting people just for wearing glasses.  All societies, throughout history, and in various ways, have oppressed and supressed their intellectual classes.

Four chan's picture

it all starts with the feds unlimited printing money, for our constitutionally limited republic.

or 1 minute earlier when congress gave up the power of the nations currency to rothschilds fed.

NOTaREALmerican's picture

Re:  1 minute earlier

Or one minute earlier when sociopaths were elected by dumbasses to Congress.

We've got the only system possible.   Who ELSE but a sociopaths would be a leader of dumbasses?

Herd Redirection Committee's picture

Who ELSE but a sociopaths would pretend to be virgins sent to reform a whorehouse?

Fixed it.

MrPalladium's picture

Doncha just love the end point of Marxist theory - that the product of absolute power and centralized state planning will be the ultimate dissolution of the state!!

Kobe Beef's picture

Something tells me they are lying.

Dollarmedes's picture

I *mostly* agree with this, but with one caveat: At no time in human history have a large majority of citizens ever behaved in a responsible manner. There are always tons of free rider citizens. The difference these days is that a few extra percentage points of the ignorant have been led to believe that they know enough to vote, when they clearly don't. These are the results of the "self esteem" movement.

Dollarmedes's picture

Additionally, some of the ignorant know they're ignorant but don't care, because FREE STUFF! This is a result of the "death of shame" and the elevation of corrupt self-interest. These two motives apply not only to the individual citizens, but to the corporate cronies that we rail against so regularly here.

NOTaREALmerican's picture

That's why it's tough to have a individualized "society".  

If humans win by being sociopaths then a society will simply be a feeding ground for the sociopaths.  

Unless, society can figure out a set of rules to keep the sociopaths in check.   Unfortunately, sociopaths (being the sociopaths they are) create bullshit for the dumbasses about how the rules only apply to the dumbasses. 

"Shame" is a tough "rule" to apply to sociopaths.     The sociopaths generally turn the "shame" rule against the innocent (non sociopaths) and the dumbasses punish the innocent. 

Dollarmedes's picture

Shame isn't for the sociopaths (since they have none), it is a social marker for everyone else so that they know to avoid the sociopath.

mc225's picture

double-plus-good on the idea of 'competence in government'.


NOTaREALmerican's picture

Re:  libtard

What about "Conservatives" who think Snowdon is a traitor?

What about "Conservatives" who supported the "Patriot Act"?

The problem isn't JUST libtards.  It's anybody who worships Authoritarian government.

vie's picture

People who bitch and whine about libtards... basically just as bad as said "libtards who think they know everything".  Stop looking for someone to blame, what are you doing to fix it?

MrPalladium's picture

The system is very skilled at manipulating symbols so as to provide the average prole with false sensations of evolutionary fitness. The authoritarian government in charge of the supposed "city on a hill" is a winner, and just as the average male will identify with and recieve false sensations of evolutionary fitness from their favorite sports teams, from video game conquests and porn, so too claiming to be a "team member" of the all powerful U.S of A provides them with yet another set of false sensations of evolutionary fitness.

Errol's picture

MrPalladium, excellent insight.  I will extend it further: you have explained the reason that Americans will give up their SUVs when you pry their cold, dead hands off the steering wheel: it provides STRONG false sensations of evolutionary fitness.  This goes double for all the gasoline powered prosthetics beloved by modern males: jet skis, ATVs, snowmobiles, monster trucks, etc.  Ditto for military jet fighters, tanks, MWRAPs, etc.

Petroleum provides so many ways to feel false sensations of evolutionary fitness; it's no surprise that people will kill as many "other" people as necessary to keep the spice flowing.

MrPalladium's picture

Wow!! Looks like you have been reading Professor Geoffrey Miller of U. New Mexico.

mc225's picture

'false sensations of evolutionary fitness'... that's gold

MrPalladium's picture

Real fitness is a job, a wife, kids and the support of a local congregation of people you know and support (and not necessarily a religious congregation).

False sensations of fitness are what you get from video game victories, driving an SUV, cheering for your favorite sports team, and becoming a fan of a candidate for President or Congress.

IdiocracyIsAlreadyHere's picture

Thank you NOTaREALmerican!  If I hear the term "libtard" again from the oh-so-supposedly-enlightened commenters on ZH I am going to scream.  If people are still buying the faux left/right red/blue faux divide that TPTB keep feeding the masses then they are no better than the sheeple inhabiting RedState or DKos.

The ONLY true divide is authoritarians vs. libertarians (small "l", not astroturf groups calling themselves "Libertarian")

headhunt's picture

One of the primary reason people are liberal is because they are self centered and selfish.

Once that is their mantra, realized or unrealized, the liberal agenda fits them like a glove.

GeorgeHayduke's picture

"...because they are self centered and selfish."

A little research my show how off the mark you are with this comment.Do we hear conservatives or liberals whining about welfare queens and entitlements?

My own experience has shown that conservatives are much more selfish and living in a fear-based world. How many conservatives do you think sign up for Doctors without Borders?

People of all political stripes van be self centered and selfish, but my own life experience has shown conservatives are much more self-centered, selfish and smug. Yours may be different, if you actually know any liberals and not just the strawmen you build in your own mind.

vie's picture

Indeed there's always people who want free stuff, whether it's welfare queens, or corporate cronies.  If anything most "liberals" are manipulated by their emotions.  They're the first in line to sacrifice for another if it means their fellow man isn't going to suffer... they're just perhaps under the mis-guided belief that the state is your friend.

You get sociopaths of both types... survival of the fittest, screw everyone else while I eat their lunch... and the parasites.  What we're talking about here... the people running the show are the first type.

GeorgeHayduke's picture

Right...liberals are emotion-based. That's one of the big lies of conservatism. Conservatives are extremely emotional in their decision making. That's why conservatives can hold contradictory points of views like calling themselves pro-life and then being the biggest war hawks in the world. Right wing think tanks knew this and that's why they dream up crap like "death tax" or Pro-life" for people who are more emotionally attached to their beliefs and to a reality-based view of the world. Recognizing your own self delusions is the first step toward healing.

acetinker's picture

George, socially I'm a liberal.  Fiscally I'm conservative.  If you want the false division of conservative -vs- liberal to die, you have to ignore it.

"We're all in this alone".  -Lily Tomlin

MrPalladium's picture


Liberalism is all self centered status display!

Where are the great migrations of white liberals moving into black center city ghettos??

It is all self centered status display laced with a large helping of hypocrisy.

The primal urge of all liberals is to distance themselves from their fellow white fundamentalist Christians and from hillbillies and other working class whites who, to the liberal mind, shamelessly articulate and inject into their politics their bluntly stated self interest as they are forced to do by their reduced circumstances.

vie's picture

If we've learned anything, what's important here is that people fight amongst each other while the assholes running the show continue to get away with treason.

Good job everyone, good job.