Psychopathy or Why I Will Never Be President

Mitt RomneyFor a long time, I’ve feared that I was a psychopath. As you may know, the primary characteristic of a psychopath is a lack of empathy. They have very little ability to see things from other people’s perspective. This is why they make good corporate CEOs. (Really!) When I’ve brought up my concern about myself, my friends have scoffed at it. I’m more like the anti-psychopath. But I never found this terribly compelling. Perhaps I’m such a great psychopath that I fool everyone — even myself! So when I came upon the Levenson Self-Report Psychopathy Test (LSRP), I was very excited. Here at last was an opportunity for me to find out for sure.

As soon as I saw the questions, I knew that I was safe. The first question was, “Success is based on survival of the fittest; I am not concerned about the losers.” Obviously, I disagree with this. But I have definitely known people who would completely agree with it. The funny thing is that I’ve always assumed people who said things like that were kidding — that they said it for effect. Then again, that sentence better sums up the philosophy of Ayn Rand than any other that I can think of. And this is more or less what we hear from Republican politicians and throughout the business world.

Rand PaulThere are other questions that are close to exact quotes from Mitt Romney’s presidential campaign. Who could forget when Romney said he would be unfit for president if he paid one cent more in taxes than he had to? Well: “In today’s world, I feel justified in doing anything I can get away with to succeed.” Or what a hard-nosed businessman he was? Enjoy: “I let others worry about higher values; my main concern is with the bottom line.” And don’t forget that car elevator: “My main purpose in life is getting as many goodies as I can.” And remember why he didn’t win the election? It certainly wasn’t his fault, “Most of my problems are due to the fact that other people just don’t understand me.”

The LSRP measures two things. First, there is primary psychopathy, which is lack of empathy and tolerance for antisocial behavior. Then there is secondary psychopathy, which is rule breaking and a lack of effort toward succeeding on society’s terms. Not surprisingly, I scored higher on the second scale. Scores range from 1 (non-psychopathic) to 5 (very psychopathic). I got a 1.4 on the primary marker and 2.0 on the secondary marker. Here are my results plotted on their graph:

Psychopathy Test Results

It’s important to remember that psychopathy does not necessarily indicate that a person is violent. That’s why I highlighted Mitt Romney. I actually think that our society is rather fond of psychopaths — as long as they aren’t interested in being too antisocial. In addition to CEOs, psychopaths are over represented among surgeons. That’s doubtless a good thing. I know someone like me would be useless in an emergency room. It’s in politics that being a psychopath could be a bit of a problem for society. Certainly we need analysts who just look at the facts. But most people don’t run for president thinking that they are going to do what is best for the nation based upon the facts. They just want the “goodies” that go along with the job.

I tend to think that Rand Paul is a psychopath. He is, after all, a surgeon. And he is nominally a libertarian — a philosophy that seems to appeal to psychopaths. And most of all, he’s been ditching any inconvenient positions in order to become president. His guiding principle seems to be that he should be president. It’s not clear how he would govern, given that his positions are determined simply by whatever will get people to vote for him. I think we know how he would answer this question, “Even if I were trying very hard to sell something, I wouldn’t lie about it.”

But at least I feel better knowing that I’m not a psychopath — even if it means that I’m not as successful as I might be if I were. What does it say about a society that being empathic and helpful is a bad thing?

See also: Is Mitt Romney a Psychopath?

Update (10 May 2015 2:40 pm)

I had to change references to “doctors” to “surgeons” above. General practitioners tend to be less psychopathic. It is surgeons (which is what Rand Paul was) who are psychopathic. Also high on psychopathy: police officers, lawyers, salesmen, journalists, and clergy.

Amir Meshal and the End of Constitutional Rights

Amir MeshalAmir Meshal is a young man from New Jersey. Back in 2006, he was in Somalia. But when war broke out, he fled to Kenya where he was picked up by the American military and interrogated more than thirty times — variously tortured and generally having his constitutional rights ignored. What’s more, these government officials threatened to make him “disappear.” Or at least that is what is alleged in Meshal v Higgenbotham, which has been dragging on for six years. But I see no reason to doubt that we did exactly this to Meshal. This is the sort of thing that we do all the time.

I’m especially interested in the threat to make Meshal “disappear. The most basic right in a nation is habeas corpus. There can be no kind of justice if the government isn’t even admitting that they are holding a citizen. And the United States has been doing this over and over again by handing people over to governments don’t abide by such laws. Of course, what this means is that we don’t abide by such such laws. Our military and intelligence institutions seem to do whatever they want. They are above the law and few people care until they are directly effected by such lawlessness.

Aljazeera America reported the most recent status of the case, US Citizen Fights to Sue FBI Agents for “Inhuman” Detention Abroad. The problem with the case is that it keeps getting thrown out for a classic reason: the government claims that a trial would harm national security. This is hogwash, of course. This is just the government security bureaucracy protecting its own. But there is a sense in which such a case would harm national security: what has happened to Amir Meshal is almost certainly common. So to reveal what our government does to its citizens every day would indeed cause problems. The people might decide the government shouldn’t do that.

His story is incredible, but hardly the worst of what our government does to its citizens. Meshal had gone to Egypt to stay with relatives and then to Somalia to study. After fighting broke out, he found himself with four other refugees wandering in a forest for many days before they were picked up by Kenyan soldiers. The US military than moved him around to various sites where he was abused. Four months later, he was released without charges or comment. “The US government is not denying the allegations or contesting them, merely arguing that Meshal’s Fourth and Fifth Amendment rights to a prompt hearing and due process don’t apply in cases involving national security issues abroad.”

The government’s position on this seems to be like it was in the case of Anwar al-Awlaki. In that case, the government basically said that if an American citizen is outside the country, it has the right to assassinate. In this case, if an American citizen is outside the country, the citizen has no constitutional rights. I can just hear the Fox News viewers’ response to this, “Well, I never leave the country, so I have nothing to worry about!” This is really troubling. I’m not big on slippery slope arguments, but there really is no reason to believe that the government will continue to find bigger and bigger carve-outs for our constitutional rights. As it is, we have a system where journalists can print anything they want; but any person who gives them information the government doesn’t like is looking at decades in prison.

Increasingly, Americans have to be brave, because the government won’t abide them being free.

TPP Supporters Are Just Apologists

USA TodayIt seems we are being deluged by editorials in major US newspapers about how all of us pointed headed liberals have it all wrong about the Trans-Pacific Partnership (TPP). The word has definitely gone out and the newspapers — as apologists for the desires of the power elite — have responded in a huge show of support. Of course, that hasn’t caused them to find the best arguments for the TPP. This may have something to do with the fact that there really aren’t strong arguments for it. The best arguments can be found from people like Thomas Friendman who don’t argue for the agreement on trade grounds but rather national security grounds.

This fact should be enough to make everyone really skeptical. We see this all the time in politics. A policy is pushed for one reason. When that reason is shown to be wrong, the same people simply pick another reason. In the case of the TPP, I think we know why the administration is so hot for it: it funnels money to certain industries — most notably pharmaceuticals and Hollywood. But no one is going to come out and say this because it is clear that if Pfizer and Disney get to charge more money for their products, it isn’t going to create more jobs; it is just going to further enrich their owners.

Thomas Friedman - Artist's ConceptionThe most common argument I hear, however, is that these agreements are great for American workers. All of us liberals just think that NAFTA cost jobs when in fact it was great for the American worker. Sunday night, USA Today published an editorial, Trade Deal vs Fact-Free Uproar: Our View. Note that it is misleading to even call the TPP a trade deal because it has very little to do with trade. And it is the very opposite of a “free trade” deal because its biggest effects will likely be to strengthen intellectual property laws — thus creating protectionism. (I’t interesting how “protectionism” is only a dirty word when it is jobs that are being protected; when it is the profits of the rich, it is considered The Greatest Good™.)

In countering us idiots who are “fact-free,” the USA Today shows that it knows very little about this agreement. Dean Baker countered, USA Today Gets Numbers Seriously Wrong in Pushing Trans-Pacific Partnership and Trashing Unions. The newspaper repeats probably the most common error I’ve seen in defending these deals: “manufacturing output has nearly doubled since the late 1990s.” This is based on gross output. And gross output is meaningless.

Think of it this way. Imagine before NAFTA, the US is producing $5,000 engines that go into $10,000 cars that it is also producing. After NAFTA, production of the engines go to Mexico. Now the US is producing $10,000 cars. But it is importing the engines. Clearly, the gross output would have gone up. We would expect the number of $10,000 cars produced to go up because the engines would be cheaper. But would it go enough to offset the loss of production from the engines? In theory, it could. But as Baker noted, “If USA Today used the correct table it would find that real value added in manufacturing has risen by a bit less than 41.0 percent since 1997, compared to growth of 45.8 percent for the economy as a whole.” In other words, manufacturing has not grown as fast as the economy.

This is all entirely typical of the TPP debate. We who are highly skeptical of it get called names — implying that we just don’t understand economics. But reality is the other way around. As Thomas Friedman said, “I wrote a column supporting CAFTA, the Caribbean Free Trade initiative. I didn’t even know what was in it. I just knew two words: ‘free trade.'” That is lack of understanding — lack of facts. This isn’t economics or political science or even journalism. This is just apologetics.

Morning Music: Gazpacho

XXXMichael Stickings — my colleague at and founder of The Reaction — brought my attention to the Norwegian band Gazpacho. I have to admit that I really hate it when bands pick nondescript names. Enter their name into Google, and you will get many fine recipes for gazpacho. I would find this annoying, even if I was a fan of the dish. But it isn’t especially my thing. And even “Gazpacho band” only gets you so far — there are other bands with that name.

(When I was young, I really liked the band Salvation Army. It was a great name. Just the same, it was really confusing. Eventually, the old Salvation Army sued the band and the new Salvation Army became The Three O’Clock. I hear they are back together, but I stopped being interested in them long ago. “Airplanes fly and yet I feel so low.”)

I don’t know much about Gazpacho. It’s made up of six people who can really play and they create interesting sound designs with lots of dynamics. They remind me of what Roger Waters wants to do but doesn’t have the self-assurance. Just the same, they don’t have the intense narrative strength of his work. In fact, they strike me more like a group making music for films. But I mean that in a good way. And the following video of “Black Lily” from their 2012 album March of Ghosts features a really great stop-action animation: