In late 2010, political activist John Perry Barlow tweeted: “The first serious info-war is now engaged. The field of battle is WikiLeaks. You are the troops.” In the last four years, new insurgencies have arisen from cyberspace to participate in the battle against government corruption and secrecy. From Snowden’s disclosure of NSA mass surveillance to the release of the CIA torture report evidencing war crimes and murder of innocent people, a crisis of legitimacy and moral depravity of authority are becoming increasingly undeniable. All of this reveals an invisible force of governance working to control the thought and perceptions of the greater population for nefarious ends.
In his 2006 seminal writing “Conspiracy as Governance,” WikiLeaks editor Julian Assange noted how the secrecy regime works as “a system of interacting organs, a beast with arteries and veins whose blood may be thickened and slowed until it falls…” As was seen in the recent secret economic treaties like TPP and TISA exposed by WikiLeaks, systems of national governance have evolved into a global network that undermines the sovereignty of countries and the rights of people and puts corporate profit above all else.
What is this beast-like being that conspires behind a veil of secrecy? Thomas Sheridan, author of “Puzzling People: The Labyrinth of the Psychopath” (2011) pointed to the existence of a small minority in present society who are in positions of power and manifest what he characterizes as a predatory consciousness. He identified them as exhibiting a particular psychological condition categorized as the pathology of psychopathy.
Strangers Among Us
In recent years, interest in psychopathy and its manifestation in society seems to have grown rapidly. Hollywood movies are filled with aggressive criminal characters. From Hannibal Lecter in the movie Silence of the Lambs to serial killers like Ted Bundy, most people associate this pathology with popular culture’s sensationalized image of violent individuals who are locked up in prison. Yet many who exhibit marked traits of psychopathy (estimated to be about 1 % of adults in the general population) are not outright criminals and they don’t end up in jail. In Psychopathy of Everyday Life, Martin Kantor (2006) debunks the stereotypical image that overly associates psychopaths with violence and argues how a majority of them walk among us, blending in with our friends and families. Behind these pervasive portrayals of psychopaths as violent murderers, the real danger of pathology infiltrating society and its very structures goes unnoticed.
Psychopathy expert Robert Hare offered a profile of those psychopaths as people without conscience. Hare created a checklist of symptoms including the absence of remorse, pathological egocentricity, lying, callousness and superficial charm. He pointed to the primary characteristic as a lack of empathy. This absence of empathy is also manifested physically. New studies using brain imaging technology show how this is reflected in the hardwiring of their brains. Kent A. Kiehl and Joshwa W. Buckholtz share the conclusion of neuroscientists, that contrary to the general view that psychopaths are simply selfish, their emotional development is impaired due to the way their brains process information differently from others.
Humans as social beings generally develop identity in relationship with others. In what many consider healthy development, individuals cultivate a sense of self that grows organically out of a communal ground. Individual thoughts are informed by social emotions that precede them. Upon such empathic foundations, one naturally develops a capacity for self regulation; the ability to restrain impulses and primal urges and make decisions for their actions in a manner that considers the rights and needs of others.
On the other hand, those among us who quietly harbor psychopathic tendencies follow a different line of development. Whether it is by nature or nurture or other factors within, early in life these people fail to secure the attachment to a caregiver that is needed to develop a cohesive sense of self rooted in concrete reality. Through this delinking from interconnected existence, they develop extreme egocentricity and experience the world in isolation, perceiving themselves as intrinsically independent from others.
Reid Meloy, a clinical psychology professor researching psychopathy articulated how the house of the psychopath is built upon a grandiose self-structure. They live in a presocialized emotional world. Psychopaths do not experience the full range of emotions that spring from an empathic ground. They might experience intense emotions, but these are short lived. They have shallow affects often manifested as anger, contempt and self pity, while viewing emotions such as sympathy, compassion and love that are expressions of human bonding as signs of weakness or negative attributes that one must dissociate from.
Psychiatrist Liane Leedom noted how scientists describe this condition as “emotional callousness” and claimed that this contributes to “their inability to love.” She pointed to how they “would experience fleeting feelings of affection, but the joy they get from these feelings is far less than the joy they get from having power and control over others.” This emotional poverty creates a kind of systemic moral blindness.
Psychopaths can understand basic differences between right and wrong and except for a small population, most do not break laws or even engage in criminal acts. Yet, this seemingly lawful behavior is not motivated by an inner sense of morality that concerns the wellbeing of others, rather it arises to simply escape punishment. They are free from emotional strings and stay aloof; unaffected by the anxiety, guilt or pain that most people feel when they see someone in distress or being hurt. They can act careless and stress-free regarding destruction of other’s life in their midst.
With this emotional deficit, psychopaths also lack insight. They can cognitively understand when someone is hurt. Yet, as they are not personally bound within an empathic foundation, they cannot understand other’s pain emotionally through putting themselves in the other’s shoes. Without this emotional intelligence, not only do they have difficulty entering into the realty of others, but they also cannot step outside of themselves to see their actions objectively from another point of view and the larger social context they are a part of.
They cannot see how one’s mood and affect carries on in a chain of emotional reaction in others. All they can see is ripples of negativity without examining how these effects are caused by their own actions. When victims react negatively to their carelessness, psychopaths externalize this and see these others as inflicting pain or distress upon themselves. By not being able to acknowledge our interdependent existence, they cannot recognize how their actions contribute to the suffering of others. With this cognitive disconnect from emotional reality, they fail to take responsibility and more often shift blame onto others.
Predatory Capitalism and Survival of the Fittest
What does the illusory world of psychopaths look like from the inside? Within this state devoid of empathy, individuality comes to be defined as opposition to the underlying communal self. In this environment, the development of individuality often necessitates pitting one against another. It is a hostile and competitive, dog-eat-dog world. Governed by reptilian impulses like fight or flight, one is driven by interests of simple self-preservation and advancement. In this, relationship becomes a battleground, or in the words of the psychopath, a game—or just doing business.
In the eyes of these ruthless and careless sections of humanity, the earth itself is no longer alive, but only a resource to be exploited. Their dry intellect tears apart the web of life, with its intricate threads of interdependence. The existing extreme form of capitalism has become the ultimate social expression of the psychopaths’ internal reality of survival of the fittest. These minorities without conscience attempt to control systems to create desired selfish outcomes and tend to impose their narrative upon others.
With confident trickery, they enact magical thinking of getting what they want without real work. By simply manipulating digital numbers on ledgers, they surreptitiously divert wealth toward themselves. The proclaimed oracle Alan Greenspan advanced this style of treachery through creating money out of thin air to further inflate the grandiose self of this small segment of the population. This former chairman of the Federal Reserve ruled the universe where markets obey orders from on high, subordinating spontaneous forces to the unbridled greed of hidden corporate elites.
Wall Street financial giants, in collusion with the government, gutted the Glass Steagall Act that separated commercial and investment banks. With trickle-down Reaganomics as the new law of gravity, bull market’s endless derivatives and speculation add weight to the global debt bandwagons, pulling down entire economies. This turns global finance into a big casino of high stakes gambling, while burdening the public with the true costs and losses.
In the last decades, untamed predatory capitalism has risen to a new level in the form of a corporatocracy, creating the world’s first truly global empire. This small segment of society acts with a will to power as if they are superior to the rest of mankind. They have successfully enslaved large parts of the world population to their sense of grandiose entitlement. With plunder and extraction of what has historically belonged to the commons, they have normalized privatization and commercialization of many aspects of everyday life. With military occupation in the Middle East and sweatshops in East Asia, they made war and extractive economies the standard for global society.
The Rise of Corporate Power
How did this pathology become so rampant, skewing the norms of everyday life? Where did this madness of power arise that turns morality upside down? One way to understand this is to look at the inner architecture of the psychopaths and how they live. The house of psychopaths is empty. Uprooted from communal experience, they are phantoms going through life like ghosts. They seemingly have no biography, no consistent memory grounded in a shared emotional reality. In this emotional desert, they are constantly prone to boredom. They live off other’s reactions and without those who believe and engage in their perception of reality, they are nobody. They live in the here and now and chase after transient desires that change moment by moment according to their immediate needs and wants, while always cleverly calculating ways to gain maximum benefit.
Psychopathy is the pathology of social hiding. Like chameleons, they change shapes and colors of their exterior and it is difficult to identify the being behind those changing masks. As skilled actors, they pick up different personalities, spontaneously customizing them for each audience. They mirror the perfect image of their target’s deep desires. By mimicking emotions they charm and deceive people to get what they want. Each character has its own life while it serves its purpose and is then eliminated from the script when psychopath decides it is no longer needed. These low conscience individuals use bait and switch and change roles and rules instantly without hesitation or remorse. Once a source is depleted, they move on to another and there is no one really there to take responsibility for what they have said or done, leaving a string of broken hearts, bewilderment and ruined lives behind them.
There is no more suitable entity than the modern corporation to house these empty souls. Corporations by design lack avenues and structures for human conscience. Law professor and creator of a documentary “The Corporation”, Joal Bakan (2004) described how corporations are created by a legal framework that enforces and “compels executives to prioritize the interests of their companies and shareholders above all others and forbids them from being socially responsible—at least genuinely so” (p. 35).
For such rootless people that fit the psychopathic profile, the legal fiction of corporate personhood becomes a very suitable outfit. With its limited liability and operational logic of profit at any cost, the artificial construct incorporates animal-like drives along with clever and machine-like intelligence. Within this artificial personhood, the psychopathic mind crafts perfect masks and bends social reality to their self-serving ends without seeking consent of others.
With friendly corporate logos, like the ever changing names of the mercenary company Academi (formerly known as Blackwater) and opaque, faceless executives behind closed doors, they manage images and hide true motives behind corporate anonymity. Through lobbying and the revolving doors with government personnel, the brand of pathology embodied in corporate structures have in many cases merged with the state. These predators have grabbed the levers of control, creating two tiered justice systems that reflect their lack of moral constitution, their hypocrisy and unchallenged superiority.
The rise of corporate power in the form of the corporate state is the ultimate expression of this pathological takeover of a society. Transnational corporations move into countries and impose neoliberal economic agendas, dominating or destroying local communities, totally ignoring or denying their richness of culture and ways of life. From China to Mexico, they jump from one country to another for cheap labor, leaving environmental destruction and exploited workers. They commit egregious moral crimes against humanity with little recourse for the victims.
In a universe ruled by psychopaths, the more merciless, callous and heartless one is, the stronger one becomes with the power to control and dominate others. They dictate a plot of manufactured reality with a narcissistic twist and we all become characters in their story, with our role to deliver supplies for their insatiable hunger.
Why are so many of us manipulated by a few members of our species who confidently claim superiority? Assange pointed out how conspiracy works as “the agent of deception and information restriction.” Language in the hands of psychopaths is a lethal weapon. Words are used not for the purpose of communication, but to create distortion and confusion. With corporate consolidation of media, the control of airwaves gives the power to dictate narratives and enforce a kind of monotony of thought. Through PR as well as outright propaganda, they manage impressions and hide their true intentions in secrecy and the language of complexity, omission and lies.
Pathological lying is at the heart of psychopathic personalities. One could say everyone lies once a while. But psychopaths lie for almost anything, even when there is no reason. This lying is by definition pathological. The term doublespeak that George Orwell (1949) coined in his novel 1984 illuminates the psychopathic distortion and the power that they derive from this control of language.
“War is peace. Freedom is slavery. Ignorance is Strength” (Orwell, 1949, p. 7). Doublespeak is the use of words to mean their opposite. The words are here split in two to fabricate perception of phenomena, deflecting from the actual experience. This term doublespeak relates to the book’s central concept of “doublethink.” Orwell described doublethink as “the power of holding two contradictory beliefs in one’s mind simultaneously, and accepting both of them” and explained its mechanism as follows:
“The process has to be conscious, or it would not be carried out with sufficient precision, but it also has to be unconscious, or it would bring with it a feeling of falsity and hence of guilt. . . . To tell deliberate lies while genuinely believing in them, to forget any fact that has become inconvenient, and then, when it becomes necessary again, to draw it back from oblivion for just so long as it is needed, to deny the existence of objective reality and all the while to take account of the reality which one denies—all this is indispensably necessary” (pp. 176-177).
This doublespeak reflects the psychopath’s distinct inner state created as a result of their lack of empathy. If one does not experience events at a deep emotional level, one’s relationship to them remains superficial and reality lacks solidity, even appearing unreal. When people do not abide by the truth found in consensual reality, it is easier for them to distort it and reinvent the narrative to their ends.
Doublespeak has become the cornerstone of the political language of our time as it makes “lies sound truthful and murder respectable” (Orwell, 1956, p. 366). Reprehensible human acts such as torture and kidnapping are made acceptable simply by calling them “enhanced interrogation” and “extraordinary rendition.” Senseless killing of civilians is made more palatable when they are called “non-combatants” or become “collateral damage” after they are killed. The term “bulk collection” is used as a euphemism for mass surveillance, making unconstitutional and Stasi like NSA spying seem somehow less severe or immoral.
The words of those without conscience are split off to simply reflect individual thought and feeling that do not take others’ internal process into consideration. These thoughts in the head move faster without ever being caught and checked by the feelings in the heart. Because of this, with doublethink, as Orwell (1949) put it, “the lie is always one leap ahead of the truth” (p. 177). By not being able to see the truth concealed behind words, we reel into a vacuous valley of smoke and mirrors created in the gap between their words and actions. We become complicit and entrenched in this distorted version of reality and degraded vision of what it means to be human.
Predatory consciousness incarnated through those on the top of institutional hierarchies enacts their vision of humanity by directing their script on the world stage. From Monsanto’s genetically modified foods and big Pharma’s happy pills to trivialized journalism that promote entertainment and cheap sensationalism, corporate doublespeak invades the mind and body to numb intrinsic feelings that know what is real, making people adjust to the ever changing scenery controlled by the puppet masters behind the curtain.
What is this hypnotic spell of the psychopathic deception? The power of doublespeak lies in its ability to make people believe lies are real and accept fiction as reality. While those equipped with empathy coexist with others to develop perspectives and knowledge through dialogue, psychopaths are solipsists who assume their exclusively egocentric existence as the sole arbiter and narrate life as their monologue.
They fail to see the other as who they are with autonomous feeling and thoughts. Needless to say, they cannot allow other’s perspectives to deeply enter consciousness. In this, they cannot see how their claim on reality denies others perspectives and rights to experience life, as the psychopath has no awareness of the original reality they have altered. For them, the reality that they conceive is the only and absolute truth.
If one believes one’s own lies, one gains power to persuade others to make this distorted reality seem real. When confronted with such level of certainty and overconfidence, normally those who have a capacity for empathy tend to question and doubt themselves and be persuaded and accept extremely one-sided perspectives at the expense of their own experience.
The problem lies in people not recognizing that there are those who don’t have a conscience. Because we don’t know of this radically different existence, combined with our nature to assume the good in people, we cave into their reality and fail to look out for our own best interests. As a result, politeness and trust are exploited and kindness is used as a weapon against us.
When lies and cheating become undeniable, those master manipulators deflect issues, project their own problems to those truthtellers who call them out, throwing us off balance to put us on the defense. They make us question our own sanity and give them the benefit of the doubt. When their scheme fails, like bailed out banks, they play the sympathy card and trick people into giving them a second chance. When the story of the mass NSA surveillance first broke out, president Obama swiftly moved to defend this secret program as his officials continued to lie about its extent and justification. With his patronizing attitude of “just trust me”, the American people were asked to blindly accept this authority and not listen to their gut telling them that something has gone terribly wrong.
Lifting the Veil of Illusion
With the 2008 financial crisis followed by the waves of whistleblowing in recent years, global institutional failures are being increasingly exposed and the facade of democracy is being peeled away. In noting the effect of leaks that revealed how much the public had been kept in the dark, Assange said, “We are walking around constantly in this fog where we can’t see the ground. These disclosures are a break in the fog.”
A veil of illusion is being lifted and a global awareness of psychopathic control over the levers of power has begun. The 1% elite who put themselves above the law can no longer hide their true agendas. Who are these beings behind the masks of powerful governments and institutions, those who claim to be more capable and superior? Most importantly, why have we forsaken ourselves by distrusting our own judgment? With peak oil, debt ponzi schemes and endless wars spurring energy and financial crises, this self-destructive game is almost up and the house of cards economy is crumbling. The bubble of an inflated self will inevitably burst, and our minds eventually catch up with what our hearts already know.
We have been engaged in psychological warfare. This is a battle declared against ourselves. It cannot be fought by trying to appeal or seek for their approval, as without conscience this 1% of society does not care and even if they wanted to could not care. Innocence and lack of self-confidence has long kept us under their control. We have been dragged down by systematized pathology, allowing this unredeemed part of our humanity to devour virtues of creativity, imagination and love.
The power of psychopaths is sustained through our compliance with their false words. They want us to react, whether positive or negative, so as to feed off the emotional response to further engage us in their storyline. By protesting and making demands, we continue to acknowledge illegitimate authority and allow it to maintain control.
Civil disobedience against the corporate state demands that we disobey their commands and instead begin listening to our hearts that know what is right and wrong. Our dissent requires a descent into our deeper selves to confront the darkness within; our deepest fears, vanity and desires that have been feeding the beasts.
Illegitimate corporate personhood has duped us with false promises and pushed us to the edges, but this pathology has not defeated us and cannot destroy the human spirit. From the depth of the psychopathic abyss that is modern corporate society, we are now being called to act with courage; to reclaim attributes that were judged as weak and disowned by us in our effort to survive these assaults on our intrinsic human bonds.
Our collective acts of love can resuscitate the breath behind words, awakening our humanity with conscience that can take responsibility for what we create in the world. The unleashed power of the creative word can free us from this psychopathic spell. We can begin again to create social structures that are an embodiment our empathic nature and inherent obligation to one another.