Please note: I wrote this piece about two and a half years ago at another venue. It is a piece dealing with what is my main interest intellectually these days, which is to try to make sense of the puzzling times we live in. My belief is that our problems stem from counter factual myths that we live by and so blind many of us to the reality of our environment. Though it was written in the past, I think it valid for our present reality, given the incredibly awful people running for the Republican Presidential nomination and how two of the people I mentioned back then, DonaldTrump and Paul Ryan, are now playing even more powerful roles in our national political scene, while Mitt Romney lost the Presidency.
In recent years many studies have come out that have made the case that a high proportion of CEO’s of major companies are sociopaths. At the end of this blog I’ll provide a number of links that discuss this, some from major conservative business magazines. We do know that from 1% to 3% of humans are sociopaths sharing all of these 10 characteristics:
“#1) Sociopaths are charming. #2) Sociopaths are more spontaneous and intense than other people. #3) Sociopaths are incapable of feeling shame, guilt or remorse. #4) Sociopaths invent outrageous lies about their experiences. #5) Sociopaths seek to dominate others and “win” at all costs. #6) Sociopaths tend to be highly intelligent #7) Sociopaths are incapable of love #8) Sociopaths speak poetically. #9) Sociopaths never apologize. #10) Sociopaths are delusional and literally believe that what they say becomes truth.” http://www.naturalnews.com/036112_sociopaths_cults_influence.html
Now the problem with the definition of Sociopaths is that there can be a good deal of subjectivity in making the diagnosis, absent a clinician interviewing the subject. After all many people are charming, spontaneous, invent lies, try to dominate others and speak “poetically” and that doesn’t make them sociopaths. The subjectivity comes in trying to determine whether a given person is incapable of feeling guilt, shame, remorse and is delusional. A trained clinician may be able to do this via an intensive interview, but the nature of this disorder is such that even a trained clinician can be fooled by a sociopath. Rather than argue back and forth about the negative effects of CEO sociopaths on this society, as the root of so much dysfunction, my readings suggest another theory that would provide a simpler explanation of why it seems that so many in this country have so little compassion and empathy for the less fortunate among us. We need not deem them sociopaths, but people who are simply removed from the misery that they inflict. The apocryphal story of Marie Antoinette saying “let them eat cake” may well characterize those who control most of this country’s wealth. It may be why some are sincere philanthropists, yet show disdain and lack a sense of responsibility for the suffering that they cause.
“Scrooge has come early this year. We’re kicking our Tiny Tim’s. This holiday season, kids in America’s poorest families are going to have less to eat. November 1 brought $5 billion in new cuts to the nation’s food stamp program, now officially known as the Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program, or SNAP.
Poor families will lose on average 7 percent of their food aid, calculates the Center on Budget and Policy Priorities. A mother with two kids will lose $319 over the rest of the current federal fiscal year. The cuts could cost some families a week’s worth of meals a month, says the chief at America’s largest food bank. More cuts are looming. A U.S. House of Representatives majority is demanding an additional $39 billion in “savings” over the next decade. Ohio and a host of other states, in the meantime, are moving to limit food stamp eligibility.” http://www.opednews.com/articles/1/Are-Heartless-People-Simpl-by-Sam-Pizzigati-Greed_Teaparty-Teapartiers-131104-969.html
The author Sam Pizzigati, writing at http://www.opednews.com , goes on to enumerate some of the actions being taken that will hurt a part of the American people that are least able to defend themselves against the depredations of poverty and hunger. This country which is so fond of creating metaphoric wars against objects of perceived fear like “Drugs” and “Terror”, has also had metaphorical “Wars” declared against “Poverty” and “Hunger”. The latter died due to the entanglement in Viet Nam monopolizing government funds. The paradigm this era’s “War on Something” may actually have been transformed in a “War for Something,” because what it seems we now have is a “War for Poverty” and a “War For Hunger”. Some examples:
“Today’s brazen heartlessness toward America’s most vulnerable actually goes far deeper than food stamp cuts, as a new Economic Policy Institute report released last week documents in rather chilling detail.
Four states, the report notes, have “lifted restrictions on child labor.” In Wisconsin, state law used to limit 16- and 17-year-olds to no more than five hours of work a day on school days. The new law erases these limits.
Other states are cutting back on protections for low-wage workers of all ages. Earlier this year, the new EPI survey relates, Mississippi adopted a law that bans cities and counties in the state “from adopting any minimum wage, living wage, or paid or unpaid sick leave rights for local workers.” http://www.opednews.com/articles/Are-Heartless-People-Simpl-by-Sam-Pizzigati-Greed_Teaparty-Teapartiers-131104-969.html
These positions are those representing a particular conservative mindset, that would argue that ending “child labor restrictions” are actually a good thing, because they allow children in poverty to rise above their situation through work. The history of child labor in this country would give lie to this. The impetus for passing these laws that defenestrate “child labor restrictions”, comes from companies paying the minimum wage, or less, to people who are looking for any kind of job. The young are seen as a source of pliable,cheap labor that can be easier controlled and made more fearful. Unless one is quite extraordinary, being stuck at the minimum wage, or less, ensures rather than provides an escape from poverty.
We of course have those “lift themselves up from their bootstraps” types like former Vice Presidential candidate Paul Ryan, who used himself as an example of this because he worked in a McDonald’s after his father’s death. He didn’t elaborate though that he came from the wealthiest family in his home town and that his father’s estate provided more than ample sustenance. Considering that after graduating from College, Ryan was secured a job in the office of Wisconsin’s U.S. Senator and from then on has always worked either in government, or for Conservative lobbying organizations. This congressman, now Speaker of the House, has done very little “bootstrap pulling and much string pulling to get work. Very few people “lift themselves up by their bootstraps” and those few exceptions do prove that rule.
The “War Upon Poverty”, as I like to call it, doesn’t only affect children and teenagers. Its cost cutting howitzers are also trained upon this nation’s elderly:
“The sick and elderly aren’t faring all that well either. In Arizona, the governor proposed a health-insurance cutoff that would have tripped some patients up right in the middle of their chemotherapy. Texas is considering Medicaid cuts that could end up closing 850 of the state’s 1,000 nursing homes.”
It seems we have reached a point in America where the notion of a community of citizens, bound by common destinies has been replaced by an “everyone for themselves” attitude, that is inexplicably endorsed heartily by all too many supposedly “devout Christians.” They have made the notion of “Christian Charity” a relic of the past. As with Mr. Ryan, our new Deities have become Ayn Rand and Gordon Gekko. For someone of my age, whose parents became adults during the “Great Depression”, this is not the America I grew up in, or at least not the image of America that was fostered during that “Depression” and during and after World War II. The 2014 elections seem to have accelerated the process of our nation becoming one that extols selfishness and rewards greed.
“America’s current surge of mean-spiritedness, observes Gordon Lafer, the University of Oregon author of the EPI study, essentially erupted right after the 2010 elections. In 11 states, those elections gave right-wingers “new monopoly control” over the governor’s mansion and both legislative houses.
Lafer links this right-wing electoral triumph directly to growing inequality. A widening income gap, he explains, “has produced a critical mass of extremely wealthy businesspeople, many of whom are politically conservative,” and various recent court cases have given these wealthy a green light to spend virtually unlimited sums on their favored political candidates.
This spending has, in turn, raised campaign costs for all political hopefuls — and left pols even more dependent on deep-pocket campaign contributions.
But America’s new heartlessness reflects much more than this turbocharged political power of America’s rich. An insensitivity toward the problems poor people face, researchers have shown, reflects a deeper psychological shift that extreme inequality makes all but inevitable.
The wider a society’s economic divide, as Demos think tank analyst Sean McElwee noted last week, the less empathy on the part of the rich and the powerful toward the poor and the weak. In a starkly unequal society, people of more than ample means “rarely brush shoulders” with people of little advantage. These rich don’t see the poor. They stereotype them — as lazy and unworthy.” http://www.opednews.com/articles/Are-Heartless-People-Simpl-by-Sam-Pizzigati-Greed_Teaparty-Teapartiers-131104-969.html
It is a closed circle that is driving and justifying the ever widening economic divide in this country. The wealthy elite never see the poor and the disadvantaged in this country. They are separated from them by their wealth and because of that, only are able to view them through the lens of self serving abstractions. They are catered to by armies of servants, who of necessity treat them obsequiously for fear of their jobs. When one lives a life of pampered privilege it becomes difficult to understand why, or how, people live otherwise. One who is “to the manor born” naturally grows up with a sense of entitlement and many of our American religious leaders cater to that, assuring them that God has bestowed blessings upon them because they are worthy. Conversely, of course, those who live in poverty and deprivation must deserve their fate and their state must also be ordained by God.
Forgetting for a moment the politics involved, didn’t we see that in Mitt Romney’s run for President. From what I’ve seen of the man, I don’t believe that Mitt is a sociopath. I believe he genuinely loves his wife and family. I believe he has feelings for his religion and empathy for his friends. I believe that even in some abstract way he cares for the plight of those less fortunate. Mitt though, can serve as the poster boy for those elite who are driving this new American attitude and by his own uttering’s he reveals how his attitudes arose. Romney was born into the “royalty” of the Church of the Latter Day Saints (LDS) and thus from his first realization of life was a privileged person. His father George, a successful Automobile Executive was a very rich and very doting father. Mitt and his wife to make themselves seem more like average American’s discussed with no irony their “struggles” when he was in school and had to “only” live off of his stock portfolio. Rich people hate to live off of their principal. His father paid for his education. After school his father gave him $10 million to buy into Bain Capital and from there his fortune grew and grew, convincing him that through hard work “anyone” can make it in America. Can we really blame Mr. Romney for his disdain for the 47% of Americans who are not “producers” like himself? Isn’t it obvious that when Romney gave advice to young “men” starting out as entrepreneurs, to “borrow” $20,000 from their fathers and start their business, that he sincerely believed this a viable option for most Americans? If we extrapolate Romney’s attitudes to a whole class of the American elite, like the Koch Brothers, we can see that one doesn’t have to be a sociopath to respond as a sociopath towards those less fortunate.
Now to be fair, I know and have known people, who started in life with very little and have built wonderful careers and became wealthy via their own efforts. Having become successful on their own, they have little sympathy for others who are not able to rise above their own poverty. I may not agree with their social views, but they are good people and their success was hard won, so they’re my friends nonetheless. Conversely, I also know and have known people who have inherited businesses from their parents and were quite successful in managing and expanding it. Many of those friends are quite concerned about the conditions of those less fortunate and act upon their sympathies. The reality is though that among my friendships and acquaintances there is no one that even rises to the level of wealth had by Romney, the Koch’s, the Walton’s, the Mellon’s, or the Scaife’s. People such as these, live in a totally different and inaccessible world to me and to most of the people I’ve known in my life. These people representing a small percentage of American wealth and privilege, have been the driving forces behind today’s “War Upon Poverty”.
“Defenders of inequality typically do their musings at a high, fact-free level of abstraction. CNN columnist John Sutter last week brought America down to inequality’s ground level, with a remarkably moving and insightful look at the most unequal county in the United States, East Carroll Parish in Louisiana.
In East Carroll, the rich live north of Lake Providence, the poor south. The two groups seldom interact. East Carroll’s most affluent 5 percent average $611,000 a year, 90 times the $6,800 incomes the poorest fifth of the parish average. Such wide income gaps, Sutter shows, invite “gaps in empathy.”
“Looking across Lake Providence from the north,” as he puts it, “can warp a person’s vision.”
One example of this warped vision: East Carroll’s rich see food stamps as an “entitlement” that rots poor people’s incentive to work. Yet these same affluent annually pocket enormously generous farm subsidies. In 2010, East Carroll’s most highly subsidized farmer grabbed $655,000 from one federal subsidy alone. The average food stamp payout in the parish: $1,492 per person per year.” http://www.opednews.com/articles/Are-Heartless-People-Simpl-by-Sam-Pizzigati-Greed_Teaparty-Teapartiers-131104-969.html
East Carroll Parish in Louisiana is a microcosm of the conditions throughout our country. We see those that consider themselves the “producers” in this country missing totally the point of how they have had their own form of entitlement, in this instance farm subsidies. As most students of politics know, Farm Subsidies have become almost impossible to eliminate. even though the bulk of the subsidies go to our huge Agri-Business industry. Providing a complement to Mr. Pizzigati’s article was another one that I read this week at http://www.opednews.com by Paul Bucheit which was titled: “How the Supperich Are Abandoning America”
“As they accumulate more and more wealth, the very rich have less need for society. At the same time, they’ve convinced themselves that they made it on their own, and that contributing to societal needs is unfair to them. There is ample evidence that this small group of takers is giving up on the country that made it possible for them to build huge fortunes.
They’ve Taken $25 Trillion of New Wealth While Paying Less Taxes
The 2013 Global Wealth Databook shows that U.S. wealth has increased from $47 trillion in 2008 to $72 trillion in mid-2013. But according to U.S. Government Revenue figures, federal income taxes have gone DOWN from 2008 to 2012. Even worse, corporations cut their tax rate in half.
American society has gained nothing from its massive wealth expansion. There’s no wealth tax, no financial transaction tax, no way to ensure that infrastructure and public education are supported. Just how much have the super-rich taken over the past five years? Each of the elite 5% — the richest 12 million Americans — gained, on average, nearly a million dollars in financial wealth between 2008 and 2013.” http://www.opednews.com/articles/How-the-Super-Rich-Are-Aba-by-Paul-Buchheit-Billionaires_Capitalism_Greed_Wealthy-131104-612.html
There is literally so much supporting material for the fact that the economic fortunes of the wealthiest American’s have grown exponentially since the beginning of our new century, that all one has to do is Google it. At the same time that there has been this unprecedented growth in wealth, those who most benefited from it have paid less and less taxes, while deriving benefits from government programs such as the “oil subsidy”. In the 50’s and 60’s when only the affluent could really afford to fly, the term “Jet Setter” developed for those who were wealthy enough to travel to Europe, or Bali, on a whim. There developed a culture of those people who lived their lives bathed in sybaritic luxury and could nonchalantly suggest to their friends to meet them in Paris for the weekend. As the separation of Americans on the basis of wealth has grown, the “Jet Set” has become what is really the “Expatriate Set,” who have homes all over the world and indeed consider themselves to be “Citizen’s of the World,” rather than just plain Americans. Is it any wonder then, that when they deign to even think of those less fortunate than themselves, those thoughts are laden with disdain against those “unwashed masses.”
“For the First Time in History, They Believe They Don’t Need the Rest of Us: The rich have always needed the middle class to work in their factories and buy their products. With globalization this is no longer true. Their factories can be in China, producing goods for people in India or Europe or anywhere else in the world.
They don’t need our infrastructure for their yachts and helicopters and submarines. They pay for private schools for their kids, private security for their homes. They have private emergency rooms to avoid the health care hassle. All they need is an assortment of servants, who might be guest workers coming to America on H2B visas, willing to work for less than a middle-class American can afford.
The sentiment is spreading from the super-rich to the merely rich. In 2005 Sandy Springs, a wealthy suburb of Atlanta, stopped paying for most public services, deciding instead to avoid subsidizing poorer residents of Fulton County by hiring a “city outsourcer” called CH2M to manage everything except the police and fire departments. That includes paving the roads, running the courts, issuing tickets, handling waste, and various other public services. Several other towns followed suit.
Results have been mixed, with some of CH2M’s clients backing out or renegotiating. But privatization keeps coming at us. Selective decisions about public services threaten to worsen already destitute conditions for many communities. Detroit, of course, is at the forefront. According to an Urban Land Institute report, “more municipalities may follow Detroit’s example and abandon services in certain districts.”
As this year moves on coming closer to the Presidential election year, we again see a battle shaping up in Congress, the “Tea Party” controlled Congress, over cutting both Social Security and Medicare. The conservative propaganda machine, abetted by a corporate media has turned these programs into “Entitlements”, when they are really insurance funds. Not one of those in Congress trying to choke off these programs will ever have to rely upon them in their old age, nor will the corporate sponsors, of which most of our Congress people have become “wholly-owned subsidiaries.”
“They Soaked the Middle Class, and Now Demand Cuts in the Middle-Class Retirement Fund. The richest Americans take the greatest share of over $2 trillion in Tax Expenditures, Tax Underpayments, Tax Haven holdings, and unpaid Corporate Taxes. The Social Security budget is less than half of that. Yet much of Congress and many other wealthy Americans think it should be cut. These are the same people who deprive the American public of $300 billion a year by not paying their full share of the payroll tax.”
However, those clamoring for these cuts among the elite, believe the Elite are justified in paying less taxes, because they “made it on their own” and this reflects a false, self-serving view of the historical realities:
“They Continue to Insist that They “Made It on Their Own”. They didn’t. Their fortunes derived in varying degrees – usually big degrees – from public funding, which provided almost half of basic research funds into the 1980s, and even today supports about 60 percent of the research performed at universities.
Businesses rely on roads and seaports and airports to ship their products, the FAA and TSA and Coast Guard and Department of Transportation to safeguard them, a nationwide energy grid to power their factories, communications towers and satellites to conduct online business, the Department of Commerce to promote and safeguard global markets, the U.S. Navy to monitor shipping lanes, and FEMA to clean up after them.
Apple, the tax haven specialist, still does most of its product and research development in the United States, with US-educated engineers and computer scientists. Google’s business is based on the Internet, which started as ARPANET, the Defense Department’s Advanced Research Projects Agency computer network from the 1960s. The National Science Foundation funded the Digital Library Initiative research at Stanford University that was adopted as the Google model. Microsoft was started by our richest American, Bill Gates, whose success derived at least in part by taking the work of competitors and adapting it as his own. Same with Steve Jobs, who admitted: “We have always been shameless about stealing great ideas.”
Companies like Pfizer and Merck have relied on basic research performed at the National Institute of Health. A Congressional Budget Office study reminds us that The primary rationale for the government to play a role in basic research is that private companies perform too little such research themselves (relative to what is best for society).”
What we see now is a world where businesses and the wealthy that own them, consider themselves multi-national, which means they are untied to any government and owe no government their allegiance. What goes unmentioned though, as expanded upon above, is that the source of wealth for many of our “elite” and the corporations they control, is in our case the American government which they’ve captured. The same America that had to bail out the banks and Wall Street from the results of their own excesses and the same country that goes to war to protect their private oil interests.
As a Final Insult, Many of Them Desert the Country that Made Them Rich: Many of the beneficiaries of American research and technology have abandoned their country because of taxes. Like multinational companies that rationalize the move by claiming to be citizens of the world, almost 2,000 Americans, and perhaps up to 8,000, have left their responsibilities behind for more favorable tax climates.
The most egregious example is Eduardo Saverin, who found safe refuge in the U.S. after his family was threatened in Brazil, landed Mark Zuckerberg as a roommate at Harvard, benefited from American technology to make billions from his 4% share in Facebook, and then skipped out on his tax bill. http://www.opednews.com/articles/2/How-the-Super-Rich-Are-Aba-by-Paul-Buchheit-Billionaires_Capitalism_Greed_Wealthy-131104-612.html My thanks for this article go to commondreams.org.
Many of the Elite of this country, whether inherited, or self-made believe that the rest of us exist merely as appendages for their comfort. They view the great mass of us with disdain. Their world-view is self-serving and self soothing and from my perspective they are entitled to believe anything they choose to believe. What they are not entitled to in my opinion is to play at being “Robin Hood” in reverse. They have taken and taken from the American people, they control our government and this needs to stop. I’m neither a socialist, a communist, nor a fascist. I don’t believe in an enforced equality of wealth in society.
What I do believe in is a society that treats everyone equally before the law. I believe in a society that is empathic towards all of its members. I believe in a society that cares for, nurtures and protects all of us. Perhaps I am a Utopian at heart in my beliefs. Whatever I am though, my anger rages at the way this country is being stolen from its citizens by powerful people who take but never give. You all can have plenty of money and still take care of your responsibilities to society as a whole. That is why I suspect something more is afoot. Our corporatist elite has the money and has the control, what they seem to really want it to have the total subservience of all they think are beneath them. This is not necessarily a sociopathic disorder, but the difference between these points of view and sociopathy is so minimal as to be ignored.
Articles on CEO’s being sociopaths: