The sociopathic crisis

Clearly sociopathic actions, right? “In a sociopathic society, sociopathic individual behavior is so pervasive and socially accepted that perpetrators don’t think of themselves as doing anything wrong. When cyclist champion Lance Armstrong first acknowledged in a 2013 interview with Oprah Winfrey that he had been doping—using performance-enhancing drugs—and lying about it for years, she asked him if he believed he was cheating.
Oprah: Did you feel you were cheating?
Armstrong: No. At the time, no. I viewed it as a level playing field. I looked up the definition of “cheat.” The definition of cheat is to gain an advantage over a rival or foe. I didn’t do that. I viewed it as a level playing field.”

Armstrong believed the rules of the game were such that all his rivals were doing the same as him or attempting to do so. Thus, he was not cheating. He was just following the same rules as his rivals. That world Armstrong is describing is a sociopathic one. ‘Win at all costs. No concern for who is hurt, the integrity of the contest, or the future of the society.’

The signs of a sociopathic society are all round us. The US, with a long history of sociopathic institutions and practices, is now evolving toward a full-blown sociopathic society. We still have a chance to change course. After all, US society also has a long tradition of selflessness, mutual help, and respect and appreciation for one’s neighbors, both across the nation and down the street. But our society is increasingly structured to turn people and institutions toward sociopathic behavior that harms other individuals and entire societies, including our own. The US is beginning to socially unravel, haunted now by the specter of war with weapons of mass destruction, economic meltdowns, and uncontrolled climate change.

In a sociopathic society such as the US, the most important sociopaths are powerful institutions such as giant corporations and the military. Economic sociopathic acts by large corporations are a crucially important form, illustrated not just by the Wall Street banks that crashed the economy but by Walmart, Disney, and other huge retail enterprises that exploit not just Americans but people around the world for the products that keep their profits up.

We now see sociopathy on a grand scale, both legal and illegal, by other major institutions, including spectacular examples in religion (e.g., sexual crimes of Catholic priests), exploitation of violence against women by the entertainment industry) and the devolution of all sports into multimillion dollar ‘business deals.’ The most widespread and corrosive US sociopathy—much of it legal—is perpetrated by the biggest corporations not just on Wall Street but in every major economic sector. For example, global pharmaceutical companies such as Merck, giant for-profit hospital chains, such as Humana, profit by using patents and lobbying to restrict access to essential generic medicines for epidemics that could save thousands of lives. The large gun manufacturers, such as Freedom Group, and tobacco companies, such as Philip Morris, hook young people globally on their lethal high-profit products and block regulation vital to saving hundreds of thousands of lives. For-profit universities recruit students they know will not graduate but will be strapped for life with special high-interest loans that must be paid back in full, even if you are a dropout after one semester. This corporate sociopathy should not be surprising since it reflects the sociopathic programming of capitalist corporate charters, mandating profits at the expense of harm to workers or the environment, defined as “externalites,” costs on society that the companies do not have to pay. Corporations that do not pursue profit in this way can be sued for violation of their fiduciary obligation to their shareholders. The welfare of society and its citizens be damned. In this pursuit, giant retailers such as Walmart pay wretchedly low minimum wage salaries and provide no benefits to part-time workers—often desperate women, minorities, or older people at the edge of hunger or homelessness. The food and beverage companies, such as McDonald’s and Coca-Cola, sell unhealthy products dished out by low-paid workers or school vending machines, targeting low-income and young consumers. The big agricultural companies, such as ADL, take huge government subsidies as they produce monoculture industrialized crops that destroy the soil and spread fossil fuel toxins into the water and air. The giant oil companies, such as Exxon and Shell, engage in sociopathic climate denial and greenwashing while fighting climate control treaties and law to protect their profits. Most of this sociopathic behavior conforms to the expectations of investors who seek and are legally entitled to profit maximization despite the high social costs just specified.

And now sociopathic values, norms, and institutions are common in all aspects of American culture. In the US, the extent and depth of sociopathy varies by institutional sector, region, and economic status, with strong sociopathic tendencies in parts of the system—such as the financial, prison, or military sectors—but more benign and democratic possibilities in other parts, from low-income, urban community development organizations to the local or community agricultural sector to numerous altruistic nonprofits and grassroots social movements for justice and environmental sustainability. In contrast to prevailing wisdom in the United States, we shall see that sociopathy is most prevalent and dangerous at the top, in the corporate suites, rather than on the streets below. As the Sicilian adage goes, ‘The fish rots from the head first.’ But all US strata—from top to bottom—have long been plagued by sociopathic invasion, which constitutes the real ‘trickle down’ from the top. Thus, the sociopathic behavior of gangs and drug-dealers on the street often mirrors the business strategies of the more respected sociopaths in the suites.

Who are the targets in such a society? These can be vulnerable individuals—disproportionately African American or other minorities in the United States—who are dispatched to unemployment, prison, or death. Other major targets are foreign countries the US claims it can rightfully attack (which can be any country in the world since any person in any country may after all be an anti-US terrorist) or the core infrastructure of one’s own society. In the US, all three targets are under assault, reflected in mass surplus triaged populations, endless wars around the world waged in the name of a highly moralistic militarism, and a particularly devastating new assault on the social and environmental infrastructure of the US itself.

In his best-seller, Collapse, Jared Diamond examines factors leading earlier societies to collapse, concluding that environmental variables often play a leading role, along with adverse military, trade and economic forces, and overpopulation. Americans in a fossil-fuel-driven capitalist system committed to unlimited growth and consumption need to look closely at the history of such extinct societies. Anti-environmental government and corporate practices, along with mass consumerism by the general population, now threaten the long-term survival of civil society and are undoubtedly the most dangerous sociopathy in the world today.

Finally, we need to look at the extent to which the sociopathy can be healed. Some sociopathic societies cannot self-correct, because of the depth and scale of the problem. In the US, the prognosis is less gloomy; we can lead ourselves out of our structural crisis if we—the mass of ordinary citizens—open our eyes and imagination, think clearly about our collective survival, and mobilize to force ‘leaders’ to change course. Yet some elements of the sociopathic crisis, such as climate change, are already so severe that even in the most positive scenario, great damage will be done, and mitigation rather than total solution may be our best hope.

taken from here

Foto: Slyvia John

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