In reading a number of books on the destructive manipulative behavior of people with personality disorders I became increasingly struck by how the behavior of our politicians and our nation, especially with respect to foreign policy, was so precisely described.
The lesson from this study is not just sobering, but taken alongside the invincible tide of history – the collapse of every empire – the prognosis for our nation is bleak.
The most important book for me was titled In Sheep’s Clothing: Understanding and Dealing with Manipulative People by Dr. George Simon. The title and tactics identified within it accurately describes not only our national leaders, but our national character. Our nation has not just one, but multiple destructive personality disorders.
I do not mean this in the metaphorical sense, but in the direct clinical sense. Dr. Simon indicates that in a repressive Victorian society individual citizens suffer more neurotic kinds of disorders because they have natural human sexual desires that are relentlessly suppressed and vilified, resulting in anguish over reconciling natural human urges with extreme social sanctions against them.
In more recent decades, with the "anything goes" revolution in the 1960’s and onward, the kinds of personality disorders in his clinical work came to be more dominated by the opposite end of the spectrum, known as character disorders. Neurotic disorders are from "too much conscientiousness". Character disorders are from "not enough conscientiousness".
Character disorders are destructively aggressive. The most interesting to me is a type called "covert aggression" where underhanded, deceitful tactics are used to serve highly narcissistic and flatly evil objectives. Covert aggressors use "innocent" cover to give plausible deniability to base motives of power, greed, and even sadism. The foreign policy of our nation is exactly so described – aggressive wars cloaked in "humanitarian" garb.
If you look at the tactics for covert manipulation, they describe the tactics of our national leaders in both parties perfectly:
Lying, denial, selective attention/inattention, rationalization, minimization, diversion, evasion, guilt-tripping, shaming, playing the victim, vilifying the victim, playing the servant role, seduction, project the blame, feigning innocence, playing dumb, brandishing anger…
There are almost no national politicians that base their positions on an over-arching set of principles maintained consistently across the issues. An example would be Ron Paul. I can’t think of any others. In general they are lying, hypocritical, deceitful cowards cloaking their manipulative actions in sheep’s clothing.
There are numerous exact parallels between our collective national actions and individual manifestations, especially in children. One of them my friends in primary education have alerted me to is bullying. Apparently the problem is so pervasive that many schools now have mandatory policies in place for how to deal with it. Small wonder. Look at anyone who has dared standing up intellectually to the status quo of our corrupt, bankrupt, and murderous empire.
The clinical literature is emphatic on the point that children learn by example and copy behavior. The "best" education, meaning the most permanent, is inculcated by watching what we do instead of what we say. Politicians and voters who actually cared about education would start by changing their behavior.
As a nation, almost everything we do is driven by hidden agendas with superficially noble intentions. Just look at acts passed by Congress such as the "Patriot Act" or even entire institutions such as the Federal Reserve.
The Patriot Act is clearly something the founding patriots fought a revolution to overthrow in terms of the Bill of Rights. The Federal Reserve is not an institution of the Federal Government, and there is nothing on reserve. As a rule of thumb, you can predict that the nature of a Federal Act is the opposite of what it claims to be.
The children of this nation are also learning well the lesson that a million Iraqis or Afghanis are not worth the life of one American, and how to rationalize with specious arguments their utter destruction. It cannot escape them by direct inference that the lives of one million Americans are not worth their own, and that you get what you want domestically by the exact same arguments in foreign policy.
At one time, the way I unsuccessfully dealt with manipulative people in my life was struggling for them to "see" their behavior was wrong and trying to understand them with the wrong model – an assumption they had integrity and scruples. Likewise in the political realm I debated, participated in discussion boards, held elective office, wrote, and professed with a belief people could be brought to reason with enough effort on my part.
But one of the key insights from the literature on personality disorders is that they know best themselves exactly what they are doing. What is missing is the moral compass. You are wasting your time arguing with them, "informing" them, or trying to change them. The same has been true with my political experience and all the futile ancillary efforts.
Obama has not only tolerated the criminal gangsterism of the Bush Administration before him, but he has both extended it and made their innovations permanent. The person who commits a crime is not as great a threat as he who sanctions it and makes it a permanent part of our national character.
People with these aggressive kinds of clinical personality disorders don’t change. You can control the damage they do by placing limits on their behavior, by limiting your exposure to them, etc. but they will always remain who they are.
Power corrupts and absolute power corrupts absolutely. But it’s worse than that. There is a self-selection bias in politics: people who love power are attracted to politics. We have progressively granted politicians more power over our lives. In the long run the combination of self-selection bias alongside accelerating power is fatal to a republic.
In terms of interpersonal relations, these books on manipulative behavior have changed my life. But in terms of what they mean for our nation, it is a terminal diagnosis. Historically empires collapse not because the people had a change of heart, but because a greater force such as bankruptcy or defeat in war put an end to it.
I remember well the Vietnam War and the "middle east crisis" as a child. I knew there was something wrong. I mean the feeling I got about the way it was presented day after day on the television. I learned to recognize and label that feeling by reading literature on covert manipulation.
It wasn’t the terrible atrocities and people dying. That was overt and clearly horrific. It was the gut feeling I had that there was something else very wrong I couldn’t quite see. Now that I am older I can see the base motivations underlying our wars in Afghanistan, Iraq, and elsewhere that are posed as humanitarian or self-defense affairs.
But I am amongst a nation now with a far higher percentage of people tolerating egregious behavior. There is less of the constitution left, not more since the 1960’s. The "Never Again" attitude after the Vietnam War has been replaced with "Again and Again" today.
Many amongst what is left of the antiwar movement are most concerned by the abject amorality of the majority of society. But this is exactly what happens to the offspring of amoral parents and an amoral government.
The biggest surprise to me in Dr. Simon’s book was the last chapter in which he spoke to this very thing: how pervasive the symptoms of these destructive personality disorders had become in our society, especially in politics, and the importance of changing the message to our children.
But what the children are getting instead is the slickest death-merchant we have yet seen in our republic, simultaneously winning the Nobel Peace Prize while accelerating the longest war in our history. Obama is the poster boy for covert aggression: war crimes in the name of award-winning humanitarian objectives; announcing a surge at the same time he insists there will be a draw-down.
Obama represents the development of an even more insidious personality disorder in our national character – a more polished version of the same destructive malady. We did not learn from 9/11, we did not learn from Bush’s tragic aggression, and the children most of all learn that the response to increasingly obvious destructive behavior is to become even better at it.