Tuesday, September 17, 2013

The Sociopath In Charge

From time to time I find myself wondering if Barack Obama is a sociopath.

The topic of sociopathic personalities has come up before in my life.  Someone I've discussed it with at length provided wise counsel: detecting and labeling someone as a sociopath is almost impossible.  It is much more likely that the target of the assessment has some sociopathic qualities but is actually just a broken, imperfect human being like all of the rest of us.



Let's set aside the specific personality, and ask the question another direction: What if the President of the United States... a single person in charge of the largest economy, most powerful military, and most impactful political organization in the world... what if the person that we the people elected to that position... was a sociopath?

Time for a definition:

My simple understanding of sociopath is a person who can lie without compunction, without pause for feelings of guilt for his actions or sympathy for the individuals harmed.

Such a situation, a sociopath as president, would be nothing short of a nightmare.  The ability to launch wars.  The ability to write executive orders.  The ability to arbitrarily enforce or not enforce any laws.  The ability to affect economic markets.  The ability to shut down transportation, regulate commerce, seize assets, nationalize industries.  The ability to redirect or shut down funding.  The ability to confuse our foreign policy, abandon our allies, support our enemies.  The ability to oppress any number of people or organizations, inside or outside of the country, using any of the various arms and powers of the federal government.

Such a person could almost do anything they wished.  Not an attractive situation.  And something that might be helpful to work out.  So...

First Question:
How would we know if the president was a sociopath?

Per the advice I've received before: most likely we will not be able to know.  But we will be able to detect the lies, if we maintain a mindful watch.  As suspicions build, challenge the lies.  Poke at and question the things that simply don't make sense.  If the answers are regularly insufficient to resolve the concerns... well, it doesn't matter if the person is or isn't a sociopath.  It's not possible to live a stable life on our own terms if someone with great influence on our lives is regularly lying to us.

Second Question:
What would we do if the President of the United States was a sociopath who would lie without compunction and implement policies without any concern to the moral implications or imposition caused?

If we suspect a sociopath in our lives, the best thing to do is to exit them from our lives.  It is not necessary to be dramatic.  There is no need for an energetic confrontation.  We should feel no need to prove to them or anyone else that we are correct.  In fact, consider that if the person is a sociopath, they will be capable of a response that we would not likely predict or anticipate, leaving us very vulnerable if we ratchet up the emotions.

Calmly, simply, patiently reduce their influence in your life.

That path will be made very difficult if your life is dependent on the suspected individual.  If the sociopath is your boss... you might need to secure a new source of income.  If the sociopath is your parent... challenging.  If the sociopath is the President of the United States...

...you're going to want to make sure you're living a life as independent as possible from the federal government.  You're going to want to ensure your rights to form a local and state government according to your needs is independent from possible interference by the federal government.  You're going to want to make sure your local economy and government can operate effectively if federal funds are removed.  You're going to want to make sure you are able to maintain your own life without federal funds or favorable programs.  You're going to want to ensure that your right to organize and fund a political opposition are not restrained by the federal bureaucracy.

Social Security.  Medicare.  Medicaid.  Food Stamps.  Education funding.  FEC regulations, IRS designations.  Healthcare laws.  Federally insured mortgages.  Targeted tax deductions.

Are we independent enough to respond to and protect ourselves from the possibility of a sociopath in charge?


Andrew Ferguson said...

The definition you initially cite does not include anything about "a person who can lie without compunction," which I find troubling because it sets up an invalid argument.

Thus, I would propose using something such the Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorder (version 4) or the International Statistical Classification of Diseases and Related Health Problems (version 10). Both have stated that their diagnosis has also been known as psychopathy or sociopathy, but now call it antisocial personality disorder.

In particular, using a source such as the DSM-IV has the benefit of providing more quantifiable answers.

DSM-IV defines antisocial personality disorder as:
A) There is a pervasive pattern of disregard for and violation of the rights of others occurring since age 15 years, as indicated by three or more of the following:
1. failure to conform to social norms with respect to lawful behaviors as indicated by repeatedly performing acts that are grounds for arrest;
2. deception, as indicated by repeatedly lying, use of aliases, or conning others for personal profit or pleasure;
3. impulsivity or failure to plan ahead;
4. irritability and aggressiveness, as indicated by repeated physical fights or assaults;
5. reckless disregard for safety of self or others;
6. consistent irresponsibility, as indicated by repeated failure to sustain consistent work behavior or honor financial obligations;
7. lack of remorse, as indicated by being indifferent to or rationalizing having hurt, mistreated, or stolen from another;
B) The individual is at least age 18 years.
C) There is evidence of conduct disorder with onset before age 15 years.
D) The occurrence of antisocial behavior is not exclusively during the course of schizophrenia or a manic episode.

Regardless, you still probably reach the same conclusion.
See also: http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Antisocial_personality_disorder

showmestater said...

Andrew: The definition you've provided seems to support my colloquial understanding of what a sociopath is... in particular (A.2) "Deceptions, as indicated by repeated lying..."

...but I believe focusing on the semantics of the definition misses the larger point of the piece, which is:

"What would we do if a chronic liar (possibly a sociopath) were to gain the lofty position of POTUS?"

Andrew Ferguson said...

Yes, the larger point of the piece definitely needs to be addressed.

The challenge I've found with arguing colloquially is that semantics often trip up both sides because they begin to debate from a place with no common understanding (e.g. "Darmok and Jalad... at Tanagra").

In my opinion, having a common and agreed upon starting point gives a solid foundation to have such a debate as: "What would we do if POTUS was a sociopath?"

I think you've found what I would argue to be the best solution, "Calmly, simply, patiently reduce their influence in your life."

I would also add, "...and hold them accountable for their actions when possible."

Unfortunately, POTUS (et al) seems to be a defacto untouchable because we, as a country, have forgotten that oaths of office are not to upload a particular office or person, but -- as codified in 5 U.S. Code § 3331 ("Oath of office") -- to uphold the Constitution:

"I do solemnly swear (or affirm) that I will support and defend the Constitution of the United States against all enemies, foreign and domestic; that I will bear true faith and allegiance to the same; that I take this obligation freely, without any mental reservation or purpose of evasion; and that I will well and faithfully discharge the duties of the office on which I am about to enter. So help me God."

This begs the questions: What is the definition of a domestic enemy? Is a sociopathic POTUS an enemy of the state simply because he is a sociopath?