Monday, July 29, 2013

Name Calling: Republican Sociopaths? Democratic Narcissists?

The following examples of "political discourse" in the United States are troubling and offensive to someone like me who works with individuals facing neuro-psychological challenges.
The Conservative March Toward a Society of Sociopaths 
...Stan is a sociopath.

He's a white male, strongly opposed to most other races and immigrants. Believes every single far right-wing economic theory imaginable and actually cited Argentina as a "beacon for true capitalism." He has no remorse for others, seems to live in a world where he's the focal point but he presents himself as extremely charming and personable when you first meet him. He has no problem ignoring social ethics or morals if it benefits his self interest. He's told my friend that people should only worry about themselves, and not care about the struggles of others. That in life, self interests should trump everything else.

Then, and I kid you not, he apparently followed his "only worry about your own self interest" speech by pressing my friend on why he's not more involved in church.

See, Stan is exactly the kind of person Republicans want to create.
No, Stan is not a sociopath. First, you shouldn't make a medical diagnosis based on such a shallow, second-hand review of traits. Second, a sociopath lacks the ability to form moral judgments. A sociopath not only doesn't care about what others consider right and wrong, the sociopath often cannot accurately analyze what is right in a cultural context. More importantly, the sociopath doesn't care. He or she doesn't care if a community considers his or her choices "wrong" or "sinful" or "evil." To the sociopath, the only ethical system that matters is internalized: my system is the only system that applies to my life.

I've never met a religious sociopath, because that means adhering to an external system. And yes, I have met sociopaths while working with individuals with mental health issues. They are cold, calculating, intelligent, and scary.

Confessions of a Sociopath
Posted May 19, 2013
Of course, the left and right describe "the other" as mentally disturbed using diagnostic terminology. This supposedly adds credibility to their arguments by making dislike of other views logical and defensible. Of course we don't want to agree with mentally ill people!

Sociopaths don't (usually) volunteer at charities, yet we know religious conservatives do give higher percentages of their wealth and income to charity. We also know that many religious conservatives have an emotional, measurable, response to issues like abortion. In fact, psychologists have found that conservatives have deeply ingrained ideals of fairness and rigid moral systems. That's not sociopathy, not even close.

Since I'm not religious, I cannot understand such adherence to doctrine, but I can observe it across many faiths. A sociopath would reject such controls on his or her impulses.

From the conservative side, we get this misuse of narcissism:
The Narcissistic Style in Liberal Politics 
August 2, 2012 
Those immersed in the narcissistic institutions of the left would be expected to have difficulty appreciating points of view that differ from their own, or that challenge their ingrained sense of superiority. And, if they become politically active, they would have difficulty recognizing any moral limits on their tactics because they are, in their own minds, intellectually and morally superior to their opponents. The battle cry of the pampered campus radicals of the 1960s — "by any means necessary" -- echoes through the left's institutions today.

If our analysis is correct, then there is no need to look for deep psychological processes such as paranoid projection in order to understand the left's distorted view of grassroots conservatism; the left's accusations would be rooted more in their culture of narcissism than in paranoia. After all, paranoid individuals believe their delusions; narcissists just lie in order to get their way.
Seriously? I don't care if you have "Ph.D" (in psychology, nonetheless) after your name, you don't get to apply mental health diagnoses to entire groups or to political ideologies. That is the worst form of rhetorical appeal, an appeal to pathos and fear. Really, a psychologist should know better.

Narcissism is not merely wanting attention or feeling entitled to something. A true narcissist is as dangerous as a sociopath. A narcissist blames others for his or her failings. A narcissist might seek revenge for perceived slights, feeling entitled to justice and a restoration of order.

Narcissism and sociopathy are neurological conditions. We can study brain scans and see the differences in neural activity among these groups. That's what makes invoking mental health terms such a powerful (and dangerous) rhetorical move. Calling the other side "sick" is rather extreme. And it makes hating them, fearing them, easier.

We should argue political, economic, and social theory, not that our opponents are mentally ill.
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