Our Long-Entangled Insurgency: Part Seven

Functional Psychopathy

Psychopathy and Sociopathy are disorders of social connectedness and perception, as well as behavior. Since I have worked in social and psychological arenas for most of my post-combat life, I have met plenty of individuals who would more or less qualify under these diagnostic labels. I always found them as a group to be as diverse as any other human community, as long as you didn’t trust your hopes and dreams to them.

But there is a larger shift in social connectedness and perception in our insurgencies and elites that has nothing to do with “inherent” personality disorders or the psychiatric/psychological establishment. I think of it as a trend where many people become behaviorally more and more indistinguishable from those who meet these diagnostic criteria. This is not because they are somehow becoming people with a personality disorder, but because their larger social relationships have been corrupted, and no longer do what human social relationships evolved to do.

I call this “functional psychopathy” because it doesn’t necessarily affect core social relationships, but affects decision-making that can impact many, many lives.

The core act that represents this functional psychopathy is behavior that exploits people, animals, plants, or things, with no regard for the impact of exploitation on the exploited.

So, the CAS in which we live dynamically produces dispositions that move people that don’t have these disorders to behave as though they do, i.e., functional psychopathy.

“Unmasking Administrative Evil” describes this on a large scale (e.g., the Holocaust, the Poisoning of the Flint Michigan water system.), but I believe this process also impacts a great deal of real granular decision-making out there, and that repeatedly acting a though you are a psychopath in these decisions makes you more likely to choose functional psychopathy as your long-term decision framework. (Didn’t Vonnegut say something like, “We become what we pretend to be”, in Mother Night?)

Some Examples:

  • Professional Associations often develop professional policy and lobbying decisions that would be seen as psychopathic if an individual professional made them.
  • Simply being a political operative in active campaigning reliably produces decisions that would be viewed as psychopathic in most other arenas of personal life (e.g., being willing to make the so-called self-interested “tough” decisions, lying as marketing, bullying and other forms of contempt).
  • Capitalist decision-making without ethics (basically the vast majority of capitalist decision-making today) is clearly psychopathic.
  • Decision-making systems which are euphemistically called “benefits determinations”, almost entirely driven by financial and political criteria. For example, reducing the number of SSI beneficiaries by any means that is politically palatable, are broadly and (apparently) invisibly psychopathic.

Now, most of this will seem pretty ordinary to any adult living in America. But my point is not that such decision-making exists (it always has), but that the ratio of such psychopathic decisions to socially just decisions is increasingly favoring the psychopathic. It is a deep trend of the Macro-CAS.

Also, this process is deeply fractal. It isn’t only big decisions in large social, governmental, or commercial systems that drives this expansion of functional psychopathy (though we tend to focus our advocacy for a return to social justice on these systems). It includes decisions made by individuals, families, and social groups that brand others as not worthy of consideration as living beings, that support the increase. This psychopathic decision-making can and does impact anyone within reach of the decision-maker. It can include family members as well as those people that are clearly viewed as “other”.

The purpose of such decision-making is exploitation. Most actual psychopaths view their decision-making as rational and obvious, and functional psychopathy has internalized this perception as well.

No single victory against some psychopathic disposition (say, the Flint Water catastrophe) will alter this dynamic. And, although there are certainly differences between the impact of this trend on the various insurgencies and elite sub-communities, I don’t see any group or community or identity that is free from the impact of this process (including, for example, the children of our elites). If you have an enemy who you repeatedly demonize, you are participating in this trend.

One result of this functional psychopathic trend is that we are all (and I mean all) becoming more and more parasitic; that is, we view more and more of everyone and everything as a resource to be exploited for our own benefit regardless of what happens to the “resource”. Mostly, this is done without any particular awareness of the consequences. Social media, hate, bullying, and even humor, bureaucratic processes and rules for life and death decisions, all surveillance, any impulsive reaction to fear, and an incredibly wide range of other behaviors, are largely done without thought about the possible unintended consequences of our acts. This process has become a critical driver of the macro-CAS, mediated through the relentless fractal degradation of the belief that we need community.

The only personal and social defense against this trend is social justice inclusion, not as a policy or a rule or another way for us to demonize one another, but as a scaffold for our common decisions about how we wish to live together, and what it really means to commit to our common good.

The Voldemort Index
The Midas Disease

(If you want a sense of where such a trend could eventually take subsystems of our Macro-CAS, read “Murder City: Ciudad Juarez and the Global Economy’s New Killing Fields“.)

Part Seven: A Summary…

Our Long-Entangled Insurgency: Part Six

One of the illusions of thinking that very local actions by opposing insurgencies wash each other out is the underlying assumption that canceling out equals, “we don’t need to consider them anymore”. But even the components of our simple model of the entangled insurgency are not symmetric as this assumption suggests.

We also polarize political movements in our thinking to simplify our judgment of them, largely for short term political or personal gain. We pay no attention to potential long-term effects because they don’t have current meaning for us (see The Long Southern Strategy: How Chasing White Voters in the South Changed American Politics). Thus, by our short-term efforts to defeat some action or organized agenda from some insurgency, or to defend our own political assets, we guarantee the survival of those long-term consequences.

Asymmetries in the Right and Left Insurgencies, and the Asymmetric Competition in our Elites

Our Political, Social, and Financial Elites have managed their own internal conflicts for as long as they have existed. But the CAS that is our Elites now is becoming increasingly brittle. That doesn’t mean that collapse is imminent, but it does mean that their management of the macro-CAS is less effective, and there isn’t any way short of transformation that will alter this trend of degrading control. Presumably there will be more collapses like 2008, because brittle complex adaptive systems will eventually simplify themselves through various degrees and kinds of collapse.

There is also a level of threat to the Elite concept of stability that is growing every day. Groups that are internal to the Elite CAS can effectively negotiate improvement in their own status by threatening the Elite CAS itself with collapse. This has only become clear recently (from the “sort of accidental” economic disaster that was 2008). But the efforts by Elite subcommunities to bolster political and radical insurgencies of various kinds show the first steps in making existential threats a daily part of the ongoing Elite power dynamic (not threats to individual members or small groups that are part of the Elite, but threats to the ability of the Elite CAS to effectively continue its purpose). My guess is that the Elites will make choices to control these threats that will be less than optimal for the rest of us, and will continue to increase the brittleness of the Elite CAS.

Our entangled right and left insurgencies are also driven by an ongoing effort to build asymmetry into the macro-dynamic as a way of negotiating power and status. But the right and left versions do not approach this in the same way. The asymmetry in action reflects real differences in the dynamic of the insurgencies, and these differences also occur in sub-communities of the insurgencies. (The purpose of a CAS is what it does, not what it thinks it does.)

Right Insurgency Asymmetries

The Right drives mobilization by demanding an ideological commitment as a badge of movement and community membership. All right ideologies are organized around some idea of purity/righteousness as the source of community and personal power. Even when mobilization of this insurgency is successful, it is subject to fracture if its ideological basis of the action publicly fails, and the mobilization is more limited because of the sheer, if partly overlapping, diversity of right ideology.

The effect of such an approach is most clearly expressed in the enormous difficulty that the right insurgency has in breaking out of purely short-term tactical actions as their path forward. Trump’s election campaign was a tactical move of this sort, which became accidentally strategic because he won. We are now seeing how such a poorly framed strategy plays out. However, this failure doesn’t dismantle the local organizing and partisan build-up that has been the right insurgency model for the last half-century.

I think the right insurgency will fall back on its strength (organizing locally among the committed and building up from there) to try to preserve the mobilization it has worked so hard to build, or at least defend what it won in the last few years. As the left and elites come to believe that they have taken the oxygen out of the right insurgency’s strategy, they will fall back into the pattern that got the left (and the elites) into their current state of strategic confusion and relative ineffectiveness.

 Exactly the same dynamic happened one generation after the Civil War, when the North came to ignore the South. The KKK, White Citizens’ Councils, and Jim Crow Laws started the South back up the hill in their apparently never-ending effort to control and exploit all who aren’t young white male aristocrats.

Left Insurgency Asymmetries

Left insurgent ideologies are organized around identities and the CAS that is Intersectionality. Such an approach requires continuous negotiation and entanglement of the various sub-communities without any consensus on ideology; the negotiation isn’t aimed at eliminating difference. Ideally, negotiation would create mutual trust and respect.

The left insurgency views the community as the source of power, seen as an ideal community of mutually respectful and mutually supporting members. This mutuality is aspirational, and must be constantly negotiated and renegotiated as each sub-community develops culturally, and uses that deeper understanding to deepen negotiation, until mutual respect and trust is part of the bones of the macro-community.

I believe that this negotiation is fractal, which is to say, going on at every level of social organization all the time, including inside each individual. Although the negotiation has no end, and causes mobilization problems for the left insurgency, it is a remarkably resilient dynamic, and allows the left insurgency to expand its reach regardless of the particulars on the current political, financial, and social situation, the behavior of the other insurgencies in the simple model, or the superficial calculus of power that pervades our media as exemplars of Elite political fashion of the day.

Mutual Interpretation of Others by the Insurgencies

The Elites and the Insurgencies interpret their opponents according to their fundamental assumptions about themselves.

Our Elites continue to use the trope of “let them eat cake”, and generally ignore the insurgencies, as long as their wealth, reputation, and power aren’t notably affected. When they are affected, they do the least they think they can get away with (because doing anything more soaks up resources that could be better spent on enhancing elite wealth, reputation, and power), so as to preserve and defend what they have. They view all of us as incompetent versions of themselves, largely beneath their notice.

The left insurgency interprets the right as driven by a single identity (white supremacy) and as a poor cousin of the Elites. The left views the ideology as no more than a tool to privilege one identity.

The right insurgency interprets the left as a single movement driven by a common ideology (Antifa right now). This “ideology” is no more to the right than an effort to steal the assets and resources of the right insurgency and the Elites.

(Note: It doesn’t matter if these perceptions by any insurgency of others are accurate to any extent. They will fail to support effective decision-making because they are too superficial, and very poor guides to the change choices made by the various insurgencies.)

These interpretations of opponents have the effect of attributing symmetry to the struggle, when that symmetry does not exist. The dynamic of the whole CAS is not these perceived symmetries in motivation, but the actual asymmetries of their interests and the impact that it has on day-to-day decision-making and the evolving dynamic of the macro-CAS.

Part Six: Where has all the empathy gone? Long time passing….

Our Long-Entangled Insurgency: Part Five

Relentless Sabotage

The result of the four dynamic characteristics of the Macro-CAS, the dynamism of the metaphors for the evolving web of meaning, and the simple ongoing reality of insurgency, including insurgency within the centrist elites, is relentless sabotage:

  • Highly granular individual acts, and small group acts, undermine the coherence of the Macro-CAS (which includes the centrist elites and all the insurgencies), and disrupt its ability to reproduce what it has done in the past.
  • These same acts undermine the ability of the Macro-CAS to repair the damage. Instead of repair, the Macro-CAS adapts, as best it can, to recover what it was doing before disruption. This adaptation always leaves some trace of the disruption as the Macro-CAS moves into its future. Over time, this impact accumulates to alter the CAS dynamic.
  • There is no need for an organized larger scale political community representing any of the insurgencies and sub-insurgencies to keep things changing. Such communities will come and go. The real index of the long-term impact of insurgencies is whether there is an increase in the disruptive habits of individuals who are willing to sabotage the centrist elite system and the various insurgency systems and subsystems. Violence and similar acts come and go, but the drive to sabotage expands incrementally at a low level of granularity, and more or less irreversibly.
  • Sabotage becomes a habit, almost automatic, as experience and the expansion of meaning (beliefs, principles, sheer habitual actions becoming more and more automatic, etc.) associated with that sabotage experience, becomes more and more a part of the daily life of the individual, and an influence on others who might be temporarily socially synchronized (i.e., part of some community).
  • Sabotage reflects its immediate motivation and isn’t necessarily positive or negative. Rather, all sabotage is an attempt to perturb the system or insurgency of focus and cause some change in it.

It would be a fair statement that most people in our society practice sabotage daily in their respective communities. This reality is ignored because of the belief that such small acts wash out their impact on the Macro-CAS quickly.

I believe that the relentless nature of the sabotage, however futile each act’s immediate consequences might seem to be, has an impact on the long-term disposition of the Macro-CAS and its future states.

Part One
Part Two
Part Three
Part Four

Part Six: How do the insurgencies relate to one another in their relentless sabotage?

Part Four: The Macro-CAS as a Turbulent Web of Meaning

The idea of a web of meaning as a more realistic vision of how a CAS evolves has been gaining depth beyond the obvious metaphor for a number of years.  A web of meaning is more like a field in which novel possibilities arise than, for example, some deductive rules-based model or an ideological approach to understanding a CAS.

Here the word field isn’t used in any scientific way. Rather, a field of meaning is one where unseen interaction produces novelty and disruption as a normal part of its dynamic. You can think of novelty as a variation that pops up, maybe disappears (like virtual particles), or may dynamically impact the ongoing evolution of the field.

In addition to the metaphor of a field, the flow of a river gives some insight into the evolution of a web of meaning.

As anyone who has watched a river in spring knows, the apparent chaos of the river’s flow is deceptive. The turbulence seems unknowable at first glance, but there are rough patterns for eddies and other forms of turbulence. In fact, people who embrace the extreme sports of travel in river turbulence become adept at navigating the apparent chaos. (There are lessons from the development of rough water expertise for our efforts to change that I leave for a later post.) If we think of meaning as illustrating the dynamic flow in a CAS, the patterns of meaning in the turbulence take on changing possibilities and changing roles in the understanding of our Macro-CAS of sabotage.

Turbulence in a river represents the large-scale correlation of water molecules acting as roughly coherent, if temporary, flows. The turbulence is not made up of static parts, obviously. But we often treat it as though it is when we talk about it. The same is true of the insurgent turbulence.  Simple conversation can ignore the reality of flow, but if we persist in “objectifying” turbulence for conversational convenience, we will make many bad choices in trying to alter the flow of the insurgency CAS.

The point of this post is really to get us to see the need for engaging those flows, to develop in our systems change efforts the intuitions and skills that are second nature to rough water sports enthusiasts in their engagement with turbulence. The context of the further posts in this series is this understanding of turbulence and our need to engage it if we wish to have some say over the direction of the evolving Macro-CAS.

Part One
Part Two
Part Three