Last modified: 7:58 AM Saturday, 14 January 2017

‘Trickle-down’ evil?

It’s impossible to look at this picture and fail to be struck by the expression on the soldier’s face.

Callous soldier and victim

Callous soldier with victim: Why is this man smiling?
[ Image Source ]

When a psychologically healthy person feels that he must kill, he does. But empathy will not make it easy for him, nor conscience soon forgive, for such a person can imagine himself in the place of any other person; this forbids callousness, and makes us human rather than automaton.

However, empathy seems no longer in fashion. A new ethos, emanating from a small but immensely influential minority, slowly seeps down through the strata into which that minority has shaped us over time: the ethos of the psychopath.

To our despair, psychopaths cannot learn to feel empathy; to them, people are simply objects, no more sentient and no more entitled to compassion than is a bullet or a bayonet. This isn’t, strictly, their fault: It is an inherited defect characterized by organic flaws in a brain structure called the uncinate fasciculus.

This defect — perhaps unfortunately — precludes empathy but does not impair intellectual functioning; only moral intelligence is missing. The more functional of these people can tell you, if they wish, exactly what the consequences of their actions are likely to be. But they can’t feel those consequences; they are mere abstractions, and fail to move them against the promptings of reward-seeking of various kinds.

I say “unfortunately” because the most dangerous psychopaths — sharing the central assumption that empathy is weakness — tend to join together despite their fundamentally antisocial character and promote their thinking as justified by any of countless corrupt creeds. Lacking the restraints of conscience, they are very effective in gaining control, over time, of the apparatus of government, industry, finance, media and all of the other institutions that govern our lives.

In my country and many others, alert observers think that this has already happened.

Worse, we can’t teach psychopaths empathy, but they can teach us calumny, corruption and callous contempt — and do. Using the principles of public relations, as derived by Edward Bernays from the psychological precepts explored by his uncle, Sigmund Freud, advertisers both commercial and ideological feed us, all day and every day, the poisoned platitudes of a consumer culture that becomes a moral anesthetic and numbs us against the pinpricks of outraged conscience.

With this tainted tutelage is mingled its foundational thesis: that each of us need merely attend to his own needs and desires, and everyone else can go to hell. The trouble is, this is precisely how hell comes to be. One need only look at the soldier’s face, as he holds his trophy for the camera, to see this. And today, most of the people of the world need fear no afterlife, for what hell they will experience is the stuff of their daily existence.

Time to stop the pathocrats is not unlimited. We should not seek to punish them for their crimes, as tempting as such a prospect may be. But we must call upon every source of aid we can find, even some that may be distasteful, to identify them and prise their fingers from the levers of power.

Originally published as a review of an article on the moral decay of the U.S..

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