Thursday, March 4, 2010

Politicians and female sociopaths

Under the heading, "Is your favorite politician a sociopath?" at the Huffington Post:
What do John Edwards, Bob Barr, Rod Blagjevich, John Ensign, Eliot Spitzer, Mark Sanford, William Jefferson, William Jefferson Clinton, David Vitter, James McGreevy, Tom DeLay, Charles Rangel, Newt Gingrich, and David Paterson have in common?

Obviously, they're all politicians who've been caught doing something illegal, unethical, mind-bogglingly self-destructive, or all of the above.

But what also binds them is that none of them seem to believe they really did anything wrong, in spite of vast evidence to the contrary. When they finally have no option but to appear contrite, their apologies feel stilted, scripted and anything but heartfelt.

* * *

These are men (and yes, they're all men) who've operated all their lives in a world that rewards them more for their acting abilities than for who they really are.
What Patterson, Edward and these other pols are missing, at the most basic level, is an inner life: the capacity for introspection and self-awareness, or any reliable connection to a deeply held set of values.

The consequence is that they feel no impulse to take responsibility for the consequences of their behaviors.

In Jim Collin's terrific book Good to Great, he concludes that great leaders are characterized by a paradoxical blend of fierce resolve and great humility. The politicians who've failed us most egregiously have no shortage of fierce resolve. What they're lacking is any authentic humility: the capacity to recognize and own their shortcomings alongside their strengths.
I have a few reactions to this. First, regarding these people all being men: sociopathic traits seem to be equated with masculinity, for whatever reason. Maybe it is the desire for power? Or the ruthlessness? Whatever it is, sociopathic traits are valued more in men than women. Consequently, these traits would not benefit women as much as men and we wouldn't expect female sociopaths to succeed as much as male sociopaths. We trust men who seem confident, we don't trust women who seem confident because we feel like their confidence is probably a front: either they have something to hide (incompetence), they're just a selfish power hungry bitch, a narcissist, or they are likely out of touch. Otherwise they would realize that issues are a lot more complicated than they make it seem, so go back to your cooking and ironing, this is men's work -- that's the way confident women are often seen. But a power hungry man seems like a man with a plan -- a leader. A power hungry woman seems like someone with a bone to pick, or a personal vendetta.

Not surprisingly, female sociopaths seem most visible/influential in the sex/seduction context. Society welcomes a display of female power in the seduction context. It's kinky. Historically, the women who appear on most people's suspected sociopath list tend to be those whose sociopathic traits have been effective in seduction. Even cleopatra and other historic female leaders seem to be primarily remembered and admired for their skills of seduction and diplomacy, rather than their skill at successfully managing the domestic affairs of their nations -- i.e., exercising dominion over not just one smitten man, but over hordes of (emasculated?) men. It was great for Egypt's foreign policy that Cleopatra could bed all of Rome's leading men, but my impression is that her country seemed to have been running just fine before they showed up.

Second, it would not surprise me at all to hear that sociopaths make good politicians. I would expect them to be good at a number of things, actually. I would expect the number of sociopaths in the public eye to be at least as high proportionally as the number of sociopaths in the general public. Despite our low-achiever reputation due to high percentages in the prison population, our different way of looking at the world, charm, self-assuredness, and eye for exploitation opportunities would likely lead to success in any number of fields (am I looking at you, Bill Gates?). Plus politics is basically all about power. Why do you think anyone enters the game? There seems to be no money in it (if you're honest), or at least much less money than these people could get in the private sector. But I do think it makes people uncomfortable to think that the only people running their nations are so power hungry they would do anything to rule over others. There does seem to be a certain latent conflict of interest there...


  1. Berlusconi, anyone?

  2. Ronald McDonald is a sociopath.

  3. I think you're assuming that Sociopathic traits look the same in Males and Females. Male Sociopaths take on the persona of power, the cult of personality that suits their advancement. I'm not sure these traits are intrinsic to the category of sociopathy, but part of the means to the end of conquest, dominance and thrill seeking - what I consider more fundamental drivers.

    So, female sociopaths aren't required- nor do they usually- come out of the gait charging leaving behind a dust of masculine energy.

    Sociopath's are successful when they learn to optimize the one trait that sets them far apart from Narcissists: being able to identify and 'become' the ideal object for their target. N have a rigid false self that they hold and value over their true self and they fail when they can't adapt. They also need to be admired and loved, and in many N that is the main driver for their quest of power. (sidenote: I would say half of the above politicians are N not S for that reason. Sociopath's need more flexibility to play their game, so they're more likely to team up with a N and control them: Bush/Cheney, Bill C/Hillary. And they don't need to be the in the spotlight, they just want to a general rule) So the women you see that have a blinding and aggressive self importance are probably not Sociopaths. More likely the female sociopath is the woman in the corner of the party surveying the crowd and then engaging with whoever has what she wants by using her audience's perfect ideal of femininity or humanity as her mask. She could be sexy, intelligent, helpless, confident, modest, demure or any trait that is, at that moment, valued. Just like a man, she wants everyone unguarded and not threatened. She'll leave having gained admirers (and maybe a few lifted wallets). Men do this as well, but there is more of a consistent ideal that society holds of them, an easily discernible pattern to quickly fall into and perhaps identify from the outside.

    Female sociopathic 'traits' are as changing, shifting and scattered as the forever redefining female ideal.

  4. lol @ 6:48-i also agree with sarah. this is a good post.

    i think sociopath is just a label, because so called "non sociopaths" or "normals" are just as capable of brutality, evil, and every imaginable act that these politicians have been accused of. i think mankind is inheritably wicked, and struggles with goodness or moral codes rather than the other way around.

  5. i think sociopath is just a label

    I wish I agreed... i wish it was a fucking label, i would rip it off.... but its not.

  6. Justabadpenny, when you say you are a bad person, you really mean it, right? Are you saying, I am a bad person, and I know this because I am a self aware person. Separate from this... and it's quite ok because that is how I was made.

    So when someone says oh you are not really bad, and I can "help" or can change you, you does it anger you in a way? Because one, you are not being listened to, and two, the person appears to be acting like there is a right way (which is not your natural way) and he/whoever will show you how... the person appears arrogant and attempting to impose his will/view.

    I don't know if that makes any sense.

  7. Actually I think you said not a good person, as opposed to a bad person and I'm not sure if that is the same thing.

  8. Actually I think you said not a good person, as opposed to a bad person and I'm not sure if that is the same thing.

    It's not. One can be neither good nor bad, and realistically that is the case for everyone, sociopath or not. We simply exist, and the type of existence lead is for the most part a result of the social rules and constructs of the particular society we live in.

    There are just too many variable social customs to conclude on any universal "good/bad." Also, didn't M.E. already cover moral-nihilism prior to this?

  9. I said I am not good, and yes I mean that. However that doesn't mean I am bad... But I can be.
    I spent a good portion of my life inflicting massive emotional damage and have spilt a pretty decent amount of blood... Spent almost ten years in prison where I did a fair amount of damage. Haven't had what I would call a violent episode in 5 years plus...

    Yes I hate when people tell me I am ok... Cause it takes away what it takes from me to just live civily.. It also implys that .... I will write about it

  10. They also need to be admired and loved, and in many N that is the main driver for their quest of power.

    So true.

  11. well isn't being a sociopath a prerequisite for being a politician? At least one that has 'staying' power.

    On the difference between male & female socios from what I've observed (I do know two female socios) both are somewhat different in their approach. One is Asian and I think the social confines she was brought up in did affect her behavior. The other is from an upper middle class family. The Asian is quite good at observation and uses it to her advantage. Her main 'victim' is very empathetic and he almost gladly falls into the role of being exploited. The other is not so wise, she tends to alienate anyone and everyone fairly quickly and she doesn't have any particular person she has been using over any period of time. Neither can hold down a job for any length of time. Neither has any really close female friends. I've not considered exactly what it is but both have a way about them that is 'odd' what it is I don't know and I'll have to give this some thought.


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