Mike the Mad Biologist

Confusing Brains with Sociopathy

Sometimes in blogging timing is everything. I had this post about Karl Rove all ready to go, and then he goes and resigns on me. Oh well. Anyway, this is a response to an excellent post by Maha about Karl Rove’s vaunted political acumen not being so, erm, acumeney. Maha writes:

Another factor: I’ve thought many times that the Bush White House has a weird inability to respond to unexpected events. Whenever something happens that was not on the schedule — like 9/11 or the tsunami or Hurricane Katrina or Dick Cheney’s hunting “accident” — they are flummoxed. Often they are slow to recognize the significance of an event until after everyone else on the planet has recognized it first. They are so focused on their pre-planned agenda they can’t see anything else.

Rove’s ‘genius’, such as it was, was not tactical. He had two things going for him: Ken Mehlman, who brought modern microniche advertising into politics, and his own ability to do anything without any sense of shame or guilt. Slime McCain’s adopted Bangladeshi daughter as McCain’s illegitimate black child in South Carolina? No problem. Use the 3,000 dead from the Sept. 11th attacks as political props? No problem.

If I decide to get rich by walking down the streets of a wealthy neighborhood, punching people in the head, and taking their stuff, that’s not a brilliant plan. But it’s highly effective if no one stops me (or even just crosses to the other side of the street). Most sociopaths aren’t successful at life; there’s a reason why our jails have 5-20 times the rate of people diagnosed with antisocial personality disorder as the public at large*. The smart ones, however, can do a lot of damage because they are willing to do things no one else would do. Ultimately, they are only stopped by opposing them–something the Democrats still haven’t figured out how to do on a consistent basis.

Sociopathic behavior** is not genius.

*This estimate is from Martha Stout’s The Sociopath Next Door. The variance exists because the estimates of antisocial personality disorder of the general population in the U.S. vary between one to four percent. The prisoner population is roughly twenty percent. Also, some antisocial personality disorder patients may have been misdiagnosed narcissicists.

**I have no idea whether Rove is an actual sociopath. In his professional life, however, he certainly behaves as one.

Update: Amanda thinks so too.

Comments

  1. #1 Joshua
    August 13, 2007

    Wow, Mike. I was going to say exactly the same thing. Rove’s “genius”, such as it was, was simply the realisation that the Democrats were too gutless to call him on any of the heinous crap he tried to pull.

    Hopefully, this will finally drive home the point that the Democrats’ 2006 strategy of running left — i.e., supporting a bunch of things that the majority of Americans support despite the fact that the pundits think they’re “extremist” — actually worked. Rove’s Math was completely wrong about everything, and the only reason Bush won in 2000 and 2004 was that they didn’t actually stand up to it.

    Of course, they won’t learn that lesson, and we’ll be back to Clinton-style triangulation in no time. And it will fail, just like it did in 2000 and 2004.

  2. #2 sarik
    August 13, 2007

    Good post.
    And I like your analogy.

    I’m going to refer this page to all the trolls extolling Rove’s “genius.”

  3. #3 Gerry L
    August 14, 2007

    I’ve often opined that their “genius” is in taking an unexpected event and calculating how they or their friends can profit from it.
    –9/11 shocks the nation? Push through the so-called Patriot Act to gather power for the Exec branch.
    –Katrina destroys New Orleans and environs? Hand out no-bid contracts to your buddies.
    –You can think of some others.

    Some people subscribe to conspiracy theories about how the Bush Admin controlled events (e.g., 9/11 conspiracy, ignored Katrina warnings). I think the poster cited above had it right. They are easily caught off guard. But they have a talent for surveying the situation and turning it to their advantage.

  4. #4 Jonathan Vos Post
    August 14, 2007

    I’ve worked for a sociopath manager, two sociopath Hollywood producers, two sociopath department chairmen, and a sociopath dean.

    Most people are terrified of opposing the sociopath. I do, on principle, and get fired. But so many people come up to me and thank me for being courageous and doing what they wished they’d done.

    It’s cost me roughly $2,500,000 in lost salary. Too expensive for the ordinary person without heroic propensity and/or delusions of martyrdom.

    But I certainly recognized the Rove methodology from the very start.

    Two ways to lead: love, and fear. In the short run, fear works best. Hate to say it, but Machiavelli did a rather deeper analysis. And Metternich. And Kissinger. And Rove’s hero: Mark Hanna. And, for that matter, the Harry Potter novels!

  5. #5 Andrew Dodds
    August 15, 2007

    There used to be a maxim in politics that if you were caught doing something dodgey (making up lies to go to war, losing a major city through neglect, ignoring terrorist threats, etc), you were compelled by honour to resign, or at least sacrifice someone major.

    However, it appears that both New labour in the UK, and the Bush admin in the US have worked out that you can get away with practically anything if you just carry on as if you did nothing wrong and the opposition is sufficiently supine. Here in the UK we have had a serious democratic deficit as a result of an obstensibly left-wing party implementing a lot of what I would call right-wing policies (Iraq war, ID cards, etc), giving us no effective opposition. In the 2005 election we had the situation in which both major parties agreed on large areas of policy.

    Of course, a government that simply ignores press/political events that it dosen’t like is going to get caught by physical events, such as 9/11 or Katrina.

    The scary thing (conspiricy theory ground?) is that both the Republicans in the US and Labour in the UK have large policy areas where they are out of step with the amjority of the population (Health care, economics, wars, freedom, energy, envoronment..) and yet the opposition refuses to get even remotely aggressive in these areas. Scary.

  6. #6 Stock photos
    August 17, 2007

    Most sociopaths aren’t successful at life; there’s a reason why our jails have 5-20 times the rate of people diagnosed with antisocial personality disorder as the public at large*. The smart ones, however, can do a lot of damage because they are willing to do things no one else would do. Ultimately, they are only stopped by opposing them–something the Democrats still haven’t figured out how to do on a consistent basis.

  7. #7 linen
    November 29, 2007

    I don’t call people that do anything unethical or morally wrong ‘genius.’ It’s easy to make money out of swinging and dealing other people out of something ? or taking advantage of a hole in the system. Ethics are ethics, morals are morals, regardless of the law.
    Unfortunately, there are many rich people out there who are just as bad as the people who punch people and take their stuff. They just do it in ways that they can’t be caught. How is that any different? Genius? No. Just clever. Genius is when someone comes up with a new product, or new business idea, or something cool. Or when they’re Einstein.

  8. #8 portrait oil paintings
    February 20, 2008

    I didnít know that some peopleís idiocracy and ill manners can be hidden through this very polite word. Whoever coined this term must be very sad right now because itís never used according to its truest essence.

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