The Sociopathic 1 Percent: The Driving Force at the Heart of the Tea Party
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“The sociological imagination Mills calls for is a sociological vision, a way of looking at the world that can see links between the apparently private problems of the individual and important social issues.” – Oxford University Press
“I always said that if I wasn’t studying psychopaths in prison, I’d do it at the stock exchange.” – Robert Hare, creator of the Hare Psychopathy Checklist and its variants, the most widely used diagnostic tools for psychopathic personalities.
In 1998 the International Sociological Association listed radical sociologist C. Wright Mills’ book “The Sociological Imagination” as the second most important sociological book of the 20th century. As is only natural with such an influential work, there are differing interpretations of what’s meant by sociological imagination, but all involve some relationship between individuals and society. Lately, however, we’ve been exposed to a completely opposite sort of imagination, one that sees only individuals in isolation, and seems incapable of grasping even the most basic of social facts connecting them with each other. Call it “the sociopathic imagination,” because sociopaths are defined by their lack of empathy, conscience or any form of intuitive social awareness.
We’ve seen this most strikingly in a recent wave of attention to some bizarre thinking of the 1 percent. It was sparked by billionaire investor Tom Perkins, with his letter to the editor of The Wall Street Journal, in which he compared public criticism of the “one percent” to Nazi attacks on the Jews, and suggested we were on the road to another Kristallnacht, which was reinforced by the remarks of others, such as billionaire real estate investor Sam Zell, who supported him.
As Paul Krugman correctly noted, “Mr. Perkins isn’t that much of an outlier” among the 1 percent. Krugman scored them for their “paranoia” and “megalomania,” both of which are obviously present to some degree, but it was one of their own who zeroed in much closer to the mark. Venture capitalist Nick Hanauer — who has advocated a $15 minimum wage and for raising taxes on people like him “ to reward the true job creators,” ordinary middle-class consumers — rightly called them sociopaths when he recently appeared on “All In with Chris Hayes.”
“These are the people who did not go to their kid’s soccer games. These are borderline sociopathic people and they don’t care about other people,” Hanauer said, to which Hayes responded, “I don’t want to diagnose anyone from afar, I just want to stipulate.” That’s an honorable, well-meaning liberal sentiment. But it’s a bit misplaced, particularly since it meant a missed opportunity for deeper understanding. The point isn’t to stigmatize any one particular individual, but to identify and arm ourselves against a pervasive, corrosive mindset. It’s a mindset devoid of empathy or conscience, for whom other people simply are not real, a mindset that has gripped us collectively, ever more tightly, over the past 30 to 40 years, regardless of how much mayhem it creates, as the richest 1 percent has roughly tripled its share of income, while the rest of us, collectively, have seen our incomes stagnate, despite rising productivity, year after year after year.
Remember Margaret Thatcher’s remark, “There is no such thing as society, only individuals”? That’s the sociopathic mindset in a nutshell. Of course, Thatcher added, “and their families,” an obligatory conservative feel-good trope. But as Hanauer told Chris Hayes, “These are the people who did not go to their kid’s soccer games.” In short, Thatcher was lying when she tacked on “families.” Sociopaths are like that — they lie a lot.