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Recovering backpacker, Cornwallite at heart, political enthusiast, catalyst, writer, husband, father, community volunteer, unabashedly proud Canadian. Every hyperlink connects to something related directly or thematically to that which is highlighted.

Saturday 22 June 2013

When Sociopaths Rule The World

In 2007, Neil Shah volunteered on the re-election campaign of the local MPP for Stormont, Dundas and South Glengarry.  That MPP was my boss Jim Brownell, one of the people I respect most in this world.  I'd known Neil since he was a kid, but as I'd been largely out of town for years so looked forward to seeing what kind of man he'd grown to become.
It was on the hustings that we had a chance to reconnect.  We talked about provincial politics, about Jim's accomplishments, about what makes a good politician and about how the system tends not to favour people like Jim that actually do put their communities first. 
Neil was a natural canvasser.  He knew just the right way to position himself in speaking at the door and had spent time building social capital throughout the community.  As we went about and I watched him work his magic, Neil told me about his own political ambitions, about that special gift he felt he had that meant it was almost a destiny thing for him to become a politician.
As he spooled his yarn (always in a calm, endearing voice) I recognized an all-too-familiar personality profile; the focus was always on him and his gifts and abilities, what he could do for others rather than on ideas, issues or perhaps even the people he would perhaps one day represent.

Sociopath!  I said to myself.  He'll probably do really well for himself.

I have worked in politics for a fair chunk of time; I've also dabbled in the Private Sector and with Entrepreneurs.  I've had the good fortune to work for a lot of amazing, highly-motivated, pro-social people who are unquestionably where they are because they care.  At the same time, I've worked with a lot of "typical politicians" and "typical capitalists" that care nothing about votes or profit and view people as little dots, as lesser thans - never as equals.
The kind who say (and believe) things like "we're smart, they're dumb" in relation to opponents, stakeholders, even team members or supporters.  The folk that really believe the ends justify the means and can find any excuse to justify moral lapses; the people have short memories, they don't care about process anyway, etc.  There's always another scheme that can keep them at the top of the heap, they just need to be clever enough.
Think about that for a second. 
Then think about how politics-as-usual operates.  People throw around terms like "values" and "ethics" while breaking their own, regularly; they speak of working together at the exact same time as they strain to tear down their opponents.  The electoral cycle has become about winning, not accomplishing.  One partisan side can single out the other and say "if we were in power, it would be different" but that isn't the case, is it?  Look at any level of government, any Party and you'll see a repetitive, cynical cycle. 
And you know what?  It works.  Attack ads work; bait-and-switch works.  That's why people use these tricks of the trade, because they are proven to function. 
The problem is this anti-social, sociopathic approach is like crack; it'll work for a short time but has negative long-term repercussions.  The harder you polarize, the worse become the results for society and the shorter becomes your life cycle.
But trying to convince a sociopath that they are digging their own grave is about as effective as telling an in-denial addict that they have a problem; they don't by it.  They feel that they are in complete control of themselves and that, as they are smarter, or tougher, or more ruthless than the other guy, they just need to stall long enough to come up with another trick and things will continue as per the usual.  Shah will be apologetic just as Chris Mazza expressed grief over the failings of his own noble mission.  Don't buy it.
This is why I tend not to trust the delusional, hyper-confident who never admit to mistakes, nor those those who speak of "their gifts" as though they stand above others.  After all, there's a diagnosis for that.
We have a couple of them out there right now, with lots of others ready and willing to do the hard work on our behalf.  The thing is, it's the sociopaths we tend to place our faith in; after all, manipulating others is what they are good at.  However, we can come to understand the secret behind marketing tricks; like loud volume and dry snacks in a bar, "which wine do you want with that" type service or "only we can protect you from troubles lapping at our shores" political messaging.
The trick is being conscious of this.

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