Bait and Switch

Psychopaths are somewhat paradoxical. On the one hand they are known to experts as extremely impulsive, with a seeming inability to plan ahead or to be affected by the threat of future punishments. Their behavior is mainly directed in the service of fulfilling their immediate impulses and whims. However, on the other hand, they can be perfect predators, stalking their kill with the patience and precision of a cougar, waiting for the perfect moment to strike. It’s a marvel to watch the steady, subtle maneuverings of a psychopath climbing his way up the hierarchy of power, influence, and control.

Researchers aren’t exactly sure how to reconcile the two. Perhaps intelligence is a factor that contributes towards the making of a “successful” psychopath who manages to avoid detection, or who operates within the law. For the successful psychopath, a good intellect is a useful tool in fulfilling the impulses that often are the Achilles’ heel of less intelligent psychopaths. And when good intelligence combines with utter ruthlessness in the pursuit of an impulse for power and subjection, disaster results for everyone caught in the maelstrom of the psychopaths influence.

Paul Babiak’s and Robert Hare’s book, Snakes in Suits, contains an entertaining case study of a corporate psychopath manipulating his way to the top. He does this by cultivating a series of relationships with those he feels can be used as stepping stones on his rise to success. He establishes a hierarchy of those he sees as occupying important positions of influence, and those he sees as below him. Babiak and Hare divide these relationships into “pawns, patrons, and patsies.” Those he feels have nothing to offer are treated as worthless, while those with something to offer are conned. By developing relationships with important people, convincing them of his goodness and skills, he shelters himself from the criticisms of those who see through his game. These patrons become patsies as he orchestrates situations geared towards usurping their power.

This cold, calculated behavior is entirely geared towards getting what the psychopath wants, and is definitely at odds with the petty and inept criminal psychopaths who populate our prisons and psychiatric wards. It is these successful psychopaths who can do the most damage to individuals and even entire countries. On the interpersonal level they masterfully gain the influence of men and women in romantic relationships, establishing a strong emotional bond in their partner, who they then use as sources of emotional feeding and exploitation. They entrench themselves in our lives and suck us dry, moving from one victim to the next, in the manner described so well in Sandra L. Brown, M.A.’s book, Women Who Love Psychopaths.

When this dynamic plays out in political organizations, the results are tremendous and catastrophic, as demonstrated by Andrew Lobaczewski in Political Ponerology. Just as a psychopath distorts reality, and demands his partner adopt this distorted perception, psychopaths seeking political power strive to achieve the same ends. They seek to create an environment in which their behavior is not only permitted, but accepted. Lobaczewski calls this process by which psychopaths gain prominence, distorting the minds of their pawns and patrons, ponerization. Not only do they infect groups with their presence, they infect the minds of those under their influence.

One method by which they achieve this is by setting up patsies. On the micro level this can be as simple as convincing a partner that her family and friends are evil, cutting her off from a support base that could otherwise help her. On the macro level, this is achieved by creating or exploiting external or internal enemies. Hitler did it with communists and the Jews, and American leaders have continued this process with the demonization of “traitors” and “terrorists”. By convincing the people that this easily identifiable group is evil and worthy of destruction, psychopaths corrupt the minds of their subjects, forming them into just the kind of bloodthirsty monsters they accuse their enemies of being.

In such an environment, psychopathic thinking becomes widespread. The minds of ordinary people are ponerized towards viewing other humans as less than animals, and the destructive wishes of psychopaths are normalized. In this way, psychopaths exploit our natural tendency to abhor the very behavior they are guilty of. They manage to convince us that it is not them that is to blame, but a convenient scapegoat, the result being a kind of Orwellian doublethink. On the one hand we condemn violent behavior, and on the other we condone it in ourselves, because, “They deserve it.” It is this “bait and switch” operation that is used most often, and most expertly, by psychopathic politicians, not only in their character assassinations of political rivals, but also in their creation of a controlled opposition. The Nazis used it, in their false-flag burning of the Reichstag in 1933, falsely blamed on a communist named Marinus van der Lubbe. Orwell described it, in 1984’s Party-orchestrated “terrorist” bombings, blamed on political dissidents. And it’s up to us to see it when the snakes in suits currently occupying important positions of political influence use the same tricks.