Volatility

March 9, 2011

Corporations Are Sociopaths

Filed under: Corporatism, Law, Reformism Can't Work — Russ @ 9:11 am

 

Sociopaths are people who are completely devoid of any sense of empathy or caring. Other people simply don’t exist other than as things to be manipulated and consumed, with no more emotional consideration than when you unwrap a candy bar, throw out the wrapper, and devour the calories. Everyone regards such individuals with horror, except where it comes to business and politics, where suddenly the existence and tolerability, even desirability, of sociopathy becomes controversial.
 
I’m not writing about this sociopathy of the elites themselves today, or about the bizarre collective sociopathy of masses which often exempts, accepts, and celebrates it. Such issues, however, do go toward the general critique of representative government in itself, and from there to elitism in itself. (I define the term elitism as the tolerance of or desire for the existence of hierarchical elites, especially in politics and the economy.)
 
What I want to briefly lay out here is the fact that corporations are inherently sociopathic. By their intrinsic design and imperative they must aggressively and relentlessly seek to sociopathically manipulate and consume. We’re all familiar with the corporation’s legal duty to maximize profit at the expense of all other values. Henry Ford was successfully sued by his shareholders for trying to overcome the inherent contradiction of capitalism by paying his workers a wage sufficient to sustain themselves as consumers. While there’s some question of how far this duty extends in principle, in practice it’s always interpreted to mean that corporate management, no matter what its subjective view of things, should always be doing every legal thing it can, no matter how morally evil it may be. Where an evil would be illegal, the corporation’s duty is to get the law changed. In practice the corporation should always be pushing the envelope where it comes to bribery and extortion. And even every other law is supposed to be broken if management thinks they can get away with it or make some patsy take the fall. So in the end the barrier of legality isn’t supposed to exist either.
 
For the persons involved, where they aren’t actively evil themselves, we have what Arendt called the banality of evil. She was talking about how “normal” people easily slid into the Nazi routine as officials, bureaucrats, functionaries, or just people doing normal jobs. Today, as corporations consistently commit all the same crimes of territorial aggression, robbery and mass murder (so far the murders are mostly in poor countries like Nigeria and Nicaragua), it’s even easier for the individual to be banally evil in his actions, since here it’s not an overtly hateful, belligerent political organization and regime, but merely a profit-seeking business, and we’re all acculturated to assume such activity as the social norm. Those who “work for the corporation” are further indoctrinated and acculturated to accept this as normal, even if a particular corporate culture doesn’t go out of its way to do this. The corporation eventually comes to select for those who are naturally sociopathic. It also must subvert the educational system itself, hijacking it toward the corporatist agenda. This helps maximize both the prosperity of natural sociopaths in their student careers, as well as the indoctrination of the rest. As sociopathy in the schooling, in the media, in the imagery and discourse of society at large, and in the corporation itself becomes ever more refined, it is eventually distilled to actual psychopathy.
 
No one has responsibility, as Ted Nace describes (chapter 14, p.203):
 

A corporation is a complex entity, not a unified mind. As Adolph
Berle and Gardiner Means pointed out in The Corporation and Private
Property, the essence of a corporation is the fragmentation of accountability
among various internal groups. Those who occupy the key leadership
position (the professional managers) aren’t necessary its owners;
those who are owners (the stockholders) are generally neither in charge
nor legally liable; and those who are supposed to be exercising strategic
direction on behalf of the owners (the board of directors) are rarely sufficiently
informed nor sufficiently empowered to actually fulfill their
theoretical function.

 
So we have this machine which not only doesn’t care what it does, but is programmed to systematically destroy society. It has a legal mandate and in internal cultural imperative to do this.
 
The other broad aspect of corporate sociopathy is the way the corporate concept is designed to separate rights and responsibilities. The policy of limited liability, civil and criminal, overtly and in principle seeks a sociopathic imbalance of rights vs. responsibilities. Where the corporation itself gains fraudulent rights, this is procyclical with the way legislatures and courts add to its powers and shed its responsibilities. A goal of corporatism is to legalize crimes where committed by individuals acting in the capacity of corporate cadres.
 
Nace quotes political commenter Arthur Miller (p. 96):
 

As with constitutional law, so with the private law of contracts, of property, and of torts. Judge-made rules in those fundamental categories had the result of transferring the social costs of private enterprise from the enterprise itself to the workingman or to society at large. Tort law provides apt illustration. Under its doctrines, a person who willfully or negligently harms another’s person or property must answer by paying money damages. The analogue of contract, which is a consensual obligation, a tort is a nonconsensual legal obligation. Who, then, bore the costs, in accidents and in deaths, of the new industrialism? Not the businessman. Not the corporation. The worker himself. (Often those workers were children.) And who bore the costs of pollution and other social costs? Society at large. How did this come about? In tort law judges created doctrines of “contributory negligence,” “assumption of risk,” and the “fellow servant rule,” all of which served to insulate the enterprise from liability. By “freely” taking a job, said the judges, the workers “assumed the risk” of any accident that might occur.

 
Where the crimes can’t be literally legalized, the license to commit them and the legal responsibility for them are separated. The latter is the more common example. We have Wall Street’s intentional destruction of the economy as the result of its monumental con jobs (in particular fraudulent inducement of mortgage borrowing), the pollution crimes of BP and many others, Monsanto’s torts wherever pollen from its GMO Frankenplants contaminates natural crops, just to name a few major examples off the top of my head. These are all legal crimes for which no individual is ever held accountable, and usually the corporation itself is also let off free as a bird. One example of where the crimes are actually legalized is the CFMA, which declares simple gambling by the banks, indistinguishable from a bunch of drunks at a bar betting on a football game, to comprise legal contracts. Of course, when a solitary bum bets his children’s lunch money at the track and loses, it’s terrible for that family. When the government lets the banksters do the same thing with trillions and then pays off these bets with taxpayer money, millions of children must go hungry.
 
The wealth corporations amass through such banal evil is then used to subvert the rule of law, from the legislative process to the courtroom. Again, both by its structural mandate and its internal culture the corporation is driven to try to get antisocial laws passed, socially beneficial laws and rules overturned or abolished, and to render any worthwhile laws which do exist neglected, disregarded, or twisted.
 
Greed fundamentalists among the elites first developed the systematic plan to use corporations as a vehicle of maximal rent-seeking in the mid-19th century, and worked assiduously through the state legislatures and federal courts to accomplish what was in sum a crypto-feudal coup against democracy and theoretical capitalism. They received ideological assistance from the rise of Social Darwinism, which provided both a propaganda basis for their greed and, in the form of substantive due process, a legal doctrine the SCOTUS could use to justify its corporatist activism. Together Social Darwinism and substantive due process, in the form of the Lochner doctrine, enshrined corporate sociopathy as literally “the law of the land”. We see again the same pattern: The inherent sociopathic process selects for itself, distills itself, becomes conscious of itself. Inertia becomes will; sociopathy becomes psychopathic evil.
 
Today we’ve reached the terminal stage of this devolution. The neofeudal “elites” wish to undertake the final enclosure of all real assets – land, natural resources, physical space itself, buildings, infrastructure, and all the products of the mind. At the same time they want to cut all ties with human beings other than the ties of exploitation. They want to eradicate all semblance of government, law, and civil society, except insofar as they are either weapons of domination or of pacification. They want to take totalitarian control of the Earth itself, enjoy a total licentious prerogative to do anything they wish (and have this license enshrined as their “rights”), while being absolved of literally ALL social or legal responsibility. These sociopaths, these willful outlaws, want to actually secede from civilization. They want to steal all the benefit of human interaction but incur zero reciprocal responsibility or obligation. They want to burn off all relationships between human and human, distilling them to the primal confrontation of master and slave in the middle of a wasteland. Since neither slaver nor slave can be human, these fundamentalists wish to completely eradicate civilization and humanity itself. They are in fact post-civilizational barbarians. As David Korten put it (quoted in Nace):
 

As corporations gain in autonomous institutional power and become more detached from people and place, the human interest and the corporate interest increasingly diverge. It is almost as though we were being invaded by alien beings intent on colonizing our planet, reducing us to serfs, and then excluding as many of us as possible.

 
The corporation wants to systematically define human beings out of juridical existence, except insofar as they’re defined as debtors or criminals.
 
The corporation has been the primary mode of organization for this anti-civilizational devolution to the terminal post-civilization barbarism. It has concentrated and distilled all the worst sociopathic and anti-social aspects of the hominid experience. It has distilled them, systematized them, rendered them conscious, formulated them into an ideology and strategy. It is now the main practical vehicle of this plan for the final destruction of civilization. Through the doctrines, administrative structures, and ruling techniques of globalization, the corporation intends to completely dissolve the nation-state except for the rump functions I mentioned above. In the next post I’ll describe more fully this program, and how the corporation is inherently anti-sovereign.
 
For now I’ll conclude with the warning that the only way we can avert this hideous outcome planned for us is to smash the corporate power.
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44 Comments

  1. Excellent. Looking forward to the next post.

    Comment by Johnny D. — March 9, 2011 @ 9:53 am

  2. This link is on NC today, but thought your readers might be interested anyway:

    Minimal Work To Indict For Securities Fraud In Real Estate Mortgage-Backed Securities
    By: masaccio Saturday March 5, 2011 7:50 am

    http://firedoglake.com/2011/03/05/minimal-work-to-indict-for-securities-fraud-in-rmbs/

    Comment by William Wilson — March 9, 2011 @ 10:30 am

    • And that’s according to their own rigged law. By the laws of Man and God, it’s a slam dunk.

      Comment by Russ — March 9, 2011 @ 10:45 am

  3. Russ,
    Have you looked at the New Deal as a source of American Corporatism itself? Accounting permissions granted to corporations amounted to one of the largest government subsidies in history. See “Critical Path” Fuller pg. 96

    Comment by Ross — March 9, 2011 @ 12:09 pm

    • Hi Ross, I haven’t read Critical Path so I don’t know the exact reference you make.

      In general the New Deal, like everything else government has done since the Civil War, had the advancement of corporatism as a primary goal. But the pace was actually slowed, if anything. Corporations themselves felt their prerogatives were being constricted and were constantly whining about it. (And this wasn’t just for political tantrum value the way it is with the eager-to-please bootlick Obama and the way banksters and CEOs absurdly keep whining about him. There they know no matter how much he already gave them, he’ll still bow and scrape even more, the more they demand.)

      Comment by Russ — March 9, 2011 @ 2:33 pm

    • I haven’t read “Critical Path” either, but I came to the same conclusion, although I don’t know if that is what FDR really sought.

      My take was that FDR was given lemons and made lemonade. The three lemons were the banks, industrial monopolies, and the people. The banks were rightly viewed as the largest problem and dealt with. Dealing with industrial monopolies was a bit harder to do, so FDR empowered big unions as a counterweight to big business, and big government as a check on both. Whether he always intended to kill big unions down the road, I can’t say.

      We need to get rid of “big” everything. With size comes power. With power comes corruption. With corruption, competition is stifled and individuals lose their ability to make their own way.

      Comment by Tao Jonesing — March 9, 2011 @ 5:03 pm

      • I agree on “big”.

        Big may have been inevitable during the rise of fossil fuels; it’s a moot point whether or not that’s true.

        But today the logic of energy descent, as well as our clear democratic need, points only in the direction of decentralization and relocalization. Small was always Beautiful, and now it’s optimal by any measure.

        Comment by Russ — March 9, 2011 @ 6:01 pm

  4. In reading this series of posts, I keep trying to abstract away from the specific example of corporations as a pathological organization to broader principles underlying the malignant activity of any given organization.

    Although corporations are indisputably sociopathic, their constituent humans are demonstrably mostly non-sociopaths (although as you note probably the distribution of sociopaths is skewed toward the top). So we have a system which allows an aggregate of non-sociopaths to act as a collective sociopath. As you note, this is similar to the operation of the Nazi extermination camps. I believe the shared mechanism which allows these organizations to function is denial. Corporations are themselves embedded within a “culture of denial”, as described by Stanley Cohen in States of Denial. Denial is equally the mechanism which allows individuals to participate in an organization which they know is committing crimes against humanity, and the mechanism which allows corporations and sub-groups to deny responsibility for specific actions. It is perhaps unsurprising that modern North American societies should be so pervaded by denial, as our societies are literally built on the remains of some of the most vicious atrocities ever committed.

    So I think beyond the specific organizational attributes of corporations, and beyond the specific batch of elites using those organizations as a weapon against us, we have to think about how the alternative structures we will build will promote open, transparent acknowledgement of reality and the lived experiences of those we affect. Corporate power can not be torn down until the culture of denial is swept aside and replaced by a culture of responsibility and acknowledgement. I guess the question then becomes, how do we build and structure communities and institutions in a way that promotes this kind of embrace of the often-brutal realities of our time? I’m not sure I have any insight into that yet, although I think just straightforward transparency and reporting to all members of the community has to be part of it. Your truth-telling here is definitely part of it as well. I have to go re-read Cohen’s book and see if I can glean anything more since the last time I read it as a callow undergrad..

    Comment by paper mac — March 9, 2011 @ 2:41 pm

    • Earlier today I wrote a comment at Naked Capitalism on a similar theme. We need to figure out the affirmative basis for a new social order, although as you say it’s difficult to say right now how to do that. Anarchism teaches that the new forms of community organically develop in the course of cooperative action and struggle itself. That’s been my partial experience. In fact, this year our relocalization group wants to greatly expand its time banking project. That’s one alternative to the brutal realities, to try to build new realities and lessen the old ones.

      I haven’t read Cohen’s book. I’ve read some stuff about cognitive dissonance, which is similar to denial.

      Comment by Russ — March 9, 2011 @ 3:30 pm

      • Cohen’s book is mostly concerned with the denial of atrocities, apartheid regimes, etc, by the perpetrators, the victims, and by bystanders. Cohen is a criminologist, so he takes a pretty naturalistic, descriptive approach rather than getting too wrapped up in psychological mumbo-jumbo. In flipping through it again, I find that many of his descriptions of denial behaviours and thought patterns map quite well onto the behaviours of corporations (blame shifting, “splitting” the “self” into seperate entities) as well as the individuals who comprise them (situational morality, bad faith).

        Comment by paper mac — March 9, 2011 @ 11:29 pm

      • An extract of interest which seems particularly relevant to me:

        “Limited or situational morality”
        This allows you to isolate your offence within a specific situation or place without seeing yourself as immoral in general. In Israel during the intifada, reserve soldiers would return for weekend after a month of brutalities in Gaza, change out of uniform, pin a dove of peace button on their shirts, and then appear at a Peace Now demonstration. Civil liberties lawyers wrote articles and lectured to visiting delegations, denouncing the military justice system for Palestinians, but carried on doing their army reserve service as lawyers in the same military courts. These forms of institutionalized hypocrisy and bad faith were widely praised as signs of the society’s ‘tolerance’.

        Comment by paper mac — March 9, 2011 @ 11:34 pm

      • That’s pretty bizarre. At least there they have universal conscription, and there is actually some level of existential threat. So I might be willing to listen to one of those Israelis try to explain how he’s doing the best he can.

        But how does an American liberal explain the same behavior, claiming in principle to care about humanism and progressive causes even as she’s a willing participant in consumerism, corporatism, etc. and supports the Democrats, perhaps even supports the war? You got me.

        Comment by Russ — March 10, 2011 @ 5:05 am

    • papermac, individuals are brought into the fold via fear, habit, propaganda and other means. I think they do have to be genetically or otherwise psychologically disposed to accept the propagandist message without question.

      My sister, who superficially seems normal but is a RWNJ, chose to attend Pepperdine, a “Christian” business school. At the end of her two years there, the business she was ready to launch (the idea of a schoolmate that she signed onto unquestioningly) was called “Rent-A-Wheel”. The idea was to use the “Rent-A-Center” model to rent expensive (multi-thousand-dollar) sets of alloy wheels for the tricked-up cars favored by certain sub-cultures in the LA area. The fact that these sub-cultures were, generally speaking, economically challenged made the business plan more, rather than less, appealing to her.

      I pointed out that this was pure predation, and a destructive enterprise, but she didn’t see it that way. No one would force anyone to sign up for payments at a 20+% interest rate to buy a $5ooo set of aluminum wheels; it would be their free choice to do so! Her God, the source of her morality, is the “free market”.

      This “Christian” business school taught her how to act just like a drug-dealer or pimp. She was blind to the immorality and, while she ended up having kids rather than franchising
      “Rent-A-Wheel”, she has gone on to be more “Christian” than ever… a pro-war, pro-torture, anti-free-will “Christian”.

      Is my sister a sociopath? I think so. She knows minimum-wage workers should not be buying alloy wheels, but she just doesn’t care. If she cared, that would actually go against her religion, which is punitive and Calvinistic.

      As for Pepperdine, they gave Angelo Mozilo an honorary degree. Enough said.

      Comment by Lidia — March 9, 2011 @ 4:45 pm

      • The Historical Roots of Our Ecological Crisis, by Lynn White, Jr., written in 1967, traces Christianity’s role in bringing us to the point we are discussing here.
        —–
        Russ, this is the most powerful writing I’ve ever read on this subject.
        ——
        An aspect of denial is living in a consumer-society cocoon, with no education in ecology, or appreciation for nature.

        I’ll forever have etched into my mind a restaurant meal with cousins and their kids at a FL beach resort. The kids were glued to some kind of electronic handheld game toys. Parents talked about fear of abduction, and protecting the kids, not letting them listen to radio or see TV news. They let the kids learn to be addicted to things and interacting with electronic gadgets. Playing at the beach that morning was a competition to dig the biggest, deepest castle and moat. They didn’t pay much attention to the shore birds feeding at the tide line, or even pick up sea shells. No sense of curiosity or wonder.

        Total detachment from nature. Neurochemistry evolved in an environment of energy scarcity makes addicts of ‘consumers’. How convenient for the corporations.

        Comment by AR — March 9, 2011 @ 5:56 pm

      • That’s terrible, Lidia. Typical of today’s “christians”.

        Thanks, AR. Building sand castles is certainly far better than obsessing on video games. But I guess you’re saying the moat was indicative of their paranoia.

        I often wonder what’s going to happen to these gadgetheads when the juice starts failing and it becomes hard to get batteries for these things. If all they’ve ever known is being an appendage of such items, I guess they’ll be helpless.

        Comment by Russ — March 9, 2011 @ 6:08 pm

      • Sociopathy can definitely be learned. I’m sorry to hear about your sister. It reminds me of those papers showing that econ/commerce undergrads were less generous than students from any other field. Hard to say which comes first, though, the sociopathy or the education. I wonder how many are like her to varying degrees- the prevalence of sociopathy is supposed to be ~2% but these days it’s hard to tell..

        Comment by paper mac — March 9, 2011 @ 11:23 pm

      • Thanks for that link, AR. I recall sis getting quite upset that her children were being taught in school that they were animals. “Human beings are not animals!!!” she insists.

        Comment by Lidia — March 10, 2011 @ 4:41 pm

    • By definition, a sociopath is a person that lacks a conscience. In Freudian terms, the conscience is called the superego, which Webster defines as: the division of the unconscious that is formed through the internalization of moral standards of parents and society, and that censors and restrains the ego.

      Most people seem sociopathic today because the moral standards of society have been degraded by thirty years of neoliberal reign over our social institutions. If you say “there is no society,” often enough, people believe it and society goes away, along with the moral standards it enforced.

      Another way of thinking about it is that if sociopathy is the moral standard of society, that’s what you’re gonna get. Most people just want to know what the rules are and try to play within them. The poor don’t have enough money to play by the rules. The rich have so much money that they get to make their own rules and use the official ruleset as a means of control.

      I don’t see any way to design a system that strips away people’s cognitive biases (denial and cognitive dissonance are manifestations of these biases) because they are as essential to daily life as breathing. Humans need certainty to function, and the only way to achieve certainty in an uncertain world is to create your own reality.

      Each of us imprisons himself in his own individual Matrix with a continuous IV-drip of bluepill. Very few ever see a redpill, and fewer still choose to take it. And even when you do, you’re still stuck with the fact that everybody else is still taking the bluepill, and you have to deal with them to survive.

      So, you’ll never get rid of “denial,” but you may be able to get rid of the ability of some to exploit that denial.

      Comment by Tao Jonesing — March 9, 2011 @ 5:37 pm

      • If by design a system you mean reform this one, then I agree that can’t be done.

        But I think a complete transformation can effect a transformation in people’s minds as well. It’s happened before.

        Comment by Russ — March 9, 2011 @ 6:21 pm

      • I agree that one can create a better society from the ground up, one that is not sociopathic.

        While you can change society’s nature, you can’t change human nature. Studied ignorance is a necessary part of the human condition that is hardwired into our brain chemistry. Few are aware of the level of their own ignorance. Fewer still want to overcome their ignorance, and nobody can completely overcome it. I’ve come to accept and respect the choice to stay ignorant, so long as it doesn’t hurt anybody else.

        To use an analogy that could be misunderstood as advocating “social darwinism,” our current society is composed of wolves (true sociopaths) and sheep (everyone else). We used to have shepards that protected the sheep from the wolves, but, thanks to neoliberalism, the shepards have all but disappeared. In fact, the neoliberal wolves convinced the shepards in government that the sheep served the shepards instead of the other way around, so the government shepards became wolves themselves.

        I’d love for every sheep to evolve into a shepard, but I don’t see that happening any time soon (and I’m thinking on a glacial timescale).

        Comment by Tao Jonesing — March 9, 2011 @ 8:11 pm

      • Sorry Tao, I’m referring to “denial” in the specific sense that Cohen is using it, which is in describing a pathological mechanism used by power structures and go-along-to-get-alongs to mask the “great ills” of societies- atrocities, oppression, and the like. I should have been more specific. Denial is obviously a common coping mechanism for all kinds of stressors and I don’t think it’s necessarily unhealthy nor does it necessarily impinge on others.

        Incidentally, I wouldn’t be so quick to refer to a cognitive process as “hardwired”. There’s very little evidence for a genetic basis for any complex cognitive trait, and it’s becoming more and more clear that the adult brain is in no way a “hard wired” structure- the plasticity in many areas is pretty incredible. Reason enough for me to be optimistic that we can all learn to live and think in a less sociopath-enabling-way, anyway.

        Comment by paper mac — March 9, 2011 @ 11:14 pm

      • @paper mac,

        I’m not asserting that the result/conclusion is hardwired. I’m asserting that the process/function is.

        While it is possible to change what we think, it is not possible to change how we think when the how has its roots in the lymbic system. Humans evolution has adapted positive feedback processes intended for governing physical things like keeping one’s balance and pressed them into use use for making abstract decisions. The only way this can work is through the use of hysterisis (called cognitive biases in this field), which creates certainty where there is none. I don’t see how it can be overcome.

        Comment by Tao Jonesing — March 10, 2011 @ 1:51 am

      • I agree that people in general are hardwired to think the best of whatever social order they’ve been accustomed to/acculturated/indoctrinated into.

        That would be as true of any artificial and solvable problems which may arise in, say, a truly democratic system, as they are in this one. (Of course I think with democracy there would be far fewer such problems, and of vastly less malignity.)

        But I think if we could change over from one to the other, even as a non-linear strange attractor flip, most people would switch their acculturation readiness from the one to the other with relative ease.

        For the most part, where it comes to this kind of politicized denial, people only stay in denial about things which they still think will retain real-world power.

        It’s well known how readily the inhabitants of defeated totalitarian systems drop their previous indoctrination (seemingly so deep and total) and accept whatever comes next, even if it’s imposed from without.

        In all this I’ve been talking about people already within a stream of systems. But I do think that the evidence is that people are naturally more inclined to cooperate, if left to themselves. As anarchists point out, even the most severe capitalism still depends completely upon vast amounts of cooperation among people trapped within the system, actions which are not strictly prescribed by the capitalist “order”. That’s why work-to-rule strikes could in theory be so effective, if anyone could ever figure out a way to organize them.

        Comment by Russ — March 10, 2011 @ 5:20 am

      • “I’m not asserting that the result/conclusion is hardwired. I’m asserting that the process/function is.”

        Since higher level cognitive processes like denial don’t have identified subfunctions which are mapped to hardwired circuits, I’m not sure where you’re getting this from. There are very, very few CNS functions which are known to be hardwired in complex vertebrates like humans, and they’re mostly homeostatic functions, not cognitive ones. That’s part of the reason it takes humans so long to develop- we have some of the most minimal “hardwiring” in the animal kingdom.

        “While it is possible to change what we think, it is not possible to change how we think when the how has its roots in the lymbic system.”

        This is a totally bizarre statement. The parts of the limbic system which are known to be involved in cognition, the amygdala (reward/fear/motivation) and the hippocampus (memory/learning), are two of the most plastic sites in the brain. The hippocampus is studied as a site of neurogenesis throughout adulthood- it’s constantly added to and rewired. The amygdala is likewise highly plastic. Indeed, the humble toxoplasma parasite has evolved to hijack amygdalar plasticity, enabling it to rewire vertebrate brains so that fear-associated pathways become reward-associated pathways. It uses this ability to alter rodent behaviour so that the rats/mice which pick it up in the environment (usually from cat scat) become sexually aroused by the smell of cat urine, rather than the normal fear response. The rodents are then much more easily consumed by cats, which allows the parasite to reproduce in its favoured location, the cat gut. It’s being shown now that toxo does a similar thing to human brains, making them far less risk-averse and more rewarded by risk.

        So, no, the “how” we think can be changed as well, and is, indeed, changing all the time. The notion of the “hardwired” brain is decades out of date. It was once promoted by early neuroscientists who, believing the brain to be the physical residence of the soul, were deeply uncomfortable with the notion that the brain could change (the soul is eternal, after all..). The reality is very different.

        “Humans evolution has adapted positive feedback processes intended for governing physical things like keeping one’s balance and pressed them into use use for making abstract decisions. The only way this can work is through the use of hysterisis (called cognitive biases in this field), which creates certainty where there is none.”

        It’s not clear to me on what basis you connect circuits used for balance and motion (eg those of the cerebellum) with abstract decision making, which mostly occurs in unrelated structures, particularly the cortex. Don’t forget that our brains have enormous volumes of cortical neurons dedicated to abstract reasoning and thinking processes that are not present in less complex species. We have evolved specialized, dedicated abstract reasoning circuits which are independent of those basal functions.

        As for biases, the underlying neural correlates of cognitive biases are unclear. We do know that the prevalence of many cognitive biases differs significantly between ethnicities and societies, so it’s pretty clear that many of them are learned/socialised phenomena. I think many people underestimate both the profound effect that the socialisation process has on the developing brain, as well as the capacity for the adult brain to modify, add to, and disassemble circuits set up during development.

        So, again, I remain more optimistic about our underlying capacity for change. I think it’s easy and even reassuring to ascribe behaviours and patterns of thought to immutable properties of the brain, but it’s important to remember that there are no static biological systems. The reality is, I think, that the societies, institutions, and structures we’re embedded in have a far greater role in shaping the way we think most of us are willing to acknowledge. Changing those structures and changing our brains will go hand in hand.

        Comment by paper mac — March 10, 2011 @ 1:37 pm

      • @paper mac,

        I have my own working theory of how humans think. While I have yet to adequately articulate my intution, I have labeled it “the fractal nature of human cognition.”

        Comment by Tao Jonesing — March 11, 2011 @ 12:12 am

  5. O/T

    Quick link for you. Check out the March 7 post at http://www.thecompletepatient.com/

    …about Sedgwick, ME, which unanimously passed a food sovereignty ordinance.

    Quoting from the article:

    Citing America’s Declaration of Independence and the Maine Constitution, the ordinance proposed that “Sedgwick citizens possess the right to produce, process, sell, purchase, and consume local foods of their choosing.” These would include raw milk and other dairy products and locally slaughtered meats, among other items.

    This isn’t just a declaration of preference. The proposed warrant added, “It shall be unlawful for any law or regulation adopted by the state or federal government to interfere with the rights recognized by this Ordinance.” In other words, no state licensing requirements prohibiting certain farms from selling dairy products or producing their own chickens for sale to other citizens in the town.

    Comment by AR — March 9, 2011 @ 4:51 pm

  6. “The discussions of the ‘social responsibili­ties of business’ are notable for their analytical looseness and lack of rigor. What does it mean to say that ‘business’ has responsibilities? Only people can have responsibilities. A corporation is an artificial person and in this sense may have artificial responsibilities, but ‘business’ as a whole cannot be said to have responsibilities, even in this vague sense. The first step toward clarity in examining the doctrine of the social responsibility of business is to ask precisely what it implies for whom.”

    -Milton Friedman, neoliberal sociopath

    From “The Social Responsibility of Business is to Increase its Profits”

    http://www.colorado.edu/studentgroups/libertarians/issues/friedman-soc-resp-business.html

    Comment by Tao Jonesing — March 9, 2011 @ 4:52 pm

    • I agree with him completely. Only citizens can take responsibility.

      And therefore only citizens, acting as responsible citizens, can have rights. There are no “economic rights” independent of democratic responsibilities.

      There’s no such thing as right without responsibility, only chaotic license. As we’ve come to know all too well.

      Comment by Russ — March 9, 2011 @ 6:11 pm

    • The profits is in the accounting. The denial is in the accounting. The original capital asset and “money” was cattle. In the denial, we have bastardized capital to represent abstractions of collective delusion.

      Civilization has externalized nature by elevating Man. The Profit is nature and energy values externalized and deliberately undervalued. Even with 6 billion people the Earth provides. There is finiteness to existence, but the planet has massive abundance. I won’t buy into Malthus until the trend line breaks. Read Critical Path.

      Our existence is one of mental and physical slavery now. Nature has been exhausted. It would take deliberate neglect to allow it to return over hundreds of years. The goal of woken up slaves is to escape the tyranny of corporate domination and collectively self-organize.

      The shareholders exist. They are all around you everyday. They hold their “profits” in the capital of the largest, most predatory corporations. The delusion of corporate personhood allows no one to be accountability to anything but Profit.

      Every money is a represented Profit. We worship capital because it represents accumulated profits, a concept which has mental abstraction in a world with distorted value systems.

      It is evident the arc of modern Civilization is coming to a denouement imminently.

      Comment by Ross — March 9, 2011 @ 7:03 pm

      • Everything you say is correct, but knowing what you know does not bring anyone comfort. That’s why we embrace the fictions we create for ourselves, and that’s why a denouement is much less imminent than you think.

        Indeed, the way neoliberalism has structured the choices, it is far more likely that we’ll first see the complete disenfranchisement of the people in preference of unleashing the “free market” miracles that only corporations can achieve for us. We’ll then find out that fascism was tame compared to corporate feudalism.

        Comment by Tao Jonesing — March 9, 2011 @ 8:18 pm

  7. Sorry, Russ, I mistook who was running this blog. It’s an amazing compendium of all that is currently destroying us. Tao, I also like your points. I need to read more on neoliberalism before commenting on that. I’ve been lecturing about corporatism since 2000–not, of course, officially, since our institutions of higher education have no tolerance for social critiques from ordinary lecturers, but unofficially I’ve asked hundreds of corporate workers, “If your corporation is paying you and screwing me and nine other corporations are screwing both of us, is this a sustainable situation? Are you really better off working for a corporation than I am, being the victim of it?”

    Comment by Janice — March 17, 2011 @ 5:05 pm

    • Hi Janice, I saw the other comment but hadn’t replied yet. I’m glad you like the blog. (Tao’s blog is good too, and also has lots of analysis of neoliberalism. Some of my own posts on the subject are collected on the page linked in the upper right-hand corner.)

      I’m glad to hear about your anti-corporatism. By lecturing do you mean presentations to audiences, or less formal discussions?

      Comment by Russ — March 17, 2011 @ 5:13 pm

  8. There is one final step beyond the sociopathy described here. That step is when the elites decide to do what is not in their best immediate monetary interests in order to create suffering, pure and simple. It’s what Orwell described in his book 1984 – a world where the elites create as much suffering as they can for its own sake – for the intoxication of power, not for monetary gain. This kind of monstrous attitude is, in fact, already blossoming in the world, though it has yet to gain a firm foothold. This kind of drive to maximize the suffering of humanity can be found in America’s thousands of secret torture sites, for example, which have no real political or military or monetary purpose whatsoever except the exercise of absolute, sadistic power.

    Comment by Noah — May 6, 2011 @ 11:18 pm

    • The kleptocracy certainly enlists such sadists anywhere it finds them useful.

      And a sublimated form of that sadism is probably common enough among the elites themselves. I don’t know if Obama or Bush takes personal pleasure in hurting the people and trashing democracy, but the likes of Cheney and Emmanuel sure seem to.

      Comment by Russ — May 7, 2011 @ 1:55 am

  9. This is one of the most intelligent posts I have ever read. Very well put.

    Comment by Noah — May 29, 2011 @ 11:59 pm

    • Thanks, Noah.

      Comment by Russ — May 30, 2011 @ 6:14 am

  10. Republicans for Voldermort!

    Comment by oliverjameswright — July 19, 2011 @ 5:50 pm

  11. Check out the book and/or the film, “The Corporation” by Joel Bakan. It carefully examine the psychopathy of Big Business.

    Comment by Peter — April 17, 2012 @ 5:43 pm

    • Thanks Peter, I’ve heard of that one but haven’t read/seen it.

      Comment by Russ — April 18, 2012 @ 2:41 pm

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