This article draws on the Gervais Principle by Venkatesh Rao, a look into how corporate offices work. This post will make more sense to you if you have read it already. Rao’s article is much more in depth (and much better) than mine. This post is an application of his model to political movements. If you have read it, you will know that the term “sociopath” is not used in any clinical sense.
Sociopaths, Clueless, Losers
I have been trying to figure out how the trinity of sociopaths, clueless and losers applies to political movements. I myself spent years as a clueless militant. I became disillusioned and became a checked-out loser, although not before a long period of soul searching in which I looked for a new movement to be clueless in.
One of the differences between political movements and companies is that it is not clear who the losers are – the people who are just showing up for a paycheque. The answer is that the losers are all who watch the spectacle of politics from the sidelines and bet on who to sell their meager, faithless support to.
In any political movement the sociopaths are the ones who do not let their professed ideology interfere with their ambition. The sociopaths may believe in whatever ideology they profess, but they instinctively avoid letting it get in the way of their pursuit of power. They make compromises as naturally as breathing, and, if necessary, can alter their fundamental identity and values to continue pursuing and retaining power. They worry about consistency in the eyes of others only as it relates to their goals – not because they fear any deeper moral judgment.
They are the natural leaders and careerists. If they are throwing rocks or getting arrested, this is only to establish credibility as bona fide militants. Anyone who manages to turn fighting the power into a lucrative, high status career is a sociopath.
If the movement is an underground or terroristic one, they may face death or incarceration – but they will NOT conduct martyrdom operations.
Some possible career paths of the sociopath include: cult leader, union leader, leader of a terrorist network, bestselling public intellectual, consultant, speaker, tenured professor, politician, rockstar, head of state, dictator.
These are the true believers. They participate in political movements in good faith and assume that everyone else in their movement is doing the same. The clueless participates for the quasi-religious thrill of belonging to something larger than himself. Where the sociopath and the loser both ask “what’s in it for me?” the clueless only wish to be sanctified by the movement. The clueless is one who does not know what he would be doing if he were not in the movement.
If the movement is a terroristic one, these will be the people who conduct martyrdom operations. The faithful who went to fight for ISIS out of a deep sense of personal conviction were used as cannon fodder by the sociopaths who ran the show.
The clueless dutifully show up for demonstrations, buy books, fork over cash, and, if they are intelligent, organize to advance the careers of sociopaths. They are proud of their willingness to do work and incur risks for the cause with little hope of personal reward. They believe they are changing the world. They may (wrongly) harbour a dream that they will one day occupy a position occupied by the sociopaths – or they may wish for a romantic martyrdom. Disillusioned clueless who recognize the self-serving nature of the sociopaths will likely seek out a new movement in which to be clueless. If they last long enough in the movement, they may be rewarded with a cushy but dead-end position in a bureaucratic apparatus (union, university or political party). The clueless can also end up as a mid-tier public intellectual or pundit – the kind whose job it is to defend other people’s ideas.
The clueless has contempt for the loser, whom he regards as being unmoved by noble passions, asleep and unengaged with the highest and most purposeful aim of life: that of the movement.
At first glance, losers do not participate in political movements at all – they lack the ambition of the sociopaths and are contemptuous of the clueless. In a company, the motivation for losers to show up is the paycheque.
In political movements, the losers mostly observe from the sidelines. They may vote, but if they do vote it is usually with contempt and with little hope that much will change. “The least of evils” is a typically loser attitude towards the sociopath that he votes for. The loser is not duped by an ideological movement that expects him to give away his support for free.
Losers will not show up until there is a hope of gaining something or a risk of loss. Losers will participate when the possibility of success seems high or when a threat is imminent – not before. Losers quietly calculate who they will break with if shit hits the fan. Sociopaths know this.
Losers wield immense amount of power, but not individually – only sociopaths do that. Losers wield their power collectively and understand that isolated rebellion is mostly doomed and irrelevant. For this reason they do nothing untoward without a preference cascade – strong, credible signals from others that it is now safe to act. Sociopaths wait for preference cascades among the losers, and then attempt to ride them to power.
The clueless try to trigger these cascades. They mostly fail, but in the process they acquire habits that are useful to sociopaths – organization, mobilization, and making the movement look like a legitimate candidate to wield power. When the clueless and sociopaths draw losers into their movement through a preference cascade, the movement becomes a mass movement. The losers will eventually get tired and go home, leaving the best positioned group of sociopaths to take power.
I feel like this gets at something true, but is also outrageously cynical. Where's the room for people who genuinely want to seek out the truth and serve their communities? And how we support their success?