Sociopaths and psychopaths in society and politics

Careers With the Most Psychopaths By Kali Holloway, AlterNet, June 21, 2015  …Just 1 percent of the overall population qualifies as psychopaths; in prison, that number skyrockets to 25 percent lots of psychopaths aren’t raging lunatics or violent criminals; in fact, most of them get along perfectly well in society. As Scientific American explains:.Superficially charming, psychopaths tend to make a good first impression on others and often strike observers as remarkably normal. Yet they are self-centered, dishonest and undependable, and at times they engage in irresponsible behavior for no apparent reason other than the sheer fun of it. Largely devoid of guilt, empathy and love, they have casual and callous interpersonal and romantic relationships. Psychopaths routinely offer excuses for their reckless and often outrageous actions, placing blame on others instead. They rarely learn from their mistakes or benefit from negative feedback, and they have difficulty inhibiting their impulses… here’s a list of the top 10 careers with the most psychopaths working in them…1. CEO, 2. Lawyer, 3. Media (television/radio), 4. Salesperson, 5. Surgeon, 6. Journalist, 7. Police officer, 8. Clergy, 9. Chef, 10. Civil servants… In some fields, being a psychopath is actually a great way to get ahead.

Has Neoliberalism Turned Us All Into Psychopaths? By Paul Verhaeghe, The Guardian, posted on Alternet.org, October 2, 2014 …economic change is having a profound effect not only on our values but also on our personalities. Thirty years of neoliberalism, free-market forces and privatization have taken their toll, as relentless pressure to achieve has become normative…meritocratic neoliberalism favors certain personality traits and penalizes others… articulateness, the aim being to win over as many people as possible….able to talk up your own capacities…you never take responsibility for your own behavior…flexible and impulsive…this leads to risky behavior, but never mind, it won’t be you who has to pick up the pieces….Bullying used to be confined to schools; now it is a common feature of the workplace. This is a typical symptom of the impotent venting their frustration on the weak; in psychology it’s known as displaced aggression. There is a buried sense of fear, ranging from performance anxiety to a broader social fear of the threatening other…This is the consequence of a system that prevents people from thinking independently and that fails to treat employees as adults. More important, though, is the serious damage to people’s self-respect. Self-respect largely depends on the recognition that we receive from the other…Our society constantly proclaims that anyone can make it if they just try hard enough, all the while reinforcing privilege and putting increasing pressure on its overstretched and exhausted citizens. An increasing number of people fail, feeling humiliated, guilty and ashamed. We are forever told that we are freer to choose the course of our lives than ever before, but the freedom to choose outside the success narrative is limited. Furthermore, those who fail are deemed to be losers or scroungers, taking advantage of our social security system. A neoliberal meritocracy would have us believe that success depends on individual effort and talents, meaning responsibility lies entirely with the individual and authorities should give people as much freedom as possible to achieve this goalOur presumed freedom is tied to one central condition: we must be successful – that is, “make” something of ourselves…a changed economy reflects changed ethics and brings about changed identity. The current economic system is bringing out the worst in us.

The Sociopathic 1 Percent: The Driving Force at the Heart of the Tea Party By Paul Rosenberg, Salon.com, March 8, 2014  …sociopaths are defined by their lack of empathy, conscience or any form of intuitive social awareness… 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…the influence of sociopathic thinking is far broader than we realize, particularly since it’s almost never recognized as such. That’s precisely why we need more awareness of the workings of the sociopathic imagination — the forms it takes, the impacts it has, the conditions in which it flourishes and spreads…. It’s also been argued that sociopaths have a sense of morality, only it’s a different one than the rest of society, perhaps, in which selfishness is a virtue, and altruism a vice, as per Ayn Rand…Now, even if it could be generalized, a 4% presence of psychopaths in business is not a lot, except when compared to 1%. The greater significance lies in why psychopaths are so dramatically over-represented in corporate management, and what that says about the environments they find so hospitable — which ties in directly to the rise of the 1 percent, who have done so much better than everyone else since the 1970s…

It’s Time to Stop Letting Sociopaths in Power Tell Us What Makes Us Happy by DH Garrett, Truthout, October 19, 2014

10 Most Inhumane Laws Courtesy of Southern Republicans By Alex Henderson, AlterNet, September 3, 2014

How to Tell a Sociopath from a Psychopath By Scott A. Bonn, Psychology Today, Alternet.org, July 31, 2014 — Key traits that sociopaths and psychopaths share include: A disregard for laws and social mores; A disregard for the rights of others;A failure to feel remorse or guilt;A tendency to display violent behavior. In addition to their commonalities, sociopaths and psychopaths also have their own unique behavioral characteristics as well. Sociopaths tend to be nervous and easily agitated. They are volatile and prone to emotional outbursts, including fits of rage…It is difficult but not impossible for sociopaths to form attachments with others. Many sociopaths are able to form an attachment to a particular individual or group, although they have no regard for society in general or its rules… Psychopaths, on the other hand, are unable to form emotional attachments or feel real empathy with others, although they often have disarming or even charming personalities. Psychopaths are very manipulative and can easily gain people’s trust…

Has Neoliberalism Turned Us All Into Psychopaths?

By Paul Verhaeghe, The Guardian, posted on Alternet.org, October 2, 2014

Excerpt

…economic change is having a profound effect not only on our values but also on our personalities. Thirty years of neoliberalism, free-market forces and privatization have taken their toll, as relentless pressure to achieve has become normative…meritocratic neoliberalism favors certain personality traits and penalizes others… articulateness, the aim being to win over as many people as possible….able to talk up your own capacities…you never take responsibility for your own behavior…flexible and impulsive…this leads to risky behavior, but never mind, it won’t be you who has to pick up the pieces….Bullying used to be confined to schools; now it is a common feature of the workplace. This is a typical symptom of the impotent venting their frustration on the weak; in psychology it’s known as displaced aggression. There is a buried sense of fear, ranging from performance anxiety to a broader social fear of the threatening other…This is the consequence of a system that prevents people from thinking independently and that fails to treat employees as adults. More important, though, is the serious damage to people’s self-respect. Self-respect largely depends on the recognition that we receive from the other…Our society constantly proclaims that anyone can make it if they just try hard enough, all the while reinforcing privilege and putting increasing pressure on its overstretched and exhausted citizens. An increasing number of people fail, feeling humiliated, guilty and ashamed. We are forever told that we are freer to choose the course of our lives than ever before, but the freedom to choose outside the success narrative is limited. Furthermore, those who fail are deemed to be losers or scroungers, taking advantage of our social security system. A neoliberal meritocracy would have us believe that success depends on individual effort and talents, meaning responsibility lies entirely with the individual and authorities should give people as much freedom as possible to achieve this goalOur presumed freedom is tied to one central condition: we must be successful – that is, “make” something of ourselves…There are constant laments about the so-called loss of norms and values in our culture. Yet our norms and values make up an integral and essential part of our identity. So they cannot be lost, only changed. And that is precisely what has happened: a changed economy reflects changed ethics and brings about changed identity. The current economic system is bringing out the worst in us.

Full text

We tend to perceive our identities as stable and largely separate from outside forces. But over decades of research and therapeutic practice, I have become convinced that economic change is having a profound effect not only on our values but also on our personalities. Thirty years of neoliberalism, free-market forces and privatization have taken their toll, as relentless pressure to achieve has become normative. If you’re skeptical, I put this simple statement to you: meritocratic neoliberalism favors certain personality traits and penalizes others.

There are certain ideal characteristics needed to make a career today. The first is articulateness, the aim being to win over as many people as possible. Contact can be superficial, but since this applies to most human interaction nowadays, this won’t really be noticed.

It’s important to be able to talk up your own capacities as much as you can—you know a lot of people, you’ve got plenty of experience under your belt and you recently completed a major project. Later, people will find out that this was mostly hot air, but the fact that they were initially fooled is down to another personality trait: you can lie convincingly and feel little guilt. That’s why you never take responsibility for your own behavior.

On top of all this, you are flexible and impulsive, always on the lookout for new stimuli and challenges. In practice, this leads to risky behavior, but never mind, it won’t be you who has to pick up the pieces. The source of inspiration for this list? The psychopathy checklist by Robert Hare [3], the best-known specialist on psychopathy today.

This description is, of course, a caricature taken to extremes. Nevertheless, the financial crisis illustrated at a macro-social level (for example, in the conflicts between eurozone countries) what a neoliberal meritocracy does to people. Solidarity becomes an expensive luxury and makes way for temporary alliances, the main preoccupation always being to extract more profit from the situation than your competition. Social ties with colleagues weaken, as does emotional commitment to the enterprise or organization.

Bullying used to be confined to schools; now it is a common feature of the workplace. This is a typical symptom of the impotent venting their frustration on the weak; in psychology it’s known as displaced aggression. There is a buried sense of fear, ranging from performance anxiety to a broader social fear of the threatening other.

Constant evaluations at work cause a decline in autonomy and a growing dependence on external, often shifting, norms. This results in what the sociologist Richard Sennett [4] has aptly described as the “infantilisation of the workers.” Adults display childish outbursts of temper and are jealous about trivialities (“She got a new office chair and I didn’t”), tell white lies, resort to deceit, delight in the downfall of others and cherish petty feelings of revenge. This is the consequence of a system that prevents people from thinking independently and that fails to treat employees as adults.

More important, though, is the serious damage to people’s self-respect. Self-respect largely depends on the recognition that we receive from the other, as thinkers from Hegel [5] to Lacan  [6]have shown. Sennett comes to a similar conclusion when he sees the main question for employees these days as being “Who needs me?” For a growing group of people, the answer is: no one.

Our society constantly proclaims that anyone can make it if they just try hard enough, all the while reinforcing privilege and putting increasing pressure on its overstretched and exhausted citizens. An increasing number of people fail, feeling humiliated, guilty and ashamed. We are forever told that we are freer to choose the course of our lives than ever before, but the freedom to choose outside the success narrative is limited. Furthermore, those who fail are deemed to be losers or scroungers, taking advantage of our social security system.

A neoliberal meritocracy would have us believe that success depends on individual effort and talents, meaning responsibility lies entirely with the individual and authorities should give people as much freedom as possible to achieve this goal. For those who believe in the fairytale of unrestricted choice, self-government and self-management are the pre-eminent political messages, especially if they appear to promise freedom. Along with the idea of the perfectible individual, the freedom we perceive ourselves as having in the west is the greatest untruth of this day and age.

The sociologist Zygmunt Bauman [7] neatly summarized the paradox of our era as: “Never have we been so free. Never have we felt so powerless.” We are indeed freer than before, in the sense that we can criticize religion, take advantage of the new laissez-faire attitude to sex and support any political movement we like. We can do all these things because they no longer have any significance – freedom of this kind is prompted by indifference. Yet, on the other hand, our daily lives have become a constant battle against a bureaucracy that would make Kafka weak at the knees. There are regulations about everything, from the salt content of bread to urban poultry-keeping.

Our presumed freedom is tied to one central condition: we must be successful – that is, “make” something of ourselves. You don’t need to look far for examples. A highly skilled individual who puts parenting before their career comes in for criticism. A person with a good job who turns down a promotion to invest more time in other things is seen as crazy – unless those other things ensure success. A young woman who wants to become a primary school teacher is told by her parents that she should start off by getting a master’s degree in economics – a primary school teacher, whatever can she be thinking of?

There are constant laments about the so-called loss of norms and values in our culture. Yet our norms and values make up an integral and essential part of our identity. So they cannot be lost, only changed. And that is precisely what has happened: a changed economy reflects changed ethics and brings about changed identity. The current economic system is bringing out the worst in us.


Source URL: http://www.alternet.org/economy/has-neoliberalism-turned-us-all-psychopaths

Links:
[1] http://www.guardian.co.uk/environment/
[2] http://www.alternet.org/authors/paul-verhaeghe
[3] http://www.hare.org/
[4] http://www.richardsennett.com/site/SENN/Templates/Home.aspx?pageid=1
[5] http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Georg_Wilhelm_Friedrich_Hegel
[6] http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Jacques_Lacan
[7] http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Zygmunt_Bauman
[8] mailto:corrections@alternet.org?Subject=Typo on Has Neoliberalism Turned Us All Into Psychopaths?
[9] http://www.alternet.org/tags/neoliberalism
[10] http://www.alternet.org/tags/economy-0
[11] http://www.alternet.org/tags/ethics-0
[12] http://www.alternet.org/tags/personality-traits
[13] http://www.alternet.org/tags/capitalism
[14] http://www.alternet.org/%2Bnew_src%2B

How Propagandists for the 1% Are Manipulating Christian Teachings to Rob the Middle Class

Truthout / By Michael Meurer [1]  October 17, 2012 |

Excerpt

…the dom­i­nant nar­ra­tive…is that crip­pling amounts of pub­lic debt run up by prof­li­gate gov­ern­ment spend­ing have brought us to the brink of finan­cial ruin and must be off­set by deep cuts in social ser­vices and “entitlements.”

It is a false nar­ra­tive that masks the largest ongo­ing finan­cial swin­dle in human his­tory, a swin­dle being car­ried out at pub­lic expense by a small class of elite finan­cial spec­u­la­tors. This spec­u­la­tive class has been unleashed over the past three decades by a Utopian neolib­eral polit­i­cal project….

The $15.2 tril­lion total of reck­less gov­ern­ment give­aways and war spend­ing equals the national debt. Where did this money come from? It came from we the peo­ple...From this per­spec­tive, the ongo­ing finan­cial cri­sis of the past few years is a giant swin­dle that trans­fers wealth from low– and middle-income cit­i­zens to bankers, defense con­trac­tors, real estate spec­u­la­tors and the wealth­i­est 1% via the US Trea­sury, which is act­ing as an agent for upward redistribution.

How did this happen?

In the 1980s, US Pres­i­dent Ronald Rea­gan and British Prime Min­is­ter Mar­garet Thatcher set out to recon­fig­ure and lib­er­ate West­ern cap­i­tal­ism by shrink­ing government’s role in the econ­omy based on the neolib­eral con­cept that mar­kets are “self-regulating” and would pro­duce unprece­dented soci­etal wealth if dereg­u­lated.the “trickle down” the­ory of wealth was accom­pa­nied by promises of a smaller, less intru­sive state, except for a strong mil­i­tary. Fast for­ward through 30-plus years of nearly unin­ter­rupted neolib­eral pol­i­cy­mak­ing — Bill Clin­ton and Tony Blair were dereg­u­lat­ing neolib­eral cham­pi­ons — and not only do we have the most expen­sive, heav­ily mil­i­ta­rized, war-prone, increas­ingly inequitable and intru­sive state in US (and British) his­tory, it is also the most indebted.

Neolib­er­al­ism is fail­ing on its own terms, yet it con­tin­ues to define US pol­i­tics due to its appeal among a siz­able and par­tic­u­larly fer­vent seg­ment [29] of the elec­torate. (12) [30]

The Rise of the Utopians

In order to under­stand the fer­vor of this con­tin­ued pop­u­lar sup­port for failed poli­cies, it is impor­tant to grasp the utopian, quasi-theological nature of neolib­eral ide­ol­ogy. In the neolib­eral world­view [31], the self-regulating mar­ket is not a merely human con­struct, but a form of naturally-occurring “spon­ta­neous order” that pro­duces opti­mum out­comes and max­i­mum indi­vid­ual free­dom if left com­pletely unfet­tered. (13) [32] It is, as Karl Polanyi pointed out in “The Great Trans­for­ma­tion,” [33] a rad­i­cally utopian vision that rests on a blind faith that mar­kets are essen­tially part of the nat­ural order. (14) [34]

On the polit­i­cal right, this faith has reached its fullest expres­sion, ulti­mately mov­ing mar­kets into the realm of the sacred, where their legit­i­macy can­not be ques­tionedit has nonethe­less turned out to have pow­er­ful allure even among those who are being swin­dled out of their hard-earned assets as a result.

Not least among the rea­sons for this allure is the fact that in the US, neoliberalism’s utopian mar­ket fun­da­men­tal­ism meshes so read­ily with utopian strains of fun­da­men­tal­ist Chris­tian­ity, thereby lend­ing the neolib­eral project a zeal­ous sense of pop­ulist mis­sion. A neolib­eral class project is dressed up and sold as a patri­otic reli­gious project.

While those at the top with access to pol­i­cy­mak­ers reap enor­mous finan­cial ben­e­fits from their embrace of neolib­eral the­ol­ogy, many of those at the bot­tom who stand to lose the most eco­nom­i­cally join forces with them because of polit­i­cal appeals to their utopian reli­gious and patri­otic beliefs. Neolib­eral pres­i­den­tial can­di­dates from Ronald Rea­gan to Rick San­to­rum and Mitt Rom­ney have come before vot­ers as kin­dred utopian spir­its, true believ­ers couch­ing their self-regulating mar­ket utopi­anism in the famil­iar and com­pelling lan­guage of patri­o­tism, indi­vid­ual free­dom, mom and pop entre­pre­neurism and reli­gion. (‘Believe in Amer­ica.’) Utopian faith thereby trumps the pain of ugly reality.

And the ugly real­ity is that neolib­eral mar­kets — unlike the ele­gant mod­els of clas­si­cal eco­nom­ics — are rigged. And rigged in favor of the wealth­i­est mem­bers of soci­ety. Income dis­par­ity [35] between the bot­tom and top 20 per­cent in the US has more than dou­bled since 1979. (15) [36] Income for the top 1 per­cent grew by 275 per­cent [37] from 1979 to 2007, while income for the bot­tom 20 per­cent grew just 18 per­cent [38]. (16) [39]

The USnow has 49.1 mil­lion peo­ple liv­ing in poverty [40], the high­est level since the Great Depres­sion [41] of the 1930’s. (17) [42] Yet among true believ­ers at both ends of the eco­nomic spec­trum, the pow­er­ful emo­tional pull of a shared utopian vision tran­scends the homely real­i­ties of the fact-based world.

Utopi­ans at the Gate

In the 2012 US pres­i­den­tial elec­tion, the Repub­li­can Romney-Ryan ticket rep­re­sents the tri­umph of neolib­eral utopian faith over the messy real­i­ties of expe­ri­ence and his­tory…

Polanyi pos­tu­lated three essen­tial ele­ments of West­ern con­scious­ness: knowl­edge of death; knowl­edge of free­dom; and knowl­edge of soci­ety, which is gained expe­ri­en­tially and lib­er­ates us from our utopian illu­sions. (21) [50] The Repub­li­cans of 2012 are in denial about this third ele­ment of consciousness.

The cer­tainty that comes from faith in an imma­nent utopia leaves them unable to acknowl­edge and deal with the enor­mous com­plex­i­ties and uncer­tain­ties of a mod­ern multi-cultural, information-age soci­ety, except through demo­niza­tion and the story of an idol defiled. As a result, the com­mon­weal is eclipsed by a divi­sive utopian vision that defines extreme reli­gious eco­nomic indi­vid­u­al­ism as true patri­otic free­dom.

Given the bil­lions in Super PAC money [53] now avail­able to Repub­li­cans, (23) [54] this utopian strain in US pol­i­tics is not likely to fade away irre­spec­tive of November’s elec­tion results, and that is a trou­bling real­iza­tion in a nation more heav­ily armed [55] with weapons of mass destruc­tion than any other in his­tory. (24) [56]

http://progressivevalues.org.s150046.gridserver.com/how-propagandists-for-the-1-are-manipulating-chr

Full text

In the endless swirl of headlines about the current global financial crisis, the dominant narrative, which is also driving the 2012 US presidential election, is that crippling amounts of public debt run up by profligate government spending have brought us to the brink of financial ruin and must be offset by deep cuts in social services and “entitlements.”

It is a false narrative that masks the largest ongoing financial swindle in human history, a swindle being carried out at public expense by a small class of elite financial speculators. This speculative class has been unleashed over the past three decades by a Utopian neoliberal political project now embodied in its most virulent form in the Republican presidential ticket of Mitt Romney and Paul Ryan.

Let’s start with the depth and size of the underlying financial crisis, which is almost in the realm of hyper-reality. In 1997, for example, the total value of annual financial transactions worldwide was an already-staggering 15 times greater than global GDP. Today, it is 70 times greater [2]. (1) [3] In 1995, the six largest US banks controlled assets worth 17 percent of annual GDP. Today, the figure is 64 percent [4]. (2) [5] Again in 1995, the global total of outstanding derivative debt obligations was $17.7 trillion. By 2010 [6], at nearly $470 trillion [7], outstanding derivatives were 741 percent of global GDP [8]. (3) [9]

This wholesale financialization of the US-led global economy has burdened the public sector with the task of propping up unregulated speculative debt in the private sector that is 7.4 times our annual productive capacity. Add USdeficit spending for three wars since 9/11, and major cuts in the top tax rates, and the burden becomes unsustainable. The difference is being made up in the guise of austerity, as everything we own is liquidated, from personal and retirement savings, to homes and public-sector assets that have been built up over generations.

In the US, the inexorable logic of this process is embedded in the numbers that comprise the national debt. By most estimates, the national debt is at least $15 trillion [10].(4) [11] Here is one way to understand where the money went.

  • · The USgovernment spent $7.4 trillion [12] on bank bailouts [13]. (5) [14]
  • · It then spent $5 trillion [15] for three elective wars in Iraq, Afghanistan and Libya. (6) [16]
  • · It simultaneously incurred $2.8 trillion [17] in lost revenue due to the Bush tax cuts for the top income brackets. (7) [18]

The $15.2 trillion total of reckless government giveaways and war spending equals the national debt. Where did this money come from? It came from we the people. During the current economic downturn:

The total losses to citizen wealth are also $15 trillion.

From this perspective, the ongoing financial crisis of the past few years is a giant swindle that transfers wealth from low- and middle-income citizens to bankers, defense contractors, real estate speculators and the wealthiest 1% via the US Treasury, which is acting as an agent for upward redistribution.

To give a comparative sense for the historic scale of the swindle, it is worth noting that the entire inflation-adjusted cost of World War II [27] was $3.6 trillion.(11) [28]

How did this happen?

In the 1980s, US President Ronald Reagan and British Prime Minister Margaret Thatcher set out to reconfigure and liberate Western capitalism by shrinking government’s role in the economy based on the neoliberal concept that markets are “self-regulating” and would produce unprecedented societal wealth if deregulated. Using the ideas of Ludwig von Mises and Friedrich Hayek of the famedAustrianSchool as macro-economic underpinning, Reagan and Thatcher sought to limit or eliminate government regulation that might inhibit the actions and movement of capital.

From the start of this Reagan-Thatcher revolution, the “trickle down” theory of wealth was accompanied by promises of a smaller, less intrusive state, except for a strong military. Fast forward through 30-plus years of nearly uninterrupted neoliberal policymaking – Bill Clinton and Tony Blair were deregulating neoliberal champions – and not only do we have the most expensive, heavily militarized, war-prone, increasingly inequitable and intrusive state in US (and British) history, it is also the most indebted.

Neoliberalism is failing on its own terms, yet it continues to define US politics due to its appeal among a sizable and particularly fervent segment [29] of the electorate. (12) [30]

The Rise of the Utopians

In order to understand the fervor of this continued popular support for failed policies, it is important to grasp the utopian, quasi-theological nature of neoliberal ideology. In the neoliberal worldview [31], the self-regulating market is not a merely human construct, but a form of naturally-occurring “spontaneous order” that produces optimum outcomes and maximum individual freedom if left completely unfettered. (13) [32] It is, as Karl Polanyi pointed out in “The Great Transformation,” [33] a radically utopian vision that rests on a blind faith that markets are essentially part of the natural order. (14) [34]

On the political right, this faith has reached its fullest expression, ultimately moving markets into the realm of the sacred, where their legitimacy cannot be questioned. In this utopian setting, regulation is not merely ill advised; it is a violation of natural law that is nearly sacrilegious. Witness, for example, the reactionary explosion on the right to the apostasy of Barack Obama’s health care plan to regulate the insurance cartels.

Although this pernicious sacralization of the self-regulating market is absurd on its face – modern markets being embedded in particular cultures and dependent on enormous government intervention and expenditures, full of frictions and totally absent the perfect information required by economic models – it has nonetheless turned out to have powerful allure even among those who are being swindled out of their hard-earned assets as a result.

Not least among the reasons for this allure is the fact that in the US, neoliberalism’s utopian market fundamentalism meshes so readily with utopian strains of fundamentalist Christianity, thereby lending the neoliberal project a zealous sense of populist mission. A neoliberal class project is dressed up and sold as a patriotic religious project.

While those at the top with access to policymakers reap enormous financial benefits from their embrace of neoliberal theology, many of those at the bottom who stand to lose the most economically join forces with them because of political appeals to their utopian religious and patriotic beliefs. Neoliberal presidential candidates from Ronald Reagan to Rick Santorum and Mitt Romney have come before voters as kindred utopian spirits, true believers couching their self-regulating market utopianism in the familiar and compelling language of patriotism, individual freedom, mom and pop entrepreneurism and religion. (‘Believe in America.’) Utopian faith thereby trumps the pain of ugly reality.

And the ugly reality is that neoliberal markets – unlike the elegant models of classical economics – are rigged. And rigged in favor of the wealthiest members of society. Income disparity [35] between the bottom and top 20 percent in the US has more than doubled since 1979. (15) [36] Income for the top 1 percent grew by 275 percent [37] from 1979 to 2007, while income for the bottom 20 percent grew just 18 percent [38]. (16) [39]

The USnow has 49.1 million people living in poverty [40], the highest level since the Great Depression [41] of the 1930′s. (17) [42] Yet among true believers at both ends of the economic spectrum, the powerful emotional pull of a shared utopian vision transcends the homely realities of the fact-based world.

Utopians at the Gate

In the 2012 US presidential election, the Republican Romney-Ryan ticket represents the triumph of neoliberal utopian faith over the messy realities of experience and history. There has been much discussion about the political calculations of Romney’s selection of Paul Ryan as his running mate, but it seems entirely plausible that he was picked because he is a kindred utopian spirit.

Born to wealth and privilege, Romney’s utopian worldview was formed among the high priests in the secretive and cloistered worlds of the Mormon Church and equity capital markets. At every turn in his insular pilgrim’s path, Romney’s utopian economic and religious beliefs have been reinforced in untroubled environments far removed from the struggles of daily life. He can change positions at will because his overriding utopian faith remains untouched irrespective of the particulars of individual policy prescriptions.

Also born to wealth, Ryan was a youthful devotee of neoliberal founding fathers von Mises and Hayek, supplementing his market faith with the culturally corrosive, ego-centered atheism of Ayn Rand, until the US Conference of Catholic Bishops, representing his professed Catholic faith, publicly objected to the cruelty and inhumanity of his 2011 US budget proposals.

The bishops described Ryan’s budget as being antithetical to their call to create “a circle of protection” [43] around the poor and vulnerable. With his tea-vangelical base of support threatened, Ryan quickly discovered St. Thomas Aquinas [44] as a more appropriate religious vehicle for channeling his market utopianism. (18) [45]

The presentation of the Romney-Ryan ticket by the Republican Party tells us that the path to utopia is stony and difficult, as it should be. Reaching the neoliberal Promised Land requires sacrifice. In order to scale the utopian summit, we must cast out the unbelievers (Obama, Democrats, liberals, environmentalists, feminists, et al.) and balance the divine books with the purifying fire of “austerity,” the neoliberal equivalent of self-flagellation.

Austerity-mandated cuts in vital public services must be accompanied by ever-increasing tax reductions for the top income brackets – aka, the priestly class of “job creators” – thus intentionally accelerating the insolvency of the iniquitous public sector. Someone has to pay for the extravagant incomes, lifestyles and war profiteering of the oracular speculative class in order to keep the swindle going, and it turns out to be us.

Where does this lead?

Were Romney and Ryan to be elected in November, it is probable that some of their more radical policy pronouncements [46] would be constrained by the realities of Washington. (19) [47] Yet there is something disquieting about the seriousness with which they embrace discredited utopian ideals. Fascism has been described as “a utopian movement in search of a utopia [48].” (20) [49] Today’s Republican Party, headed by true believers Romney and Ryan, comes dangerously close to this description.

Polanyi postulated three essential elements of Western consciousness: knowledge of death; knowledge of freedom; and knowledge of society, which is gained experientially and liberates us from our utopian illusions. (21) [50] The Republicans of 2012 are in denial about this third element of consciousness.

The certainty that comes from faith in an immanent utopia leaves them unable to acknowledge and deal with the enormous complexities and uncertainties of a modern multi-cultural, information-age society, except through demonization and the story of an idol defiled. As a result, the commonweal is eclipsed by a divisive utopian vision that defines extreme religious economic individualism as true patriotic freedom. Romney’s recent comments dismissing the lives of half the electorate [51] offer a clear illustration of the utopian incapacity to deal with society as it exists. (22) [52]

Given the billions in Super PAC money [53] now available to Republicans, (23) [54] this utopian strain in US politics is not likely to fade away irrespective of November’s election results, and that is a troubling realization in a nation more heavily armed [55] with weapons of mass destruction than any other in history. (24) [56]

Endnotes

1) Tobin isn’t enough now, Le Monde Diplomatique, February 2012

2) The Bill Daley Problem, from BaselineScenario.com.

3) International Swaps and Derivatives Association.NOTE: The Bank for International Settlements (BIS) actually reported a much higher total of $708 trillion for “notional amounts outstanding of over-the-counter (OTC) derivatives…” in a detailed 28 page analysis released November 2011 for the first half of 2011. To stay conservative, I have used the ISDA figure of $470 trillion. The BIS report can be found here: . [57] GDP from Wikipedia Public Data.

4) External government debt is actually $11.2 trillion. Getting to $15 or $16 trillion depends upon how one accounts for intra-governmental obligations. For the purposes of this article, the point is to show the orders of magnitude, not up to the minute totals, which are difficult to get in any event and tend to vary widely depending upon who is doing the calculations.ConcordCoalition.

5) Bloomberg Media.”Follow the $7.4 Trillion: Breakdown of US Government’s Rescue Efforts.”. NOTE: The real total of federal bailouts may be much higher. For example, a July 2011 GAO report documents over $16 trillion in secret loans to both US and foreign financial institutions.

6) Joseph Stiglitz estimated the total cost of Iraqand Afghanistanas high as $5 trillion in 2008, and in Sep. 2011 opined that this figure was too low. Project Syndicate, Joseph Stiglitz, The Price of 9/11. . [58] A June 2011BrownUniversity study reported by Voice of America, estimates the total forIraq andAfghanistan at nearly $4 trillion with a projected interest cost of an additional $1 trillion.Iraq,Afghanistan Wars Cost US Nearly $4 trillion. A detailed Sept. 2011, report by the Fiscal Times (more than a year ago) estimated the total US cost of war since 9/11 at over $5 trillion, with the wars inIraq andAfghanistan still in progress when the analysis was published. Fiscal Times, 9/11 and the $5 Trillion Aftermath.

7) Washington Post, Revisiting the cost of the Bush tax cuts.

8) For simplicity, I am using the CEPR figures below. While a more complicated case could be made for a higher total of lost citizen wealth, the main point is to show the logic of the process and the general orders of magnitude in the losses, which the CEPR figures conveniently encapsulate. Center for Economic and Policy Research, Paper Wealth and the Economic Crisis.

9) Other sources documenting US losses to citizen wealth. Reverse Mortgage Daily, Home Equity Declines more than 60% During Great Recession Says Fed Report. Federal Reserve Bank ofNew York, Household Debt and Saving During the 2007 Recession. American Progress, The Consequences of Conservatism (Estimates total losses at $12.8 trillion)

Urban Institute, How is the Financial Crisis Affecting Retirement Savings? ($3.4 trillion loss from 2007 to 2009). Reverse Mortgage Daily, Home Equity Declines more than 60% During Great Recession Says Fed Report. Dr. John Rutledge, Rutledge Capital, Total Assets of US Economy $188 trillion, 13.4 x GDP (Calculated $13 trillion loss to”household net worth” in 2008.) Don Shelton, The Great Recession of 2008-10.

10) Center for Economic and Policy Research, The $1 trillion wage deficit.

11) Don Ritholtz, The Big Picture.com, Big Bailouts, Bigger Bucks.

12) See Raymond Plant, The NeoliberalState, OxfordUniversityPress, 2009.
See also, David Harvey, A Brief History of Neoliberalism, Oxford University Press, 2005.
[29]

13) Library of Economics andLiberty, Friedrich Hayek.

14) Karl Polanyi, The Great Transformation, Beacon Press.

15) Mother Jones, March/April 2011, It’s the Inequality Stupid.

16) Congresssional Research Service, March 7, 2012, The US Income Distribution and Mobility: Trends and International Comparisons
Congressional Budget Office report to Congress, Trends in Distribution of Household Income Between 1979 and 2007 [59]
CBO Director’s Blog, October 25, 2011, Trends in the Distribution of Income [59]
Top 1% income crew 275 Percent Grew 275 Percent from 1979 to 2007 [59]

17) Fox News, Nov. 7, 2011, Census Data Show Americans Hit by Poverty at All-Time High
CBS News, Nov. 8, 2011, New data shows poverty at an all-time high [40]

18) [40] Letter to Congressional leaders from the US Conference of Catholic Bishops, April 16, 2012
New Yorker, August 11, 2012, Ayn Rand joins the Ticket [43]

19) Harper’s Magazine, Sep. 2012, Spend, Baby, Spend

20) Fascism – The Tensile Permanence, Dr. Sam Vaknin

21) Karl Polanyi, The Great Transformation, Beacon Press, 2001, p. 267-268

22) Mother Jones, Full Transcript of the Mitt Romney Secret Video

23) Rolling Stone, Right-Wing Billionaires Behind Mitt Romney, May 24, 2012

24) Wikipedia, Weapons of Mass Destruction

Source URL: http://www.alternet.org/election-2012/how-propagandists-1-are-manipulating-christian-teachings-rob-middle-class

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[63] http://www.alternet.org/tags/financial-crisis-0
[64] http://www.alternet.org/tags/neoliberalism
[65] http://www.alternet.org/tags/romney-0
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[68] http://www.alternet.org/tags/election-2012
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