Sociopathy is a broad term that refers to various personality defects. In this instance, I am using the term in the popular sense to mean one who is devoid of empathy for their fellow humans. Sociopaths cannot place themselves in another person’s situation and imagine how they would react. The resultant lack of empathy often leads to cruelty. This has largely been the approach of right wing governments over the decades. Instead of taking a compassionate and humanistic approach to the issues of the day, the right demands conformity. Indeed, conformity is the price for safety. Any deviation from the expected lock-step compliance will result in ostracism. This often takes the form of social ostracism.
As examples of the ostracism principle, consider how Trump treats anyone who looks at him sideways. Alternatively, consider Morrison’s or Canavan’s response to the protesting climate kids. Even if brownshirts do not yet exist and our so-called leaders are not yet actual fascists, they are hardline ideologues who are about using fear to control the population. We will keep you safe from this thing over which we keep stoking fear. Don’t believe me? Let us take a look back.
You may have noticed that, in recent history, the right wing has portrayed itself as the strong party against the issue or group that is the focus of the fear in a given era. Examples of this fear focus group include communists in the 1950s, hippies in the 60s, drug users in the 70s and 80s, crime in the 90s and immigration in our own day. You know the type: The House UnAmerican Activities Committee, cracking skulls, reefer madness, super-predators and now stop the boats and build the wall. So little has changed in the last seventy years. You know, one of the worst things about being an historian is watching society not only fail to learn the lessons of history, but actively repeating the flaws of the past.
Dealing with Opposition
If the other party has the temerity to oppose the draconian right wing response to an issue, it is weak on these issues which means that you cannot elect them. This approach erodes democracy, since a vote for the other guy is now self-destructive rather than in inalienable right. In addition, how would you prove them wrong? They have set up a situation whereby you either agree with them and become as bigoted and cruel as they are, or you do not care about the safety of the nation or, heaven forbid, the children. We saw this in the marriage equality debate: insert Helen Lovejoy’s ‘Won’t somebody PLEASE think of the CHILDREN?’ here.
The Response: How the Right Deals with Issues
The right wing response to the issue of the day has often involved taking a hard line and being ‘tough’, which usually involves picking on the powerless and the outsiders. Such groups include the poor, immigrants, blacks, gays and other minorities who lack money and power. This response is often immoral and cruel for its own sake. The problem with such a a hardline approach is that, to put it crudely, it involves being a d*ck. Mistreating people, acting with prejudice and bigotry and often acting with excessive force.
The right wing parties portray themselves as tough, strong and the only ones who can keep you safe. Now, this the definition of terrorism itself (using the threat of danger to advance a political agenda). In addition, it also represents a no compromise, cold and detached approach to what are often very complex, and very human, issues. As an example, we continue to deal with drug addiction as a criminal issue rather than a medical problem. In addition, the governments of the 60s and 70s viewed the protest movements as criminal entities ripe for suppression rather than a human desire for change. We observe in our own day governments viewing immigration as a problem around ‘illegals’ and ‘boats’ (note the utter lack of humanity in both of those terms) rather than as a human issue of desperate people fleeing violence and persecution. In a cruel irony, the violence these people are fleeing is often instituted by the west.
What Does it Mean?
The narrow nature of the conservative approach to issues leaves nuance to the side. The N word and the F word are not what you think they are, rather they are Nuance and Facts. Neither of these things has any place in a hardline, cookie-cutter response to every problem. The issue is not individual circumstances, but rather the question becomes ‘do you fit into this category? Right – this is how we deal with you’. No thought goes into their approach to issues; it is simply about being as cruel as possible and masking it as ‘keeping you safe’. Well I for one resent this sociopathic and cruel approach to issues being passed off as ‘strength’. This is not strength. Indeed, it is the exact opposite. The tighter your grip, the more desperate you seem.
Lest we think this is ideological, HBO’s Bill Maher laid this one to rest when he said ‘there is no ideology here; it’s just about being a d*ck’. I agree. They may say it is ideological, but cruelty is not a function of ideology. Stalin ruled a communist regime (ostensibly of the left) and Hitler a National Socialist regime, which was of the right. Both were monstrous and cruel regimes which led to the deaths of millions. Cruelty crosses ideological lines.
The right wing has set up a false dichotomy whereby showing any human compassion towards the fear focal point is seen as weakness. We must resist this. It is entirely possible to show compassion without being ‘soft’ on an issue. Examples of such an approach include rehabilitation over punitive criminal punishment and medical treatment for drug addicts. On the contrary, the right wing approach says ‘you have two choices and this is why the other one is stupid’. In response, I would point out that there is indeed middle ground between being cruel for its own sake and being ‘weak’. We may understand this latter term as ‘not doing our policy’.
Compassion is not weakness, and we need to stop viewing in this way. It is possible for humanity to do better than this. We need to stop seeing governmental sociopathy as strength. Rather, we need to see it for what it is: vindictive cruelty designed to maximise fear, breed conformity and maintain the current power structure.
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