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Sociopathy as Strength: The Modern Right

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.

Historical Precedents

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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  1. Bronte ALLAN

    Very wise words Dr Jones! It always amazes me that so many of the voting public seem to blindly follow the litany of lies & half-truths that the COALition seems to trot out on an almost daily basis. And not just on matters about all these so-called illegal immigrants. It also seems to be a very common event to always blame Labor for anyone who disagrees with their ideologies etc. It never ceases to amaze me that blatant lies &half-truths etc can be trotted out by the COALition constantly, with never any regard to anything remotely truthful about any of them. Of course, backed by the inept, lying bloody Mudrake press, ALL the idiotic shock jocks & of course the “mighty” (sic) Sky news mob of losers etc, these lies etc are continually pushed & spoken about & printed, so that after a while far too many “ordinary” people start to believe them. After all, the COALition never tells anything but the truth, so help me God! WTF?? None of them would really know the truth about anything, if it would seemingly, maybe, degrade their chances of perhaps winning the next Federal election. Cannot wait for all of these lying, flat earth, climate change denying, obscenely over-paid so called “politicians” to get belted out, come election day.

  2. whatever

    What do you do when you run a Talk-Back Radio Network and the RWNJ presenters are suddenly retrospect about spruiking their stock-in-trade Anti-Islam hysteria?
    Hey, you just line up a bunch of Alt-Right stooges pretending to be “regular callers” and let the HateSpeak run free.
    Most of these Radio Networks are receiving government funding, they managed to scam that money Nick Xenophon had set aside for ‘Regional Media Development’.

  3. Ibn Al Khatib.

    Yes. “Sociopathy” is a better descriptor than “pathology”

    Psychopathy is a far rarer thing than socio-culturally induced sociopathy, although psychopathy in its malignant form must surely contribute to the evolution of sociopathy.

  4. Andreas Bimba

    Very well written Tim, indeed compassion is strength and we must all use it in our own lives and to prevail over the tyrants, greedy and the cruel.

    “Cruelty crosses ideological lines”

    Sociopathy crosses ideological lines as well unfortunately.

    When you learn more about macroeconomics and national government finances, as well as a bit of the associated history of this subject, it soon becomes clear that unemployment is a choice by government as full employment at a liveable wage is easily attainable. Full employment was actually government policy in most nations in the post-war period up to the 1970’s or 1980’s.

    Is mass unemployment and underemployment a deliberate and avoidable sociopathic policy inflicted by our conservative and nominally progressive national governments? I believe it is, in fact one of the largest and most unjust of all. Only surpassed by plunging the biosphere into critical danger from global warming – knowingly.

    This New Zealand documentary ‘In a Land of Plenty’ made in 2002 is about the beginnings of the neoliberal era and the abandonment of full employment policies in New Zealand, covering the period 1984 to 1999.

    It runs for 1hr 47 min and I highly recommend it. It is also very relevant to our current times and the themes are applicable internationally.

    A good description of the film can be found here.

  5. DrakeN

    My contention is that the biological evolution of the human species remains many millenia in arrears of its technological progress.

  6. Ewen

    Highly recommended reading!
    It so much needs to be said and repeated and spread.
    The way I see it, I equate sociopathy, psychopathy and other low empathy states as symptoms of fascism and often qualities of conservative and authoritarian governments.
    The old left/right distinctions are confusing and no longer work in today’s political landscape.
    The old “left” used to support authoritarian communist regimes which were obviously neo-fascist.
    The term “Red Fascist” to describe Soviet Communism was used in the 1940s by Dr Willhelm Reich, the author of “The Mass Psychology of Fascism”.Reich, a student of Freud was an Austrian Jew who escaped Nazi Germany and who had previously been part of the communist resistance to Hitler.

  7. Zathras

    Sociopathy is a pretty broad area and in more extreme cases sufferers are classified as Pychopaths.

    A simpler explanation is that those on the extreme right are incapable of empathy, especially those from privileged backgrounds and their attitude to “the undeserving poor”.

    As well as not being able to relate to or identify with those outside their social strata, perhaps they were never actually shown compassion during their formative years, so the cycle continues.

    Of course it’s possible to be born with such tendencies. There has been research into the formation of the Amygdala and political preference –

  8. Andreas Bimba

    Are Bill Shorten and Jacinda Adern sociopaths?

    I’m confident in concluding that neither are personally but their governments are or will be as neither will take on the business and financial establishment and adopt full employment policies.

    Our conservative governments of course are generally worse as they tend to actively implement the whole ideological agenda of the greed obsessed business and finance elites. But even here New Zealand’s conservative National party has often been the party resisting the neoliberal reforms of the Labour party such as harsh austerity and excessive opening up of markets, at least a decade or two ago.

    The more progressive side do try to apply higher taxes and more tax compliance on business and the wealthy and to remove many tax concessions for the wealthy and this releases more funding capacity for worthy social programs but it is fiscal deficits that are the primary policy tool for reducing unemployment and for enabling an increase in wages more broadly.

    Currently both our Labor party and New Zealand’s Labour government are targeting surpluses for the national government. Surpluses under the current circumstances of record personal debt, stagnant wages and consumption, current account deficits and increasing net savings (by the wealthy), WILL lead to recessions and even higher real levels of unemployment and underemployment. Perversely the recessions then rapidly turn the national government surpluses into large deficits as taxation revenues plunge and social support costs increase.

    These governments might say we reduced the debt and the interest bills. Well no, not once the recession hits and in fact all they will achieve is a squandering of national economic potential and inflict much totally avoidable suffering upon their constituents.

    Electorally this usually means that party loses office at the next election.

    National governments are not funding constrained like individuals, businesses and state and local governments as they are currency issuers and are not currency users like us.

    Even if you accept the logic that national governments must issue bonds to fund deficits, the central bank can set whatever interest rate it chooses, even zero which is the current situation in Japan. Where is the debt burden with zero interest?

    Beware the kind facade of sociopathic nominally progressive governments as well as the stark brutality and greed of governments like our current one.

  9. Phil Gorman

    Thank you, Tom, for your clear exposition of the parlous state we’re in.
    I heartily agree with your analysis and DrakeN’s contention that the biological evolution of our species remains millennia in arrears of its technological progress.

    The 18th Century renaissance of reason soon passed; we are back to the triumph of feeling and mumbo jumbo over thinking. The polity is swayed by demagoguery to act against its own interests. We are divided by sociopaths and psychopaths who exploit human weakness, ignorance and fear. Atavistic tribalism, with all its prejudices, threatens to undo hard-won civil societies.

  10. Lambert Simnel

    I liked DrakeN’s observation.

  11. Alcibiades

    Australian Conservatives ?

    Conservative party(?) leader Cori Bernadi (Senator (SA))(Liberal Party Senate defector) has defended distributing a flyer in the Victorian seat of Kooyong calling for a crackdown on “Islamic extremism”, less than a week after our Aussie terrorist committed the massacre in NZ.

  12. andy56

    It also runs into why the liberals have fewer women. You have to be a sociopath to have ” merit”. Reynolds, ferantti wells, Odwyer and who could forget Mirrabella?

  13. Lambert Simnel

    Not to mention Price and Cash.

  14. paul walter

    The NSW election result, the purest exercise in voter mulishness I have witnessed in my life, really brings new meaning to the title of this posting.

    “Sociopathy as Strength: The Modern Right” seems to be a universal rather than minority trait there.

    Decoded, does it infer the milling about of a massive herd of sheep?

    Talk about complicity…

  15. James Lawrie

    It appears that the average citizen, although they avoid seeing themselves as such, are too disinterested in anything but themselves to want anything other than a simplistic, childish farming of the question

  16. Andreas Bimba

    Spot on James.

    The indoctrination of much of the populace by the corporatist ‘progressive’ and right wing mainstream media has I believe led to a degeneration of the capacity for compassion and for reason over many decades. Simple and totally inappropriate solutions are blurted out to whoever will listen to largely irrelevant problems and grievances by substantial sections of the populace. The crony capitalists and vested interests are playing with the populace like abused children and have made our democracy largely ineffective at that level and at the level of our elected representatives who either dance to their tune or remain impotent.

    A Labor victory although a big improvement will not suffice on its own to restore our democracy and society.

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