Capitalism and Sociopathy: A Relationship Gone Sour

capitalism

Capitalism is both primarily economic theory but can also function as a social theory that effects its inhabitants in many facets of their lives. Much of the way it acheives those effects is through the motivating mechanisms imbeded within its structure; functioning as a rewards system that has an effect both within the economic system and externally in the social sphere. How you might ask? By emphasizing profit as a powerful stimulant that effects behavior (Suciu,2009). And one of the many expressions of that powerful stimulant is in the indiscriminate buying and selling of products(by an individual or coporation) regardless of their ethical consequences–whether the repercussions be in the form of medical, mental, spiritual, or emotional disarray of those around them. All in the name of the characteristic and reinforcing profit motive central to capitalism.  The bigger ethical problem, however, is when the economic system effects and transfers over to social values. As Titus Suciu (2009) of Transylvania University of Brasov, in the economic sciences department, says:

“Ethical [problem] results from the confrontation between the economic performances of the organization (measured by costs and profits) and the social performance, determined in terms of obligations towards the persons and social categories from inside and outside of the organization” (p. 241:5)

Because many of these “economic agents” (whether corporate or individual) do not have awareness of the deleterious effects might have on the population(when you consider profit as a powerful stimulant within the system), many of these agents become accustomed to the apathy and callousness that is required to make the economic system work. These lifestyles and economic-values-turned-cultural-values, train the rest of society to value these characteristics, as they are the traits that allow you to prosper and succeed.

As Suciu goes on to say:

“As an example, let’s consider the case of alcohol and tobacco; even if the distribution of these commercial items is considered legal after the distributors inscribed on the labels the necessary specifications, still, the economic agents do not think about the profound moral problems that arise following the consumption, the harmful and noxious problems of the alcoholism, the dramatic effects of driving under the influence or the health issues, such as cirrhosis or pulmonary cancer”(p. 241:5)

The callousness and apathy to make an economic system like this succeed are attributes most often associated with sociopathic individuals. So it should be no surprise that production within these corporations abandon an ethical dimension because it impedes on the profit motive that acts as a powerful stimulant within the capitalist system. Looked at behavioristically, profit, acting as a rewards system, positively reinforces sociopathic characteristics, as they are a means to an end that results in a future reward(profit or capital). Throughout a period of time, these behavior patterns become normative and transfer over, inevitably, to culture. A problem that has already occured.

What On Earth Is Sociopathy?

6a00d834515f9b69e2015435bc1a10970c-800wiFor some of you reading this and do not know, sociopathy, or psychopathy, (often interchangeably used by clinicians) is a condition that shares many traits with antisocial personality disorder; in the form of a disregard for right and wrong, callousness or apathy, manipulativeness, superficial charm, impulsivity, and pathological lying (Kosson, 2013a). Anyone that suffers from any of these characteristic symptoms generally has a hard time with interpersonal relationships and have a more than likely potential to cause the people around them to suffer–including themselves–when these symptoms are persistently engaged with.

A great article on sociopathy is one written by Dr Seth Meyers, a blogger on Psychology Today, who writes about the sociopathy in an effort to better understand the condition that seems so illusive. He makes the distinction that sociopaths are not inherently bad or immoral people, rather that they are incapable at all of feelings toward others, or generating any emotion in that respect (Meyers, 2013b). Though the effects of some of their behaviors can be seen as evil, Dr Meyers does point out a caveat:

“Are sociopaths bad people? It’s easy to utter a full-throated “Yes!” for so many reasons, but the reality is that sociopaths don’t necessarily have malicious feelings toward others. The problem is that they have very little true feeling at all for others, which allows them to treat others as objects. The effect of their behavior is undoubtedly malicious, though the intention is not necessarily the same thing”(par 2)

So it is paramount not to confuse sociopathy with something as serious as antisocial personality disorder–which does require a more comprehensive psychiatric intervention. For those that would like to know, one of the differences between sociopathy and antisocial personality disorder is that antisocial personality disorder is associated with a history of child abuse or early-in-life criminal behavior. Sociopathy that critieria is not needed or relevant. Nevertheless, the ethical dilemma is still present insofar as the acts of a sociopath produces some sort of harm or destruction to their surroundings and environment.

For any lingering clarifications you might need about sociopathy(or psychopathy as it is used in this video) and antisocial personality disorder, refer here:

The video is informative if you would like to know more about the origins and genealogy sociopathy(psychopathy) and antisocial personality disorder.

Nevertheless, to shed further light on the issue, psychologist Martha Stout, who’s a clinical instructor at Harvard Medical School, mentions in her book ‘The Sociopath Nextdoor‘ that over 4% of the American population suffer from sociopathy. A 4% which translates to about 12 million Americans. And one of the main characteristics she seems to emphasize throughout the book is “conscienceless” and “apathy”; two characteristics which are hallmark indicators of sociopathy. There are many cases individuals might point out that where someone they know are emotionally unresponsive or have a difficulty in showing compassion to others. So naturally when one hears that over 4% of Americans are suffering from sociopathic symptoms, one begins to wonder what might be the cause of such a growing epidemic.

What is causing such a rise in sociopathy? Can it be economic and marketing systems that are transferring the values we seem to think are cultural alone? Is the cause of the rising tide of sociopathy a result of something more mundane as our life style? Well, the answer to that is something fundamental in capitalism: consumerism and buying patterns.

Where Does Sociopathy and Capitalism Meet?

Because capitalism requires a high degree of callousness, apathy, and an insensitivity to ethics in order to prosper on the part of the seller(i.e. either corporations or individuals), much of the required behavior it produces requires the same degree as those characteristics in the seller as it does in the buyer; that required behavior is known as consumerism and our buying patterns, as mentioned before. Capitalism cannot succeed without consumerist behavior. And so this sociopathic epidemic can be traced to the economic-value-turned-cultural-value brought to you by capitalism and its buying and selling trends. Buyers (i.e the customer/consumer) enable the prolongation of this activity and so pass it onto future generations. The resultant cultural transference becomes the gold standard in how to function in the socio-economic culture we reside in. As evolutionary psychologist Geoffery Miller puts it,

“[…]marketing is not just one of the most important ideas in business. It has become the most dominant force in human culture”(par 2)

consumerismBehavior over a long period of time becomes unnoticed and individuals, as a result, are unable to see the consequences of their actions because of the culturally transferred sociopathic-like traits. For example, the normalization of sociopathic traits is most evident when one buys cigarettes, knowing the effects that it will have on their health, those around them, and ultimately the environment, still purchase them. Despite the fact that the negative effects of cigarettes are well-known throughout the common lay person. There is even a warning symbol on the cigarette carton itself! Tobacco companies still push production and even fund lobbyists to protect their capital. And yet customers, in spite of numerous forewarnings and dangers, buy the product enabling these companies to not only produce profit but produce vast amounts of it. Both sides should be considered guilty of the sociopathic disconnect.

Even more so, when the consumer buys of a variety of products that are well-documented to be bad for your health (e.g. fastfoods), and on a consistent basis consume these products knowing they are detrimental for your health which eventually lead to life-threatening consequences. The progressive blunting to sense of self and regard for your own wellbeing could just be another example of the development of callousness and inconstientiousness seen in sociopaths. If one does not have regard for him/herself, what would make anyone think they would have any regard to those around him/her? These mundane practices and patterns are most likely contributors in the development of sociopathic traits and could go unnoticed for a long time because we are so used to them. Then, as a result of the implicit nature of sociopathy in our daily practises, many of the future CEOs are conditioned with these values that work well with corporation or businesses, and would be perfect candidates to function in these type of markets with the disastrous criterium. Our consumerist culture, for some, produces sociopaths. So the conundrum goes; you have the future CEO (the seller) and the customer/consumer (the buyer)–both conditioned with these implicit sociopathic values; creating a vicious self-sustaining cycle of automatons reeking havoc on the ecology of our environment and personal wellbeing of individuals. It is a tragic love story.

It should be nothing novel that then consumerism has become a value planted in our culture, and more than likely any culture that is industrialized and takes part in the world economy. As cultural anthropologist Dr Peter Stromberg(2012) would agree;

“If we want to have a genuine discussion about consumption, first we must understand it. And as I have said, that means we have to understand that consumption is about values, it is about people’s moral convictions. We have to start from the realization that people consume in an attempt to lead a life that is meaningful according to their values”(par 9)

Anyone probably reading this can pull up several more examples of consumerist behavior that is detrimental in someway to the self or to those around them. Whether it is the corporations selling cigarettes and alcohol or the consumer buying these products that are detrimental to health and taking them anyway. Every little action weaves itself into the fabric of our normal lives which become passed on to future generations to inherit. Whether unwittingly or wittingly, these patterns become, what we believe, to be essential aspects of our lives.

Conclusion

Lifestyles and cultural values have a conditioning effect on our behavior, and after an extended period of time, they become inherited forms of behavior for our offspring–if not inherited, there is at least an environment that has all the right variables to transform an individual toward those lifestyles and cultural values. Whether they become CEOs of corporations producing deleterious production or consumers enabling that deleterious production as buyers, it becomes apparent that such activity would require a repertoire in the personality that is similar to a sociopath’s. Apathy, callousness, a disregard for a morality are all hallmark signs of sociopathy. Although, there are few who make an earnest effort not to participate in these harmful practices, there is a majority that do not.  The solution to this is in the buyer, first. Wether he/she chooses not to purchase these products as a progressive step forward does make a positive change. Not only in their lifestyle, but in the collective movement that is slowly building toward a conscientious effort to make the world a better place. The buyer is in the all important “enabler”.  These progressive steps can build a better environment that does not produce sociopaths. Much of it is a result of how our economic and social system function. I believe a change is in order.

References:

Kossan, D. David Kosson : Psychopathy, Antisocial Personality Disorder, and Underlying Mechanisms. (2013a). Retrieved from http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=XIOFe5cFDg4

Meyers, S. (2013b, April 2). Understanding the Sociopath: Cause, Motivation, Relationship. Psychology Today. Retrieved on August 1 2013, from http://www.psychologytoday.com/blog/insight-is-2020/201304/understanding-the-sociopath-cause-motivation-relationship

Stout, M. (2005). The Sociopath Next Door. Harmony Publishers

Stromberg, P. (2012, July 29). Do Americans Consume Too Much? Psychology Today. Retrieved on August 1 2013, from http://www.psychologytoday.com/blog/sex-drugs-and-boredom/201207/do-americans-consume-too-much

Suciu, T. (2009). Is Capitalism Ethical? Bulletin of the Transilvania University of Brasov, Series V: Economic Sciences  Vol. 2 (51). Retrieved from http://but.unitbv.ro/BU2009/BULETIN2009/Series%20V/BULETIN%20V%20PDF/237%20suciu%20BUT%202009.pdf

Walters, S. (2010). Spent: Sex, Evolution, and Consumer Behavior. Psych Central. Retrieved on August 4, 2013, from http://psychcentral.com/lib/spent-sex-evolution-and-consumer-behavior/0004868

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One response to “Capitalism and Sociopathy: A Relationship Gone Sour

  1. I have been thinking about this connection/relationship between capitalism and sociopathy for quite some time now and you have articulated it perfectly here.There also seems to be an issue with how society has transformed what used to be classified as “greed” to now represent “ambition”. Ambition is the key ingredient in the prescribed formula for “success” in a capitalistic world. But ambition, as a disguise for greed, gives license for people to make the morally descending leap toward apathy: the opposite of empathy, which is essentially the only true threat to so-called “ambition” as it can prevent us from making self-serving decisions. Anyway, thank you for writing this.

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