All About Ayn

randglIt is a common place to call Ayn Rand a psychopath. Because her philosophy is compatible in so many ways with psychopathy, I, too, accepted this point of view. But in my last blog post, I came across an anomaly that led me to revise that opinion. Ayn Rand was not a psychopath. She was a narcissist.

As I said in my last post, Altruism and Empathy, Ayn Rand considered altruism a great evil. She wrote an essay on The Virtue of Selfishness where she set out to rehabilitate the word, “selfish” and defend the right of sharingthe individual to put hirself first. Sounds psychopathic. But, while people called “selfless” in popular culture are usually obnoxiously self-negating (Yes, I have issues. My younger sister would always give-in when there was a conflict which made her look like a saint in the  eyes of our mother. I wanted her to struggle and may the best one—me—win), psychopaths are selfless in a very real sense. We don’t have as firmly rooted identity. We can “be” anything we need to be at the moment for whatever purpose1.

fountainheadI first encountered Ayn Rand’s writings in my teens. The Fountainhead came across as a paean to individuality, sticking to your convictions no matter what. That appealed to me (and still does). It didn’t really change my mind about anything. I already believed in thinking for oneself and resisting group-think. It was only when I read Atlas Shrugged that I realized what a right-wing political agenda she had. That did change my opinions on things. I became a Goldwater Republican at the time he ran for president. Every few years, I re-read Rand’s novels and got different things from them each time (the test of a good writer). I became increasingly critical of her politics and have documented my points of disagreement in darwinism.jpgessays on my website, Social Darwinism of Ayn Rand (see also Libertarianism and Psychopathy). This article is followed by links to essays about Ayn Rand in both her intellectual and personal life written by both myself and others. These essays uncovered a disturbing cultism that surrounded her during her career. This cultism radically contradicted everything she preached about individualism. This contradiction struck me as a paradox until now.

narcunamOne key unlocks the door to the answer of how one of the most extreme advocates of individualism could preside over such a cult-like following that was the diametric opposite of individuality. The best, meaning the most intelligent and independent, of her students (Barbara and Nathaniel Branden) broke from the stifling conformity of her milieu and were expelled with much drama. The person to inherit her mantel was the man who was the most abject follower of the bunch (Leonard Peikoff). She became increasingly demanding of adulation and complete agreement in all areas of life as she aged. She also violated her own principles by accepting Medicare (under her legal but less well known name, Alice O’Connor) when she needed treatment for lung cancer. The key has a name which clarifies everything: Narcissism.

aynsmokingThe narcissist needs “narcissistic supply” and Ayn Rand got it in spades from her circle of students/followers. They called their group “The Collective” in the spirit of irony, since they were really against collectivism. But the double irony was that they really were a collective. Ayn nourished an affectation of her trademark smoking with a cigarette holder. Barbara Branden copied her and soon everyone was doing it. It became more and more difficult to remain in Ayn’s good graces. If someone liked the wrong kind of music or fancied the wrong love interest, one was labeled with the damning judgement that this person had a “malevolent view of the universe.” Despite her narcissism, Ayn Rand was an outspoken critic of emotionalism. Her students were sneered at for any sentence starting with “I feel.” They were supposed to say, “I think.” Nevertheless, gatherings of the inner circle were often hothouses of emotion. Ayn was deeply intense and her followers all seemed to share that  quality.

psychopathlabelPeople who call her a psychopath do so on the basis of her moral philosophy. She insisted the universe was a “benevolent” place and life was about happiness. Sacrifice of individual happiness for the sake of alleviating someone else’s suffering was anathema. Some of the practical results of this value upset many readers. The scene in The Fountainhead in which the hero, Roark, blows up a housing project which he had designed on the ground that it would be built as he had designed it really bothered some people even though nobody was hurt (the buildings were empty). I think it provides a good point of exploration of socio-moral values. Does a man have the right to withhold his creativity if he isn’t rewarded sufficiently? If he does not have that right, isn’t that tantamount to slavery?

peoplestempleI have found a lot to criticize in Ayn Rand’s philosophy. But those who dismiss it too quickly should look at what the opposite could lead to. I submit Self-Esteem: The People’s Temple Seen through two people’s eyes.  What people owe each other (if anything) is a topic that can be discussed endlessly.

I find it interesting that “victims/recovery blogs” more frequently target “narcissistic abuse” than psychopathic even though psychopaths are generally considered the most “evil” of the Bs. Sam Vaknin even labeled Adolf Hitler a narc (Hitler: the inverted Christ). I guess what it takes to buttress a narcissistic ego costs more in human terms than what an encounter with a psychopath usually costs (unless s/he’s a killer).


  • Nathaniel Branden was her leading disciple and founder of the Nathaniel Branden Institute which offered lectures on Objectivism. He was also Rand’s clandistine lover for years. Their friendship ended in an ugly rift as is documented in his book, My Years With Ayn Rand.
  • Barbara Branden, Nathaniel Branden’s wife and one of the main supporters of Objectivism and friend of Ayn Rand, wrote her own book about those years, The Passion of Ayn Rand.
  • The Psychopathy of Ayn Rand I disagree with some of the Lucky Otter’s analysis of the books. For example, the changes in Roard’s design of the housing project are a lot more than minor and Roark had agreed to do this project with no pay or recognition. Having it go up as he designed it was his only reward. There were no people living in the project when he blew it up. In Atlas Shrugged, the strikers did NOT engineer the train crash. The incompetence of the people running it was the cause. But I basically agree with the article. I consider Ayn Rand a psychopath. There is more evidence in her life as well as her philosophy and writing.
  • Ayn Rand Institute, run by Leonard Peikoff. An original member of “The Collective” (a name adopted by Ayn Rand’s inner circle in the spirit of irony), he was regarded by Nathaniel Branden and Ayn Rand as a “social metaphysician,” someone who got his sense of reality from other people rather than from his own rational use of his mind and senses. This was a very bad thing to Objectivists and it is ironic that he was the one in the group to remain the most steadfast and uncritical to Ayn’s original ideas as well as the one to avoid a major rift.
  • The Unofficial “Passion of Ayn Rand” Movie Homepage
  • The Sociology of the Ayn Rand Cult, by Murray Rothbard.
  • Atlas as an Avenging God, my essay on Objectivism and Atlas Shrugged.
  • Fiction Becomes Reality. I wouldn’t have included this link because associating Ayn Rand with an off-the-wall loon-ball like Glenn Beck seems rather unfair to Ayn Rand. However, her own Ayn Rand Institute had the link (which is where I got it from. So, if they’re not ashamed of the association, I guess they don’t need my protection.
  • The Objectivist Center, Almost Identical to The Atlas Society page. Apparently, the two are one but which is the most current, I cannot say.
  • Criticisms of Objectivism
  • Why Ayn Rand Was Wrong about Altruism, Selfishness, and Human Nature. Eric Michael Johnson, Evonomics
  • Ayn Rand vs. the Pygmies. Groups and Gossip Drove the Evolution of Human Nature
  • Romancing the Stone Cold Killer. Ayn Rand’s prototypical hero a murderer.
  • Atlas Sucked, by Scott.
  • Ayn Rand Railed Against Government Benefits, But Grabbed Social Security and Medicare When She Needed Them

Altruism and Empathy

Who Would Donate a Kidney to a Stranger? An ‘Anti-Psychopath’, reads the heading or kidneyan article by Melissa Dahl on Science of Us. It reminds me of a story line in the TV show, Beverly Hills 90210 in which a character, Valerie, is asked to donate her kidney to a stranger. She had signed up at one time and she had a rare blood type that made it hard to find donors. She agreed until she found out that the would-be recipient was a child molester. To me, it seems crazy to donate a kidney to another person unless I valued that person’s life really highly. The fact that someone needs my kidney just doesn’t cut it with me. Giving one of one’s kidneys is a sacrificial act. You are submitting to surgery and losing a healthy organ which taking a chance on infection. But it seems some people are that altruistic.

valerieA psychologist named Abigail Marsh (Neural and Cognitive Characteristics of Extraordinary Altruists) studied brain scans which revealed the not surprising fact that “the donors’ brains even looked structurally different from psychopaths’: While psychopaths have a physically smaller amygdala — the brain structure associated with emotion — than the average person, the donors had oversize ones.” But these altruists were really humble. They didn’t think they were anything special. The article concluded, “The world’s nicest people, in other words, don’t even grasp how nice they really are. Which, if you think about it, makes them even nicer.” Well, that’s one man’s opinion. I don’t much value altruism or humility which is one of the things I find annoying about Beverly Hills 90210 which pushes such values.

harrypotterA related article asked, Can Harry Potter Teach Kids Empathy? A study found that kids who read the books and identified with Harry Potter were more empathetic. Of course, some fans of the books identified with Harry’s enemies, such as Slytherins. Interesting how Slytherin House has a snake for it’s mascot. Psychopaths are often accused of being “reptiles” so it seems logical that we are in that house. Frankly Potter’s altruism drives me up a wall. In Book 7, Harry’s friends go to enormous lengths to safely transport Harry to the Weasley’s house where he will be safe from the Death Eaters. As soon as he gets there, he wants to leave because he doesn’t want to endanger them with his presence. How idiotic. They already endangered themselves by getting him there. There were even deaths. What is the point of him leaving after he gets there? Really stupid.

gryffinder_crestGryffinders (in Harry Potter) are altruists and also rule-breakers. Do they have anything else in common with psychopaths besides contempt for the rules? There’s courage. Both kinds will risk their lives with little concern for safety. But we, Slytherins, don’t cotton much to Gryffinders. We find them too full of themselves. They are the cheerleaders and jocks found in every high school, the glittering, upbeat, perky stars whose qualities always seem to be worshiped in America (and, perhaps, England). Slytherins are more like the goths, not perky and peppy but dark and sneaky. Is it possible that extreme altruists are narcs? Think about it. They get oodles of narcissistic supply. Some slytherincrestnarcissists become leaders of an idealistic movement or religion. But Matthew 6:3-4 says, “But when you give to the poor, do not let your left hand know what your right hand is doing, so that your giving will be in secret; and your Father who sees what is done in secret will reward you.” Of course, if you believe God is watching and rewarding, one can still be seeking narcissistic supple. But the first study mentioned here, brain scans done by Abigail Marsh, claimed that the altruists were a humble lot. I guess both kind can be altruistic for different reasons. Some of them really seem to love people more than they love themselves. Melissa Dahl calls such people “antipsychopaths.” In this blog, I wrote about a group of people whom I considered the opposite of psychopaths, those with Williams Syndrome. They really love people indiscriminately. They don’t seem especially altruistic but I suppose they could be if given a chance.

heroPsychology Today discusses Altruism, suggesting “many psychologists believe we’re hard-wired for empathy.” And an article by Craig D. Marker, Ph.D. called Altruism, Heroics and Extreme-Altruism suggests similarities between “extreme-altruists” and psychopaths. He refers to an article by Andrea Kuszewski, called Addicted to Being Good? The Psychopathology Of Heroism which suggests the same thing. “X-altruists are compelled to good, even when doing so makes no sense and brings harm upon them. The cannot tolerate injustice, and go to extreme lengths to help those who have been wronged, regardless of their personal relationship to them. Now, I am not speaking of the guy who helps an old lady cross the street. I am speaking of the guy who throws himself in front of a speeding bus to push the old lady out of the way, killing himself in the process. The average, kind, thoughtful person does not take these kinds of extreme personal risks on a regular basis.

psychopathThe article, which was inconclusive, was followed by comments. One by Lillian Dore said, “There are no similarities between psychopaths and the altruistic. 1) Those who truly wish to help others never say, ‘Hey, I think if I help this person it would be an amazing thrill and a novelty!’ It’s an impulse yes, but those who do help it’s not for self or out praise, or for the thrill in it.” I agree. Yes, psychopaths are impulsive, daring and rule-breaking. But we are not altruists. Of course, a psychopath might perform an altruistic act because s/he wanted to. If somebody whom we value needs extraordinary randhelp, we will give it if we want to. In that case, it is simply acting for oneself, for what we support. This was made clear by Ayn Rand, who was an outspoken opponent of altruism, even considered it “evil.” Her heroes would risk life and limb for things that mattered to them but they still insisted that their actions were profoundly selfish (a word that Rand has worked to rehabilitate from pejorative to positive).

What is the moral code of altruism? The basic principle of altruism is that man has no right to exist for his own sake, that service to others is the only justification of his existence, and that self-sacrifice is his highest moral duty, virtue and value.

Do not confuse altruism with kindness, good will or respect for the rights of others. These are not primaries, but consequences, which, in fact, altruism makes impossible. The irreducible primary of altruism, the basic absolute, is self-sacrifice—which means; self-immolation, self-abnegation, self-denial, self-destruction—which means: the self as a standard of evil, the selfless as a standard of the good.

methoOf course, in one sense, psychopaths are selfless. That is, we don’t have as firmly entrenched sense of who and what we are at any given time. And we can wear a mask to make us seem to be whatever others need us to be. That’s pretty selfless. M.E. Thomas mentions in Confessions of a Sociopath,

I had no self. If I had been Buddhist on my path to seeking Nirvana, this lack of self would have been a huge breakthrough, but I didn’t feel a sense of accomplishment at having achieved that state. Instead I felt the only way anyone can ever feel without a sense of self — free.

taylorswiftOr, as Taylor Swift sang in Blank Space, “Find out what you want. Be that girl for a month.” Many people have called Ayn Rand a psychopath but this strikes me as an important difference. Ayn Rand worships the ego, the self. However, she had a good point in nailing the compulsory nature of altruism as a value.

The difference must be in the freedom of the will. People who want to be kind to others and who act on that desire are just being nice (see Doing Something Nice for No Reason). Those who believe one ought to be self-sacrificing and who try to make others conform to that value are opposed to freedom. One reason psychopaths usually seem to be happier than most is this freedom.



hangingcatA significant portion of my adolescence was with the character of Smerdyakov in Dostoevsky’s The Brothers Karamazov. After “being” Prince Myshkin from The Idiot for a year, I was sick of all that goodness and I wanted to embrace the opposite. He is described in one article as “up there with the great villains of world literature.” Like Voldemort? Hardly.  But he is described by various writers as “repulsive,” with a “perpetual chip on his smerdyshoulder” but also lacking in a redeeming grandeur. Who can blame him? He certainly got the short end of the stick. While his three brothers are legitimate sons of their father, he is raised to be a servant. His father-in-proxy is a rigid fundamentalist Christian who condemns him for thinking for himself. His mother is literally the village idiot, humiliating for someone so intelligent. Daddy Dearest calls him “Balaam’s ass” and clearly doesn’t take him seriously. He throws him a coin when he feels generous. Bravo!

ivanYou can’t discuss Smerdyakov without discussing Ivan with whom Smerdyakov was deeply attached. I wonder if he was gay. While a local girl is obviously smitten with him, he doesn’t show any reciprocation. When Ivan rejects him in the end, he kills himself. He seemed more motivated to form a bond with Ivan than self-enrichment. The money he stole with which he had planned to get started in a new city meant nothing to him without Ivan’s approval. In this, he has a lot smerdyakovguitarin common with Raskolnikov, the protagonist of Crime and Punishment. Like Raskolnikov, he committed murder, ostensibly for gain but really to prove a philosophical point. Raskolnikov wanted to prove he was a Nietzschean  Ubermensch, a superior being who is allowed to disregard conventional morality because he would do great enough things to justify his breach of ethics. Smerdyakov wanted to prove that “nothing is true so everything is permitted.” Dostoevsky believed that ethics only made sense in the context of religion. Without “god,” no morality. But, without the support and loyalty of Ivan, Smerdyakov succumbed to despair.

karamazovcartoon.jpgWhile I don’t agree that Smerdyakov was a “great villain of world literature” like Voldemort, it is interesting to compare their ancestry. Voldemort’s mother came from what one might call a degenerate family. She, herself, was pretty pathetic, not pretty, a scapegoat in her family of origin and abandoned by her husband while pregnant with karamazovstreetsceneVoldemort. Smerdyakov’s mother was the village idiot, homeless and barefoot. Considered a “holy fool” by the townsfolk and cared for by them, she was known as “Stinking Lizaveta” or Smerdyashchaya. That both came from such a unprepossessing background colors the scenerio of the self-reinvention of each of them, Tom Riddle into the most feared wizard in the world and Smerdyakov into a sophisticated and refined dandy.

While Smerdyakov seemed to be a classic psychopath (without the charm), Ivan was in a struggle with “god,” a “rebellion” with how “god” was supposed to be the personification of goodness and yet allowed so much evil in the universe. The Reification of Evil (captioned below) gives a good critique of the Book of Job: “What type of reconciliation did God actually give to Job? In essence, God’s peroration from the whirlwind reduces to ‘I created the universe and you did not’ — with no explanation whatsoever of why Job has been made to suffer. This is all the more galling for readers of Job, because we are told in Chapters 1 and 2 that God inflicts harm jobupon Job as part of a silly wager with a satan.” As I recall, Satan said that Job was only loyal because he had a good live. Would he remain loyal if God took away everything  he had? But, here’s another question. Why the hell should he? I’m loyal to my friends, to those who are good to me. Why should I be loyal to those who are bad to me? But I agree that God’s answer to Job was tantamount to “neener neener neener.”

But what makes “god’s goodness” impossible to swallow is not the evil that occurs on Earth. After all, you can always explain that in terms of the long story, ending in heaven. reaganinhellBut it is “god’s” disposition of the “damned” that makes him unworthy of worship. Nobody deserves to go to Hell, not even Ronald Reagan (no matter how often and vehemently I damn him). Think about it. We are mortal, finite beings. What can a finite being do that would make him deserving of eternal torment? But “god” says we all deserve Hell. Say, what? We deserve Hell? But “god” created us, didn’t he? So he created a being so flawed that it deserves eternal torment. And, yet, in his infinite mercy, “god” will save us from the Hell we deserve if we believe in him and ask for salvation. Those who don’t know about it are just shit out of luck. And those who know but don’t believe and just fucked and don’t deserve a moment of consideration. Never mind that we were created with a rational mind. Using it makes us infidels.

dostoevskyThe Brothers Karamazov is about a lot more than Smerdyakov. It deals with Dostoevsky’s own struggles about religion and his final embrace of love and humility as the true saving grace of humanity. Each of the brothers deserves a long, detailed discussion. But I have no desire to create one.

Why did Smerdyakov surrender to despair after his plan succeeded so well? Why didn’t he move to Paris and open a restaurant? It seemed he was just genuinely weary of life. He seemed to hope Ivan could give his life meaning but Ivan hangingsmerdfailed him. He turned out not to be the bold superman he wanted him to be just as Raskolnikov failed to achieve that status in himself. Dostoevsky probably didn’t believe that possible. Despite his knowledge of so much worldly wickedness, he didn’t seem to think it possible to be “evil” and want to live. Svidrigailov, another villain, also killed himself. I failed to understand a lot of this at the age of 13 and so just continued my game of “being” Smerdyakov to the bitter end of attempting suicide which got me into a mental hospital for two years and so continued my own path independent of Dostoevsky who had played such a large role in my adolescence.



Crime as Theatre

I once audited a theater class. A student played a part but didn’t stay in character all the way through. “Never forget,” said the teacher, “that you are on the stage.”  It is the same with crime.

Of course, it is obvious that fraud is all about acting. But it also holds true for any other robberkind of crime. Even with armed robbery, one mustn’t forget to hold his gun at the ready. Although I knew a guy who robbed a bank without a gun. He just gave the teller a note and the teller gave him the money. I’m sure he stayed in character until he was well out of the bank and the eyesight of witnesses. He had to walk like someone who was armed and who had taken what he had by force. (He got caught later on by bragging in a newsletter about the crime!)

Dostoevsky’s masterpiece, Crime and Punishment, described the agony someone might go through in the commission of a perfect crime, one that is succeeding, in maintaining one’s cool throughout the entire act.

And they did not know how to change the notes either; the man who changed the notes took five thousand rubles, and his hands trembled. He counted the first robberyfour thousand, but did not count the fifth thousand—he was in such a hurry to get the money into his pocket and run away. Of course he roused suspicion. And the whole thing came to a crash through one fool! Is it possible?”

“That his hands trembled?” observed Zametov, “yes, that’s quite possible. That I feel quite sure is possible. Sometimes one can’t stand things.”

raskolnikov “Can’t stand that?”

“Why, could you stand it then? No, I couldn’t. For the sake of a hundred rubles to face such a terrible experience! To go with false notes into a bank where it’s their business to spot that sort of thing! No, I should not have the face to do it. Would you?”

Of course, it isn’t for the sake of a hundred rubles. The entire venture is at stake. One must stay in character throughout the entire act. He is playing an innocent customer. If he can’t remain in character while on stage, all will be lost.


Cult of Conscience

nurembergtrialsDuring the Nuremberg trials, a sticky subject came up regarding the duties of the individual to his “conscience” and to the legitimate authorities over him respectively. “Would you do X if you were ordered to do it by your commanding officer?” The “right” answer was “no.” Everyone wanted to believe he/she was a strong and upstanding enough individual to withstand the pressure to “do wrong” even if that pressure came from the most powerful quarters. It felt pretty safe for us Americans to make such a claim. We were never going to be ordered to throw any Jews into a gas chamber like those “Huns” over in Germany.

mailaiAh, those days of innocence. Since then, we have had Mai Lai, discovered (or rather, faced) the atrocities practiced by our forebears on the indigenous native population of our “homeland” and realized that there certainly can be a divide between duty to conscience and duty to society. Some Americans actually took a heroic stand against what “legitimate” authority dictated. We know them as traitors or heroes depending on our political perspective. I’m talking about people like Bill Ayers and Bernadine Dohrn of the Weather Underground who committed acts of civil disobedience, lived underground for years and finally surfaced to face prison. Those who admire their actions are particularly proud of the fact that they never faltered in their convictions and are still as unblemished by compromise as ever. Others of that ilk include Chelsea Manning, Edward Snowden, Julian Assange, Daniel Ellsberg, etc. Their courage was such that they billbernadinefaced real consequences for acts based on their conviction that they were doing the right thing. All of these people are controversial. Expecting Nazis to stand up to authority is one thing. Evaluating the same thing when the authority being stood up to is that of our own society is something else. A similar issue was raised when some people wanted to charge members of the Bush administration of war crimes but couldn’t quite agree who was to blame. I thought it was obviously the leadership but the people obeying orders were all too often seen in the hot seat. It brings back memories of how disdainful we all were at Eichmann’s “I was only following orders” excuse.warcrimetrial

It seems unreasonable to expect someone who is legally and even “morally” expected to obey legitimate authority to go against the current. Most people are not heroes. They just want to get along. We are taught all our lives that obedience is right. “The policeman is your friend,” we were told. Society is and always has been hierarchical. Decisions are made by those on top. Even in a democracy, the people vote in their authorities but then are supposed to obey them. By what right do we dare defy authority?

antichoiceSo far, I have only discussed people whose defiance of authority I agree with. But there is another group of people whose claims of conscience strike a decidedly discordant note. These people are primarily members of the Christian right. Their “conscience” prompts them to refuse to sell the “morning after” pill even though they are working in a drug store and that is one of their duties. Their “conscience” forbids the issuing of a marriage license to a same-sex couple. Half a million Christians signed the 2009 Manhattan Declaration stating:

Because we honor justice and the common good, we will not comply with any edict that purports to compel our institutions to participate in abortions, embryo-destructive research, assisted suicide and euthanasia, or any other anti-life act; nor will we bend to any rule purporting to force us to bless immoral sexual partnerships, treat them as marriages or the equivalent, or refrain from proclaiming the truth, as we know it, about morality and immorality and marriage and the family. We will fully and ungrudgingly render to Caesar what is Caesar’s. But under no circumstances will we render to Caesar what is God’s.

There are even soldiers on active duty who vow to defy their commanding officers when and if they are given orders that violate their conscience. The United States was founded on the basis of defiance of authority and freedom of conscience. Ironically, this “defiance” was usually based on obedience to a “higher authority,” that is “God.” Since “divine authority” cannot be false, and, since there are a variety of religious credos, preaching contradictory religious ideologies, religion in churchstatecommand has historically lead to bloody conflict. The American founding fathers hoped to avoid this conflict by making the government religion-neutral. With a variety of religions and democracy, a king could no-longer declare “his” country Catholic or Protestant or Gnostic (for that matter). To be a good Frenchman and obey the dictates of the Catholic version of “God,” was one in the same. Of course a non-Catholic in France was in the same position as our modern-day heretics, taking upon themselves to decide what is right and what is wrong.

While this self-righteous faction styles itself as defenders of religious freedom, true religious freedom depends on plurality which, in turn, requires a secular society that remains neutral on the subject of religion.


obey“Conscience” is a powerful concept that individuals who want to go against the grain call upon for their legitimacy. With conscience on their side, these mavericks make themselves equal to the entirety of society. Thus, conscience is really a stunning aid to grandiosity. With conscience on his side, the individual crowns himself King. Of course, as Americans, we are all supposed to be sovereign in a sense. But we are not supposed to enjoy the kind of sovereignty that a nation has. Every nation defends it’s sovereignty by war or alliance with  other sovereign nations. But the concept of democracy implies that the legitimacy of government power over it’s subjects is only as great as the people (the individuals) allow it to be. So true sovereignty can only reside in the individual, himself.

bitchConscience is defined as the ability to know right from wrong. So it begs the question. It’s not about conscience so much as it’s about “right and wrong.” Where do these things come from? Some say “God” which takes us right back to the age-old problem of determining which “god” is the true one. More modern thinkers place it in the concept of empathy. I guess the idea is that “right” and “wrong” come from connection to others. “Do unto others as you would have others do unto you.” I think understanding of “right” and “wrong” can also be derived from a sense of balance, fairness, a system based on everyone being treated in accordance to an even, equitable set of rules. In fact, that is where I derive my own sense of right and wrong. Not that I have always acted “fairly” towards fellow human beings. I guess a sense of connection is probably a necessary part of having a conscience.


Do We Really Need Morality?

Seriously. People with a lot of power are less likely to behave “morally” towards those not in their own social circle. Societies that embrace inequality, severely class-driven societies expect people of high rank to treat each other with some code of morality but don’t extend that expectation to other classes (nor to other species). I think a lot of morality is based on the idea of reciprocity. I support fairness because I want to be treated fairly.  The Golden Rule again. If society embraces fairness, I am more likely to be treated fairly.

Entitlement by Conscience

fairThis society is very pluralistic in many ways. There are all varieties of religion as well as atheism and agnosticism. There are different levels of commitment to morality. There are different levels of empathy. We have the rule of law to make sure “your freedom to move your fist is limited by the proximity of my face.” As long as we abide by the law, we manage to bump along without too much discord. Many Americans don’t agree with the laws of the land. Some protest. Some commit civil disobedience. Some just by-step the laws by breaking laws such as those on drugs and sex.

holierIt is the most conscience-driven individuals who display the most grandiose and entitled behavior. That is because they are not only acting for their own benefit. They are acting altruistically on behalf of others. The fact that they are acting for someone else’s welfare seems to give altruistically inclined individuals the most entitlement. We see this in the animal-rights and in the anti-abortion movements. Would terrorists have murdered doctors for their own benefit? Probably not. But for the sake of others, in this case, animals, it’s justified. A popular Vlogger on You-Tube, Freelee, the Banana Girl, has actually said that people should be forced to go vegan. Those who quit the vegan lifestyle and go back to eating meat don’t deserve to live.

This may be the difference between psychopaths and narcissists. A psychopath is more likely to live and let live as long as we have what we want. Narcissists are more likely to lead messianic movements for the greater glory of mankind, animals and the planet. As a psychopath, I am all for the rights of the individual. After all, I have an officially “anti-social” personality. But I don’t have a conscience that informs me that I have the right or the darma to force my ideas on you.

Individual or Society?

leadershipBoth have legitimate claims and most people would agree some kind of balance is necessary. But how to balance the rights of each? Where the individual has unlimited freedom, anarchy reigns. Libertarianism stresses individual rights but contradicts that principle when it comes to protecting property. Business practices by which one acquires property should be unhampered but, once the property is owned, the State must protect it. Our American society is more heavily balanced on the side of the general welfare than on the side of individualism. Business practices are heavily regulated, even individual decisions that only impact the person making the decision (such as drug use) are considered the province of the State.

chinaWhere do I stand? I am a total libertarian on “social” issues like drug use and “vice.” Where the economy is concerned, I don’t think the state should try to be laissez-faire unless it wants to be laissez-faire about property “rights.” If the “right” to own property is protected by the armed might of the State, the way that property is used in so far as it affects others should also be regulated. That said, I think a bit more freedom would be a good thing. The fact that I can buy things from China that are forbidden me by my own government, inclines me to move more to the side of liberty.

'Freedom means you get to swim out there without expecting a nanny state to come running everytime you see a shark or two...ok...five, six...whatever...'
‘Freedom means you get to swim out there without expecting a nanny state to come running everytime you see a shark or two…ok…five, six…whatever…’

The individual in a democracy has the absolute right to all the information he can get. In fact, democracy would be a joke without it. So the whistle-blowers should be exonerated with the apologies of the over-zealous security fanatics in the government. “Armed propaganda” in the form of blowing up buildings is illegal, of course, as I’m sure even the activists would concede. What these activists want is a radical change of direction in American policy which is not an issue of individuality but one of society as a whole. What about the drug store pharmacist who doesn’t want to sell morning after pills? It’s a private store and I don’t think the State should be too controlling of every business decision of a retail store. I say, let the store owner decide but allow him absolute right to fire insubordinate employees. I know that it would make life difficult for people in certain parts of the country where too many individuals’ consciences prompt them to deny freedom to other individuals, exercising a petty tyranny. A price we must pay. Let the morning after pill be sold online in sufficient quantities that people who might need it will have it on hand. Terrorism against abortion providers must be cracked down on heavily. If these doctors are not in fear for their lives, they might want to open a practice adversarialsystemwhere there is virtually no service available. Planned Parenthood, of course, should be funded and encouraged.

This country has always been dialectical. That is, a dynamic combination of opposites pulling in different directions. Given the minds of the present population, that is probably the place it needs to be until for the time being.


Dark Heroes

dexter“They’re on television at night and people watch Dexter about a serial killer I guess with a conscience. Does that make any sense?”

Robert Hare


fonzieA television show called Happy Days catered to nostalgia for the 50’s. A main character on the show was called Fonzie (played by Henry Winkler). Fonzie wore black leather and looked like a 50’s-style hood but he was really a supporter of a totally conventional and boring family. His “coolness” was at the service of the very opposite of what coolness is supposed to represent. This is an example of something television sit-coms and dramatic series do all-too-often.

There’s nothing new about TV shows promoting the vision of society and life that glorifies and promotes the status quo. Many story-lines show a teenager who toys with the idea of doing something different, quitting school to happydaysbecome an actress, taking risks, etc. They always decide in the end that being a typical teen and going to high school is just the most terrific thing a kid can do. Message: Don’t look beyond the average. There’s nothing out there for you. Just buckle down and be normal.

The status quo is very boring, even for the most died-in-the-wool conformist. To get people to even watch or read a book, writers have to present something more exciting, create, at least, the illusion of  an alternative.

Browsing through the web, one can’t help but notice how hungry people are for danger. Conspiracy theories about the “Illuminati” and the “New World Order” keep things exciting without shaking the mundane day-to-day reality of the population. The United States is the drama capital of the world, after all. Americans often have trouble distinguishing fiction from reality which is why they elect movie cowboys like Ronald Reagan and “terminators” like Arnold Schwarzenegger.

buffyAmerican drama kings and queens enjoy the ambiguity of fictional heroes who are both dark and still all-American. Examples abound. In the popular series, Buffy the Vampire Slayer, a vampire named Angel has a conscience. He has forsworn human blood, drinking animal blood from butcher stores, instead, and helping to slay vampires. Anne Rice’s Interview With the Vampire stars Louis, a vampire who finds his need to drink blood unacceptable. He compromises by drinking the vampiresblood of animals, not butcher’s blood, but live prey, rodents and so forth. Later, he gives in to his nature and drinks from humans but he is tormented by guilt for his eternal life. The vampire who sired him, Lestat, isn’t tormented by guilt but only feeds on the “evil doer.” To make his choice seem less moral, he is made to say (in the movie, not the book) that evil doers taste better. Aha. Just a hedonist, after all. Claudia, a vampire who was made immortal when still a child tells Louis, “Your only evil is that you can’t be evil.”

Vampires are creatures of fiction. Psychopaths are real. In the public’s mind, murdershewrotepsychopaths are simultaneously seen as terrifying monsters and as super cool hotties. We are judged and glorified at the same time. In the words of Robert Frost, “Something there is that does not love a wall.” Perhaps that’s why we are the public’s best fantasy (as well as their worst nightmare). There is a whole mystique built around the serial killer. America seems to have a monopoly on them as well as on mass murderers (those who shoot people at random). They must be as much a part of our culture as apple pie, although England has it’s own fascination with murder, albeit in a much lower key, celebrated in the murder mystery. Of course, not all serial killers are psychopaths and most psychopaths are not serial killers. We do seem to be more visible in the English speaking countries.

notaserialA recent movie, I Am Not a Serial Killer (2016), deals with a kid whose mother runs a mortuary and who is obsessed with serial killers. He, despite his “clinical diagnosis” of sociopathy, does not want to hurt anyone. He has a set of rules to help him keep his more antisocial urges in check. And he ends up catching an actual serial killer. The popular series, Dexter, mentioned above, is about a psychopath who, like the vampire, Lestat, only kills the evil doer, in this case, other murderers.

I asked fellow psychopaths to weigh in about Dexter and received a variety of answers. Some defended his choice as one of removing the unworthy. Some considered it a clever way to survive and still have his blood lust. Others admitted it was probably just a way the producers of the show made him more acceptable to the public. As driven by their fascination with the dark side, the American public still needs to dilute their dark heroes with some milk of human kindness in order to be able to bond with them.

America’s real dark side isn’t in the entertainment industry. It is in the wars fought all over the world. It is in the deaths at home (by cops, by poverty and by disease) that are systemic, not illegal. But that’s the realm of politics beyond the province of this blog.



A Modest Proposal: Euthanasia of the Poor

My Soapbox

The End Game?

Does society really value human life? How much.

What is euthanasia for humans?
The term Euthanasia originated from the Greek word for “good death.” It is the act or practice of ending the life of a person either by lethal injection or the suspension of medical treatment. Because of this, many view euthanasia as simply bringing relief by alleviating pain and suffering.

Theory. In the TV series, Buffy, the Vampire Slayer, a large claim is made for the moral value stbuffyof human life. Of course, that fantasy world consists of vampires and demons whom the “virtuous” kill because they are evil and a danger to humans. But, Buffy, who slays vampires and demons every day, maintains, there is a big difference between being a “slayer,” one who kills vampires and demons, and a “killer,” who murders human beings. Another group that is adamant about…

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