‘Political Ponerology – Understanding Pathocracies’


Ali Saeed

Political Ponerology is an emerging field in social-psychology which deals with the study of leadership with reference to politics. It attempts to explain behaviours and thinking patterns of leaders as to what motivates them to embark on quest for power, rule and fomenting change. Unlike the ordinary that may wait for an opportunity, people with manipulative behaviour and authoritarian mindset are highly inclined and ambitious to join politics. Exceptions apart, life of most of the political leaders is dark with conspiracies than bright with ethical conduct. Let us break this gestalt, bit-by-bit, to find out how people around the globe fall into the trap and suffer after becoming a tool for these highly ambitious leaders.
Most of our human instincts are traced back to the times of hunter-gatherer societies. Sapiens, in their earliest form, were governed by a religious code, pronounced by their religious elders known to us as ‘Shamans’. For decision making, as to who would lead the society, they had the veto powers over their followers. They used to overturn decisions made by families and groups in a given tribe. It was an agreed upon principle among shamans to undermine the position of men who were manipulative and used to aspire leadership aggressively. To them, leadership was not a position to be struggles for, but a trust reposed in those who have no desire for it.
In history, art and movies on pre-history era, we come across wise, calm and fatherly figures as heads of tribes. This norm has remained the same and is manifested on international canvas of leaders, even today. We have seen that global leadership has been snatched from the US, while European leaders have come forward to play an active role in the UN and other international political platforms. Thus it is understandable that it could be Justin Trudeau, Jacinda Ardern or Angela Merkel but not Trump.
Steve Taylor, a senior lecturer in Psychology in Leeds Beckett University, has categorized leaders according to their ascendance to power. He has defined three types of people who may come to power – meritorious, accidental and psychopaths. He further explains, in the context of modern history of mankind, that merit alone has least possible likelihood to give leaders. Imagine Abdul Sattar Edhi winning an election or becoming a corporate leader. Then, there are ‘accidental leaders’ like Manmohan Singh of India, Nawaz Sharif and Benazir Bhutto of Pakistan. One thing common among the latter two is the unintended happenings in their lives. Those were familial factors which shaped their way for exposure to leadership.
The last category is of Psychopaths – fiery at public speeches, authoritarian in offices and manipulative on televised addresses. George Simon, an American psychologist, in his book ‘In sheep’s clothing’ and Jackson McKenzie in ‘Psychopath free’ have given a list of red flags that distinguish psychopaths from neuro-typicals. Their personality traits are, and not limited to, impulsive, highly competitive, authoritarian, compulsive lying, lacking empathy and manipulation. Various childhood dysfunctions contribute to their abnormal sense of grandiose, exaggerated self-efficacy and knowing how to lie, transform them into a stubborn opportunist.
For a psychopath, according to Jackson McKenzie, gullible masses are a perfect target. For obvious reasons, these poor masses are biased, lack knowledge of history and statistical analysis skills. They are naturally ready for manipulation. Mark Twain once said that there are three types of lies, ‘Lies, damn lies and statistics’. As discussed that the psychopaths are compulsive liars and highly manipulative, therefore, a perfect stage is all set for the one-man show. It is due to the Human Magnet Syndrome that these gullible masses feel extreme magnetism for the superficial charm, glib and charisma these psychopaths have to offer. A psychopath in a fiery public appearance lures them through bad-mouthing, scepticism, abuse and aggression. This explains infamous ascendance of many psychopaths to the pedestal of leadership, ranging from extremist religious groups, authoritarian political parties and military-men.
Andrew Lobaczewsk, a Polish Political-Ponerologist has used terms namely ‘Pathocrats’ and ‘Pathocracy’ for these psychopaths who attain leadership positions by dint of such traits. A pathocracy tends to quell freedom of speech and inflict ad-hominem to its opposition. It doesn’t take responsibility and uses propaganda and gas-lighting as weapon of choice against any opposition. In addition to this, hatred for democratic norms and dissenting voices are chief features of a pathocracy. Laws are promulgated unilaterally without consultation or deliberation in legislative assemblies. Clever sycophants keep their political lord imbibed with all the narcissistic supply he or she is hungry for. Lack of empathy becomes evident with uncontrolled inflation, obliterated subsidies and depriving the poor of education and medical facilities.
In management sciences, it is emphasized that a leader must have rational decision making skills. He should also know when to call it quits and mitigate compounding of problems. It is relevant to say that self-efficacy must not be over-stretched to the level of Dunning-Kruger effect. Since a psychopath cannot take any responsibility, national tragedies during their tenure are blamed on previous governments or other factor. As psychopaths tend to possess an exaggerated sense of self and passion for winning, a system of check and balance is important to contain this madness. US Bills of Right is one such example of a system to deal with Pathocracies.
As under Goldwater rule, no individual vying for public position of such importance could be labelled as psychopath, therefore, no instance must be citied, except in its posterity. But it is pertinent to mention that pathocrats’ love for authoritarianism, in developing world, is encroaching fundamental rights of their people. It is left to the imagination of the reader to test various political, corporate and institutional heads in this given framework. Like individuals, an organization also has a personality, which, in terms of management sciences, is called organizational culture. Like individuals and their political parties, organizations may act as monolith of Pathocracies. They may find excuses to grab power by employing propaganda to bulldoze opposition coming their way, and blaming other institutions and individuals for all the ills in a society. These are the tactics with which they justify their actions to topple democratic governments and satiate their never-ending desire for power and omnipotence.
– The writer is a Civil Servant of Pakistan, based in Islamabad.

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