Chomsky Talks about Psychopaths and Sociopaths

Noam Chomsky interviewed by Rob Kall

OpEdNews, February 15, 2014

R.K.: Okay, so you have written and I am going to quote you here,

“if you care about other people that’s now a very dangerous idea. If you care about other people you might try to organize or to undermine power and authority. That’s not going to happen if you care only about yourself. Maybe you can become rich, you don’t care whether other people’s kids can go to school or afford food to eat or things like that. In the United States that’s called libertarian for some wild reason. I mean it’s actually highly authoritarian but that doctrine is extremely important for power systems as a way of atomizing and undermining the public.”

Now, since we last spoke I have been doing a series of articles on psychopathy, psychopaths, sociopaths, and narcissists and it sure sounds like you’re describing them when you describe people who don’t care.

N.C.: Well there is a huge propaganda effort that we are all aware of to try to turn people into psychopaths who don’t care about anyone but themselves. That’s not new actually. They go back a hundred and fifty years, the early days of industrialization in the United States. Working people were bitterly condemning the industrial system that was being imposed, the way it was taking away their freedom, and one of the things they condemned is what they called the new spirit of the age– ‘Gain wealth forgetting all but self,’– Exactly what you’re describing. That’s a hundred and fifty years ago and ever since then there have been enormous efforts to drive these sociopathic attitudes into people’s heads. There are extreme cases like the Ayn Rand cult where it’s kind of like, open but yeah we should be psychopaths, and there are, you read a lot of what’s called libertarian shouldn’t be called that, it’s very authoritarian. But a lot of it is based on the same principles. ‘Why should I pay taxes to send somebody else’s kids to school or why should I support the disabled widow across town with, her social security is her problem, not mine ” That’s pathological. In fact there’s an interesting book that just came out which maybe you’ve seen called The Sociopathic Society by a very good sociologist, Charles Derber and he’s describing accurately the development of these things. And we see them all the time.

Take the huge attack on healthcare systems. I mean, it is, Obama Healthcare system is nothing much to write home about, I mean it’s much worse than other advanced countries have, but it’s a slight improvement over our totally scandalous privatized system which really is an international scandal. I mean it’s more than twice the per capita cost of comparable societies and some of the worst outcomes. Because it’s privatized. But even the mild attempt of the Obama system what the call Obamacare to try to modify some of this and deal with some of the problems that deprived, that has led to an extraordinary campaign of some of it just leading to almost comical lying. What we saw recently is an interesting case. I happened to listen to the radio and I heard John Boehner giving a sober talk denouncing Obamacare because of these, the latest statistics that came out of the Congressional Research Bureau showing that maybe two and a half million people would stop working because of Obamacare.

How did he present this? Well the way the right wing is presenting it as showing that Obamacare is taking away jobs. That’s not what it said. What it said is it’s giving people freedom to free themselves from what amounts to slavery. Keeping a job just because you –

R.K.: I wrote about that four years ago. I wrote an article called Healthcare Slavery

N.C.: Yeah that’s what it is. And this offers people the opportunity to free themselves. You have to remember these people call themselves conservatives and what they’re saying is people ought to be enslaved. They ought to be trapped in work that they don’t want because they can’t survive otherwise. They can’t even get healthcare which in civilized countries is available to everyone.

That’s an extreme case of psychopathic behavior and it’s institutionalized. By now it’s the doctrine of the so-called republican party which isn’t really a political party anymore. It’s kind of off the spectrum of parliamentary parties. But yes they’re quite openly advocating that. The same is true of the attack on public schools which is incidentally bi-partisan. It’s a major attack against public schools in all sorts of ways and I think the main driving force is that same issue.

Public schools are based on the principle that you care about other people. I care that a kid in the other side of town in a poor neighborhood should have a decent education. And I’m willing to pay taxes for it. That’s what public schools are about. But if you’re a psychopath, you don’t want that. It’s the kid’s fault or his parent’s fault or something else. Why should we pay for it, let’s destroy the system and privatize it.

Just as our scandalous healthcare system is privatized. Same is true as the attack on social security which is again bi-partisan. Obama has just made decisions which reduce the very meager social security payments. That’s what they kind of hide it as a different calculation of cost of living but what it amounts to when you sort of decode the complications is a reduction of social security payments.

These are very minor and small payments and people have to live on them because of the enormous poverty level and the basic attack on the population, the attack on wages that I mentioned and so on. So we have to cut that even further, and that’s bi-partisan. And the republicans want to go even further. Just take the recent decision a couple of days ago to stop unemployment benefits.

That is just straight savagery. People aren’t unemployed because they choose to be, they’re unemployed because the system is utterly dysfunctional. Dramatically dysfunctional. The economic system is, here we have a society, the richest society in the world in comparable advantages, there’s tens of millions of people eager to work, there’s an enormous amount of work that has to be done. I mean the country is beginning to look like a third world country, there’s ample resources available.

They’re sequestered in the pockets of the very rich and the corporate sector and therefore inaccessible for these purposes, so you have eager hands, lots of work, plenty of resources, and the system is so dysfunctional it can’t put them together. And the idea is let’s make it worse. So let’s cut off at least some minimal compensation to the people who are the victims of this system. Just before that there was a decision too cut back food stamps.

The idea that there should even be food stamps in a rich country like this is scandalous. It’s a rich country. You shouldn’t have the worst poverty level in the world, in the rich world outside of Turkey. That’s utter scandal. So now let’s cut it back further. So we’ll cut a couple tons of money off the food stamp program. All of this is just sheer savagery or to use your word it’s psychopathic and it’s institutionalized.

R.K.: Now it sounds like you’re saying that the republican party or right wingers are psychopaths.

N.C.: Not necessarily the individuals in them. In fact, if you look at polls, it turns out that, there are polls, they’re careful studies of the polls among the right wing, the sectors of the population that say you get government off our backs, we don’t want government. You take a look at the attitudes of those people, turns out they’re more or less social democratic.

Get the government off our backs but we need more funding for education, more funding for healthcare, we don’t like welfare, we’re down on welfare but there should be more help for the say, women with dependent children who went on welfare. Well because Ronald Reagan who was an extreme racist managed to demonize welfare.

He told his famous anecdotes about how welfare is a rich black woman driving in her chauffeured limousine to the welfare office to take your money or big black buck who doesn’t want to work who goes to the welfare office to be able to buy a steak and so on. I mean, you tell those stories enough with Reagan’s nice smile and people end up hating welfare. But they’re in favor of what welfare does. That’s pretty striking. So when you talk about the population being psychopaths, I don’t think that’s quite true. I think it’s the leadership of the decision makers. The ones who were very carefully making the decisions which are creating the psychopaths of society. You can call them psychopaths if you’d like. I’m not even sure that’s right, it’s the institutions that are psychopaths.

R.K.: Institutions?

N.C.: Well take, say a corporate executive By law, a corporate executive must work to increase the profitability of the corporation. Disregarding the effects that it has on others. That’s actually a legal principle and that’s psychopathic. That’s one of the reasons, take a really extreme case, that’s one of the reasons where we’re leading the way in destroying the environment.

Creating a catastrophe which is going to be very extremely damaging for our own children. Why? Because we have to make those in power to make decisions, let’s say the CEO of a corporation are compelled to disregard what the economists call externalities, the effect of a decision on others. That’s not part of your consideration when you make a decision. And you can just see from that what is going to happen. The institutional structure is designed to lead to species destruction.

That’s no small thing. And the same thing happens in the financial institutions. There’s a system in the United States that’s been designed over the past roughly thirty years which under-prices risk. It makes risk cheaper than it ought to be. The main mechanism for this is a government insurance policy. It’s known informally as too big to fail. What that means is that if say Goldman Sachs makes a risky transaction and if they’re paying attention they cover the potential damages themselves but they don’t consider the externality that is that a failure of their transaction may bring down the whole system.

That’s called systemic risk and that’s not considered. But it doesn’t matter too much to them because if this happens, they can run cap in hand to the nanny state who will bail them out. And it’s not just the bail outs that are famous, you know TARP and so on, that’s a small part of it. It’s all sorts of other things.

It’s cheap credit, artificially high credit ratings, other devices which insure that you should take more risk than would be legitimate, sensible in fact under anything remotely like market conditions. That under-prices risk, guarantees further crises. And these sums are not small. The international monetary fund recently did a study in which it concluded that virtually the entire profit of the big banks comes from the government insurance policy.

The business press, Bloomberg News has tried to calculate the numbers they came out with and eighty three billion dollar a year public subsidy. Your taxes to the big banks to maintain the system. Okay those institutions are psychopathic. It really is unfair in a way to blame the individuals. They either take part in the institution or they get out. They don’t have any choices within them. I don’t have any choices either, my boss just came in and told me I’m finished.