Thursday, February 02, 2012

Evolution, Psychopaths and Fred Goodwin

Somewhere in our brains is an area associated with mystical experience – or, at a lower level, mere religious belief. So little is known about the brain that we don’t really yet know whereabouts this area is, or whether it’s generalised, or whether it’s a number of areas. But human beings have always had these experiences that point to a wider, deeper, unifying meaning to existence. It gets muddled up with a need for certainty and psychological insecurity and literal thinking to produce fundamentalist religion. But that sense of something transcendent is still there. Most Americans have it.

And it is a product of biological evolution. Evolution is a bodge job, but everything it produces is there for a reason, and usually finely adapted. We treat the 5 physical senses as telling us something about the world we live in, so why not that inner sense of transcendence?

Evolutionists can’t have it both ways. If you believe the story of evolution, then you have to believe that our sense of transcendence is telling us something real. Evolution does not produce characteristics for no reason. And it’s hard to squeeze this one into that ghastly mechanism of ‘survival of the fittest’, which reduces our modern creation story to a justification for capitalism, which is presumably what was (unconsciously) intended. A Creation Myth that reflects the zeitgeist. We understand part of the mechanism behind evolution, but only part.

Evolution is a great story, and what is more you can go out and find evidence for it in the form of exquisite adaptations and the fossil record. But it is not a scientific theory, for it cannot be tested in the laboratory or even very much in the field. There is enough evidence and elegance in it to satisfy most reasonable people. It represents a return to common sense in our idea of what constitutes proof. So evolution is both unscientific and affirmative of the value of religious experience. I think it is going too far to then say that God created the world: that is mere belief, it is something we cannot know by direct experience, and it therefore interferes with our actual experience. But in the Creationist vs Evolutionist debate, the former are ignoring the fossil record and common sense, while the latter (at their worst) are ignoring an aspect of brain evolution because it doesn’t fit their theories.
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I’ve just been reading a book called The Psychopath Test by Jon Ronson, subtitled A Journey through The Madness Industry. He’s the guy who wrote The Men Who Stare at Goats, which is about the US Army’s exploration of the potential military applications of the paranormal. It seems that about 1% of the population are psychopaths, rising to about 25% in prisons (where they cause 60% of the violence) and 4% at the top of the business world.

It gives a new take on the idea that “We are the 99%”, particularly as the 1% could be conjectured to play a large part in what goes wrong in the economic world. That is why ‘free market capitalism’ is wrong-headed when it is allowed to go too far. There really are bad people out there, they’re very smart and they will cause a lot of trouble if you don’t regulate them! There's no point blaming them, though, for our ills. It's like blaming a big cat for doing what a big cat does. It comes down to regulation and why governments and the people who elect them don't do it properly. And it comes down to human gullibility and folly for electing some of these people as leaders.

There is a well-known 20 point test for psychopathy, the Hare Psychopathy Checklist. These are the characteristics:

Factor 1: Personality "Aggressive narcissism"
 Glibness/superficial charm
 Grandiose sense of self-worth
 Pathological lying
 Cunning/manipulative
 Lack of remorse or guilt
 Shallow affect (genuine emotion is short-lived and egocentric)
 Callousness; lack of empathy
 Failure to accept responsibility for own actions
Factor 2: Case history "Socially deviant lifestyle".
 Need for stimulation/proneness to boredom
 Parasitic lifestyle
 Poor behavioral control
 Lack of realistic long-term goals
 Impulsivity
 Irresponsibility
 Juvenile delinquency
 Early behavior problems
 Revocation of conditional release
Traits not correlated with either factor
 Promiscuous sexual behavior
 Many short-term marital relationships
 Criminal versatility
 Acquired behavioural sociopathy/sociological conditioning

The lack of empathy and grandiosity stand out for me. I’m sure there are also plenty of psychopaths in the political world, who put on an excellent show of cuddling babies at election time. When the empathy goes, all that is left is the predator who desires to win. I think a lot of gurus have psychopathic traits: disciples are there to feed the guru's grandiosity, and when they no longer fit in or are useful, they are quickly dropped. Jon Ronson also makes the point that if you are a psychopath from a poor background, you end up in prison; and if you are from a privileged background, you end up running a business!

I don’t know if Sir Fred Goodwin, ex-head of the Royal Bank of Scotland, has psychopathic traits. He was known as Fred the Shred for his ruthless cost-cutting style. He eventually led the bank to disaster, and had to be bailed out by the government. He walked off with a huge and controversial pension pot (which he eventually agreed to reduce), and in the UK he has come to symbolise everything that was wrong with the banking system. His successor at RBS (which is still mainly government owned) has just foregone a £1m bonus after huge political pressure and a lacklustre performance. Two days ago Sir Fred was stripped of his knighthood, which had been for ‘services to banking.’ I don’t know if I’m for against the honours system, but I like seeing excellence rewarded. It seems right that Sir Fred lost his knighthood, but it wasn’t entirely for the right reasons. Even George Osborne, the Chancellor, was justifying the stripping in terms of Goodwin being a symbol of what was wrong with the system. If you are doing something to someone because they are a symbol, then that indicates it is a witchhunt. It is the wrong reason.

But Fred was and is a symbol. He never admitted any wrongdoing, but you can’t afford to when you are the subject of a witchhunt. In the last few years he has lost everything: his career, his reputation and his marriage. It is Shakespearean watching somebody being destroyed like this. It was clearly his own doing, but it was also the mob.

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Fred was born 17 Aug 1958. He has Sun in Leo conjunct Pluto and opposite Chiron. When RBS had to be rescued in 2008, Neptune was in the process of conjoining his Chiron and opposing his Sun. Both Chiron and Neptune are associated with scapegoating, and Neptune and Leo are both associated with grandiosity.

Now as Neptune moves on to oppose his Pluto at 2 Virgo, the long process is completing with the loss of his knighthood, which is also a loss (Neptune) of his power (Pluto.) You never know with people. If the guy is irredeemiably superficial, then he will never recover, for he is virtually unemployable. But Sun-Pluto has a propensity towards depth, towards developing a basis in yourself that is authentic, that does not need the worldly trappings. The sort of destruction he has been through may be the necessary catalyst. You never know. John Profumo was the Defence Secretary in 1963 when it transpired he had been seeing a prostitute who also had relations with the Soviet Naval Attaché. He lied to Parliament about it, and was eventually disgraced. Profumo also had Neptune hard-aspecting his Sun at the time, and he went on to be awarded the CBE for charity work.

Back to The Psychopath Test. There is a story in the book (which I had heard before) where someone put American psychiatry to the test. He got a load of volunteers to go to different mental hospitals and act perfectly normally, except to say they occasionally heard a word in their head that said thud or echo. All these volunteers were quickly diagnosed as schizophrenic and locked up. It took them up to 2 months to talk their way out of the institutions. When the results were published, the profession was furious, and said that if they cared to do the experiment again, they would spot all the volunteers for what they were. The experiment duly went ahead, and the mental hospitals proudly declared they had spotted 40 imposters, only to be told that none had presented themselves!

It was a body-blow to the reputation of psychiatry in the US. And rightly so, for it is a pseudo-science. We know very little about the brain, let alone, for example, about the effect of psychiatric drugs on the brain. Yet they are administered freely. It can be a way of controlling embarrassing non-conformity in the population.

Ron Jonson also mentions the rise in the diagnoses of bi-polarity. He suggests that there are such strong pressures to conform in society, that if someone is different, then getting a label like bi-polar can be a way of helping that person to feel OK about being different. I've noticed that celebrities sometimes wear these diagnoses as a sort of badge. But maybe for them it is also a way of coping with fame. Keith Richards said that heroin addiction was his way of keeping his feet on the ground in the early years of the Rolling Stones.

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Christine said...

I read a book once called Forbidden Archaeology, in which the author claimed that there was actually no basis in the fossil record for the theory of evolution. And that any findings contradictory to the received view were always suppressed.

It seems (according to the book) that the fossil records show periods of gradual growth, followed by periodic leaps into something very new. Which I found interesting, as it seems to reflect that uranian process plants have, where there is gradual stem growth, and then suddenly you have a fully formed flower.

And the thought I had about the psychopath test was - if psychiatry is bunk, how can we rely on any test they've come up with ? :)

Interesting post,thanks.

Anonymous said...

Don't get me wrong, I hold no brief for Fred Goodwin, but stripping a man of a knighthood seems to me to be the ultimate insult - a foul below-the-belt blow.
Ordinarily only convicted felons are stripped of titles.
Goodwin was incompetent and not malicious - he f*cked up.My point really is prior to the financial catastrophe (due to sub-prime and which no mainstrem economist - there are thousands of them - predicted), Goodwin was feted by the great and the good, slapped on the back and hailed as a hearty fellow well met by such persons as Gordon Brown etc and generally lauded for the amount of tax revenue he generated for HM Treasury.
No one called him a git then - the great and the good were only too eager to bask in his reflected glory.
But alas, the bullshit economic model that the consensus of the entire economic establishment agreed upon collapsed like a popped balloon.Never mind the treasury, the chancellor, shedloads of experts who praised this model to the sky and foisted it upon us, no a scapegoat and a whipping boy had to be found as an outlet for collective angst.
And it was Sir Fred.
Reminds me of school bullying.All it takes is one loud mouthed ringleader and a weakiling jerk.Once the ringleader has started tearing at flesh, the other dogs soon find their courage and join in, in an ecstasy disavowal and transferance.

Anonymous said...

I think that what I "thinked" would not make too much difference on the thinking that was "thinked" in this article.
Once again, it was brilliant and I think that it was Well Done--as usual--thank-you for the THINKING!

Anonymous said...

One day it just popped into my head what probably happened to start it all. The space guys lost some frozen toilette waste and it landed on earth. Their biological organisms mixed up well in the warm temps and mud..and Wha on earth. This explains why they keep returning and continue to do abductions and research...they are just as perplexed and shocked as we. Makes sense to me:o)

Barry Goddard said...

It's interesting to think what one's own waste might evolve into on another planet, given a few million years. It would be different for different people.

Mike Lewinski said...

You wrote: "Evolutionists can’t have it both ways. If you believe the story of evolution, then you have to believe that our sense of transcendence is telling us something real. Evolution does not produce characteristics for no reason."

That reasoning seems faulty to me. A sense of transcendence may have some other kind of value, even if it isn't "telling us something real".

If a genetic predisposition to believing an illusion increases your chances of successfully reproducing (say, by helping pair you up with a mate who has the same predisposition), then your offspring may inherit it too.

I'm open to the possibility it is "something real" that we perceive with this sense, I just don't think this argument is particularly strong.