6. The Role of Authority

We looked at the Matrix as a system of control, keeping people unconscious about their own actions and choices that they make about their life. Agent Smith imposes his will, aiming to deprive Neo of his ability to make choices. He acknowledged a choice that Neo faces, described as two lives;

“Mr. Anderson, it seems that you’ve been living two lives …. One of these lives has a future, and one of them does not.”

Then, he said: “You’re going to help us, Mr. Anderson whether you want to or not.”

We have free will –a will to determine the course of our own actions. Yet, there is a force that constantly tries to undermine it. Why do we often give up our will to choose? –subjective choice is often unconsciously given over to an outer authority.

There is such thing as healthy authority, yet when does authority become simply a force of control? There was a psychologist who explored this question.

Social psychology

Stanley Milgram (1933-1984)

American social psychologist

He got interested in trying to understand why Germans had committed such radical war crimes during WWII. At the Nazi trial, those who were accused of causing the deaths of millions of Jews defended their actions by saying they were simply following the orders of their superiors.

In 1961, Milgram began conducting an experiment to study the effects of authority on ordinary people. “What makes people obey authority, even if it meant going against their better judgment or desires?” “How far are ordinary people willing to go when ordered to by an authority?”

Milgram experiment:

Milgram recruited 40 everyday average Americans through newspaper ads. The participants were informed (falsely) that they were joining a study that is focused on memory and learning. They were told that one person would take on the role of a teacher and the other the role of student and that these roles were chosen randomly.

Each participant drew a random slip of paper, in reality, all papers said ‘teacher’ on them. Participants were all intentionally assigned to play this role of teacher, while the role of students were taken up by actors assisting with Milgram’s experiment.

Participants who were asked to play the role of teacher would administer increasingly painful electric shocks to test subjects whenever they answer questions incorrectly (starting at 30 volts and increases in increments of 15 volts –all the way to 450 volts).

Students purposely gave wrong answers and pretended to be in pain when fake electric shocks were administered. They reacted intensely and complained that shocks were painful. As the shock increases, they would scream and plead the teacher to stop.

If at any time the teacher questions the process, the experimenter told them things like;

Prod 1: “Please continue.”
Prod 2: “The experiment requires you to continue.”
Prod 3: “It is absolutely essential that you continue.”
Prod 4: “You have no choice but to continue.”

Experiment condition:

  • The electric shocks were fake.
  • People receiving them (students) were actors.
  • The people who were administering shocks (teachers) were led to believe that the situation was real.
  • Teachers and students were placed in a separate room and couldn’t see each other.

Results:

2/3 (65%) of participates participants were willing to deliver electric shocks and indeed shocked all the way to a maximum level (450 volts). They didn’t do it without protest. People showed signs of internal struggle through nervous laughter and trembling, yet most of them obeyed the experimenter’s request.

What do these results show us?

Two psychological states: Autonomous self and Agentic self

Autonomous state: Independent, self-controlled, takes responsibility and has a conscience.

Agentic state: allow someone else to direct their behavior, responsibility is outsourced to a perceived authority. They act as an agent for another person’s will.

What are the conditions that create obedience to authority? (condition for an agentic state)

Milgram came up with a theory that two conditions must be met in order for someone to act from an agentic state.

  1. Perceived authority – The person giving the order is perceived as being qualified and legitimately in charge.
  2. The person who receives orders is able to believe that the authority will accept responsibility for what happens. (Milgram, 1974)

Milgram’s findings

Under certain circumstances, everyday people have the capacity and willingness to cause intense pain and suffering in others.

The condition that creates obedience includes the presence of an authority, a distance from the victim, along with authority systems based on hierarchical arrangements.

“A substantial proportion of people do what they are told to do, irrespective of the content of the act and without limitations of conscience, so long as they perceive that the command comes from a legitimate authority” (Milgram, 1974, p. 189).

Key questions

• Who influences your decision making process?
• How does authority influence your decisions?
• Do you see in your life or in society where people act from an agentic state?

Deception and seduction

There is another element that compromises our free will and hijacks it to turn us into an agent that carries someone else’s agendas. These are tactics of deception and seduction. Charm and flattery are used to put us off guard and break our boundaries. Covert manipulation is employed to pull our emotional strings.

These people are emotional manipulators. They engage in a crazy making.

• They get inside our heads.
• Erode our identity and reality.
• They gradually gain control over us and have us transfer our authority to them.

Personality disorders (toxic people)

How are these individuals identified in psychology? Psychologists diagnose personality disorders based on criteria established in the DSM series (the newest is 5) (Diagnostic and Statistic Manual of Mental Disorders).

There are different types of personality disorders. Here, I will focus on one type called Cluster B personality that seems more pervasive in this current time.

This cluster is characterized by behavior that is erratic and dramatic.

Overview

1. Antisocial Personality Disorder

Found more often in men (3%) than woman (1%).

Symptoms: Having complete disregard for the safety of other people and oneself. Being deceitful, impulsive, very aggressive or apathetic toward others and failing to conform to the norms of behavior that have been established by society. They often get in trouble with the law.

2. Borderline Personality Disorder

Affects around 1-2% of adults population in the US. Suffers from intense depression, anxiety or fear of abandonment. Struggles to maintain stable and consistent identity and self-image. Because of this, these people often engage in self-destructive behavior like drug abuse or eating disorders and try to manipulate others. They constantly idealize or undervalue the other in a relationship.

Borderline personality disorder is the most misunderstood personality disorder. Some argue how it should not be described as disorder, but understand it as results of abuses inflicted upon themselves. The idea behind this is that they are victims and they can’t help their behaviors. Some view many of the characteristics as a response to an aversive environment. Instead of disorder, they see it as a trauma response. There may be a more compassionate approaches in treating them.

3. Histrionic Personality Disorder

Overlap with narcissism, but distinct, extremely provocative, seductive and sexualized, need to be more the center of attention than those with narcissism, rapid change in emotions.

Found more often in women than men. Affects 2-3 % of the adult population in the US. Constantly needing to be the center of attention, displaying inappropriate sexual and/or provocative behavior and exhibiting shallow emotions that constantly change. Overly dramatic and think relationships are much more intimate than they really are.

4. Narcissistic Personality Disorder

Found in less than 1% of the adult population in the US. Symptoms. Includes grandiose ideas of one’s own self-importance; tends to fantasize about power and success; displays a sense of entitlement and deserving special treatment.

Psychopathy

What is not identified in the current DSM’s designation of personality disorder is the sociopath/psychopath. There seemed to be a vested interest in not fostering a clear understanding of these disturbing individuals. One of the ways to suppress the knowledge about psychopaths is through sensationalizing it in popular culture and news. Examples are characters like Hannibal Lecter in the movie Silence of the Lambs and notorious killers like Ted Bundy. This tends to portray psychopaths only as outlandish criminals.

But not all psychopaths are violent and monster-like. Indeed, many of them don’t end up being in jail or explicitly murdering someone and their exploitation go unnoticed, except by those who are inflicted with serious harm. In recent years though, massive public awareness of psychopaths has erupted – mainly on the Internet, where victims speak out and share their experiences.

Most psychopaths are not violent and monster-like. Indeed, many of them don’t end up in jail or murdering someone and their exploitation go unnoticed.

Psychopaths walk among us, quietly blending into society. They could be corporate CEOs who exploit their workers, politicians who lie to get elected or Don Juan-like womanizers who inspire love to play with others’ hearts. Roughly 1-2 % of individuals in overall society are estimated to have been affected by this pervasive personality disorder (Neumann & Hare, 2008), yet some suggest these numbers are conservative and that many go unnoticed (Kantor, 2006).

Mask of sanity

Hervey Milton Cleckley (1903–1984)

American psychiatrist and pioneer in the field of psychopathy

In his seminal work The Mask of Sanity, first published in 1941, Cleckley articulated how, among other personality traits such as their superficial charm, emotional poverty and egocentricity, the essential characteristic of psychopathy lies in its deceitful nature; hiding their lack of internal structure in a facade of normalcy.

Moral insanity

They know right from wrong, but they don’t have a deep emotional understanding of it. Unlike most people, they cannot overcome temptations and restrain their actions in the face of opportunities for short-term self-gratification. Hare (1993) described this as a lack of ability to imagine the consequences of their own actions.

They are free from emotional strings and stay aloof; unaffected by anxiety, guilt or pain that most people feel when they see someone in distress or being hurt. They can act carelessly and stress-free regarding destruction of other’s life in their midst.

Without conscience

Robert D. Hare (1934–Present)

Prominent psychopathy expert, researcher of criminal psychology

Hare developed the Psychopathy Checklist, a psychological assessment tool used to determine the presence of psychopathy in individuals. In Without Conscience, Hare (1993) describes a psychopath as “a self-centered, callous, and remorseless person profoundly lacking in empathy and the ability to form warm emotional relationships with others, a person who functions without the restraints of conscience” (p. 2).

Hollow words:

Their shallow affects (emotions) are manifested in their use of words. Hare (1993) describes their apparent lack of emotional depth, noting how they “seem to know the dictionary meanings of words but fail to comprehend or appreciate their emotional value or significance” (p. 128). They are “like a color-blind person who sees the world in shades of gray but who has learned to function in a colored world” (p. 129).

Hare (1993) describes how they are “social predators who charm, manipulate, and ruthlessly plow their way through life, leaving a broad trail of broken hearts, shattered expectations, and empty wallets” (p. xi).

Psychopathic predation: Hunting

The psychopath’s predation follows certain destructive relationship patterns that they repeat throughout their life: i.e Idealization, devaluation and discard

Assessment phase

• Psychopaths examine their targets’ value and utility.
• They test the water to see if their targets respond in a certain way.
• Those who didn’t pass the test are often passed over and those who responded well will be targeted.

The first stage of a psychopathic relationship is idealization.

Love-bombing

This is a powerful and seductive period when psychopaths allure their potential victims. With superficial charm, this cunning and manipulative population enchants their targets.

Devaluation

What comes next is devaluation, marked as a betrayal with broken promises. This is when psychopaths who had always cast their partners (victims) in a positive light will begin to criticize and withdraw their attention. They slowly tear down the pedestal they once put victims up on and engage in subtle ridicule and condescension.

Discard phase

If the target remains useful to them, they would be kept around, but otherwise, the psychopath moves on, as if the previous victim never existed.

Mirroring

Mirroring – they tune into us, figuring out what our hopes, dreams and belief systems are.

By mimicking our personality, these people trick us into becoming our friends. They appear to be a good listener, by learning what kind of person we need in life, what we want, they learn what roles they need to play and reflect back what we want. They tell us what we want to hear. They feed us a line to hook us. In their mirroring, we often fall in love with our own selves as reflections. Manufactured soul mate, elevated to the high status with attention and affection. So, what are they wanting through their predation?

Grandiose self-structure – Internal structure

“When one gazes upon the psychopath, there is less there than meets the eye.” –J. Reid Meloy, a clinical psychology professor researching psychopathy articulated how the house of the psychopath is built upon a grandiose self-structure (Meloy, 2001, p. 11).

They live in a pre-socialized emotional world. Psychopaths do not experience the full range of emotions that spring from an empathic ground. They might experience intense emotions, but these are short lived. They are self-serving and driven by an urge for fuel (narcissistic supply – foods). Being cut off from emotional reality, they are dead inside and can’t harvest their own energy. So they become parasites and feed off others’ emotional reactions and creativity.

Pleasure seeking – have not met the reality principle – no boundaries

Emptiness -They are like chameleons. They don’t have personalities. They act, changing their faces depending on their victims. We project virtues they don’t have. We have authentic feelings and personality. They have to control and calculate with their best moves. They are always thinking how to manipulate people to get what they want.

• The being personified in this entity is enslaved by an internal void. They are a nobody and are driven to fill an insatiable hunger at any cost. So they become parasites and feed off others’ emotional reactions.

This internal emptiness is depicted as fuel. H G Tudor, who is a self-professed and diagnosed narcissistic sociopath. He writes a blog called https://narcsite.com/

• The drive for their actions is ‘fuel’, a kind of emotional energy they extract from others that helps them function and exist.

• Lifeblood; both positive and negative emotions; admiration, delight and love, hatred and anger

What is your reaction to the sector of humanity that exhibits manipulative and predatory traits? Reflect on your experience with these kinds of people if you have any and how they are different from the rest of us?

References:

Cleckley, H. M. (1941). The mask of sanity: An attempt to reinterpret the so-called psychopathic personality. St. Louis: The C. V. Mosby Company.
DP DenkProducties. (2012, June 22). Milgram experiment-Jeroen Busscher. [Video file]. Retrieved from
https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=yr5cjyokVUs
Hare, R. D. (1993). Without conscience: The disturbing world of the psychopaths among us. New York: The Guilford Press.
Kleinman, P. (2012). Psych101: Psychology, facts, basics, statistics, tests, and more! MA: Adams Media.
Knowing the Narcissist. (2017, January 4). Show and tell. [Video file]. Retrieved from
https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=hUQQcArkGLQ
Meloy, J. R. (Ed.). (2001). The mark of Cain: Psychoanalytic insight and the psychopath. Hillsdale, NJ: The Analytic Press.
Milgram, S. (1974). Obedience to authority. New York, NY: Harper & Row.

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