Tuesday, June 1, 2010


Posted by Harriet Malinowitz
June 1, 2010

I was planning to spend yesterday—Memorial Day—writing Part III of this blog—about the conference that was the main purpose of my visit to the West Bank—but the Gaza Flotilla Massacre happened and I went down to the city for the demonstration instead.

Then last night, for reasons unrelated to Israel/Palestine/Gaza, I happened to be googling around for definitions of various psychological conditions and syndromes. I was particularly interested in seeing how a “sociopath” might be defined. While no website that I found seemed authoritative (and the “experts” seemed neither more nor less intellectually solid, overall, than the laypeople), there were a number of characteristics that were cited time and again—leading me to think that to the best of anyone’s knowledge, they were roughly descriptive of what contemporary society considers to be a “sociopath” (though the current preferred term is “antisocial personality disorder”; same thing). Here’s a good representative example:


Profile of the Sociopath

This website summarizes some of the common features of descriptions of the behavior of sociopaths.

• Glibness and Superficial Charm

• Manipulative and Conning
They never recognize the rights of others and see their self-serving behaviors as permissible. They appear to be charming, yet are covertly hostile and domineering, seeing their victim as merely an instrument to be used. They may dominate and humiliate their victims.

• Grandiose Sense of Self
Feels entitled to certain things as "their right."

• Pathological Lying
Has no problem lying coolly and easily and it is almost impossible for them to be truthful on a consistent basis. Can create, and get caught up in, a complex belief about their own powers and abilities. Extremely convincing and even able to pass lie detector tests.

• Lack of Remorse, Shame or Guilt
A deep seated rage, which is split off and repressed, is at their core. Does not see others around them as people, but only as targets and opportunities. Instead of friends, they have victims and accomplices who end up as victims. The end always justifies the means and they let nothing stand in their way.

• Shallow Emotions
When they show what seems to be warmth, joy, love and compassion it is more feigned than experienced and serves an ulterior motive. Outraged by insignificant matters, yet remaining unmoved and cold by what would upset a normal person. Since they are not genuine, neither are their promises.

• Incapacity for Love

• Need for Stimulation
Living on the edge. Verbal outbursts and physical punishments are normal. Promiscuity and gambling are common.

• Callousness/Lack of Empathy
Unable to empathize with the pain of their victims, having only contempt for others' feelings of distress and readily taking advantage of them.

• Poor Behavioral Controls/Impulsive Nature
Rage and abuse, alternating with small expressions of love and approval produce an addictive cycle for abuser and abused, as well as creating hopelessness in the victim. Believe they are all-powerful, all-knowing, entitled to every wish, no sense of personal boundaries, no concern for their impact on others.

• Early Behavior Problems/Juvenile Delinquency
Usually has a history of behavioral and academic difficulties, yet "gets by" by conning others. Problems in making and keeping friends; aberrant behaviors such as cruelty to people or animals, stealing, etc.

• Irresponsibility/Unreliability
Not concerned about wrecking others' lives and dreams. Oblivious or indifferent to the devastation they cause. Does not accept blame themselves, but blames others, even for acts they obviously committed.

• Promiscuous Sexual Behavior/Infidelity
Promiscuity, child sexual abuse, rape and sexual acting out of all sorts.

• Lack of Realistic Life Plan/Parasitic Lifestyle
Tends to move around a lot or makes all encompassing promises for the future, poor work ethic but exploits others effectively.

• Criminal or Entrepreneurial Versatility
Changes their image as needed to avoid prosecution. Changes life story readily.

Other Related Qualities:
1. Contemptuous of those who seek to understand them
2. Does not perceive that anything is wrong with them
3. Authoritarian
4. Secretive
5. Paranoid
6. Only rarely in difficulty with the law, but seeks out situations where their tyrannical behavior will be tolerated, condoned, or admired
7. Conventional appearance
8. Goal of enslavement of their victim(s)
9. Exercises despotic control over every aspect of the victim's life
10. Has an emotional need to justify their crimes and therefore needs their victim's affirmation (respect, gratitude and love)
11. Ultimate goal is the creation of a willing victim
12. Incapable of real human attachment to another
13. Unable to feel remorse or guilt
14. Extreme narcissism and grandiose
15. May state readily that their goal is to rule the world

(The above traits are based on the psychopathy checklists of H. Cleckley and R. Hare.)

NOTE: In the 1830's this disorder was called "moral insanity." By 1900 it was changed to "psychopathic personality." More recently it has been termed "antisocial personality disorder" in the DSM-III and DSM-IV. Some critics have complained that, in the attempt to rely only on 'objective' criteria, the DSM has broadened the concept to include too many individuals. The APD category includes people who commit illegal, immoral or self-serving acts for a variety of reasons and are not necessarily psychopaths.

Sound familiar? Promiscuity and gambling notwithstanding, there are innumerable ways in which Israel seems to fit the description of a “sociopath.”

What to make of this? There are many things one could possibly make of it. The main association that springs to my mind is Hannah Arendt and her famous study—first in The New Yorker magazine and later in her book Eichmann in Jerusalem—of the sheer ordinariness and “normality” of what may be taken—through a more distanced, or objective, or pathologizing, or perhaps anthropological lens—as “evil.” I’m sure most people reading this have heard of the expression, made famous by that study, “the banality of evil.” Though I think it is a nugget that encapsulates her thesis well, it has itself become banalized from overuse.

I say this because many people who are familiar with the term and the phenomenon it represents seem to see all sorts of things that some—even they themselves, in other circumstances—might consider “evil” to be fairly humdrum. For instance, in recent times, a new term has been coined—“PEPS” (“Progressive Except for Palestine”)—designating those who see not only the holocaust, but the U.S.’s (and others’) actions and policies over the years in Vietnam, Iran, Chile, Nicaragua, Guatemala, East Timor, Iraq, Afghanistan, etc. etc. as “evil,” yet who routinely abdicate their own fine brains when it comes to Israel. (I have heard some of my own highly educated, putatively lefty relatives explaining why the “disproportionate use of force” may actually be “proportionate”—when you look at it a certain way…..)

As many reading this may recall, ethnic studies professor Ward Churchill was vilified after 9/11 for referring to yuppies in the World Trade Center running the machinery of globalization and world finance—impoverishing and destructive to many—as “little Eichmanns.” The fury, of course, came from the suggestion that these ordinary Americans, just doing their job, were as depraved as Nazis—though the point, I believe, was that Nazis, too, just perceived themselves to be ordinary folks, doing their jobs—and that these are just two different lenses through which one might see and interpret precisely the same thing.

It is one thing to truly be a “little Eichmann”—to be a clueless schmuck caught up in the machinery and obfuscations of your own society, to the point where you are not only willing to do harm to others (not seeing it, after all, as harm—seeing it perhaps, even, as good), but even to become cannon fodder yourself. It is another thing to calculatedly capitalize upon the entrenched blurring of those boundaries—that is, to know how easily brutal and inhumane actions can be cast as understandable human phenomena such as “self-defense,” “claiming a homeland,” etc.—and to employ spin doctors, political connections, channels of influence, media monopolies, emotional blackmail, bankrupt institutions (such as the U.N. Security Council), and the good faith of well-meaning, beguiled people in order to effect a deliberate deception and perform self-serving, remorseless deeds.

We are all familiar with the Zionist argument that it is anti-semitic to single Israel out from others in the world who behave in ways that are not entirely dissimilar. In fact, I think that many of us would agree that Israel is hardly the only sociopathic collective entity in this world. The U.S. would meet the diagnostic criteria; so would big pharma (that lets people die of AIDS if there’s no profit incentive otherwise), the big banks (who have plunged us into global financial crisis), tobacco and oil companies, and the other governments involved in some of the U.S.’s exploits mentioned above. Which is to say that yes, sociopathy is a stunningly ordinary condition in this world, and yes, there are many sociopaths out there.

But for some of us—I am thinking of American Jews in particular—Israel is OUR sociopath. At least, that’s how I think of it. Not, I would like to make clear, because I love Israel and want it to turn out all right; not that I think it needs some “tough love” and discipline from its family to steer it back on course. As it happens, I don’t love Israel at all, and I don’t think it was ever on a rightful course to begin with. But because Israel itself has, throughout my lifetime, maintained so insistently that I am it and it is me—and because so many people who have surrounded me since birth have maintained this—and because so much of the world, and so many U.S. politicians, see it this way—I see an opportunity to affect the course of events that I don’t see myself having with B.P., Exxon-Mobil, or even the Pentagon.

That’s why I’m ending this blog entry right now to head out to another demonstration (this time in Woodstock): because, through an accident of birth and myriad environmental influences, Israel is MY sociopath, and its sickness is unbearable.

1 comment: