After reading the incredible book Political Ponerology: A science on the nature of evil adjusted for political purposes by Andrew Lobaczewski (http://www.ponerology.com/), I had a transcendental moment of realization (sort of an "Eureka!" moment). I have to conclude that ponerology and psychopathy are two significant concepts that best explain the sorry state of human affairs in this world which continue to negatively impact on our society, our lives, and our future. No, I don't think it has anything to do with "greed" or even "moral weakness" (however you define it). It has to do with psychopathology and its influence on the nature of evil in society.
People in positions of power that systematically perpetuate evil behave as if they were a different human species; a 'para-Homo sapiens,' if you will. No matter how much good will there is in the world, there continues to be much war, suffering and injustice. It doesn't seem to matter what plan, ideology, religion, or philosophy great minds come up with, nothing seems to improve our lot. And it has been that way for thousands of years, repeating over and over again. We rationalize evil's existence as being part of "human nature," a necessary part of the complexity of the world, due to perennial greed or lack of enlightenment, triggered by mutually exclusive competing interests, etc.; however, those who subscribe to these principles and attitudes may have rendered a premature judgment and closed the book on evil without examining all evidence from different, previously unexamined points of view.
Ponerology and "successful" psychopathology (i.e. not the "violent serial killer" type, but the Stalin, Pol Pot, Cheney, Rockefeller, Kissinger, Bill Clinton, or Donald Rumsfeld type) clinically explain how "pathocracies"—the system of government created by a small pathological minority that takes control over a society of non-psychopaths—are generated and dominated by those that possess an inborn error (psychopathy) prevalent in 4-6% of the population which is physiologically unable to feel normal human empathy. They are emotionless, selfish, cold and calculating, and devoid of any moral or ethical standards, yet they are intelligent, charming, driven, focused, and therefore tend to achieve the highest positions of power by concealing their true nature under a "mask of sanity." This concept applies to all existing hierarchical power structures.
The psychopath shows an astounding lack of normal physiological response to, for example, "emotionally-charged" words such as "rape," "death," or "cancer;" their emotional reactions to these words are similar to the reaction to "car," "chair," or "door" (which largely differs from normal subjects). This difference has been clearly shown with functional MRI and PET scanning by Dr Robert Hare (he also contributed to the documentary The Corporation, which shows that today's corporations—and, of course, the government—fulfill all the clinical criteria of a psychopath).
Using an innate lack of remorse and the ability to use this "advantage" against an unsuspecting population (as well as an uncanny ability to spot and join in common goals with other psychopaths in the group), the psychopath's underhanded and predatory agendas are advanced to progressively dominate, alienate, and manipulate the other 96% of non-psychopathic people into sociopathic (defined as acquired psychopathy) relationships, behaviors, and the perpetuation of institutional dysfunction, as they become the leaders of the power centers of society. Their influence slowly challenges long-held values and cleverly manipulates empathic people—who are unsuspecting of or cannot fathom anyone capable of such schemes since they themselves have a conscience—to their advantage. Sociopathy insidiously infiltrates the zeitgeist and is progressively seen as tolerable, or it is implicitly allowed to exist and spread by inaction.
This is where we find ourselves today, where, for example, cheating and lying seem to be increasingly prevalent and "accepted" behaviors, almost seen as virtues by some (unless they are caught in the act). This telling article shows the infiltration of this sociopathic doublethink, justifying cheating in the eyes of 75% of college students as a reasonable behavior in order to achieve "success," based on traits overtly displayed by our leaders.
These concepts will continue to adversely shape the present and future of humanity unless people with a conscience awaken from their lack of awareness and/or apathy to this reality and do something to stop the influence of psychopaths on society. Once the mask of the psychopath comes down and his/her modus operandi is deciphered and challenged, their power over their unsuspecting victims disappears.
I believe it is really that simple and that profound. Let's stop giving the psychopaths a pass and consistently call them on it every time! This is the only chance we have to meaningfully turn the tide, and it simply involves consistent personal action to relentlessly oppose psychopathy and sociopathy; otherwise, we will become and propagate what we allow. In other words, as Edmund Burke once said, "all it takes for evil to triumph is for good people to do nothing." Our inaction will only embolden psychopaths to seek more power and perpetuate their dysfunctional world view to humanity's ultimate detriment.
Relatedly, the Milgram Experiment ties in nicely with this concept. If you are unfamiliar with this experiment, in 1961, on the heels of certain Nazi war crimes trials, a psychologist named Stanley Milgram conducted this experiment across a range of 40 individuals to test their response to authoritative pressure. They were directed by the experimenter to deliver what they believed to be real electric shocks to another participant (actually an actor). The results shocked everyone. Only 1.2% of individuals were predicted to administer the highest voltage (450 volts); 26 of the 40 participants (65%)—some with clearly conflicted consciences—delivered this lethal electric shock. The only duress placed on the subjects was verbal cueing from a man in a white lab coat! You can imagine the disastrous results derived from the combination of conscience-lacking psychopaths as the authorities in executive power circles and the masses of people obeying such "authority" blindly in such large proportions, as shown in this experiment.
Eventually, as a society, we should perhaps consider making psychopathy screening mandatory before any politician or public servant presents his/her candidacy for office, any military recruits are enlisted, and before any candidates to any position of power that has any public influence are even considered. In the same way we would not allow a color-blind person to safely work, for example, as an air-traffic controller (since the inability to discern certain colors would put large numbers of unsuspecting people at high risk for disaster...), society probably shouldn't let a clinically-diagnosed psychopath be in a position of power (again, don't give the pyromaniac the matches or put a pedophile in charge of the day-care center).
Additionally, it is not necessary or advisable for society to judge these people on moral grounds, as their actions do not involve "moral judgments" per se on the part of the psychopath (at least not in the same sense that a non-psychopathic person's normal decisions based on internal struggles with free will and choice are classified as "moral" or "immoral"), but involve an inevitable, hard-wired or learned physio-psychological response; we wouldn't morally judge the color-blind person because he can't see green. Moral judgments would simply miss the etiology of the problem and misdirect the possible solutions.
When one comes to understand that the reins of political and economic power are in the hands of people who have no conscience, who have no capacity for empathy, it opens up a completely new way of looking at what we call "evil." Evil is no longer only a moral issue; it can now be analyzed and understood scientifically. And so it should be approached and treated in the same way we would approach the treatment of pneumonia with antibiotics.
We should systematically eliminate ("treat") the psychopath's deleterious effects on other individuals' lives and society in general by keeping them away from positions of power, given their physiological and psychological disability (which, by the way, research shows to be non-respondent and undeterred by therapy, punishment, or rehabilitation...). At the individual level, a way for non-psychopaths to deal with this situation would be to respectfully question authority every time (as this authority may be - and likely will be - psychopathic), and to consistently, forcefully, and predictably speak out when sociopathic behavior is experienced or witnessed in our own lives. In the same way the Nuremberg trials defined that a soldier shouldn't follow illegal orders, in a parallel way perhaps we should endorse the notion that people shouldn't follow or silently condone sociopathic or psychopathic behaviors. This, of course, is ultimately a matter of personal choice and responsibility; however, once the dynamic of evil is discovered and seen for what it truly is, we will be more likely and more able to make the right choices.
By recognizing this reality and understanding the deleterious effect derived from the combination of psychopathic ponerogenesis (evil creation), the propagation of pathocracies throughout history, social apathy, and the natural tendency of normal people to submit to authority, hopefully we'll be able to act in such a way as to effect a better future for ourselves and future generations, so that true human nature can once and for all break free from the chains and shine through. Unimpeded by sociopathic or psychopathic influences we finally have a chance to achieve a more peaceful, free, and humane world.
Related works from The Corbett Report:
Our Leaders Are Psychopaths (podcast episode)