Kings, Conquerors, Psychopaths: From Alexander to Hitler to the Corporation (Book Review and Interview Part 3)
This is Part III (the final part) of an interview with Joseph N. Abraham, author of the remarkable book Kings, Conquerors, Psychopaths: From Alexander to Hitler to the Corporation. Part 1 of the interview is HERE. Part II is HERE. Here’s TMV’s review of his book, followed by Part II of the interview, in which he offers some observations about America’s political scene.
Some political observers and historians feel that authoritarianism, like a phoenix rising from the ashes, is making a comeback in the United States and in Europe after being discredited and (in part) defeated during World War II. The questions are always: how does that happen? Is it the strength of personalities, or ideologies that become unstoppable? Where did it start and can’t we be comforted by all the powerful Kings and conquerors throughout history?
In his must-read, can’t-put-it-down book Kings, Conquerors, Psychopaths: From Alexander to Hitler to the Corporation Joseph N. Abraham provides a fresh take on these and other questions, backing it up with solid (often shocking) research that concludes we can’t just blame authoritarians but those who follow, obey, and emulate them. It is virtually in humanity’s genetics. He convincingly makes (and documents) the case that despite often romantic images, kings and conquerors were vicious criminals — and the fact the they were psychopaths, narcissists, and sadists became whitewashed, almost in a form of mass hypnosis. Much of what they did and actually were like somehow vanished from cultural perceptions over time.
Abraham is an emergency medicine physician who has spent years seriously thinking about and meticulously documenting the genesis of how humanity nurtured and submitted to inhumanity (those disobeying were murdered and those conquerors defated were often hideously butchered or sold into slavery) during mankind’s 10,000 year path. Kings, conquerors, psychopaths, narcissists were (and are) masters of manipulation. And, he argues, corporations often fit the same mold. He opens with the My Lai massacre. He not only raises these issues but fleshes them out with shocking facts about the degree of murder, sadism, gore, and lack of empathy. The book is written in a lively, thoroughly researched and well-thought out style (it is not written like a blog post, nor does it read like someone who is vomiting up cliches and generalizations after watching their favorite political entertainment media polarizer). The term “must-read” has been soooooo overused. But Kings, Conquerors, Psychopaths is a must read..must own..and, most of all, a must ponder.
Part III of interview:
8. If in 1776 once we began removing the oppression of the noble classes, genius and progress emerged spontaneously and created the modern world where are we now? Progressing, reverting? And why.
We think of liberal and conservative as antagonists, but they are really dancing partners. Conservatism is consistency and predictability, liberalism is innovation and progress. The question isn’t *whether* to be one or the other, but when, and how much. In the book I suggest that perhaps the ideal system is a capitalist framework with socialist pockets: government must step in to do those things which are profitable to all, but unprofitable to the lone entrepreneur. Chief among these common profits is a strong workforce, which means that robust education and healthcare are key to a nation’s competitiveness.
Right now, wealth and power are increasingly concentrated in the hands of a few people. 90% of all US media — books, newspapers, magazines, TV, radio, Internet — is controlled by just six corporations, half of which are not American. Those six, in turn, are controlled by just 15 billionaires. As I point out in the book, power is an aphrodisiac to the narcissist, but the problem is that his goal is self-promotion, not progress. And so we see corporations and multinationals in all fields increasingly strangling democratic government and the free economy, in order to wring out short-term profits while destroying the potential for long-term growth. In particular, they are undermining healthcare and education, and as a result, we are seeing crises in both.
So I think we are reverting.
9. Explain a little more about how corporations fit into your research.
The ‘noble’ hierarchy was always attractive to the self-serving narcissist. As noted in the above, the narcissist has shifted to the corporation. What we miss, is that the corporation is, by design, narcissistic and psychopathic, it always focuses on short-term profits over progress and humane considerations. In the corporation, it is unimportant if the CEO is a narcissist, just as it is unimportant that the general is a sadist. When either of these step into their roles of leadership, their training and focus render both of them toxic.
Our lives are only important to the corporation in those ways that affect the short-term bottom line. We don’t see corporation in this way, of course. But we also didn’t see the king in that way, despite 10,000 years of perennial, recurrent subjugation, horror, and abuse. We are as blind to the problems of the corporation as we were to those of royalty.
10. You do offer a remedy with hope. You write that progress requires “an educated and social active electorate, and increased citizen participation” to protect us “from political and economic strongmen.” And, you write, without it we’ll revert to the brutality of the past.” However, do you see that as too optimistic for 21st century America, where newspapers are closing, terse Tweets are preferred to serious analysis, and political entertainment media which aims at stirring up rage to deliver a demographic to advertisers has seemingly replaced “old school” journalism?
I address the problem of futurists: a few thousand futurists try to anticipate what will happen by assuming that progress will be a continuation of the present. The problem is, there are millions of innovators around the globe who are working to insure that the future looks nothing like the present. The futurist would appear to face a hopeless task.
The point to take from this is that we need to have some faith. The corporation is everywhere, or so it appears; but in reality, it is only everywhere in marketing and sponsored media. But while Google, facebook, and Amazon grab increasing control of the Internet and our privacy, we still choose other paths, and other priorities; the constant game of money-power-fame that the narcissist sells us is stressful and fatiguing, and people seem to be slowly catching on.
In addition, I am watching as the Open Source movement quietly rises up to oppose the narcissistic corporation. The power of Open Source is evidenced by the fact that all three of the corporations I mentioned, and really all corporations, rely on not just Open Source software, but more and more on Open Source approaches. I think it is a biting irony that the first search return from the insatiable Google juggernaut is quite often not a website from some wealthy ad-buying corporation, but a link to a Wikipedia article. Google and the rest of them are worried about Wikipedia and the Open Source community with good reason, because, like Hopper in the animated film *A Bug’s Life*, they realize that if the little ants ever link arms, the grasshoppers are toast.
I suspect a reckoning may be coming. Once the Open Source community adds social change to its efforts in software and content production, it can quickly reduce the powerful corporations to a fraction of what they are now. Open source can contain the narcissists by empowering the public and enforcing accountability.
Again, we have to have some faith. Things looks bad right now, in government, in commerce, and in our personal lives. We need to realize that all of the high-visibility media that currently soaks us with toxic messages do not guarantee success for the corporation. There are millions of people around the globe who are working to foster justice. And they have the numbers on their side.
We will have to see what happens.