You frequently see politicians labelled on social media as sociopaths, psychopaths, or narcissists. You rarely see journalists or mental health professionals doing so, however, because it’s considered unprofessional. People can’t, and shouldn’t, be diagnosed with personality disorders at a distance and/or by the unqualified. And there’s a danger of belittling serious pathologies through bandying them about on Twitter. Sorry, X.
But there’s actually no need to diagnose politicians anyway. Their individual psychological structures are largely irrelevant. What matters is that many have adopted then weaponised the symptoms and strategies of people who do have such issues, and on a mass scale. It’s the only modern example of the UK government not privatising something, but taking something private and using it to manipulate the public. People are trapped in an abusive relationship with their own government.
A strategy commonly deployed in the UK in recent years, particularly due to ‘partygate’, is known in therapy parlance as ‘flying monkeys’. Those are the creatures the Wicked Witch of the West (no, not Suella Braverman) sends to do her bidding in The Wizard of Oz. We only witnessed former Crime Minister [typo stays] Boris Johnson defending himself over the latest #ToriesPartiedWhilePeopleDied revelations when he couldn’t avoid it. You can’t wheel out Desmond Swayne to bluster his way through PMQs. Though Rishi Sunak might consider it?
The number of ministers and other MPs willing to ‘mislead’ and obfuscate for Johnson still seems to be a well that won’t run dry, even now he’s a private citizen. While the premier has changed twice since last year, the identikit absurdities of Tory Whatsapp groups are as reliably apparent on Twitter as unwanted follows by cryptobros. One of many Johnsonian legacies.
In private life, some people are willing flying monkeys because they mean well: they hear one side of a story and think they’re helping put things right. They don’t realise they’re being used. In public life, it appears politicians are willing to be used because they get something from it, no matter how foolish they’ll look when the truth is confirmed. Retaining a cabinet position, maybe. Perhaps someone knows something about them that they’d rather wasn’t shared. Or maybe they do actually believe what they’re saying, as unlikely as that seems, Lord Frost.
Then there’s triangulation: there’s always a Golden Child and a Scapegoat, but who is which can change without warning or reason. It keeps people on their toes, especially when there’s a reshuffle coming up. It’s effective at creating a divide-and-rule dynamic, and gives ‘newspapers’ different people to pick on for ever-peppy front pages. This tactic can also be used on the populace, ‘the working class’ being a frequent target; sometimes portrayed as parasitic idlers, sometimes salt-of-the-earth ‘hard-working families’. NHS workers were clappable Golden Children two years ago, but are scapegoats being thrown on the privatisation pyre now.
Another method I call “Look! Squirrel!” is misdirection, exemplified by the announcing of a – still wildly inadequate – multibillion-pound cost of living package on the same day a potentially government-ending report is to be released. By the by, luring you back with sweet promises before delivering more abuse is known as ‘hoovering’. (All of the techniques I outline are employed on the assumption that everybody else is an imbecile; government by Dunning-Kruger). Weaponised by Vladimir Putin then Donald Trump and Johnson via Steve Bannon, it is in disturbingly frequent and subtle use in recent years. Some call it ‘dead cats’.
A particularly egregious case from last year: you’d think that, the day after an asylum seeker was dragged to a plane by their hair, to be sold to Rwanda, all criticism would be of the lawless, heartless ‘government’ responsible. Yet it was mostly the opposition who attracted flak, for not disavowing such evident evil loudly, quickly, or correctly enough.
Labour isn’t obliged to lend oxygen and credence to every whackadoodle whim of the kleptofascist sociocracy in charge. Nonetheless, we saw usually sensible people like a Green Party MP, the political editor of a often-honest broadsheet, and many thousands of others demanding that Keir Starmer tweet he’d never sell Syrians to Rwanda, or they’d never vote red again. Every second and joule spent doing this was a misdirection from rightly directing fury at the actual miscreants.
Soon afterwards, we only briefly talked about a story in which a foreign secretary with known Russia connections was nearly able to hire his mistress with apparent Russia connections as his chief of staff: Profumo on laughing gas. I say briefly, because suddenly we were talking about the CoVeR uP of that story, instead of the story itself. Then we talked about oral sex on a Foreign and Commonwealth Office sofa instead of those, but not for long. Now that all seems forgotten. Remember the George Osborne wedding email? No? It was swiftly bumped into oblivion by the banking problems of a never-domestically-elected private citizen.
It seems to me that they’re getting better at this with practice, while we fall for it ever more easily. When it’s drawn to our attention, we offer rational justifications, because no one likes to look wrong-footed. We thereby save them the trouble of gaslighting us (see further below) by gaslighting ourselves.
After a while, it becomes difficult to know whether such ponderings are sheer paranoia. Am I seeing things, am I the crazy one? That’s exactly what the purpose of these techniques is. And it’s of multiple benefit to those weaponising personality disorders against citizens. Our concerns are more easily dismissed, as we’re the dim or deluded ones. And we’ll be too confused and drained to stand en masse outside Parliament wearing V for Vendetta masks and demanding that Michelle Monetise joins Nicolas Sarkozy in the Big House.
Another tactic is DARVO: deny, attack, reverse victim and offender. We saw this employed in #beergate aka #smeargate, distracting from #partygate by pinning lawbreaking on the opposition. This weapon has been in turbo mode, with nationwide strikes being somehow the fault of a party that hasn’t been in power since 2010.
The government wipes its hands, wearing the obscene grimace known as ‘the narcissist smirk’ or ‘duper’s delight’, while delivering ever more blows on Labour. It suits their class war, culture war, fecklessness, and disaster capitalism to have crises drag on while trains and ambulances stand still. They have drivers, helicopters, and private healthcare, so they’ll be fine. Things they expense to us.
One element of DARVO is projection: every accusation is a confession. This Trumpian tendency left a useful trail behind him for prosecutors to follow. In his 2015 speech announcing his candidacy for his obscene and seditious presidency, Trump said, “When Mexico sends its people, they’re not sending their best … They’re sending people that have lots of problems, and they’re bringing those problems with us. They’re bringing drugs. They’re bringing crime. They’re rapists.” Read that again.
Belittling is also a common tactic for those who manipulate to get their own way. This includes belittling people collectively, for example, the Tory tendency to make people poor then tell them they’re doing it wrong and must learn to cook and budget. This diminishing can also be of language. Give a problem a perky name and it’s less threatening (to those who caused it). A cost of profiteering crisis forcing millions to visit food banks (sorry, pantries) and ride buses to keep warm is more cheerful and passive if you call it a ‘squeeze’. There’s nothing they can do about a ‘Squeeze’, and anyway they were a great band, and some love a squeeze, even in the workplace, right Matt Hancock?
Calling the leader of the opposition “Captain Hindsight” is childish, and puts down something that’s actually very useful. Nonetheless, it defangs the man, making him a figure of fun. Calling someone “Boris”, on the other hand, disingenuously diminishes their status, making them someone you can have a drink with down the pub, or at Downing Street on Wine Time Fridays. (As if he’d ever invite you. You had a state education, after all).
The gaslit uplands
The most-talked about personality disorder technique is probably to ‘gaslight’. Taken from the plot of the eponymous 1944 film, it boils down to, “I’m not crazy or wrong or behaving badly, you are.” They’ll tell you what you think matters, like you’re a child. “The people’s priorities”. Through gaslighting, the manipulator gets others to question their own perceptions, memories, or reality itself. For example, “There were no parties, okay there were but they were work events, ten minutes, cake, tupperware, wait for the outcome of the investigation, that was a long time ago, move on, don’t you know there’s a war on and also People’s Priorities.”
It can take time to gaslight an individual. The process does creeping and terrible psychological, emotional, and physical damage, which is why coercive control has been made illegal in cases of private domestic abuse. When it comes to the public, however, it’s lawful. And gaslighting is fast and easy to do on a vast scale when you have compliant flying monkeys aka client journalists. Compliant because you’ve bunged them bananas funded by the gaslit masses themselves. All in, all together. Those who police private coercive control let perpetrators off the hook when it happens to the public. Context becomes everything, consistency in law becomes nonsense.
Sometimes we focus on politics at the expense of psychology. ‘The fish rots from the head’ means a leader influences what they lead. A nation where people are treated like children becomes childish. A state run via weaponised sociopathy becomes a sociocracy, not a society. It’s emotional abuse on an industrial scale. And if you’ve already had experience of it from relatives or partners, it can be triggering and draining to be gaslit and otherwise abused by your ‘leaders’.
But it’s important for people to understand and recognise all this, if democracy is to survive and thrive. This government is dismantling the state, bit by bit, without saying so. You can’t fight it as you’re enraged, confused, sickened, misdirected, impoverished, and knackered. Unsure what’s true and what’s corrupted.
Once you see the wizard behind the curtain, twirling the dials, the impact reduces. You may still be angry it’s being done, but there’s no longer a need for shock or outrage. We should be yawning, not shouting. Such abusers think they’re extra-special and rules don’t apply to them; however, their behaviours are as alike as if factory-made, making them highly predictable and actually quite boring. Compare Bolsonaro, Johnson, Kim, and Trump. Tweedledummerererers.
Of course they lie, manipulate, and confuse: it’s their MO, borrowed from the psychologically damaged.
The personality is political
- They construct their own reality, ignoring what doesn’t fit, then demand that others conform, no matter what it may cost those others. Cough *Brexit* cough.
- They want others to suffer, they feed off it. It’s called narcissistic supply. They don’t want life to be better for you because they’d starve, politically, financially, and psychologically. They share a famine mentality.
- There’s never any acceptance of responsibility, except when there’s credit to be taken. There is silence, denial, dishonesty, blame-shifting, or shame-dumping. Migrants! Covid! Cake! Curry! Don’t you know we’re at war?!
- Truth is malleable, is whatever serves the best purpose in the moment. Dump sewage in word form, play the victim and martyr on the rare occasion you’re called out for it, then sit back and enjoy the chaos.
- Anything they know they’re not allowed to do, i.e. have no mandate for or have actually outlawed for us, they do anyway but secretly, then lie about it if caught, even if there’s giveaway Bolly foam round their mouths.
People with Narcissistic Personality Disorder and related disorders and conscience-free states of mind all create the same outcomes: they go untreated, while their victims are left needing assistance. They’re like human weapons, in that sense, akin to America’s gun culture problem, in which schoolchildren must practice survival drills while others freely access tools of murder. It’s like dreadful drivers who blithely motor about leaving carnage behind them, but all they can see in their rearview mirrors is themselves, smirking their dreadful duper’s delights.
It’s important to understand, so I repeat: whether or not individual politicians are afflicted with these disorders, they are inflicting them on us by using the dynamics of dysfunction to drive an entire nation like cattle through a chute.
The cost to individuals is immense, but when you put people who employ those behaviours in charge of entire societies, the costs become unquantifiable, the damage irreparable. We urgently need a filter, prevention mechanisms, to guard against their use in positions of power, whether familial or national. First, however, we must recognise them. The personal is psychological is political is personal.
The irony strikes me anew daily: that desperate people seek asylum here so desperately. That the government is so vicious about preventing them from doing so. And all along, we aren’t a place of asylum, we are an asylum. This is bedlam, this is Bedlam. We breathe personality disorders in now as much as we do air. They are infectious. It is The Other Pandemic. It is exhausting.
In both the USA and the UK, the ‘honour’ our political systems ran on for centuries cannot survive such techniques, for they aren’t honourable. With those who use them, abuse with them, don’t look at what they are, look at what they do. Don’t leave the House of Commons, it’s your home, and you’ve done nothing to be ashamed of. Show them you see what they’re up to, and make them leave.
This article is adapted from a rather more sweary, meme-y, Johnson-era version here.
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