Lobaczewski and Chris Langan on intelligent psychopaths
Are psychopaths smart? Contrary to the impression some may have of the psychopath as evil genius, the reality is not so romantic. According to Lobaczewski, they are less intelligent on average, and you won’t find many, if any, super geniuses among their ranks.
Of course, that’s not to say that there aren’t smart psychopaths. Their bell curve is just shifted down a bit to the left (if Lobaczewski is correct). Which means you’re probably just as likely to encounter a relatively smart psychopath as you are a slightly-more-than-relatively smart normal person. Here’s how he put it:
The average intelligence of essential psychopaths, especially if measured via commonly used tests, is somewhat lower than that of normal people, albeit similarly varied. However, this group does not contain instances of the highest intelligence, nor do we find technical or craftsmanship talents among them. The most gifted members of this kind may thus achieve accomplishments in those sciences which do not require a correct humanistic worldview or technical skills. (Academic decency is another matter, however.) (Political Ponerology, p. 111)
As I wrote in the footnote to this paragraph, whereas psychopathy’s interpersonal/affective traits are associated with higher verbal intelligence in the current literature, the antisocial traits are associated with lower general intelligence.
In short, psychopaths aren’t as smart as they think. They may have the gift of gab, but that’s about it. And maybe that’s how they’re able to convince people that they’re smarter than they are.
Another self-delusion … would be the psychopath’s brilliant mind or psychological genius; some of them actually believe in this and attempt to insinuate this belief to others. (PP, p. 113)
Reading through the collection of actual super genius Chris Langan’s now-deleted Quora answers (yeah, they cancelled him), I found this gem of a response. The question was, “Why do some people with slightly high IQ’s (120-135) think they are so great?” Langan begins by pointing out that the Dunning-Kruger effect can scale upward into what he calls the “IQ danger zone” (IQ 135-150, give or take). In other words, it’s not just very unintelligent people who think they’re smarter than they are.
The danger zone syndrome is typified by those who, being experientially convinced of their own relatively high intelligence, are further encouraged by egotism, narcissism, and/or other personality disorder(s) to forget or willfully disregard their own intellectual limitations, thus displaying what amounts to metacognitive incapacity. (FAQs About Reality, pp. 97-98)
Here’s where it gets really good:
The danger-zone syndrome is very common among people in positions of wealth, power, and leadership, particularly those who confuse their own lack of moral inhibition with intelligence. Psychopaths and sociopaths tend to be ethically uninhibited, as it conduces to the acquisition of wealth and power at the expense of others, including those who are more capable. Foolishly equating morality to stupidity, they come to believe that ethically inhibited people are their intellectual inferiors—after all, have the morally inhibited not let morality tie their hands, thus showing themselves to be “losers” and therefore “stupid”?—and fall into a spiral of excessive self-esteem which the approval and adulation of others can only reinforce. (FAQs About Reality, p. 98)
In Lobaczewski’s words:
Our natural world of concepts strikes such people as a nearly incomprehensible convention with no justification in their own psychological experience. They think our customs and principles of decency are a foreign system invented and imposed by someone else (“probably by priests”), foolish, onerous, sometimes even ridiculous. (PP, p. 111)
This is how the minds of danger-zone psychopaths and sociopaths often work, leading them to severely underestimate their betters. A great many of the world’s problems can be traced to such people, who frequently manage to overtake and displace their moral and intellectual superiors from positions of responsibility and reward for which the latter are objectively much better-qualified. (FAQs, p. 98)
Here Langan combines two topics central to ponerology: psychopaths in positions of responsibility, and socio-occupational adjustment.Last week I published another excerpt from Lobaczewski’s Logocracy. In it, he writes about socio-occupational adjustment (or adaptation), i.e. the measure by which one’s innate talent matches their work situation. Obviously, the better the match, the better the results, for the individual and society. An over-adjusted know-nothing won’t be able to handle the job; an under-adjusted genius is wasted talent and will probably grow resentful, especially so if his boss is over-adjusted.
Lobaczewski highlights the problems with both. Under-adjustment doesn’t just waste talent; it can also produce its own danger-zone effects, with revolutionary implications. People who find themselves in positions below their level of talent know it. And if they “do not properly develop a healthy appreciation of the limits of their abilities,” they may get the idea that if only they had power, everything would be better:
Thus, it seems to them that they could cope with tasks much more difficult than their real abilities allow, for example, governing a country. Thus, the dream of changing the social system in which they were subjected to such a harmful maladaptation, often by means of violence, finds fertile ground among such people. Such individuals thus constitute a factor of social discontent or revolutionary turmoil. (Logocracy, ch. 3)
This makes them good recruits for any revolutionary movement that may be brewing.
Over-adjustment can be caused by nepotism, croneyism, affirmative action, or ideological purity tests—any practice that artificially interferes with the natural sorting that should take place in a society with basic common sense and imposes an inappropriate (and self-serving) selection criterion in place of actual merit. Such people
begin to be demonstratively preoccupied with matters of lesser importance while overlooking those that are significantly more important but more difficult. [HK: This is pretty much the perfect image of modern politics.] There is a characteristic component of theatrics in their behavior. They begin to play a role of what they unfortunately cannot be. [HK: Insert Prime Minister x here.] Their way of thinking becomes conversionary or dissociative, and a decline in the correctness of their reasoning can be empirically demonstrated after only a few years in this position. These individuals prove to be prone to an uphill battle against better able workers, which contributes to the under-adaptation and frustration of the latter. (Logocracy, ch. 3)
When combined, these two forms of maladjustment make for a potent batch of fundamental misalignment with reality. Naturally, things fall apart. Add in over-adjusted psychopathy and they fall apart spectacularly.
Which leads to another excerpt from Langan’s Quora answers:
In short, there are presently many highly intelligent people working very “dumb” jobs, and conversely, many less intelligent people working jobs that would once have been filled by their intellectual superiors. Those sad stories about physics PhD’s flipping burgers at McDonald’s are no longer so exceptional. (FAQs About Reality, p. 100)
Lobaczewski highlighted this problem in the U.S. back in the ’80s, and it has only gotten worse, as Langan observes. Here’s what Lobaczewski wrote back then:
America’s psychological recession drags in its wake an impaired socio-occupational adjustment of this country’s people, leading to a waste of human talent and an involution of societal structure. If we were to calculate this country’s adjustment correlation index, … it would probably be lower than the great majority of the free and civilized nations of this world, and possibly lower than some countries which have lost their freedom [i.e. the “communist” nations]. A highly talented individual in the USA finds it ever more difficult to fight his way through to self-realization and a socially creative position. Universities, politics, and even some areas of business ever more frequently demonstrate a united front of relatively untalented persons. The word “overeducated” is heard more and more often. … In the meantime, the country as a whole—its administration and politics—suffers due to a deficit in the inspirational role of highly gifted individuals. (PP, p. 65)
Combine all this with Peter Turchin’s work on political instability and the overproduction of elites, and the picture isn’t pretty. The current elite-aspirant class is overstuffed with both overeducated, under-adjusted danger-zone people who are relatively smart but cannot achieve the level of success and power they feel they deserve, and over-adjusted graduates who really have no place in any position of power but who nonetheless believe they should because of their degree in gender studies or critical legal theory. According to Turchin, elite overproduction is the best predictor of potentially catastrophic political instability (even better than Lobaczewski’s socio-occupational correlation coefficient, of which it seems to be a special case).
Finally, to round out this picture, Winston over atposted this earlier in the week:
I’ve written a little of Iain McGilchrist’s The Matter With Things, and I’m guessing I will be contemplating this work for a very long time to come. As I was reading parts again recently I cannot help but make the obvious correlations between the nature and actions of the left hemisphere and the nature and action of the global psychopaths attempting to take over the world.
For the next paragraph, just know that the left hemisphere “grasps” or apprehends, while the right hemisphere “explores” and comprehends.
… we do not need pure apprehending from the left hemisphere psychos, but firstly comprehending from the right. Yes we need to ‘grasp’ the world in many ways, and yes we need the utility mastery of the left hemisphere, but not to supersede any understanding of the big picture and certainly not before exploring and weighing up all our options (and not just for utilities sake). But what I am seeing is a pre-frontally damaged left-hemispheric oligarchy grasping at whatever they can in a desperate attempt to control something divorced from reality.
This is why things fail spectacularly. It’s not just people without intelligence. Even the relatively unintelligent have what Lobaczewski called basic intelligence, which is a form of common sense. Rather, we have a gang of danger-zone psychopaths who are functionally brain damaged, compulsively “grasping” for ever more control in ways that defy common sense, decency, and basic reality.
Recall that exemplar of pre-frontally damaged left-hemispheric egotism and danger-zone sociopathy—Chairman Mao—and consider how similar our modern-day up-jumped oligarchic class of pathocrats are to him and his harebrained policies (from Lysenko-inspired crop experiments and the Four Pests campaign to communal farms that impoverished rural China and the backyard steel furnaces that denuded peasants of their metal tools and produced worthless pig iron in exchange—a legacy of destructive idiocy that will be hard to match, though many are trying), and his obsession with metrics and quotas which bore little resemblance to reality, either in their planning or execution.
Now compare to our modern obsessions: gender (über alles), “green” everything (even if we freeze), billions for Ukraine (even if it makes us poor and the money goes into a black hole of corruption), mass immigration, abortions for everyone, ESG scores, total information purity—and those are just the ones that immediately spring to mind. At least Mao had some real goals in mind, even if his proposed methods made them impossible to achieve. Our very goals are dumb.
Mao: “What do we want? Crop and steel production to outstrip the capitalist West!”
Woke: “What do we want? Pregnant men to have abortions, and lifetime bans for anyone who would misgender them!”
Political Ponerology is a reader-supported publication. To receive new posts and support my work, consider becoming a free or paid subscriber.
As well as the “egotism of the natural worldview.”
This made me smile. Not the topic, oh no, it strikes rather close to home in fact. The writing, however, was very good. Thank you.
I am struck by how little we can do to correct the over-adjusted problem other than letting institutions and businesses fail when they fall prey, making room for those which avoid it for now. Our cultural obsession with ever larger, ever more permanent businesses and institutions, propped up by bailouts and regulation, seems to be the exact wrong answer, making the problem worse along all margins.
Ok, no smiling anymore.
Another great post. I have been pondering whether, as well as something about our society which is selecting for psychopaths into positions of power, is there something about our society which is creating people who select psychopaths? In my latest post, I delve into the "co-dependency" literature, and I think there is something to this https://garysharpe.substack.com/p/the-fawning-and-appeasement-survival ...
I also think there is an aspect of McGilchrist's work which is often missed, that ties into this theme too,..
This model predicts, for example, that since the evolutionary role of the right hemisphere’s way of attending to the world is the open sustained vigilance needed to look out for threats and predators, those under the spell [of left hemisphere over-activation, e.g. the woke warriors] will be left totally exposed to predatory forces.
They will be completely blind to clear and present dangers and warning signs, and will be unable to heed the warnings of those around them, until it is too late, even when it comes to the children.