24 September 2008

Responsibility and Authority

I've been re-reading Martha Stout's book, "The Sociopath Next Door", and thinking about sociopathy in the context of abuse [of course].

Towards the very end of her book, Dr. Stout observes two mortal errors that can be made in human moral interaction:
the first is an overweening desire to dominate others;

the second is an equally overweening willingness to relegate all other human beings to the status of objects [I-It relating].
As I was thinking about her words, it occurred to me that the pathological desire to dominate others also has two parts.
First, there is the desire to have absolute authority;

but second, equally to the desire for absolute authority, there is the desire for total evasion of responsibility.
As I continue to think about this, it seems to me that pathological domination, in this sense, is the essential dynamic of any abusive organization [church, work, club, family].

Wherever X demands all of the authority and accepts zero responsibility, while Y is scapegoated with all of the responsibility [and given no authority with which to address that responsibility], you are seeing the core dynamic of abuse. No such system can ever be anything but abusive.

[And this, I think, solves a major puzzle for those of us who wonder why so many workplaces, in particular, do not work.]


Anonymous Anonymous said...

Having left a cult and encountered men who used to be leaders in that cult, it is interesting that these men still want to maintain their positions as an authority in the lives of ex-cult members.

Their mantra now is that they were victims too, yet there is never any mention of the abuse they perpetrated, or any responsibility taken for it. Some take the position of 'experts' on the cult, others simply want to continue to exercise power in the form of lectures or sermons on how you as a woman should behave.

They want to be accepted as victims by others who were genuinely powerless in the group, yet they still can't accept that its now a level playing field.

24 September, 2008 19:18  
Blogger Stormchild said...


That sounds very much like the non-benign form of pseudorecovery; I just posted a comment to "TH in SoC" on exactly this phenomenon... unfortunately I can't recall my exact words, but it went something like this:

TH was describing a bulletin board for "abusive church" escapees here in the States, where he saw someone ganged up on for basically sharing their pain.

I opined that this sounded mighty like pseudorecovery, which comes in two main flavors:

Clueless [relatively benign] flavor, where people simply have not escaped their own denial yet; so they go around in circles talking about the abuse, or go around in circles talking about Those Awful People Over There. Crucial point: many fresh refugees need to cover this ground over and over too, until they can 'hold on' to the terrible reality of their experiences. It's pseudo-recovery, clueless flavor, when the recycling becomes the whole point, and any actual insight or self-examination [i.e., asking oneself "how did I get sucked IN to this, anyway? And how do I avoid that next time round?" etc.] is strenuously resisted - primarily because it's uncomfortable.

What's less benign about Clueless flavor is that insight in general is resisted... that is, clueless folks in pseudo-recovery don't just avoid their own insights; they actively discourage anyone else from having or sharing insight as well. Thus, the man who shared his pain was mobbed.

Then there's Predatory [definitely not benign] flavor. This happens so terribly often. Predators view recovery forums as large open-air banquets. The more subtil ones will hustle on in and set up shop, being charming and charismatic, playing the victim while playing the expert, and before you know it they've taken over the place. And you're back in business at the same old stand, but instead of a phony prophet in a pulpit you now have a phony guru on a bulletin board. And the abuse and the games are exactly the same.

This is seriously malignant, and the proof is easily seen by watching how savagely anyone who recognizes the game - and calls it out - is treated. This savagery is usually orders of magnitude worse than the clueless style of mobbing; it's deliberately and calculatedly malicious; and you can generally see the Predator[s] right in the thick of it, directing the effort.

Which brings us merrily around to Groupthink again, because this is exactly what Predatory Flavor Pseudo-Recovery is. It's inculcated Groupthink, just like mother used to make [in the abusive church or other environment that you thought you had escaped.]


You know, Meg, there are days when I wish I could resist a little insight, myself.

24 September, 2008 20:29  
Blogger TH in SoC said...

Stormchild, thanks for your comment on my blog. I just read your post on pathological domination, and was hooked by your description of dominators as people who want all the power but none of the responsibility. This sounds very much like President Bush in his Wall Street bailout plan.

24 September, 2008 20:42  
Blogger Stormchild said...

Ouch again ...

... I know what you mean.

Those among us who've tried to play by the old rules, in good faith [save first; spend only X% of income on housing; manage debt responsibly and keep it manageable] can't help but wonder why this is apparently being punished now, while fiscal recklessness is apparently being rewarded.

Sadly familiar scenario.

24 September, 2008 22:00  

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