Saturday, September 26, 2020

Dark Triad politics attracts Dark Triad personalities

In my previous piece, I analysed how the Jacobin model of politics (politics unlimited in aims and unlimited in scope) was inherently a vehicle for Dark Triad politics. Moreover, that the moral or social grandeur of whatever project the Jacobin model was attached to was a vehicle for people to bullshit themselves into following politics that was narcissistic, Machiavellian and psychopathic.

Two recent studies in social psychology have highlighted the reverse problem: that particular forms of politics or social action attracts Dark Triad personalities. (I became aware of the studies through this podcast.)

Virtuous victim signalling

The first paper, ‘Signaling Virtuous Victimhood as Indicators of Dark Triad Personalities’, uses a series of studies to show that those possessing Dark Triad personality traits are particularly likely to engage in (pdf) virtuous victim signalling. The authors defined victim signalling as:
a public and intentional expression of one’s disadvantages, suffering, oppression, or personal limitations.
They defined virtue signalling as:
symbolic demonstrations that can lead observers to make favorable inferences about the signaler’s moral character.
The series of studies provide evidence that:
victim signals are effective tools of social influence and maximally effective when deployed with signals of virtue.
Which makes virtuous victim signalling a potentially successful social strategy, including for extracting resources. The authors conclude that:
our studies present converging evidence that the virtuous victimhood signal is an effective mechanism for persuading others to part with their resources in a way that benefits the signaler and that people who tend to engage in amoral social manipulation to achieve their goals are more likely to emit them.
As the authors note, the highly egalitarian norms of contemporary Western society, creating a presumption of social or moral failing by the wider society if people conspicuously do less well than others, combined with the high moral premium put on avoiding harm, makes the virtuous victim signal a potentially effective resource extraction strategy. Once an effective resource extraction strategy can be identified, those who are least inhibited are more likely to be attracted to the (deceptive) use of it. Which is what the studies suggest does indeed happen.

Extrapolating from the study, the more strongly the presumption of believe the victim is pushed, the greater the effective social licence is being provided for such behaviour. Any implied notion that some forms of social action are so pure than no bad actors will adopt them is an open invitation to exploitive behaviour. An open invitation that Dark Triad personalities can be predicted to seek to take up.

Political extremism and personality

That Dark Triad personalities may be prone to use the resource extraction opportunities that virtuous victimhood provides is not exactly a shock, though it is nice to have confirming evidence. The second paper, ‘The Dark Triad traits predict authoritarian political correctness and alt-right attitudes’, is somewhat more revelatory.

The paper makes a very useful distinction (pdf) between PC Authoritarians (PCA) and PC Liberals (PCL). The authors define Political Correctness (PC) as:
a set of related attitudes characterised by the desire to avoid offense and avoid disadvantaging certain groups in society.
PCL and PCA can be distinguished because:
Those holding PCL attitudes — or belonging to groups characterised by PCL attitudes — argue for the removable of ostensible social or emotional barriers of disadvantaged groups, whereas those holding PCA attitudes are primarily concerned with physical and psychological safety. A core aspect of PCA attitudes is the belief that aggression and force are appropriate methods to achieve ideological goals.
The third group studied were people who adopted White Identitarianism (WI), defined as:
a set of political attitudes characterised by strong feelings of white identity, solidarity and a belief in white victimisation.
What the paper finds is that PC authoritarians and White identitarians are both disproportionately likely to show Dark Triad characteristics, plus a sense of entitlement, and to do so to very similar degrees. Indeed, both groups are far more like each other on measures of Machievallianism, narcissism, psychopathy and entitlement than either group is like PC liberals, who score effectively no correlation with any of the four measures, apart from being mildly negatively correlated for psychopathy.

In my previous essay, I noted that the abandonment of the normative constraints of liberal politics make adoption of the Jacobin model of politics unlimited in means and scope that much easier. The quite stark contrasts found between PC Authoritarians and PC Liberals speaks to that.

Moreover, it points to a clear danger from reluctance among progressives to call out bad behaviour by people ostensibly pushing the same cause. It allows their moral decency to be used as cover by seriously bad actors.

The main contention of my previous essay was that the Jacobin model of politics itself fostered Dark Triad politics, regardless of whatever political project it was tied to. Though the scale of the political project did affect how much damage applying the Jacobin model did.

This PCA/PCL/WI paper points to the reverse problem, that the Jacobin model of politics attracts bad actors. A politics that denies limits is going to attract those who reject limits.

Jacobin model politics and Dark Triad personalities, especially if they have a strong sense of entitlement, are made for each other. They are made for each other regardless of where any particular political project may be placed on some political spectrum or what moral grandeur it may cloak itself in.

Indeed, the moral grandeur is much of the problem, as it justifies the abandonment of limits. It promotes self-deception by people, leading them to override the normative constraints that they would otherwise accept.

Politics that is unlimited in scope, politics that goes everywhere, is also politics that enables self-serving strategies to be pursued everywhere. The more politics is turned into the dominant pay-off strategy, the more it will attract manipulative, self-serving, personalities.

Virtuous victim signalling is a resource acquisition strategy open to manipulation by self-serving actors writ small. Politics unlimited in means and scope is a resource acquisition strategy open to manipulation by self-serving actors writ large. Potentially, an absolutely socially dominant resource acquisition strategy.

Those who argue in defence of looting, those who riot for ‘social justice’, those who seek to drive dissent out of the public sphere and various social arenas, may mask themselves under some grand moral project; but it is what they do, not why they say they are doing it, that is truly revelatory.

Physicist Steven Weinberg was far too specific when he said:
With or without religion, good people can behave well and bad people can do evil; but for good people to do evil — that takes religion.
Any moral or social project parading itself as absolute moral trumps is capable of having that effect.

Politics without limits is a profoundly destructive social force that naturally and inherently attracts destructive, manipulative, self-serving personalities. The grand moral claims that politics without limits are attached to provide the perfect cover for antisocial personalities to seek benefits for themselves, regardless of the costs to others. Adding in the capacity to allow otherwise decent people to justify to themselves doing, or acquiescing in, acts of social cruelty greatly magnifies the destructive effect.

Cross-posted from Medium.

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