Take a moment and consider who you are and how you conduct your life. Look around you at the all people you’ve met, or heard about.
I think you’ll agree with me that, normally, the vast majority of humans are concerned about themselves and their families. Maybe even their friends and supporters. Many of us are concerned about our own health, our family’s health, and the health of the planet. We don’t litter. We limit our waste and our carbon footprint. We give other people the right of way. We help where we can, and we rarely, if ever, harm the other people on the planet.
Even those of us are mean and selfish to strangers usually try to make life better for those they care about. They don’t burn down their own houses, strip their cupboards and pantries of edible food, or poison their own wells.
So how do we explain the consistent, long-term, destructive behavior and choices we see from some of the architects of our modern world. I’m talking about you, Darrell Issa, Rick Santelli, Roger Ailes, Charles and David Koch, Grover Norquist, Dick Cheney, Ken Ham, Ann Coulter, John Boehner, Mitch McConnell, John Poindexter, Rush Limbaugh, Bill O’Reilly, Andrew James Breitbart (deceased), Paul Wolfowitz, Pam Geller, and many others. The list should also include the names of corporate executives who remain largely behind the scenes but spend furiously to drive the interests of their more public political, media, and cultural minions.
The choices some of these leaders make, and have been making, have systematically despoiled our planet’s life-giving mechanisms and pushed us to the brink of disaster, threatening to make human civilization unsustainable, and literally killing and sickening millions of people with scourges like lung disease, cancer, needless wars, infections like MRSA, food and water shortages, and diseases that are resistant to modern medical treatment. In some cases, some of these evildoers have even worked against delivery of medical treatment that has been proven effective.
All of this leads many people – me included – to ask the simple question: How can we explain their penchant for choosing destructive options, pursuing long-term damage to society, the economy, and the environment, and generally screwing up so much of what matters to the rest of us?
Don’t they plan to live, breathe, eat, and drink for years to come. Don’t they have children and grandchildren who must do the same for the next 50 or 100 years?
As a “novelist in training,” I not only ask these kinds of questions, I try to observe and understand individuals and their motivations so as to come up with answers. What follows is simple speculation, organized from the most fantastic to the most mundane. I can’t guarantee that all of it is accurate, or even plausible. But at least some of it might be true:
They’re not human
You don’t have to spend much time on the Internet to come across “conspiracy theories” about reptile, alien shape-shifters who live among us and are doing their best to turn Planet Earth and it’s human inhabitants toward their own purposes and objectives.
Whether they intend to enslave us, use us for food, generate and harvest energy from our bodies (see “The Matrix” series of films), or just have fun by destroying us, they are systematically working against the best interests of the human race.
I’m not saying that Dick Cheney and some others calling the shots are among those who are reptile, alien, shape-shifters. I’m just saying that if they were, they’d be doing and saying almost precisely the same things he actually says and does.
They’re human but “on the Autism spectrum”
Psychologists have begun to identify and understand a segment of humanity that seems to have social and communication deficits. Whatever the cause, they are uncomfortable talking to others, rarely understand what the people around them may be feeling, and seem never to recognize that their words and actions might have negative consequences.
When people who fall somewhere on this autism spectrum also exhibit a thirst for power, they constitute a significant danger to those around them. The more power they amass, the larger the number of people at risk from their decisions and behaviors.
They’re under someone else’s power
Althought Ronald Reagan and George W. Bush held the office the U.S. President, many historians and students of government recognize that others actually held the reins of power. So it’s not entirely fair to blame these two men for their policies or actions while occupying the Oval Office. I’m not saying they are entirely innocent, but if you seek the reasons why Reagan attacked the air traffic controllers’ union or why GWB failed to hold a single meeting to discuss the terrorist threat against the U.S. mainland, you must look at others, as well.
They’re mentally ill
The human brain is a complex mechanism, and apparently gives rise to an even more complex phenomenon: the human mind. A great many things can go wrong in all this and send almost any person’s thought process skidding into a ditch.
It would be nice if everyone who is mentally ill maintained a crazy look in their eyes, or spoke gibberish. Then we could easily identify those who need help and guidance in understanding situations and making sound decisions. But they don’t. That’s why Charles Manson was able to sweet-talk his “family” into murdering Sharon Tate and others, and why Jim Jones was able to convince 909 members of his People’s Temple to drink poison.
They’re caught up in a cult
You don’t have to be crazy to join a cult. Modern cults have studied, developed, and polished their techniques to the point where almost anyone can be captivated by outward appearances, and slowly twisted by mind control techniques until they accept and act on ideas that non-cult members would consider delusional.
Among the problems with cults is that, once a person accepts a certain idea, it becomes easy for them to behave in a certain way. If the idea is wrong-headed, then the behavior it supports can do real harm, not just to those within the cult, but to outsiders, as well.
They’re addicted to money and power
Upton Sinclair once wrote: “It is difficult to get a man to understand something, when his salary depends on his not understanding it.” This explains why many people, who have for any number of reasons found themselves earning money from certain unsavory sources or requiring certain negative actions, seem unable to grasp the full reality and harmful results of what they are doing.
This drive to survive often advances into a true addition that persists even when a person has accumulated more money than he or she can ever use. Because it is so commonplace, this is probably the easiest explanation to understand, and probably the one most widely accepted. After all, who among us would not like to possess a billion dollar fortune and, once having acquired it, who among us would not support some extreme measures in order to hang onto it?
Nearly all of us believe that money corrupts, and most of us know someone who became extremely successful and began to feel a little less concern for others who remained on lower economic and social rungs.
They’re totally selfish
Some people are naturally community oriented, while others are naturally selfish. If you take selfishness to an extreme, you might wind up with a person who will countenance harm to a great many others simply to further their own agenda or gain advantages for themselves.
In many cases, selfish people simply don’t notice that, by going for what they want, they are inconveniencing or interfering with others. But clearly there are people so selfish that they willingly step in front of others, grab what others already have, and leave large messes behind as they gather everything they want by whatever means necessary.
This selfishness could result from sublime mechanisms, such as having a less-developed soul, or from Earthly experiences that taught lessons of selfishness (as they did to Ayn Rand) rather than the joy of sharing and the practicality of community.
They’re totally short-sighted
Experimenters have studied young children’s intrinsic attitudes in many ways, but the one relevant here is as follows: They show a young child a treat – such as a cookie or a candy – and then tell the child something like: “You can eat this now, but if you wait five minutes, I’ll give you another one and you can eat them both.”
Some children can easily defer gratification and wait for the second treat. But others cannot.
It’s possible, then, that some of our leaders are simply incapable of holding back from choices that will produce immediate benefits in favor of other choices that will produce more benefits sometime down the road.
They never grew up
Elementary and high schools are well sprinkled with people who are relatively immature. They say and do things instinctively, without much thought for the consequences. They lack purpose and direction in their lives, and give little or no thought to their choices, behaviors, or opportunities.
That’s all pretty much acceptable in youngsters. But as we grow older, most of us recognize that we can be happier than we are when we play a trick on a friend, that we can get more satisfaction from life than we feel when we eat fast food or see the latest movie, that we can build more meaning into our lives than we do when we bully others or take a short cut to collect a trophy.
They Lack the Essential Connection to Spirit
According to Sioux Chief Arvol Looking Horse, the absence of spirit is causing suffering everywhere. “We are in a time of survival,” he has said. “But we don’t want to believe it because we have forgotten our spirits. We have forgotten that Grandmother Earth has a spirit.”
As a result, disconnected people are causing great harm to the Earth’s animals, plants, and natural resources without any awareness of what they are doing.
The Chief believes that people ought to respect each other. “The Great Spirit put us here all together,” he says. “If we’re going to survive, we need to have spirit and compassion.”
In the final analysis, however, the intellectual exercise of understanding why these people do what they do is far less important than the practical exercise of understanding how to stop them, and why so many of the rest of us offer them so little opposition.
After all, the sooner we put an end to their destructive ways and damaging choices, the sooner our grandchildren – and our grandchildren’s grandchildren – will enjoy secure and enduring access to a peaceful planet full of abundant resources for a sustainable, happy life.