Don’t hand power to dangerous people- a Buddhist persctive

Just spotted this in ABC religion and ethics.

Although sociopaths should be kept out of power because of the danger they present to society, their peculiar combination of manipulation and ruthlessness ironically favours them to succeed in business and politics. What can be done to counter this? Normal social checks on destructive behaviours do not restrain people who lack the ability to experience shame and remorse. We need more widespread understanding of how to assess capacities for compassion, heedfulness, and shame, and we need formal requirements so that a propensity to anti- social behaviour disqualifies a leader in society.


While viewed from the outside, religions compete with one another, internally they display evidence of parallel struggles to contain and counter those among us who lack empathy, and to elevate those who excel in it.

Really! :hushed: With all the scandals that have been exposed about ‘Buddhist leaders’ and ‘meditation masters’ in recent times? Matthew 7:5 springs to mind. :wink:

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I was actually thinking of speaking on this last night! Interesting article, and interesting that it comes from a Buddhist perspective.

I couldn’t agree more. It should be standard in leadership positions in government and the corporate world. By “standard”, I think there should be UN principles to this effect, like the declarations on human rights, and it should be considered a fundamental requirement of a civilized nation that it implements such tests.

There is one point that needs clarifying in the article.

It perpetuates the misunderstanding that the work of Dr. Bandy X Lee and others in opposing Trump on psychological grounds contravenes the so-called “Goldwater Rule”. But that “rule”—which is simply an in-house professional ethics principle adopted by the the American Psychiatric Association in 1964—only applies to psychiatrists who are members of the APA. Dr Lee is not a psychiatrist but a clinical psychologist, and is not bound by that rule.

Dr Lee has always been very clear on the distinction: it is not a meaningless one.

Psychiatry is a medical discipline, and its purpose is to cure or alleviate mental illness. Thus the interests of the psychiatrist must always lie with the ill person; their procedure is to understand when someone is ill and how to get them better. For this, it is essential to spend time one on one with a client to understand their condition and help them properly.

A psychologist studies the nature of the human mind, and they need not be involved in therapy at all. Dr Lee’s specialty has been in criminal forensic psychology, as well as being academic (at Yale, etc.). She is called as an expert consultant in criminal cases, for example, to determine the fitness of the accused to stand trial, or to assess if they were mentally competent to be considered guilty.

The standard they use is not mental illness, and she quite rigorously avoids diagnosing people from afar. You or I might call Trump or Putin a psychopath, because we’re amateurs and are just giving an amateur opinion. Take it or leave it!

A clinical psychologist assesses the fitness of a person for that specific case. For this, it is not necessary, and often not in fact the case, to have direct personal involvement with the person. In the case of a public figure, an assessment of fitness can be readily made from their behavior. It is on this basis that she and colleagues wrote The Dangerous Case of Donald Trump, where they accurately predicated the disastrous consequences of electing him as president. From her perspective, the problem is not that Trump is a psychopath but that he is dangerous.

One thing that the article omits, which I have been mulling over recently. Why is it that mentally unfit persons are so successful at becoming leaders? So many nations are currently being run by “dangerous men”—Brazil, China, Russia, India, Philippines, Hungary, North Korea, Myanmar, Syria; I could go on. The article attributes this to the cunning and ruthlessness of the men, and that is no doubt part of the story.

But it doesn’t explain why they’re so damn popular. Lots of people don’t just like them; they love them.

I think we elevate “dangerous men” because they do things that we would not; they give collective sanction to the evil in our hearts. We sanctify visionary leaders who have a “dream” that inspires us, but we put into power broken men who turn our nightmares into reality. It’s not just me who feels hate and wants to blindly kill and destroy; it’s normal. Everyone’s like that, if they would only admit it! Here, have a gun! :gun:


I understand that life is not valued as much as death is. Most women in power try to focus on people’s lives where as most men in power try to focus on people’s deaths. Still, most people who vote, mistrust women in power.


In the case of Trump it is in my amateur opinion symptomatic of the US culture. The country was founded on the right to do whatever the heck one wants in the pursuit of happiness and to look after oneself first ( l̶i̶f̶e̶, liberty, the pursuit of happiness) The gap between self and other is something that always strikes me when I visit. It’s built into their language and culture, especially in the South. It’s something I’ve seen increasing over the 30 or so years I’ve been visiting family there. I’m not at all disagreeing with you. I find what you wrote quite eerily true. The gap between the dream and the reality of the American Dream IMHO is what is creating these ‘broken men’ and their dis-empowered and mistrusted women.


Thank you so much for that explanation! I did not know that distinction and I agree that it is an important one.

I think it may be somewhat explained by fear and by a very negative assessment of humans among citizens who vote that way. If your view is humans are fundamentally bad, and the world is full of dangerous men who mean you harm, you want your own leader to be every bit as capable of committing any act to keep you safe. You don’t want him hampered by ethics when it comes to making sure the other dangerous men don’t win.


One of the greatest ‘assets’ of a sociopath/psychopath is that “fear” rarely arises in their minds. They are largely uninhibited, which leads them to embark on high risk, high reward ventures. Of course these ventures often fail, and are oft illegal, and many psychopaths end up behind bars. But those who rise often do rise to the top.

On the opposite end of the spectrum, we have the X-altruists, who share a lot of qualities with sociopaths except they are empathetic and compassionate.

People have a tendency to cry “sociopath” or “narcissist” at politicians they don’t like, while ignoring the same traits in politicians they do. I’ve been guilty of this myself, I’m afraid, which is why I’m reluctant to take armchair psychological analysis of politicians seriously.

One sense I have of this question is that thre is a tendency with many in a population to see people in more “black and white” terms; in psychology the phenomenon is known as “splitting.” Some people with early trauma histories have difficulty experiencing people along a healthy spectrum; people in their life can be at one time put on a pedestal, and then perceived by the disordered person (or person with this trait) as being an enemy and deserving of rejection or punishment. One study about Republicans and Democrats in the US suggested that people that identify as right wingers tend to see the world as a more dangerous place, with "others’ being immigrants, POC, or people who they perceive as different from them. Some people on the right see the world as a more dangerous place, needing protection from “others.” Toxic narcissists like Trump use overt and dog-whistle themes to incite people against the “others,” and seek to blame the others for the problems that the black-and-white thinkers are experiencing. We know that Hitler preyed on others with a theme that Jews were responsible for WW1 and the resultant economic difficulties in Germany, and that his autocratic /fascist approach allowed the German population to see him as a protector in the face of Jewish and “outsider” oppression. In the US, as in Europe, there is fallout over immigration and crime issues (being just one issue) that fascists exploit to turn voters toward the autocratic approach; “these men are awful” their supporters think, but they will protect us. Today, Putin is trying to “other” Ukrainians by falsely claiming they are neo-Nazis and hold dangerous chemical weapons; thus they are to be seen by the Russian citizenry as a threat and deserving of punishment.

Even among seemingly educated and intelligent people, this trait of suspicion and fear of “others” causes otherwise rational, educated people to allow for fascists and sociopaths to assume leadership positions. From a psychological perspective, among empathetic and rational people, and those that we might see as having emotional intelligence, we might see a uniform contempt and rejection of dangerous train wrecks like Trump. But many populations are diverse, and may not have the EQ bandwidth that some of us might feel that we try to cultivate. Here in the US, the right has actively campaigned to reduce education funding at universities, especially in humanities, and to essentially “dumb down” the country, and they’ve been fairly successful. Heavily watched Fox News is a propaganda machine for the right; some of its better known “journalists” (and they make no effort to practice true journalism) are Trump insiders. Consultants working for right wing candidates understand that their base is this fearful, less aware and less mindful population, that are easily guided by splitting campaigns. Unfortunately at times, this fearful, blindly angry, mindless base is 50.5 percent of the electorate.


Jon Stewart said something recently on a podcast (NYT) I listen to that the Republicans would sooner make a deal with Putin than Pelosi. Speak volumes about the psychology of elected officials representing half the electorate. I hope the electorate isn’t like that though…

I think Sideshow Bob had some insight to why people vote for dangerous people.

There are many frameworks from which to look at this situation including psychiatric, psychological and sociological. I prefer the Buddhas.

Quite simply - Wrong View leads directly to the lack of any restraint (and even to the cultivation) of the unwholesome. Wrong View and Ignorance lead directly to Dukkha

When there is a charismatic leader who gives license for unwholesome desires and removes the restraints on unskillful and harmful behaviours, then we get the current situation. ‘I want power - it doesn’t matter what i have to do to get it, who i have to hurt, oppress or destroy - My Desire is primary’ !!!

All I can say is that this is a great opportunity to use the arising Nibbida at witnessing so much unwholesome to fuel Samvega and to practice, practice practice…

The cultivation of Right View and the beneficial, wholesome behaviours (kindness in all it’s forms) is the direct counter balance. This is the only way to stem the rising tide of the unwholesome and it will lead to beneficial outcomes for self and others both in the here and now as well as in the future.

May all Beings on our little planet come to Right View and enjoy peace and harmony :pray:

:sparkling_heart: :earth_asia: :sparkling_heart: