Charles Derber on Our Sociopathic Society

Sociopathic individuals in the United States are often successful and well adjusted. Most of them are sane and well educated. They are more likely to be conforming to the values and rules of conduct of a society than violating them.

The reason? It is the society, it’s rules and values, that are sociopathic.


So says Charles Derber in his book — Sociopathic Society: A People’s Sociology of the United States (Paradigm Publishers, 2013).

Derber is a Professor of Sociology at Boston College in Chestnut Hill, Massachusetts.

He is the author of more than 20 books including Corporation Nation (St. Martin’s Press, 1998).

“A sociopathic society is one that develops anti-societal rules of behavior,” Derber told Corporate Crime Reporter in an interview last week. “Our whole structure is designed to focus us on biology and personalities and not institutions. We see individuals, we don’t see systems.”

“In my book, Sociopathic Society, I argue that the intense and frightening way of sociopathic behavior is being carried out by large scale corporations, which are fundamentally sociopathic in their DNA, their charter and the larger market and political economy in which they operate.”

“The sociopathic behavior is not a reflection of brain chemistry gone awry but of the triumph of a sociopathic system of institutions and elites who have rewritten social norms, rewritten the law, reconfigured the institutional power arena in such an extreme way that they have created a society in which the dominant norms of behavior require sociopathic conduct for survival.”

Are people who are plugged into a sociopathic society sociopaths?

“Not all of them,” Derber says.

If you are a worker for ExxonMobil, are you a sociopath?

“ExxonMobil is one of the most sociopathic institutions in the world,” Derber says.

The fact that they are producing fossil fuels makes them sociopathic?

“The corporation is sociopathic. The executives who are making the rules and dictating the behavior of the corporation, which is helping to destroy the planet, is sociopathic. The workers are trying to make a living. Some workers, whether in the oil sector or not, don’t have a lot of options. They take what they can get. Is that sociopathic? Is it sociopathic to survive?”

“This is the dilemma that the sociopathic society creates. The people may not be psychologically disposed to be anti-social, to the environment and to other people. But in order to function within the system they have to hook up with sociopathic institutions and carry out behavior that is destructive and anti-social.”

“Are they sociopaths? Their behavior contributes to sociopathic ends. But their motives are not necessarily sociopathic. The institution’s DNA is driven by sociopathic imperatives.”

“Virtually all work in the United States involves association and capitulation to sociopathic companies and rules. And it becomes normalized in sociopathic society.”

“In the book, I talk about Lance Armstrong being interviewed by Oprah Winfrey. And Oprah asked him — did you think you were being a sociopath, were you lying and cheating? And he said — no, I was just doing what staying in the game required. It’s like the norm of the game.”

“In a sense, Lance Armstrong was telling the truth. You can’t survive as a world class cyclist without being sociopathic. The rules of the game have made it such. You can’t work in America without participating in the sociopathic reality that is corporate America.”

“Societies can be anti-social. Corporate America is an anti-social beast. It is destroying much of the environment, it is destroying many people’s lives.”

“There are more and less sociopathic societies. The United States is on the sociopathic high end. It’s corporations have taken such great control over the society and the state.”

Derber’s next book, due out in February, is titled The Disinherited Majority (Paradigm Publishers, February 2015.)  

It’s about Thomas Piketty’s bestseller — Capital in the Twenty-First Century.

How does Derber explain the popularity of that book?

“People recognize that we are becoming a third world system of inequality — the wealth is going to the one percent of the one percent,” Derber says.

“The vast majority of the rest of the population engages in day to day economic struggle. Piketty captured that general awareness, which had not been fully articulated. He showed that this was a reality that transcended time and place in capitalism. He took data from over 20 countries and over 200 years. He showed that this is the way our system operates. He took this sociopathic inequality and made it clear that it is built into the nature of the system we are living in. The book is not highly theoretical. It’s not highly political. It simply overpowers the reader. He’s a mathematical economist. He puts out reams of carefully organized data from centuries. The Financial Times couldn’t touch him.”

“Piketty thinks there should be a global tax on wealth. He says taxation is our way of collectively deciding what we want as a society. He’s not a narrow wonk. He’s making a general philosophical point.”

“Piketty, while he’s a Keynesian New Deal economist, is in effect a radical economist. In effect, he’s saying capitalism is not just a class system, it’s a caste system. As wealth becomes concentrated and increasingly inherited, the translation of that politically is that we have caste classes. Marx said that at least ideologically, capitalism was a liberation from feudalism, from the middle ages, where everyone was locked for life in their position as serf or slaves. The implication of Piketty is that the working class is becoming a caste.”

“It’s not just if you are born black you will be black for life. It’s that if you are born into the working class poor, which is increasingly the disinherited majority, who don’t inherit wealth, then you are born into that station for life. The American dream, the idea of a meritocracy, the idea that you are going to pull yourself up by your bootstraps, Piketty’s data washes that whole concept away. It shows that you are born into your economic station much as you were in the Middle Ages and you are not going to have much luck in changing that.”

Derber points out in his writings and teachings that the whole issue can be solved with law and order. Most recently, he makes this point in his book — Capitalism: Should You Buy It?: An Invitation to Political Economy. (Paradigm Publishers, 2014.)

“Most of my more recent works have focused on what we the people need to do and have the ability to do,” Derber says. “We must restructure the political economy, the legal system. We must return the corporation to a public corporation, created by we the people, accountable to we the people. We created this sociopathic monster. And we have been living with it for the last 100 years. Of course we can change it. It’s a human construction.”

[For the complete q/a transcript of the Interview with Charles Derber, see 29 Corporate Crime Reporter 1(13), January 15, 2015, print edition only.]

Copyright © Corporate Crime Reporter
In Print 48 Weeks A Year

Built on Notes Blog Core
Powered by WordPress