Friends flyfishing — North Fork of the Clearwater, Idaho
So how do High Conflict People/the empathy disordered function inside of relational structures? Not surprisingly, there are a range of behaviors and strategies. Much depends on the v-Meme structure of the organization. Since HCPs/empathy disordered individuals are centered squarely in the Authoritarian v-Meme, it’s not surprising that such an individual would conform well, and do well in such an environment. If everything were set up around self-interest, with little expectation of coordination, and the only measure of judgment were obedience, certain characteristics, such as not feeling anyone else’s pain, as well as the ability to read everyone in the room, would accelerate such an individual’s rise to the top.
Lower than the Authoritarian v-Meme, the HCP/empathy disordered individual is likely to be killed, or be a killer. Jared Diamond, in his book, The World Until Yesterday: What Can We Learn from Traditional Societies?, discusses in-depth the higher prevalence of violence in tribal societies. My suspicions are that at least some of this is due to individually delivered retributive justice due to non-existent feedback mechanisms for punishment for crimes, as well as a lack of social organization and lower level aggregate empathetic development. That’s a fancy way of saying “Someone pisses you off, you just kill them, cuz you know the Po-Po ain’t gonna bust your ass.” But these are extremely controversial issues, and outside the scope of this book. But if you have to have a story that really contrasts these issues in tribal society, there’s likely none better than Farley Mowat’s People of the Deer. It shows both the inter-tribal dynamics I discuss — as well as the point I’ve made repeatedly — don’t moralize about your empathetic position up the Spiral. Who’s doing the real destruction?
An interesting aside is that from one set of not-valid-enough-to-be-publishable simulations a post-doc of mine did showed that relational disruption at any level below the top tended to increase the productivity of lower v-Meme organizations. This is not surprising. Organizations focused on power and control really aren’t designed to produce anyway. And stirring things up likely will lead to some change in practice. Having a psychopath might be good for your straitjacketed company, in a weird way. At least things will be exciting!
Where relational disruptors really start to be felt is in organizations that are performance-driven and rely on trust as part of the data stream that such organizations need to create coherence. There, such individuals, without the external definition of an organizational chart, can wreak havoc with various strategies for gaining power, control and excitement. But how do they do it?
The way to understand relational disruption is to go back to the Spiral and understand regression of any culture down the Spiral. As we discussed before, if a leader is a progressive leader, then that leader will typically be one v-Meme above the population he/she is trying to lead. Additionally, that person will be creating and diversifying relationships among their subordinates, as well granting appropriate agency for them to form their own relationships. The opposite is true for relational destruction, and the schemes of the HCP/empathy-disordered will typically play on aspirational visions in an organization in order to triangulate individuals into conflict. What’s the short version? Borrow from the top of empathetic behaviors, twist them, and then use them against folks lower down.
Let’s boil this down a little so that it becomes a little clearer. In a solid Legalistic v-Meme organization, an HCI/empathy-disordered individual will typically use rules for control (Authoritarian v-Meme below), as opposed to the progressive individual, which will use rules for improving performance. They may appoint someone subordinate in the hierarchy below them to be the ‘hatchet man’, so they can defer responsibility when it comes to execution of said rules. That allows them to maintain status in spite of the social conflict generated.
In a Performance-based Community, a leader looking for control may use false communitarian modes, asking everyone for input, regardless of relevance. Or worse, an individual inside an organization might have had to make a decision based on some time-dependent decision point. The HCP/empathy-disordered may then accuse that person, if the decision doesn’t agree with them, of not upholding community standards in the decision-making process. This causes the person to be in apparent conflict with community standards, until the data behind the action is revealed. Such upheaval, though, leaves a taste of distrust in everyone’s mouth. If accused, there had to be some legitimacy, right?
All of the above is one heckuva word salad. And as I said earlier, there is no comprehensive book or study on relational disruptors in social networks. But there are incredible portrayals in the arts. That’s the subject of the next post.
Takeaways: It’s a word salad when it comes to talking about disruption. But here are the basics. Someone wanting to mess with your organization does so with your messages, and using the authority/v-Meme structures in your organization to triangulate them against you. That way, you’re fighting the fundamental fiber of your operation.
Further Reading: Probably apocryphal, but totally on the money. A classic — by one of the greatest politicians/psychopaths/champions of all time. Not everyone that is empathy-disordered is chronically evil. Some are just looking for the juice!