Hacking Human Nature




What happens when psychopaths manipulate you



Simply put, manipulation is the act of getting you to do something you wouldn’t ordinarily do, if you had sufficient information. If you’re the manipulator, the object is to get your mark to do something to your benefit, but not necessarily to the benefit of your mark. We’ve all been manipulated before, and we’ve probably all manipulated. If you ever pretended to cry as a small child in order to elicit a favorable response from a parent or authority figure—or evade an unfavorable one—you were a little manipulator. And if you’ve ever lied in order to result in a more favorable outcome for yourself, same thing.


Successful manipulation requires at least a basic understanding of human nature. You must be aware of the buttons to push in order to elicit the favored response. The vast majority of people have this basic understanding, and the manipulations they engage in reflect this basic understanding. In other words, they’re pretty minor in the grand scheme of things. Maybe you won’t get hired if you include a certain fact on your resume, so you fib a little. Or maybe your spouse will be temporarily annoyed with you if you admit you just remembered her birthday is today, so you do your best to hide this fact. Lies are manipulations because they are intended to control the information available to the hearer and elicit a response different from that which would obtain if the truth were told. Again, this is relatively minor stuff for the most part.


But psychopaths take it to the next level. As outsiders looking in at human nature, from a young age they have a window into a strange and foreign world governed by seemingly arbitrary rules. They become experts at human nature, seeing all our strange foibles and weaknesses. But the odd thing about this phenomenon is that while they are experts of a sort, they’re experts who lack understanding. They’re like a large language model that knows what word should follow the previous one, but have no comprehension of the meaning behind the words themselves. They know people cry and make ugly faces when they lose a loved one, but they don’t know why. It’s just one of those things that those other people from that strange world do.


Because the psychopath lacks an emotional nature, he has no capacity for grasping the meaning behind our actions, which is invariably colored by our emotional nature. He sees us as simple stimulus-response machines, with buttons just waiting to be pressed. I find it interesting that as the scientific-materialistic worldview has developed over the past centuries, it has become increasingly psychopathic in content and outlook. Scientific training is a progressive initiation into seeing the world as a psychopath does: a world of mindless machines, with opinions to be shaped, “emotions” to be stimulated, and responses to be steered in directions deemed “useful” to those doing the steering. This is what Lobaczewski was talking about when he warned of a culture’s psychological worldview becoming primitive and shallow.


But while professional researchers work away at discovering the mostly obvious, there are those who already know enough to be effective at what they do—and what they do is anything but “useful,” from a sane perspective. If we want to stop them from taking advantage of our psychologically weakened outlook, we have to get wise to what they’re doing, and how they’re doing it.


It’s time to get a better understanding of psychopathic manipulation. The above description is fine as far as it goes, but it helps to know what’s really going on when it comes to manipulators who aren’t like us. Lobaczewki introduces some novel language to impart this new understanding. When it comes down to it, a response to manipulation of the sort that concerns us is a “para-appropriate” (or maladaptive) response.


Our nature—the emotions and instincts that create the psychological and spiritual texture of humanity in all our interactions and pursuits—is such that when it works, it works. At the most basic level, it works towards our continued survival. The interactions between man and woman, the drive to create a family, the parent-child bond, respect for wisdom, the levels of trust we afford others balanced with distrust of those who have yet to earn it (or who have lost it), the bonds of friendship and camaraderie that facilitate cooperation to achieve tasks impossible for a individual alone. All of these human universals and countless more form the background to our survival as groups and as a species. They also form the backdrop for all of humanity’s achievements and potentials, the limits of which no one can grasp.


Reality is fractal and evolutionary in nature (and not in a “scientistic” way). It is formed of levels within levels, nested worlds and languages, each dependent upon but transcending the ones below and within. Any future, or present, which denies or rejects those levels below it is doomed to fail, like a biological creature that disowns the basic matter of which it is composed, or a human which seeks to reject its own biology or emotional-instinctive nature. Whatever potentials humanity may have, they are predicated on reality as it is. So if we want to have some idea of untapped potentials, we need to understand the realities on which those potentials depend. We need to understand reality in order to navigate it.


Psychopaths have some understanding of human reality, drained of color as it may be. But we need to understand this if we want to successfully navigate a reality with psychopaths in it. In short, we need an understanding both of ourselves and of those others who are experts at manipulating us. Until then, we will be pawns, marionettes thinking we are real men. We may even convince ourselves we are fighting a noble fight, only to realize after the fact, and too late, that even that was factored into the manipulation. No one likes being that wrong. Better to learn how to avoid it altogether. Better to avoid the “para-appropriate” response.


Such responses have a special quality. If you manage to convince your partner that you didn’t in fact forget her birthday (and good luck with that!), her congenial response doesn’t fall very much outside the range of the status quo. The survival and integrity of her physical, social, and mental identity aren’t seriously threatened. But they can be. Say you happen to be a con man with multiple partners. Your faulty memory is not merely a momentary lapse, but simply the result of the fact that you’ve got a lot of birthdays to remember, and you really don’t care that much. The birthday lapse is just one tile in a mosaic of lies constructed that will result in her financial or physical ruin. In this context, her response is maladaptive.


The psychopath is the wild card, the foreign element that falls outside the normal parameters of our habitual patterns of behavior shaped by our emotions and instincts, which have developed over tens and hundreds of thousands of years. Lobaczewski likens it to a stimulus in the insect world that can result in the extinction of an entire hive, for example when ants’ pheromone signals gets disrupted, causing them to circle each other to exhaustion and death. Or when wasps seal themselves in their hive in response to an artificial frequency triggering their threat response, killing them all because it never shuts off. These are examples of instincts which ordinarily serve a vital function. But when they’re “hacked” by an anomalous triggering agent, they can turn against their owners.


A colony of insects, no matter how well-organized socially, is doomed to extinction whenever its collective instinct continues to operate according to the psychogenetic code, although the biological meaning has disappeared. If, for instance, a queen bee does not effect her nuptial flight in time because the weather has been particularly bad, she begins laying unfertilized eggs which will hatch nothing but drones. The bees continue to defend their queen, as required by their instinct; of course, when the worker bees die out the hive becomes extinct. (p. 52)


When it comes to the human world, this is the realm of predatory mimicry. It’s when an interpersonal nudge becomes a psychological nuke. When the white lie becomes the big lie. This is how Lobaczewski put it:


situations that trigger such para-appropriate emotional responses occur because some pathological factor difficult to understand has entered the picture. Thus, the practical value of our natural worldview generally ends where psychopathology begins. (p. 133)


A predatory mimic elicits “normal” responses to abnormal stimuli. The normal response, benign or even beneficial when dealing with normal people, becomes distinctly self-destructive when it is elicited by a predator mimicking normal human behavior. In other words, our normal human reactions become a weakness when we enter the world of personality disorders.


Many who have been on the receiving end of predatory mimicry become cynical, concluding that because their responses turned out to be harmful, they must always be that way. They come to think that love is a fairytale, trust is for suckers, and religion a haven for the weak-minded and the opportunistic liars. In short, they become anti-“freiers”:


A freier, in Israeli eyes, is a shopper who waits in line to pay retail. It is a driver who searches for legal parking rather than pulling onto the sidewalk with the other cars. And if he does this in a rush to file a tax return, he is the consummate freier.


In short, a freier is anyone who cedes ground, plays completely by the rules or allows someone to get the better of him. The ideal Israeli is clever and tough, and a freier is the opposite. A pushover—in the way that Israelis often perceive Americans to be.


In other words, they adopt the psychopathic worldview:


Our natural world of concepts strikes such people as a nearly incomprehensible convention with no justification in their own psychological experience. They think our customs and principles of decency are a foreign system invented and imposed by someone else (“probably by priests”), foolish, onerous, sometimes even ridiculous. (p. 111)


[Psychopaths] are virtually unfamiliar with the enduring emotions of love for another person, particularly the marriage partner; it constitutes a fairytale from that “other” human world. For them, love is an ephemeral phenomenon aimed at sexual adventure. However, many psychopathic Don Juans are able to play the lover’s role well enough for their partners to accept it in good faith. After the wedding, feelings which really never existed are replaced by egoism, egotism, and hedonism. Religion, which teaches love for one’s neighbor, also strikes them as a similar fairytale good only for children and those different “others.” (p. 115)


A psychopath may even inspire “love of one’s neighbor” in you if it’s to his benefit, and detrimental to yours. He doesn’t need to believe it. He just needs you to believe it in this moment for this specific purpose. It may be true and healthy in a normal situation, but this situation is artificial. In another situation, he may inspire just the opposite sentiment. He may manipulate you into hating someone he perceives as an obstacle. Or loving someone whose success will benefit him. As in the example above, he may project the image of the perfect man, only to turn into Bluebeard after the wedding.


Here’s another para-appropriate response. In normal situations, social bonds and patriotism inspire men to war. As ugly as war can be, the psychopathic situation is uglier:


Thus, the biological, psychological, moral, and economic destruction of this ever-threatening majority becomes a “biological” necessity for the pathocrats. Many means serve this end, starting with the maintenance of extreme poverty and including concentration camps as well as warfare with an obstinate, well-armed foe who will devastate and debilitate the human power thrown at him—namely the very power jeopardizing pathocrats’ rule. Many people will die, many others will lose their strength and health. Once safely dead, the soldiers will then be decreed heroes to be revered in paeans (by poets ordered to do so), useful for raising a new generation faithful to the pathocracy. (p. 212)


They send you to war because they need you dead.


It is therefore necessary to employ … any and all methods of coercion, terror, and exterminatory policies against individuals known for their patriotic feelings and military training (p. 197)


[When imposing a pathocracy on another nation,] People possessing military or leadership skills must be exterminated, imprisoned, or forced into silence. Anyone appealing to moral values and legal principles like the natural rights of man and nation must also be silenced. (p. 219)


When on the receiving end of psychopathic manipulation, you can’t trust any of your normal reactions. Whatever reaction you have is probably the one the psychopath wants you to have. This is why ordinary people became so distrustful under communism (the negative effects of which still resonate today). It was an adaptive reaction to a system of psychopathic lies—a practical skill that developed over decades of experience. But this kind of knee-jerk paranoia is a deformation of human nature—a bug, not a feature. It’s a sign that something went wrong. An attempt to course-correct.


In the meantime, however, as we find ourselves entering into a new phase of ponerization, we could probably all use a healthy but measured dose of paranoid distrust. Whenever it becomes obvious that large forces and generated public opinion want you to take a certain position and move in a certain direction, chances are, to do so is to fall into a para-appropriate response. The meme-makers know this:


If you want confirmation that not supporting the current thing is probably the right choice, just look at the reaction you get when you do this. If you end up on the receiving end of paramoral indignation, paramoralistic epithets, and pathological arrogance, you have successfully side-stepped a para-appropriate response. Wear it like a badge of honor.


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Harrison Koehli


Host, MindMatters. Editor and substack, Political Ponerology.

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