Stop calling Donald Trump a narcissist or a sociopath, even if he is: Daily Bullshit, August 7, 2016 (updated again)

Updated for a new video in a new series I’m creating called Benfell’s Nibbles. This is Episode 1: What is a Radical?

Updated again for a second video in this series. This is Episode 2: The Power of Exchange:

There was a posting yesterday but because I’m still recovering from some mail server issues, the usual notices did not go out.

Much of the rest of this note involves technical details. Those not so inclined can skip over this. But if anyone out there has sent me email over the last few days that I haven’t acknowledged, there is a possibility it got lost and you should re-send.

Beginning on Tuesday, I started having problems with first hundreds, then thousands of duplicated email messages, then tens of thousands, and hundreds of thousands of duplicated messages. I still don’t know what caused this and as near as I can tell, neither my operating system (FreeBSD) nor my SMTP server software (postfix) were to blame—logs did not show any unusual activity. I’m actually a little suspicious of Thunderbird, the mail user agent I was using and which suddenly refused to open my mail accounts, but I’m not sure even a malfunction here can adequately explain what was going on.

All attempts to halt the exponential duplication were failing and I had been thinking I’d like to switch my mail server from FreeBSD to OpenBSD anyway. OpenBSD seems to be a little tighter on security in the ways that I use an operating system and it already uses LibreSSL while FreeBSD is still on OpenSSL. (OpenSSL has been a security disaster recently, only partly due to its continued support for faulty encryption algorithms that no one should use under any circumstances.) I’d just gotten through installing OpenBSD when a friend called with a crisis that I had to run off to deal with. Despite operating remotely, I managed to move forward on bringing services back on line, but at a snail’s pace: My friend’s situation really did have to come first.

By Thursday, I was receiving mail again and now, most things are operating normally, although there are still some details to be tested and worked out.

Donald Trump

There are a couple problems with psychoanalyzing public figures. First, as the American Psychiatric Association (ApA, not APA—the latter is the American Psychological Association) notes, diagnoses should involve an actual examination of the subject.[1]

The other aspect is more troubling from a perspective of political debate: We’re using an allegation of mental illness to deal with positions and candidates we strongly disagree with, which first, further stigmatizes people suffering mental illness; and second, amounts to an ad hominem attack. In my dissertation work, I mostly tried to steer around this. The allegation that conservatives suffer from mental illness is hardly new and conservatives legitimately view it as a way of avoiding dealing with their arguments.[2] I felt that one should first establish the irrationality of conservatism before turning to a diagnosis of mental illness.[3] That said, there are grounds for suspicion, I am suspicious, I’m not the only one who’s suspicious, and political psychologists may be bending a little too far over backwards (and using quantitative methods which can omit much more than they include) trying to avoid associating conservatism with a psychopathology. As I wrote,

In an article about political conservatism, Jost, Glaser, Kruglanski, and Sulloway (2003) wrote, “Our first assumption, too, is that conservative ideologies—like virtually all other belief systems—are adopted in part because they satisfy some psychological needs  This does not mean that conservatism is pathological or that conservative beliefs are necessarily false, irrational, or unprincipled” (p. 340). This disclaimer is interesting for its very presence. Jost et al. concluded their meta-analysis in part, writing

Many different theoretical accounts of conservatism over the past 50 years have stressed motivational underpinnings, but they have identified different needs as critical. Our review brings these diverse accounts together for the first time. Variables significantly associated with conservatism, we now know, include fear and aggression (Adorno et al., 1950; Altemeyer, 1998; Lavine et al., 1999), dogmatism and intolerance of ambiguity (Fibert & Ressler, 1998; Frenkel-Brunswik, 1948; Rokeach, 1960; Sidanius, 1978), uncertainty avoidance (McGregor et al., 2001; Sorrentino & Roney, 1986; Wilson, 1973b), need for cognitive closure (Golec, 2001; Jost et al., 1999; Kemmelmeier, 1997; Kruglanski & Webster, 1996), personal need for structure (Altemeyer, 1998; Schaller et al., 1995; Smith & Gordon, 1998), terror management (Dechesne et al., 2000; Greenberg et al., 1990, 1992; Wilson, 1973d), group-based dominance (Pratto et al., 1994; Sidanius, 1993; Sidanius & Pratto, 1999), and system justification (Jost & Banaji, 1994; Jost et al., 2001; Jost & Thompson, 2000). From our perspective, these psychological factors are capable of contributing to the adoption of conservative ideological contents, either independently or in combination. ( p. 369)

Similarly, Spassena Koleva and Blanka Rip (2009) suggested, among other things, that individuals with “a satisfied need for attachment security” are more likely to be liberal while “an unsatisfied need for attachment security leads to political conservatism” (p. 123). To claim in this light that conservatism is not pathological may depend on specialized meanings of the word pathology. Albert Mehrabian (1996) accordingly assessed “a total of 44 relations . . . between various indicators of psychopathology and political orientations, and none of these were found to be significant” (p. 487).[4]

Aaron Blake, “The American Psychiatric Association issues a warning: No psychoanalyzing Donald Trump,” Washington Post, August 7, 2016,

  1. [1]Aaron Blake, “The American Psychiatric Association issues a warning: No psychoanalyzing Donald Trump,” Washington Post, August 7, 2016,
  2. [2]George H. Nash, The Conservative Intellectual Movement in America Since 1945, 30th anniversary ed. (Wilmington, DE: Intercollegiate Studies Institute, 2006).
  3. [3]David Benfell, “Conservative Views on Undocumented Migration” (doctoral dissertation, Saybrook, 2016). ProQuest (1765416126).
  4. [4]David Benfell, “Conservative Views on Undocumented Migration” (doctoral dissertation, Saybrook, 2016). ProQuest (1765416126), pp. 86-87.

6 thoughts on “Stop calling Donald Trump a narcissist or a sociopath, even if he is: Daily Bullshit, August 7, 2016 (updated again)

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