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Classifying Politicians Today: Left And Right No Longer Accurately Describe Politics – Analysis

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Left and right were once the universal descriptive tags describing a person’s political leanings. These tags were given great weight during the cold war, with governments and politicians being labelled left or right, which made it understood what their politics would be. 

Labels have a descriptive purpose. Left and right are now referred to as liberal or conservative. Other labels like identity politics, wokism, and green are descriptive of particular policy paradigms. In the US, MAGA (make America great again) is another label used to describe conservatives who follow “Trumpism”. Other labels over the years include isolationists, nationalists, protectionists, free trade, and internationalists.

One of the more useful taxonomic descriptors are religious and secular, where politicians can be described to the degree they follow any religious ideology within government or separate religion from state.

Looking for more relevant descriptive labels

Some leaders of last century could be labelled at visionary/idealists. This included leaders of many developing countries, which needed the leadership necessary to advance the country into industrialization and out of poverty. There were the leaders who inspired and had a vision that could catch the imagination of the population. They ran their countries with a vision or mission in mind. 

There were the charismatic leaders who defended their countries from aggression, led their countries out of crisis, and on the other side created crisis. On the other side their there are leaders who fit into the technocrat or manager paradigm. They manage government rather than pursue any particular vision or mission. This means crisis are handled as they come, often on an ad hoc basis, rather than from long prepared plans. 

Finally, there are the Machiavellian politicians who are pragmatic power seekers and keepers, utilizing any means to achieve this end. Machiavellian leadership is most often indifferent to ethics and morality, particularly if it gets in the way of the objective of power. 

Politicians can be classified at the much deeper psychological level. These can be looked at through typologies that represent attributes within a politician’s manner, and influencers upon their behaviour. 

Six psycho-political typologies

There are six basic psycho-political typologies that politicians can be classified. These include the paranoid, obsessive-compulsive, attention seeking (dramatic), depressive, schizoid, and narcissistic paradigms. 

These paradigms influence how politicians see the world, through their perceptions of objects and events they are exposed to. This can potentially lead to perceptive distortion, especially if the person has any psychotic tendencies.

Therefore any construed reality, decisions made, strategies crafted, resulting actions and consequential behavior would be based upon biased perceptions.  As different psychotic states channel perception and thinking into specific frames, this becomes relevant to how people see events and take action to exploit it. Thus perception and thinking processes shape subsequent actions have their origins both in the psych and the external world. Behavior may have more to do with inner needs i.e., recognition, love and affection, power and control, self-esteem, or grandeur, etc., as with any rational thought processes.

Cognitive distortion and delusion are more likely to occur at the extremities of the psychotic continuum. However, most people whose personalities can be considered within the bounds of normality will exhibit some psychotic traits. This can include compulsion, anxiety, depression, attention seeking, fantasies, irrational fears, paranoia, shyness or narcissistic behavior, etc.

It is usually very difficult to see abnormality as many psychotic traits are also important drivers of political behavior. Many well known leaders could be considered narcissistic in nature. Some forms of psychosis (attention-seeking, paranoia, obsessive-compulsiveness & narcissism) are actually qualities that help bring people to the top of their fields. However these same qualities in excess can lead to an arrogant and overconfident delusion, once at the top. Many leaders have fallen from political grace for this reason.

Psychosis can prevent politicians seeing the environment in new ways and distort the process of decision making. Understanding the underlying psycho-political psychosis is a powerful window of examining political leaders and the events they participate in.

The Paranoid Typology

Paranoia is based on an intense fear, suspicion of others (both internal and external to the organization) that is exaggerated or irrational. Paranoia usually brings with it deluded perceptions that the person ‘is being singled out by enemies’, who are harming or intend to harm him/her. Paranoia is ego-centric because it is about ‘I’ and ‘me’ and usually sees another as ‘out to get him/her’ (persecutory complex). People with paranoid tendencies tend to see the world as a threatening place and are usually very guarded until they know their fears are groundless. This leads to little loyalty towards others.

Relationships and interpersonal behavior is generally governed with the belief that ‘people somehow have it in for him/her’. Paranoid people tend to avoid relationships. However relationships they do form tend to be cold, lack intimacy and involve jealousy and suspicion, i.e., the other person is doing something harmful behind his/her back. They are usually very sensitive to criticism and will brood for long periods of time if criticized. Criticism can also invoke anger, argumentation, and uncompromising stands which often lead to great antagonism, if challenged. Even though they are very sensitive to criticism themselves, they are very critical of others. Anything that goes wrong is someone else’s fault and not theirs.

Paranoia is usually focused on the present where someone is trying to undermine him/her and the future, where someone is plotting a plan to harm him/her. Suspicions based on past experience cannot be classed as paranoia when experience as a basis of concern. However, if this concern is blown out of proportion to any potential harm that can be done, paranoia is present.

Paranoid people have the urge to collect as much information as possible. They will scan for information of threats and spend a large amount of time thinking how to formulate reactions to them. They are in fact looking for evidence that reinforces their suspicions but at the same time pride themselves on their rationality and objectiveness. They centralize organization decision making because of lack of trust in other peoples’ judgments and their beliefs that people are looking for ways to sabotage him/her. Consequently budgeting and controls will be very strict. The organization culture will be one of suspicion while looking for problems and wrong doers (scapegoats) is the norm.

The resulting crafted strategies are primarily designed to protect the company’s position and defend it from any potential political attacks rather than be proactive and take risk. Therefore the politician will miss many opportunities to be creative and innovative in the market. Paranoid leaders tend to lag behind the opposition and muddle through with disconcerted and inconsistent strategies. They will follow the others rather than risk being innovative with their own ideas. However they will very easily revert to legal litigation if they believe harm has been done to them. Paranoid leaders will tend to avoid certain issues, if they believe there is a more powerful voice influencing public opinion.

Paranoia usually occurs when there is some form of traumatic and stressful issues or some challenge arising. In many cases paranoia will be a temporary condition until the immediate sources of stress pass. Paranoia can also be a selective phenomenon in relation to an object, event or situation. For example, the belief that ‘multinational companies always target local companies for takeover’ will influence perception and behavior.

Paranoia can also merge with the schizoid typology where a strong persecutory complex develops. Paranoia sufferers can also develop grandiose delusions where he/she believes they have particular skills or abilities to carry out a special mission, but someone has a master plan to prevent him/her from successfully fulfilling their calling. Such a fantasy was shown in the movie The Blues Brothers where Jake and Elwood believed they were on ‘a mission from God’ and being prevented from carrying out their calling by a number of groups (the police, the sheriff, the other group and eventually the whole United States armed forces).

A mild form of the paranoia typology could be positive where the leader will have good knowledge of his external threats and opportunities and internal strengths and weaknesses. This would be well suited to extremely dynamic environments where there is rapid change going on.

The Obsessive-Compulsive Typology

The obsessive-compulsive typology has many similarities to the previous paranoid typology where there is great emphasis on control of the political organization and surveillance of the environment. A leader with this type of behavior will tend to be stubborn and frustrated with his/her subordinates because of his/her inner need to pursue perfection. This behavior is often a characteristic of many high achievers in society.

Compulsive people are usually perfectionists and take great care and diligence in their own work to the point of being very slow to complete tasks. As a manager of others he/she will have great difficulty in delegating work. To maintain control, they will develop many rules, procedures and policies to keep a check on their subordinates’ work. The firm’s preoccupation with planning, budgets, procedures, rules and action plans will greatly influence how the government is internally organized and how the environment is seen and interpreted. Strategy will also be crafted taking into account the government’s existing rules and procedure structure, limiting its own strategy options.

Productivity will be sacrificed for perfection of work. Obsessive-compulsive people also expect perfection from others and become very frustrated when people don’t live up to their standards and expectations. In extreme situations this leads to get mistrust of coworkers and subordinates, leading to the loss of respect and falling out of relationships. This is generally part of a wider inability to develop and carry on relationships with people because of their feeling that socializing is wasting time.

Strategy is usually developed and implemented with a very clear concrete objective and underlying and uncompromising philosophy which serves as the organization’s reason for being. This philosophy based on the founder’s sense of ethics will remain steadfast within the company’s mission and strategy, even at the cost of exploiting some potential opportunities arising during the life of the company. Strategy will tend to be based more on this ideology, than what is happening in the environment.

Success is often jeopardized with to the reluctance to commit the necessary resources in the implementation phase. The obsessive-compulsive leadership will tend to hoard and hang on to resources, being reluctant to use them.

Obsessive-compulsive behavior in political decision making may tend to be a defense mechanism against some form of anxiety or fear, in a similar way to the paranoia typology. Obsessive-compulsive people hold the belief that some form of calamity will happen if action is not taken to prevent it. To them this means that work must be completed to the upmost highest standards possible. This scenario is often reinforced by recalling history about a previous major problem that occurred because the government was not adequately prepared. In times of great uncertainty this typology can lead to organizational breakdown.

The obsessive-compulsive typology is useful during the developing stage of nations, in very stable environments. However the resulting government form created out of this typology will become very rigid because of the core philosophy and the high number of controls in place. If controls become too excessive, operational motivation, creativity and innovation will decline. This will hinder the leader from identifying and exploiting new opportunities. However in a moderate form the government will have a well integrated check and balance system and focused strategies.

The Attention-Seeking (Dramatic) Typology

The attention-seeking (dramatic) typology is manifested when a person is hyperactive, impulsive and dramatically venturesome in their lives. They work tirelessly to impress others, often appearing flamboyant, craving novelty and excitement. Attention seeking people base their actions on hunches and intuition, without any formal analysis before making decisions. A leader exhibiting the attention-seeking (dramatic) typology will have very centralized decision and command structures. The attention-seeking leader sees the primary role the government is to carry out his/her bold and dramatic ideas thought out by the leader.

Attention-seeking (dramatic) leaders are usually great charmers of people they want to impress. They continually seek positive feedback and admiration of their actions. They are very opinionated on topical issues, but lack substance to support their ideas and will change their position to suit their audience. They have very low self-esteem and rely on others to suppress this. Being at the centre of attention relieves this tension and the insecurity they feel. Consequently it is hard to get along with these people unless one helps to fulfill this craving for attention. These leaders tend to surround themselves with people who will always agree with them.

Decision making is unreflective and borders on the impulsive. The larger and more complex the government becomes, the more opportunity for dramatic events and less time there is for the leader to focus on detail in the decisions he/she makes on behalf of the government. Decisions tend to be made on the potential to gain attention rather than any factual analysis. Narcissistic behavior also can occur, where bullying, manipulation and deception become tools of control and domination. Subordinates usually see through the insincerity and become de-motivated, uninspired, skeptical, and stop giving creative suggestions to the leader. This uncreative environment is reinforced by the way managerial posts are filled through politics and nepotism. Those who have real influence are those who are favoured by the leader. The leader sees subordinates only as tools to implement his/her grand plans. The views of subordinates are rarely taken into account for major decisions.

Strategy is based on the general craving for visibility and exposure. Consequently strategy often diverges from previously set goals and objectives because other circumstances have created opportunities where attention can be quickly gained. As a consequence, strategy becomes very disjointed and ad hoc. Organizational structure is hap-hazard and does not take account for the needs of the environment. The structure is developed with the need of the leader to control decision making. It is not uncommon for the leader to meddle in even the most mundane decisions and give out assignments that are very difficult to satisfy. Short term advantages are sort at the cost of long term gains for the government. Resources are used very inefficiently. Attention-seeking (dramatic) governments may borrow heavily and become in high debt.

Attention-seeking (dramatic) people my start projects with great enthusiasm, as it seemed a good idea at the time, but very quickly loses interest. The general motivation behind what they do is to gain notoriety and attention rather than create something of long term substance.

The Depressive Typology

The depressive typology is characterized by a feeling of hopelessness, inaction, passiveness, low confidence and conservatism. There is a feeling that there is little control of the outside environment and even if they intervened there is little chance of success, so the best option is to carry on as usual and not be proactive.

In a depressive state cognitive information coming in will become distorted resulting in a stream of negative thoughts. People who themselves are depressed will develop a cognitive schema that organizes incoming information in a negative way. Things about self, the world and the future will be subject to overgeneralization distortions which will create negative outlooks into matters of competency, ability, luck, fate and potential outcomes, etc. Other cognitive distortions like arbitrary inferences (jumping to negative conclusions about everything), personalizing (assuming everything is one’s own fault), and castastrophizing (thinking the worst case scenario about everything) will also distort incoming information, leading to the feeling of being a total failure, where a self-fulfilling prophecy develops.

Within the political context, there will not be much interest in anything. There is a basic pessimistic outlook towards the outside environment. The organization will tend to be very bureaucratic and hierarchical, the same it has been for decades. This brings complacency which brings strong barriers to any form of change.

This typology is common in very established governments in stable environments.

The Schizoid Typology

The schizoid typology is relatively rare in politicians as someone in this state would be unlikely to lead any government unless it is of solitary nature. The world to the schizoid is unhappy, unpleasant and empty of meaning. Nothing really excites the schizoid who tries to remain detached from everything. Sometimes schizoid tendencies carry an eccentric nature or beliefs with them such as belief in the supernatural, UFOs or conspiracy theories, etc. In private life the schizoid person is greatly devoid of personal relationships except for parents and closest relatives. He/she would have very few friends as they are seen as intrusive and a waste of time. For these reasons the person lives a very sheltered life, where any social support network will not likely exist.

Under the schizoid typology, any leadership would appear directionless, always changing and confused, indifferent to praise and criticism, and seemingly detached from the reality of what is going on. The leader would appear to be in a world of fantasy or daydreams. Deep down this state would be caused by anxiety or fear of being attached to intimacy from either the feeling self-conscious, worthless and at the same time superior to others.

The Narcissistic Typology

Narcissistic behavior can occur from extreme behaviors within the paranoid, obsessive-compulsive and the attention-seeking (Dramatic) typologies or it can occur as a psychological response to the need to manage self-esteem. Narcissistic individuals have a strong need to be admired, a sense of self-importance and a lack of insight and empathy into the needs and feelings of others. They see themselves as great achievers, even if they haven’t achieved anything, which can lead to an overconfidence bias. They seek to associate themselves with those who have been successful to seek more acclaim through the association. Narcissists find it very difficult to cope with their own emotions, particularly when their self-view comes under scrutiny. For this reason they find it very difficult to learn from others, are poor listeners and don’t teach, but indoctrinate their subordinates.

Narcissists are highly ambitious people. They are attracted to business and driven by their need for power and glory. This is a trait of many successful entrepreneurs, where self-confidence and ambition assisted them. The dream of success and the accolades it brings is something they think about a lot. Some narcissists are truly experts in their field and they will extend their knowledge and skills into other areas. Where narcissists have little intellectual knowledge in their field, they will think very shallow, but at the same time they will be very ‘street-smart’.

Narcissists expect a lot from their subordinates. When they don’t receive the total devotion and dedication they expect of their subordinates, they will punish them in Machiavellian ways. The narcissist is highly distrustful and overly exploitive of his/her subordinates. However he/she is extremely sensitive to criticism and will very quickly grow into childlike deep anger and rages if they are not given the respect they think they deserve.

Strategy will be underlined with a great desire to compete and win at any costs. This drive to win can be positive but at the extreme, devious methods will be employed which can border on the unethical and illegal. In extreme narcissism, objectives can be unrealistic as they are based on fantasy. This results in grandiose strategies objectives which are impossible to achieve. The arrogant nature of the narcissist will lead to intuitive decisions where little analysis and interpretation of the is undertaken. The narcissist likes to think in terms of the big picture and leave details to his/her few trusted loyalists who tend to tell their leader what he/she wants to hear. The narcissist wants to leave a legacy and be ready for a fight. However he/she will always look for potential enemies along the horizon. There is a reluctance to change strategy even when it is not working as the narcissist views this as a sign of weakness and failure. This weakness can lead to large scale disasters.

Murray Hunter’s blog can be accessed here

Murray Hunter

Murray Hunter has been involved in Asia-Pacific business for the last 30 years as an entrepreneur, consultant, academic, and researcher. As an entrepreneur he was involved in numerous start-ups, developing a lot of patented technology, where one of his enterprises was listed in 1992 as the 5th fastest going company on the BRW/Price Waterhouse Fast100 list in Australia. Murray is now an associate professor at the University Malaysia Perlis, spending a lot of time consulting to Asian governments on community development and village biotechnology, both at the strategic level and “on the ground”. He is also a visiting professor at a number of universities and regular speaker at conferences and workshops in the region. Murray is the author of a number of books, numerous research and conceptual papers in referred journals, and commentator on the issues of entrepreneurship, development, and politics in a number of magazines and online news sites around the world. Murray takes a trans-disciplinary view of issues and events, trying to relate this to the enrichment and empowerment of people in the region.

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