Recapturing the Inverted Systems of Our Civilization

Beck, Justin, Keskin, Eda | April 18, 2017 | Leave a Comment Download as PDF

Do the pyramid structure of systems make them more susceptible to "capture"? Pyramids by Blondinrikard Fröberg | Flickr | CC BY 2.0

The financial crisis precipitating in 2008-9 led many of us to a number of stark observations about the “too big to fail” institutions fulfilling supposed crucial roles in our global civilization:

One, should our societies really be at the mercy of massive “pyramid” structured systems where a small pool of insular, delusional or relatively psychopathic executives and managers sit atop a bizarre, ballooning triangle of technicians and careerists? Two, are there points on the pyramid structure where responsibility is being abdicated, or where relatively psychopathic people are operating? Are relatively psychopathic people being placed in fundamental roles? Are these qualities of systemic organizational dysfunction endemic to these pyramid style structures?

Finding the terms to describe groups of people can be  fraught with unintended connotations. Dr. Katherine Horton, ex-Research Fellow at St John’s College, Oxford uses the term “psychopath” in her formulations; however the term “psychopath” could better be replaced with “relatively psychopathic people” to describe people lacking conscience and empathy. Skeem, Polaschek, Patrick and Lilienfeld argue that classical psychopathy, whether measured by the well-validated Psychopathy Checklist-Revised (PCL-R; Hare, 1991; 2003) or other measures is not monolithic. Instead, it represents a constellation of multiple traits that may include in varying degrees, the phenotypic domains of boldness, meanness, and lack of inhibition. Skeem, Polaschek, Patrick and Lilienfeld use the terms “the corporate psychopath” or “workplace psychopath” in their article quoting from Heywood (2005) that one in ten managers are psychopaths. They state that a “workplace psychopath” may be a boss who is manipulative, intimidating and totally lacking in remorse. [1]

What is concerning is that it is ever more apparent that many of our civilization’s structural systems, many of which resemble the pyramid archetype, seem more and more dysfunctional or “captured”. We see pipelines being laid to transport dirty tar sands oil for the profits of a small number of investors and executives while the perils this behavior represents for the local communities and environments along with our entire climate system are dismissed as being nonexistent.

Dr. Horton terms this corruption of human organizations “systems capture”. Systems capture is when a hierarchical human organization finds people in crucial roles in the system being replaced or corrupted by relatively psychopathic people. When this process of institutional corrosion is advanced the system becomes “inverted”. System inversion precipitates the ultimate collapse of the system. The failure of the Enron Corporation in 2001, which was caused by massive fraud and incompetence within the company, is a fine example.

So what are we to do as a society when we face so many captured systems causing so much peril, injustice and violence? We need to move towards “system re-capture”. Dr. Horton offers a list [2] of methods of standing up to relatively psychopathic people as well as communication and political ideas.

The first method suggested is irreverence towards relatively psychopathic people. Withholding admiration or awe for these high-powered people deprives them of the self-centered sense of grandeur these types of individuals lust for. In this way, the shallow facades of power that they prop up can be torn down. Director Michael Moore enacted this method when upon the ascendancy of Donald Trump to the US presidency he called for the formation of “an army of comedy”[3].

The second method relies on transparent and open exchanges of communication and information. When there are no halls of secrecy, the relatively psychopathic people cannot make their atavistic plans. Journalist Chris Hedges has said that our transparency will be a strength.[4] We are already able to share unprecedented amounts of information with each other but our strengths in this manner may grow further as we look to network with groups that before seemed disparate but no longer are so in the light of our shared suffering under system capture.

In addition to open communication, we can apply a dimension of empathy. The majority of us who have empathy will be able to find and communicate with each other in a mode of emotional intelligence that relatively psychopathic people, by definition, cannot understand. This can enable us to put the forces of low empathy under siege.

Finally, we need to form citizen coalitions that cross as many of our divergences as possible. If we are finally able to see past our racial, religious, aesthetic or you-name-it differences we can unite in common cause against systemic capture and need not focus on all the political details underpinning the damage caused by any given system’s capture. However idealistic this sounds it’s already happening as more and more divergent groups are uniting in common cause against issues such as climate change inaction or President Trump’s oppression of immigrants. Yet there is still room for these groups to unite against system capture–as un-catchy as that sounds.

There needs to be a rapidly evolving public conversation on techniques for system re-capture as there are likely more tools that can be added to the arsenal. It may even be that the eventual abandonment of systems vulnerable to capture–such as the primitive pyramid model–for more modular, flexible or independent systems will be the ultimate positive outcome.


Justin Beck graduated Sonoma State University, California with a BA in Communications Studies and minor in Astronomy. He has been an admin. assistant on a major European Union research project in carbon sequestration and agriculture, COST Action TD1107 “Biochar as an option for sustainable resource management” He is signed to Dreamforce Records producing electronic “progressive trance” music as Wildflower.

Eda Keskin is a PhD Student in Philosophy in Martin Luther Universitӓt Halle-Wittenberg. She majored in environmental engineering and philosophy and received an M.A. Degree in Philosophy from the Middle East Technical University, Ankara. She attended Philipps-Universitӓt Marburg as an exchange student, and taught a “Social Ecology” course at Europa Universitӓt Viadrina Frankfurt (Oder).


[1] Jennifer L. Skeem, Devon L. L. Polaschek, Christopher J. Patrick, and Scott O. Lilienfeld, “Psychopathic Personality: Bridging the Gap Between Scientific Evidence and Public Policy”, Psychological Science in the Public Interest, Sage Publishing, 12(3) 95–162, pp. 95-96. ISSN: 1529-1006

[2] Horton, Dr. Katherine: Combat Methods for the NAZI Hunt: Fighting Psychopathic Systems: Stop 007; Feb. 14, 2017: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=MgeBePZjF3g

[3] Romano, Aja: Michael Moore: Fight Donald Trump with “an army of comedy”;

Vox; Jan 20, 2017: http://www.vox.com/policy-and-politics/2017/1/20/14331072/michael-moore-alec-baldwin-we-stand-united-rally-comedy

[4] Hedges, Chris: Occupy Draws Strength from the Powerless; Truthdig; Feb. 13, 2012: p. 1 : http://www.truthdig.com/report/item/occupy_draws_strength_from_the_powerless_20120213


The MAHB Blog is a venture of the Millennium Alliance for Humanity and the Biosphere. Questions should be directed to joan@mahbonline.org

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  • jim.swanek

    .

    Fascinating. However, the psychopaths are completely wrongly IDed. The REAL psychopaths are those seeking to control, and yes diminish, the lifestyles of the western middle class whose forebears sweated and died to achieve. The so-called progressives seem psychotically clueless that if they abandoned all efforts to financially punish the middle class back into the relative poverty their grandparents lived in in the 1930s, they would win every election. But with psychotically mindless calls for the end to beef consumption (hey, they eat fly cake in Malawi, don’t they?!), the end to personal control of air conditioning, government control of “unnecessary” driving, taxation on moving away from high-crime neighborhoods, ad nauseum, the psychopaths truly seem in control of the progressive movement. Sad.

    .

    • Justin Beck

      I agree to the extent of the fake neoliberal progressives like the Clintons for example. Indeed these people have done much damage to the view of “progressives” and the neo-Nazis, ever the opportunists have seized on this dynamic making “anti-political correctness” equal “fascism is OK”. Journalist Chris Hedges wrote a good book on this topic “Death of the Liberal Class”. But no I don’t think my fellow environmentalists, social and racial justice activists, the “Democracy Now” crowd and yes wonderful vegetarians fit your picture. So I return your “sadness” to your own trip to McDonald’s.

      • Justin Beck

        You do have a point that progressives get caught up in annoying demands for perfection but lame appeals to ideological purity can be found in any strain of the political spectrum. To me this shows corporate infiltration…but it may happen naturally too.

  • Gaianicity

    Neoliberal economic philosophy iignores planetary limits and leads inevitably to income and wealth inequality and ecocide. Our air, our land, and our water are solen and the value of life is diminished.

  • Kris DiPaola

    Thank you, Justin and Eda for this excellent piece. It seems to me the elephant in the room is capitalism. Those organizations are perhaps not “captured” by “relatively psychopathic people,” but rather doing what all organizations must so long as capitalism is the playing field. When capital is the most important thing, we get companies who naturally nourish and promote those individuals capable of making the hard decisions necessary to make money at any cost. This is neither accident nor aberration, it is by long-perfected design. I like to think of capitalism as basketball, and the corporations as the NBA players. Those of us who try to protect, say, human rights – or the environment – are sitting on the court trying to play chess. Why are we surprised when we keep getting trampled and lose the basketball game? We need to decide that we don’t want to play basketball anymore. So long as we agree to an economic system that is completely out of alignment with our values as a civilization, we will continue to witness – and take part in – its destruction.

    • Justin Beck

      Thank you for the good words. I believe Prof. Richard Wolff shares your conclusions.

      • Kris

        thank you, Justin – I hadn’t heard of him but will look him up!

  • trilemmaman

    In my world view ‘we the people’ formed the base of these dysfunctional pyramids by valuing self comfort (feeling good) and appearance (looking good) over service to others (being good) and doing what’s needed (doing good). Our purchases empowered these psychopathic leader with unprecedented wealth that turned into political power because, for the most part, ‘we the people’ were doing quite well (feeling good and looking good). Most people believe their civic duty is to vote once every few years and pay taxes, without much time and attention devoted to what these elected officials were voting on the other 365 days a year between elections. Those with money used that money to lobby elected officials and influence elections, while we were thinking and feeling everything was going to work out. We will influence the greatest change when we change what we value. If you want to know what people value…look at what they spend their money on.

    • Justin Beck

      And this “things seem to be OK” thing is what’s falling apart now which is why we have the security surveillance state and other creeping state violence as the good times are no longer rolling. I believe Chris Hedges addresses some of your points in “Death of the Liberal Class”.