Monsters, LLP

Many thanks to people for kind words about the Hylburt-Speys short story about AI, blockchain, and personality disorders. Thanks, too, for comments about the related article which preceded, “Rage in the Workplace, Should We Fear It?

Following those two pieces, I was astonished and in some cases horrified by the temerity in heartfelt personal accounts that surfaced. As a result, I’m beginning to curate a list here about cases where someone who appears to have a serious personality disorder commits a felony then gets away with relatively sparse legal consequences. The point, to paraphrase a close friend, is to recognize “how violence in action and speech have become considered a moral good in the corporatist workplace.”

Much of 2016 has been a difficult time. To some extent I’ve consciously pulled back from social media — as have many of my close friends— due to the inescapable intensity of political “rightness” and “wrongness”, the monotony of politics and violence, the utter polarity with which people are experiencing the US presidential race and related issues, etc. And ranting about it. Oddly enough, this came into focus last night while watching a film adaptation of Jane Austen’s Lady Susan. Something clicked.

Some have noticed (or not) that — while some of my political leanings are quite apparent— I make a point not to discuss politics or religion in the workplace. Those topics are both too important to sully via a bully pulpit. However, if you want a lens into what morals I consider important, read more about this issue here. Maybe one or two others, we’ll cover those in due time.

Fiction provides an entirely appropriate venue to consider matters that do not arrive neatly wrapped with simple answers. It prompt more thought and discussion than a Facebook wall. In other words, this is about a basis for real politics, even if story is the vector.

Granted, there are arguably worse things in the world. Homelessness in the US, violence against women, racism, wage disparity, etc. However, while this kind of monstrous behavior goes largely unchecked — in fact, gets systematically rewarded — I question whether civility is to be expected? How far does this go before we reach a breaking point? Or has that limit already been exceeded, which we’re just realizing now?

The point is to recognize “how violence in action and speech have become considered a moral good in the corporatist workplace.”

I use a somewhat different name for these. Anyone who has an untreated personality disorder or is their enabler, acting out in a corporatist environment … though I loath using the word, these people represent enemies. Three of the principals listed below attended Stanford University, my alma mater. Thus the tie-in to workplace violence, as the Anointed to become respected professionals, industry leadership, lifetime success stories.

Weigh the evidence, hear their voices. Decide for yourself.

Jill Easter

Lawyers in love

In the LA Times series “Framed: She Was The PTA Mom Everyone Knew. Who Would Want To Harm Her?” Christopher Goffard explores the the story of Kelli Peters, an after-school care volunteer in Irvine, who was framed by an “power couple” of attorneys. The bizarre sequence of events led to trials and convictions, and through the lens of the aggregate testimony one gets a strong sense that the wife (Jill Easter) appears to have a severe personality disorder, while the husband (Kent Easter) is quite likely an enabler. Their dynamic together seems to have fulfilled a fetish for revenge crimes. (2016–09–03)

Brock Turner

Igniting a tiny fire

To quote Molly Hardin speaking about Brock Turner, the assailant in the widely reported Stanford rape case, “If his parents feel that … having sex with an unconscious woman behind a dumpster is completely normal, it’s no wonder that he feels like he did nothing wrong.” Privilege and avarice exhibited by the criminal defense in the aftermath are sickening, let alone the facts of the case, e.g., the rapist posting photos of his victim on social media, bragging to his peers. Both parents are classic enablers. As is the judge, Aaron Persky, who sentenced Turner in what resulted as 3 months jail time, after expressing concerns about the impact on Turner’s sport career. Notably, initial media reporting had included the rapist’s swimming times. The stark reality this case illustrates is that rapists get created by a process of “intelligent design” — somewhere, somehow, by someone. However, if this were a just society, both of the parents, the defense attorney, and the judge would each face lifetime sentences in maximum security forensic mental hospitals. (2015–01–18)

Andrea Mears

An arresting cry

Self-reported by Austin Haughwout, a Connecticut teen who was flying a drone over a public beach in a state park when he was assaulted by Andrea Mears. Mears (monster) phoned police literally while beating Haughwout, claiming to be the victim. Meanwhile the latter had his phone camera running, capturing her lies to the police, who responded with 10 vehicles of officers quite intent on arresting the teen. After reviewing the video evidence, they arrested Mears instead. However, in a bizarre judicial twist (enablers), Mears merely received probation, the kind that get erased from her record in two years. (2014–05–12)

Elizabeth Holmes

One tiny drop changes everything

Nick Bilton examines the story of the beleaguered medical start-ups Theranos in the “Exclusive: How Elizabeth Holmes’s House Of Cards Came Tumbling Down” article featured in Vanity Fair. Elizabeth Holmes (narcissist), Ramesh Balwani (enabler) led the company to soaring heights, one of the most acclaimed ventures of Silicon Valley, and with that pushed chief scientist Ian Gibbons to attempted suicide, then threatened his family after his death. Holmes held notoriety as the youngest female billionaire to emerge from Silicon Valley, prior to her crash in the wake of tenacious investigative reporting by John Carreyrou at WSJ. As Carreyrou and others have pointed out, this would almost be comical as a Silicon Valley start-up vending social media — except that significant medical decisions become entangled in this fraud. Fortunately, the FBI appears to have launched its own investigative reporting, finally — even so, Holmes is resurfacing, rallying far and wide to re-start her failed start-up. (2016–09–06)

Ethan Ralph

After refusing to follow instructions

Gamergate, aka “Bros before foes.” In other words, the criminally insane, sad apotheosis of purity culture. Brianna Wu reviews the arrest of Ethan Ralph (monster) in “Gamergate leader arrested on 2 felony counts of assaulting a police officer” in The Daily Dot. Wu and her family were targets for an enduring onslaught of highly coordinated acts of domestic terrorism. One of many people targeted by a mens rea and subsequent execution so twisted that it became the basis for an episode of Law & Order. Prosecution against the perpetrators was almost non-existent until their figurehead got drunk then punched a cop. The enablers? Let’s leave that as an exercise for the interested reader. (2016–09–07)

One glaring insight

These are not isolated stories. Nor do they concern simple crimes. The perpetrators are people who — according to their values, their peer groups — were acting out as heroes/heroines of 21c. America. That should be an enormous red flag about systemic contributions to criminal outcomes. These are the real superpredators, engaging in complex dynamics that are truly vile. FWIW, there’s an esoteric notion of something entirely alien acting as apex predators, manipulating sociopaths to do their dirty work. That’s more apt than not. In the grammar of Early Modern English, these people are become monsters in every sense of the word.

Fifty-plus years grappling with the question of other humans, and one glaring insight stands out. Each of these stories shares one particular point: escalation.

Throw a snit. What does it matter? Some people find it entertaining. Others gain from it. While others are merely frightened into submission. Kick it up a few more notches, the consequences don’t really amount to much.

Escalation is a civilian luxury, a decadence. For those who’ve carried a rifle as their job, an escalation implies entirely different consequences. People you care about will get hurt or killed. Rather soon. For those who’ve held command roles, responsible for people carrying rifles for a living, an escalation implies other dimensions. You’re forced to make decisions about who gets hurt or killed. Rather soon.

Lesson learned, not long past being a teen, one fine summer evening out in the woods. Responsible for a unit of about a dozen people, each of whom were armed. Each of whom were exhausted, starved, sleep-deprived. Fed up with getting ambushed and tear-gassed for days on end, they’d reached their limits. As intended, in a situation expertly crafted by the 82nd Airborne Division. My closest friend no longer had a gas mask, so we were sharing. Just had to keep it together, keep us all moving toward goal.

A quite large young man, formerly captain of his football team, was the first to snap. My job was to get him back down to Earth, while avoiding problems for others in the unit, leading them to finish our mission. I made a conscious choice to talk the guy down — recognizing other alternatives. If our unit had been under fire, I would’ve used other means to resolve his escalation.

A huge problem circa 2016 is that rate of escalation tears apart our social fabric. With little or no pertinent legal statutes, alternatives don’t really work. Imagine the words of an arresting officer: “Oh, you’ve escalated at a rate of 0.40 when 0.23 is the legal limit. Therefore you have the right to remain silent, if you cannot afford an attorney, one will be provided for you…”

Perhaps we need such laws, post haste. If you know of examples, please let me know. There are worse matters, e.g., homelessness, systemic violence against women, rampant racism, militarized police, etc. Even so, the monsters and their enablers in the stories above chose to become combatants, the actual face of domestic terrorism. Arguably, no longer civilians. Perhaps civilian law should no longer apply? Doubtful that we’ll get DHS out of the donut shops and golf course cocktail lounges long enough to do anything useful about that.

Their formula is simple

In the absence of ways to “manage” or “handle” individuals whose modus is to escalate wildly, we generally socialize the problem. Outsourcing, FTW!

A particular dynamic tends to surround people in power who have this kind of problem. Interestingly, a consistent pattern for that dynamic holds throughout the stories above. Their formula is simple and relies on four components:

  1. someone who has a serious personality disorder, in a position of power
  2. someone else in a relatively higher position of power who serves as their enabler
  3. privilege (for both of the above)
  4. our cultural acceptance of their actions

Upset one or more of these components and you will have disabled this dynamic.

However, anyone who calls into question the actions of either the monster or the enabler — i.e., confronting them directly — will suffer the wrath of both. That’s their modus, and by definition a successful one.

Doubtful that we could change the “privilege” component any time soon. We can recognize the “monsters” —the point here. Through that we can help people learn to recognize their dynamics, understand alternatives to behavioral responses, and consider changes to available legal remedies.

The “enablers” present a challenge, pointing toward inherent failings in our legal system. Consider the trajectory of hate speech and increasingly stronger statutes against Internet trolls. This overlaps with something so commonplace as schoolyard bullying, a practiced dissembling of which is probably core to how “enablers” get formed. That’s not inconsistent with the fact that 20–25% of women who attend college in US will be sexually assaulted. It may be that “enablers” must be considered as a special case for prosecution, something akin to how we attempt to dismantle hate speech. Albeit more dire.

What prospects, Civility?

Cultural acceptance is the one component we can change most readily. Perhaps that pendulum has begun to swing, shifting from “Greed is Good” anthems of the Reagan-fueled 1980s to a situation where industry leaders urge for a judge’s recall in the case of the aforementioned hand-slapped rapist.

Otherwise, accept leadership by sociopaths. Ignore the mounting dread, avoid the “monotony of politics and violence” that surrounds. Bury the notion of Civility and pronounce its rites.