COLUMBIA, Mo 1/6/14 (Letter) -- Prompted by our ongoing coverage of the scoundrels, scammers, and good ol' boys who control Columbia and Boone County -- aka The Bosses -- a reader sent us this passage from The Lucifer Effect: Understanding how Good People turn Evil by Philip Zimbardo.
It's about the evolution of the kind of sociopath who loudly praises his/her community -- schools and parks and such -- then forces the school district and City Hall to pony up millions for park and school land, while at the same time, paying virtually no property taxes.
It's about the kind of sociopath who hides behind attorneys and LLC's and all manner of friendly disguises, lying in wait to take that one extra piece of public flesh. It won't hurt anybody, the sociopath rationalizes. After all, "it's for the children."
These sociopathic good ol' boys carry on without a conscience, our reader explained. Screwing the community is second nature to them, an entitlement they enjoy without question because nobody ever questions them. They recruit others into their "Inner Ring" using the sly techniques Zimbardo describes.
It's a good explanation for how we elect good people to the City Council, County Commission, and School Board, only to have so many of them sell us out to the sociopaths in our midst.
The Evolution of an Ol' Boy Sociopath, from The Lucifer Effect
"I believe that in all men's lives at certain periods -- and in many men's lives at all periods between infancy and extreme old age -- one of the most dominant elements is the desire to be inside the local Ring and the terror of being left outside.
Of all the passions, the passion for the Inner Ring is most skillful in making a man -- who is not yet a very bad man -- do very bad things." -- C.S. Lewis
Lewis describes the subtle process of initiation, the indoctrination of good people into a private Inner Ring that can have malevolent consequences, turning them into "scoundrels." I cite this passage because it is such an eloquent expression of how this basic human motive can be imperceptibly perverted by those with the power to admit or deny access to their Inner Ring.
To nine out of ten of you, the choice which could lead to scoundrelism will come, when it does come, in no very dramatic colors.
Bad men obviously threatening or bribing will almost certainly not appear.
Rather, over a beer, a drink, or a cup of coffee, disguised as a triviality and sandwiched between two jokes, from the lips of a man or woman whom you have recently been getting to know rather better -- and whom you hope to know better still -- just at the moment when you are most anxious not to appear crude, or naive, or a prig -- the hint will come.
It will be the hint of something, which is not quite in accordance with the technical rules of fair play.
Something the public -- the ignorant, romantic public -- would never understand.
Something which even the outsiders in your own profession are apt to make a fuss about, but something -- says your new friend -- which "we" -- and at the word "we" you try not to blush for mere pleasure -- something "We always do."
And you will be drawn in, if you are drawn in, not by desire for gain or ease, but simply because at that moment, when the cup is so near your lips, you cannot bear to be thrust back into the cold, outer world. It would be so terrible to see the other person's face -- that genial, confidential, delightfully sophisticated face -- turn suddenly cold and contemptuous.
It would be so terrible to know that you had been tried for the Inner Ring and rejected.
And then, if you are drawn in, next week it will be something a little further from the rules and the next year something further still -- but all in the jolliest, friendliest spirit.
It may end in a crash, a scandal, and penal servitude. Or it may end in millions of profit, a peerage, and giving the prizes at your old school.
But you will be a scoundrel.
-- A former employee of one of Columbia's biggest Bosses