The Delta Response to Gamma Rats and Sociopaths

Doug Casey may not believe, along with Margaret Thatcher, that there’s no such thing as society, but he seems to have given up on ours. An investor and a self-styled libertarian, Casey thinks the country is done: “All the institutions that made America exceptional – including a belief in capitalism, individualism, self-reliance and the restraints of the Constitution – are now only historical artifacts,” he wrote in a post this past week. The “moral rot” runs so deep, Casey argues, that there is no fixing the institutions; the rot has become institutionalized.

How did things get so bad? Casey has a simple answer, one that doesn’t require much reading of history or economic analysis: sociopaths. Sociopaths “are now fully in control of major American institutions. Their beliefs and attitudes are insinuated throughout the economic, political, intellectual and psychological/spiritual fabric of the US.” These “really bad actors” – Casey estimates that they make up about 4 percent of the population –“are drawn to government and other positions where they can work their will on other people and, because they’re enthusiastic about government, they rise to leadership positions. They remake the culture of the organizations they run in their own image.”

Casey is hardly the first to claim that sociopaths have taken over. The movie The Corporation popularized the trope. If in the wake of Citizens United corporations are persons, then (runs the argument) they are the kind who belong in a straitjacket. Since then, and especially since things went bust in 2008, it’s become popular to characterize CEOs and Wall Street investors as sociopaths; it borders on cliché. Casey’s simply transferred the argument to government: no surprise, really, that it is as dysfunctional and destructive as the other centers of power in twenty-first century America.

Casey recommends flight over fight. He argues that it makes better sense than ever to become an International Man (the initial caps are his: the International Man appears to have achieved an iconic status in his mind), and find a safe haven to keep one’s assets and one’s life out of the reach of the sociopaths. Casey sees this flight from society not as the act of a misanthrope, but a “gamma rat”:

You may recall the ethologist’s characterization of the social interaction of rats as being between a few alpha rats and many beta rats, the alpha rats being dominant and the beta rats submissive. In addition, a small percentage are gamma rats that stake out prime territory and mates, like the alphas, but are not interested in dominating the betas. The people most inclined to leave for the wide world outside and seek fortune elsewhere are typically gamma personalities.

I have to admit that the fantasy of becoming an International Man holds its attractions – a hoard of wealth, prime real estate, the finest mates (check their teeth and gums, just to make sure). But it is, ultimately, a fantasy of power and control that betrays a feeling of powerlessness and a loss of control.  The International Man would have us believe that he is a refugee, fleeing persecution, but he doesn’t ask for pity or succor; he demands privilege and exemption from all that is common.

He is shrewd and selfish, not heroic. Odysseus, arguably the first international man, was wily, but he suffered heroically because he longed for home. The gamma cannot be nostalgic; home is where he finds or makes his fortune, until the taxman catches up. He fancies himself a hobo or tramp, but he has investment assets, property and multiple passports. He wants to own but not owe – not nothing to nobody, nohow. He accumulates wealth but, it would seem, cares nothing for common wealth; that may make him rich, but it also makes him the enemy of prosperity.

If the International Man is iconic, he would appear to be an icon of idiocy, in the classical sense of that word. Arendt puts it this way in The Human Condition: “a life spent in the privacy of ‘one’s own’ ([in Greek,] idion), outside the world of the common, is ‘idiotic’ by definition.”

What else should we call a person who sees bad actors taking control, institutions failing, society collapsing, and decides to get out while he still can? What would be his motto? Ask not what you can do for your country, but what you can grab for yourself?

More importantly, what would it take to go beyond gamma – to delta, let’s say, where you can apply yourself to meaningful work, and to building the next society?

The delta understands social collapse and institutional failure not simply as a crisis, but as an opportunity to create something new. The delta wards off doom by doing humble work, tinkering, fixing and reclaiming. As I conceive it, delta is all about tikkun — doing the difficult work of “world repair,” not throwing one’s hands up in despair. It takes imagination. Poets, painters and teachers can be deltas; they give us new models to work with. So can inventors and entrepreneurs. In fact, I would put social entrepreneurs and socially responsible investors at the forefront of the delta group. And delta is on the rise: B-corporations, which work to produce public benefits, have won legitimacy in seven states; legislation in pending in seven others.

Deltas work at a remove from the dysfunctional centers of power, on the edges of organizations, independently and within small groups, where they can experiment and learn from each other. The delta looks for alternatives to the destructive power dynamics of the alphas and the betas – flatter organizations, fair dealing, transparency and collaboration. If the gamma is entirely self-directed, even to the point of idiocy, the delta is other-directed, altruistic, a maker of community. Deltas stay networked, because they recognize the limits of the self, and know that our lives and our liberty take on meaning only with and in relation to others, no matter how much we may fantasize about going it alone.

7 thoughts on “The Delta Response to Gamma Rats and Sociopaths

  1. Andrew

    You are the first person to begin to address how those of who are deltas can address the rot in our society.

    You do better than Casey in this respect, for which I leveled this criticism at him:
    “You speak a lot about Libertarians and Gamma rats, of which I am one.
    However, you give little to no idea how we can maintain the balance
    between resisting government and still being part of society.

    So your entire post is a nice, leisurely, and ultimately useless
    exercise in philosophy.

    This is what irritates me about your newsletter and the sole reason that
    I respect John Mauldin vastly over you. You include bits of truth, but
    no direction or even pointers as to how to solve the problem, unless we
    buy your books or services.

    In this way, you are little better than the political elites whom you
    criticise.” — Email to Casey’s International Man post on Gamma Rats.

    Granted this was before I found your post here, and I appreciate you shifting the paradigm from gamma to delta as recognizing a fundamental difference in approach.

    Reply
  2. lvgaldieri Post author

    Thanks for reading for taking the time to comment, Andrew. Since 2012, when I wrote this, my enthusiasm for certain kinds of ‘delta’ activity — especially social entrepreneurship — has somewhat dampened; still, I can see the seeds of other things I’ve written and thought about since then. Mainly I’m curious why, all of the sudden, this post is attracting significant traffic.

    Reply
  3. Hal Dunn (@hal_dunn)

    Maybe you aren’t aware of what Doug Casey means when he refers to “International Man.” It’s no fantasy. He has been to over 100 countries. He lives it. He wrote a book about it in 1978. http://www.internationalman.com/about-im The book is dated now, but it covered topics such as savings, offshore bank/brokerage/financial accounts, foreign real estate, owning gold overseas, foreign trusts, and ways to legally reduce taxes. Also how to obtain a second passport from another country and establishing legal residency in foreign countries. Structuring cash flows, additional sources of revenue, international investment opportunities, trends, setting up an offshore company. And the topic digital presence, IP address, email account, online file storage, personal/business websites.

    Reply
    1. lvgaldieri Post author

      That Casey has written a practical guide for living as an ‘international man,’ traveled extensively, and successfully hidden wealth away from the taxman doesn’t persuade me that he’s acting responsibly or setting an example to follow.

      Reply
  4. Wolfgang

    I don’t agree that for some the taxman is ever coming. You don’t have to be American to know that tax loopholes are made for the haves, not for the have-to-work. In the UK they offer persons with six or more digit accounts ways to reduce their tax burden to less than one percent.
    I find the idea of deltas nice – for the haves. The other group has to struggle too much to participate in your fight against the worms in a rotten apple.

    Reply
    1. lvgaldieri Post author

      I’d like to think that making repairs, trying to fix and ameliorate things, making a life together — all that, what I’m calling the delta response, is part of the “struggle” of the “have-to-work” (and I definitely count myself among them). If we do not respond in that way, then we will most likely find ourselves struggling against each other to eke out a precarious existence in a ruined society.

      Reply
  5. Daz

    Terrible, terrible post. You believe that everyone on the planet should conform to your fractional reserve banking/democratic government/biased media/slaveToTheGrave/ disappearing pension/drone worker type delusion but if there is room for elites and tax collectors then there is room for people who do not subscribe to such delusion or subordination.

    Reply

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