How Outside Normalcy Should an Outsider Be?

Ben Carson is the quiet, almost somnolent, version of Donald Trump. He is, like Trump, a political outsider, but a crafty politician all the same, without the reality TV persona of Donald Trump. Carson seems to share other attributes with “the Donald” though not commonly discussed in the media.

In an era of celebrity when we are encouraged, in fact, marketed to placate and coddle ourselves, flaws in the character of public images are usually deflected in the glow of spotlight. The image is often falsely projected and the best of it amplified for effect. Motivations and flaws are hidden behind the glow.

I don’t believe we could argue with the notion that both Carson and Trump are self-centered. We live in a society that encourages and rewards this feature, but does not consider how these traits affect ourselves and others we come in contact with.  Accordingly, our culture fosters a predisposition to ignore the needs of others, including human investment for the common good. Interdependent cultures, like those in Asia, find Asians easily able to put themselves in the shoes of others, displaying more empathy. For example, pathetic voting practices in most US elections, the latest in Kentucky, show a lack of concern for the consequences of not voting, including the harm it might do to others.

Ben Carson is a soft-spoken, accomplished candidate we can relate to in such a culture. Furthermore, he is a political outsider, thus not associated with the tainted politicians who have left us a distant second to the rich in our society, making our struggle to survive – and that of our children – more difficult.

But there is baggage that comes with the personalities of self-centered high achievers like Carson, while Trump is more of an open book. Nevertheless, many of Carson (and Trump) supporters are self-driven and not overly concerned with issues affecting the entire country and even the rest of the world. Such sentiments explain their support of candidates with little issue substance. Consequently, voters will be slow to react to character flaws in Carson; only his continued protests of media unfairness and continued deflection of blame will wear their support down.

Much research in the psychology community puts figures at the top rungs of our economy, the movers and the shakers, in distinct personality categories. Several studies attribute possession of psychopathic tendencies, the most successful characterized as fearless, confident, charming, ruthless, focused and action-oriented -– psychopathic traits that seem to signal success in the twenty-first century. In fact, the best politicians are thought to have such tendencies, according to psychologist Kevin Dutton.

Recent disclosures about Ben Carson’s rather nonsensical statements, and his contentious reactions to media statements have prompted observers to notice such character traits.

Kevin Dutton, has written the book, Wisdom of Psychopaths: What Saints, Spies, and Serial Killers Can Teach Us About Success, and believes there are professions that draw people with psychopathic tendencies, individuals who are not criminals, but have behavioral traits in common with criminal psychopaths. According to Dutton, plentiful in this category are CEOs, politicians, police, even brain surgeons.  Cited studies show that neural activation differs in the prefrontal cortex, posterior parietal cortex and the amygdale for the normal versus the psychopathic subject when making empathy-based decisions.

Regarding business leaders as a group, a specific survey Dutton cited took three groups – business managers, psychiatric patients and hospitalized criminals and compared them on a psychological profiling test. The analysis indicated that a number of psychopathic attributes were actually more common in business leaders than in so-called disturbed criminals, including superficial charm, egocentricity, persuasiveness, lack of empathy, independence and focus.

Now such characteristics are easy to see in a Donald Trump, whom we have followed for decades and who openly and boisterously demonstrates these qualities. Ben Carson is a different matter, that is, until more recently.

Why would a man of science, a brain surgeon, whose patient’s life depended on Carson’s objectivity and reason, make spurious declarations about his own history, and history in general, double down on these claims, and then attack those who question them as having bias and an agenda – all in a calm voice?

He still insists Egyptian pyramids are ancient granaries built by the Biblical Joseph, even though all Egyptologists say they were tombs, mostly for Pharaohs. At another news conference, he continued to insist on the accuracy of other claims – about a violent youth, a scholarship offer to West Point, a high school race riot, and a story involving a psychology exam while at Yale.

A photo tour of Ben Carson’s home by The Guardian provided undeniable homage to himself. Among photos displayed are a life size painting of Carson that hangs over the fireplace in a main lounge area, and there is a proverb in a shrine-like setting. Below it is boldly spelled “poverbs 22:4.” (sic) Considering Carson’s membership in the Seven-Day Adventist religion, which considers the Bible the sole source of authority on beliefs and practices, one would believe that Carson would notice the misspelling of a major book in the Bible, especially before a photo tour.  After all, each chapter of his new book, One Nation: What We Can All Do to Save America’s Future, has an attributed quote from Proverbs.

In addition, there is a portrait, ”Ben Carson and a Klingon Jesus: A Portrait.” Jesus is standing over Carson with his right hand on Carson’s shoulder, left hand open and outstretched, seeming to motion Carson’s prominence. Such a portrait alone might be seen as a somewhat zealous religious devotion or a gift from his mother. But when you consider other signs: his fostered religious personna, numerous books written affirming his life, some ascribing self-narratives that seem fabricated, and his sometimes sophomoric beliefs, he appears to be ascribing a Christ-like stature to himself.

Thus, adding to an apparent altar of self emulation is other evidence, including espousing views that seem to deny a connection with reality. His pronouncements include six controversial views, boyishly simplistic, if not totally naïve, and far out of the mainstream: Hitler wouldn’t have been able to exterminate the Jews if they had guns; he advocates no Muslim as President; “Obamacare” is the worst thing that has happened in this country since slavery; he wouldn’t stand still, but enlist other unarmed people, not letting a gunman kill him (after Oregon shooting).

All of these signs are rather troubling for a candidate who is clearly leading in the polls for the Republican nomination for president. He is a political outsider, but how far outside reason and normalcy can you be when vying for a position that has so much control over the free world, not to speak of a nuclear arsenal?

In keeping with scripture quotes in books and speeches, another does come to mind:  All idolatry of self has at its core the three lusts found in 1 John 2:16:

For all that is in the world, the lust of the flesh, and the lust of the eyes, and the pride of life, is not of the Father, but is of the world.

James Hoover is a recently retired systems engineer. He has advanced degrees in Economics and English. Prior to his aerospace career, he taught high school, and he has also taught college courses. He recently published a science fiction novel called Extraordinary Visitors and writes political columns on several websites. Read other articles by James.