The importance of illumination

Status 451 contemplates the damage caused to organizations and individuals by “value-extractors”:

There’s a pattern most observers of human interaction have noticed, common enough to have earned its own aphorism: “nice guys finish last.” Or, refactored, “bad actors are unusually good at winning.” The phenomenon shows up in business, in politics, in war, in activism, in religion, in parenting, in nearly every collaborative form of human undertaking. If some cooperative effort generates a valuable resource, tangible or intangible, some people will try to subvert the effort in order to divert more of that resource to themselves. Money, admiration, votes, information, regulatory capacity, credibility, influence, authority: all of these and more are vulnerable to capture.

Social engineering, as a field, thus far has focused primarily on hit-and-run tactics: get in, get information (and/or leave a device behind), get out. Adversaries who adaptively capture value from the organizations with which they involve themselves are subtler and more complex. Noticing them, and responding effectively, requires a different set of skills than realizing that’s not the IT guy on the phone or that a particular email is a phish. Most importantly, it requires learning to identify patterns of behavior over time….

In Chapman’s analysis, a subculture’s growth passes through three phases. First come the geeks, the creators and their True Fans whose interest in a niche topic gets a scene moving. Then come the MOPs, short for “Members Of Public,” looking for entertainment, new experiences, and something cool to be part of. Finally, along come the sociopaths, net extractors of value whose long-term aim is to siphon cultural, social, and liquid capital from the social graph of geeks and MOPs. Sociopaths don’t just take, unless they’re not very good at what they do. Many sociopaths contribute just enough to gain a reputation for being prosocial, and keep their more predatory tendencies hidden until they’ve achieved enough social centrality to be difficult to kick out. It’s a survival strategy with a long pedigree; viruses that burn through their host species reservoir too quickly die off.

Corporations, of course, have their own subcultures, and it’s easy to see this pattern in the origin stories of Silicon Valley success stories like Google — and also those of every failed startup that goes under because somebody embezzled and got away with it. Ditto for nonprofits, activist movements, social networking platforms, and really anything that’s focused on growth. Which is a lot of things, these days.

Organizations have a strong incentive to remove net extractors of value. Would-be net extractors of value, then, have an even stronger incentive to keep themselves connected to the social graph. The plasticity of the human brain being what it is, this sometimes leads to some interesting cognitive innovations…. If you’ve ever seen an apparently-thriving group suddenly implode, its members divided over their opinions about one particular person, chances are you’ve seen the end of a sociopath’s run.

This is why sociopaths and predatory narcissists hate and fear people like Mike Cernovich and me. Both being Sigmas and more than a little inclined to march to our own beat, we are not vulnerable to the social pressure that silences most people when they get suspicious about a sociopath. Remember, sociopaths are always on. They are always scanning, trying to get a read on who might be aware that they are not what they pretend to be.

I can’t tell you how many people I’ve caught in the middle of a hyperaware perusal of the group they are in, like a wolf in disguise surveying the sheep around him. They always react physically when caught out, often physically recoiling. Even more damning, they react in one of two ways. They either stay away from me and begin exhibiting signs of extreme personal dislike or they suddenly get very friendly in an attempt to figure out if I’m really onto them or if it was just a coincidence. If I don’t respond in a warm and clueless manner, they soon turn openly hostile.

Most people have some inkling that there is something off about the sociopath, but they simply can’t get their heads around believing what their subconscious is telling them. But if you get that ping from your subconscious radar about someone, don’t ignore it, start watching him closely. Make a habit of it. More often than not, you’ll soon see something that will justify your suspicions that everything is not as it should be.