It appears the Michael Avenatti story arc has reached its final phase, with his arrest by the FBI for trying to shake down the sneaker company Nike. Like everything else about this guy’s story, the events leading up to his arrest were an amusing mix of outlandish claims and ham-handed attention seeking. He was tweeting about how he was about to expose Nike for their crimes moments, before he was arrested by the FBI for his crimes. Even in custody, he is still working the grift that landed him in Federal custody.
What’s remarkable about this Avenatti story is not that he exists or that he has managed to hustle the left-wing media for a couple of years now. He actually had them giving him money to explore running for President. What’s remarkable about his story is that he is not all that uncommon. He’s more garish than most, owing to his heritage, but his type is becoming a common feature in public life. The most prominent politicians today are every bit as dishonest and corrupt. Ours is an age of the universal sociopath.
This proliferation of sociopaths is most certainly a new thing. A few generations ago, the rules of society would have prevented a character like Avenatti from getting to this level, as his demeanor would not have been tolerated. He simply would not have been granted an audience by the media, which is a big part of his story. In fact, it’s probable that his character cannot exist without social media. New social media not only makes it easy for stupid people to get on-line, but it makes it easier for grifters to exploit them.
That’s the truth about services like Facebook and Twitter. They did not invent the concept of social media or the public platform. Usenet was a very popular platform at the dawn of the internet culture. It’s fair to say the BBS was what initially drove amateur interest in the internet. Long before Mark Zuckerberg, message board communities were flourishing on-line, serving tens of millions of people. The thing was, you had to have a little savvy to reach these platforms and you needed some smarts to exploit them.
What the new platforms did was make it so a moron could get on-line. Phones come with Twitter and Facebook apps baked into the platform. In most cases, you can’t remove them even if you don’t use them. If you can operate a phone, you can be on these platforms, interacting with your fellow morons in minutes. What’s unique about this age is that the people who were encouraged to remain silent for most of human history have now been fitted with the tools to stand in the public square, bellowing like lunatics.
The stupid have always been catnip for the dishonest, so it stands to reason that the grifters would also flood in the public square, attracted by the stupid. Social media has become a hunting ground for the modern grifter. In a different age, Mike Cernovich would be a lawyer with an office behind a Vietnamese nail salon at the strip mall. Milo Yiannopoulos would have been working children’s birthday parties as a clown, who made the adults uncomfortable. Michael Avenatti would be selling real estate or used cars.
Now, go even further back and it is hard to imagine these types making it to adulthood, much less becoming public figures. For example, the serial killer is most likely a phenomenon of modernity. To get away with ritual killing, you have to live among people who don’t find it odd to be around strangers. If people started dying or disappearing in a small medieval village, people noticed. For most of human history, being a drifter or even a traveler was a good way to get killed by paranoid locals.
Of course, what we know about sociopaths like Avenatti is that their behavior did not start in late adulthood. He was a ripping people off as a kid. His inability to distinguish right from wrong probably would have gotten him killed by puberty in most times. Society was too near a run thing to tolerate these types of people. In fact, there’s good evidence that Western society deliberately removed these sorts of people from the breeding stock by the miracle of capital punishment. The executioner was essential to human civilization.
There’s pretty good evidence to suggest the prolific use of capital punishment raised western intelligence and provided the spark for what we think of us as the birth of modernity. By reducing the population of stupid people, the smart fraction increased. This led to a larger smart leisure class, who could then work on technological advances to overcome scarcity and the problems of human organization. More smart people made it possible for more smart people, so a cascading effect gave us modernity.
We know we are getting dumber now, and that may be due to the elimination of capital punishment, or possibly the fact we have eliminated the lethal consequences of stupidity, so the stupid are proliferating. Just as social media makes it possible for the proliferation of grifters, it’s possible that the end of capital punishment has allowed for the proliferation of sociopaths. In another age, these people either would have been killed in their youth or killed soon after reaching adulthood. Their reproduction would have been limited.
In short, what we may be experiencing is the result of western society evolving down a cul-de-sac, like the Panda. The proliferation of smart people resulted in a new social morality that permitted the flowering of a class of sociopaths and also a growing stock of stupid people on whom they can feed. It’s as if the Enlightenment unleashed a pathogen that made the left handed into status-seeking sociopaths and the right-handed into high-trust altruistic suckers. In time, the former has come to dominate the latter in the West.
Of course, no process continues into the future unabated. At some point, survival will require dealing with people like Michael Avenatti. If after a quick trial, he is hanged in a public square, the dynamics of society would quickly change. Being the slick talking grifter would plummet in status and even the dumb people in mass media would become afraid of them. The executions would proliferate until the balance of personality types in society was restored. In other words, it’s time to bring back the hangman.