Cult of the Sociopath | Learning by Proxy

We have the tendency to glorify sociopaths and then watch them ruin the world for the rest of us!

Who is a sociopath?

Those with ASPD have no regard for others’ rights or feelings, lack empathy and remorse for wrongdoings, and have the need to exploit and manipulate others for personal gain.

Source: WebMD

Now, think about every billionaire on the planet. Almost all of them will fit this definition without exception. The richer and more powerful they are, the closer they are to being complete sociopaths.

Your ability to see them as sociopaths is inversely related to the efficacy of their PR team.

The flag-bearer for all sociopaths on the planet was Steve Jobs himself. His ill-treatment and abuse of his employees has been chronicled several times. His second coming with Apple turned him into an icon and provide sociopathy with great credibility. Especially for those living around silicon valley. Being a sociopath was the ‘in’ thing.

Here is the plain truth - No single person on the face of this planet is capable of creating billions of dollars of value all by themselves. They all need to therefore depend on shortchanging those who actually create value to enrich themselves. The more efficient they are at it, the richer they make themselves.

The list of common traits you might see in a sociopath, says Dr. Coulter, include:

Not understanding the difference between right and wrong.

Not respecting the feelings and emotions of others.

Constant lying or deception.

Being callous.

Difficulty recognizing emotion.



Violating the rights of others through dishonest actions.



Difficulty appreciating the negative aspects of their behavior.

Some sociopaths may not realize that what they’re doing is wrong while others may simply not care. And sometimes, Dr. Coulter says, it can be both.

Source: Cleveland Clinic

Today, the flag bearers for the cult of the sociopath are Mark Zuckerberg, Elon Musk and Jeff Bezos. There has been a deluge of news breaking about their actions.

A former Facebook employee, disgruntled that she could not work from the West Indies, decided to leak a lot of internal files from Facebook to Wall Street Journal. These reports showed that Facebook was aware of the detrimental effects of its platform and chose to do nothing about it.

On Tuesday, Senator Amy Klobuchar of Minnesota asked Ms. Haugen whether Facebook had dedicated enough resources to removing coronavirus falsehoods, noting that YouTube said last week that it would ban all anti-vaccine misinformation.

“I do not believe Facebook, as currently structured, has the capability to stop vaccine misinformation,” Ms. Haugen said.

She added that Facebook said that its efforts were only likely to remove “10 to 20 percent of content.”

Source: New York Times

Facebook is controlled by one person who has the largest number of votes in the company. Mark Zuckerberg only cares about money and power. Also, he wants to hold on to it no matter what the cost. The testimony also discussed the role that Facebook played in the Jan 6th Insurrection and Mark has been willing to let these things happen because profit is above all.

After the Senate hearing, in typical fashion, Mark denied any wrongdoing.

“At the heart of these accusations is this idea that we prioritise profit over safety and wellbeing. That’s just not true,” he said.

He added: “The argument that we deliberately push content that makes people angry for profit is deeply illogical. We make money from ads, and advertisers consistently tell us they don’t want their ads next to harmful or angry content.”

Source: The Guardian

The truth is that Facebook is very wrong. So much so, that the founders of WhatsApp left close to 1 Billion dollars in stock options on the table and chose to walk away from the company rather than participate any further in the charade.

Mark Zuckerberg is great at gaslighting.

If Mark is in the business of gaslighting, Elon Musk is an arsonist.

A jury on Monday ordered Tesla to pay nearly $137 million in damages in a case that alleged an employee encountered racist abuse, discrimination and harassment at the company’s plant in Fremont, Calif.

Owen Diaz, an elevator operator who worked for the company between June 2015 and May 2016, sued Tesla, alleging a hostile work environment and racial harassment, and said “daily racist epithets” such as the n-word were used in the factory, where his son, Demetric, also worked. The initial suit by Diaz, who is Black, alleged that workers encountered a scene “straight from the Jim Crow era,” where workers were subjected to frequent racist harassment and supervisors took no action.

Source: Washington Post

Elon Musk has branded himself as a genius who can get into any business and pull it off. The truth is, he did not even conceive of Tesla, he pushed out the founders and took over the company. Without NASA, SpaceX would have been dead in the water today. The kind of treatment that many of the employees in his companies have had to endure, is appalling.

Financially, the company and its founder, industrialist and social media personality Elon Musk, have never had a better year. Musk is now the fifth richest person in the world, as the company’s stock price skyrocketed from a low of $72 in March to almost $500 at the end of August. Then, following a split in early September, the company managed to sell an additional $5 billion worth of shares in just three days. Enormous liquidity, a little more than two years after Tesla nearly ran out of money.

Tesla workers and worker advocates say the company is risking the health and safety of its workers in relentless pursuit of these gaudy numbers. To hit the record cars-built mark, Tesla is relying on its new Gigafactory in China, but is also leaning on its American workers. Beginning in August, workers at the Fremont, California factory were informed that they’d be spending a lot more time at work: six days a week, sixty hours a week.

Source: Observer

He has been railing against the state of California because he has been asked not to run his factories during the pandemic. Much like Mark, his only concern is the numbers, not the effect it has on the people producing those numbers. The state did not budge and he has finally decided to move his production to Texas.

This brings us to his contemporary - Jeff Bezos.

When Alexandra Abrams first walked into Blue Origin’s headquarters and saw a model of the USS Enterprise used in the filming of the first Star Trek series, she thought, “Ally, you are home, this is your mothership.”

That turned out to be a false impression, the former Blue Origin director of internal communications told me last week, after she revealed the company’s dysfunctional culture in an open letter written with twenty current and former employees at Jeff Bezos’ space firm. Their description of a sexist culture and excessive demands on the workers, which the company disputes, led the Federal Aviation Administration to open an investigation ahead of its next suborbital space tourism mission, expected Oct. 12.

Source: Quartz

The stories of Amazon are themselves replete with incidents that involve employees being woken up in the middle of the night to resolve issues in a matter of minutes. Sure, Amazon might have managed to grow and kill all of its competitors but there are several thousand employees who have paid for it with their peace of mind. Turns out his space venture is no different.

The more fundamental issue here is that in a world where you are willing to care as little as possible about people, the more likely it is that you will be able to progress. Those who care will always be left behind.

Is it right, though, that we idolise such people, write books about them and teach case studies about such individuals. It normalises the harm that they cause and makes people learn all the wrong lessons.

Once we realised that fossil fuels were causing climate change, the thought that we should probably stop using fossil fuels gathered steam. In a similar manner, maybe we should consider ways by which sociopaths are kept out of positions of power. The harm they cause most certainly outweighs the ‘shareholder value’.

Cult of the Sociopath | Podcast

We have the tendency to glorify sociopaths and then watch them ruin the world for the rest of us!


This is the Learning by Proxy podcast for Edition 81. If you do not enjoy reading long-form, get the gist of it in about 10 minutes (or that was the hope). 

This time in the podcast - 

We have come to elevate the status of sociopaths in our societies. Their disregard for people makes it possible for them to climb the capitalistic ladder of success. Should we be rewarding such behaviour?

You can find the whole blog at this link.

Music Courtesy Pixabay

Wrong Lessons

Good decisions don't always result in success; bad decisions don't always result in failure!

Often the outcome of a decision ends up determining our assessment of the quality of the decision. What it also does is that it makes sure that we learn all the wrong lessons.

In 1986 as the space shuttle program was reaching maturity, people were losing interest in the human spaceflight program. As public interest waned, NASA was under serious threat of budget cuts. Determined to reinvigorate interest, they recruited a school teacher to go to space. The idea of a civilian travelling to space would reinvigorate imagination, get the entire schooling system excited and keep the interest alive. This was going to be the 25th mission that the space shuttle would be undertaking. 

One of the engineers on the team flagged an issue with the rubber rings that were used to seal the fuel tank. He found out that in very cold temperatures they do not work as expected. The shuttle had been flown 24 times without an issue, consensus in the higher management was that there was no reason to assume anything would go wrong.

With the teacher on the shuttle, this was a high profile national television event and they did not want to delay the launch because someone had a hunch.

The Challenger exploded second after liftoff and it was the first loss of human life since the NASA spaceflight program had taken off the ground.

You can make bad decisions and still succeed. Success only makes you assume that you did everything right. You discount luck completely. Tell a successful person that they got lucky, they will look at you as if you slapped them in the face. You need to constantly be on the hunt for what can fail you, especially when you succeed.

The corollary can also be true. You can make really good decisions and still fail.  We often do not have any problem ascribing this to bad luck. 

Do not take away the wrong lessons from success or failure. They are two sides of the same coin. Your decisions matter, but so do a lot of factors that you would never be able to control. Always keep your eye on things that you cannot control. Especially when you succeed.

The dog is making a good decision but failing!

National Treasure | Learning by Proxy

The space agencies the world over are being exploited by private organisations

The Americans had no idea how to launch a rocket. In fact, after having smuggled Nazi scientists out of Germany in the 1940s, they did not put them to much use. They were imprisoned at a mansion in America instead of in jail in Germany for nearly 10 years. This was till USSR put Sputnik in space. They say one could see Sputnik with a pair of binoculars at night.

That was the trigger to bring out the Nazis. The agency was rebranded and NASA came to be. NASA developed Nazi technology to its pinnacle. With a lot of public money, they figured out fuel, propulsion, gravitational dynamics, orbital dynamics, orbital insertion and much more. Then they worked on human spaceflight and perfected that as well. It would not be a stretch to call NASA a national treasure.

On the other side of the world, Vikram Sarabhai in India took interest in space technologies and with the blessings of Jawaharlal Nehru, he started the development of an Indian space program. It was not really a program as much as it was a committee debating how to get started. Although work on it started in 1962, it was on Independence Day 1969, almost a month after Neil Armstrong walk on the moon that the Indian Space Research Organisation was formed.

But ISRO would yield a lot more than any of the founders, then, had even imagined. They found a nice piece of land in Kerala where a shed and a church doubled up as offices. We established the Thumba Equatorial Rocket Launch Station (TERLS). Blasting off sounding rockets made with the help of Russian technology was the beginning of Indian space ambitions. There is a famous photo of Dr Abdul Kalam carrying a rocket payload on the back of a bicycle at TERLS.

Our initial collaborations were all with the Russian and Aryabhatta was launched in 1975 with Russian help. Once the USSR collapsed in 1989, ISRO started warming up to NASA and we sent a bunch of our scientists to learn more about the American technology and they came back to kick start the Indigenous rocket and propulsion development program. Till then, we used to be dependent on the Russians or the Americans to sell us engines to power the rockets.

ISRO is actually an even greater gem than NASA. The reason for that is cost. ISRO has funding of about USD 2 billion each year as opposed to NASA with has about USD 22.6 billion. Undoubtedly NASA was far more heavily funded back in the 1980s and 1990s. In the US, NASA has been squandering public value by handing a lot of the knowledge that they have accumulated over the years to Billionaire raiders. Elon Musk and Jeff Bezos are bleeding the agency dry, in terms of intellectual property, talent as well as contracts from the country.

The people of the US are not getting the short end of the stick - they are getting no stick at all.

Skyroot Aerospace, a Hyderabad-based space technology startup, has become the first private company to formally enter into an agreement with ISRO to use its expertise and access facilities to test and qualify its small rocket ahead of launch next year.

"The Framework MoU will allow the company to undertake multiple tests and access facilities at various ISRO centres and avail the technical expertise of ISRO for testing and qualifying their space launch vehicle systems and subsystems," the Indian Space Research Organisation said on Saturday.

Skyroot, founded by former ISRO scientists, is building the Vikram series of rockets to carry small satellites into space. The startup has already test fired its solid propulsion rocket engine named Kalam-5, whose bigger version will power its rockets.

Source: Times of India

Skyroot is a company started by engineers who quit ISRO and were determined to chart their own course. Quite an inspirational story. Also, their heart is in the right place; I have met them. ISRO operated under the constraints of the government and there is only so far that they can go and show aggression, given diplomatic relationships.

The same does not apply to a private company. They are free to compete.

That said, the public has financed ISRO for years and it should not squander that value for little in return. India should not do a USA.

The Department of Space (DoS) has recently entered into a framework agreement with Chennai-based aerospace technology startup Agnikul Cosmos for access to the Indian Space Research Organisation (ISRO) facilities and expertise towards the development and testing of subsystems/systems of space launch vehicles.

The framework MoU will enable the company to undertake multiple tests and access facilities at various ISRO centres for testing and qualification of their single piece 3D-printed Semi-Cryo engine and other systems. The MoU also enables Agnikul to avail technical expertise of ISRO for testing and qualifying their space launch vehicle systems and subsystems.

Source: Inc42

There is also Bellatrix which will sooner or later tap the ISRO as well.

On the one hand, it is great to see that space and for that matter, deep technology is finding backers in India and these projects that would have been considered impossible a few years ago are moving forward today!

I think ISRO should put an equity-based program through which it supports these startups wholeheartedly but is able to participate in their rise. If there is knowledge and infrastructure that people of this nation have paid for, they should be able to benefit from the same. Facilities like that of ISRO cannot be treated like a lab for rent that anybody could have put in place.

The American government has already squandered this opportunity, we in India should not repeat the same.

National Treasure | Podcast

The space agencies the world over are being exploited by private organisations


This is the Learning by Proxy podcast for Edition 80. If you do not enjoy reading long-form, get the gist of it in about 10 minutes (or that was the hope). 

This time in the podcast - 

Space technology was so improbable at a time that only the government could afford the indulgence. Today, many private companies are sprouting, but they are raiding these organisations that the public paid for, for their personal gain.

You can find the whole blog at this link.

Music Courtesy Pixabay

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