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The Weekend Politics Thread and The Dark Triad

A man appeared in the empty weekend politics thread, appeared so suddenly and silently you’d have thought he’d just popped out of the ground.

Nearby, a cat’s tail twitched and its eyes narrowed.

Nothing like this man had ever been seen in the Weekend Politics Thread. He was tall, thin, and very old, judging by the silver of his hair and beard, which were both long enough to tuck into his belt. He was wearing long robes, a purple cloak that swept the ground, and high-heeled, buckled boots. His blue eyes were light, bright, and sparkling behind half-moon spectacles and his nose was very long and crooked, as though it had been broken at least twice. This man’s name was Albus Dumbledore.

Albus Dumbledore realized he was being watched, because he looked up suddenly at the cat, which was staring at him from the other end of the street. For some reason, the sight of the cat seemed to amuse him. He chuckled and muttered, “I should have known.”

“Fancy seeing you here, Professor McGonagall.”

He turned to smile at the tabby, but it had gone. Instead he was smiling at a rather severe-looking woman who was wearing square glasses exactly the shape of the markings the cat had had around its eyes. She, too, was wearing a cloak, an emerald one. Her black hair was drawn into a tight bun. She looked distinctly ruffled.

“How did you know it was me?” she asked.

“My dear Professor, I ‘ve never seen a cat sit so stiffly.”

“You’d be stiff too if you’d been watching the Muggles like I have,” said Professor McGonagall.

“They have made a mess of things, haven’t they?”

Professor McGonagall sniffed angrily.

“Oh yes, and not for the first time,” she said impatiently. “You’d think they’d be a bit more careful. But they keep falling into the same old patterns. They say they want freedom, they say they want liberty. They make these giant speeches about individuality. But do they go after it? No. They find the biggest, stupidest brute they can and they all cower to him. What is wrong with them, Albus?”

“It’s the work of The Dark Triad, I’m afraid.”

“The Dark Triad?”

“Yes, yes. The Dark Triad is a powerful foe indeed. It grasps on to muggles deepest fears and most primal insecurities. It tells them to want bad is good, and to be selfish is civil.”

“What horrible magic is this?” gasped Professor McGonagall.

“The magic,” Albus said and then paused, knowing he was being quite dramatic. “Of PSY-CHOL-O-GY.

“Yes, psychology,” Albus continued.  The Harry Potter music played quietly in the background.  You know the one — it’s technically the owl’s theme but everyone thinks of it as the Harry Potter song.   “In 2002, Delroy Paulhus and Kevin Williams proposed that three very evil personality traits, joined together in the proper proportions, creates an alchemy that can turn a very mentally ill person into an almost unstoppable leader. These three traits require certain instincts and have a large genetic component, but do not particularly require more than an average amount of what is traditionally considered intelligence. Rather, they produce an individual who is confident and charismatic and who is so convinced of their own competence that they enchant others into believing it as well.”

“By the spells! What are the ingredients to this potion?”

“Simply put: Machiavellianism. Psychopathy. and Narcissism,” Albus belted out each word like it was an incantation.

Machiavellianism is the magic of utilitarian self-interest. Manipulation is its religion and and self-preservation is its only end. It may or may not be connected with genius, but where there is not genius it is often bolstered by a natural or learned instinct to grab hold of other people’s emotions. It is the close twin of psychopathy, the dark magic of impulsiveness and lack of empathy. Machiavellianism prioritizes the manipulation of people, psychopathy doesn’t care who that manipulation hurts. Except, of course, for the wizard himself. Narcissism is the absolute belief in one’s own worth and confidence. A narcissist truly believes that he is worthy of praise. The more complete a narcissist, the less fearful a person is. The absolute narcissist is extroverted and charismatic. Their love of self is not a mask to hide deeper insecurities. It is an absolute belief that they can do no wrong, and that whoseover is their enemy can never be in the right. ”

“But surely such a figure would be so ridiculous that people would simply laugh at him. Like the emperor with no clothes.”

“The boy in that story pointed out that the emperor had no clothes, and people believed the boy. But if the emperor insisted he had clothes — or even said that he didn’t need clothes — many of his followers would still cling to their naked monarch. Because what the Dark Triad gives a leader is the ability to never waiver in a belief in their own righteousness, and that confidence — deeply unearned as it may be — is attractive to those who wish they had that confidence for themselves. People want to think of themselves as good, and so a figure who never falters in a claim of goodness is an inspiration and a stalwart against the complexities of this world.”

“But that’s not good at all! It’s like standing in a dark room and just claiming that it is lit, no matter how many times your knee hits the furniture!”

“But the wizard who has the Dark Triad, he calls out to these blind souls and tells them “I can see. You may be blind, but I can see.” And they believe him, because it is less scary to believe one person can see clearly than that no one can.”

“Even though if they all just admitted the room was dark, they might work together to find a light?”

“That’s uncertainty, my good professor. Uncertainty isn’t very appealing.”

“What a stupid thing for muggles to have developed.”

“Is it? Don’t be fooled into thinking it is only those of little intelligence who fall for this.  A strong Dark Triad leader creates an in-group and an out-group. He defines enemies, and in doing so gives people like him a unity and a goal. In evolutionary terms, he encourages genetic traits that are similar to his own and discourages genetic traits that are unlike his own. Evolution is not just about survival of the species. Every strand of DNA, in a sense, is working to perpetuate itself over competitors. There’s a struggle in genetic health between incorporating the strengths of diversity and the replication of self.”

“Albus, I had no idea you knew so much about muggle science.”

“Evolution is a form of magic all on it’s own, Professor McGonagall. A magic that is deep and powerful . . . and almost impossible to break.”

“But . . . Albus . . . are you certain? Does the Dark Triad really have so much power over muggles?”

“Not everyone believes in it. Perhaps it itself is just a story that muggles tell themselves, to pretend to understand and control their unknowable decisions. Perhaps it itself is just a myth that provides certainty in an uncertain world. But I believe knowing the might help people avoid being enchanted by them. To paraphrase the great Wizard Yeats, we can tell the best from the worst precisely because the best have doubts and the worst do not. After all, as Starfleet Captain Ben Gandalf used to say, only a Sith deals in absolutes.”

“I believe you are confusing canons, Albus.”

“Am I? Perhaps I am!,” Albus said with a smile and a twinkle in his eye. “But you see, my dear, all the best stories know how dubious they really are.”

Have a magical weekend!  Do not threaten He Who Must Not Be Named. 

Or anyone else!

For more on The Dark Triad:
Wikipedia: Dark Triad
The Dark Triad: Why we love to empower Machiavellian Psychopathic Narcissists
Confused About Successful Jerks? Get to Know the Dark Triad
Does a ‘dark triad’ of personality traits make you more successful? (this article says no)