The Dark Triad Shell Game
Evolution and theology help explain what's really going on with absolute jerks.
Posted January 28, 2021
Though theologians will say that man was created in God’s image, philosophers and psychologists have long suspected that God is created in man’s image. I’ll go a step further in two directions, both back in natural history and forward to a dark triad personality (DTP): God is what any organism would want to be, and He’s created in a DTP’s image.
God is an idealization of the three traits all organisms must have in order to struggle for their own existence. All organisms make functional responsive effort. Functional means useful, beneficial, good as opposed to bad. Responsive means behaving with respect to one’s circumstances, being adapted to one’s situation. Effort is work on one’s own behalf.
Now consider God’s three big traits: He’s imagined as omnificent—eternally and absolutely good or virtuous, never bad or evil.
He’s imagined as omniscient—all-knowing, eternally, and absolutely responsive or fitted to His circumstances. God always knows exactly what’s going on.
And he’s imagined as omnipotent—all-powerful, capable of any possible effort.
As such, God is exactly what you’d expect humans to dream of being—the dream of absolute eternal satisfaction of our fundamental living requirements. And he’s exactly what people playing God would pretend to be—posing as omnificent, omniscient, and omnipotent.
Now, theologians struggle with the potential paradoxes of their idealized God. For example, can God create a mountain so big he can’t move it? Can he create a puzzle so hard he can’t solve it?
God is also imagined to have a fourth trait. He’s omnipresent, which can mean existing eternally everywhere, but it can also mean that he’s of one mind. He has perfect integrity, no inconsistencies at all. He can’t trick himself because he’s always of one mind, never of two. The left hand of God always knows what the right hand is doing and vice versa. God never speaks out both sides of his mouth.
A big conundrum about God was articulated by St. Augustine. If He’s omnificent (all righteous), omnipotent (all mighty) and omniscient (all right or all-knowing), what’s the deal with evil? Augustine reasoned that for evil to exist, God could have any two of those three traits, but not all three.
For example, God could be righteous and right, but not mighty. That is, He doesn't want evil and knows how to prevent it but doesn't have the power to do so. Or He could be righteous and mighty but not right. That is, He wants to prevent evil and has the power to do so but doesn't know how. Or He could be right and mighty, but not righteous. That is, He knows how to stop evil and could but doesn't want to.
But what if He only gives the impression of being omniscient, omnificent, and omnipotent by means of a shell game? He presents each quality but never all at once. I mention this because DTPs playing God do just that. They maintain the false impression of being eternally righteous, right, and mighty by means of a shell game.
Narcissism corresponds to omnificence, regarding oneself as eternally moral or good like a saint. Machiavellianism corresponds to omniscience, being as cunning and clever as one wants, always knowing how to read people and circumstances like an evil genius. Psychopathy corresponds to omnipotence, power unconstrained by conscience.
Now imagine a shell game in which these three traits are revealed one at a time, each trait implying the others. Call it the aholy trinity whereby a DTP runs a shell game with those three dark triad traits. We can distill the aholy trinity to this:
Since I'm a saint, I should win.
Since I should win, I should sin.
I'm a saint since I win.
Let's look at one example of this circular reasoning, though there are other ways to make them circular since it’s a shell game.
First, since I’m a saint, I deserve to win. Because I'm the most virtuous being, it's my moral duty to overpower everyone heartlessly. That's narcissism justifying psychopathy or omnificence justifying omnipotence. We’re fine with God being all-powerful because he’s all good. A DTP plays God that way, for example, Hitler’s narcissism justifying his psychopathy. He should dominate everyone since he’s the sole force for good in this world.
Second, since I should win, I should sin. Since it’s my duty to overpower everyone, I deserve to be as shrewd, cunning, and manipulative as possible. That’s psychopathy justifying Machiavellianism, or omnipotence justifying omniscience.
For example, we’re fine with God knowing everything that everyone is thinking. It’s the only way he can hold sway over everything. Playing God, a DTP feels justified in spying on and outwitting all enemies. The all-good should be all-powerful and the all-powerful shouldn’t have to respect people’s privacy.
Third, I’m a saint since I win. With my shrewd cunning and conning, I can claim victory in all competitions. That’s Machiavellianism justifying narcissism or omniscience justifying omnificence. Every time God prevails, we celebrate his virtue. Playing God, a DTP can claim that since it’s a just world (when they’re winning), their winning proves that they’re the most virtuous. Might proves right, so long as they’re winning and when they’re losing might proves martyr, which is another kind of winning.
Let's simplify this shell game to two shells. Collapse right and righteous into one quality, being the best decider, both correct and good, accurate and virtuous. Call that being right, and you can collapse the aholy trinity down to might proves right proves might proves right. Because I'm right, I deserve might. Having might proves I'm right.
Am I good? I won, right? Doesn't that prove I'm good? And because I'm good, I deserve to be ruthless.
If challenged on the shell-game hypocrisy, someone playing God can simply whip out that other Godly trait: Just declare oneself to have perfect integrity. "Impossible! I never contradict myself!"
A dark triad shell game personality can be congenital but it can also be motivated or willed. There are advantages to having one. When you can get away with it, playing God is more efficient and effective than being human. There are psychopaths but also “econopaths,” basically psychopaths because they’re paid to be a spin doctor. It can be very lucrative work.
It’s simple to adopt a dark triad shell game personality. Just declare holy war. Holy war is an oxymoron because it’s a shell game: Because you’re holy you should declare war on everyone who disagrees with you; because you’re at war you can’t afford to doubt yourself, so everything you do is saintly. No deed too dirty for a saint like you.