Putin, Ukraine, Toxic Males, and The Emperor Card

Toxic-Male psychopathology in the invasion of Ukraine.

We’re at about the three week mark in the Russian invasion of Ukraine.  Anyone who’s a decent person has been shocked, appalled, and nauseated by what we’ve seen.  A quiet, peaceful country primarily known for its wheat and decorated Easter eggs is being bombed into dust.

For no apparent reason.

The horror of what we’re seeing on the news everyday is hard to grasp, but equally hard to grasp in the, “why,” of it.  Why would Russia suddenly launch a brutal military campaign – the likes of which we haven’t seen since the Nazis – against a neighbor who was absolutely no threat to its security?

I saw a talking head on one of the news shows tonight who asked, “Just how much of a psychopath is Vladimir Putin?”  It’s a revealing question because it points to the fact that we already knew Putin was a psychopath, we just didn’t know (and still don’t) how truly crazy he may be.

That truth points to another truth, which is that we’ve developed a remarkably high tolerance for psychopathology.  We put up with it.  We accept it.  It isn’t as if Putin hasn’t been doing dreadful things for decades.  He almost single handedly destroyed whatever small hope the Russian people had for freedom and democracy.  His political opponents end up poisoned, dead, or in prison.  He employed chemical warfare in Syria.

He’s a bad guy.  A crook.  A thug.  A criminal.  And he has been all of those things all of the time that he’s been in power.  Still, the world leaders kept inviting him to the dinner table.  Kept trading with Russia, inviting their teams to the Olympics, welcoming their tourists and investors, just as if Putin was somehow a normal, civilized leader.  It wasn’t until he decided to obliterate a modern society for no particular reason that we began to treat him like the psychopath that he is.

Just to define our terms before we go any further, what exactly do we mean when we say that someone is a psychopath?  According to Wikipedia, psychopathology is:

“characterized by persistent antisocial behavior, impaired empathy and remorse, and bold, disinhibited and egotistical traits.”

Put another way, a psychopath is a cold blooded, egotistical prick who causes a lot of suffering and really doesn’t give a shit about how many people he hurts.

I have argued previously in this blog that psychopathology is an inherent part of the Toxic-Male paradigm which our society too often embraces.  We see some of that exemplified in the Tarot card, The Emperor.  We can tell from his throne, scepter and title that he’s a powerful leader, a king of kings.  When we look a little more closely at the card, though, we see that he’s completely alone, armored, rigid, and surrounded by a blighted, sterile landscape.  His power is so toxic that not a tree or a flower can grow in his poisonous energy field. Still,  we focus on the power and not the devastation.  

Power that destroys everything around it for the sake of power is psychopathic.

Many of us actually admire and reward psychopathic behavior.  Consider this article from Forbes magazine in which they estimate that up to 12% of corporate CEOs may be psychopaths.  They are in those positions precisely because they are ruthless, have a total lack of empathy and will place corporate profit above the human suffering of their employees every time.

Remember when the CEO of the mortgage company Better.com fired over 900 employees at a goddamned Zoom meeting just before Christmas?  People across the country were shocked at the totally heartless, callous way that he’d behaved, but he wasn’t fired.  He took a month-long hiatus (translate:  he took Christmas vacation) and was back at work within a month.  He issued a tepid apology which was much more of an, “I’m sorry I got caught,” than it was an, “I’m sorry.”  He kept his job because the board of directors at Better.com wanted someone with psychopathic traits running their company.

We may shake our heads at the horrible behavior of Vladimir Putin but while we’re doing that we should take a very careful look at the behavior of Donald Trump. Persistent antisocial behavior?  Check.  Impaired empathy?  Check.  Total lack of remorse?  Check.  Bold, disinhibited and egotistical traits?  Check.  Can we really doubt that the primary difference between Putin and Trump is one of power?  Can we really doubt that Trump would have happily shut down a free press and had his opponents imprisoned if he could have gotten away with it?  Trump is a classic CEO psychopath.

And just about half of the population of the United States voted for him.  If you need any evidence that we have an increasing tolerance for psychopathic behavior, there it is.

When we look at written history, legends, and myths, it’s a safe bet that psychopaths have always been scattered throughout the human race.  Wherever we find suffering, cruelty, torture, war and rape, there we find psychopaths.  Is it fair, though, to tag this trait as a part of Toxic-Males?  After all, there are female psychopaths, too.

The answer to that question is a resounding, “yes.”  Psychopathology is toxic and it is very much a male behavior.  The ratio of male to female psychopaths may be as high as 20:1.  Virtually all serial killers have been males.  Mass shootings are overwhelmingly committed by males.  The prison population of violent offenders is heavily weighted toward males.

We can see the same evidence in human history.  Leonard Shlain, author of “The Alphabet Versus the Goddess: The Conflict Between Word and Image,” hypothesizes that most of the earliest human cultures were matriarchal, goddess based and peaceful.  It wasn’t until the emergence of patriarchal society that we began to see psychopath kings and leaders.  There is no historical record of females leading hordes of barbarians to murder, rape, and pillage.  Virtually all of the monsters in human form – Ghengis Khan, Hitler, Napolean, Pol Pot, to name just a few – have been males.

It might be tempting for us to simply shrug our shoulders and say, “Oh, well . . . they’ve always been a part of the human race.  What can we do about that?”  Unfortunately – or perhaps fortunately – the human race is at a crossroads and, as Eckhart Tolle has pointed out, we are in imminent danger of extinction if we don’t begin to evolve out of our current ways of thinking.  We now have weapons capable of destroying life on earth.  Millions – not thousands – of people were killed in wars and other armed conflicts during the 20th century and it’s not looking a hell of a lot better in this century.

To put it mildly, “Houston, we have a problem.”  A major component in that problem is Toxic-Male psychopathology.  By far and away, the majority of human beings – male and female – are NOT out there killing people and spreading terror.  It’s this tiny, tiny minority that’s threatening our very existence.  

So we must be rid of them.  One way or another, we MUST be rid of them.  We start that process with our own minds.  We start that process by recognizing that they are sick, depraved, deeply flawed human beings.  We stop, “admiring,” their so-called toughness and ruthlessness and realize that it’s really nothing more than a thin veneer over a sadistic personality.  We stop describing them as, “geniuses,” when they put their brutality on full display.  We stop voting for them when they run for office.  We stop promoting them to positions of leadership in businesses.  We stop acting as if it’s somehow okay or inevitable that mass shootings continue in our society or that our leaders are braggadocious bullies.

Above all else, we need to start holding up and supporting the model of emotionally healthy, nurturing, caring males.  Most men are not like these psychopaths – we know that.  Most men love their partners and their families and just want to live their lives in peace and harmony.  At the same time, though, as males we are constantly confronted with the stereotypes of what, “real,” men are like.  And those stereotypes look an awful lot like the psychopaths:  ruthless, emotionless, physically dominant, violent, and lacking in empathy.  That ideation of the, “alpha male,” is buried WAY deep down inside the collective psyches of both males and females.  We have to start digging it out, holding it up to the light of day, and rejecting it.

It really is a matter of our survival.

The Emperor in the Tarot



There is a tendency among Tarot readers to associate the Emperor with the Empress.  If the Empress is the ultimate Feminine Energy then the the Emperor must be the ultimate Masculine Energy.  It makes sense, both because of the names of the cards and their proximity to each other in the deck. They seem to be two sides of the same coin, yin and yang.

It’s just not so, however.  The Empress is wild, unbridled, sensual, ready for a good roll in the hay at a moments notice.  The Emperor, on the other hand, looks like he’s had a bad case of constipation for twenty years and would probably need a double dose of viagra to even think about a roll in the hay.  And let’s face it: who wants to go to bed with someone who’s dressed in armor?

Another very common misconception is that he’s associated with the astrological sign Aries the Ram.  It makes sense on the face of it because there are ram’s heads all over the card. That’s about the only way it make sense.  Aries is associated with the number one, not the Emperor’s number four. Additionally, Aries is the child of the zodiac, fresh, impulsive, trusting, headstrong.  The Emperor is obviously a very old man and there’s nothing ram like about his demeanor or his posture. The rams, like the barren mountains in the background, are meant to suggest that the Emperor dwells in isolation high above the common folk of the world.

So, yes, the Emperor represents male energy but only a very narrow spectrum of it.  If this archetype is blowing through your life you may be about to encounter someone who is rock solid, a very strong individual who is fully capable of taking charge and does so.  He probably won’t be a barrel of laughs – if fact, he may not have any sense of humor at all – but he will be experienced and totally dependable.

If the card represents the questioner it may show that he or she is in a position to take charge and reach their goals.  They are well suited to the task at hand and there is an emphasis upon using the intellect rather than emotions. There is a warning to not come across as too authoritarian.  “My way or the highway,” is an approach that will cause some people to head for the highway.

Reversed:  This warns that someone you are relying may not be all they’re cracked up to be, that they may be pretending to be more capable than they are and that you are in for a disappointment.  If the card represents the questioner it suggests that there is a lack of focus and concentration.

A Few Extra Thoughts:

When you pull The Emperor in a reading it may be a good time to think about positions of power in general and male power in particular.

We live in a society where the dominant model for power is that it flows from the top down.  Whether you’re talking about the president in our political structure or CEOs in the corporate world there is one person – usually male – who wields the overwhelming majority of power.  He makes the decisions, he gives the orders, he expects those orders to be followed. If they aren’t he crushes anyone who was, “insubordinate.”

Basically that’s a pretty medieval structure.  It’s no mistake that we still use the phrase, “they seized power,” when we’re talking about one political party or the other winning an election.  It goes back to the era when power literally WAS seized at the point of a sword by one tyrant or the other who then got to live in luxury while the rest of the people worked to support his lifestyle.  As Mel Brookes said, “It’s good to be the king.”

Unfortunately, it’s not a very good model for the rest of us.  If you’re a boss or a supervisor and you pull this card try to imagine some different ways of using power rather than just being a my way or the highway person.  How can you share the power? How can you get your employees more involved in the decision making? How can you make your workplace more of a democracy and less of a kingdom?

And any male who gets The Emperor in a reading should take a little time to think about, “male power.”  What does it mean to you to be a powerful male? Is it located in your body? Do you think of it as being able to dominate other people physically and, “kick some ass?”  Is it in your intellect and you seek to dominate other people on that level?

Does it have to involve dominance at all?  

Can you be strong in your ability to nurture, to comfort, to care and show up day after day after day to do the things that need to be done?  I’ve known some men who did home caregiving for sick wives or children who were far, far stronger than the bullies in the workplace thumping their chests.

What does it mean to be, “a powerful male?”  The jury is still out on that one.