Saturday, July 28, 2012

Why Psychopaths are running the world

There have been many articles written, especially over the past few years, about the link between capitalism and psychopathy.
I wrote something similar myself last year here
As a reminder, the twenty common recognised characteristics of psychopaths are:

  • Glibness/superficial charm
  • Grandiose sense of self-worth
  • Pathological lying
  • Cunning/manipulative
  • Lack of remorse or guilt
  • Emotionally shallow
  • Callous/lack of empathy
  • Failure to accept responsibility for own actions
  • Need for stimulation/proneness to boredom
  • Parasitic lifestyle
  • Lack of realistic, long-term goals
  • Impulsiveness
  • Irresponsibility
  • Poor behavioral controls
  • Early behavioral problems
  • Juvenile delinquency
  • Revocation of conditional release
  • Criminal versatility.

The list above is taken from the generally-recognised "psychopath check-list". In order to be classified as a "psychopath", a person should fit with the large majority of these characteristics, either partially or fully.

Psychopaths, medically speaking, are a human aberration, which are usually born with the "moral" part of the brain not functioning. In other words, they are physically incapable of feeling empathy (i.e. pity or remorse), and have difficulty understanding real human emotion. They are therefore extremely dangerous in wider society, responsible for the majority of violent crime, fraud - and also are disproportionately represented in the higher echelons of business and politics.

So when characteristics such as amorality are combined with other psychopathic traits, such as cunning, arrogance, a grandiose sense of self-worth, and irresponsibility, in the world of business and politics, they are seen not as human weaknesses, but strengths. "Amorality" is seen as being hard-headed, "cunning" is seen as being practical, "arrogance" is seen as self-confidence, "a grandiose sense of self-worth" is seen as ambition, "irresponsibility" is seen as being a risk-taker. You get the idea.

So psychopaths are therefore more likely to prosper and quickly advance in a corporation than the average human being, as they posses characteristics that business see as "skills". An intelligent psychopath will more easily be able to climb the corporate ladder; an intelligent psychopath will be able to remain "undetected" for longer, even for life, if they can find a profession where their characteristics blend in seamlessly with their social peers. A psychopath has no remorse or sorrow for what they do; it is their nature to be remorseless and merciless. These feelings are beyond their comprehension. There are also the less intelligent psychopaths: these are the ones you're more likely to hear about, because they were caught. These are the serial killers, thieves and fraudsters who were not smart enough to know how to evade detection or know how to get what they wanted without violence. What slightly annoys me about Bret Easton-Ellis' novel "American Psycho" is that his portrayal of Patrick Bateman as a psychopath lacks the full spectrum of psychopathic characteristics - you see his violent urges, but little of his charm, manipulation and cunning.The psychopath serial killers are usually the ones that haven't found a way to repress their violent urges through other methods; a high-powered businessman as a serial killer is therefore an unlikely event.  
The way they usually manage to escape detection for so long is because they learn to be good actors, learning how to imitate human emotions, copying a look, or a mimic, in order to blend in. Naturally charming, persuasive and gregarious, even flirtatious, psychopaths can easily manipulate others to get what they want. Which is why, apart from business, psychopaths are also attracted to public office.
One other thing worth mentioning about psychopaths is that their irresponsibility is often displayed through a flagrant sex life - leaving a string of women with fatherless children, for example. In other words, the desire to callously "spread their seed", means their psychopathic behaviour is more likely to trickle down to the "next generation", through a combination of passing on their psychopathic genetic traits, as well as the environmental factor of children being born into an unstable family unit. One psychopath can breed many more psychopaths because of their amoral sexual behaviour. This tells us that if this is repeated over a long enough time frame, psychopaths can become even more prevalent in human society, creating even more chaos, proliferating over the generations like an unstoppable virus. This makes stories about the many sexual indiscretions of politicians and high-powered business leaders even less surprising.

Look again at the psychopath check-list, and think about the number of politicians fit the description. It's especially revealing to look at the childhoods of politician and leaders. I recently looked at Stalin here as a case study for what happens when a psychopath takes control of the world's largest country.The answer was chaos. Stalin ruled the country through a thousand shades of terror, to the point that no-one knew who to trust or what to think. He manipulated the US President in order to control half of Europe, tried to starve West Berlin to break post-war Germany, and instigated and maintained the Korean War until his death. As we saw from Stalin's childhood, his violent upbringing, living an amoral life in the rough streets of Tsarist Georgia, fits with the common characteristics of psychopathy. And everything else about his life fits the bill exactly. 
There are other public figures, more recently, who also seem to have a worryingly-high correlation with the characteristics on the psychopathy check-list. I do seriously wonder about the metal state of Michael Gove, the current UK Education minister: he seems to lack any empathy at all, and seems intent on creating chaos in the education system, and so on.

But the wider point is this: because corporations and public office are naturally attractive to psychopaths as the skills necessary closely correlate to their own characteristics, is it any surprise that the world is in such a mess? 

The Financial Crisis of 2008 was caused through the irresponsibility and amorality of the financial sector, who encouraged staffers who would take the biggest risks on investments they tricked others into taking. Then when this house of cards came tumbling down, the financial sector blackmailed the politicians into what is effectively a huge protection racket. The politicians then manipulated the wider public into accepting paying for that racket out of their own pocket, while the politicians also set about dismantling the public sector beyond recognition, leaving little left for the public to recognise. Countries like Greece and Spain are bearing the brunt of a vast social experiment organised by the IMF and ECB in Frankfurt; closer to home, the UK government is attempting something similar.
And while all this is going on, those who are at the top 1 per cent are continuing their game of avoiding tax, routinely committing crimes that rob the nations of the world from revenue that would be more than enough to pay off the world's debts. This 1 per cent are responsible for perpetuating a system of "controlled anarchy": a system designed to favour those at the top of the hierarchy to do as they wish, while forcing us "mere mortals" to live off less and less while fighting each other in an increasingly unstable and deteriorating working environment, yet told to follow the rules religiously or face the full force of the law. This is the law (and chronic instability) that the 1 per cent designed.
Technology developed through this Neo-liberal Capitalist system serves two functions: making it easier for the private sector-government symbiosis to monitor peoples' actions; while other aspects of technology act as a sop, deluding workers into thinking that their lives are superficially getting better. "Facebook" conveniently combines these two ideas together.

It is estimated that, depending on where you draw the line, psychopaths make up between 1 and 5 per cent of the general population. It should give those who chant "we are the 99 per cent" some food for thought. Which "99 per cent"? And which "1 per cent"? The ultra-rich, or the ultra-psychopaths? To what extent is there an overlap between the richest 1 per cent and the psychopathic 1 per cent?

When you look at the behaviour of those who are in positions of power, be it in business, finance or politics, you sometimes seriously do have to wonder about the mental state of some of them. When psychopaths are put in positions of power, the result is anarchy

Isn't that what the world is facing now?

1 comment:

  1. Thought provoking but very scary. As for "The meek shall inherit the Earth"?...I don't think so!!