Monday, June 19, 2017

The psychopath at work: some "psychopathic" career choices

Robert Hare's well-known book "Snakes In Suits" looked at the prevalence of psychopathy in corporate industry, and its connection to white collar crime. There is plenty of research to support the idea that psychopaths tend to gravitate towards particular fields of work, which we'll look at in more detail here.

The psychopath tends to (not surprisingly) gravitate towards careers where his personality traits could be considered advantages: jobs with elements of risk-taking, where it is an advantage to be thick-skinned and have an ability to hold fast under pressure, and make "cold-blooded" decisions; and where charm and charisma can bring rapid rewards, and machiavellian behaviour is tolerated (or even unofficially "encouraged"). Equally, they would gravitate towards career choices that would indulge their need for excitement and their habitual proneness to boredom and innate unreliability, where their machiavellian traits could be well used to hide their true nature.
In this sense, these kinds of careers would share a common thread of appealing to a psychopath's natural low level of anxiety, and high level of risk-taking; this is also matching with the narcissistic traits that psychopaths possess, as these types of jobs are ones that usually come along with a high level of authority and attention - either moral, financial or otherwise.
An excellent thread labelled the "Sixteen faces of a psychopath", and went some way to infer some of the kinds of careers that psychopaths might gravitate towards, based on the "type" of psychopath they are. As the title of this article may imply, these types of psychopaths may also be called "successful" or "sub-criminal" psychopaths. The obvious choice for some "successful" (and more disciplined) psychopaths might be the military, or other "high adrenaline" careers like the police or fire service. I've skipped these in the listings below simply because their appeal is self-evident. Instead, I've looked at other areas. In no particular order, we'll look at some of the "career choices" that may well appeal to a psychopath, and why (plus any supporting real-life evidence):


There is plenty of research evidence to suggest that psychopaths are attracted into the "temping" industry. In his book, "The Anatomy Of Violence", Adrian Raine discovered that potentially up to a quarter of those working in the temping industry may have signs of Anti-social Personality Disorder. The nature of the work - being temporary and insecure - would appeal to the transient nature of the psychopath's mentality. Being unable to hold down a "steady" job, becoming easily bored, the flexibility that this type of career allows would naturally draw on the psychopath's attributes. If temps are therefore seen as "unreliable" by industry insiders, this might be blamed on the insecure nature of the work acting as a disincentive to ordinary workers, rather than the fact that the nature of the work also by definition attracts the "wrong" type of people i.e. potential psychopaths. As a wag would say, you don't have to mad to work here, but it helps! As we'll see in other fields, employers are restricted to hiring from among the applicants who apply: in some sectors, if a substantial number of the applicants are "crazy", there's nothing that they can do about it, often until it's too late.
The growth of the "temping" industry is one of the significant changes that we have seen in the workplace over the last twenty-five years. These days also called the "Gig Economy", the rise of insecure work must inevitably attract some "undesirables" who thrive in this type of economy, but often at the expense of someone else. As said elsewhere, the changes in the economy over the last thirty years have also played a part in this worrying development.


Equally, there are careers where superficiality and a flexible (amoral) attitude is the key to success: these are careers such as advertising/ marketing and sales (more on the lowdown on this industry here). As sales experts would say, you're not selling a product; you're selling yourself. Unsurprisingly, psychopaths can also be found in large numbers in these types of fields, owing to the charismatic and machiavellian characteristics in a psychopath's personality. The sales industry is by its nature a ruthless one: only success sells. The "gift of the gab" is an essential part of this, as is a "sixth sense" for identifying and exploiting the weaknesses of the "victim" who you're selling to. Any type of con man fits into this mould, of course: the sales industry is simply a legitimate method of the charming psychopath "conning" his way to success.
It also goes without saying that the same malignant "mentality" is prevalent in the financial sector; reckless risk-taking, machiavellian conduct, and an insidious influence over government is also what has led to how the financial sector has overtaken the politics of the global economy, with the effects that were seen in 2008.
Like with the "temping" industry, the sales industry and its "psychology" has become ubiquitous in everyday life. As call centres are used more and more by large and multinational companies as a cheap way of doing business, the likelihood of running into a psychopath's sales patter increases. Buyer beware.


The term "professional" here is used broadly to apply to anyone in a position of trust and institutional authority (typically with an educated background), where that "authority" can be easily abused. The many examples that have been found in recent years include doctors, teachers and so on who have been implicated in routine sex abuse or exploitation of one kind or another. The example of Harold Shipman is another.
What this also tells us is how these types of psychopaths are able to use their charisma and natural aura of authority to hoodwink their colleagues and the wider population, sometimes permanently. In The UK, the wider issue with "the establishment" is how respected institutions have, until recently, been free of public scrutiny, allowing these "respected" institutions to get away with all kinds of low (and illegal) behaviour for decades, thanks to an unwritten "code of silence".
In this way, psychopaths with a perseverance towards education can thrive as "professionals" as they can also take advantage of the institutional fear of the damage that would be done from "scandals"; using their machiavellian skills, they can exploit the "weaknesses" (as they see it) in these institutions to their own advantage, and effectively "become God".
Of course, the highest form of "professional" is the politician; but the dangers (and the lessons in history) are there for all to see.


This is where the psychopath is able to become an autocratic, larger-than-life figure, usually in a creative field. This may include such sectors as the entertainment industry (TV, film, the media) or the arts (such as music, fashion, design and so on). In his book, "Office Politics", the psychologist, Oliver James, made a point of stressing how much "psychopathic behaviour" he saw first-hand in the TV and film industry. Certainly, from a psychological point of view, the attraction of this type of career to the psychopath is clear: to indulge their whims and then blame their explosive and erratic behaviour on their "artistic temperament", would be easy for them. Misogyny is also a widespread "given" in these types of industries (see the "sexual psychopath").
More infamously, in the UK there is the example of Jimmy Savile, who was at the forefront of Britain's entertainment industry for nearly thirty years, and a serial sex abuser. Similarly, there is the example of rock singer, Ian Watkins.
It should lastly be said that of course there will always be an element of "overlap" regarding the "showman psychopath" in other sectors too (see below) - and it should not be forgotten that some of the world's most infamous dictators were also extraordinary "showmen" in their own way, a characteristic often seen in politics in general, and some other "professional" career paths.


This is an unusually-specific example, but for specific reasons. The worldwide education industry is, alas, set up in a way that allows a potential psychopath to effectively "disappear" into it without trace. Links between institutions and countries are weak (it is very easy, for example, to hide a person's criminal record in such circumstances); meanwhile the ease for people to move around at whim is, in the modern age, great.
In some ways, this particular line of work already fits into a few of the categories mentioned above: like "the temp", it is easy for them to move around if they become bored (or get into trouble) - indeed, many do this simply as a method of travel, like a pilot; like "the professional", their respected status as a teacher allows them an elevated level of respect (and thus potential "leeway" for getting out of trouble); and like "the showman", some go into this field do so for vainglorious reasons, seeing the classroom as a small-screen "stage" for their own "performance" - indeed, there is a large incidence of failed actors becoming teachers abroad (!).
In this way, the lifestyle, authority and freedom offered by this kind of career may well be emblematic of the fluid nature of work in the 21st century; it appeals to what some have called "Anywhere People", who are fully at ease in the modern global world, willing and able to move from country to country for work. More generally speaking, the high-flying careers of "jet-setters" (i.e. expats who are able to earn their trade in far-flung places like Dubai, Hong Kong, Singapore, and so on) also offer the same kind of "excitement" that would attract the psychopath. Sadly, there is real-life evidence of this indeed being the case.
There have been cases reported in the media about tales of abuse at private high schools abroad, and even at highly-respected institutions. This may well also be a case of where certain types of people are drawn to live and work in certain parts of the world. As Cambodia and South-East Asia became infamous after the arrest of Paul Gadd (AKA "Gary Glitter"), one wonders at why there are so many middle-aged male expats living in Thailand. It certainly isn't for the money.
In another respect, though, there are some careers in some parts of the world which could only attract the "mad" or the desperate: the education sector for expats in the Middle East is extremely lucrative, but also not for everyone - and that's before talking about the security issues. As said earlier with temping:
"you don't have to mad to work here, but it helps! Employers are restricted to hiring from among the applicants who apply: if a substantial number of the applicants are "crazy", there's nothing that they can do about it, often until it's too late"
Talk to any insider of these industries (and this author can be counted as one of them), and you'll quickly find plenty of anecdotes of some the "characters" they've met; tales that will entertain an audience, but may also have them wondering if this career choice isn't also possibly one of the "last redoubts of the scoundrel".

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