Weeding out corporate psychopaths
(TheStar.com) -- by Mitchell Anderson --
Given the state of the global economy, it might not surprise you to learn that psychopaths may be controlling the world. Not violent criminals, but corporate psychopaths who nonetheless have a genetically inherited biochemical condition that prevents them from feeling normal human empathy.
Scientific research is revealing that 21st century financial institutions with a high rate of turnover and expanding global power have become highly attractive to psychopathic individuals to enrich themselves at the expense of others, and the companies they work for.
A peer-reviewed theoretical paper titled “The Corporate Psychopaths Theory of the Global Financial Crisis” details how highly placed psychopaths in the banking sector may have nearly brought down the world economy through their own inherent inability to care about the consequences of their actions.
The author of this paper, Clive Boddy, previously of Nottingham Trent University, believes this theory would go a long way to explain how senior managers acted in ways that were disastrous for the institutions they worked for, the investors they represented and the global economy at large.
If true, this also means the astronomically expensive public bailouts will not solve the problem since many of the morally impaired individuals who caused this mess likely remain in positions of power. Worse, they may be the same people advising governments on how to resolve this crisis.
To tackle this problem, we must instead examine this rare and curious condition, and why recent corporate history may have elevated precisely the wrong type of people to positions of great power and public trust.
Unfeeling, but not insane
Psychopathy should not be confused with insanity. It is best described by Robert Hare, global expert and psychologist, as “emotional deafness” — a biochemical inability to experience normal feelings of empathy for others.
This shark-like fixation on self-interest means that psychopaths often feel a clear detachment from other people, viewing them more as sheep to be preyed upon than fellow humans to relate to. For instance, psychopaths in prison often use group therapy sessions not as a healing process, but as an opportunity to learn how to simulate normal human emotions.
Studies on twins have revealed that psychopathy shows a strong genetic signature and there remains no effective treatment. Recent research has linked the condition to physical abnormalities in the amygdala region of the brain.
Only a small subset of psychopaths become the violent criminals so often fictionalized in film. Most simply seek to blend in and conceal their difference in order to more effectively manipulate others. This frightening condition has existed throughout human history, though likely in a marginal and socially parasitic way.
While psychopaths are often portrayed by Hollywood as brilliantly clever, a hypothetical race of Hannibal Lecters would likely perish since they lack the ability to trust each other. Put another way, the human race — a relatively weak, slow, hairless tropical primate — has succeeded so spectacularly in every ecosystem on the planet not because we are so bad, but because we are so good.
Most dangerous 1 per cent
The human ability to build social capital means that people can cooperate and trust each other. We can reliably predict the behaviour of others even if we have never met them. Social capital is the glue that holds together our communities, complex societies, large institutions and the economy. The one and only superpower possessed by psychopaths is their ruthless ability to spend the social capital created by others.
Scientists believe about 1 per cent of the general population is psychopathic, meaning there are more than three million moral monsters among normal United States citizens. There is emerging evidence that this frequency increases within the upper management of modern corporations. This is not surprising since personal ruthlessness and fixation on personal power have become seen as strong assets to large publicly traded corporations (which some authors believe have also become psychopathic).
However, appearance and performance are two different things. While psychopaths are often outwardly charming and excellent self-promoters, they are also typically terrible managers, bullying co-workers and creating chaos to conceal their behaviour.
When employed in senior levels, their pathology also means they are biochemically incapable of something they are legally required to do: act in good faith on behalf of other people. The banking and corporate sector is built on the ancient principle of fiduciary duty — a legal obligation to act in the best interest of those whose money or property you are entrusted with. Asking a psychopath to do that is like recruiting a pyromaniac to be a firefighter.
The folly of mixing psychopathy and senior corporate management has been borne out by recent history. At the end of the last decade, numerous banking institutions representing hundreds of years of corporate financial stability ceased to exist within a few short months due to the reckless acts of a few individuals — none of whom has ever been charged with a crime.
And therein lies the rub. As ruthless as psychopaths are, their pathology dictates that they will ultimately act to the detriment of the organizations and investors they are paid so well to represent...MORE...LINK