Before you read this, have you read this Disclaimer?
During my morning reading rounds, I came across this blog post. In particular, I found this interesting:
It’s also about the compelling theory that you are four times more likely to have a psychopath running your business than you are to have one as your underling. This is because items on the psychopath checklist include Grandiose Sense of Self Worth, Lack of Empathy, and so on — characteristics rewarded in our society, unfortunately.
The checklist to which the author refers is the Hare Psychopathy Checklist, and the “etc.” in the quote includes the following personality traits in addition to the two he’s listed:
- Glibness/superficial charm;
- Pathological lying;
- Lack of remorse or guilt;
- Shallow affect (genuine emotion is short-lived and egocentric);
- Failure to accept responsibility for his or her own actions.
Are these, in fact, characteristics we reward? I mean, psychopaths are bad, right?
Are the characteristics of the Hare Test actually the ones we value most?
I mean, typically, when I think “psychopath,” I think Ted Bundy. But were it not for the fact that he became a violent serial killer, might he not have been exactly the type of man we admire, venerate, & reward in our society? Think about that for a moment.
Then consider the thesis of Oxford research psychologist Kevin Dutton’s book The Wisdom of Psychopaths: What Saints, Spies and Serial Killers Can Teach Us About Success: not all psychopaths are violent; and if one has all the characteristics of a psychopath without being violent, he’s “more likely to make a killing in the market rather than anywhere else.”
Making money: certainly something we as a society value. Thus, it stands to reason that we also value the characteristics that allow someone to “make a killing.” If those characteristics, as Dutton posits, “include things like ruthlessness, fearlessness, mental toughness, charm, persuasiveness and a lack of conscience and empathy,” then those are the ones we most value.
It calls to mind for me the CEO of Wal-Mart, who raked in $23.15 million last year–while over half his employees struggle with incomes that potentially keep them below the poverty line. And yet we demonize the unions that might help those workers earn more livable wages while celebrating the lack of empathy displayed by a man with the power to make it happen. We say, “But he earned it.” We envy him his power, his riches–even while he artfully dodges responsibility for a bribery scandal that should appall us. We admire his “work ethic,” which one might argue is anything but ethical but undoubtedly ruthless and fearless.
I mentioned in a post last week (“Our Culture of Violence”) that “we have a problem because we live in a society in which violence has been not just normalized but glamorized. We’ve legitimized violence, made it acceptable…even desirable” and that “it [our culture of violence] reflects our behaviors, our beliefs and values, our priorities, our definition of ourselves.”
What else do we glamorize, make desirable? We live in a society in which athletes and movie stars who commit acts we claim to despise continue to earn our respect and our money. These men and women certainly share some of the characteristics of the psychopath, do they not? Michael Vick, anyone? Chris Brown? What about the slew of celebrities who’ve been arrested, released, and completely forgiven for transgressions ranging from shoplifting to driving under the influence, to domestic violence? We still watch their movies, buy their music, tune in weekly to their shows, go to their games, cheer them from the sidelines. Their popularity grows; we set the stage, we supply the audience. Their paychecks grow; we supply the revenue. We normalize and even glamorize their behavior–behavior that includes a grandiose sense of self worth, superficial charm, pathological lying, manipulation, lack of remorse, and failure to accept responsibility. We wish we could be like them.
Are these really the characteristics we value? It sure looks like it when we examine our culture.