Date Added: 2005-05-30
Date Modified: 2010-07-17
Bryan Zepp Jamieson
A Genuine Lyin' Socialist Weasel
Bryan Zepp Jamieson
Sociopathy for fun and profit
Why Josef Stalin didn't end up just running a day-care center
13 June 2010
It's a local truism that all woodpiles have some blood in them. I got a reminder of that yesterday when I was wrangling a thirty-inch round – probably about 120 pounds of wood – to the splitter, and it slipped and grunged against my leg, giving me a couple of inches of road rash. It was a minor injury, and I kept on working, my woodpile now baptised.But working in the woods is even more dangerous, and the death rate among wood fallers is significantly higher than it is among off-shore fishermen, police, and taxi-cab drivers, all occupations noted for their high hazard rates.
If you want fire wood, there's a blood price. If you're lucky, it's a minor road rash.
Thanks in huge measure to the health and safety laws passed in the first half of the twentieth century, people tend not to think in terms of blood-price for the goods and services they consume, if they ever did at all. Assembly line workers go home after eight hours, instead of working near rapidly moving, unshielded heavy equipment for 16 hours. As a result, far fewer are killed or injured on the job.
Health and safety measures did improve, and after World War II, America began the great liberal rise in the standard of living for workers. The notion of a “blood-cost” to labor went out of style. Certainly, people still get hurt on the job, but less often, and were better paid for it. Relatively few people work long hours for subsistence pay at immediate risk of an injury that could end their productivity and leave them utterly destitute.
But with the increased wealth came a new, and entirely different type of blood price.
Not among the workers. At least, not at any noticeably elevated rate. Sociopathy among the entities that employed them.
There's a brilliant 2003 Canadian documentary, “The Corporation” (available for free download at http://www.archive.org/details/The_Corporation), directed by Mark Achbar and Bart Simpson (no, not that one) which, among other things, takes the same diagnostic approach to corporate behavior that a psychotherapist would take to a troubled patient. They applied the seven benchmarks of sociopathic behavior to corporations as if they were individuals, and noted that most corporations meet the criteria for all seven, based, not upon flawed people in the corporation, but from the mandates of the corporate charter itself. The charter mandates profit above all, and as a result corporations have to be glib, charming, amoral, and avoid any responsibility or costs associated with their actions, and externalize any and all operating costs, cheating where possible.
In short, corporations are sociopathic by design.
Therefore, it is reasonable to conclude that the sociopathic culture of corporations attract individual sociopaths, and in fact that very phenomenon is in the literature today. Nearly anyone who has worked for a major company has first-hand experience with the predatory co-worker, who is charming, manipulative, and very destructive. Stories abound of department heads who are tyrannical, petty, paranoid, grandiose, dishonest, manipulative, and amoral. These workplace nightmares aren't limited to major corporations, of course, but those type of companies create a milieu in which they can flourish. There, they are common enough that they have a prominent role in our social gestalt, instantly recognizable in TV shows, comic strips, and in jokes.
However, there is one part of the corporate ladder that not only attracts sociopaths, but is one where sociopathy is actually widely regarded as a job requirement: the chief executive officer. As the personification of his company's charter, he is expected to make decisions that maximize the corporation's welfare regardless of the cost to individuals and others, to present a charming face to the world, and to work to avoid all costs and consequences, externalizing as many costs as possible, and to use any and all means to achieve these ends.
For a job like that, who better suited than a sociopath, and since the only thing that can earn what passes in a sociopath as loyalty is very blatant stimulation of his sense of grandiosity and self-interest, these CEOs get incomes unimaginable to the rest of the world.Not all CEOs are sociopaths, and some are higher-functioning sociopaths with a greater degree of sociability than others. Just as sociopaths range from individuals who can't be trusted with checkbooks or to pay their bills up to Hannibal Lecter, sociopathic CEOs cover a fairly wide gamut.
You might think from this that in the perfect corporate world, Hannibal Lector would be the CEO of a major corporation, but there is a self-limiting function. Sociopaths, by their nature, tend to be extremely destructive. Quite often the destructiveness of a CEO will end up exceeding his value to the corporation, and the corporation will, without remorse, move to protect its own best interests. Sociopathy does trump sociopathy. Given the potential for damage that sociopathy has,
this is probably the main reason the world is still around.
So sociopathy is a common element amongst CEOs. “National Lampoon” used to have a feature, “Lifestyles of the Rich and Famous” that did a good job of showing that many of our leaders – in politics and entertainments as well as business – were obsessive, self-involved, manipulative, mean and often as not, complete whack jobs. We give CEOs tens of millions of dollars for the same type of behavior we punish our children for.
We had a recent example of one man who, through a policy of reckless behavior, greed, and a belief of infallability, caused an event to occur that has destroyed thousands of livelihoods and ruined an entire ocean. When called to account for this, his response, after numerous attempts to lie his way out of it, was to moan that all he wanted “was to have my life back.” It's possible, of course, that this is a man who is just horrifically inept at expressing himself properly and tone-deaf to the
signals he sends out, but the personal behavior has all the earmarks of personal antisocial personality disorder. Did I mention that he was glib and charming? Sociopathy trumps sociopathy; he has been removed from the public eye, and I suspect his power within the company has been greatly diminished. The company may not mind a sociopath as its public face, but it doesn't want an -obvious- sociopath representing it.
America has the notion that society should be run as a business, so it's not surprising that a lot of people think CEOs and/or sociopaths make ideal leaders.
History, of course, is littered with sociopathic leaders. Stalin, Mao and Hitler were just among the most destructive; many others were far worse, their capacity for devastation limited only by the limits of their power. Someone like Mgubwe could, given the opportunity, cheerfully murder billions.
If many CEOs are sociopaths, and sociopaths are attracted to political power, then it would stand to reason that having CEOs run for high office might not be such a good idea, and in fact, it isn't.
George W. Bush was a CEO who became a national leader. He was ineffectual as a CEO, and inept as a sociopath, and he made a moderately destructive national leader.
Here in California, a state on the verge of chaos, it is a breeding ground for ambitious CEOs who wish to run for high office. They can all claim that their “business experience” will “turn the state around”, even when their business experience, as is the case with Carly Fiorini, turned Hewlett-Packard around in the opposite way and nearly destroyed the company.
People will snap it up, and not question why someone running for office would spend tens of millions of their own money for positions that only pay about $200,000 a year. Obviously they aren't in it for the money.
CEOs are cold, calculating, ambitious and usually have inflated self-images.
That's not a personality prototype whose only interest is to serve the public. They serve nobody but themselves. So they aren't running for the public good.
One of the most alarming trends, especially in California, is the number of self-financed campaigns that have occurred in recent years. It used to be considered unseemly, and was often illegal, to run for office in that way, and the public used to regard such efforts with deep suspicion.
But this is a different California, a California that last week irritably rejected public funding of campaigns (based on corporate money that argued that public money might go to candidates the voter might not like, unlike corporate money, which always goes to candidates the voter might not like) and effectively eliminated third parties by restricting candidacies in the general elections to only the two top vote getters in the primaries.
There's two CEOs running for high office in California: Meg Whitman for governor, and Carly Fiorina for Senate. Whitman spent $81 million out-of-pocket for a job that pays $206,000 a year. Meg Whitman spent over $20 million out-of-pocket.
It's entirely possible that neither of them are sociopaths.
But voters should be extremely wary of both.
Zepp was born in Ottawa, Ontario, and spent his formative years living in various parts of Canada from Halifax to Victoria, and then the UK, South Africa, and Australia before moving to the United States, where he has lived for 40 years. Aside from writing, his interests include hiking, raising dogs and cats, and making computers jump through hoops. His wife of 25 years edits his copy, and bravely attempts to make him sound coherent. Zepp lives on Mount Shasta.
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