A few months ago, we heard the unfortunate story of Elizabeth Taft. Taft, who was working for Subway this past July, was ordered to keep working after she became violently ill. When she passed out on the lawn in front of the restaurant, one of the employees at a nearby Pizza Hut called an ambulance. Taft was rushed to the hospital and then fired for missing a shift.
Taft was so ill that she vomited on her uniform. Despite this fact, she was told to keep working even though allowing ill employees to handle food is a pretty big health code violation. So rather than call one of the other part time employees – or maybe even work the front-line herself – Taft’s manager insisted on forcing a sick woman to make sandwiches.
If we’re going to be objective, we have to admit that we can’t possibly know what this manager was thinking, but to the casual observer, it certainly looks like the decision of a woman who was drunk with power. And there may be some science to support that hypothesis.
Forbes Magazine, arguably one of the most conservative publications in the western world, is quite ready to acknowledge the presence of psychopathic personality traits in a large number of corporate executives. This conclusion is based on research down by psychologists Paul Babiak, Robert Hare and Craig Neumann who studied a sample of 203 people from various management development programs. They found that “3% of those assessed in the management development program scored in the psychopath range.” By contrast, the incidence of psychopathy in the general population is roughly 1%.
Now, you might be thinking, “Three percent? That’s still not very high.” So let’s put it this way: you are three times more likely to find a psychopath by picking any corporate exec at random than you are by simply picking any regular person off the street.
What does this tell us?
The lesson is simple: global capitalism is a system in which psychopaths thrive. Forbes agrees with sentiment. The only difference is that I see it as a good reason to transition away from global capitalism, and they see it as a good reason to praise the average psychopath.
Can I just pause for a moment to examine the title of this article.
“Why (Some) Psychopaths Make Great CEOs.”
You have to love that “(some).” Maybe this is personal bias, but it almost feels to me like a grudging admission that even in business, too much psychopathy is dangerous. The “(some)” is almost an afterthought, as if the author would love to proclaim “Psychopaths make great CEOs!” but can’t quite justify doing so.
Moving on. Robert Hare, one of the researchers who conducted the study I mentioned above, created a forty point checklist that is by many law enforcement agencies. Anyone who scores a thirty or above would be considered a dangerous psychopath. How does Forbes respond to this? “So maybe there’s a sweet spot? A point on the spectrum somewhere short of full-blown psychopathy that’s most conducive to success in business?”
Jon Ronson, a British journalist who studied mental health and criminal profiling, responded to this question with “That’s possible. Obviously there are items on the checklist you don’t want to have if you’re a boss. You don’t want poor behavioral controls. It’d be better if you don’t have promiscuous behavior. It’d be better if you don’t have serious behavioral problems in childhood, because that will eventually come out. But you do want lack of empathy, lack of remorse, glibness, superficial charm, manipulativeness.”
You stay classy, Mr. Ronson.
Here’s the ultimate problem with this line of thinking: there was a time when even the most ruthless businessman felt the need to pay lip service to the traditional values of charity, humility and kindness, but now we’re willing to celebrate our bad behaviour in full view of the general public. The traits that Ronson claims will lead to success in business – lack of empathy, lack of remorse, glibness and manipulativeness – would be considered evil by most traditional religions. Lack of remorse or “failure to repent of one’s sins,” is considered to be a mortal sin in and of itself according to Catholic Theology. That means you go to Hell if you fail to repent.
Lack of empathy and manipulativeness can lead one to commit other mortal sins such as defrauding the public or failing to pay workers a living wage. Yes, that’s a mortal sin according to the Catholics. No, really it is.
The values of corporate cultural stand in direct opposition to the values of every faith and culture throughout the entirety of human history. I’m not going to tell you which you should choose – corporate culture or traditional values – but I will tell you that, from a logical standpoint, the two are irreconcilable.
Hey, looking for some great fiction? Check out Symbiosis, the book reviewers have called the illegitimate love child of Star Trek and Buffy.
Now available on Kindle
It’s had some great reviews!