Snakes in suits – Do psychopaths benefit from modern society?

Me Inside - Slipknot by Tamás Kabdebó / Flickr
Me Inside - Slipknot by Tamás Kabdebó / Flickr

If the economic downturn of  the last decade has taught us anything; it is that the world is ruled by  banks that control governments and dictate power. What has defined these banks almost to a rule, is a ruthless pursuit of profit without any thought or consequence for society as a whole.

Money and Bank by http://401kcalculator.org / Flickr
Money and Bank by http://401kcalculator.org / Flickr

The physiological condition of psychopathy can be diagnosed by some well established criteria.  Some of which include superficial charm, manipulative behaviour, a willingness to take risks and a lack of empathy and remorse. While some people’s perception of a psychopath is that of some type of murdering psychotic maniac, that is not always the case.

To be able to function in a structured, order based environment as a psychopath is quite common . Children who display psychopathic traits such as fearlessness, impulsiveness , hostility and aggression can often be socialised by a combination of  parents, peer group, neighbourhood and mentors which can stop them entering a life of crime. They learn the rules of society without necessarily having any emotional attachment to them.

Psychopaths who live within the law must find a way to exist that facilitates their nature. To secure a job where you are encouraged to  strive for profit or power at all costs without any conscience or consequence would seem to be the perfect role for someone of this condition. It is estimated that the prevalence of psychopathy in society as a whole is about 1%. A study carried out by Canadian forensic psychologist Robert Hare, in 2012 showed the prevalence of psychopathy in the financial services to be at least 10%.

Narrsism and self preservation  would seem to be a must for any top banker or politician. Psychopaths behave in ways that suggest that they are indifferent to the probability of punishment for their actions.  If we look at the behaviour of many of our top bankers in recent years, there is definitely an indifference to punishment but also a seeming lack of awareness or understanding of any wrongdoing. Many psychopathic individuals don’t know the difference between right and wrong in the same way neurotypical people do. They don’t have the same emotional attachments to ideas and concepts  most of us do, and because of this they form models of reasoning that are different to the norm. Psychopaths are often defined by a lack of proper neurological frameworks that stop them from developing a sense of ethics and morality.

Me Inside - Slipknot by Tamás Kabdebó / Flickr
Me Inside – Slipknot by Tamás Kabdebó / Flickr

Most people would have no problem believing that Adolf Hitler or Joseph Stalin were psychopaths because of the atrocities they were responsible for. There is a misguided connection between psychopathy and evil. Evil is often associated with meaningless acts of wanton violence and physical aggression. A socialised psychopath is not necessarily evil but may have a need for aggression; to function in a law abiding society that aggression may often be passive. The cutthroat world of banking and finance would seem to be the perfect place to nurture such a damaged nature. It seems quite disturbing that an illness that is deemed dangerous in normal society could be of benefit at the highest levels of finance and government.

Considering the fact that psychopaths seem to function best at the highest levels in our society; have psychopaths the traits that make them the fittest to survive in society? In the animal world would these individuals merely be considered alpha males and alpha females? It can’t simply be a coincidence that the very traits that define success at the highest levels of government, industry and finance are also those traits that are found in psychopathic individuals. Even on a practical level those who have no conscience or fear of retribution are less likely to suffer from stress or a dilemma of conscience, probably making them far more productive in their position.

Many would argue it is our conscience and our empathy that define our humanity. Surely society should not be encouraging or rewarding psychopathic traits that are at best regressive. We have come a long way as a species and while we are still animals it is imperative that we try and understand the darker side of our nature. This darker side should not be used by those in power to control or corrupt.

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