A Plague of Demons
Is your boss crazy? Probably not, but if you seriously think that he might be crazy, he is very likely a psychopath. Psychopathy and psychosis are often confused with one another but are radically different. Psychotics are irrational, with a thinking disorder. Psychopaths are quite rational but have a personality disorder, able to make themselves appear quite attractive when they want something, such as getting out of jail or being promoted to the head of a large corporation. At other times, psychopaths may want to intimidate or control someone, and then they make themselves appear enraged or irrational, so that a person who does not understand the game may well believe the psychopath is crazy. (This is the voice of experience talking.) Psychopaths do not allow upper management to see them when they are acting crazy, so upper management is clueless about why there are so many problems in the psychopath's organization. "Crazy" is a popular term and we will not be using it again herein.
Psychopathy is a recent concept and is quite complex. Psychological analysis of psychopathy has been a constant effort for the last seventy years. Psychologists are just now getting a firm handle on all the nuances, and it is becoming increasingly obvious that psychopathy is the most destructive of all mental disorders, having caused more death and destruction than all other mental disorders combined and more death and destruction than the very worst natural disasters we have experienced. Psychotic episodes such as recent mass shootings, horrific as they are, pale beside the mass slaughter of innocents in wars, in totalitarian concentration camps and gas chambers, and in terrorist activities, all driven by psychopathic-type personalities.
The first clinical description of psychopathy was contained in Dr. Hervey Cleckley's 1941 book, The Mask of Sanity. Dr. Cleckley's practice dealt primarily with drunks and bums who were in and out of mental hospitals and jails. Among Dr. Cleckley's observations:
1. Psychopaths are rational, but with value systems that are extraordinarily out of whack: no sympathy, no empathy, no guilt, no remorse, no conscience, and no sense of humor. Psychopaths are quite irresponsible.
2. Psychopaths create a mask for themselves that appears to be reasonable, even admirable, and is used by the psychopath to conceal irresponsible and sometimes criminal behaviors.
3. Psychopaths primarily are noted for two functional disorders, anti-social personality disorder (in the extreme, criminal) and narcissism (selfish). Dr. Cleckley reported a number of psychopathic behaviors within these disorders, including irresponsible, parasitic, dishonest, callous, manipulative, and superficial charm (charisma). Psychopaths are subject to co-morbidities such as substance abuse and kleptomania.
4. Some psychopaths suffered terrible abuse during childhood (Charles Manson, John Wayne Gacy). Some psychopaths were overindulged as children, with presumed inadequate emotional growth. Some psychopaths exhibit neurological damage or defect. And some psychopaths show no causative factors associated with their psychopathy. Dr. Robert Hare reported identical twins, one of whom was psychopathic, the other, not.
5. Dr. Cleckley noted that psychopaths have a high level of interest in therapy sessions, not to make themselves well, but to learn how more normal people think and act, the better to exploit their victims. To illustrate, Charles Manson took a Dale Carnegie course in prison and made friends with convicted pimps in order to learn how to manipulate people, particularly women.
6. Psychopaths have a profound need for control of others; physical, emotional, sexual, financial, and/or political control is imperative for a psychopath, likely driven by his own indifference to others' feelings and a sense of inadequacy within himself. A psychopath's need for control of others justifies to himself any dishonesty or manipulation of others.
7. Based on his own limited observations, Dr. Cleckley speculated that there could well be criminal and professional psychopaths.
As Dr. Cleckley anticipated, there was a wave of serial-murder psychopathic incidents in the 1970s -- Charles Manson, Ted Bundy, John Wayne Gacy, and others. Ted Bundy used fake arm and leg casts and bandages to ensnare women whom he then killed. These fake casts and bandages served as a part of Bundy's "mask," as Dr. Cleckley described the term. John Wayne Gacy wore a clown suit for the same purpose, and used it to entice and kill thirty-three young men and boys. It was not until 1993 that psychologists were able to adequately describe criminal and severely anti-social psychopaths, as described in Dr. Robert Hare's book, Without Conscience: The Disturbing World of the Psychopaths among Us. Dr. Hare, extending Dr. Cleckley's observations, devised the Psychopathy Check List -- Revised (PCL-R) that has become the premier tool for assessing psychopathy. The PCL-R consists of twenty-one items, mostly anti-social or narcissistic in nature. Only a qualified professional can assess psychopathy, but the list is quite fascinating, particularly when compared to the behaviors of some of our current politicians.
Following after the criminal psychopaths of the 1970s, another wave of corporate psychopaths struck in the 1990s, including "Chainsaw" Al Dunlap at Sunbeam Corporation, Bernie Ebbers of WorldCom, and Jeff Skilling at Enron. Each of these psychopaths damaged thousands of careers and destroyed billions of dollars of corporate value. By 2006, Dr. Hare and Dr. Paul Babiak had analyzed the corporate psychopaths and described their findings in their book, Snakes in Suits.
Following the worldwide financial meltdown in 2008, Dr. Clive Boddy published a book presenting a statistical analysis of the items on Dr. Hare's Psychopathy Check List -- Revised, and validated Dr. Hare's findings; leaders who practice certain anti-social and narcissistic behaviors get disastrous results, concealed for a period of time by their charismatic masks and by their credentials. For corporate executive psychopaths, their qualifications (Dunlap was a West Point graduate, Skilling was a Harvard graduate) and their charismatic personalities serve as their psychopathic masks as they commit massive fraud. Dr. Boddy made a strong argument that the 2008 financial meltdown was the product of political and financial psychopathic fraud. Dr. Boddy's findings and arguments were contained in his 2011 book, Corporate Psychopaths: Organisational Destroyers.
The astute observer will note from the above timelines that it takes less and less time for professionals to track and analyze psychopathic developments. Psychopathic behavior is counterintuitive and has been extraordinarily difficult to analyze, but psychologists have now become adept at identifying the deviant behaviors and patterns of psychopaths. But citizens remain largely unaware of these psychological developments, and citizens pay the extreme social and financial costs of psychopathy.
There are several other observations which are useful in dealing with psychopaths. Psychopaths come in different flavors. The majority of psychopaths are active within local families, jobs, and communities. The most severely psychopathic individuals often fit into certain narrow categories -- domains -- including serial murderers, organizational and financial fraudsters, corporate abusers, and political deceivers. About one percent of the general population is considered to be psychopathic, but Dr. Hare has cited a four percent figure for corporate psychopaths who tend to be very ambitious and who manipulate their way into higher positions.
In a working environment, psychopaths appear to be two-faced due to their masks, typically treating superiors with obsequious respect and treating subordinates with bullying abusiveness. Subordinates really do think that the psychopath may be insane because of his destructive, intemperate, and sometimes threatening behaviors. Psychopaths are contemptuous toward everyone in equal measure, superiors, subordinates, supporters, and opponents. The psychopath's mask is usually sufficiently impressive that superiors are seldom aware that they are being played, but subordinates see all of the psychopath's behaviors and are well aware of the discrepancies. Attempted conversations between the superiors and the subordinates of a psychopath get nowhere, as each has radically different experiences and views of the psychopath. The most capable subordinates leave, creating huge costs for the organization.
Being two-faced, the psychopath has an astonishingly different effect on different people, depending on which face an observer chances to see. In seminars on psychopathy, people who are confused and doubtful after encounters with an abusive psychopath may become emotional to the point of tears, relieved to discover that their bad experiences have been shared by other people and that there is a coherent explanation for the psychopath's behaviors. Other people who have never experienced a psychopath's wrath absolutely do not understand what the fuss is all about. Senior leaders typically have seen a psychopath only when his mask is in place, and are at a loss to account for the personnel turnover and financial losses generated by their charismatic psychopath.
Psychopaths typically display abnormal neurological function: brainwaves (electroencephalography -- EEG), brain blood flow (functional Magnetic Resonance Imagery -- fMRI), and radiological tracing (Positive Emission Tomography -- PET scans). Abnormal neurological readouts may indicate brain damage or defect. Psychopaths often have sufficiently abnormal neurological markers to raise a red flag, a possible way of detecting political and corporate psychopaths before any massive damage occurs.
Psychopathic leaders create corrupt and psychopathic societies. To control their societies, psychopaths favor unarmed citizens and mass organizations administered by mass corrupt bureaucracies. Marxist collectivism and Islamic tribal societies are well-suited to the purposes of psychopathic leaders.
Psychopathic leaders, lacking human feelings themselves, manipulate their followers' emotions and their conflicting interests to solidify their own positions. Class, religion, and ethnic differences are exploited for the psychopath's benefit. Followers are quite expendable when it suits the psychopath's needs (Consider the fate of Ernst Rohm in Nazi Germany and Reverend Jeremiah Wright more recently).
Every psychopathic system in history has failed after great cost to both supporters and opponents of the psychopath. Psychopaths seemingly push until they get caught. The hypothesis is that psychopaths may want to be caught. There may be a few serial murderers who grew old before they were caught, but psychopathic systems ultimately fail.
A psychopath may be compared to a single person playing a board game by himself, with the psychopath as self-designated loser of the game. Supporters, opponents, superiors, subordinates, useful idiots, dupes (such as suicide bombers), bureaucracies, tribes, and collectives are pieces to be manipulated by the organizational psychopath. Dubious and illicit causes (lebensraum, Marxist Utopia, Greater East Asia Co-Prosperity Sphere, global warming, green energy, "the transformation of America") serve to reinforce the psychopath's position with his gullible followers. The failures of Hitler in 1945 and of the Soviet Union in 1991 are the most prominent examples that follow this pattern.
Rapid technological and communication advances create new opportunities for psychopaths, as Dr. Hare warned that this would happen in his 1993 book. We are building toward a social and economic crescendo, not unlike that seen in the Weimar Republic in the 1930s.
Descriptions of psychopathic behaviors attract little attention in comparison to the damage psychopaths do in families, in the workplace, in corporate collapses, in financial catastrophes, and in wars. Psychopaths are sufficiently rare that they are treated as oddities, particularly by people who have never worked for one or who have never been married to one. Psychopathy is a difficult subject, and even professional psychologists have only recently built a relatively complete understanding of the subject. Valid discussions of psychopathy attract insufficient attention, and the media will hide examples of our politicians' psychopathic characteristics, such as dishonesty, grandiosity, and manipulation. In psychological terms, denial is a defense mechanism. As long as we continue to deny psychopathic behaviors among our politicians and our corporate leaders, we will continue to pay the horrific social and financial costs.
(A more complete treatment of the subject of psychopathy is available here.)
James G. Long has been an army captain, a professional engineer, an author, and a blogger, with a lifelong interest in organizational management problems. mandynamerica.com/blo