|we have to make some cuts...|
on a basic level, we are acclimatised to have the reaction that psychopath = bad. after all, the psychopath is the person who's going to eat [insert generic popular eye candy actress here] if she doesn't manage to escape. so how is it that psychopaths have managed to rise to such prominence in our society that a business mag like "fast company" deems them significant enough to warrant an article?
there's the rub [as hamlet would say, if he weren't dead and mostly fictional]. let's look at a full set of the hare criteria for psychopathy, generally considered to be the defining terms for identifying a psychopath in your midst:
in a hare diagnosis, subjects are graded a 0, 1, or 2 depending on how well any of these points applies to them. score above 30 and he-ya, welcome to psycho territory.
except that when you think about it, these are also things that we tend to value in business. people who are superficially charming [because really, what kind of substance is ever demanded in business relationships?], people who are smart enough to talk their way out of trouble, people who will not get bogged down in a sense of emotional responsibility or morality... these are people who can benefit employers. the ones who are impulsive, who are not constrained by realistic long-term goals, who are always looking for the next big, new thing to occupy them. you can certainly see where, contrary to what horror films may have told you, the psychopath is an exceptionally valuable member of society.
i asked dom, who has forgotten more about movies today than i'll ever know, to come up with a single portrayal of a psychopath that showed them to be successful in society. excluding "american psycho"- too easy and a noted exception- and stories based on true events, he was only able to come up with "peeping tom". although i adore the film, i'd say that it at best portrays its antihero as treading the line between artistic fervour and straight-up insanity. so can we just agree that film portrayals of psychopaths have not been positive?
so how does this apparent disconnect happen? pop culture inundates us with stories of the amoral psychopath as dangerous, antisocial and deadly, but at the same time, business studies indicate that amorality and lack of empathy are conducive to growth. herein lies the problem.
what we claim to value in our consideration of ourselves as whole, moral beings is somehow in conflict with the extremely quantifiable values we have in business. so yes, we accept characteristics that we might otherwise classify as deranged when they are directed towards a financial goal. so psychopaths are only a problem when their tendencies are "misdirected". and by "misdirected", what's meant is that the psychopathy manifests itself solely in ways that are not beneficial to the economy. even then, of course, the psychopath isn't problematic- just annoying. read the checklist again. there is nothing in there that deals with a predisposition to violence. at most, it establishes the psychopath as a non-respecter of authority and laws. the particular laws that they disrespect are determined by which ones prove an inconvenience to them and, more importantly, which ones they feel they can defy without getting caught. pragmatism is paramount. accounting inconsistencies can go years without being caught. dead bodies tend to raise questions.
the fact is that our cinematic fascination with absolute, unreasoning evil as being very recognisable as an aberration blinds us to the fact that amoral behaviour is mundane and its effects have clear benefits for industry. those who are the least bound by the social contract, which requires people to see each other at some basic level as equals, tend to be those who can spur the most growth.
so the next time you look at your stock portfolio or rrsp [401k if you're in the states and i don't know what you call them elsewhere], remember that any improvement you see is probably due to the fact that michael myers and jason voorhees have dropped their masks and are sitting at the head of a conference table somewhere.