Psychiatrists estimate that 1 percent of the adult population are psychopaths. That's about two million Americans. And they are our bosses, our politicians, our priests, and our neighbors. And they are running our economy and our lives.
Every day in the news we hear about people in positions of power doing deplorable thingsin business, politics, and government, from sexual harassment to polluting the environment to covering up crimes. And it's no wonder considering a small percentage of people wield a large amount of power, and that these very same people fit the definition of a "psychopath."
A highly engaging and gripping read, Cameron Reilly's book adds to our growing understanding of sociopaths with a detailed analysis of how our society encourages and rewards psychopathic tendencies, and how, because of this, psychopaths the world over have risen to power. Using historical references to pop culture examples, Reilly offers a field guide to psychopathshow to spot them and how to outmaneuver them so you can keep your sanity intact. This is the first-of-its-kind book to examine the shocking evidence and then suggest practical solutions for saving us all.
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Read an Excerpt
The smiling assassin. That's how I remember him. He was a boss of mine for a year or so. I don't want to say where, because I'm not keen on a lawsuit. I'll just call him Fred. He became my manager's manager at a large company I worked for in my younger days and, at first, I liked him. Fred smiled a lot and seemed very charming and personable.
It didn't take long for me to learn there was another side to his personality. My immediate manager started to tell me stories about his interactions with Fred. How he would say one thing to someone's face and then the opposite behind their back.
When my manager had enough, he quit the company, and I reported directly to Fred. Although Fred assured me that everything was copacetic between us, that he liked me and thought I was a valuable member of the team, my colleagues started to whisper in my ear that Fred was out to get me. He was fishing for stories that he could use against me. There weren't any such stories — but that was beside the point. When I took my concerns to the HR department, they did nothing to stop Fred. When I took my concerns to the Managing Director of the company, he did nothing to stop Fred. So, like my manager before me, I also quit the company.
Back then I thought Fred was just a bully. Today I realize he was probably my first corporate psychopath.
LET'S TALK MORE ABOUT PSYCHOPATHS
The majority of people have pretty simple needs and wants. They just want to live their lives, fall in love, knock out a few kids, get laid regularly, stay well fed, entertained, see some sights, and die peacefully, surrounded by the people they love.
For some people, however, that's not enough. They want to own everything. They want to control everything. Enough is never enough. They have a winner-take-all attitude. Dog eat dog. Law of the jungle. Kill or be killed. People like that are often going to end up on top — because the rest of us let them. We don't want to be on top enough to do the things that need to be done. We can't sleep at night if we have to lie and cheat and steal and screw our way to the top. But psychopaths don't lose a wink of sleep. On the contrary, they sleep better knowing they are #WINNING!
You know what I'm talking about. You know this kind of person. You've worked for this kind of person. Chances are you probably work for someone like this right now.
When discussing the diagnostic features of people with "antisocial personality disorder," the current edition of the Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders (aka DSM-5) says:
They are frequently deceitful and manipulative in order to gain personal profit or pleasure (e.g., to obtain money, sex, or power). The essential feature of antisocial personality disorder is a pervasive pattern of disregard for, and violation of, the rights of others that begins in childhood or early adolescence and continues into adulthood. This pattern has also been referred to as psychopathy, sociopathy, or dyssocial personality disorder.
Because psychopaths don't care about the feelings or rights of others, they are willing and ready to do the things other people won't to succeed. This makes them think of themselves as superior. They are the alpha males and females. They think of themselves as the winners. And therefore, in their minds, they deserve more power. For some, the way to get maximum power is to run a large organization.
It appears they have always been with us. I've spent the last fifteen years recording hundreds of hours of detailed podcasts about some of the "Great Men of History" — Alexander the Great, Julius, Augustus and Tiberius Caesar, Cosimo de Medici, Napoleon Bonaparte, Churchill, Stalin, Roosevelt — and one of the questions I'm always asking myself is, "Was this guy a psychopath?"
They appear frequently in Roman and Greek mythology, in the Old Testament, the writings of Cicero, The Annals of Tacitus, The Book of One Thousand and One Nights and in Shakespeare. In his Renaissance masterpiece The Prince, Niccolò Machiavelli wrote:
If you only notice human proceedings, you may observe that all who attain great power and riches, make use of either force or fraud; and what they have acquired either by deceit or violence, in order to conceal the disgraceful methods of attainment, they endeavor to sanctify with the false title of honest gains. Those who either from imprudence or want of sagacity avoid doing so, are always overwhelmed with servitude and poverty; for faithful servants are always servants, and honest men are always poor; nor do any ever escape from servitude but the bold and faithless, or from poverty, but the rapacious and fraudulent. God and nature have thrown all human fortunes into the midst of mankind; and they are thus attainable rather by rapine than by industry, by wicked actions rather than by good. Hence it is that men feed upon each other, and those who cannot defend themselves must be worried.
But it wasn't until the German psychiatrist Julius Ludwig August Koch invented the term "psychopath" in 1888 that humans started to think about this as a psychiatric disorder. It was further developed as a field of study by American psychiatrist Hervey M. Cleckley in 1941 when he identified the major traits of a psychopath.
Unfortunately, when many people today think about psychopaths, they still think of serial killers, mafia dons, and ranting dictators — Ted Bundy, Al Capone, and Joseph Stalin. They don't think of their local priest, CEO, their favorite politician, or police captain. In every society, since the dawn of time, there has been a relatively small percentage of the population who feel it is their destiny to control as much power as possible. This is the primary goal of their lives, and they will do anything it takes to achieve it — fight, steal, murder, lie, cheat, bribe, fuck, and burn.
Many studies suggest they make up about 1 percent of the population but other experts go further. Psychiatrist Donald Black, co-author of the Introductory Textbook of Psychiatry and author of Bad Boys, Bad Men: Confronting Antisocial Personality Disorder, suggests the number of psychopaths in the adult population might actually be as high as 4.5 percent.
Something about their brains is abnormal, and they are either born that way (a psychopath) or something happens to them when they are young kids that makes them that way (a sociopath).
They will sacrifice their loved ones and their friends to end up on top — the top of the company or just the top of the household, depending on their level of ambition. Most people aren't built that way; we are happy to live simple lives, raising a family, enjoying our weekend, and smelling the roses. And this just makes it easier for the power-hungry people, the 1 percent, to hack and slash their way to the top.
In millennia gone past, some psychopaths, typically those born into aristocracy, probably ended up as kings and queens, warlords, emperors, popes and cardinals, prophets, and lords, dukes, and the landed gentry. And there wasn't much that the masses could do about it. They just accepted it as "the way things are." The lower classes stayed in their village, in their poverty, and tried hard to survive and keep their children alive. The nobility, a fancy name for the richest 1 percent and their descendants, fought for power among themselves, while the other 99 percent quite often found themselves as battle fodder.
We have capitalism to thank for making it easier than ever before for more psychopaths to leverage themselves into positions of power.
In feudalist societies it would have been much harder for the garden-variety psychopath to rise to elite positions. Unless you were born into the nobility, it was pretty tough to get out of your class circumstances and engineer yourself into a place where you could rise above.
Until the Industrial Revolution, if you were a psychopath, but not a member of the aristocracy or nobility, let's say you were the son of a blacksmith, what could you do? You didn't have much chance of putting together an army or rising above your station in terms of wealth creation opportunities.
If you were born a plebeian in the Roman Republic, your chances of rising to power were kept in check by the tools of the aristocracy — the Senate, the army and paid mobs. During the Roman Empire, a small number of plebeians rose through the ranks to become generals and even Emperors, but they were few and far between. Some centurions of plebeian extraction were rewarded by Augustus Caesar, after his civil war with Mark Antony, with property and suddenly found themselves as the nouveau riche with a seat in the Senate — but again, these stories were extremely rare.
If you were a Hun in the 5th century, you could brawl it out with some other guys to see who the king of the tribe would be, but by the Middle Ages, these opportunities were scarce. There were rare people like the condottiere Francesco Sforza who, in the early 1400s, managed to use his father's private army of mercantile soldiers to become the Duke of Milan — but again, those accounts are quite uncommon.
In theory, you could enter the Catholic Church and rise through the ranks to become a wealthy archbishop, cardinal or even Pope — and a few people did manage that — but these titles were typically reserved for people from wealthy families who could acquire them and fill the coffers of the church.
For most of human history, if you were of humble birth, you stayed that way.
So, if 1 percent of the population were psychopaths, and 99 percent of the population were commoners, it stands to reason that 99 percent of the psychopaths probably stayed poor and, while they may have caused trouble for their immediate family and village, they usually never went further than that.
Then the Industrial Revolution came along and we entered the rise of modern capitalism. Now those 99 percent had a much better shot at unleashing their psychopathy on the world. They could get an education, get a job, and use their inherent tendencies to climb the ladder of power inside an organization — business, political, religious, academic or military. Suddenly, after one thousand years of being trapped in their villages, the psychopaths had a ladder to affluence and dominance unlike anything before. Studies show that most people who are born into modest circumstances continue to stay poor. But we live in a world where the psychopaths who are born underprivileged, and have no qualms about fucking over other people in their march towards power — who care as much about committing an unethical act as you or I do about what we ate for breakfast a week ago — have an open playing field.
Capitalism has unleashed an epidemic of psychopaths on the world.
CHIEF EXECUTIVE PSYCHOPATH
What makes me think psychopaths run our organizations?
Well, for a start, there is the obvious overlap between the traits of a psychopath and those of many cold-blooded, remorseless, empathy-lacking, power-seeking, charismatic modern managers. The presence of psychopaths in senior management might explain why our political, business, and religious leaders often make decisions that seem to willfully destroy economies, the environment, families, and, sometimes, especially during times of war, entire nations.
Then it's just a question of the numbers.
Psychiatrists estimate that psychopaths make up about 1 to 4 percent of the adult population. Assuming this is correct, and taking the lower number, then Australia has roughly 184,000 adult psychopaths running around. The US has about 2.3 million and the UK has five hundred thousand.
The global psychopath population would be in the vicinity of 60 million. SIXTY. MILLION. PSYCHOPATHS.
Let that sink in a minute. I'll wait.
Australia had 1,123 opioid drug-related deaths in 2018 and that gets called an epidemic. What do we call 184,000 psychopaths on the loose?
And what are they all doing?
The Australian Bureau of Statistics reports that there were roughly 43,000 inmates in Australian prisons at 30 June 2018.9 Even if they are all psychopaths (and, according to psychiatrists, it's more likely that only 20 to 50 percent of them are), that leaves roughly 141,000 psychopaths walking around.
The United States has the largest prison population per capita in the world (roughly 2.2 million people) and it includes a lot of people imprisoned for minor drug offences who are probably not psychopaths. But even if 50% of the prison population are psychopaths, that leaves 1.2 million of them unaccounted for.
What are all of these people doing? Where would we expect a cold-blooded, power-hungry person to end up?
It makes sense to me that a lot of them are running our organizations.
It takes a special kind of person to rise to the top of any organization. The myth, of course, is that success just takes a combination of hard work, intelligence, dedication, and loyalty. Anyone who has worked inside of a significant organization, however, knows that there's another ingredient — politics. While politics isn't always Machiavellian by nature, there are always moments when you are going to have to smile while you're sliding the knife in between someone's ribs. We all know how it works — from pretending to laugh at your boss's joke even when you've heard it a hundred times before (and it wasn't that funny the first time), to playing golf with the boss or accompanying him to a seedy strip club while on a business trip. A worthy sycophant will agree with their boss on absolutely everything. To be a respectable flattering parasite, a person needs to be willing to subjugate their true feelings or opinions to curry favor with the people who can further your career. It usually involves doing whatever you can to keep yourself in their good books until they either get promoted, resign, fired — or until you finally manage to knife them when the opportune moment comes along. Et tu, Brute?
The "smiling assassin" is such an organizational archetype that they appear as stock characters in Hollywood films and TV shows, part-sycophant, part-Iago, (think Dwight in the US version of The Office), and while we may laugh at them on our screens, in real life they are far less amusing. Experts at the manipulation of others, you never can be sure of precisely where you stand with them — one minute they will treat you like a long-lost brother, and the next they will have you up against the wall down a darkened alley with a blade at your throat.
According to the Handbook of Organization Politics, political skill is "the ability to effectively understand others at work, and to use such knowledge to influence others to act in ways that enhance one's personal and/or organizational objectives."
There's a fine line between influencing someone by openly presenting your arguments, letting them reach their own conclusions, and manipulating them into reaching the conclusion you want them to reach.
Most of us don't like to manipulate others. We don't like to be deceitful. It goes against our grain. We would rather have an open and honest discussion about the pros and cons of an idea and let the best idea win. We're happy to state the reasons we believe in a certain idea or course of action, let others have the same courtesy, and then have an open and friendly discussion to determine which idea should be victorious.
None of us likes feeling manipulated and so, it's natural to assume, the people we work with don't like being manipulated either. This is the nature of the empathic response — if I don't like something, I can understand that someone else probably won't like it either. Empathy is the capacity to understand or feel what another person is experiencing from within the other person's frame of reference, that is, the capacity to place oneself in another's point of view. So, manipulating others to do what you want them to do requires a certain dampening or rationalizing of our empathic response.
Under the right circumstances, if we feel like our lives or livelihoods are being threatened, all of us can probably dial down our empathy. There are some people, however, for whom empathetic feelings aren't a problem — the psychopaths.
Psychopaths care only about their power and success. They care only about #winning.
I remember seeing Oliver Stone's film Wall Street when I was in my early twenties and not being sure whether I despised Gordon Gekko or admired him. That's probably a sign of excellent writing and acting. I think most men have a natural, biological, grudging respect for the alpha male (thanks a lot, evolution), the guy who is all balls and bravado, who can talk his way in or out of most situations, the guy with the fierce laser eyes and the killer smile who first gets the money, then the power, and then the woman (a line from different Oliver Stone film). As he recently told an Australian audience of finance industry workers, Stone didn't mean for Gekko to be a role model for the audience:
"Gordon Gekko was an immoral character that became worshipped for the wrong reasons."(Continues…)
Excerpted from "The Pyschopath Epidemic"
Copyright © 2019 Cameron Reilly.
Excerpted by permission of Health Communications, Inc..
All rights reserved. No part of this excerpt may be reproduced or reprinted without permission in writing from the publisher.
Excerpts are provided by Dial-A-Book Inc. solely for the personal use of visitors to this web site.
Table of Contents
Chapter 1 Garden-Variety Psychopaths 7
Chapter 2 Psychopathic Organizations 35
Chapter 3 There Is No "I" in Psychopath 69
Chapter 4 My Cold Dead Hands 111
Chapter 5 Rocking the Vote 245
Chapter 6 Ctrl-Alt-Delete 261
Chapter 7 Taking Control 283