Summary: Slowly we begin to hear the warnings about our leaders. America is not a meritocracy, and our system promotes people with the traits of psychopaths. A cold hard insight that can help us choose better leaders for our future.
“First they ignore you. Then they ridicule you. And then they attack you and want to burn you. And then they build monuments to you.”
— Speech by union leader Nicholas Klein (1918).
This is a good step for America: “Why It Pays to Be a Jerk” by Jerry Useem, The Atlantic, June 2015 — “New research confirms what they say about nice guys.” Useem shows us harsh facts about America through a soft filter, as the author sells this to us as a good thing.
But it’s a start at progress to see the reality behind the fantasies we used to believe about our leaders.
This news about their character is nothing new to anyone who has dealt with Americans at the top tier of our hierarchies — celebrities, senior corporate officers, and politicians. This has been my experience. What’s new is our recognition of it.
Psychiatrist Hervey M. Cleckley identified the characteristics of psychopathy, as defined by in his famous 1941 book The Mask of Sanity. Psychology has evolved since then, but this list still services as a good introduction. These are the traits of our leaders, the inner party who run America (and whose upper ranks advance to the bourgeois (the 1% who own America).
Look at your bosses and your representatives in Congress. How many have many behavioral or psychological traits that are on Cleckley’s list?
- Specific loss of insight.
- Absence of nervousness.
- Lack of remorse or shame.
- Untruthfulness and insincerity.
- Suicide threats rarely carried out.
- Superficial charm & average intelligence.
- General poverty in major affective reactions.
- Pathological egocentricity & inability to love.
- Antisocial behavior without apparent compunction.
- Unresponsiveness in general interpersonal relations.
- Sex life impersonal, trivial, & poorly integrated.
- Poor judgement & failure to learn from experience.
- Absence of delusions & other signs of irrational thinking.
- Fantastic & uninviting behavior with drink, & sometimes without.
Many studies have confirmed the high incidence of psychopaths and borderline psychopaths in the upper tiers of America. Such as “Why (Some) Psychopaths Make Great CEOs” by Jeff Bercovici at Forbes and “One in 25 business leaders may be a psychopath, study finds“, The Guardian — “Psychopaths use charm and manipulation to achieve success in the workplace, according to a US study.” But we have refused to listen. Perhaps that’s changing now.
Our tolerance for these people, allowing them to zoom up the ladder, services us poorly. While some of these people are successful risk-takers, as a group they’re terrible leaders, making poor decisions and trashing our all-important social cohesion. Our tolerance of them re-enforces their belief that we are sheep.
Perhaps we are acting like sheep. But we need not be sheep. We can push back. Also, I have not found studies of these traits in nations other than the US and UK. I hope they’ve not followed us down this path.
For More Information
- Careerism and Psychopathy in the US Military Leadership.
- Will the Ferguson protest force development of African-American leaders?
- How officers adapt to life in the Pentagon: they choose the blue pill.
- New political leaders offer hope & change. They show us what we need for victory.
- How do our leaders see us? Don the shoes of the 1%. Look down on the 99%. Describe the view.