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Saturday, 02 January 2010 04:28

'Snakes in Suits: When Psychopaths Go To Work' -- Thom Hartmann's Independent Thinker Review

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THOM HARTMANN'S INDEPENDENT THINKER REVIEW OF THE MONTH

Each month, BuzzFlash is privileged to have top-ranked progressive talk show host Thom Hartmann review a progressive book or DVD exclusively for BuzzFlash. See other DVDs and progressive premiums at the BuzzFlash Progressive Marketplace.

For about half of the 20th Century, corporate excesses were kept on a relatively short leash. Then, in the last two years of his administration, Jimmy Carter began drinking the Milton/Thomas Friedman Kool-Aid and "deregulation" hit a series of industries from travel to trucking.

Two years later, Reagan became president under dubious circumstances (involving his campaign manager and his VP candidate working with the Iranians to hold U.S. hostages through the election campaign), and he blew the doors wide open. Corporations could ignore the Sherman Anti-Trust Act and its more recent updates, and get as large as they wanted. An unprecedented era of "Mergers and Acquisitions" or "M&A" activity exploded across the corporate landscape, mostly fueled by Leveraged Buyouts (LBOs). The mantra was "greed is good." Bigger was better. Efficiency was the magic word, even when it meant destroying the lives of workers and employees.

The most recent incarnation of the sharks that came to both swim in and then dominate the waters of American business are called "Private Equity" companies, although they're most often engaged in the same "pump and dump" and "slash and burn" techniques their "M&A" and "LBO" predecessors did.

This changed business landscape has been a boon for psychopaths, note two psychologists in their book "Snakes in Suits."

While their book is entirely apolitical, and doesn't get into the political setup that made corporate America psychopath-friendly circa 1978-2010 in the first three paragraphs of this review, the authors do raise the issue. They refer to companies being "in transition" and note:

Would someone with a psychopathic personality, turned off by earning an honest living in general, even be interested in joining one of these transitional companies? Unfortunately, the answer we found is yes, as organizations have become more psychopath friendly in recent years. Rapid business growth, mergers, acquisitions, and joint ventures have inadvertently increased the number of attractive employment opportunities for individuals with psychopathic personalities – without the need for them to correct or change their psychopathic attitudes or behaviors.

They note that companies in "transition" – virtually the entire American medium-and large-size corporate landscape today – are particularly "attractive to psychopaths," for three major reasons.

Psychopaths "find change personally stimulating." While the average Joe or Jane just wants a stable and secure job, psychopaths "thrill-seeking nature draws them to situations a where a lot is happening and happening quickly."

"Second, being consummate rule-breakers, they find the increased freedom to act to their liking. These pretenders capitalize on the lessened reliance on rules and policies and the increased need for free-form decision making that characterize organizations in a chaotic state."

"Third as opportunists, they take advantage of others in ways that are not always obvious. In particular, the opportunity to get a leadership or management position is extremely attractive because these positions offer the psychopaths a chance to exert power and control over people and resources, they tend not to require involvement in the details, and they command larger-than-average salaries."

I've often wondered – sometimes out loud on my radio and TV programs,in some op-eds, and in an entire chapter in my last book "Threshold," how it would be possible for a senior executive of a "health insurance" company, for example, to sleep at night knowing that much of his or her multi-million (and in the case of United Healthcare, multi-hundred-million dollar) compensation came from saying, "No, we're not paying for that medical care for you" to millions of people.

Similarly, how could people like Private Equity multi-millionaire Mitt Romney and others of his ilk live so lavishly and spend so heavily knowing that much of their income came from destroying the lives of thousands or even hundreds of thousands of working people? Or how people like Carly Fiorina could rise to power and influence in the Republican Party after, as the head of Hewlett-Packard, she oversaw the relocation of thousands of jobs from the American republic to the Communist Chinese dictatorship?

This book provides one possible answer. (It doesn't speculate on any individuals, and I'm not charging the above people with being psychopaths. Just sayin'…)

In part, such people do so well and rise so high in business and politics because high-functioning, well-educated psychopaths are often the most charming people in the room. They're "social chameleons," say the authors, who spot normal peoples' weaknesses and ruthlessly exploit them. The authors note:

Psychopaths have a great sense of superiority and entitlement, and think nothing of helping themselves to property that belongs to others. Their grandiose sense of self-importance leads them to believe that other people exist just to take care of them. Because they see most people as weak, inferior, and easy to deceive, psychopathic con artists will often tell you that their victims deserved what they got. Sometimes their sense of superiority is so great that they will say that they are conferring a gift by letting their victims support them.

"Snakes in Suits" points out that while there are probably an inordinate number of psychopaths at the Romney/Fiorina (my term, not theirs) level of corporate power, there are also psychopaths in every company in little corners where they wield inordinate power and delight in making the lives of others miserable. Ultimately, the book is a self-help book about how to deal with such people on the individual level if you’re caught working with one in the course of your employment.

As such, about a third of the book may be only marginally useful to you unless you find yourself in such a situation. But that just makes it a faster read – the last third of the book about what to do if you encounter a psychopath at work can be put aside for a future read if/when such an instance arises.

But the first two-thirds of the book do a brilliant job of highlighting in layman’s language how these "snakes in suits" rise to the levels of power they have, and how it's possible that we can have a corporate and political landscape so heavily populated by people who don’t seem to give a damn about their actions impact on the lives of other people or the planet.

If you've ever wondered how John Boehner can be so proud about trashing health care legislation, or how Newt Gingrich could have led the prosecution of Bill Clinton while having an affair with his own congressional aide and handing divorce papers to his wife as she was recovering from cancer surgery, the answer may well be quite simple. They actually don’t give a damn about the consequences of their actions (except as they apply to themselves) because they’re probably psychopaths!

To the extent that this type of personality is largely unknown to the average American, this book provides an important service. Now we just have to figure out how to take our corporations and political parties back from the psychopaths among us…

Thom Hartmann is a New York Times bestselling Project Censored Award winning author and host of a nationally syndicated progressive radio talk show. You can learn more about Thom Hartmann at his Web site and find out what stations broadcast his program. You can also listen to Thom over the Internet.

THOM HARTMANN'S INDEPENDENT THINKER REVIEW OF THE MONTH

Read 1279 times Last modified on Friday, 22 January 2010 09:00