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The Sociopathic 1 Percent: The Driving Force at the Heart of the Tea Party

In their warped view of society, only the individual exists -- with no social relations, shared history and culture.

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A psychosis is a major mental disorder. A psychopathic personality shows not a disorder of personality but rather a defect of personality, together with a set of defenses evolved around that defect. The defect relates to the most central element of the human personality: its social nature. The psychopath is simply a basically asocial or antisocial individual who has never achieved the developed nature of homo domesticus. [emphasis added]

The second figure is Dr. Robert Hare, who developed a rigorous 20-point checklist (the Psychopathy Checklist PCL, and its revised form, PCL-R) based on rigorously testing Cleckley’s 16-item clinical profile, as well as a wide range of other research. Hare had a more critical analytical approach which further discerned four major groupings that accounted for 18 of the 20 points, and also developed variant checklists for specific sub-populations. (See Hare’s  websitearticle for Psychology Today and professional paperdescribing his work in relation to Cleckley’s.) Hare also argued that psychopathy is dimensional (more or less) rather than categorical (either/or). Each checklist item is scored 0-2, with normal people scoring 3-4, “moderate” psychopaths scoring 20, and full-blown psychopaths (1% of the population) scoring 30 or more. Hare’s dimensional view enables us to understand psychopathy as distinct phenomenon, epitomized by extreme examples, yet also recognize its continuity with a broader population range.

We may begin to discuss how psychopathy influences the broader culture by considering the literature linking it to business. In 2006, Hare co-authored “ Snakes in Suits: When Psychopaths Go to Work“ with Paul Babiak. A subsequent study they conducted with a third co-author found that 4% of a sample of 203 corporate professionals met the 30-point threshold for being described as psychopaths. ( Other studies found similar results.) It was not a randomized, representative sample, however. Nonetheless, in response to a later misrepresentation in a New York Times op-ed, Hare noted on his website that:

As things stand, we do not know the prevalence of psychopathy among those who work on Wall Street. It may be even higher than 10%, on the assumption that psychopathic entrepreneurs and risk-takers tend to gravitate toward financial watering-holes, particularly those that are enormously lucrative and poorly regulated. But, until the research has been conducted, we are left with anecdotal evidence and widespread speculation.

Now, even if it could be generalized, a 4% presence of psychopaths in business is not a lot, except when compared to 1%. The greater significance lies in why psychopaths are so dramatically over-represented in corporate management, and what that says about the environments they find so hospitable — which ties in directly to the rise of the 1 percent, who have done so much better than everyone else since the 1970s. In a 2005 Fast Company article, “ Is Your Boss A Psychopath?” Alan Deutschman wrote:

There’s evidence that the business climate has become even more hospitable to psychopaths in recent years. In pioneering long-term studies of psychopaths in the workplace, Babiak focused on a half-dozen unnamed companies: One was a fast-growing high-tech firm, and the others were large multinationals undergoing dramatic organizational changes — severe downsizing, restructuring, mergers and acquisitions, and joint ventures. That’s just the sort of corporate tumult that has increasingly characterized the U.S. business landscape in the last couple of decades. And just as wars can produce exciting opportunities for murderous psychopaths to shine (think of Serbia’s Slobodan Milosevic and Radovan Karadzic), Babiak found that these organizational shake-ups created a welcoming environment for the corporate killer. “The psychopath has no difficulty dealing with the consequences of rapid change; in fact, he or she thrives on it,” Babiak claims. “Organizational chaos provides both the necessary stimulation for psychopathic thrill seeking and sufficient cover for psychopathic manipulation and abusive behavior.