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Now That We’ve Incentivized Sociopaths

Summary:
As long as central banks create and distribute trillions in conscience-free credit to conscience-free financiers and corporations, the incentives for sociopathy only increase. “Sociopath” is a word we now encounter regularly in the mainstream media, but what does it mean? Here is a list of 16 traits, many of which are visible in lionized corporate and political leaders and entrepreneurs. One key trait is a lack of moral responsibility or conscience; the sociopath feels no remorse if he/she takes advantage of people or exploits them. Sociopaths are masters of superficial charm, intelligence and confidence, and adept at massaging or misrepresenting reality up to and including outright lying to persuade others or get their way. Like

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As long as central banks create and distribute trillions in conscience-free credit to conscience-free financiers and corporations, the incentives for sociopathy only increase.

“Sociopath” is a word we now encounter regularly in the mainstream media, but what does it mean? Here is a list of 16 traits, many of which are visible in lionized corporate and political leaders and entrepreneurs.

One key trait is a lack of moral responsibility or conscience; the sociopath feels no remorse if he/she takes advantage of people or exploits them.

Sociopaths are masters of superficial charm, intelligence and confidence, and adept at massaging or misrepresenting reality up to and including outright lying to persuade others or get their way.

Like all psychological syndromes (manic depression, autism, bipolar disorder, etc.), there is a wide spectrum of sociopathological traits, some of which may offer some adaptive benefits (and hence their continued presence in the human genome). In other words, an individual can have a few of the traits in greater or lesser proportions.

Thus the modern BBC Sherlock Holmes (played by Benedict Cumberbatch) describes himself as a “high-functioning sociopath” (though many contest this diagnosis of the original Holmes in Arthur Conan Doyle’s stories).

Anyone who has read Walter Isaacson’s biography of Steve Jobs can readily see manifestations of sociopathy in Jobs: his famous “reality distortion field,” his refusal to accept that he’d fathered a daughter, his lack of empathy, his wild emotional swings (from verbal abuse to weeping), his dietary extremes, his charm, so quickly turned on or off, his uneven parenting, and so on. His obsessive-compulsive behavior was also on full display. Yet Jobs is lauded and even worshiped as a genius and unparalleled entrepreneur. Was this the result of his sociopathological traits, or something that arose despite them?

The ledger of costs and benefits of Jobs’ output is weighted by the global benefits of the products he shepherded to market and the hundreds of billions of dollars in sales and net worth he generated for investors while the head of Apple. Though narcissistic in many ways (with the resulting negative effects on many of his intimates), Jobs was clearly focused on creating “insanely great” products that would benefit customers and users. Despite his sociopathological traits, there is no evidence he set out to deceive anyone with the objective of exploiting their good will or belief in his vision to skim billions of dollars from unwary investors.

But the ledgers of others manifesting sociopathy are far less beneficial, as the billions of dollars they generated were in essence a form of fraud.

The rise and fall of WeWork is a recent textbook example of sociopathy reaping enormous financial gains for the sociopaths without creating any actual value. There are plenty of media accounts of the founders’ excesses (including the goal of becoming the world’s first trillionaire), some of which we might have expected to raise flags in venture capitalists, board members, etc., but these traits were overlooked in the rush for all involved to garner billions of dollars in fees and net worth when WeWork went public.

This example (among many) illustrates that sociopathy is incentivized in our socio-political-economic system, and sociopathic “winners” are lionized as epitomes of ambitious success. (The entire charade of the stock market rising due to Federal Reserve-enabled stock buybacks is an institutionalized example of sociopathy.)

Correspondent Tom D. recently summarized the core dynamic and consequence of this systemic incentivization of sociopathy:

I’ve been a successful business owner, but I’m not a sociopath–I deliver value to my customers, my investors, and I don’t move forward if I see anyone being substantially hurt by my actions.

My peers and I look at organizations such as WeWorks, see the rewards reaped by the sociopathic leaders, and realize we are at a constitutional disadvantage working within such a system.

I could never conceive of taking a $700-900m payday at the expense of investors for whom I’ve generated no value whatsoever.

I simply could not do it.

If ‘out-sociopathing’ the sociopaths is what it takes to ‘succeed’ in todays business climate– I’ll fail.

So I don’t try.

From the sociopath’s standpoint, that’s probably a feature not a bug–one that helps keep effective competition out of the marketplace.

I wonder how much of civilizational decline is simply due to good people accepting their lot and opting out.

If the system incentivizes conscience-free sociopaths more than it incentivizes those creating real value, the system will eventually fall into the equivalent of Gresham’s law (“bad money drives out good money”): the con-men and fraudsters will drive out entrepreneurs with a conscience who create real value for customers, investors and society at large.

Charles Hugh Smith
Charles Hugh Smith is an American writer and blogger. He is the chief writer for the site "Of Two Minds". Started in 2005, this site has been listed No. 7 in CNBC's top alternative financial sites. His commentary is featured on a number of sites including: Zerohedge.com., The American Conservative and Peak Prosperity. He graduated from the University of Hawaii, Manoa in Honolulu. Charles Hugh Smith currently resides in Berkeley, California and Hilo, Hawaii.

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