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“The Watchdogs So Sleepy…”

September 20, 2011


Great book. This 1993  book (that is my own well-thumbed, discolored, and dog-eared copy pictured above) and the Hare Psychopathy Checklist for use by clinicians  established this Canadian professor of psychology as this generation’s leading expert on psychopaths.  It is researched-based, succinct, well-written and covers such related topics as whether there is any effective treatment and “the ethics of labelling”people. There are several earlier books I still consider essential reading, like Hervey Cleckley’s  1941 opus  The Mask of Sanity,  William March’s The Bad Seed,  J. Reid Meloy’s The Psychopathic Mind,  Otto Kernberg’ vivid identification  of  “malignant narcissism’–a related syndrome– in his great 1984 work Severe Personality Disorders.

Psychopaths are cynical predators who display an incapacity to experience compassion, empathy, guilt, shame, regret or remorse. Hare pointed out that despite all the attention given to lurid serial killers like Ted Bundy and John Wayne Gacy, most psychopaths don’t kill anyone. The same character traits are respected, valued and rewarded in other contexts.   Many psychopaths are  outwardly respectable predators who thrive in the boardrooms of Corporate America where their aggression, cynicism, ruthlessness, and lack of a conscience are admired, highly valued and rewarded.

“There is no shortage of opportunities for white-collar psychopaths who think big…the potential for profit is so enormous, the rules so flexible, and the watchdogs so sleepy that they must feel that they have found paradise.” Hare, writing in the early 1990s, notes that such people. enabled by government deregulation by the  Reagan  administration and lack of oversight and accountability led directly to the Savings & Loan scandal that resulted in  the US taxpayers footing the bill for a bail-out that cost almost one trillion dollars, more than the cost of the Vietnam War.   Of course, that is  small potatoes now, compared to the consequences of the more thorough deregulation under Bush and the disastrous consequences that followed in more recent years, literally ruining the lives of tens of millions of Americans.

Meloy, writing in 1988, suggested the “culture of narcissism” would be eclipsed by a culture of psychopathy as we ended the twentieth century. Four years later, he noted, “I am now even more certain.”

  Dr. Hare’s next book, however, was not anywhere near as well-received or as popular as Without Conscience.  I can’t find sales figures but it’s ranking on is only one-tenth that of   Without Conscience.  The next  book was a collaboration with Paul Baliak, PhD, an  organizaitonal and industrial psychologist and was titled Snakes in Suits: when psychopaths go to work.  In it, the authors go into greater case study, deeper analysis and detail about how the unwritten rules of Big Business in America dovetail neatly with the predatory goals of psychopathic personalities, how  destructive and savage character traits are often sought out,  nurtured, encouraged, valued, and highly rewarded.  Michael Douglas’s “Gordon Gekko” character is not a fiction but a pervasive reality, highly admired. A role model. An inspiration to youth. An admirable realist.

Could it be this book was too unsettling, that it hit too close to home?   That is crossed the line from describing the psychopathology of a small number of errant  individuals to raising questions about the  pervasive psychopathology of America’s  Corporate State?  ‘How deep does the sickness go?” is a disturbing, frightening question.

Don’t ask America’s conservative congressmen. They always exonerate all capitalists, no matter what. No mater how destructive and bloody the latest wave of white-collar  corporate crime sprees that raped and plundered the American people on a previously-unimaginable scale was,  they  always get a free pass from the ‘moderate’ Republicans, from the Tea Partiers,  the Conservative Christians,  and from the so-called Libertarians. Count on it. In their eyes, there is no such thing as white-collar crime, just admirably shrewd, cunning,  rapacious “business”.  Victims got what they deserved for being  vulnerable to being  victimized.  It’s  never  the fault of the Big Business of Corporate America (from whom all blessing flow!).  The buck must be passed someone else, anyone’s the fault of the government. It’s the fault of racial  minorities. It’s the fault of the liberal press. It’s the fault of illegal immigrants. Or Muslims. Foreigners. The French, maybe. Sunspots. Emperor penguins. Space Aliens. Anyone but the actual Corporate Perps, the ones who did the actual looting and sacking. They must be given a free pass no matter what, no matter the obvious truth of their guilt. We cannot face the truth of their massive guilt. That’s too scarey a truth to face up to for most of us–that psychopaths are running Corporate America.

No wonder the Republicans,Conservatives,Te Partiers,Libertarians,Fundamentalists (and even  most liberals) feel threatened by psychology, psychoanalysis, social psychology, and psychotherapy.  It involves reflection that in turn leads to puncturing through conventional wisdom. It calls into question their Sacred Cow: the structure of  corporate capitalist power and the values it engenders, promotes,  and rewards. That structure and those modern corporate values led inevitably to the mess we are living in now.  Can  we face that truth or will we turn away from it as too scary to think about? Will we evade it and gloss it over (through denial and rationalisation)–or courageously confront it head-on, breaking free of the ancient and revered  chains of illusion? 

Can we bear that much truth?










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