Psychopaths hidden in plain sight

November 6, 2009

Would you trust a psychopath?  I can’t imagine many would answer yes to that question.

Would you trust yourself to recognise a psychopath?  That’s a little trickier as  psychopaths are notoriously intelligent, charming and deceptive.  Fortunately the odds are in our favour that we won’t come across many in our lifetime as they are a relatively rare breed.

Or are they?

The documentary The Corporation reveals the dominant institution of our time displays all the characteristics of  a psychopath:  It has no conscience, is manipulative, charming, glib, deceptive, parasitic, irresponsible, selfish, callous, promiscuous, impulsive, antisocial, and aggressive.  

The producers examine the rise of the corporation in our society and reveal, piece-by piece, that the organisations we trust to produce our goods and services, including our food and medicine, happen to tick all the boxes in the diagnostic criteria for a psychopath:

Fascinating viewing and well worth watching:

Part One

You can view the remaining parts on You Tube.

More about the film

These fictionally created legal entities have all the legal rights of a person but none of the tempering characteristics of human decency or personal responsibility to regulate their actions as one blogger comments:

“The Corporation’s thesis that corporations are psychopaths is neither a slur nor a conceit. It’s a fact. Corporations are legal persons. Unfortunately, they are persons with “no souls to save, and no bodies to imprison.”

A corporation exists to dissolve the responsibilities of the human beings who run it. Say the board of Acme Inc decides to pollute a river. If anyone has a problem with that, they’ll have to sue Acme, not the 12 members of the board or the investors. Most individuals would be ashamed to be named in a pollution suit, a fact which might deter them from committing such a crime. Acme has no shame, though.

Jail is a great equalizer. The richer you are, the less a fine will harm you–but a year is still worth as much to a rich person as to a poor one. Unfortunately, you can’t lock up an abstraction and the directors have little or no criminal liability. Fines become another cost of doing business. Of course, when pollution turns a profit, individuals divide the money.

Corporations are also legally required to put profit above every other good. A small business owner might decide that, on the whole, a 5% rate of return is plenty, even though she knows she could get 10% by raising prices and cutting jobs. It’s her business, so she gets to decide how to balance profits against other values. By contrast, the Acme Board is required to make as big a profit is it possibly can, no matter what. For all its power, the directors aren’t allowed to place jobs over profit, or sustainability over quarterly return. For that, they could be fired.

Normal human beings are enmeshed in a network of obligations and competing goods. We’d all like to make money, but we recognize that other people’s rights and feelings matter, unlike psychopaths who feel entitled to do whatever they want.. If empathy and ethics aren’t enough to keep us normals on the straight and narrow, we can be deterred by punishments ranging from social ostracism to death. Even human psychopaths can be deterred by the threat of punishment.

Corporations have the same rights as people, plus more lawyers, guns and money. Terrifyingly, they are also designed to be amoral, immortal, and insatiable. For example, corporations enjoy free speech, and property rights including the right to own other corporations (ironic, that, considering the 14th Amendment established corporate personhood).

The Corporation’s message is not simply that corporations do bad things. Nor is the movie about what terrible people corporate executives are. On the contrary, the movie goes out of its way to show how sympathetic and thoughtful corporate leaders can be. The point of the movie is that a legal fiction has unleashed a dangerous self-perpetuating entity which is designed to slip the bonds of individual human decency and personal responsibility. That’s why corporations are literally psychopaths.”


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