Wednesday, January 08, 2014

Sociopaths Need Careers Too

I work for myself because I prefer not to work with other humans.  I consider fellow members of my species to be scientific curiosities prone to random bouts of egotistical violence and subterfuge.  I tried to help some of these unfortunates change their ways with no success.  A large number of people are simply hard-wired for sociopathy.  They can't help the way they are.

The US Army is taking its first steps toward identifying and removing toxic leaders.  I think this process will take an entire generation, based on my personal experience with toxic leaders and the culture of the Army.  Find the archived edition of the US Army Combined Arms center's magazine Military Review from May/June 1999.  Read the article "Natural Killers:  Turning The Tide of Battle" (republished here on another site) to see how sociopaths, when properly controlled, play a useful role in the military.  Complicating this process is the ability of high-functioning sociopaths to "go to the dark side" and adopt the appearance of possessing emotional intelligence.  This masquerade enables them to continue manipulating people and damaging organizations.  Other large employers face the problem posed by a high number of high-functioning sociopaths.  Wall Street stands out in particular for its sociopaths in high places and the damage they cause by deceiving clients, trading partners, and regulators.  Sociopaths crave power.

I am humane and generous, much more so than our unfortunate sociopaths.  These people are still human and thus entitled to life, liberty, the pursuit of happiness, and all that jazz.  The trouble comes when they are left to their own devices and pursue careers that naturally lend to hierarchy, acquisition, and the control of other humans.  Salespeople, for example, lie every time they open their mouths and the most skilled ones become sales managers who train other liars to lie just as well.  The potential damage sociopaths cause must rule them out of many occupations whose status enables and magnifies their destructive behavior.

I have a decent solution to the social problem of employing sociopaths.  Corporations and government bureaucracies should screen their entry-level hires for sociopathic traits before these people have a chance to climb the ladder to positions of higher authority.  Scientific verification of sociopathic tendencies will thus serve as an automatic disqualifier for promotion past the entry level.  In an ideal world, sociopaths will be confined largely to low-skill jobs regardless of what their high-functioning intellectual skills may otherwise warrant.  It's hard to manipulate others when primary job tasks involve lifting boxes, driving a truck, or running computer scripts.  Of course, the most creative among them may still gravitate to positions of influence through entrepreneurial efforts in business and politics.  I have no solution at present for that possibility.  A free society must maintain multiple paths to upward mobility.

Corporations and government agencies will not adopt any sociopathic HR screens of their own accord unless they are faced with systemic dysfunction that calls into question their basic mission.  The US Army currently faces such critical fallout from soldier suicides and sexual assaults that it has no choice but to examine the role sociopathic leaders play as a contributing factor.  I believe activist institutional investors can play a role by pressuring publicly traded corporations to adopt sociopathic HR screens.  It may fall under a corporate social responsibility rubric.  It is certainly the right thing to do.