Apex predators and iconic species decimated by a handful of men who can’t control their urge to kill.
It is far too easy to find examples of bloodlust.
The behaviours that underpin these, and the many other examples of the ruthlessness demonstrated in hunting, are some of the same behavioural traits used to describe psychopathy. For example, an apparent lack of remorse or guilt, a lack of empathy, a failure to accept the negative implications of one’s own actions, to name just a few.
When men (and it is mainly men) are willing to undertake this level of slaughter, should the mental health of those given the legal license to inflict such carnage be considered? Is it time for society to reflect if these activities really happen by accident or are they the result of social evolution, resulting in too great a level of acceptance of unethical behaviour?
For the last few thousand years forms of government evolved, and became prevalent, which bestowed arbitrary power over other people on those at the top of the hierarchy. Research is beginning to emerge exploring how such hierarchies promoted psychopathy, because psychopaths are attracted to systems and institutions that provide them the prospect of arbitrary power over others. Their elevation to the ‘top of society’ and their perceived status as leaders was further aided by the more recent transition to meritocracies, which imply that anyone who makes it to the top is ‘deserving’ to be there; numerous examples highlight that this seems to be irrespective of the toxic behaviours they exhibit.
Today, these hierarchies don’t only exist in government or business, they exist at many levels, from the military to community organisations, sports clubs, school councils and even social (media) groups. As soon as the members of the group don’t keep the extreme behaviours of the group’s leaders in check (which in meritocracies they don’t) there is no feedback loop on what is acceptable and what is not. Those who have carved out their position of arbitrary power within the group in effect become untouchable and their abhorrent behaviour will be tolerated and excused by the group to protect the institution, organisation or the group’s ideology. At the extreme end of this abhorrent behaviour sits the psychopath, but what do we mean by extreme?
As a result of the 2008 Global Financial Crisis, a number of studies to understand why it had occurred confirmed that higher than expected levels of psychopathic traits (superficial charm, grandiose sense of self-worth, need for stimulation/proneness to boredom, manipulative, lack of remorse or guilt, shallow affect, lack of empathy, irresponsibility, failure to accept responsibility for one’s own actions are some of the behaviours) exist among people in the upper echelons of the business world.
The research concluded that the prevalence of what they termed the ‘successful psychopath’ was anything between 3% to 21% at senior management levels and above. One study of 261 corporate professionals in the supply chain management industry showed extremely high prevalence rates of psychopathy, with 21% of participants found to have clinically significant levels of psychopathic traits, a figure comparable to prison populations.
The level settled on by many researchers is that 4%-5% of the overall professional management group population has clinically significant levels of psychopathic traits, compared with 1% of the general population. These ‘successful psychopaths’ can engage in unethical and illegal business practices and have a toxic impact on other employees.