I’m not impressed by Barbara Oakley’s positions and feel no great inclination to read her book. It sounded all too reductionistic, and where she veered off into politics, positively naive. Ken Lays “should have done more than slap their wrists”. Give me a break! She reminds me of a naive reporter I once heard on NPR who touted Lays donations to the arts (millions, but by comparison minor pocket change) as worthy of admiration. Damnit, the Rockefellers started being ‘benefactors’ as a publicity ploy to improve their abysmal but correct image as being murderous robber barons, not because they meant it!
There are several types of CEOs, some are technocrats, some are just good looking, smooth talking figure heads, but most have achieved their high station because they ruthlessly put the bottom line over everything else. In this society, these guys tend to be lionized as heroes and ‘captains of industry’ but in my book they’re sociopaths. How do you rise in a hierarchie? Over the corpses of your competitors. It’s not just a prejudice, it’s recently shown to be the case in a decent study. Same for politics.
Here it’s especially obvious that the stupid ‘brain scans’ to which DJ kept referring don’t do nothing. Knowledge of a person’s psychological history and his history of actions apparently is much more telling, if sometimes of little account in the eyes of stupid voters. George W Bush and his henchman Karl Rove are good examples. Bush had nothing to show for except being rich, having a president for father, being born again and having emerged from alcoholism. He was a complete failure as a business man who had to be bailed out from his disastrous episodes in the oil industry numerous times. He hadn’t read a book, had in essence flunked Yale. He didn’t have to go to Nam because his connections made sure he ended up a non-flying pilot in the ‘champaign unit’ of the National Guard, and even failed to report for duty. He got into the Guard despite scoring only 25 percent on a “pilot aptitude” test, the lowest passing grade.
An acquaintance of mine attended Harvard business school with W. She told me his astounding ‘talent’ was to make claims one minute, and to completely disavow any knowledge of having ever utter anything of the kind as soon as his ideas had turned out to be wrong. She says it left profs and fellow students speechless.
Or take Karl Rove. By credible accounts the description of hitman or henchman is correct and undeniable. He had a history of breaking the rules and the law to denigrate and harm his political opponents, and was promoted to become “Bush’s brains” for exactly that reason. An amoral technocrat in the propaganda industry who was until recently allowed to machinate the lies used to start an illegal war that so far has killed more than a million people in Iraq and Afghanistan. No need to submit him to a brain scan: everybody knew exactly what kind of a person he is, but the powerhungry Republican machine rewarded and promoted him for those exact features.
Or take Pol Pot or the North Vietnamese. As Noam Chomsky has pointed out the extremely cruel and devastating war in Southeast Asia basically only allowed the toughest and meanest leaders to survive. Guess why they were so inhumane? They had nothing to lose, they might die the same day in aerial bombings, they had little to eat because dikes had been bombed and their food sustenance destroyed. Were they psychopaths? By some definition, yes, but where do the genes come in? (Note: this injection of reason earned Chomsky bitter criticsm as being an ‘apologist’ for their atrocities, when all he said was that there’s no reason to expect them to be nice guys).
(As an aside, I hate it when unpleasant leaders are dubbed ‘dictator’ when they have been elected, as applies to Milosevic, whom Oakley mentioned, and Iran’s Ahmedinejad, the latter having been called a dictator by the president of Columbia University.)
Does it really require a gene theory to understand history and politics? Even if there are genetic markers that identify ‘evil’ traits, does that open up any venues to change things? In any case, politics is often a shell game with figure heads visible to the outside - who may display integrity, wisdom and statesmanship - and henchmen on the inside. Apparently, this is how people like to do things. I fail to see where the evil gene theory can make a dent, except to demonize and marginalize people who don’t live up to social norms.
What we need are social structures where obvious assholes do not rise through the ranks - now here’s a challenge!