Pharmacist/Managing Director, National Locum Pharmacists Australia

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Are world leaders more prone to Psychopathic tendencies? or Is it a manifestation of the job?

A TEDster made a comment asserting that a prominent politician has psychopathy.

While they may have had their comment removed I think they brought up a fascinating discussion point.

Is psychopathy more prevalent in world leaders? Is going to war for political reasons psychopathy? Where do you draw the line between self-serving behaviour and psychopathy?

George Bush sent men to fight to death on what turns out to be cherry picked intel, but he has a family and children that he loves, and is deeply engaged in his social sphere - can you be a psychopath and a loving husband and father?

Conversely I know many people with grand moral positions who have little consideration for friends and family and are selfish to the extent you would only expect in children.

Would love to hear others perspectives

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    Lejan .

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    Aug 16 2012: In my opinion, all leading positions include the risk for those who hold them, to gradually confound positional with personal influence which exposes them to moral corruption if their characters are not consolidated enough and continuously grounded.

    As usually no one is becoming a world leader by accident, the chances are high you will find many among those who strive for it, who naturally bear this flaming 'call for power', which by its nature, does not always have the best intentions.

    Power itself then often creates the urge in those who have it to also keep it, which generally deforms perception and interaction towards the original subject the power was once granted for. By this a stong character becomes even more important, as nothing else will be able to stop loosing 'ground contact'.

    Becoming a powerfull leader usually includes the dismissal of a 'regular' life and with it usually comes a fundamental change in perspective, which can become self-propelled to highest and unhealthy degrees.

    By this, and not to assume a predetermined requirement, self-centered behaviour mostly becomes dominant and therefore controlls all further actions of this occupied individuals. Self-centeredness and the fear of loosing power may then serve as a inauspicious breeding ground on which psychopathic tendencies can evolve.

    This can also include the splitting of perception and personal reality way off ground-level, which often leads to pathological forms of self esteem causing false estimations and therefore false decisions.

    I have met many business leaders who have already lost basic knowledge within the simplest tasks, like independently booking a flight on the internet or even to operate and manage their own email account.
    This may seem negligible to many, given the importance of decisions those managers have to make, yet those are the first signs of lost ground-contact as there is a difference in 'not knowing' and 'delegation' about those basics.

    Evidence is in the news!
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    Aug 17 2012: I don't think, they are more prone.
    Even though I disagree with many leaders, especially Bush, I think it is important to distinguish between actions we don't like or approve of and psychopathic actions.

    Psychopaths lack the ability for empathy - some can simulate it, but they don't understand it and don't feel it.

    Going to war - and other hard decisions - are not necessarily psychopathic. They can be the lesser of 2 evils. A careful consideration that the rights/life/ideas of "us" are more important that the same of "them".
    Especially if "they" affect "us" in a way we don't like or maybe can't live with.

    Bush is probably not among the brightest, and therefore more prone to bad decisions based on lack of knowledge, bad advise, or information from people with their own agenda.

    I think, it is possible that there are more psychopaths as leaders that in the general public, because power attracts them.

    I have met selfish people, who show little or no consideration for people around them, in all kinds of positions.
    I think the selfish behaviour can be caused by several things - how they were raised, their beliefs, their mental state. Stress is one state that can lead to selfish behaviour.
    But often we can't really see, if a person really doesn't show consideration for others. We usually judge from our own point of view, being far from objective.
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      Aug 17 2012: Great post, Sophia! We often forget that although there is a certain amount of narcissism associated with seeking an office as powerful as a head of state, once in the office, the decisions that have to be made are tough ones and affect a large number of people. Some people agree with the leader's choices and some don't, and some people are tragically impacted by those decisions.

      Disagreement and even anger over the impact of a leader's decision doesn't make the leader a psychopath. It may make him/her incompetent, but we need to be careful not to apply diagnostic labels to people just because we don't like their personality or choices.

      Oddly enough, the TED speaker, who prompted this discussion, started his talk with this very point. Are 4 year-olds, who throw temper tantrums really bi-polar? Maybe, but that in itself is not the basis for the diagnosis, and we have become very quick to apply these labels to people based on behaviors we don't like but that may be normal for that person given a number of other factors.
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    Aug 16 2012: There are usually numerous pressure groups and individuals who try to influence a leader; there are usually as many decievers as there are sincere people. It could be very difficult for people in position of authority to distinguish between sincere good and bad people because pretenders know how to be seen as they want to be seen.

    Unfortunately for the leaders, the responsibility for every decision, good or bad, rests on the head. People hardly remember the bad advisers, but the bad presidents are remembered.

    It is not just that some presidents are evil. It is the fact that more people suffer from the impact of their wrong choices.
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    Aug 21 2012: I think psychopathy can be caused by many things: the environment we are in, the position in said environment we are in, the kind of character we have, or even genetic predisposition. Has anyone read William Golding's "Lord of The Flies?" Perhaps psychopathic actions are simply fear manifesting itself in a way that causes one to act on impulse and do out-of-character things because they are thought to be the best decision in the mindset one is currently in.
    • Aug 22 2012: Interesting perspective Meaghan, are you suggesting that one can become a psychopath, depending on the circumstances, rather than be born one? Can an induced psychopath re-convert back to non-psychopathic?

      Under the conventional definition (poorly defined mind you), a psychopath does not need adverse conditions to be extremely manipulative for self gain.

      I think what you are describing is self preservation under extreme situations, for example German soldiers during WW2 that committed atrocities under orders, or people cannibalizing each other under extreme deprivation.

      Often extreme psychological discomfort is experienced by the perpetrators while these acts are being perpetrated, and deep shame and remorse is expressed after the extreme circumstances have lifted.

      My understanding is that a psychopath would experience no turmoil when committing these acts and feel no genuine remorse, although they well may express remorse as an act to gain leniency for their crimes.

      What I'd like to know is did George Bush feel genuine psychological discomfort for the deaths of American soldiers in his wars, or were they so many eggs cracked for the sake of his delicious Haliburton omelet?
  • Aug 20 2012: Wall Street/ our government- On Being A psychopath- Their first instinct is always to protect themselves and their best interest. We are in wars with Afghanistan, Libya, Pakistan, Somalia and Yemen.

    Big corporations will donate millions to the puppets’ campaign to make sure they act the part, without consequence or any responsibility. "They will disenfranchise and intimidate minorities that would vote against them. They will hire judges to enforce their arcane rules. And lastly, and worst of all, they will mobilize security teams to terrorize opponents outside the law. They will build more and more prisons across the nation to make sure their money goes to something useful like the housing and feeding of (you and I) - on “cell-block reservations” which will be the next big boon.” (Werner)

    They will raid alternative doctors helping people with cancer, raid organic farmers and promote drugging of our children, as young as 4years old with Ritalin. We are in the Twilight zone. When will these obsessions stop?
    • Aug 20 2012: Yes, there are many special interests in politics but is self interest the same as psychopathy?
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    Aug 17 2012: My daughter is actually 4...
    :D

    Usually her tantrums are because she is hungry or tired.
    Maybe we should make it a policy to provide incompetent leaders with a snack and ask them to take a nap.


    I think, we are in general far too eager to apply diagnostic labels. To managers, political leaders, famous people, our ex-partners, the teacher we don't like and so on.
    Maybe because it is easier to feel justified in our negative feelings?
    But that's another discussion.
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    Aug 16 2012: There are usually numerous pressure groups and individuals who try to influence a leader; there are usually as many decievers as there are sincere people. It could be very difficult for people in position of authority to distinguish between sincere good and bad people because pretenders know how to be seen as they want to be seen.

    Unfortunately for the leaders, the responsibility for every decision, good or bad, rests on the head. People hardly remember the bad advisers, but the bad presidents are remembered.

    It is not just that some presidents are evil. It is the fact that more people suffer from the impact of their wrong choices.
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    Aug 16 2012: There are usually numerous pressure groups and individuals who try to influence a leader; there are usually as many decievers as there are sincere people. It could be very difficult for people in position of authority to distinguish between sincere good and bad people because pretenders know how to be seen as they want to be seen.

    Unfortunately for the leaders, the responsibility for every decision, good or bad, rests on the head. People hardly remember the bad advisers, but the bad presidents are remembered.

    It is not just that some presidents are evil. It is the fact that more people suffer from the impact of their wrong choices.
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      Aug 16 2012: @Triple post: Servers acting up?

      Anyways, yeah, the saying goes, Power corrupts, and absolute power corrupts absolutely. The decision of a leader has extreme consequences, and I feel like no matter which decision you make, there will be a lot of people who suffer because of it. I don't think I could ever become a huge leader like a president because I will most certainly choke from the pressure.
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        Aug 17 2012: Yes, the servers again. And oh, how hard I tried to delete the posts.

        Being a President is not for the faint hearted. There is so much pressure; but it does have its advantages.
  • Aug 16 2012: Yes, not more prone. They are psychopathic.
    Years ago, there was a book written about "how can humans be sure to protect themselves from putting into office or into positions of power, the kinds of "psychopathic monsters" that were HItler, Mussolini, Stalin, Pol Pot, The Shah of Iran, the Ayatollah Kohmeini, Ronald Reagan, George Bushes, Richard Nixon, Bill Clinton, and others?

    Well, we didn't protect ourelves. We have put the same kinds of monsters into power since WWII and they have been killing millions upon millions, destroying lives, environments, children and many other forms of life as well as trust, safety, liberty and human compassion and connection, with immunity and impunity.

    And soon, some will get to vote for which monster they prefer over another.
  • Aug 16 2012: You are assuming what you are trying to prove.
    • Aug 16 2012: I'm not here to prove, just trying to start a lively debate. Of course, I do have a position on the matter myself and this may be coming out in the title.