So this is why so many bosses are jerks, and other depressing thoughts for the day

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by Neil Godfrey

From The bad news on human nature, in 10 findings from psychology by Christian Jarrett

A few excerpts:

We favour ineffective leaders with psychopathic traits. The American personality psychologist Dan McAdams recently concluded that the US President Donald Trump’s overt aggression and insults have a ‘primal appeal’, and that his ‘incendiary Tweets’ are like the ‘charging displays’ of an alpha male chimp, ‘designed to intimidate’. If McAdams’s assessment is true, it would fit into a wider pattern – the finding that psychopathic traits are more common than average among leaders. Take the survey of financial leaders in New York that found they scored highly on psychopathic traits but lower than average in emotional intelligence. A meta-analysis published this summer concluded that there is indeed a modest but significant link between higher trait psychopathy and gaining leadership positions, which is important since psychopathy also correlates with poorer leadership.

Another one of the ten says we are moral hypocrites. I know that’s true. I’m one myself. I like to think I’m a vegetarian for ethical reasons but I continue to eat fish.

This one is so depressing. I have spent most of my adult life believing in the power of education, only to learn it probably only has an effect on those who want to be better anyway.

We are blinkered and dogmatic. If people were rational and open-minded, then the straightforward way to correct someone’s false beliefs would be to present them with some relevant facts. However a classic study from 1979 showed the futility of this approach – participants who believed strongly for or against the death penalty completely ignored facts that undermined their position, actually doubling-down on their initial view. This seems co occur in part because we see opposing facts as undermining our sense of identity. It doesn’t help that many of us are overconfident about how much we understand things and that, when we believe our opinions are superior to others, this deters us from seeking out further relevant knowledge.

And do be careful not to tread on any ants from now on because they have feelings too, you know …. Bee-brained (Are insects ‘philosophical zombies’ with no inner life? Close attention to their behaviours and moods suggests otherwise).

And if you thought things really are getting worse it’s not simply concept creep either. The world really is going the way of the tediously saintly young. So says Matt Ridley whose books I once found happily enlightening.

That’s enough wallowing in misery for one weekend.


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Neil Godfrey

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8 thoughts on “So this is why so many bosses are jerks, and other depressing thoughts for the day”

  1. Nothing new here.
    Paul Bloom revealed all this in his book “Just Babies: The Origins of Good and Evil” in 2013.
    Depressing, but not unexpected.

    The good news is that these innate tendencies don’t necessarily rule us. We can, and many of us do, supersede them.

  2. In 1871 Charles Darwin surmised that humans were evolutionarily closer to the African apes than to any other species alive. The recent sequencing of the gorilla, chimpanzee and bonobo genomes confirms that supposition and provides a clearer view of how we are connected: chimps and bonobos in particular take pride of place as our nearest living relatives, sharing approximately 99 percent of our DNA, with gorillas trailing at 98 percent.

    I don’t agree at all with Chris Jarrett that we favor ineffective leaders with psychopathic traits. We don’t favor them, we’re only in a pattern that’s hard to kick after hundreds of years of brainwashing by the Roman Catholic Church. Females have been trampled on.

    Not all apes sling poo. The bonobos are matrilineal. Our problem is that when an alpha ape comes to power we grin and bear it thinking that we have to follow protocol or we are uncivilized. Yet we ARE uncivilized if we continue to cow to this unintelligent ape. In rare instances when beta apes have had enough, they will unceremoniously take the alpha ape down.

    1. “we’re only in a pattern that’s hard to kick after hundreds of years of brainwashing by the Roman Catholic Church.”

      Agreed. Even now, Poland and Hungary couldn’t have happened without direct involvement of the catholic church.

      The article, if there’s anything depressing about it, it’s journalism quality.
      I looked up some of the research it’s based on, and some of it seems about as stupid as the article makes it look.
      If the replicability crisis and hoax articles getting easily published couldn’t shake up social sciences, I don’t know what would.

  3. But let’s not forget how much of who rises to the top is structural, not a product of collective agreement. That’s a whole part of the case for democracy.

    In America, Donald Trump did not receive the majority of the votes, instead our anti-democratic system put the person with a minority of the votes into office.

    Corporate leaders are not elected, very far from it in America. In Europe employees have a bit more say, but certainly in America the ones that make it to the top are often there IN SPITE OF most people’s wishes.

    America has always been a fake democracy, that uses propaganda and an artificial process that is enough to let average people feel like they have some kind of influence over the system, when in fact its all just run by of and for the super-rich and always has been.

    The fallacy here is looking at those at the top of the social pyramid and claiming that those people are at the top as a result of public approval, when most often that is not the case. The people at the top typically either are there in spite of public approval, or the public impression of who those people are is not true t how they actually are. In other words, those people would not be able to rise to the top of a system that relied on approval gained through personal relationships, it’s a product of media propaganda.

    But things were flawed in the past as well, when who was at the top was less a product of public support than of fear.

    There have been very few, if any, societies that have been truly democratic and not driven by fear or favor, i.e. democratic and objective, where people were free to support others based on who they actually liked and felt best about.

  4. The chimps are most like us because they embrace male dominance. The older chimps are able to retain power by convincing the younger (and actually still physically powerful) chimps that they are so psychopathic that they could gather a mob against them and kill them. Each younger male believes this because they live in constant distrust of their peers. The older males encourage this atmosphere of fear to ensure their power. Does any of this sound familiar?

    The only way to change this is for each individual (as early as they can) to begin the process of building trust with their peers and seeking common cause. This is not a political process. It is a commitment by each person to grow more capable and aware. How is real social change effected? One day everyone (the vast majority) wakes up to the absurdity of the previous regime. This doesn’t happen without the change of a single individual.

  5. Thank you, the Bee article made my day! Matt Ridley brought a smile and I’ve been scratching my head about where I had seen the content of Concept Creep for weeks. So cheer up; you’ve at least made this some one happier than he was before reading this. 🙂

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