Monday, 6 July 2015

Book review: Psychopathic Cultures and Toxic Empires

I have been reading 'Psychopathic Cultures and Toxic Empires' by Will Black this week, and I would thoroughly recommend it.  Mr Black discusses psychopathy in general, outlining the characteristics often found in such people, such as selfishness, greed, impulsivity, risk-taking and lack of empathy.  He then goes on to note that some professions such as banking, politics and the law tend to attract more psychopaths than might be expected, and how such people will tend to 'infect' such cultures with psychopathic characteristics which may persist long after those who introduced that culture have moved on.  This is not to say that all bankers or politicians or lawyers are psychopaths, but that the tendency of most people to the herd norm will tend to perpetuate such cultures once established.

The book makes a convincing case for such cultures being present in our current society, with the cult of austerity, for example, being shown to be a toxic construct based on greed and selfishness.  Mr Black also references recent child sexual abuse scandals involving people such as Jimmy Savile and demonstrates how such people influence the culture round about them to lead ordinary people to look the other way when faced with abuse taking place in plain sight.

This thesis also explains something about the differences in culture between Scotland and England in terms of the independence debate.  It's often been observed that, when surveyed on matters political, respondents in Scotland and England are more alike than different.  This then leads to claims that, as the two countries are very similar, it cannot be argued that they are sufficiently different to justify independence for Scotland.  However, this feeling that the cultures are different can be explained by the observation that psychopathic tendencies in a culture can be stopped by societies observing that psychopathic behaviour violates group norms and therefore encouraging the humane norms and discouraging the undesirable behaviours.  Scotland is a very much smaller country in terms of population than England and has a 'kent his faither' attitude which is used to counter tendencies to arrogance and feelings of superiority.  This can, of course, be limiting, but is also a useful way of providing a 'norm' against which behaviour can be measured.

Mr Black argues his case well and adds a new dimension to our understanding of our current society, and because we have a better understanding we can begin to try and move away from 'infected' cultures to something far more humane.

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