Creating The Perfect World for Psychopaths

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We didn’t mean to do it, but we have created a perfect world for psychopaths. If I were to sit down with the express aim of designing a society where psychopaths could flourish, it would be almost identical to any modern capitalist society, or at least, where most are heading very quickly. There would be almost no communal property. Government would have been reduced to a tax collecting rump, tasked mostly with providing bare minimum services to the destitute. Almost all government assets would have been liquidated in search of the ‘efficiencies’, not to mention the money offered by business operators. The power system, the ports, the railways, the banks, the post office and even core services like health and unemployment would have all become partially or full privatised.

All communal services would be delivered on a largely user-pay basis, and the concept of community assets, like the public pool or public transport would cease to be fashionable. The interests and rights of the individual would trump any consideration of the collective good at every turn. Institutions that previously reinforced community values, such as businesses, religious groups and families would wilt under the sustained economic pressure to maximise individual gain. Increasingly business and government agencies would internally restructure in a way that rewarded individual and competitive economic performance rather than satisfying community expectations. Bullying and domestic violence would accelerate as the community standards which held them in check decayed. Honesty would become something to which we all paid lip-service whilst desperately trying to get away with as much as we could. We would come to expect the same levels of almost-honesty from our political representatives and become inured to their flexible relationship with the truth. It wouldn’t make us love them but we would know where they were coming from. We would no longer trust our leaders or public institutions. Indeed we would quickly learn the only people we could trust were ourselves and whoever Uber rated with 5 stars. In the race to compete with others narcissistic behaviour becomes so common that barely anyone notices it as being unusual. Everyone would be expected to self-promote at every possible opportunity.

The society I have described is highly individualistic. Every day in every way, the members of that society compete with each other for scarce resources. Co-operation and trust are almost non-existent and honesty is a vague and flexible concept. In that society humans have no need for empathy, trust, co-operation or a moral code which enables communal living. In that society all that matters is individual self-interest and getting the most for you without regard to anyone else. In that society, having a brain with a socialisation circuit upgrade is a significant impairment. You will have qualms about breaking the law. You will try not to exploit others as much as you can. You will try to avoid dishonesty unless it is really necessary. In that society, empaths are the sub-normals. And being a psychopath is a distinct advantage. Having a brain unfettered by moral constraints or empathy makes you a winner and probably even the President.

An Extract from Taming Toxic People

Surviving the Family Psychopath at Christmas

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Christmas is a time for good will to all, for giving and receiving and, for getting uncomfortably close to people we’ve spent the rest of the year avoiding like the plague.

Toxic people. You might call them bullies, or micromanagers, or narcissists, or sociopaths.  I don’t feel particularly charitable towards them, so I go with psychopath.  But whatever you call them there common feature is a complete lack of empathy.

They see human feelings as an opportunity for manipulation.  They see our concern for our fellow travellers as a ‘weakness’ they neither suffer nor desire.  But they know they can use our feelings to torment us, sometime for gain but mostly for their pleasure.  So there is no better time of year than one when we have no choice but to be in their company.

Psychopaths want to be the centre of attention at all times.  Their birthday is a terrific celebration for exactly that reason, it’s all about them.  They are the focus and the receiver of all things.  They feel the world should be like this every day.

Psychopaths don’t experience human feelings.  They are not elevated by the company of others.  They have no idea why we are so obsessed by getting together and celebrating not-them.

Christmas, rather like other’s people’s birthdays, has the potential to be the opposite of a good time to a psychopath.  Luckily there are compensations.  People who go out of their way to avoid contact with the psychopath are suddenly forced to share a meal with them.  And they have to play nice.

In any room full of people making nice, there are loads of little surface tensions just waiting to be magnified with an appropriate bit of manipulation.  Oh the fun that can be had scratching everybody else’s little emotional itches until they openly bleed.  Puppet masters by nature, you will not know where the bullets will come from.  Psychopaths are experts at lighting a fire in others and sitting back to watch the show.  Pass the popcorn – the entertainment is endless.

Even better old and new targets will be much more open to the psychopathic charm.  The festive spirit dulls their victims’ memories of just what an utter prick they can be.  The opportunities for emotional torment of past victims and of the harvesting of new ones are endless.  Maybe Christmas isn’t so bad after all.

Every family has at least one of these toxic people.  They are the ones you wouldn’t have in your home if you weren’t obliged to by a sense of family responsibility.  They are the guest that is guaranteed to sabotage the bonhomie and leave a trail of ignited emotions and crumpled self-worth in their wake as they trample through the goodwill of Christmas.

And yet, we will have them at our table every Christmas without fail.  Because we care about how other humans feel and it would be mean to leave them out at that one time of the year.  Leaving them off the guest list doesn’t really affect them.  They are not harmed by ‘missing out’ on Christmas. But ditching them will probably more trouble than its worth.  They will use their exclusion as a weapon to divide the family into for and against (you) camps and you will pay for it a thousand times over.

Short of ‘forgetting’ to invite them, there are other defences against the family psychopath.  You cant change them, but you can change how you and others react to them.

Be well mannered, light hearted and Teflon coated.  Feel the power of knowing your enemy.  Be ready to stand up to any attempts at manipulation.  Push back hard and publicly on any jibe, but stay unemotional and unmovable.  Do not respond to innuendo designed to get a rise out of you. The more you remain implacable in the face of provocation, the less you will have to do it.

But most importantly, do not believe or act on anything the psychopath says about anyone else.  It is probably a lie and at the very least exaggerated and out of context. The more people in the room who are signed on to your plan, the less likely any of you will be manipulated.  Solidarity beats a psychopath every day of the week and twice on Christmas.

If it’s not your party, you could just not go.  Yes that’s extreme, but if the alternative is guaranteed emotional turbulence it’s got to be an option.  Why not simply arrange to see the bits of the family you can stand at another time.  Pop over for Christmas Eve or catch up on Boxing Day perhaps?

If you do go, you could do a flyer.  Breeze in, drop off the presents, give dear old Aunt Flossy a kiss, have a slice of Pav and hit the road before anyone can land a punch.

None of this is easy, but if you can manage it, Christmas might actually be fun for a change.

North Korea: Why dealing with Kim Jong-un is like managing a psychopathic boss

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It is possible to avoid war in Korea but only by doing the one thing Donald Trump will find near impossible: building trust.

According to classic deterrence theory, the only way to convince a nuclear-armed opponent that you will use your nukes is to have them believe you value the targets they can threaten.

If they can directly target your homeland then, the theory goes, you will retaliate if it is attacked. But it is significantly harder to be convincing when it comes to your allies.

Would Americans really risk San Francisco if Seoul — or Darwin — was threatened? This is exactly the strategic calculus going on in North Korea today.

The decades of peace created by the Cold War showed us the way to deter opportunistic aggression is to create a tight-knit community of your allies, such as the US did in Europe after World War II.

To accomplish this, the US should ensure complete unanimity of message and purpose.

There should be nothing unpredictable about their reactions for either their enemies or their allies. There should not even be the slightest hint the US can in any way be decoupled from them.

If the US believes this, and their allies believe this, then it is likely their enemies will not be prepared to risk attacking an ally for fear of retribution from the US.

Mixing paranoia with power

Clearly Donald Trump is marching to the beat of a different drum.


His Twitter tantrums accusing South Korea of “appeasement” combined with his demands that allies pay for their own defence are telling the North the US can be — and even wants to be — separated from its allies.

It is also telling the allies they cannot trust the US.

This is exactly what Kim Jong-un wants.

His end game, for now, is to force the US to trade South Korea for a threat against US soil.

At some point, he will force the South to surrender to him to avert nuclear disaster and the South will capitulate because they think the US will not risk its own cities to save theirs.

In short, Mr Kim is behaving exactly the way psychopathic dictators always do.

Psychopaths do not fear punishment. They cannot be threatened into submission. They can only be destroyed, held at bay or directed down a path of greater reward for them. They are motivated only by paranoia and reward.


Kim Jong-un is paranoid the US will do to him what it did to Saddam Hussein and Moamar Gaddafi.

The nukes are insurance against that and a threat that can get him the jewel he desperately seeks — a unified Korean peninsula under his control.

As with all psychopaths, bellicose threats are water off a duck’s back.

His strategy is to fan the flames of distrust between allies that should be standing shoulder to shoulder against him. And so far, Mr Trump has done nothing but help.

Like dealing with a psychopathic boss

There is absolutely no difference between this approach and the one employed by your psychopathic boss. And the solution is exactly the same: solidarity.

One of the proven strategies for immunising a workplace (or any group of humans) against a psychopathic boss is to ensure all members of the team trust each other.

When all communication is honest and open and the team cooperates to attain a shared goal, there are no levers and wedges for the workplace psychopath to use. Trust and cooperation will always defeat psychopathic manipulation.

Exactly the same is true at the national scale. Kim Jong-un must believe South Korea, Japan, Australia and the US will act as one if any of them is threatened. More importantly, we must believe it too.

Mr Trump must immediately stop destroying the trust allies have in the US. Every trust-draining tweet does nothing more than further embolden Mr Kim.

He must immediately commence a process of unification of purpose in that alliance. It will be hard for him. He attained power using exactly the strategy being deployed by Mr Kim — divide and conquer.

Trust, cooperation and unity are alien concepts to Mr Trump and the opposite of what has worked personally for him so far. His gut reaction to any threat is to blame others and his impulsivity means this is often communicated in the heat of the moment.

But if the world is to have any chance of avoiding nuclear war, he must build trust. And if he can’t, America must find a way to do it without him.

Not doing this guarantees war on the Korean peninsula. Doing it will guarantee peace. It won’t be a rainbows-and-lollipops kind of peace — it will be a teeth-grinding, edge-of-the-seat peace that is constantly tested.

But at least nobody dies.

Also published at ABC News.

Excerpt from Taming Toxic People

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Imagine for a minute that you are carving your way, machete in hand, through impenetrable jungle in some terribly exotic place. You happen upon a clearing when suddenly you notice you are not alone. On the other edge of the glen, a stone’s throw from you, stands a tiger. He is staring intently at you. Assessing you. He doesn’t care whether you love your mother, what your favourite colour is or even that tomorrow is your birthday. To him, you are one of just three things: a meal, entertainment or too nasty to bother with.

The tiger will test you. He will growl, bare his teeth, or make an imperceptible, but swift, movement in your direction. These are all tests. He is probing you. Monitoring you for signs of strength or weakness. He will use every faculty millions of years of adaptation have given him, to determine whether you are trouble, or lunch.

You cannot reason with him, you cannot threaten him, you cannot plead for mercy. Your only chance of survival is to convince him that you are more trouble than you are worth. If you manage that, he will turn and walk away without a backward glance. If you can’t, your goose is cooked. Well, eaten.

The tiger’s cold assessment of your meal-worthiness is the same as the one your psychopathic boss, workmate, relative or lover performed on you within the first few seconds of meeting you. This is a book about convincing the tiger you are more trouble than you’re worth. And if you are really brave, it is a book that can tell you how to catch and tame the tiger. After all, who wouldn’t want a pet tiger?

I’ve had the misfortune to encounter a large number of psychopaths. No, I don’t work in a psychiatric unit or a prison. I’ve run across these people in all manner of benign social and work settings. None of these people would satisfy a test for overt criminality. But many skate very close to the edge. Their skill is obtaining a benefit – using criminal or at least, immoral, means – without ever exposing themselves to the force of the law.

I’ve been thinking about writing an easy to understand guide to dealing with psychopaths for a long time. Over the years, I’ve spoken to hundreds of people about the ideas in this book. Every single one (and I mean Every. Single. One.) of those people, often complete strangers, knew exactly what I was talking about. Every single one of them had worked for, been related to, been taught by, been married to or been in a relationship with someone who they felt to be a psychopath. Every one of those people had been profoundly damaged by the experience and most wanted to share their stories as a warning to others and never speak of it again. I didn’t seek out people affected by psychopaths. These were just people I chatted to after giving book talks or interviews, or people I ran into at the coffee shop. The truly amazing thing is that once I described how I believed a psychopath behaved, not a single person could say they had never experienced it. Many did not know that they were describing a psychopath, but believe me, if you have been, or are, a psychopath’s victim, you are not alone.