Monday, June 18, 2012

like baboons, our elected leaders are literally addicted to power...,

Telegraph | Democracy, the separation of judicial powers and the free press all evolved for essentially one purpose – to reduce the chance of leaders becoming power addicts. Power changes the brain triggering increased testosterone in both men and women. Testosterone and one of its by-products called 3-androstanediol, are addictive, largely because they increase dopamine in a part of the brain’s reward system called the nucleus accumbens. Cocaine has its effects through this system also, and by hijacking our brain’s reward system, it can give short-term extreme pleasure but leads to long-term addiction, with all that that entails.

Unfettered power has almost identical effects, but in the light of yesterday’s Leveson Inquiry interchanges in London, there seems to be less chance of British government ministers becoming addicted to power. Why? Because, as it appears from the emails released by James Murdoch yesterday, they appeared to be submissive to the all-powerful Murdoch empire, hugely dependent on the support of this organization for their jobs and status, who could swing hundreds of thousands of votes for or against them.

Submissiveness and dominance have their effects on the same reward circuits of the brain as power and cocaine. Baboons low down in the dominance hierarchy have lower levels of dopamine in key brain areas, but if they get ‘promoted’ to a higher position, then dopamine rises accordingly. This makes them more aggressive and sexually active, and in humans similar changes happen when people are given power. What’s more, power also makes people smarter, because dopamine improves the functioning of the brain’s frontal lobes. Conversely, demotion in a hierarchy decreases dopamine levels, increases stress and reduces cognitive function.

But too much power - and hence too much dopamine - can disrupt normal cognition and emotion, leading to gross errors of judgment and imperviousness to risk, not to mention huge egocentricity and lack of empathy for others. The Murdoch empire and its acolytes seem to have got carried away by the power they have wielded over the British political system and the unfettered power they have had - unconstrained by any democratic constraints - has led to the quite extraordinary behaviour and arrogance that has been corporately demonstrated.

We should all be grateful that two of the three power-constraining elements of democracy - the legal system and a free press - have managed to at last reign in some of the power of the Murdoch empire. But it was a close call for both, given the threat to financial viability of the newspaper industry and to the integrity of the police system through the close links between the Murdoch empire and Scotland Yard.

9 comments:

Tom said...


But too much power - and hence too much dopamine - can disrupt normal cognition and emotion, leading to gross errors of judgment and imperviousness to risk, not to mention huge egocentricity and lack of empathy for others.



When I got out of the corporation, and out of middle mgt, it took something like two years to recover from the withdrawal symptoms.

CNu said...

Curious, have you ever had to suffer through the misery of utterly incompetent superiors, and, how did you find them to be given the egocentricity/lack of empathy combined with their lack of operational/relational expertise?

Tom said...


Curious, have you ever had to suffer through the misery of utterly incompetent superiors,

Sure!
how did you find them to be given the egocentricity/lack of empathy combined with their lack of operational/relational expertise?


Well, that was the syndrome all right. Not sure exactly what you're asking ... let me know whether this connects with the question. I found them to be somewhere between worthless and active obstacles, but financially pretty rewarding. They had to be countered by politics, never by rational argument. The worst for me was being forced to do things in a completely clownish way. For example, being forced to commit standard well-known errors, by incompetents who called that "innovation." I'm fine with a 50/50 mix of BS and work; that's normal. It was only when the mix got pinched off to 95/5 that I hadda get out.


So now I work on my own, and I suffer for my own errors/bad luck not those of what W Buffett calls "promotees." But the stake that got me started on my own came from a roughly even mixture of taking lots of responsibility and doing a good job ... and keeping my mouth shut as long as I could when things got really stupid.

Tom said...

seems it spammed another comment i left

CNu said...

I've N.E.V.E.R had a boss who was both competent and arrogant. Without exception, all my competent and capable bosses were reasonable, personable, and humane, sometimes to a fault - surrounded as they have often been by congenital asshats who wouldn't hesitate to go in on them socio-politically within the organization fearful of invidious comparison.

T said...

"
I've N.E.V.E.R had a boss who was both competent and arrogant
"


I had one boss who had elements of both, and was good at first ... but he gradually went off the rails. But, right, arrogance is a weakness, not a strength. Big problem with our culture is we watch too many movies and we have forgotten that point.


I mean arrogance ... what can a boss contribute really? 1. Provide air cover against time-wasting and stressful nonsense. 2. Hand out responsibility, and occasionally recognize it was handed out wrong and do some weeding. Arrogance cripples #2 and can introduce ...

3. What we used to call the "incompetence load." Basically the opposite of #1: adding time-wasting and stressful nonsense instead of subtracting it.

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