John Bolton and His Discontents; What Does Psychobabble Have to Do with It?

The Washington Times (Washington, DC), May 16, 2005 | Go to article overview
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John Bolton and His Discontents; What Does Psychobabble Have to Do with It?


Byline: Suzanne Fields, THE WASHINGTON TIMES

The most irresponsible argument in the debate over John Bolton as the U.S. representative to the United Nations - and there are many - was an Op-Ed in The New York Times suggesting that his brisk management style demonstrates a criminal pathology and a psychopathic personality.

The piece, written by a clinical psychologist who identifies herself as a consultant on "organizational psychology," was couched in the psychobabble of psychological expertise, based on one small flabby survey, anecdotes and case studies built on innuendo drawn from "research" that illustrates what Shakespeare meant when he wrote about "the sound and the fury signifying nothing." Nevertheless, this psychobabbling received dramatic accompaniment in a bold cartoon of a man's head filled with "columny."

After reciting a string of unpleasant adjectives uttered by John Bolton's political opponents characterizing him as "dogmatic, abusive to his subordinates and a bully," Belinda Board, a British professor, embraces the all-inclusive theory that "these are the same characteristics that make someone successful in business or government. " Not satisfied with tarring successful businessmen and government executives, she breathlessly leaps to link such men to criminal behavior.

"What's more astonishing is that those characteristics when exaggerated are the same ones often found in criminals," she writes. "There has been anecdotal and case-study evidence suggesting that successful business executives share personality characteristics with psychopaths."

Even more astonishing is that these characteristics, when exaggerated, are the same characteristics found in the make-up of clinical psychologists and consultants on organizational psychology. (How else could they get published on the Op-Ed page of The New York Times?)

Although Ms. Board acknowledges that her sample was small, a mere 39 high-ranking executives (out of many thousands), she announces it to be definitive because when she compared answers on clinical personality-disorder diagnostic questionnaires, and interviewed the executives, the criminals and assorted psychiatric patients showed similar levels of personality disorders and psychopathology.

"In fact, the business population was as likely as the prison and psychiatric populations to demonstrate the traits associated with narcissistic personality disorder: grandiosity, lack of empathy, exploitativeness and independence," she writes. "They were also as likely to have traits associated with compulsive personality disorder: stubbornness, dictatorial tendencies, perfectionism and an excessive devotion to work."

Would it be too much to ask if Belinda Board thought of extending her analysis to successful newspaper editors, artists, writers, doctors, lawyers, astronauts, generals and admirals?

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John Bolton and His Discontents; What Does Psychobabble Have to Do with It?
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