Narcissists and psychopaths rule the world

I will make the assumption that most of you reading this are also regular social media users and that somewhere among the videos of tennis-playing dogs and cute little kittens, you’ll be familiar with the often posted stories of human rights issues and abuses around the world, whether in Myanmar, Syria, Yemen or elsewhere.

I am more guilty than most for constantly posting on social media about such humanitarian issues, including the oppression of the Palestinian people, the killing and imprisoning of journalists and activists, the attack on freedom of the press in the USA and particularly the horrific and heartbreaking war in Yemen.  I do it, in the full knowledge that it will do little for the people who suffer the abuse.  

I simply post about these issues because I care and I want to keep these stories front and centre in my mind and in the minds of others who care.  And I care, not only because I hold values such as honesty, decency, fairness, respect and compassion at the core of my being, but also because I’m empathic.  Empathy is a trait which is described by Psychology Today as “the experience of understanding another person’s thoughts, feelings and condition from their point of view, rather than from your own”

One might expect that this is a normal ‘human’ trait that we all share, and this is why myself and many others continue to call for governments and their leaders to intervene in situations that from our empathic standpoint appear obvious.  For example, when a bus load of little Yemeni boys is destroyed by a US made bomb from a Saudi jet, it seems obvious to us with an empathic nature that this is unacceptable.  That something must be done.  And so we call for change and we believe that because we are all human, that change will come and no more little Yemeni children will be killed for no good reason.  To some that may appear a naïve expectation, I rather think of it as a human one.

But the change doesn’t come.  And more children are killed and continue to be killed and starved to death to this day.   And far from putting pressure on the Saudis to change their targeting, the US government reinforced their support.

So whats going on?  We know that a big part of the story is about money.  The USA and UK in particular are making billions in arms sales from the Saudi led coalition and thus profiting from the deaths of innocent civilians.  But is there something else about the leaders themselves that inoculates them from any feelings of guilt for the hurt they inflict on innocent lives?

It seems that many of today’s world leaders – and I’m sure yesterdays were no different – share certain traits.   And many of those traits would be expected, such as a sense of self importance, a pre-occupation with success and power, and a high degree of arrogance.  These may even be necessary to make it to the top echelons of power.

But none of these attributes explain what appears to be a complete vacuum of humanity at senior levels of major governments around the world today.  The recent disappearance and almost certainly murder of Saudi journalist Jamal Khashoggi is just another example that appears to prove that there is something seriously lacking at the heart of those in the most powerful of positions.

Current leaders such as Putin, Sisi, Bin Salman, Netanyahu, Xi Jinping, Kim Jong Un and, of course Trump, all spring to mind as those who say and do things which leave us open mouthed in disbelief at the sheer audacity and inhumanity.

So is it simply a case of ‘power corrupts’ or is there something darker in the human condition of these leaders?  When you look at certain personality types, common traits emerge which may explain why human rights abuses continue to be perpetrated in all corners of the globe, seemingly unchallenged other than at a superficial level.

Many have already made the link between Donald Trump and narcissism which according to Psychology Today includes the traits of
·      a sense of entitlement,
·      grandiosity,
·      unable to accept criticism,
·      haughty arrogance,
·      diminishes and devalues others,
·      pathological envy,
·      exploitative,
·      demands to be considered special and admired by all
·      a lack of empathy

This may explain much of Trump’s strange gas-lighting behaviour, the chaos in the White House and what many are calling the erosion of democratic institutions in the US.

Psychopaths, on the other hand, are the next level up in the spectrum of personality disorders and although, at face value and to the outside world, may appear quite normal, charming in fact, they have a dark and dangerous side.  

Psychology Today lists some of those darker traits as including..

·      a prioritization of their own rights above any consideration for the human rights of others,
·      a complete disregard for rules and norms,
·      a complete lack of emotion,
·      a feeling that the victim deserves what they get,
·      seek to destroy those they cannot control,
·      a lack of conscience,
·      a lack of empathy

The likes of Putin, Kim Jong Un, Sisi, Netanyahu, Assad and Crown Prince Mohammed Bin Salman all appear to exhibit some if not all of these traits.  

When these leaders take such blatant and abhorrent steps as blowing up a bus of little kids, flattening entire neighbourhoods, starving their own citizens to death, killing members of their own families, assassinating citizens in other countries, murdering opposition politicians and critics, imprisoning and murdering journalists, they do so without a flinch because their brains are wired differently. 

They have no sense of humanity or empathy and therefore can feel no guilt or remorse in hurting others.  Of their own volition, they will never stop and they will never understand what all the fuss is about. 

So what can be done?  That brings us to the remaining world leaders who may be the only ones able to hold these maniacs to account, because - and this is where the money comes back into the equation – we live in a totally interconnected and interdependent global system of buyers and sellers, producers and consumers.  The relationships between global leaders are crucial in this cauldron of capitalism and we have seen this play out starkly under Trump, as he destroys traditional alliances and embraces all of the leaders on our maniac list!

On the one hand, it is not in the interests of the international monetary system and the integrated financial capitalist society in which we now live, to pick fights with the players with the biggest pockets.  But on the other hand, this leverage is the only thing we have that can save the world from these psychopaths. 

When you understand that these murderous despots cannot and will not change and will always seek to destroy those whom they cannot control, will never feel empathy for those they hurt and simply don’t understand why we bleat on about human rights, respect for life and freedom of the press etc, we should limit our expectations on what is possible.  Lets face it, if the world couldn't stop Assad, how the hell can we contain Mohammad Bin Salman or Putin?

Given that rather depressing conclusion, we may be forgiven for letting go and giving up, if these unhinged regimes are so inoculated from humanity not only by their psychopathy, but also by the firewalls the international community enables around them. 

However, to give up is to let go of our own empathy, is to detach from the humanity within ourselves.  No, for the little boys on the bus, for every murdered journalist, for the starving children of Yemen and Syria, for every persecuted minority, we must shout louder, rise up and in the words of Dylan Thomas “Rage, rage against the dying of the light”. 


  1. Hi, Pauline. Sadly, you are right on every count. Would that it were otherwise.

    1. Thanks Dave - I know. The human condition is frightening and it seems all of the institutions that were put in place to try and balance these monsters and call them to account, are being eroded.

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