The Problem With Ponerology

Psychopaths in the Software Industry

The aforementioned Zed’s Rant inspired thoughts on evil in business — ponerization, the process by which an organization falls into the control of psychopathic individuals (a topic that’s been written about at some length — good links in the article).

This is pretty interesting and important stuff.  The big problem though with studying and publicizing the phenomenon of the small minority of people who seem downright evil, is that labeling certain people as evil and pointing to them as the cause of problems is a favorite tactic of the pschopaths themselves.  It’s tough to start playing that game and hope to win when it’s their home court.

3 thoughts on “The Problem With Ponerology”

  1. Good observation. In fact, it’s so good that the editor of the Ponerology book added a whole section at the end about this in the 2nd edition. I’ll quote the intro:
    “Now that Political Ponorology has finally been published and widely distributed, it comes as no surprise that subtle attempts to discredit this most important of works have again been made from various quarters. These attempts to discredit take the form of a number of apparently plausible arguments:
    The first class of response has been to claim that by dividing the population into “normal people and pathological deviants” Political Ponerology proposes a division that could be used to justify ‘pogroms’ and therefore promotes the very ideas that are condemed by Lobaczewski. This argument suggests that we should not discuss these issues, even if they are true, because they can be grounds for the same kind of genocides that we have seen throughout human history.
    The second type of attack saw the ideas of Political Ponerology taken up and lauded by the very people it is analyzing, that is, people without conscience, in a blatant attempt to stain the work through association”
    It then discusses these issues at length. What I think is important to note is that it is the *behaviour*, foremost, that is evil, and that we as people of conscience need to be aware of that these individuals did not choose who they are, and therefore need to include this understanding when dealing with the problem.

    The essay I wrote was not meant to be an exhaustive look at ponerization in the software industry (that would require volume upon volume of text), but rather to highlight the issue and get people to educate themsevels on these important topics. As I wrote, knowledge is in the end the only inoculation that works against the thinking that the psychopaths put forth.

    I hope this clarifies the issue somewhat.

  2. It does, thank you. It’s very difficult territory.

    I guess the best thing one can do is remember that we all could have been “those people” — in a sense, the most evil of people are innocent, in that they did not choose to be the most evil of people. So whatever we do about the situation has to recognize both sides of that paradox.

  3. Exactly. Saying “stop hurting people” to a psychopath is like telling a crocodile to “stop eating fish”. It is what it is, because it is what it is, but at the same time it’s not the individual crocodile’s “fault” that it is what it is.

    But, as “fish” we need to learn what crocodiles look like, and how to avoid them. Any discussion about “rooting out psychopaths” in the sense of killing them off is probably by other psychopaths, and what they want to kill are probably not really other psychopaths…. difficult territory indeed. But necessary to discuss nonetheless.

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