Harvey Weinstein’s behavior of sexual harassment is utterly despicable.
So many questions come to mind about what went wrong and how to prevent this in the future, including, how in the world could a megalomaniac like Weinstein rise to a position of such enormous power in the first place?
Even if we assume for a moment that no one knew about the sexual harassment incidents (which seems highly unlikely), everyone absolutely knew about Weinstein’s explosive behavior, his abusive treatment of others, and his utter lack of empathy for other people. Even without the sexual harassment incidents, this other behavior alone should have served as a red flashing warning light that this person does not belong in a position of power.
The disturbing reality, however, is that Weinstein is not the only person in power with this sort of belligerent personality. He is not any sort of a rare exception. He did not just happen to slip through the cracks.
No. In fact, there are all sorts of people throughout our society in positions of extraordinary power who exhibit symptoms of classic personality disorders, such as a disregard for the feelings of others, volatile personality, explosive anger, lashing out at others, highly manipulative, ruthlessness, grandiosity, excessive need for admiration, a sense of entitlement, unemotional traits, a lack of empathy for others, hypersensitivity, impulsiveness, aggression, vindictiveness, paranoia, or recklessness.
Just think of some of the tyrannical business leaders who come to mind just off the top of our heads, like, say, Rupert Murdoch, Sheldon Adelson, Steven A. Cohen the hedge fund tycoon, Dick Fuld of Lehman Brothers, Ace Greenberg of AIG, Kenneth Lay of Enron, Bernie Ebbers of WorldCom, Dennis Kozlowski of Tyco International, Michael Ovitz the Hollywood mogul, Roger Ailes, Bill O’Reilly, Travis Kalanick of Uber. The list goes on and on. It’s endless.
And, of course, let’s not forget Donald Trump.
These are all megalomaniacs who are notorious for abusive treatment of others. And they are all extremely rich and successful.
Hm. There are far too many examples for this to be some sort of a coincidence. In fact, it seems to be exactly the opposite. Abusing others seems to be a trait that is not just an uncorrelated accident of success, but is a trait that in fact leads to success.
Upon reflection, this actually makes sense. Our economic system is largely based upon a pyramid structure where wealth is derived from exploiting people below you. Those who lack empathy for others and are thus willing to exploit others are well positioned to ascend the pyramid to success. And in this type of system, a person who has zero empathy for anyone else enjoys a tremendous advantage.
Shareholders of corporations recognize this innately. When they hire a corporate executive, they want someone who is “tough,” and a real “killer.” This is what is revered in our society. These are the personality types that succeed.
What does it mean to be “tough” in our economic system?
It means to inflict harm upon others without compunction. These corporate executives enrich themselves and their shareholders by squeezing ever greater “productivity” out of workers, which means forcing an ever greater workload upon employees for lesser and lesser pay. These executives implement measures like freezing wages, reducing benefits, busting labor unions, eliminating 401(k) company matching contributions, eliminating employee pension plans, outsourcing jobs, relocating jobs to cheap foreign countries, and outright laying-off workers.
The tremendous cost savings extracted from the workers are then shifted into the pockets of the executives and shareholders, thereby exacerbating the scourge of economic inequality that plagues us today.
It is no wonder that people who exhibit symptoms of classic personality disorders and who have little empathy for others frequently rise to positions of power throughout our society. It is no coincidence that successful corporate executives are often heartless human beings. It is no fluke that people in powerful positions throughout the nation and across industries often abuse their power. After all, our economic system incentivizes bestowing power upon the types of people who are most likely to abuse it.
And why do other people tolerate such destructive behavior? Well, let’s face it, we know why – it’s about money. When rainmakers like Harvey Weinstein generate money, and especially big piles of money, their overseers and colleagues do not wish to look under the hood to learn too much about how the money is being earned, or who or what is being destroyed in the process. And the rainmakers enjoy free rein to indulge in outrageous personal behavior because no one wants to stop the money train.
Taking power away from Harvey Weinstein is the right course of action. He never should have had it in the first place. But Harvey Weinstein is only a single drop in a big bucket.
Until we reform our economic system to reward people for positive behavior that benefits other people and society overall instead of for making money by exploiting people, abuse of power by countless Harvey Weinsteins will persist throughout the nation, in every city, in every town, every single day.