Psychopaths seem to be everywhere. They are on the news and at the movies. People who lack empathy, be they ruthless entrepreneurs or crazed spree killers, are frequently labelled psychopathic; the charming socialiser is just as suspect as the awkward antisocial loner. The conception of what defines a psychopath seems to be a morass of contradictions, the only consistency being the supposition of a lack of empathy.
The Psychopath Factory: How Capitalism Organises Empathy examines how the requirements, stimuli, affects and environments of work condition our empathy. In some cases work calls for no-empathy characters who don’t blink or flinch in the face of danger or crack under pressure. In other cases capitalism requires empathy in spades – charming, friendly, sensitive and listening managers, customer service agents and careers.
When workers are required to either ignore their empathy to do a job or dial it up to increase productivity, they are entering a psychopathic modality. The affective blitz of work, flickering screens, emotive content, vibrating alerts and sounding alarms erode our sensitivities whilst we are modulated with attention stimulants, social lubricants and so called antianxiety drugs. This is amidst a virulent and exacerbating climate of competition and frenzied quantification.
Capitalism pressures us to feign empathy and leverage social relationships on one hand whilst being cold and pragmatic on the other. We are passionate and enthusiastic whilst keeping a professional distance.
Sympathy, care, compassion and altruism are important; The Psychopath Factory: How Capitalism Organises Empathy argues that it is a mistake to presuppose that empathy can achieve these. Rather than being subject to the late capitalist organisation of our empathy, psychopathy could be a means of escape.