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The World Transformed - President Vladimir Putin meets Pope Francis
Last updated October 2016

The world transformed

Dominic Fox considers whether empathy and expertise are missing in the current political climate, both in the UK and the US.

At some point during the EU referendum, Michael Gove declared that the public “have had enough of experts.” Proof perhaps that dinosaurs still roam the Earth.

I am reliably informed, by ‘experts’, that there is now compelling evidence to show that humanity’s impact on the Earth’s atmosphere, oceans and wildlife has pushed the world into a new geological epoch, the ‘Anthropocene’, ending the current Holocene era which began around 12,000 years ago.

There are a number of issues involved. The scale of CO2 and methane concentrations in the atmosphere are much larger and occuring faster than the changes that defined the start of the previous Holocene era. Roughly 300m metric tonnes of plastic are produced annually. Concrete has become so prevalent in construction that more than half of all the concrete ever used was produced in the past 20 years.

Wildlife is being pushed into an ever smaller area of the Earth, with just 25% of ice-free land considered wild now, compared to 50% three centuries ago. As a result, rates of extinction of species are far above long-term averages. The clearest fingerprint humans have left, in geological terms, is the presence of isotopes from nuclear weapons testing that took place in the 1950s and 60s.
As we saw recently in the referendum campaign, playing fast and loose with facts is something politicians employ to electoral advantage. It may seem ridiculous to even state this as the New York Times did recently but “facts hold a sacred place in Western liberal democracies. Whenever democracy seems to be going awry, when voters are manipulated or politicians are ducking questions, we turn to facts for salvation”.

We are entering what some commentators have declared as a ‘post-truth’ age. The fact-checking website PolitiFact has found that about 70 percent of Donald Trump’s “factual” statements actually fall into the categories of “mostly false,” “false” and “pants on fire” untruth. According to the Psychopathic Personality Inventory (PPI-R), a personality test used by scientists, Trump ranks ahead of Hitler, but behind Saddam Hussein, Henry VIII and Idi Amin.

Around one in five corporate bosses are psychopaths, a proportion similar to that among prisoners, according to a new study. Research conducted by forensic psychologist Nathan Brooks from Bond University found 21 per cent of 261 corporate professionals had clinically significant psychopathic traits. Characteristics such as an inability to empathise, superficiality and insincerity are all associated with the condition. Brooks said the findings suggested businesses should screen employees according to their personality features, rather than simply their skills. A type of ‘successful psychopath’ who may be inclined to unethical or illegal practices could be allowed into the top ranks of companies because of the way firms hire.

In the general population, around 1 to 4 per cent are psychopaths. Psychologist Kevin Dutton of Oxford University's Department of Experimental Psychology has conducted the 'Great British Psychopath Survey' and has discovered the top ten professions with the most psychopaths. The list includes Chief Executives, lawyers, sales people, journalists and civil servants. Many of these jobs make sense, given the traits of psychopathy include being self-confident, egocentric, fearless, cold-hearted and charming. In addition these are all traits which we often associate with success. This doesn't mean that the successful are all unhinged. Oh no. And they can’t blame their condition for all the mistakes they might make.

In the interests of balance, experts conclude that both US presidential candidates may be psychopaths. Testing suggests that Hillary Clinton is more of a psychopath than Emperor Nero, Oliver Cromwell and Margaret Thatcher. Advised no doubt by expert campaign managers, she struck a defiant note at her first public appearance since her near-collapse at the 9/11 commemoration service in New York recently.

She left the podium to James Brown's “I Feel Good”, selected as a riposte to those commentators who have raised concerns about her fitness following her recent pneumonia diagnosis. Clinton’s campaign managers had not done their homework. Brown, who possessed a formidable work rate equal to any Presidential candidate, died in 2006 of, you guessed it, pneumonia.
Over here, we have started training them young. Momentum, the social movement set up to support Jeremy Corbyn’s leadership of the Labour Party, has launched a children’s wing called Momentum Kids at the fringe festival The World Transformed, which ran alongside this year’s Labour party conference in Liverpool.

Among the group’s aims is to provide childcare and increase women’s participation, alongside “increasing children’s involvement in Momentum and the labour movement by promoting political activity that is fun, engaging and child-friendly”.
Momentum Kids supporter and children's author Alan Gibbons said: “As young people grow, they need stories, poems, songs, drama and play to develop as complete human beings. An education system that treats them only as future productive drones develops only part of their personality.”

The world transformed may be a better, kinder place. Then again it may be run by people with an inability to empathise, superficiality and insincerity. Whether that’s a good thing or a bad thing probably depends on your diagnosis.

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