Tuesday, 8 January 2013

targets and psychopaths

The Selfish Gene: read reviews at amazon
The Government is showing signs of softening public-sector targets, but the Establishment is so steeped in target culture it fails to see that targets themselves cause the problem.

Adoption of targets by politicians grew from Richard Dawkins' application of game theory to evolutionary biology in The Selfish Gene, where he proposes "evolutionary stable strategies" formed when individuals act as "doves" and "hawks" in various situations in order to maximise the gains to themselves by helping the community attain goals, eg get food or minimise conflict.

The Psychopath Test: read reviews at amazon
Hawks and doves are redolent of corporate carnivore Al Dunlop's "predator" and "prey" vocabulary when interviewed by Jon Ronson for The Psychopath Test. Ross discovers that there are proportionally more psychopaths in stratospheric management layers than in prisons. And as big money migrated to top public sector jobs, so damaged, damaging people followed it.

Adam Curtis’ documentary The Lonely Robot examines how target-setting based on game theory greatly excited politicians since The Selfish Gene appeared. Margaret Thatcher doubted the practice’s validity, but John Major took it up and Tony Blair embraced it. If you set targets for organisations and leave them to attain them however they choose, the theory goes, the best outcomes for everybody involved will result. In practice we got ambulances reclassified as hospital wards, trolleys as beds and "hello nurses" to satisfy Casualty admission targets: I would add that the whole sorry mess reached its nadir with the corporate massacre at Stafford in the name of targets.

Linda Mealey: go to her website
Linda Mealey (left) and Stuart Kinner write in Psychopathy, Machiavellianism and Theory of Mind that "psychopaths are 'designed' by natural selection to be…highly effective at securing resources through deception, force and social manipulation." Define resources as monopoly-money salaries, golden handshakes and funny-money pension pots and you have a picture of the upper echelons of our public services.

Gerry Dorrian
300 words


Click to read reviews of The Selfish Gene at amazon.co.uk

Read reviews of The Psychopath Test at amazon.co.uk

Watch The Lonely Robot below or click here to view on Youtube:

Read about The Social Brain: Evolution and Psychology (contains essay referred to in final paragraph)


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