another fine mess you’ve gotten us into

so wall street types are more psychopathic than psychopaths:

“According to a new study at the University of St. Gallen seen by SPIEGEL, one contributing factor may be that stockbrokers’ behavior is more reckless and manipulative than that of psychopaths….

“Particularly shocking for Noll was the fact that the bankers weren’t aiming for higher winnings than their comparison group. Instead they were more interested in achieving a competitive advantage. Instead of taking a sober and businesslike approach to reaching the highest profit, ‘it was most important to the traders to get more than their opponents,’ Noll explained. ‘And they spent a lot of energy trying to damage their opponents.'”

but everybody’s always known that the financial world is full of the crookedest of crooks. always.

the OWS people shouldn’t be targeting downtown manhattan. they need — we ALL need — to get after our psychopathic leaders [sic] (and they are probably psychopaths, too, the lot of them — with a handful of narcissists thrown in).

congress should just be emptied of all of its occupants, with the possible exception of ron paul. they’re the enablers of the wall street crowd by doing things like repealing glass-steagall, along with uncountable other actions.

and every single last lobbyist in washington should be run out of town — no, out of the country.

but it’s not entirely their fault, either. everybody’s happy to have psychopaths do the dirty work as long as we all benefit — as long as the economy is ticking over nicely and everything’s alright. then we don’t have to get our hands dirty, right?

is that one of the reasons why there are always some psychopaths present in the population? in an inclusive fitness sort-of way they also benefit some of their fellows in their population?

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linkfest – 10/09/11

A Moral Gene? — one of ’em.

Copping a Latitude: Genetics Supports Idea Cultural Interaction Was More East to West Than North to South — not to mention genetic interaction.

Study finds crows can distinguish symbols representing quantities

Racial differences in narcissistic tendencies — higher levels of narcissism in black than in whites.

Cannibalism Confirmed Among Ancient Mexican Group“Eating humans ‘crucial’ to spiritual life of the Xiximes people.” – ancient? we’re talking about 1425 a.d. here.

Chinese Kids Feel More Obliged Toward Parents? — from parapundit.

5 Things That Internet Porn Reveals About Our Brains – no big surprises here. except maybe for the number of guys searching for granny pr0n!

Climbing up the social ladder — Mouse study may tell how. — that’s some geeky looking chinese people there! not that there’s anything wrong with that. (~_^)

‘Dumb’ Neanderthals Likely Had a Smart Diet

Birth Order and the Big Five“A new study reports that there is no connection between birth order and Big 5 personality traits.” – @the inductivist.

bonus: Charles Darwin, Economist

bonus bonus: Afghanistan Holds Enormous Bounty of Rare Earths, Minerals“Geologists actually mapping the country’s mineral bounty suspect its prime cache of coveted rare earth elements is considerably larger than the latest estimate lets on”

bonus bonus bonus: Is the Present Better Than the Past? — from everyone’s favorite über-pessimist, john derbyshire.

(note: comments do not require an email. counting crows!)

from the tell-us-something-we-didn’t-know files

“Share Traders More Reckless Than Psychopaths, Study Shows”

“According to a new study at the University of St. Gallen seen by SPIEGEL, one contributing factor may be that stockbrokers’ behavior is more reckless and manipulative than that of psychopaths. Researchers at the Swiss research university measured the readiness to cooperate and the egotism of 28 professional traders who took part in computer simulations and intelligence tests….

“Appetite for Destruction

“‘Naturally one can’t characterize the traders as deranged,’ Noll told SPIEGEL. ‘But for example, they behaved more egotistically and were more willing to take risks than a group of psychopaths who took the same test.’

“Particularly shocking for Noll was the fact that the bankers weren’t aiming for higher winnings than their comparison group. Instead they were more interested in achieving a competitive advantage. Instead of taking a sober and businesslike approach to reaching the highest profit, ‘it was most important to the traders to get more than their opponents,’ Noll explained. ‘And they spent a lot of energy trying to damage their opponents.’

“Using a metaphor to describe the behavior, Noll said the stockbrokers behaved as though their neighbor had the same car, ‘and they took after it with a baseball bat so they could look better themselves.'”

(note: comments do not require an email. beyond psychopathic.)

financial crises and lizard brains

hmmmmmmmm. from michael lewis’ latest:

“[A]s he talked about the bankrupting of Vallejo, I realized that I had heard this story before, or a private-sector version of it. The people who had power in the society, and were charged with saving it from itself, had instead bled the society to death. The problem with police officers and firefighters isn’t a public-sector problem; it isn’t a problem with government; it’s a problem with the entire society. It’s what happened on Wall Street in the run-up to the subprime crisis. It’s a problem of people taking what they can, just because they can, without regard to the larger social consequences. It’s not just a coincidence that the debts of cities and states spun out of control at the same time as the debts of individual Americans. Alone in a dark room with a pile of money, Americans knew exactly what they wanted to do, from the top of the society to the bottom. They’d been conditioned to grab as much as they could, without thinking about the long-term consequences. Afterward, the people on Wall Street would privately bemoan the low morals of the American people who walked away from their subprime loans, and the American people would express outrage at the Wall Street people who paid themselves a fortune to design the bad loans….

Dr. Peter Whybrow [is] a British neuroscientist at U.C.L.A. with a theory about American life. He thinks the dysfunction in America’s society is a by-product of America’s success. In academic papers and a popular book, American Mania, Whybrow argues, in effect, that human beings are neurologically ill-designed to be modern Americans. The human brain evolved over hundreds of thousands of years in an environment defined by scarcity. It was not designed, at least originally, for an environment of extreme abundance. ‘Human beings are wandering around with brains that are fabulously limited,’ he says cheerfully. ‘We’ve got the core of the average lizard.’ Wrapped around this reptilian core, he explains, is a mammalian layer (associated with maternal concern and social interaction), and around that is wrapped a third layer, which enables feats of memory and the capacity for abstract thought. ‘The only problem,’ he says, ‘is our passions are still driven by the lizard core. We are set up to acquire as much as we can of things we perceive as scarce, particularly sex, safety, and food.‘ Even a person on a diet who sensibly avoids coming face-to-face with a piece of chocolate cake will find it hard to control himself if the chocolate cake somehow finds him. Every pastry chef in America understands this, and now neuroscience does, too. ‘When faced with abundance, the brain’s ancient reward pathways are difficult to suppress,’ says Whybrow. ‘In that moment the value of eating the chocolate cake exceeds the value of the diet. We cannot think down the road when we are faced with the chocolate cake.’

“The richest society the world has ever seen has grown rich by devising better and better ways to give people what they want. The effect on the brain of lots of instant gratification is something like the effect on the right hand of cutting off the left: the more the lizard core is used the more dominant it becomes. ‘What we’re doing is minimizing the use of the part of the brain that lizards don’t have,’ says Whybrow. ‘We’ve created physiological dysfunction. We have lost the ability to self-regulate, at all levels of the society. The $5 million you get paid at Goldman Sachs if you do whatever they ask you to do—that is the chocolate cake upgraded.'”

(note: comments do not require an email. or a lizard brain.)

to michael lewis – freudianism is bunk!

in yesterday’s linkfest i linked to a terrific article by michael lewis on the current economic state (pretty good!) of germany. he describes the germans and their ordnung ways in a series of anecdotes that reaffirm practically every stereotype of germans that you can think of — efficient, hard-working, loyal, trusting (to the point of being gullible) — and he doesn’t shy away from them. rather, he uses these to explain why germany, today, is practically the only solvent country in europe (the world?) and is maybe the only state in that union that will be able to bail all the others out. maybe. if they decide to.

lewis talks about how there was nearly no financial silliness in germany during the last decade (no sub-prime mortgage crisis and no housing bubble there!), mostly because the germans are not into being silly. they prefer to be responsible — and honest. the exception to the rule, he claims, were the bankers in some of the big private investment banks in places like frankfurt and the landesbanks. they happily dove into purchasing all sorts of dodgy cdos and what not from wall street and elsewhere. why?, he asks.

he comes up with two explanations: 1) a lot of the landesbank personnel were just naive — they never imagined that wall streeters would re-package cr*p and call it triple-a investment opportunities; and 2) well … here’s where he got all freudian.

lewis discusses at some length the german culture’s obsession with all-things-scheiße – your average johan’s endless discussions about his daily bowel movements to sexual fetishes to children’s fairytales. from this he concludes that there’s some sort of “dual nature” to germans: on the outside they like order and cleanliness, but subconsciously they’re just looking to get dirty. so they bought dirty assests … or something like that.

meh, i say.

the real explanation is prolly more along the lines of: there is variation within the german population (as there is in any population) with regard to personality type and, prolly, the more sociopathic/psychopathic wound up working in private investment banks (who else works in those places?) where they could operate in more dodgy ways than in other areas of german society — especially since they were dealing mostly with dodgy foreigners. (also, some of the dodgy “german” bankers might not have been german at all.)

why the german obsession with scheiße (which, knowing quite a few germans, i know to be the case!)? my guess is that more of them simply have a hard time taking a dump than other peoples ’cause they’re still not fully adapted to grains! think of the distribution of crohn’s disease and celiac disease — very frequent in northwest europe — some of the last places where the neolithic farming revolution hit. (that’s my theory and i’m sticking to it!)

anyway — here are some fun quotes from lewis:

“I have arrived about three minutes late, but the German deputy minister of finance [Jörg Asmussen] runs a full five minutes later, which, I will learn, is viewed by Germans almost as a felony. He apologizes a lot more than he needs to for the delay…. His desk is a template of self-discipline. It is alive with implied activity—legal pads, Post-it notes, manila folders—but every single object on it is perfectly aligned with all the others, and with the edges of the desk. Every angle is precisely 90 degrees….

“Jörg Asmussen offers the first hint of an answer—in his personal behavior. He is a type familiar in Germany but absolutely freakish in Greece — or for that matter the United States: a keenly intelligent, highly ambitious civil servant who has no other desire but to serve his country. His sparkling curriculum vitae is missing a line that would be found on the résumés of men in his position most anywhere else in the world — the line where he leaves government service for Goldman Sachs to cash out. When I asked another prominent German civil servant why he hadn’t taken time out of public service to make his fortune working for some bank, the way every American civil servant who is anywhere near finance seems to want to do, his expression changed to alarm. ‘But I could never do this,’ he said. ‘It would be illoyal!’

“Asmussen agrees and then addresses the German question more directly. The curious thing about the eruption of cheap and indiscriminate lending of money during the past decade was the different effects it had from country to country. Every developed country was subjected to more or less the same temptation, but no two countries responded in precisely the same way. The rest of Europe, in effect, used Germany’s credit rating to indulge its material desires. They borrowed as cheaply as Germans could to buy stuff they couldn’t afford. Given the chance to take something for nothing, the German people alone simply ignored the offer. ‘There was no credit boom in Germany,’ says Asmussen. ‘Real-estate prices were completely flat. There was no borrowing for consumption. Because this behavior is rather alien to Germans. Germans save whenever possible. This is deeply in German genes. Perhaps a leftover of the collective memory of the Great Depression and the hyperinflation of the 1920s.’ The German government was equally prudent because, he went on, ‘there is a consensus among the different parties about this: if you’re not adhering to fiscal responsibility, you have no chance in elections, because the people are that way….’

“The drive from Berlin to Düsseldorf takes longer than it should. For long stretches the highway is choked with cars and trucks. A German traffic jam is a peculiar sight: no one honks; no one switches lanes searching for some small, illusory advantage; all trucks remain in the right-hand lane, where they are required to be. The spectacle, sparkling Audis and Mercedeses in the left lane, and immaculate trucks neatly rowed up in the right lane, is almost a pleasure to watch. Because everyone in it obeys the rules, and believes that everyone else will obey them, too, it moves as fast as it can, given the circumstances….

“If the deputy finance minister has a sign on his wall reminding him to see the point of view of others, here is perhaps why. Others do not behave as Germans do: others lie. In this financial world of deceit, Germans are natives on a protected island who have not been inoculated against the virus carried by visitors. The same instincts that allowed them to trust the Wall Street bond salesmen also allowed them to trust the French when they promised there would be no bailouts, and the Greeks when they swore that their budget was balanced.”

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