Various people on the internet are harrumphing about this study from the University of St. Gallen, which tested the behaviors and psyches of professional stock traders, and compared them with a comparable group of actual psychopaths. The stockbrokers proved to consistently display more selfish and reckless behavior than the psychopaths, which is either scandalous or not that surprising, depending on which confirmation bias hat you’re wearing.
The telling part of the article, for me, was this:
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.”
The researchers were unable to explain this penchant for destruction, they said.
Well, shit, man, I can explain it right now. The success myth.
One of the primal rules of the success myth is that the world is made up of winners and losers. I’m sure everyone reading this got told that at some point growing up, and everyone who was raised male got told it a lot. Possibly while being taunted as a “loser” by the other kids. If you absorb that purely enough, if that toxic lie sinks its roots deep enough in your brain, you get these guys. They become stockbrokers because they want to win and money is how they keep score, and stockbrokers can make absolutely stupid amounts of money. But, as this study shows, it’s ultimately not about the money. It’s about winning, and more importantly, it’s about not being a loser, about making someone else a loser.
That kind of obsessive fixation on the success myth is where you get things like this laughably blustering letter from an anonymous broker to Occupy Wall Street. It betrays a lot about the self-image of the obsessive gamblers who wrecked the global economy. He acknowledges that it’s gambling and that it’s obsessive, but he thinks these are virtues. He thinks that his sad, broken little definition of “winning” is infinitely transitive and that he and his cohorts are superheroic beings who will always succeed at everything.
There’s a reason that stock exchanges tend to be massively male-dominated sausagefests with gender ratios that rival your average Franciscan monastery. It’s the same reason that there are no male supermodels and no male beauty pageants. Because the beauty myth and the success myth are gendered. All those little girls you see on Toddlers and Tiaras, getting it drilled mercilessly into them that there is nothing in the universe more important than being pretty? Their male counterparts are the ones who grow up to be stockbrokers, and we all suffer as a result.