Psychopaths, testosterone, leadership, patriarchy

A few days ago, Doug Wilson pontificated that Doug Phillips, having fallen from grace and besmirched the name of patriarchy, had been led astray by his own “testosterone,” which men in leadership are apparently prone to do if they don’t watch themselves: “A man with lots of testosterone is in a position to start a dynamic ministry that speaks to thousands, that fills conference halls, and that rivets people to their seats. Taking a hypothetical, that very same man is also in a much better position to succumb to the blandishments of a stripper with a stage name of Foxy Bubbles, and all in the settled conviction that his sin will not find him out. How could his sin find him out? He rivets people to their seats.”

Predictably, there was some fall-out from that particular blog post, and Wilson (not for the first and probably not for the last time) started complaining that people misunderstood him, possibly due to their wrongheaded ideologies. Though he still thinks Foxy Bubbles might be involved: “what my objectors may have been picking up on, in between the lines, is my conviction that such a scenario could have been the case. I really do think any number of things might have happened, and don’t take sides based on the current politicization of sex.”

So let’s take a step back and ask a more basic question: could Doug Phillip’s sin have stemmed from an excess of testosterone? Does testosterone spur men to simultaneously fill conference halls with penitents and hire insistent strippers for “inappropriately romantic and affectionate” after-parties? Wilson explains that he doesn’t have the facts, so he’s just offering one possible scenario.

The thing of it is, that doesn’t sound like that’s what happened if you’re paying attention even a little bit. Peter Braderick, Phillip’s close friend, mentee and former right-hand man, put it this way publicly on his Facebook page: “When those who champion ‘women and children first’ hide behind smooth words … When the strong take advantage of the weak, and then turn them out like so much garbage… When the strong seize the lifeboats and leave the weak drowning in the icy water… it leaves no choice for men of God other than to rise up and oppose them when they discover the truth.” Braderick also says that he attempted “to confront a man who has been like a father to me for a third of my life and plead with him to truthfully confess, and to genuinely take responsibility for longstanding betrayal of everything we had fought together for…. Instead of being received as the ‘wounds of a friend’ (Proverbs 27:6), I was formally disowned and declared to be a ‘destroyer’ to my face.” This appears to be consistent with what other men who were close to Phillips — much closer than Wilson ever was — are saying about the Phillips situation. The portrait that’s emerging, then, isn’t of some testosterone-rich, quickly-repentant horny toad getting carried away in the heat of the moment, spurred by the wiles of some expert exotic dancer. It’s looking more like Phillips behaved like a psychopath over a long period of time. In other words, Phillips behaved as if he had no real conscience and manipulated the situation to get away with it.

Psychopaths are not all that rare, and their numbers in leadership positions are statistically about three times that of the general population, according to one study. As one writer notes, “it’s a fact that psychopaths have a clear advantage in fields such as law, business, and politics. They have higher IQs on average than the general population. They take risks and aren’t fazed by failures. They know how to charm and manipulate. They’re ruthless. It could even be argued that the criteria used by corporations to find effective managers actually select specifically for psychopathic traits: characteristics such as charisma, self-centeredness, confidence, and dominance are highly correlated with the psychopathic personality, yet also highly sought after in potential leaders.”

What a coincidence! Charisma, confidence and dominance also come in handy when you’re leading a for-profit movement supporting patriarchy. This isn’t a big surprise — I wrote something two years ago outlining how male sociopaths can blend into patriarchal movements in particular, noting that “the sociopath will probably admit to anything he’s caught red-handed at. He may be extremely eloquent at expressing his regret and will pad his Christian image with confessions of sin. But watch to see if he actually apologizes to his victims and, if so, how he treats them an hour later, or a year later.” In re-reading this, I’m reminded that as far as anyone knows, Doug Phillips has not apologized to the woman in question, or mentioned her in any way.

But let’s go back to Wilson’s comments on testosterone and leadership. It’s true, of course, that testosterone plays a factor in aggression and risk-taking. But in and of itself, high testosterone doesn’t do much for leadership. You need a favorable ratio of testosterone to cortisol, a stress hormone secreted for a “fight or flight” response. Studies have found that high testosterone and low cortisol produce confident, calm leaders, regardless of gender. And here’s where it gets interesting: taking up space and puffing your chest out for even as little as 60 seconds can actually boost your testosterone and lower your cortisol, according to researchers. If you strike a powerful pose, you feel more powerful on an endocrine level. Taking up more space raises testosterone, while taking up less decreases while simultaneously raising your cortisol. Reading this, I immediately thought of Doug Phillip’s (and his fellow patriarchs’) penchant for posing for the camera with his legs about four feet apart. And of the demure poses often struck by the young ladies next to them. If you’re going for maximum gender disparity, this just seems like good policy.

Here’s another interesting twist: a 2011 study showed that psychopathy scores were also associated with an increased ratio of testosterone to cortisol, suggesting “that these highly interconnected hormone systems may work in concert to predispose to psychopathy.” So, an increased ratio of testosterone to cortisol could just mean you’re a good leader, capable of keeping a level head when Rome is burning. Or it could be an indication that you’re a psychopath, able to keep a level head when Rome (along with its citizens) is burning.

6 thoughts on “Psychopaths, testosterone, leadership, patriarchy

  1. I had a sort of off-topic question relating to patriarchy. Your dad is listed as being on the board of advisers over at Western Conservatory (your uncle’s merch website). Is your dad also into patriarchy? I got the feeling he wasn’t, but I find it confusing. His bio is listed as “Scientist Gregory Botkin is an American physician who holds several advanced degrees in the biological sciences. He is currently chief of staff for a progressive Idaho hospital. Current research projects center on alternate energy sources that can be derived from microorganisms. He is the homeschooling father of five.” Can you explain what’s up with that?

    1. He’s not really on any advisory board, and I believe his bio will be taken off that website soon. He wasn’t aware it was listed until today. I think they asked him to advise them about ten years ago, though he never got any questions from them. The bio is either outdated or compiled secondhand because it isn’t totally accurate. My dad did administrative stuff for his hospital years ago, and none of us five kids are currently homeschooled… we’re in various stages of adulthood, with kids of our own and jobs of our own. And to answer the other question: if my dad is into patriarchy, he’s never mentioned it to anyone. Dad was always very supportive of us going to college, going abroad, and developing our own ideas in our own environments. We all still have a pretty good time together, though.

  2. This is a really wonderful post about this topic. I’m tired of the testosterone argument being used for men behaving badly, and also for upholding the supremacy of males as leaders. The testosterone and cortisol connection is fascinating.

    Another patriarchal defendant posited in regards to DP that Satan goes after Christian leaders with important messages for our time and brings them into temptation. It astonishes me that more don’t recognize that misogyny, pride, and yes, very possibly psychopathy could also bring about such behavior. Someone posted on Peter Bradrick’s facebook page a link to a really great essay called “How Silence Enables Abuse”. It’s interesting to note that the characteristics of a leader caught in an abuse situation that are profiled sound remarkably like someone with psychopathic tendencies. The essay is so well done, I will even forgive it the RJ Rushdoony quote.

  3. Interesting post. Why do you read this kind of stuff? It annoys and stresses me out at a very high level. “I didn’t know her in the Biblical sense.” That’s just creepy.

    I went out with a sociopath I met at a conservative church. I don’t recommend this. The problem is they don’t wear t-shirts that say, Stay away. Stalker in the making.

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