Category Archives: Philosophy

‘The Seeds Of Revolution Are Present In The Machinery Of Oppression’

On Corruption and Cover-Ups, Guy Mankowski interviews Will Black

Will Black is a writer and journalist with a background in anthropology and mental health care. His latest book, Psychopathic Cultures and Toxic Empires, examines the corrupting influence powerful psychopaths have on societies.

#PsychopathicCultures front final

Guy Mankowski is a writer and academic. His current novel, Marine, explores whistle-blowing, cover-ups and corruption. He was recently awarded an Arts Council Grant For The Arts to research this subject, and has interviewed experts on corruption in sports and banking.


Guy and Will caught up for a chat about corruption and cover-ups, subjects which are hitting the headlines increasingly often.

Guy Mankowski: I found your book a brilliant read. You say in it that “the more complex organisations are the more opportunities there are for psychopaths to seize control”. Do you think the façades of professionalism, and its attendant bureaucratic tools, are consciously employed by psychopaths to cloak their behaviour?

Will Black: It’s hard to know, and I’m sure there is variation. But certainly some people who look at the world in a selfish and exploitative way would look at aspects of ‘their’ organisation and professional structures to maximise their influence and gains. And also protect themselves from losing those things.

This has weakened, fortunately, but historically there has been a rigid caste system in Britain, encouraging relatively narrow groups of people to enter and thrive within certain professions. The ‘high walls’ and ‘razor wire’ repelling those from the wrong ‘class’ from key professions historically may have done those professions harm, as they also kept out scrutiny. And enabled the undeserving privileged to dominate for too long – which is a waste of more widely-dispersed ability.

While these little empires remained like fortresses, the cultures within them would have appeared normal to many of those within them. This gives toxic characters free rein to maintain and develop the toxicity of those organisations.

GM: Your book describes toxic cultures in which systematic child abuse has tragically occurred. Given your background as a clinician, I wondered if you think that paedophilia might, in people with a vulnerability to psychopathy, be a reaction to a specific early psychological trauma? I am wondering if such trauma, combined with the psychopathic need for power, could be an explanation for mass child abuse in toxic cultures?

WB: It’s very hard to say. It seems to be the case, in Britain and elsewhere, that celebrity figures and abuse ring procurers have been investigated and prosecuted much more readily than the most powerful have. The few reasonably influential child abusers and rapists who have been convicted appear remorseless so far and, given any opportunity, use their prominence to smear victims.

I know there is great work going on in some prisons, in the UK and abroad, which encourages sex attackers to face up to what they have done and their impact on victims. So there is potential for us as societies to gain more insight into the above. However, I think it’s more complicated when it comes to abuse rings than solitary sex attackers – and especially so in the networks of powerful abusers that authorities are finally looking into. Coming clean enough to offer insight into the above question seems less likely in this ‘elite’ group, as they have a strong sense of entitlement, are supported by and protected by institutions and wealth, and any admission would breach the fortress of the group and cast darker shadows across ‘elite’ society.

The alleged Westminster abuse networks – and other ‘elite’ networks – appear to have a stronger code of silence than the Mafia at this stage. As a consequence, we can only speculate on the dynamics within these groups and what factors led members of the rings to do what they have done. When we hear accounts of those brave victims of abuse rings who have come forward, it certainly seems to me that ‘paedophile’ is the wrong word. Brutal violent rape of children is not about an ‘attraction’ towards children. It may be about power, transgression of societal norms (as Ian Brady sought). Or some kind of twisted personal or group rite, to amplify their sense of importance and power.

It may be that some of these powerful perpetrators were abused, but we must not assume a simple correlation. Some people who have had charmed lives still manage to become sadists. Their doing so might, in some cases, be influenced by a disposition towards psychopathy, but it could also be something enabled and encouraged by malignant aspects of ‘elite’ culture that have been hidden from public scrutiny. It seems very unlikely that it just so happened that a bunch of ‘VIPs’ suddenly started abusing children in networks in the 1970s and 80s. It seems more likely to me that culture has shifted enough in the last decade or so that more survivors have come forward. Furthermore technology (such as blogs and social media) has allowed muted voices to become amplified. It may very well be that these sorts of rings have operated for considerable time, but a culture of shame, fear, denial and oppression prevented victims from coming forwards in the way many have done in recent years. Whether or not the predators abusing those children can be described as psychopaths, the rings themselves would have appeared monstrous and all-powerful to the children preyed upon.

GM: Later in the book you talk of the challenges facing those who would like to test for psychopathy, in order to undermine the power of psychopathic systems. Do you think it would it be useful for society to consider developing psychometrics to assess psychopathy in mass figures? Perhaps using their public behaviour and discourses as material instead of private material gathered in one-to-one sessions? Because – as you say – psychopaths in public positions would resist assessment.

WB: It’s a very tricky notion as, beyond the scientific integrity of doing so, in creating a shift in culture aimed at curtailing the influence of psychopaths, we could create a hostile and paranoid environment. It might turn out that this is what happens, but I don’t relish the prospect of societies feeling compelled to do something like this. Transparency is one thing, but a surveillance culture armed with psychological models could be as toxic as what we have now.
Fear of child-abusing strangers has already taken from many children the freedom my generation had to play out with friends and experiment with life – things vital to develop resilience and social intelligence. So, as well as harming their victims, abusers have cast a shadow over societies and infected culture with cynicism and fear. To create a business environment of such scrutiny that people can’t function naturally could cast a similar shadow. I think a better solution is to reward empathetic leadership practices, long-term thinking and a systemic approach to problem solving – rather than (as has often happened) reward a more psychopathic approach to business and work.

GM: I am surprised, when shocking stories about systemic abuse surface, that there isn’t a greater outcry. With regards to the Dolphin Square scandal there seems a) the widespread belief that it in due course it will be covered up and b) the sense that the government have no real appetite to address it. For instance, we saw Nick Clegg recently resist claims to investigate Cyril Smith, citing semantics about the fact that he is not in the same party as Smith was. Do you think this lack of willingness to investigate might at all be related to networks which assure mutual survival or destruction? (Without casting aspersions on any individuals).

WB: Yes, I’m sure that is true and I’m sure there are people involved who are not psychopaths and who are frankly scared and disgusted with what they have been party to. I think we sometimes credit individual ministers with too much power though. A former MI5 officer made the point at a talk a few years ago that governments come and go but the security services carry on as they see fit. And within specific intelligence services there are different factions with different agendas, but an ultimate function is to maintain social order and stability.

With that in mind – and before the internet made it possible for former care home children to have a voice, it might have seemed perfectly rational and right to help cover-up things that would unsettle society and cause unrest.
From a utilitarian perspective, non-abuser spooks covering up abuse in the past could have convinced themselves that they were doing something pro-social rather than psychopathic. However, now that more and more people can see the rot seeping out from the Establishment, it seems like a reprehensible thing to have done. It added to the abuse and betrayal of victims.

Those covering up these crimes in the 70’s and 80’s probably couldn’t have imagined that soon almost everyone would have devices that can broadcast information around the world in seconds. I’d suspect the abusers and those covering up thought victims of abuse were more likely to die young or become disregarded substance abusers than become articulate, supported people with a strong voice, compelling stories and the ability to broadcast what has happened. The problem now for the authorities is that the rot is so apparent to so many and – until people are satisfied it’s been completely exposed and cleaned up – all of politics and the security services will look suspect. As does the CPS and the police, when cases don’t make it to court.

GM: I worked in health care for quite a few years. There is lots of talk about psychopaths in business and politics, but I wonder if professions like psychology can be fertile grounds for a particularly elusive kind of psychopath, e.g. one who can call and respond with ideas of empathy and self-awareness to hide their aggression?

WB: The concept of psychopathy – or at least the term – is relatively new. I think we have a lot further to go in understanding different types of psychopaths, and others deemed to have antisocial and narcissistic personality disorders. Research into mirror neurons and the ’empathy switch’ has been illuminating, as it showed how empathy can be switched on or dialled up in certain circumstances. I suspect we will find more about how for healthy people in extreme conditions – such as war – it can be also dialled down. So in the fairly precarious, chaotic and confusing environment of a psychiatric ward or A & E service, there are certainly clinicians who previously shared no characteristics with psychopaths who learn to suppress normal human responses – like fear and horror – to make rapid decisions and manage to sleep at night. Equally, there could be some perfectly good clinicians who are drawn to the excitement and power of making life-changing decisions, but who – under different conditions – could be rather unpleasant psychopaths.

GM: In my novel I explore the fact that organisations do not protect whistle-blowers, and so social networking is increasingly exposing and confronting corruption instead. Are you concerned that powerful organisations will find ways to close this loophole? You mention in the book that the Wikipedia pages of the powerful seem to be changed very quickly if any evidence of their wrongdoing is placed there.

WB: We can’t assume that the freedom we currently have on social media will always be available to us – and many people have nothing like the power we have in the UK to communicate without being dragged off somewhere. However, the internet has become such a vital tool in business that, if it ceased to function, corporations and economies would also struggle to function. All sorts of markets are now so dependent on the internet that nations would be destabilised if the web went down. This reality means, ironically, that as long as capitalism as we know it operates, the masses will have communication tools at our disposal to challenge aspects of the system. As is often the case, the seeds of revolution are present in the machinery of oppression.

Psychopathic Cultures and Toxic Empires is available via Amazon and bookshops.

Guy Mankowski is the author of the novels ‘Letters from Yelena’ and more recently ‘How I Left The National Grid’.


Filed under Abuse, News, Philosophy, Politics

Confucius Say…



“By three methods we may learn wisdom: First, by reflection, which is noblest; Second, by imitation, which is easiest; and third by experience, which is the bitterest.”- Confucius.

“If I am walking with two other men, each of them will serve as my teacher. I will pick out the good points of the one and imitate them, and the bad points of the other and correct them in myself.”- Confucius

“He who learns but does not think, is lost! He who thinks but does not learn is in great danger.”- Confucius

“It is more shameful to distrust our friends than to be deceived by them.” – Confucius






Filed under Philosophy

Joining The Dots.

Apologies for being a little quiet for the last few days. Contrary to some rumours I’ve not been assassinated by Op Greenlight, I’ve been unwell, and that is not because I’ve been poisoned with radioactive polonium by the Mossad, I’ve had a cold, probably caused by the change in weather and my own stubborn refusal to dress appropriately for October.

It’s astonishing that simply by not being as active as normal due to man flu  and not addressing some issues that some people have raised, some are able to construct extremely implausable scenarios to explain it. I guess it says something about human nature that given a couple of dots we can’t help but try to join them, often when there simply isn’t enough information to create an accurate picture.

Of course joining the dots is nothing new. People have been looking up at the night sky and doing it for millennia. Below is a picture of the constellation of Taurus.


Now, someone has very helpfully superimposed the image of a bull on the constellation but you can still see the individual stars that make it up and you can also see that these dots in the sky have been joined up. If you didn’t already know that it was the constellation of Taurus would you think it looked like a bull? The cultural impact of this particular dot joining shouldn’t be underestimated. One in twelve of the population when asked what their star sign is will answer Taurus and many each day will check their horoscope to discover if they should talk to their boss about the pay rise they want or whether to kiss the girl they like but I can’t help but feel that some time a few thousand years ago there was someone with a very vivid imagination and too much time on their hands. What is remarkable is that this person was able to persuade other people that the image of a bull could be perceived by joining these dots.

I think something similar happens when people see faces in everyday things.

Left: Jesus on Toast. Right: Virgin Mary on Toast.

Left: Jesus on Toast. Right: Virgin Mary on Toast.

It seems that our brains are hardwired to recognise faces. This would seem to be an extremely beneficial survival instinct. It’s very important to be able to differentiate between friends who’ll help you and foes that will harm you but it seem that this instinct is so ingrained that even given a tiny piece of visual data, we are capable of constructing in our minds an apparently more detailed image.

“Once you have eliminated the impossible, whatever remains, no matter how improbable must be the truth” 

How many times have I seen this famous aphorism that Sir Arthur Conan Doyle put into the mouth of Sherlock Holmes used to justify the most outlandish conspiracy theory ? Almost without exception the person who is using it has not only eliminated the “impossible” but also the most plausible explanations before arriving at their own “improbable” (sometimes extremely improbable) theory. The aphorism is a good one, it’s simply misused.

William of Ockham , a Medieval English Franciscan monk, developed a principle which is today known as Occam’s Razor. It states that among competing hypotheses, the hypothesis with the fewest assumptions should be selected. In other words the simplest explanation is the most plausible. It does not mean that just because an explanation is more plausible that it is true but it does suggest that the simplest and therefore most plausible explanations, given all available evidence is more likely to be true and that the more complex an explanation is the less plausible it is.

Isaac Newton, over 100 years after William of Ockham came up with a similar principle which guided his scientific method he wrote “We are to admit no more causes of natural things than such as are both true and sufficient to explain their appearances. Therefore, to the same natural effects we must, so far as possible, assign the same causes.”

The first sentence is the important one here, “admit no more causes of natural things than such as are both true and sufficient to explain their appearances.” In other words Newton is suggesting that if there are simple explanations they should not be ignored in favour of more complex explanations.

Now, I can well understand why some people enjoy constructing elaborate theories to explain some things. Some people enjoy the intellectual challenge of thinking outside of the box, others might see it as a form of fiction writing and 99 times out of 100 it really has no impact. Lizard people, aliens, Loch Ness monster, JFK, moon landing, as far as I’m concerned you can all let your imaginations run free, it’s of little consequence. However, the issue of child abuse is a different matter altogether.

It’s well to remember that even if you consider your own elaborate theory to be purely speculative, it may be that some directly affected by child abuse might read what you write and not perceive it in the same way.

W.B Yeats once wrote “But I, being poor, have only my dreams; I have spread my dreams under your feet; Tread softly because you tread on my dreams.”

To paraphrase, I’d suggest that all should be careful to tread softy when commenting on other people’s nightmares.

I’d just like to take this opportunity of thanking Lemsip for all their help and support over the last few days!



Filed under Abuse, Philosophy

Extract: ‘Letter From A Birmingham Jail’


16 April 1963 Martin Luther King

…”You express a great deal of anxiety over our willingness to break laws. This is certainly a legitimate concern. Since we so diligently urge people to obey the Supreme Court’s decision of 1954 outlawing segregation in the public schools, at first glance it may seem rather paradoxical for us consciously to break laws. One may well ask: “How can you advocate breaking some laws and obeying others?” The answer lies in the fact that there are two types of laws: just and unjust. I would be the first to advocate obeying just laws. One has not only a legal but a moral responsibility to obey just laws. Conversely, one has a moral responsibility to disobey unjust laws. I would agree with St. Augustine that “an unjust law is no law at all.”

Now, what is the difference between the two? How does one determine whether a law is just or unjust? A just law is a man made code that squares with the moral law or the law of God. An unjust law is a code that is out of harmony with the moral law. To put it in the terms of St. Thomas Aquinas: An unjust law is a human law that is not rooted in eternal law and natural law. Any law that uplifts human personality is just. Any law that degrades human personality is unjust. All segregation statutes are unjust because segregation distorts the soul and damages the personality. It gives the segregator a false sense of superiority and the segregated a false sense of inferiority. Segregation, to use the terminology of the Jewish philosopher Martin Buber, substitutes an “I it” relationship for an “I thou” relationship and ends up relegating persons to the status of things. Hence segregation is not only politically, economically and sociologically unsound, it is morally wrong and sinful. Paul Tillich has said that sin is separation. Is not segregation an existential expression of man’s tragic separation, his awful estrangement, his terrible sinfulness? Thus it is that I can urge men to obey the 1954 decision of the Supreme Court, for it is morally right; and I can urge them to disobey segregation ordinances, for they are morally wrong.

Let us consider a more concrete example of just and unjust laws. An unjust law is a code that a numerical or power majority group compels a minority group to obey but does not make binding on itself. This is difference made legal. By the same token, a just law is a code that a majority compels a minority to follow and that it is willing to follow itself. This is sameness made legal. Let me give another explanation. A law is unjust if it is inflicted on a minority that, as a result of being denied the right to vote, had no part in enacting or devising the law. Who can say that the legislature of Alabama which set up that state’s segregation laws was democratically elected? Throughout Alabama all sorts of devious methods are used to prevent Negroes from becoming registered voters, and there are some counties in which, even though Negroes constitute a majority of the population, not a single Negro is registered. Can any law enacted under such circumstances be considered democratically structured?

Sometimes a law is just on its face and unjust in its application. For instance, I have been arrested on a charge of parading without a permit. Now, there is nothing wrong in having an ordinance which requires a permit for a parade. But such an ordinance becomes unjust when it is used to maintain segregation and to deny citizens the First-Amendment privilege of peaceful assembly and protest.

I hope you are able to see the distinction I am trying to point out. In no sense do I advocate evading or defying the law, as would the rabid segregationist. That would lead to anarchy. One who breaks an unjust law must do so openly, lovingly, and with a willingness to accept the penalty. I submit that an individual who breaks a law that conscience tells him is unjust, and who willingly accepts the penalty of imprisonment in order to arouse the conscience of the community over its injustice, is in reality expressing the highest respect for law.

Of course, there is nothing new about this kind of civil disobedience. It was evidenced sublimely in the refusal of Shadrach, Meshach and Abednego to obey the laws of Nebuchadnezzar, on the ground that a higher moral law was at stake. It was practiced superbly by the early Christians, who were willing to face hungry lions and the excruciating pain of chopping blocks rather than submit to certain unjust laws of the Roman Empire. To a degree, academic freedom is a reality today because Socrates practiced civil disobedience. In our own nation, the Boston Tea Party represented a massive act of civil disobedience.

We should never forget that everything Adolf Hitler did in Germany was “legal” and everything the Hungarian freedom fighters did in Hungary was “illegal.” It was “illegal” to aid and comfort a Jew in Hitler’s Germany. Even so, I am sure that, had I lived in Germany at the time, I would have aided and comforted my Jewish brothers. If today I lived in a Communist country where certain principles dear to the Christian faith are suppressed, I would openly advocate disobeying that country’s antireligious laws.

I must make two honest confessions to you, my Christian and Jewish brothers. First, I must confess that over the past few years I have been gravely disappointed with the white moderate. I have almost reached the regrettable conclusion that the Negro’s great stumbling block in his stride toward freedom is not the White Citizen’s Counciler or the Ku Klux Klanner, but the white moderate, who is more devoted to “order” than to justice; who prefers a negative peace which is the absence of tension to a positive peace which is the presence of justice; who constantly says: “I agree with you in the goal you seek, but I cannot agree with your methods of direct action”; who paternalistically believes he can set the timetable for another man’s freedom; who lives by a mythical concept of time and who constantly advises the Negro to wait for a “more convenient season.” Shallow understanding from people of good will is more frustrating than absolute misunderstanding from people of ill will. Lukewarm acceptance is much more bewildering than outright rejection”…


Filed under Abuse, Philosophy, Politics

The Love Of Money.


“For the love of money is the root of all evil: which while some coveted after, they have erred from the faith, and pierced themselves through with many sorrows.”– King James Bible

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Elected President ?


“Anyone who is capable of getting themselves made President should on no account be allowed to do the job.” ― Douglas Adams, ‘The Hitchhiker’s Guide to the Galaxy’


Filed under News, Philosophy, Politics

Be The Change.


“If we could change ourselves, the tendencies in the world would also change. As a man changes his own nature, so does the attitude of the world change towards him. … We need not wait to see what others do.” – Mahatma Gandhi


Filed under Personal, Philosophy