Being either a psychopath or a narcissist is rapidly falling out of favor as a mental illness among psychiatrists. The afflictions, if they are afflictions, are far too common. (See blogs 1/18/13 and 6/16/14.) Psychopaths, for example, thrive as CEO of corporations, politicians and bankers. Their ability to focus on the goal and read human nature gives them an advantage over morally laden plodders. As for the number of narcissists in our society, one only has to prowl though social media sites for evidence of how much we love ourselves.
To stand out in a field of budding derangements, a person has to do something spectacular. And that’s what Martin Shkreli did. He bought a pharmaceutical company and raised the cost of Daraprim, a drug critical to several vulnerable populations, from $13.50 a tablet to $750. Though the practice of raising the prices on generic medications isn’t new, the greed in this particular case was so noteworthy, it gave world fame to a young man in his early 30s.
Of course, evil-doers seldom admit they have done anything wrong. Hitler’s intent was to raise Germany from its economic doldrums and perfect the Arian race. In Shkreli’s case, he wanted to raise money for research into drugs that would cure other rare diseases, those that other pharmaceuticals deemed unprofitable to pursue. At least one parent has risen to the young entrepreneur’s defense, pointing out he helped develop a potential treatment for the life-threatening disease called PKAN. (“Poison Pill,” by Bethany McLean, Vanity Fair, Feb. 2016, pg. 142.)
Heading a pharmaceutical company wasn’t Shkreli’s original goal, however. He began in the mail room of a hedge fund company earlier. After a time in that environment, he decided start a hedge fund of his own. A couple of them failed which is why he propelled himself into the pharmaceutical business.
Shkreli sees himself as a Robin Hood. (Ibid pg. 143) He uses questionable and devious means to obtain a laudable goal. His delusion that a person can disconnect the means from the ends isn’t unusual. I’ve worked with several politicians who labored under a similar point of view. You will know them by their insistence that wreckage is justifiable if the goal is noble.
Separating means and ends is a dangerous game, but the argument is becoming prevalent in our society. Government wants to keep us safe from terrorists by employing devious and intrusive means to spy on us. Commercial enterprises justify a similar assault, insisting their goal is to serve us better. Left unchecked this disconnect will lead us to the dark side of good intentions where focus, dedication and zealotry become evils without our noticing. ISIS wants to show the world the face of Allah. A good intention that takes us straight to hell.