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The Psyches of Schwarzenegger & IMF Chief

May 20, 2011

This week on NBC , I gave an interview on the first dogs of summer: Arnold Schwarzenegger and the IMF head, Dominique Strauss-Kahn. What is it about these alpha males that leads to their infidelities?  As I said on air, these guys get a lot of practice.  Practice at abuse of power, practice at abuse of trust. Their brand of infidelity is more spectacularly outrageous than the anguished kind I see in my office.  There are affairs, and then there are predators.  How do you get to be a predator on the prowl?

Let’s begin with the notion of practice. Absurd as it sounds, the more you practice what was once a high-risk behavior, the less risky it feels. No doubt you’ve had this experience when you first learned to ride a bike. At first it was terrifying. You were afraid to fall; you needed the guiding hand of a parent  to balance you. Finally, you felt the exhilaration of flying down the road under your own power. Then you tried no hands. Then you tried tricks. See how it goes?

So these alpha dogs practice the slippery slope leading to betrayals of trust; then get used to it; minimize, rationalize and justify it. The combination of practice, based on countless opportunities, many dependents, no one to hold you accountable, and a cadre of followers invested in protecting you, leads you to believe that the rules are just guidelines, to borrow a phrase from Pirates of the Caribbean.  Mix in the psychological factors that have driven you to seek a high public profile:  narcissism, a sense of your own specialness, a lack of empathy for others, a risk-seeking personality, and voila you have an ethics scandal.

The universal poll in my office this week was 100% disgusted by Schwarzenegger, but a split vote on the IMF chief. The split? American vs. European sentiment. Europeans commonly regard us as Puritanical, and have prided themselves on their open attitudes towards sexuality. The  typical European translation is: no rules for the guys. I believe that’s changing, as women gain more economic power, as the case in the U.S.  Another sign?  The French also have a word for these guys: chaud lapin. Translation: hot rabbit. Now we get to see how fast they can hop.

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