Flowers of evil

The case of the Reverend Paul Flowers is intriguing.

For those not up to speed with it, Paul Flowers was a Methodist Minister and former local councillor who rose to become chairman of the Co-op Bank in the UK.

He has now been knocked off his pedestal amid accusations of taking illegal drugs, hiring rent boys, and viewing porn.

This type of personality has always fascinated me. See my previous blogs on Jimmy Savile. The two cases are not dissimilar. Also, today being the 50th anniversary of the assassination of Kennedy, it is piquant to recall that he was no fact something of a sinner whilst opining “Ask not what your country can do for you…” etc.

In the current issue of Scientific American Mind (p13) there is an article entitled “Dirty Money Appeals More to the Righteous.” What it suggests is that those of us with a self-perception of righteousness and moral rectitude will also have a tendency to trade it off against shady behaviours. The phenomenon is called ‘moral licensing.’ When reassured of our rock solid morality it seems we give ourselves more leeway in ethically slippery situations, says the article.

I suspect this is what goes on in the brains of people like Flowers and Savile and all the priests, scout masters, teachers and others who have found themselves sliding into the quicksand of temptation.

I would like to do a bit more research into this type of personality (any leads for further investigation welcomed) to understand what it is that makes certain people reach high office or influence on the ladder of moral superiority whilst indulging in behaviours that are proscribed by society.

For example, is there a link between the personality they project (their public face) and the lack of inhibition they display when the world’s back is turned? What is going on in the brain and at what stage do we grant ourselves a licence to ‘sin’. Does their ‘dark side’ somehow motivate them to achieve? Do they have insight into their behaviour? How do they rationalise it to themselves? Is there a tipping point on the rise of public adoration or achievement at which our brains think ‘right, I’ve been sooo good I deserve a reward’ and leads us off to drugs and sex and rock’n’roll. Is there a personality ‘type’ prone to falling from grace or is the type created by situations? Would Jimmy Savile have abused children if he his career had not taken off the way it did? How do people like Flowers and Savile manage to rise in society and take the rest of us in? Is there a link to narcissism or to psychopathy or are labels unhelpful?

It’s not a new phenomenon. Leaders, both spiritual and temporal, have long lived double lives and newspapers have profited from the misdemeanours of those whose behaviour is at odds with their supposed moral leadership.

How do we spot a Flowers or a Savile without demeaning those who have risen in society and who live blameless lives?

I want to know!