June 25, 2008

The Mercenary Merchant

Portrait of a merchant by Jan Gossaert, 1530

He looks like he's getting ready to excess employees and increase company profits, doesn't he? 

If his employees had been loyal and conscientious workers, people might question the merchant’s moral recitude, which means his image of propriety will be tarnished. So what does he do to protect his image (to himself and others) along with his bottom line?

He eliminates contradictory emotions deemed troublesome. He intellectualizes and depends on other people doing the same. If his new plan enhances the merchant’s wants, annoying emotions defining immoral behavior won’t slow him down. He cuts away, represses, & suppresses contradictory emotions to the point of being Indifferent. He doesn't grapple with bothersome feelings, which means he's capable of ruthlessness and cold indifference towards anyone.

The narcissist’s emotional indifference protects his conscience from being triggered (if he has one) because conscience requires an emotional correlate. Denying full awareness of his feelings protects him from the angst of introspection: "What is my responsibility to employees? Aren't people more valuable than a new boat?”

No. People are not more valuable to a narcissist than a new boat. People are as expendable as objects. Wait a minute! In the Narcissist's world, people ARE objects. That means the merchant eliminates employees as easily as discarding an out-of-style boat, if Pirate Ships are an acceptable mode-of-the-day that is.

This personality type from the 1500's isn't unusual in the 21st Century. People who wouldn't flinch if a fly landed in their soup don't suffer anxiety when putting profits ahead of people. On Monday morning, the Merchant elicits employees' gratitude and sense of security by announcing his intention to expand the company (guaranteeing a secure future for everyone). By Tuesday, the next-in-line-wannabee fires long-term employees so the Merchant can minimize pensions and maximize profits...for the Good of the Company, of course.

But what happens when The Merchant says one thing and does another?

Employees experience cognitive dissonance. The Merchant has done something that doesn’t line up with their perceptions. They question themselves, "Has the time I've invested in the company been worth it? Is my job in jeopardy? Is the Merchant's word trustworthy? Am I risking my future on the word of a lying, selfish boss? He’s always been good to me. I like my job. I don't want to change. Maybe those other people weren't willing to work as hard as myself. Yea, that's it. They deserve to be fired for the good of the company. The Merchant said so and he doesn't lie."

People tell themselves that any average Jo-Joe knows you can’t keep ahead of the race if your ship is overloaded with lazy people. You gotta keep a lean, mean fighting machine to stay ahead of the competition and show folks you really mean business. You'll show The Merchant that you're willing to do whatever it takes to keep the company ship floating. Besides, getting paid retirement (as promised) bankrupts companies, even companies managed by a clear-headed Merchant at the helm. He’s only looking out for everyone’s best welfare. Right?

The Merchant capitalizes on people’s worst instincts (fear) by pitting people against one another, diverting attention from the real cause of their anxiety. He ‘excesses’ employees as troublemakers by saying they're rocking the boat and threatening everyone's security with their complaints. He says he waited ‘til he could wait no longer before eliminating people who refused to keep up with the pace. That even after giving them countless chances to improve, they still felt entitled to a pension. Just think of it, slackies on the dole, overloading the boat, reducing company growth and sinking the ship unless someone has the guts to push ‘em overboard. The Merchant is that someone! The Captain of the Ship. An All-American hero! Grab the Times News photographer and stick his face on the cover. By all means, let's glorify moral insanity.

If you learn anything about pathological narcissism, learn this: eliminating emotions is not strength, it is weakness. Indifference to suffering is not strength, it is weakness. Emotional indifference is not a sign of courage, nor does it signify strength of character. The selfish merchant, whether heralded as a Captain of Industry or not, is a heartless mercenary. No matter how much people resist seeing themselves in the expendable employees, they are no different to the Merchant than any other object in his employ.

You Are Expendable. If the Merchant has discarded anyone without recourse, without remorse, without the fulfillment of promises made, you will be discarded, too. In the same heartless way: blamed and shamed, and only when you least suspect it.


Cognitive Dissonance, Wikipedia definition.

Art Babble video about Gossaert's painting, "The Merchant" 


  1. What is a 'mercenary merchant"?

    1. "Mercenary"=Avaricious. Making money at the expense of ethics. "Merchant" refers to the 16th century narcissistic businessman in the portrait. What are your thoughts about our recent financial fiasco? Do you believe exploitation and entitlement had anything to do with it?

  2. For a fleeting moment I felt as if I was reading about myself.


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