The Psychopath Next Door
Psychopaths, one of my favourite topics. What do I mean by a psychopath? Well, the word has a lot of different meanings in the vulgar vernacular, and is often confused with psychotics and psychoses. And it doesn’t even have an official definition, the DSM only defines Antisocial personality disorder which is more a catch-all category than a specific diagnosis. Psychopath is also used almost interchangeably with the word sociopath. However, for our purposes here, we will define a psychopath as follows. A psychopath has no emotions, no remorse, no empathy. It follows then that they can be and often are extremely dishonest and manipulative, not too mention they can be charming and intelligent. They do not learn from experience and rarely if ever consider the consequences of their actions. To see the full checklist of traits used to diagnose psychopathy check out the HARE checklist.
To put it mildly, psychopaths usually leave a trail of chaos and emotional damage behind them in the best of times. Getting involved with a psychopath is a bad idea. And hard to avoid completely, psychopathy occur in all cultures and throughout history, though it wasn’t first recognized as a psychiatric disorder until the early 19th century when it was described first as “madness without delusion.” And there’s no doubt we all pay a price for the psychopaths among us. Why is that? Because 20-40% of prisoners are psychopaths. Only about one percent of the population are psychopaths, so there’s really no question that the disorder often leads to anti-social and criminal behaviour.
It follows that some of the most heinous criminals are psychopaths. These are the people that commit the terrible crimes where people wonder how any human could do such a thing or live with themselves afterwards? They live with themselves because they are some variety of psychopath/sociopath. IE they have no feelings, no remorse, no empathy. As Ted Bundy said “What’s the big deal about a few missing girls?” Psychopaths have no conscience, easy to live with yourself if you have no conscience.
Being as dishonest and manipulative as they are, psychopaths are hard to study and treat. Wikipedia says psychopathy is the must studied psychiatric disorder. Frankly, I find that hard to believe, it doesn’t jibe with my other readings on the subject. Because they are so dishonest and so disinclined to be rehabilitated or studied, psychopaths are very difficult to study. And basically impossible to rehabilitate. In fact rehabilitation can make things worse, because it just gives them more practise at being manipulative and faking normalcy. In fact psychopaths are often superficially charming and intelligent, even ones who have committed monstrous crimes usually have a coterie of friends and supporters who believe their claims of innocence. And it follows that this is why some psychopaths fly under the radar so to speak and get released from prison, they can be very good at feigning rehabilitation. In fact the best prisoners are often the worst monsters, something that complicates efforts to rehabilitate prisoners who can be rehabilitated to no end.
Curiously enough, there have been at least two efforts to see if psychopaths could be put to productive use. In World War Two the USA experimented with using them in as commandos. And in the seventies Britain tried using them for bomb disposal. In both cases the thinking was that since they had no emotions, they would remain calm under all circumstances and be able to keep their cool in a tight spot. It was a good idea superficially, someone without fear should be able to handle combat or disposing of bombs with aplomb. Both projects were abject failures. While yes, the psychopaths were fearless, but they were also definitely not team players. Worse, since they were fearless, they would take unacceptable risks putting both themselves and their fellows at risk.
And one last note, though they cannot be rehabilitated, oddly enough by middle age some psychopaths have settled down so to speak. Typically by middle age about a third of them are dead (being unable to feel fear makes you do stupid things,) a third of them are in jail (often for life,) and a third of them have adjusted and are living more or less normal lives. They still don’t have feelings, but they figured out that faking it and obeying the law results in a much more stable and successful life. Some have been known to read psychology books so they can fake emotions to better get along with people. (or better manipulate them.) And it’s not like they can’t hold jobs, I mean, a psychopath is going to make a good used car salesman or such. Still, some remain dangerous manipulative uncaring monsters all their lives, and some even go into politics or become CEOs where they can do very well indeed. That however is a topic for a whole other post.
(The above image of Captain Jeffrey MacDonald is claimed as Fair Use under US copyright law. It’s not being used for profit and is central to illustrating the post. I have no idea who to credit the image too, possibly the USMC. He was convicted of murdering is family in 1970, the so called Fatal Vision case. To this day he claims a group of drug crazed hippies beat his wife and two kids to death. While I am not commenting on that, he is a wonderal example of a psychopath, if the gentle reader ever gets a chance to see him interviewd (I couldn’t find any clips on You-tube) listen to how he talks about anything with emotonal content. It’s like hearing a blind person try to describe sight, it’s creepy. I did come across this link in my search which I thought was interesting.)