A psychopath (or sociopath, they are kinda interchangeable) is a person who does not experience basic “human” emotions such as guilt, shame, sorrow, compassion, empathy, etc. etc. According to Kevin Dutton, author of The Wisdom of Psychopaths: What Saints, Spies, and Serial Killers Can Teach Us About Success, a psychopath is someone who has a “personality disorder that has been variously described as characterized by shallow emotions (in particular reduced fear), stress tolerance, lacking empathy, coldheartedness, lacking guilt, egocentricity, superficial charm, manipulativeness, irresponsibility, impulsivity and antisocial behaviors such as parasitic lifestyle and criminality.”
Surprise surprise! Look who makes the highest and lowest on the list!
The “clergyman” makes sense – look at the Los Angeles problem this week, where priests were shuffled all over the place to avoid being outed as child molesters. Scott Walker – supposedly the “civil servant” big cheese of Wisconsin – has had many scrapes with the law lately, and several of his immediate associates have been imprisoned. “Timothy D. Russell, a former aide to Gov. Scott Walker, was sentenced Tuesday to two years in prison and five years probation for stealing more than $21,000 from a veterans organization that Walker named him to lead. […]
“There is also no true regret, remorse or repentance,” [Judge David Hansher] told Russell. “I find that you don’t even have any shame.”
There’s a psychopath in pure form – a guy who steals from veterans and has absolutely no problem with it whatsoever. I wonder if Walker suffered any pangs of conscience about appointing the crook to a position where he could fleece the defenders of the nation?
How about the University of California, Davis Police Lt. John Pike, the guy who pepper-sprayed the UC Davis Occupy students? Yeah, yeah, I know, they were supposed to move and didn’t. Did they threaten anybody or damage anything? Well, um, no. But that cop unloaded on those kids like he was plugging plastic ducks in a carnival shooting gallery.
Supposedly these guys know what being pepper-sprayed is like – so, why the nonchalance? Why so casual, so detached, so remote from the infliction of genuine searing pain on people who are no immediate threat to you?
Best guess – PSYCHOPATH!
Also, I hate to say it, there seems to be a certain political party that stands out in a pretty stark psychopathic relief here. Let’s see; where is power and authoritarianism revered, jackboot adherence to the party line essential regardless of harm to others, demonstrating independence in defense of the helpless a flaw quickly to be crushed, and manipulation by misleading one’s followers respected as an art form? I’ll let you guess. Here’s a hint: the odious Mitch McConnell just sent out a call to his minions that reads in part, “Dear Patriot,
You and I are literally surrounded. The gun-grabbers in the Senate are about to launch an all-out-assault on the Second Amendment. On your rights. On your freedom.”
Oh, please, Mitch. Spare me your hysteria. You’re a freaking psychopath, because YOU DON’T CARE about anything but making sure you retain a lil’ bit of that POWER you have accumulated over the years. You’ll lie, prevaricate, insinuate, accuse, and never feel one bit of remorse about it. Textbook.
In 1967, Martin Kuther King said this:
“On some positions a coward has asked the question, is it safe? Expediency asks the question, is it politic? Vanity asks the question, is it popular? But conscience asks the question, is it right? And there comes a time when one must take a position that is neither safe nor politic nor popular, but he must take it because conscience tells him it is right.”
But he was talking about people who have consciences. Psychopaths, emphatically, do not. In fact, they express puzzlement and bewilderment if you can get them to respond honestly about their “consciences”, or actually, lack thereof. Like the guy in Dutton’s book – a multiple murderer – who was asked to identify the emotions registering on people’s faces in a series of pictures. He had a lot of trouble with the “fear/terror” expression, and when pressed, he said “I don’t know what that feeling is, but people make faces like that right before I kill them.” How can you assign meaning to some inner sensation that you have absolutely never experienced?
Generally, there is a set fraction of psychopaths in any given society: about 10 percent. Ten out of one hundred. A thousand years ago, these people would have been shoved out onto an ice flow and told good riddance, because everybody in the society or tribe or whatever would have known exactly what they were. Or, maybe they would have put them in charge of wiping out the next-door tribe down to the last man, woman, child, and dog, because everybody in the society or tribe or whatever would have known exactly what they were good at.
But everybody would have KNOWN.
Today in America, many of the not-bright or extreme psychopaths wind up dead or in prison, because they do a bad job of mimicking acceptable behavior. But there are loads of functional psychopaths out there, whole rafts of political, business, clergy and law enforcement Ted Bundies, who are glib and smooth and say all the right things because they worked hard to LEARN HOW. And every day these people are being elevated to high positions in commerce, government, religious hierarchy, and so on. And they are well-paid to do so! Big rewards if you are able to fake sincerity! Like Ken Lay, and everybody on Wall Street. Like the AIG leaders who brag about paying up their taxpayer debt and then immediately sue the government so they can suck more cash from the taxpayers. Like the Catholic Church wanting to preserve its assets at the cost of turning their backs on literally everything their religion stands for.
All of us must be prepared to recognize and deal with our acceptance of psychopathology. Mother Teresa once said that America was the most soul-sick of the nations. We all need to acknowledge this. And it isn’t 90% of us – it’s that damned 10% every time.
I honestly feel there are lots of compassionate Republicans out there, but clever psychopaths have bedazzled many of them with fear and outrage, regardless of truth. There are doubtless lots of Democratic psychopaths out there too – Rod Blagojevich, ex-Governor of Illinois, leaps to mind. But since psychopaths are attracted to power, and will say and do anything, without shame, to get it and keep it, seems like certain institutions are more tolerant of of the pursuit. For example, Romney was absolutely comfortable saying anything to anybody about anything, so far as he thought it might advance him towards the Presidency. He’s also the guy who tied the dog on the roof, which indicates he isn’t really in tune with the feelings of other creatures, if in fact he acknowledges they have them. And jeez, one of his campaign consultants was John Bolton, well-known bully Boss-from-Hell. That’s pretty clueless right there, but maybe they agreed that “feelings” were basically made-up constructs invented by weak people, and built the relationship from there. And who but a psychopath among us is going to float the cruel hoax that the Newtown massacre was faked by the government? Yet people are taken in even by this obvious crock that does nothing but play into the confirmation bias of Mitch McConnell’s fan base.
So, what are we going to do about this epidemic of psychopaths in high places? Bob Hare, author of the Hare Psychopathy Checklist, describes people he calls psychopaths as “intraspecies predators who use charm, manipulation, intimidation, sex and violence to control others and to satisfy their own selfish needs. Lacking in conscience and empathy, they take what they want and do as they please, violating social norms and expectations without guilt or remorse”. He contends that they lack “the very qualities that allow a human being to live in social harmony”.
I am not getting the vibe these days that Congress is “living in social harmony”. But we can recognize a psychopath when we take a good long look at where the words and the actions intersect. Maybe we ought to try and avoid voting for psychopaths, how about? It would be a start.