Tuesday, July 26, 2011
Identifying a Psychopath
One hardly needs an advanced degree in psychology or be a full-fledged psychiatrist to conclude that Anders Behring Breivik, the Norwegian mass-murderer, is very likely a psychopath. Anyone who would blow up a government building and gun down children, thinking that he was going to ignite a revolution against Muslims in Europe is not dealing with a full deck.
The event initiated a torrent of news coverage and comment. Much of the initial coverage was wrong. Breivik was not a “fundamentalist Christian” and he was not linked to any particular group. He was the classic lone wolf. Like the Unabomber, Theodore Kaczynski, Breivik had his own “manifesto.”
Breivik, Kaczynski, and other psychopaths share characteristics which had been identified by Robert D. Hare, a noted researcher in the field of psychopathy. In 1995 he published his Psychopathy Checklist. It is still in use today for the purpose of diagnosis.
In the forthcoming August/September issue of Free Inquiry, a magazine favored by humanists and atheists, David N. Stamos, a philosopher who teaches at York University in Toronto, Canada, has a meditation on “The Philosophical Significance of Psychopaths.” His timing is fortuetous to say the least.
Stamos informs us Hare calculated that “roughly one in every one hundred humans is a full-fledged psychopath.”
Let us dispense with the notion that that they are all mass-murderers. They are not. Many rise to positions of considerable power and influence precisely because their traits are prized in pursuits that range from politics to the management of corporations.
Here then, out of the twenty characteristics that Hare identified, are those I will cite for the purpose of this commentary:
Glib and superficial charm
Grandiose (exaggeratedly high) estimation of self
Need for stimulation
Cunning and manipulativeness
Lack of remorse or guilt
Callousness and lack of empathy
Failure to accept responsibility for own actions
By now I suspect you are saying, “Wait a minute! That fits Barack Hussein Obama!” and you would be right.
So, is he a psychopath? That is not for you nor I to say. We lack the training and experience to make such judgments, but it shouldn’t keep us from drawing some general conclusions.
Stamos poses and answers his own question, “What distinguishes psychopaths from normal people? Principally, it is a total absence of what we typically take to be moral qualities; sympathy, empathy, compassion, guilt, remorse, conscience, loyalty, truth telling, and a sense of fairness.”
“Psychopaths are highly narcissistic. Not only are they extremely self-centered, but they also think of themselves as being of a higher nature than the rest of us,” writes Stamos. “To them, normal individuals are made weak by sympathy and emphathy and refrain from getting the most that they can from life because of conscience, guilt, and remorse.”
“To psychopaths, we are like sheep. They, on the other hand, are like wolves—animals of prey. The sheep exist for the sake of the wolves. The sheep are to be manipulated, used, and even killed if the situation is right. All that matters is that the wolf be gratified.”
Breivik has forced the world to ask what it is that makes a man a psychopath. Hare believes that psychopathy shows up early in life and likely has a genetic component. It does not matter what one’s formative experiences are. The psychopath is going to make his way in the world based as much on his deficiencies as his abilities.
Not only does the psychopath lack a conscience and other chracteristics we prize in our fellow human beings, “they don’t want them” writes Stamos, “because they see nothing wrong with themselves. They look at the moral virtues and values of normal humans as the very features that make those humans weaklings and suckers, ready to be exploited by people like them.”
As President, a psychopath might blame all present ills on his predecessor and earlier administrations.
As President, a psychopath might not accept any responsibility for failed programs.
As President, a psychopath might prove to be an unreliable person with whom to negotiate.
As President, a psychopath might regard bringing the greatest nation on earth to ruin as proof of his own grandiose view of himself.
This is, of course, pure conjecture. Call it food for thought.
© Alan Caruba, 2011