Tuesday, July 26, 2011

Identifying a Psychopath

By Alan Caruba

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
Pathological Lying
Cunning and manipulativeness
Lack of remorse or guilt
Callousness and lack of empathy
Parasitic lifestyle
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


Anonymous said...

Stamos informs us Hare calculated that “roughly one in every one hundred humans is a full-fledged psychopath.”

I have known, and had 1st hand dealings with a psychopath...

Remember the battles we had here in Rowlett with out EX Mayor? That man met every criteria in the definition of psychopath...

And I DO believe Obama to be a psychopath, as well as a dedicated narcissist and an America hating Socialist.

Alan Caruba said...

@Fred: I do, indeed, recall the battles to remove the former mayor from office.

My Mom used to say that crazy people make everyone around them crazy.

Anonymous said...

He didn't make ME crazy... That was a done deal long ago... :)

But he did make me more dedicated to Conservative politics than I ever dreamed possible...

Rose said...

They're made worse when brought into office by activists, who pave the way, and vociferously excuse their every transgression, even using the public to do it. The narcissist continues to skate, and while his public persona appears sound, insiders in his office know it is a chaotic disaster.

For some reason people are afraid to speak out - yes, we have one of these in a small northern CA town.

Anonymous said...

All these traits you listed for a psychopath, are the same for a narcissist. It is widely believed that Obama is a narcissist, as he has all of the classic traits.

You ask, "is he (Obama) a psychopath"? Since the symptoms of each are the same, the answer is yes.

Gustav said...

Although this profile might fit BSO aptly, the person who came directly to mind when I read it is Bill Clinton. How he got where he did has always fascinated me, and this helps me understand better.

retch said...

Spent some time in the loony bin myself, long story, long time ago.
Got out (supported by the staff) when I figured didn't belong in there - there were many much more urgent cases, and was taking up their rightful space.
But I did learn to recognize them first-hand and you're so right!

JoeSmackson said...

Obama, and just about every other President or elected official exhibit narcissism. Romney is the person that actually exhibits signs of psychopathy.