Psychopaths and You
In the simplest possible terms, a psychopath is someone who is pathologically selfish.
“Finally,” you might think “I have a legimate excuse to spend all my parents’ money on videogames and hard candy (is that what the kids like nowadays?)”.
But, read on.
Psychopathy, not to be confused with ‘psychosis’, or ‘psychoticism’ (because psychologists only have one prefix, and they’re going to STICK WITH IT, DAMMIT), is a personality disorder involving an almost complete deadening of emotion, and emotional regulation. True psychopaths are unable to feel significant empathy or remorse, find it difficult to understand the emotions of other on anything but the most basic level, and often feel only very shallow emotions themselves.
However, before we get too sinister, even though the disorder is associated with violence and aggressive conduct, being a psychopath does not necessarily mean someone is psychotic (ONE), and therefore dangerous.
The most common clinical method of assessing psychopathy is the Hare Psychopathy Checklist, or H.P.C. (HUP-CHIK), created by Dr. Robert Hare.
The H.P.C. is a list of twenty traits that can be found in psycopathic individuals. These include callousness, being manipulative, delinquency, irresponsibility, parasitic behaviour, poor emotional control, and pathological lying (or do they?). Subjects are assessed with an interview, and then given a value of 0, 1, or 2 for each value, according to how closely their lifestyle appears to match each one. The test is supported by a good deal of clinical evidence, and is accepted by most psychopathy-studying professionals as the best test currently available.
However, this isn’t to say the H.P.C. is perfect. Due to the fact that many of the personality traits listed also occur in people with narcissistic personality disorder (formerly known as ‘megalomania’) and antisocial personality disorder, it has been criticised as encouraging the misdiagnosis of some individuals as psychopathic.
So why is this all important?
Well, the issue here isn’t necessarily what psychopaths are, but what they do. As I said before, the vast majority of them aren’t violent, but that doesn’t mean they can’t have a negative effect on the world around them.
In his book Snakes In Suits, Hare discusses the fact that psychopaths tend to be inordinately attracted to money, power, and notoriety. This often leads them to seek work within the corporate world.
You see how, in that environment, a complete lack of understanding and disregard for human beings apart yourself might be a problem? Yeah.
In Snakes in Suits, Hare describes how an affinity for interpersonal manipulation and a desire for power can allow psychopathic individuals to easily climb the ranks of powerful corporations, as well as other institutions with corporate-style structures, such as the world of politics.
The big question here is, how fair is it to blame someone for acting in an utterly callous, selfish, or damaging way, if it’s only the structure of their brain that leads them to do so? If someone suffers from a condition such as Paranoid Schizophrenia, and ends up killing someone (which is very rare, but does occasionally happen) we don’t ignore the fact that their mind was in an altered state.
Should we do the same for Psychopaths?
Let’s see if we can work it out in the comments.
For more information on the issues I talk about here, I thoroughly recommend Jon Ronson’s great book, The Psychopath Test.
Image courtesy of Voxphoto on Flickr.