More on Psychopathy…

It is easy — terribly easy — to shake a man’s faith in himself. To take advantage of that to break a man’s spirit is devil’s work. – George Bernard Shaw

Most of us comprehend instinctively that there are shades of good and bad rather than absolute categories. We know in our hearts that there must be no such thing as a person who is 100% good, and so we assume that there is no such thing as a person who is 100% bad… However psychologically speaking there definitely are people who possess an intervening sense of constraint based on emotional attachments and other people who have no such sense. And to fail to understand this is to place people of conscience in the world in danger. – Martha Stout, The Sociopath Next Door 

Further to my original post on this topic (here). I just stumbled across this on youtube. In this short webcast Frank Ochberg explains what a psychopath is and why they do not get upset or excited about seeing the pain of others.

If you’re interested in delving even deeper into the world of psychopathy I also recommend I, Psychopath. From the documentary’s promotional blurb:-

…In this intriguing documentary, Sam Vaknin, a self-proclaimed psychopath, goes in search of a diagnosis. In a scientific first, he allows himself to undergo testing to find out if he was born without a conscience. He knows he’s narcissistic and cannot empathize with others. By his own admission, he’s pompous, grandiose, repulsive and contradictory, ruthless and devoid of scruples, capricious and unfathomable… but he believes, he’s not a bad person. What he is is indifferent…he couldn’t care less. Unless, of course, the topic is himself. Vaknin and his long-suffering but ever-loyal wife, Lidija, embark on a diagnostic road trip. But, it’s uncharted territory… deep into the mind and life of a psychopath. The 47-year-old convicted corporate criminal has agreed to take part in the pursuit of his own diagnosis… meeting the world’s experts in psychopathy in the hope that science will provide some answers for why he is like he is. These experts put Vaknin (and his wife) through a battery of rigorous psychological tests and neuro-scientific experiments. Vaknin is shocked at the results. Sam, his wife, the scientists, the film-makers – will they ever be quite the same again?

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Do Psychopaths Dream of Power & Status?

The following documentaries are extremely interesting and worrying in their implications (to put it mildly). Both documentaries are centred around psychologist Robert D Hare’s recently devised checklist to accurately diagnose cases of psychopathy, and raise, in my opinion, some serious issues which need to be addressed if we are to make a better, fairer and safer world for future generations. But an ethical solution to some of the problems presented may not become available to us for some time to come, and even if/when the science /technology to resolve the problems without resorting to inhuman right-wing tactics becomes available to us, there may still be serious ethical considerations to weigh-up as to whether or not the technology should be employed.

This undoubtedly all sounds very melodramatic and exaggerated, but I think once you’ve delved even just a bit deeper into this topic beyond the commonly held view (or misconception), as I have, you’ll find that you agree with me, if not in whole, in part.

Experts say that as many as 1 in 100 people could be psychopaths. They are not only serial killers, that is only the extreme and a small minority of the whole, in reality they are all around us, functioning, for the most part, as law abiding citizens. But this does not mean they are harmless.

What defines a psychopath is the inability to relate – a total lack of empathic reasoning. This causes them to be extremely selfish and ruthless; they will hold no qualms over deceiving and/or manipulating to get what they want. Sometimes to get what they want they must inflict violence or kill. Whilst other times (remember, they possess no empathy or conscience) they simply crave the rush and sense of power dominating/abusing/killing a person will provide them.

Not all psychopaths feel they need to break the law to get what they want though. They are often, by nature, very cunning people, and resorting to such crude methods as killing to fulfil their selfish desires often is not necessary. As you’ll find out if you watch the documentaries, a lot of psychopaths get on extremely well in the ruthless, cut-throat world of business and commerce for example. And this world satisfies their craving for power and domination over others.

Quote from the Equinox documentary, Psyschopath:-

The notion of industrial psychopaths rising throught the ranks to become captains of industry could mean that the character traits are a positive business asset.

Power attracts the corruptible – Frank Herbert

So, we know what defines a psychopath, but what defines a human? Is empathy and a conscience vital qualities to being human? If so, can psychopaths really be classified as truly “human”? Or are they humans in disguise? Cold, unfeeling androids without a “soul”? If this is the case, then maybe the ethical conundrums I mentioned earlier don’t apply, but I feel very wairy of going down this route… we all know what happens when people are classed as “subhuman”.  The inspiration for Philip K Dick’s Do Androids Dream of Electric Sheep? was people PKD saw around him who he felt lacked these vital humanistic ingredients. Even the “Voight-Kampff” test used to identify the androids is reminiscent of a psychopathy evaluation, gauging emotional reaction to stimuli.

From the wiki article about the novel:-

The novel is set in a post-apocalyptic near future, where the Earth and its populations have been damaged greatly by Nuclear War during World War Terminus. Most types of animals are endangered or extinct due to extreme radiation poisoning from the war. To own an animal is a sign of status, but what is emphasized more is the empathic emotions humans experience towards an animal.

Deckard is faced with “retiring” six escaped Nexus-6 model androids, the latest and most advanced model. Because of this task, the novel explores the issue of what it is to be human. Unlike humans, the androids possess no empathic sense. In essence, Deckard probes the existence of defining qualities that separate humans from androids.

What definately isn’t a human is a corporation (Tyrell, “More Human than Human”!). Yet as explored in the second documentary, a Canadian film called The Corporation, these organisations must be considered, in the eyes of the law, as a person rather than an entity. Under this definition, reasons profiler Robert Hare, corporations can be categorized as psychopathic because they exhibit a personality disorder: that of single-mindedly pursuing their objectives without regard for the people in and around them.

In my opinion, these docos are explosive and should be seen by everyone. The Equinox documentary is an eye-opener for sure, and The Corporation is nothing short of a masterpiece in my opinion, winning the World Cinema Audience Award: Documentary at the Sundance Film Festival, 2004, along with a Special Jury Award at the International Documentary Film Festival Amsterdam (IDFA) in 2003 and 2004. They have certainly changed and shaped my present view of the world in which we find ourselves (as well as my interpretation of PKD’s novel). I hope you can find the time to view them both, and I look forward to the debate these docos will hopefully initiate on the comments section.

If you want to research even more into this topic after watching the documentaries, I recommend the book Without Conscience: The Disturbing World of the Psychopaths among Us by Robert D Hare, the psychologist who developed the Psychopathy Checklist (PCL) and Psychopathy Checklist Revised (PCL-R).