by Benjamin Buehne
"It took me a while to see it, but eventually I came to realize the obviousness of the truth. The world has only one problem: psychopaths. Reflecting on how stubborn I was before realizing the extent to which psychopaths pose a danger to society, I thought it might be helpful to walk readers through a simple exercise that can hopefully give you some idea of just how many psychopaths are out there... and just how many could be in your life! Later, you can think about the damage they may have caused you and others they know. Then apply this to current affairs (and down through history) on the world stage as you expand on your discoveries to include various public figures, ideologies and social movements in the world.
For this exercise I will be using the example of Facebook. You could just as easily use other social networking sites or even a rolodex. Ok, ready? Here we go...
The current prevalence of psychopathy is conservatively estimated at 4% of the population. Some experts argue this number is higher, at 6%, another commonly accepted number. Still another expert believes psychos can be found in 1/3 men and 1/10 women. Most recently, Kevin Dutton has come out with a whopping figure of 10%. But for the purpose of this exercise, we'll just go with the 4% figure, which is 1 out of 25 people.
What I'd like you to do is take the number of 'friends' you have on your Facebook account and divide this number by 25. Statistically-speaking, this resulting number is the number of psychopaths amongst your group of 'friends'. Let's try an example. Say you have 150 Facebook 'friends'. That number divided by 25 gives you a figure of 6 psychopaths among your 'friends'. That may sound ridiculous or outrageous to you, but statistically-speaking, it has a very high chance of being true. They don't literally wear masks of course, but they do carefully tailor their behaviour in order to present the image of themselves they wish others to see. Now, it could be said that we all do a little bit of that some or lots of the time, and for different reasons. The difference with psychos is that they do it all the time for one reason only- to manipulate you- because there is nothing real behind their mask, just a black hole where normally there is a real person.
Naturally, the first thing we need for recognizing psychopaths is some reliable criteria for identifying them. The standard and officially recognised tool is Dr. Robert Hare's PCL-R (Psychopathy Check List), but a good rule of thumb comes from Dr. Martha Stout who has found that psychopaths will consistently hurt those that love them while at the same time constantly try to elicit pity from them. Psychopaths are essentially people with no conscience or empathy, and (this is important!) no ability to develop conscience or empathy. That's a pretty striking difference between us and them. Unfortunately, we are not able to perceive them as such because psychopaths realise that this lack of something that is so fundamental to normal human relationships makes them stand out from the crowd, so they have learned that they must wear a mask to avoid being detected by the people and societies on which they prey.
Bear in mind, however, that there will be some variation (at least on the surface) in the extent to which psychopaths match the criteria (Hare's PCL and Stout's definition). Few will match 100% because the fake 'personalities' of psychopaths can vary as much as those of normal people. Behind the mask of their (often effected) personality, however, psychopaths seem to be driven by the same basic need to dominate others in one way or another.
The psychopath is kind of like an aggressive narcissist at core i.e. they are self-centered to an extreme degree... like, off the charts selfish! They may try to portray themselves as a humble person, but if you pay close attention, you'll see that their actions expose them as consistently having only their own interests in mind. They also tend to be charmers, at least in the beginning of any relationship you establish with them. They believe they are more important than they really are (and attempt to convince others of this) and typically take themselves and their image quite seriously. Because they typically cannot meet their own larger-than-life descriptions of themselves, they lie, and lie frequently. They tend to be manipulative, which means while they may not directly hurt others, they may do things such as start rumors or try to cause arguments among others. They tend to not display much emotion, which in itself doesn't mean much because the same can be said for lots of ordinary people, but they can equally go over the top in trying to impress on others just how emotional they are! I think the point is that they frequently put on displays of emotion that are inappropriate- either too much, too little or just plain wrong for the context. Whatever emotions they do display, however, tend to be superficial (like 'crocodile tears') and extreme, and usually end up with you giving in to something you did not want to give in to. So what you are looking for is a person whose emotional displays go from 0 to 100 MPH in a very short period of time and end in the person getting what they wanted as a result.
Psychopaths have absolutely no regard for the feelings of others, who they typically accuse of 'over-reacting' when their insensitivity is pointed out to them. One of the biggest give-aways is that they will almost never accept responsibility for the consequences for their actions, nor do they seem to show any remorse or guilt when they hurt someone else. Psychopaths can and do apologise and show some degree of superficial remorse if they correctly strategise that the situation requires it- they know from past observations that those around them expect certain reactions because that is what they (normal people) would do in the circumstances- or because doing so will get them what they want. While they'll certainly try to show that they care, they don't actually internally experience what it feels like to care. Their actions will not be motivated by any real remorse and they will do the same thing again.
The next thing you need to look for are discrepancies in the psychopath's overall lifestyle, which is best described as depraved and without a sense of responsibility. They tend to mooch off of others, taking more than they ever give. It's not just that they are untrustworthy people, they often behave in an outrageously irresponsible manner. The problem here however is that people tend to excuse psychopaths for major transgressions precisely because they seem to be so incompetent. Here, we are reminded of the many people who say that the US government could not have carried out the 9/11 attacks because it is so "incompetent". Well, that's always only going to be half of the story. Can we really look back and accept that Dick Cheney had no idea what he was doing on 9/11 when he gave that order to NOT shoot down the plane heading for the Pentagon?
This can be a tricky one because psychopaths often lead such outwardly normal and 'boring' lives- as doctors, bankers, lawyers, bureaucrats, even psychologists and psychiatrists! What you'll find though, when you look closer, is that they frequently need to take 'vacations into filth', as Hervey Cleckley noted in his important book, Mask of Sanity. They literally need to take a break now and then from all the effort they put into presenting a normal mask to people, and they may do so by going totally overboard with drugs, prostitutes and worse. It certainly makes you wonder about all those stories about fundie religious preacher types getting caught snorting crystal meth with transvestite hookers, to say nothing of the revolting institutionalised pedophilia and high-level child snuff movie rackets that have come to light just about everywhere.
Psychopaths don't have long-term goals because they are unable to think in such an abstract way. The 'future' is intangible for them. I should clarify this, however, by saying that they tend to assign themselves long-term goals repeatedly, then drop them just as quickly. They tend to be prone to boredom which means they crave excitement and they also tend to be impulsive. "There's nothing wrong with that!" I hear you say. The problem is that the things that excite them most involve hurting others in some way. Many of them have trouble with the law and frequently get into trouble at work or with their families, but most of them are smart enough to stay within the law and social conventions. Psychopaths display this kind of behavior from an early age. In fact, many psychopaths are described as adults that just won't grow up. They are often described as being 'their own worst enemy', but they see things the other way around and consider normal people to be the sick ones. Remember, any pity they get from us is part of a clever ruse to enable them to get what they want, preying on the gullibility and good nature of normal people.
Then there are those miscellaneous things you tend to notice about psychopaths. One thing that is mentioned a lot is their piercing stare. Someone staring at you in an intense way is not always a red flag, but if you've ever been on the receiving end of the psychopath's stare, then you'll know what I mean about it making the hair on the back of your neck stand on end! Psychopaths tend to be promiscuous and will have many short-term relationships, or, if they are in a long-term relationship, then they don't stay faithful. They tend to violate social norms in multiple areas. I should also add that it is postulated that 'borderline personality disorder' is the feminine expression of the same disease, which has been associated with some of the more self-destructive behavioural traits like making frequent suicide threats and appearing to have been conned by men when the very opposite is true. The kicker though is that, like their male counterparts, female psychopaths only appear to be 'self-destructive'- they know full well how to take advantage of pity from others by 'acting out'.
Psychopaths love to make you feel so sorry for them that you will gladly come to their 'rescue', take on their responsibilities, give them money, and support them in every way you can by encouraging their 'personal growth'. But once the light switch flicks in your brain and you realise what is really going on, once you stop giving them what they want (be it excitement, money, shelter, services (favors), sex, status (on being associated with you), an image boost (on being associated with you), a cover, connections, or control over you, then they will simply AMAZED how quickly they start treating you like a broken refrigerator! You may be upset when your fridge breaks down, but you have no emotional connection to the refrigerator other than that it is an appliance created to serve a purpose for you. This is precisely how your psychopathic friend, mate etc. sees you.
Fooling you, while hurting you, is a sort of ego boost to the psychopath. As you allow yourself to be used by them, it feeds them in more ways than one. It makes them feel so special that a good person like you would allow them to do hurtful things to you, forgive them for it, and then do it again, all for them! Maybe the question we need to be asking ourselves is, are psychopaths that far off in thinking this way, given that normal people so willingly submit themselves to such abuse?
The main thing to remember here is that psychopaths are often charming people who are totally self-centered. They are the type of person that you may have decided you 'cannot trust as far as you can throw', who leave you with a nagging feeling that they only want to use you or others, or who you keep making excuses for by wishfully thinking 'if only they would get their act together!' If you find that you are repeatedly asking yourself (or them, directly) "how could you do that?!! (insert despicable act here)", then the answer is that they did it because they could, they enjoyed it and they will definitely do it again and again until you disengage completely from them.
Much of the public discussion on psychopaths- both in the media and amongst social groups- revolves around the disgusting and atrocious acts committed by psychopaths. Most people are familiar with the Ted Bundy or Charles Manson-type psychopaths. But the number of serial killer psychopaths pales in comparison to the number of non-criminal psychopaths walking amongst us. Some examples of possible psychopaths include: Dick Cheney, George Bush and Bill Clinton (oh yes, some have extraordinarily successful careers). Awareness of the political psychopath seems to be growing. Then there are psychopaths in the entertainment industry. I do wonder about Charlie Sheen, Tom Cruise and Brittany Spears, among countless others, who also seem to fit the psychopathic profile. Michael Jackson seemed like another strong candidate, as is Michael Vick. Psychopaths represented as fictional characters include the many 'hard men' of modern cinema, such as 'James Bond 007', and the celebrated fictional libertine 'Don Juan', another good portrayal of a psychopath.
Having said all that, it's very important to keep in mind that it is dangerous (and ill-advised) to decide with absolute certainty that any of the above-mentioned individuals are definitely psychopaths. Definitively identifying individual psychopaths is not the point. I am simply trying to get you out of this mindset of associating psychopaths with psychopathic serial killers (an association that has not become part of popular culture by accident!) and into objective reality where psychopaths can be (and are) charming, seemingly sweet and caring people whose long-term actions and records run counter to the impression they give. Remember O.J. Simpson? He seemed pretty charming in those Naked Gun movies, didn't he...
A word of caution: It CAN happen that you are in the right place at the right time to see someone doing something really evil and you just KNOW that so-and-so MUST be a psychopath! More often than not, however, especially in this Internet Age where anyone can present themselves as one thing and actually be something totally different, what is required to come anything close to an accurate assessment of someone being a psychopath is some combination of long-term observation and a deep investigation into their past. The first thing you'd want to do is pretty much eliminate everything they have said about themselves from your enquiry. Go ahead and listen to their self-descriptions, but don't bother attaching much significance to them. Real value can be found in comparing what others have said about them. What you're looking for is to see if their behaviour matches their words. What kind of pattern emerges? Wherever possible, TALK to others to try to find out more. Psychopaths can say the nicest things about people, yet stab them in the back in an instant. They can make YOU feel great about yourself, but only because they want something from you. They can appear so pitiful and miserable that your heart goes out to them, but for all the help you give them, the end result is that you help them become stronger, bigger, better psychopaths.
Returning to our exercise, when you're going through your list of Facebook friends, you might find yourself thinking along the following lines, "Hmmm, so-and-so fits the profile, and so does this guy, and she definitely does!... but he couldn't be, and she's a saint"... stop yourself! Unless you know someone very well, then it is very unlikely that you are going to be able to tell for certain whether or not they are a psychopath based on their Facebook posts and family photos, however much some would like us to believe that social media platforms serve as adequate diagnostic tools. The real point of this exercise was to get you thinking about the sheer scale of the problem humanity facing. The vast majority of people have no clue that psychopaths walk among us, much less what they're really like or just how many of them are out there. Remember, we're talking about 1 in 25 people, statistically-speaking, so the fact remains that 1 in 25 people you know are potentially very dangerous people. Please don't panic! There are some mitigating factors. For one thing, they tend to hang out a lot more in certain circles, so the numbers in your entourage may be way lower than for others.
I realise that these may be unpalatable ideas to consider, but we sorely need to do so. Normal people living in 'modern' societies, while being ruled by psychopaths and influenced by their particular brand of 'morality', find themselves in the position of 'turning the other cheek' to a reality that is just too difficult to face. 'If you can't say anything good about someone, say nothing at all' and other such 'wisdoms' are designed to prevent people from sharing data about problematic characters, whether they be in their workplace, home, neighbourhood or wider community. They afford psychopaths and other character-disturbed individuals the perfect cover to continue manipulating others and only serve to enable 'ponerization', that is, the gradual subversion of ideas, movements and group goals in alignment with the ruthlessly self-centered objectives of psychopaths. Whereas governments assume the right to know absolutely everything about you "because if you have nothing to hide, then you have nothing to fear", psychopaths will discourage open sharing of observations among ordinary people by disparaging their networking as "group-think", implying that the source of evil lies within the group and deflecting from efforts to analyse and identify the true source of deviation working its way through such groups and turning their members against each other.
The reality is that 'all people' are NOT 'created equal'. People are born with different abilities, lack of abilities, desires, drives, and temperaments. We like to insist that 'all men are created equal', and while I firmly believe that every person should be given the opportunity to succeed, I also understand that access ramps are built for people with physical handicaps, glasses are made for people (like myself) who can't see very well, insulin is produced for diabetics (although most diabetes is caused by a high carb diet) and, on the other side of the scale, many schools are designed to cater to the extremely gifted and intelligent. But what are we to do with people that have such a glaring moral handicap, a disability of conscience? Jail-time and therapy have repeatedly proven ineffective at 'punishing' or 'curing' psychopaths. In fact, the general consensus is that it makes them much more skilful and cunning manipulators. In short, nothing, to this point, has been effective in 'curing' the psychopath of their deviancy. I don't have the answer to the question of what are we can or should do about psychopaths in our societies, or in positions of power, but I do know that it is high time we start asking such questions more often and much louder.
In summation, let me return to where I was going at the beginning of this article. Start to think about this problem on a grand scale. Consider this 4-6% of humanity that is draining the rest of us of our energies, resources and emotions in a very disproportionate way (for example, Dr. Robert Hare suggested that psychopaths are responsible for 50% of all crimes). Then think about the global problems and destruction caused by psychopathic CEOs, Governors, Senators, bankers, etc. Think about what happened to MF Global (for just one example) where money simply "disappeared" and subsequent investigations led nowhere because psychopathic politicians whose campaigns were partially funded by these people 'couldn't find' the evidence. Think about the spokesmen for BP, whose words and actions clearly did not match, as they took shortcuts and created a massive environmental and health disaster, all just to increase their enormous wealth and power. Psychopaths have an insatiable greed and an insatiable need to control. Some are more successful than others at fulfilling this need. Dick Cheney gets off on killing millions of people, his lower class ideological (and genetic) brothers and sisters may only succeed in manipulating and psychologically abusing a small number of people.
So, was this exercise useful? Have you found the number of people you have been challenged to find? Have you found more than you were challenged to find? Is this an exercise you can send to others in an effort to increase global awareness of the problem of the destructive principle of the psychopath writ large across the globe? The fact of the matter is that all psychopaths don't need to be murderers, because they can, and do, kill your spirit. While most people can imagine that most of the individual suffering on our planet could well be the result of 360 million genetically deviant individuals with no conscience living and working in all areas of society, what few people stop to consider is the possible repercussions for humanity of the mass negativity and 'ponerizing' influence of psychopaths on humanity as whole. As the psychopaths' destructive principle and ideology embeds itself ever deeper in the minds of the masses of ordinary people, are we seeing Nature's response to this rampant suffering in the form of droughts, famines, plagues, disease and disasters...? Is there a connection?
It's time to start asking the questions behind the questions. It's time to stop asking who is right in the global warming debate, and start asking why our governments are ignoring the signs of an impending ice age. It's time to stop asking if we should go to war, and start asking who benefits from these wars. It's time to stop asking why these atrocities we see on television happen, and start realizing that these atrocities generally have one underlying cause: the fact that the topic of psychopathy is almost universally ignored.”
● "The Trick of the Psychopath's Trade: Make Us Believe that Evil Comes from Others"
● "The Mask of Sanity", Dr. Hervey Cleckley
● "Political Ponerology, A Science on the Nature of Evil Adjusted for Political Purposes"