COMMUNITY NOTICE: If you are having trouble in your account access, please do send us a message at [email protected] for assistance.

The Sensible Knave

_armada__armada_ Liable to many exceptions PExer
Imagine - if you can - not having a conscience, none at all, no feelings of guilt or remorse no matter what you do, no limiting sense of concern for the well-being of strangers, friends, or even family members. Imagine no struggles with shame, not a single one in your whole life, no matter what kind of selfish, lazy, harmful, or immoral action you had taken.

And pretend that the concept of responsibility is unknown to you, except as a burden others seem to accept without question, like gullible fools.

Now add to this strange fantasy the ability to conceal from other people that your psychological makeup is radically different from theirs. Since everyone simply assumes that conscience is universal among human beings, hiding the fact that you are conscience-free is nearly effortless.

You are not held back from any of your desires by guilt or shame, and you are never confronted by others for your cold-bloodedness. The ice water in your veins is so bizarre, so completely outside of their personal experience, that they seldom even guess at your condition.

In other words, you are completely free of internal restraints, and your unhampered liberty to do just as you please, with no pangs of conscience, is conveniently invisible to the world.

You can do anything at all ...

The Sociopath Next Door

Policemen have flagged down serial killers and stared right at their faces, then let them drive off with an apology and a body in the trunk. A man belonged to a 33-year marriage and held office in a local church—where he typed letters to the police describing how he killed ten victims over thirty years, including a family of four. Last year a father received a life sentence after having nine children with his two daughters, who went through 19 pregnancies. This weekend another man was incarcerated for a similar crime; in court, jurors were asked to smell items from the cellar his daughter had last seen the outside of as an 18-year old, twenty four years ago. His wife, and the three 'grandchildren' raised upstairs after being left on their doorstep, had no knowledge of what went on under their feet.
“He will present to you a caring side, a selfless person, the nice man from next door. But what really troubles me is that he has not shown a single sign of regret.”

Aside from the obvious, what's striking about the most heinous of criminals is how often they've gotten away with their acts right under people's noses. Even after the facts come out, some of the educated respond by pointing to the 'banality of evil', equating scientific attempts to identify such individuals with 'ethnic cleansing', as if humanity as a race becomes complicit whenever there's callousness on that scale, outside some mitigating influence.
Man without God may look very much like Fritzl.

Time to draw the line. Saying Village X is morally business as usual for humankind is criminally irresponsible. Blaming irreligiosity or reptilian humanoid aliens from Nibiru is flat-out stupid. These people had jobs, underwent psychological exams and had ongoing contact with government agencies, the military, religious workers, and even the police—yet nothing was suspected till it was too late for the families of multiple victims. Apparently the science these tests were based on was deficient, yet fundamentalists wail away at science's underpinnings and spotlight the dogmatism of the establishment while ignoring legitimate scientific disputes that affect their followers' daily lives—worse, some use their influence to make misleading statements about everyday science in the name of a black-and-white theology.

Heinous crimes are preventable, because for most people, the assumptions behind their causes are trapped in ignorance. I am not a psychologist nor do I claim special knowledge about the subject, I only appeal that whatever opinions we form about the matter, ought to be informed.


  • _armada__armada_ Liable to many exceptions PExer
    Say 'psychopath', and a select other emotionally-charged words follow naturally. Violent. Crazy. Sick. Freak. Loner. Failure. Murderer. No conscience. Since the same words readily stick to terms like 'serial killer' and 'sexual predator', people may think most of them might not—won't ever meet a certifiable psychopath in real life. At worst they'll recognize one from a safe enough distance before they start running.

    More 'loaded' words: Charismatic. Intelligent. Productive. Cool. Genuine. Normal; add 'medical worker', 'securities trader', 'pastor', 'legislator', or 'college student'. Meeting these, would most people be fearing for their safety going in?—To the experts' best knowledge, any number of this second set of words can describe an undiagnosed psychopath, while exactly one from the first holds true—in a literal sense—every time, making conventional beliefs part of the problem.
    There is a class of individuals who have been around forever and who are found in every race, culture, society and walk of life. Everybody has met these people, been deceived and manipulated by them, and forced to live with or repair the damage they have wrought. These often charming—but always deadly—individuals have a clinical name: psychopaths. Their hallmark is a stunning lack of conscience; their game is self-gratification at the other person's expense. Many spend time in prison, but many do not. All take far more than they give.

    Dr. Robert Hare is a Canadian psychologist recognized as the world's leading authority on the mind of the psychopath, having designed the Psychopathy Checklist, the most reliable test for screening psychopathic personalities, using the criteria identified by himself and his predecessor Dr. Hervey Cleckley, who literally wrote the book on the subject. Hare derived his findings from interviewing inmates, estimating one-fifth of the U.S. prison population as possible psychopaths, accounting for a disproportionate half of violent crimes; if that makes them sound like mindless brutes, think again.
    One of the inmates in Hare’s research program even had a complete set of [psychological tests and interpretation manuals] and, for a fee, would advise fellow inmates on the correct answers to show the steady improvement more likely to lead to parole. Another inmate ‘had an institutional file that contained three completely different [psychological profiles]. Obtained about a year apart, the first suggested that the man was psychotic, the second that he was perfectly normal, and the third that he was mildly disturbed’ ...

    Each of these profiles had been treated as genuine, but each had in fact been produced to meet specific objectives: the inmate’s desire first to transfer to a psychiatric hospital, then to transfer back to the main prison after he found that conditions were not to his liking, and finally to secure a supply of Valium. Hare decided to construct his own
    Psychopathy Checklist in order to have a method of separating psychopaths from the rest of the prison population, and this method is now used throughout the world.

    And those are the ones who got caught; Hare claims 1 out of every 100 males are born psychopaths, and 1 out of 300 women—born, not shaped by upbringing or social environment. To the point that, as adults, the familiar solution of providing counseling is actually claimed to make psychopaths worse persons, apparently from the opportunity to practice deception on the counselor. Which brings up what is probably Hare's most controversial claim:
    Asked if he thinks there will ever be a cure for psychopathy -- a drug, an operation -- Hare steps back and examines the question. "The psychopath will say 'A cure for what?' I don't feel comfortable calling it a disease. Much of their behaviour, even the neurobiological patterns we observe, could be because they're using different strategies to get around the world. These strategies don't have to involve faulty wiring, just different wiring."

    Are these people qualitatively different from us? "I would think yes," says Hare. "Do they form a discrete taxon or category? I would say probably -- the evidence is suggesting that. But does this mean that's because they have a broken motor? I don't know. It could be a natural variation."

    Psychopaths aren't 'sick', or even insane (they aren't delusional), they've adapted in response to evolutionary pressure, specifically doing without what the rest of us would call conscience. For what role?
    “... intraspecies predators who use charm, manipulation, intimidation, and violence to control others and to satisfy their own selfish needs. Lacking in conscience and in feelings for others, they cold-bloodedly take what they want and do as they please, violating social norms and expectations without the slightest sense of guilt or regret.”

    This claim—that there are humans born to prey on other humans, who may only look human on the outside but might as well be wolves on the inside—is so earth-shattering that some scientists (as read from the link re: The Origin of Violence) speculate humanity was in a different state till the first psychopath showed-up and ruined everything. A claim that knocks down and resets everything from the Garden of Eden to the Social Contract, and is probably giving a few lawyers sleepless nights, either from mortification or wild celebration.

    Cut, that's way out there. Psychopaths should concern us practically, and not only because they kill: The real danger, according to Hare, are the ones who go under the radar, the subclinical psychopaths psychologists never get into a chair because, in the first place, would you have a doctor cure a 'disease' that actually helps you get ahead?
    "A lot of white-collar criminals are psychopaths," says Bob Hare. "But they flourish because the characteristics that define the disorder are actually valued. When they get caught, what happens? A slap on the wrist, a six-month ban from trading, and don't give us the $100 million back. I've always looked at white-collar crime as being as bad or worse than some of the physically violent crimes that are committed."

    (Hare has said that if he couldn't study psychopaths in prisons, the Vancouver Stock Exchange would have been his second choice.)

    Which leaves you wondering about some people. Words from a novel, quoted by Dr. Hare:
    “Good people are rarely suspicious: they cannot imagine others doing the things they themselves are incapable of doing; usually they accept the undramatic solution as the correct one, and let matters rest there. Then too, the normal are inclined to visualize the [psychopath] as one who's as monstrous in appearance as he is in mind, which is about as far from the truth as one could well get ...

    These monsters of real life usually looked and behaved in a more normal manner than their actually normal brothers and sisters; they presented a more convincing picture of virtue than virtue presented of itself - just as the wax rosebud or the plastic peach seemed more perfect to the eye, more what the mind thought a rosebud or a peach should be, than the imperfect original from which it had been modeled.”

    William Harris, The Bad Seed
  • Mark T. MarketMark T. Market Polymath PExer
    Very interesting article, and it can raise many discussions on many points.

    The physiology of psychopaths is interesting: are they really sick, or are they more advanced/evolved in their thinking.

    We constantly adapt to our environment and society to maximise chances of life and success, and if the case is that psychopaths tend to be more successful--they will tend to slowly displace other humans that fall prey to them. Eventually we become a society of psychopaths.

    The other interesting angle that impacts me is the ethics/morality of this.

    Are psychopaths aware of the difference in their thinking? Is it deliberate on their part, or a result of a mental condition of which they have no control? Are psychopaths self-destructive? Or do they generally benefit from being so? Does being a psychopath fulfill or violate one's moral obligation? Is being a psychopath a valid moral code?
  • _armada__armada_ Liable to many exceptions PExer
    Good questions, and in fact the same ones being asked by the professionals. For now, a transcript of a TV program featuring the trial of a serial killer and clinically-diagnosed pyschopath. Truth is much stranger than fiction.
  • SamLowrySamLowry James Randian PExer
    ^^ guys, you are forgetting that people like this are shunned by society, and most of the time caught and incarcerated. they don't get to breed that much. I say nice guys or those who fit in well will be more successful.
  • Mark T. MarketMark T. Market Polymath PExer
    ^ Sam, I think it might be just a matter of time.

    Just think: people who think and talk like most PEXers here would have been shunned, incarcerated, and put to death back in the middle ages, but slowly and surely the mellow extremists survived, thrived, and bred.

    The mellow psychopaths who go below the radar survive, thrive, and breed...
  • _armada__armada_ Liable to many exceptions PExer
    ^Taking that further ... if pyschopaths evolved to prey on other humans, is it possible there are also humans bred to be preyed on? Is there such a thing as domesticated humans? :hmm:
    SamLowry wrote:
    ^^ guys, you are forgetting that people like this are shunned by society, and most of the time caught and incarcerated. they don't get to breed that much. I say nice guys or those who fit in well will be more successful.
    I think it has more to do with predators generally existing in much smaller numbers than the animals they prey on. There's probably a naturally sustainable ratio that's kept the number of psychopaths low but constant relative to non-psychopaths through most of history.

    I have to re-emphasize: Don't. Fall. For. Stereotypes. It simply isn't true that undiagnosed psychopaths are automatically 'shunned', as if it's obvious they're that way. And landing in prison is one thing, staying there is another.
    "Psychopaths are so adept at "putting on a good show" and using crocodile tears that they can be convincing to psychologists as well as other professionals.

    "They use non-verbal behaviour, a "gift of gab", and persuasive emotional displays to put on an Oscar award winning performance and move through the correctional system and ultimately parole boards relatively quickly,
    despite their known diagnosis."

    "Further, we need to acknowledge that psychopathy is largely unchangeable. It isn't possible to miraculously create a 'conscience' in adults who have not had a conscience previously. It's the cold, hard truth. Acting ability should not be a criterion for release."

    Psychopaths' 'early release con',

    Kluger, J. Putting Bernie Madoff On The Couch,

    Cleckley, H. Discussion of Psychopathy Traits,

Leave a Comment

BoldItalicStrikethroughOrdered listUnordered list
Align leftAlign centerAlign rightToggle HTML viewToggle full pageToggle lights
Drop image/file