Without Conscience: The Disturbing World of the Psychopaths Among Usby Published 08 Jan 1999
|Without Conscience: The Disturbing World of the Psychopaths Among Us.pdf|
|Publisher||The Guilford Press|
Most people are both repelled and intrigued by the images of cold-blooded, conscienceless murderers that increasingly populate our movies, television programs, and newspaper headlines. With their flagrant criminal violation of society's rules, serial killers like Ted Bundy and John Wayne Gacy are among the most dramatic examples of the psychopath. Individuals with this personality disorder are fully aware of the consequences of their actions and know the difference between right and wrong, yet they are terrifyingly self-centered, remorseless, and unable to care about the feelings of others. Perhaps most frightening, they often seem completely normal to unsuspecting targets--and they do not always ply their trade by killing. Presenting a compelling portrait of these dangerous men and women based on 25 years of distinguished scientific research, Dr. Robert D. Hare vividly describes a world of con artists, hustlers, rapists, and other predators who charm, lie, and manipulate their way through life. Are psychopaths mad, or simply bad? How can they be recognized? And how can we protect ourselves? This book provides solid information and surprising insights for anyone seeking to understand this devastating condition.
Without Conscience: The Disturbing World of the Psychopaths Among Us Reviews
I really enjoyed listening to this one. The author would make a statement, then provide numerous examples. Totally debunked my idea of a psychopath. Psychopaths lack empathy, but are experts at covering this flaw. While most are not killers, those that are, are the ones we hear most about as their lack of empathy leads to the most grizzly of murders. Most psychopaths are world class con artists tricking even the best psychiatrists. While there is no single test, what I found the most interesting is the vacant look in their eyes. If fact, it seems to be the only trait recognizable in all psychopaths...and there are a lot more than I ever realized.
Moral of the story 1: No hope for psychopaths.
Moral of the story 2: No hope for me if I get involved with a psychopath.
Since I keep obsessing about our American president, trying to decide if the man is indeed a psychopath or merely an elite narcissist, I thought I should seek out an authoritative book on the subject. Although it is too old to include cutting edge research (twenty-two years old, to be exact), I believe Without Conscience is as close as I will come to a definitive popular treatment. This is because it was written by Robert D. Hare.
So who is Robert D. Hare? He is the Canadian psychology professor who, through many years of prison research, developed the Psychopathy Checklist (not without its critics, but still used extensively in prisons and maximum security psychiatric units). He was the first recipient of the lifetime achievement award of the Society for the Scientific Study of Psychopathy in 2005. And what was the name of the award he received? The Robert D. Hare Lifetime Achievement Award.
Hare speaks with authority, and supports his list of psychopathic traits with chilling excerpts from researcher’s interviews with psychopaths and a host of illuminating anecdotes. I am sure you are familiar with the common psychopathic traits—or you wouldn’t be interested in reading this review—so I won’t bore you with listing them here. I will, however, mention a few things that struck me while reading Hare:
1) The psychopath must always be examined by a trained clinical evaluator. You can never trust a psychopath to self-report on a survey, for they lie every time they open their mouths.
2) A diagnosis of psychopathy should not be given lightly. Many people at certain times may exhibit psychopathic behaviors, but only the whole constellation of symptoms will be present in the genuine psychopath.
3) One of the most remarkable things about the psychopath is that he can make contradictory claims within the same sentence, and not notice that there is a problem. For example, listen to this armed robber on trial, in an outburst against an eyewitness: “He’s lying. I wasn’t there. I should have blown his fucking head off.” (This is one of the characteristics that most reminded me of Trump.)
4) Any treatment program designed to evoke empathy in the psychopath is doomed to failure. Instead, the purpose of treatment must be to convince him that he himself—the only one of course who matters—will be happier in the long run if he can modify his behavior, keep a job, and stay out of prison.
5) Psychopaths hate other psychopaths, although they may occasionally team-up. After all, how can two people possibly get along when each one is the most important person in the world?
6. Here is a cheery thought. The percentage of psychopaths in our society may be increasing. Part of psychopathy may be genetic, and psychopaths, being irresponsible, tend to reproduce at a higher rate than the rest of us. Ergo, more psychopaths!
I will end with one of Hare’s anecdotes. It is a minor incident (compared to the serial killers, at least), but it sums up perfectly how the psychopathic mind operates:
One of our subjects, who scored high on the “Psychopathic Checklist,” said that while walking to a party he decided to buy a case of beer, but realized that he had left his wallet at home six or seven blocks away. Not wanting to walk back, he picked up a heavy piece of wood and robbed the nearest gas station, seriously injuring the attendant.Oh...I almost forgot to tell you what I concluded about Donald Trump. Well, I will be cautious, as Hare advises, and not label our president a psychopath. He may not possess all of the traits, and my excessive, compulsive viewing of MSNBC certainly doesn't qualify as a clinical study.
Besides, I have decided on a term I prefer. “Malignant narcissist. ” I like the sound of that.
I was watching Doctor Who yesterday, and the Doctor, ever the optimist, said something like, “people are good, down in their bones”.
What about the psychopaths, though?
In Without Conscience, Robert Hare posits that there are some 2million psychopaths in the United States (and approximately 20% of the prison population is comprised of psychopaths). It’s something that doesn’t necessarily correlate with childhood abuse; some people are just bad, down in their bones. Of course, there are the exceptional serial killer cases like Ted Bundy, but most psychopaths are more banal in their wrongdoing: they just lie and cheat their way through life remorselessly.
There seem to be a good few books about psychopaths on the market, but I chose to read this one because it’s written by a psychologist, not a journalist. (Sniff, sniff.) Hare is occasionally guilty of slipping into dry academiaspeak, but for the most part, he presents an easy-to-read book. It’s no hyperbole to say that Without is GRIPPING. Most people – well, most people who watch pop culture crap like Criminal Minds, *ahem* – are familiar with the popular stereotypes of psychopathy, but the reality is almost creepier. Without is filled with chilling case studies of psychopaths that Hare has encountered.
Dr. Robert Hare: This book is about psychopaths...
Sarah: With hearts of gold?
DRH: No, they're pretty heartless, actually.
Sarah: Because they need love?
DRH: No. They're clinical psychopaths.
Sarah: Aw. They must be so sad.
DRH: Not really.
Sarah: So, basically, what you're saying here is...they'll change? I can change them?
DRH: You're an unbelievable idiot.
Sarah: I love you. Call me!
I do kinda wish this book had gone into a bit more depth: psychopathy as a neurological state, psychopathy as a psychological mechanism, psychopathy as a concept and world view, its role in our culture, and so forth. Instead of choosing his model and going with it, or examining the various dimensions in turn, the author seems to get bogged down in defining the term, itself. (I, myself, kinda prefer the term "sociopath.")(Sounds less...murdery.)(But I digress.)
One question Hare kept returning to was, "Are they mad or are they bad?"
They're bad. Obviously. But their "badness" appears to be rooted in a learning disability coupled with environmental factors.
"Should they be held accountable?"
Yes, of course. Culpable persons should most certainly be held accountable. But they're not accountable. They lack a sense of personal accountability. That's...kinda the whole thing. So...?
To me, the real question is, "In dealing with psychopaths, to what extent should we operate within the psychopath's own world paradigm?" My personal opinion is, not at all.* We should not adopt a punitive world view; Nor should we enable them with kindness. Collectively, we should focus on the science and hold fast to our own nonnegotiable truths. Unfortunately, the science just isn't there. (Or wasn't at the time of this writing.) And there we are.
Hare cautions us against diagnosing our loved ones, but since he gives us nothing more than a behavior cluster, diagnostics is all it is. Still, I think it's a useful book to have read.
*Edited to add: There seems to be some confusion about this statement. When I said that we shouldn't operate within the psychopath's world paradigm, I meant that we should reject it in its entirety. That extends to playing a codependent role within the paradigm. As with anything, there's a danger in going to extremes: reacting rather than acting autonomously from a secure and healthy sense of self. In knowing your own mind, you can step outside the circle of fight vs. enable. Fear, itself, reinforces black and white thinking and locks you into the abuser's construct. Healthy compassion, by contrast, concedes no ground. Healthy assertiveness is not psychopathy.
Factor 1: Personality "Aggressive narcissism"
Grandiose sense of self-worth
Lack of remorse or guilt
Shallow affect (genuine emotion is short-lived and egocentric)
Callousness; lack of empathy
Failure to accept responsibility for his or her own actions
Factor 2: Case history "Socially deviant lifestyle."
Need for stimulation/proneness to boredom
Poor behavioral control
Lack of realistic long-term goals
Early behavior problems
Revocation of conditional release
Traits not correlated with either factor
Promiscuous sexual behavior
Many short-term (marital) relationships
Acquired behavioural sociopathy/sociological conditioning (i.e., a person relying on sociological strategies and tricks to deceive)