Saturday, 5 November 2011

Foxes and Reptiles: Psychopathy and the Financial Meltdown


The present financial meltdown may only be the latest example of the incalculable harm done to civilization, and countless individual lives, by psychopaths, a subspecies of Homo sapiens. The purpose of this essay is twofold. First, I will provide a brief tour of the psychopath subspecies so that you understand who they are and how they operate. You probably already know psychopaths, and it is overwhelmingly likely that at some point in your life a psychopath that you encounter personally will try to harm you. Second, I will draw the correlative between psychopathy and the present financial meltdown and provide a suggestion of a relatively simple change that could decrease the likelihood of the sort of abuses that could lead to future meltdowns.

Part One: What is a Psychopath?


Kunlangeta is a word Yupik Eskimos apply to "a man who . . . repeatedly lies and cheats and steals things and . . . takes sexual advantage of many women -- someone who does not pay attention to reprimands and who is always being brought to the elders for punishment." In a Harvard University study conducted by anthropologist Jane M. Murphy in 1976, an Eskimo man was asked how his people might deal with a Kunlangeta, to which he replied, "Somebody would have pushed him off the ice when nobody else was looking."

In the West, the formal recognition of psychopaths goes back at least as far as Theophrastus, a student of Aristotle, whose study of the Unscrupulous Man defines the basic characteristics of psychopathy. Much later this condition came to be referred to as manie sans délire ("insanity without delirium"), a term that by the 1830s evolved into moral insanity, the key symptom of which is a "defective conscience."

By 1900 the label was changed to psychopathic personality, but it wasn't until 1941 that psychiatrist Dr. Hervey M. Cleckley of the Medical College of Georgia systematically defined the condition.

A General Description

Very roughly (we'll expand on these characteristics momentarily) a psychopath is a person without conscience, empathy or even an ability to experience the range of human emotions. Their ability to feel is confined to a narrow range of primitive proto-emotions such as anger, frustration and rage. Psychopaths will tend to be pathological liars and expert manipulators victimizing family, friends and strangers. Often they are charming, charismatic, popular and admired, if not loved, by members of both genders. They are not mentally ill, not delusional, and may often be more coldly rational and intelligent than non-psychopaths. They are likely to be promiscuous and to abandon partners without remorse. They are prone to entitlement, grandiosity and find nothing wrong with themselves. They typically blame others for the consequences of their actions and engage in moral reasoning that is glib and superficial if not absurd. They usually have little fear of consequences and enjoy risk as they need novelty, stimulation and living on the edge to compensate for their emotional vacuity.

Psychopathy Demographics

Across all eras and societies, approximately one in a hundred men is born a clinical psychopath, and one in three hundred women. About twenty percent of an average prison population, male or female, is comprised of psychopaths, but amongst the violent offenders it is about fifty percent. Psychopaths commit more than fifty percent of the serious crimes. For example, about half of serial rapists are psychopaths. About 25% of wife assaulters are psychopaths. Both male and female psychopaths commit a greater number of crimes, and their crimes tend to be more violent, abusive and predatory than those of other criminals. They also tend to recidivate earlier and much more often than other criminals. While psychopaths make up about one percent of the population, ten percent of the general population falls into a grey zone with enough psychopathic tendencies to be of significant concern to society.


No comments: