There is something unnervingly hypnotic about a psychopath. The eyes have it. They stride into ours and rearrange what we think is normality. In some ways it’s akin to having a change of internal scenery with the sofa inhabiting a different area of the room whilst the armchairs are perfectly placed on the ceiling. When that happens, we are left to follow the madhatter down the hole.
Mankind likes a monster. We like the gothics of Dracula, Frankenstein (the real monster being the doctor) and a Mr Hyde (the real monster being the doctor). They tickle our fears whilst taking us into a realm of darkness that we can emerge from at the end of a reading or viewing. Once we leave the covers of a book or the darkness of a cinema, we are free to enjoy the sanity of the everyday. The only problem is that the everyday is more frightening than fiction.
Scientists at Harvard have come to the conclusion that psychopathy is a trait that many of us share. They even go so far to say that the more psychopathy we have the more likely it is that we will succeed in life. A lack of empathy, a conscious effort to make others see us in a false light, and a driving desire to turn everything to our own advantage. Aren’t all the self-help books for success all about this? Ask not what you can do for others but what others can do for you. And the sad thing is that the others find this trait appealing.
Contrary to what the movies might have depicted, they are not the knife-wielding demons of movies like Hannibal Lecter in Silence of the Lambs or Patrick Batemen in American Psycho.
Many are walking among us, leading completely normal lives, and are even some of the most successful members of society, precisely because of their psychopathy. These are the ruthless business people who do whatever needs to be done, regardless of the human cost.
Research suggests somewhere between 0.2-3.3% of people have psychopathic tendencies.
We may work with one. One of them may be our boss, headteacher, member of parliament, or church leader. We may even be married to one.
HOW TO TELL IF PEOPLE YOU KNOW ARE PSYCHOPATHS
Antisocial, the medical term for psychopathic, personality disorder is defined as having unpredictable, erratic and overtly dramatic behaviours.
According to the NHS, a diagnosis can be made if any three of the following criteria apply to the person’s everyday personality:
- Repeatedly breaking the law
- Repeatedly being deceitful
- Impulsive behaviour or being incapable of planning ahead
- Being irritable and aggressive
- Having a reckless disregard for their safety or the safety of others
- Being consistently irresponsible
- Lack of remorse
When studying texts from the Second World War, ones that deal with the death camps, I am often at a loss to explain why decent people sat back and let it happen. Other, apparently normal, folks actively participated in those evil events. I look at my students devoid of explanation and some way off understanding. My job is to inform them, make them the type of decent human beings who will heed the lessons of the past, but I too was part of the generations growing up after the war and we have not learnt. Indeed, we now seem closer to psychpathological politics as we have ever been since then.
Could it be that we are beyond being saved?
Or could it be that we are predisposed to act and think in this Fascist fashion?
Could it be that this is the path to success?