Monday, July 9, 2012


    I have met my share of psychopaths.  So have you.  We all have--they're everywhere.  But we don't recognize them until it's too late.  By that time they have disappeared--with our money, our hearts, our property...and our trust. 
     In the aftermath of an experience with a psychopath you feel confused and deeply shaken, and might ask, What happened?--except that you feel so foolish.
     It's hard to tell other people that you've been duped, isn't it?  You keep your wounds to yourself.  You want to hide out, you don't want anyone to know.  "How could you have let someone do that to you?" you can hear others asking, with their feet firmly planted on the ground.
     It's as though the real mistake was to have trusted another person at all.  After being conned by a psychopath you never want to trust another person again.  Trusting is human, but it feels as though you had been dealing with someone...inhuman?  non-human?  The person hadn't cared about you at all.  You can't believe the cold-hearted planning, the deception, the cruelty.  That's psychopathy.
     Depending on what you read, psychopaths represent three to six percent of the population.  That's about one in twenty. It has been estimated that ten percent of Wall Street employees are pschopaths.  Dr. Robert Hare, a Canadian psychologist, is the foremost authority on psychopathy and has written extenseively about the personality type.  His book, Without Conscience, and his website by the same name give us vital information about psychopaths, including how to identify them and how to recover from the damage they do.  Psychopaths are not mentally ill, he says:

                 Their acts result not from a deranged mind but from
               a cold, calculating rationality combined with a chilling
               inability to treat others as thinking, feeling human beings. 
               Such morally incomprehensible behavior, exhibited
               by a seeingly normal person, leaves us feeling
               bewildered and helpless.

Nor are they rare:

                  Everyone 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 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.

Even the  most experienced psychologists and law enforcement officials are fooled by their lies and charisma.  Psychopaths are highly sensitized to what others want and need, and they make a show of giving it to them, all the while stealing everything they can, even getting people to give them their businesses, pension plans, love and belongings out of a desire to "help" them.

                 Given their glibness and the facility with which they lie,
              it is not surprising that psychopaths successfully cheat,
              bilk, defraud, con, and manipulate people and have not
              the slightest compunction about doing so.  They are...
              con men, hustlers, or fraud artists....Some of their operations
              are elaborate and well thought out...

Hare quotes an article in the Wall Street Journal about a white-collar psychopath, John Grambling, who borrowed and kept millions from banks without collateral, the scams resting almost completely on appearances.  "Between them, Grambling and his associate were able to convince a long line of officials in many lending institutions that they were men to be trusted."  Entrepreneurial psychopaths use their education and social connetions to deceive and manipulate family, friends, banks, and the justice system.  They often manage to avoid prison.  "Their crimes are driven by a lust to exercise power over the lives and fortunes of others." 
     The financial and psychological damage these people cause is immeasurable;  it is destroys the very fabric of society.  The only way to avoid psychopaths is to refuse to participate in society altogether--refuse to fulfill one's purpose in life. 
     But we can't bow out of commitment in our lives, not without sacrificing who we are.  Dante describes the fate of those who refuse to commit themselves, people whom he calls "the Neutrals."  They are banished to a place that is neither heaven nor hell because neither will receive them:

                    Suffer the wretched souls of those, who lived
                Without praise or blame, with that ill band
                Of angels mix'd, who nor rebellious proved,
                Nor yet were true to God, but for themselves
                Were only.  From his bounds Heaven drove them forth
                Not to impair his lustre;  nor the depth
                Of Hell receives them, lest the accursed tribe
                Should glory thence with exultation vain.

"These innumerable seekers of safety first, and last," translator John Sinclair writes, "who take no risk either of suffering in a good cause or of scandal in a bad one, are here manifestly, nakedly, that which they were in life, the waste and rubbish of the universe, of no account to the world, unfit for Heaven and barely admitted to Hell.  They have no need to die, for they 'never were alive.'"  
     Trust is part of being human, and it allows us to live together in social groups.  I am not ashamed of having trusted someone--not even a psychopath;  or something--not even our government;  or a process--not even the FBI's narrow, blind attacks on me.  (The July issue of the FBI's Law Enforcement Bulletin is, surprisingly, dedicated to psychopathy.)  But Hare emphasizes the slipperiness of psychopaths--they use the criminal and legal systems to their advantage, because these systems are made of people who think they can't be deceived.
     I may have trusted the "wrong" people, but at least I was decisive.  I wasn't a "Neutral."  I won't be banished from heaven and hell.  But some days it feels as though a world that includes psychopaths is hell.

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