(Ponerology) In order to understand the role of psychopathy in the generation of what we might call evil, it is useful to take a look first at some of the research on the problem.
The word “psychopath” generally evokes images of the barely restrained – yet surprisingly urbane – Dr. Hannibal Lecter of “Silence of the Lambs” fame. I will admit that this was the image that came to my mind whenever I heard the word. But I was wrong, and I was to learn this lesson quite painfully by direct experience. The exact details are chronicled elsewhere; what is important is that this experience was probably one of the most painful and instructive episodes of my life and it enabled me to overcome a block in my awareness of the world around me and those who inhabit it.
Regarding blocks to awareness, I need to state for the record that I have spent 30 years studying psychology, history, culture, religion, myth and the so-called paranormal. I also have worked for many years with hypnotherapy – which gave me a very good mechanical knowledge of how the mind/brain of the human being operates at very deep levels. But even so, I was still operating with certain beliefs firmly in place that were shattered by my research into psychopathy. I realized that there was a certain set of ideas that I held about human beings that were sacrosanct. I even wrote about this once in the following way:
…my work has shown me that the vast majority of people want to do good, to experience good things, think good thoughts, and make decisions with good results. And they try with all their might to do so! With the majority of people having this internal desire, why the Hell isn’t it happening?
I was naïve, I admit. There were many things I did not know that I have learned since I penned those words. But even at that time I was aware of how our own minds can be used to deceive us.
Now, what beliefs did I hold that made me a victim of a psychopath? The first and most obvious one is that I truly believed that deep inside, all people are basically “good” and that they “want to do good, to experience good things, think good thoughts, and make decisions with good results. And they try with all their might to do so…”
As it happens, this is not true as I – and everyone involved in our working group – learned to our sorrow, as they say. But we also learned to our edification. In order to come to some understanding of exactly what kind of human being could do the things that were done to me (and others close to me), and why they might be motivated – even driven – to behave this way, we began to research the psychology literature for clues because we needed to understand for our own peace of mind.
If there is a psychological theory that can explain vicious and harmful behavior, it helps very much for the victim of such acts to have this information so that they do not have to spend all their time feeling hurt or angry. And certainly, if there is a psychological theory that helps a person to find what kind of words or deeds can bridge the chasm between people, to heal misunderstandings, that is also a worthy goal. It was from such a perspective that we began our extensive work on the subjects of narcissism which then led to the study of psychopathy.
Of course, we didn’t start out with such a “diagnosis” or label for what we were witnessing. We started out with observations and searched the literature for clues, for profiles, for anything that would help us to understand the inner world of a human being – actually a group of human beings – who seemed to be utterly depraved and unlike anything we had ever encountered before.
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, and still your strange advantage over the majority of people, who are kept in line by their consciences will most likely remain undiscovered.
How will you live your life?
What will you do with your huge and secret advantage, and with the corresponding handicap of other people (conscience)?
The answer will depend largely on just what your desires happen to be, because people are not all the same. Even the profoundly unscrupulous are not all the same. Some people – whether they have a conscience or not – favor the ease of inertia, while others are filled with dreams and wild ambitions. Some human beings are brilliant and talented, some are dull-witted, and most, conscience or not, are somewhere in between. There are violent people and nonviolent ones, individuals who are motivated by blood lust and those who have no such appetites. […]
Provided you are not forcibly stopped, you can do anything at all.
If you are born at the right time, with some access to family fortune, and you have a special talent for whipping up other people’s hatred and sense of deprivation, you can arrange to kill large numbers of unsuspecting people. With enough money, you can accomplish this from far away, and you can sit back safely and watch in satisfaction. […]
Crazy and frightening – and real, in about 4 percent of the population….
The prevalence rate for anorexic eating disorders is estimated a 3.43 percent, deemed to be nearly epidemic, and yet this figure is a fraction lower than the rate for antisocial personality. The high-profile disorders classed as schizophrenia occur in only about 1 percent of [the population] – a mere quarter of the rate of antisocial personality – and the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention say that the rate of colon cancer in the United States, considered “alarmingly high,” is about 40 per 100,000 – one hundred times lower than the rate of antisocial personality.
The high incidence of sociopathy in human society has a profound effect on the rest of us who must live on this planet, too, even those of us who have not been clinically traumatized. The individuals who constitute this 4 percent drain our relationships, our bank accounts, our accomplishments, our self-esteem, our very peace on earth.
Yet surprisingly, many people know nothing about this disorder, or if they do, they think only in terms of violent psychopathy – murderers, serial killers, mass murderers – people who have conspicuously broken the law many times over, and who, if caught, will be imprisoned, maybe even put to death by our legal system.
We are not commonly aware of, nor do we usually identify, the larger number of nonviolent sociopaths among us, people who often are not blatant lawbreakers, and against whom our formal legal system provides little defense.
Most of us would not imagine any correspondence between conceiving an ethnic genocide and, say, guiltlessly lying to one’s boss about a coworker. But the psychological correspondence is not only there; it is chilling. Simple and profound, the link is the absence of the inner mechanism that beats up on us, emotionally speaking, when we make a choice we view as immoral, unethical, neglectful, or selfish.
Most of us feel mildly guilty if we eat the last piece of cake in the kitchen, let alone what we would feel if we intentionally and methodically set about to hurt another person.
Those who have no conscience at all are a group unto themselves, whether they be homicidal tyrants or merely ruthless social snipers.
The presence or absence of conscience is a deep human division, arguably more significant than intelligence, race, or even gender.
What differentiates a sociopath who lives off the labors of others from one who occasionally robs convenience stores, or from one who is a contemporary robber baron – or what makes the difference betwen an ordinary bully and a sociopathic murderer – is nothing more than social status, drive, intellect, blood lust, or simple opportunity.
What distinguishes all of these people from the rest of us is an utterly empty hole in the psyche, where there should be the most evolved of all humanizing functions. [Martha Stout, Ph.D., The Sociopath Next Door] (highly recommended)
We did not have the advantage of Dr. Stout’s book at the beginning of our research project. We did, of course, have Hare and Cleckley and Guggenbuhl-Craig and others. There are still more that have appeared in the past couple of years in response to the questions being formulated by many psychologists and psychiatrists about the state of our world and the possibility that there is some essential difference between such individuals as George W. Bush and many so-called Neocons, and the rest of us.
Dr. Stout’s book has one of the longest explanations as to why none of her examples resemble any actual persons that I have ever read. And then, in a very early chapter, she describes a “composite” case where the subject spent his childhood blowing up frogs with fire-crackers. It is widely known that George W. Bush did this, so one naturally wonders…
In any event, even without Dr. Stout’s work, at the time we were studying the matter, we realized that what we were learning was very important to everyone because as the data was assembled, we saw that the clues, the profiles, revealed that the issues we were facing were faced by everyone at one time or another, to one extent or another. We also began to realize that the profiles that emerged also describe rather accurately many individuals who seek positions of power in fields of authority, most particularly politics and commerce. That’s really not so surprising an idea, but it honestly hadn’t occurred to us until we saw the patterns and recognized them in the behaviors of numerous historical figures, and lately including George W. Bush and members of his administration.
Current day statistics tell us that there are more psychologically sick people than healthy ones. If you take a sampling of individuals in any given field, you are likely to find that a significant number of them display pathological symptoms to one extent or another. Politics is no exception, and by its very nature, would tend to attract more of the pathological “dominator types” than other fields. That is only logical, and we began to realize that it was not only logical, it was horrifyingly accurate; horrifying because pathology among people in power can have disastrous effects on all of the people under the control of such pathological individuals. And so, we decided to write about this subject and publish it on the Internet.
As the material went up, letters from our readers began to come in thanking us for putting a name to what was happening to them in their personal lives as well as helping them to understand what was happening in a world that seems to have gone completely mad. We began to think that it was an epidemic and in a certain sense, we were right; just not in the way we thought. If an individual with a highly contagious illness works in a job that puts them in contact with the public, an epidemic is the result. In the same way, if an individual in a position of political power is a psychopath, he or she can create an epidemic of psychopathology in people who are not, essentially, psychopathic. George K. Simon, Jr., writes in his book “In Sheep’s Clothing”: (HIGHLY recommended)
…[W]e’ve been pre-programmed to believe that people only exhibit problem behaviors when they’re “troubled” inside or anxious about something. We’ve also been taught that people aggress only when they’re attacked in some way. So, even when our gut tells us that somebody is attacking us and for no good reason, we don’t readily accept the notion. We usually start to wonder what’s bothering the person so badly “underneath it all” that’s making them act in such a disturbing way. We may even wonder what we may have said or done that “threatened” them. We almost never think that they might be fighting simply to get something, have their way, or gain the upper hand. So, instead of seeing them as merely fighting, we view them as primarily hurting in some way.
Not only do we often have trouble recognizing the ways people aggress us, but we also have difficulty discerning the distinctly aggressive character of some personalities. The legacy of Sigmund Freud’s work has a lot to do with this. Freud’s theories (and the theories of others who built upon his work) heavily influenced the psychology of personality for a long time. Elements of the classical theories of personality found their way into many disciplines other than psychology as well as into many of our social institutions and enterprises. The basic tenets of these theories and their hallmark construct, neurosis, have become fairly well etched in the public consciousness.
Psychodynamic theories of personality tend to view everyone, at least to some degree, as neurotic. Neurotic individuals are overly inhibited people who suffer unreasonable fear (anxiety), guilt and shame when it comes to securing their basic wants and needs. The malignant impact of overgeneralizing Freud’s observations about a small group of overly inhibited individuals into a broad set of assumptions about the causes of psychological ill-health in everyone cannot be overstated.[…]
Therapists whose training overly indoctrinated them in the theory of neurosis, may “frame” problems presented them incorrectly. They may, for example, assume that a person, who all their life has aggressively pursued independence and demonstrated little affinity for others, must necessarily be “compensating” for a “fear” of intimacy. In other words, they will view a hardened fighter as a terrified runner, thus misperceiving the core reality of the situation.[…]
We need a completely different theoretical framework if we are to truly understand, deal with, and treat the kinds of people who fight too much as opposed to those who cower or “run” too much.
The problem is, of course, that when you read all the books about such people as Dr. Simon is describing, you discover that “treatment” really means treating the victims because such aggressors almost never seek help.
We now come to the most important pathology: psychopathy. Psychopathy is not, as many people think, so easy to recognize. The problem is that the term “psychopath” has come to be usually applied by the public (due to the influence of the media) to overtly and obviously mad-dog murderers. There is also some confusion regarding psychopathy vis a vis “antisocial personality disorder.”
Nice words, aren’t they? They sound so clean and clinical; just a person who is “anti-social.” It almost suggests a hermit who never bothers anybody. But nothing could be further from the truth. Robert Hare, the current American guru on psychopathy writes about this problem of terminology as follows:
Traditionally, affective and interpersonal traits such as egocentricity, deceit, shallow affect, manipulativeness, selfishness, and lack of empathy, guilt or remorse, have played a central role in the conceptualization and diagnosis of psychopathy (Cleckley; Hare 1993; in press); Widiger and Corbitt). In 1980 this tradition was broken with the publication of DSM-III. Psychopathy- renamed antisocial personality disorder- was now defined by persistent violations of social norms, including lying, stealing, truancy, inconsistent work behavior and traffic arrests.
Among the reasons given for this dramatic shift away from the use of clinical inferences were that personality traits are difficult to measure reliably, and that it is easier to agree on the behaviors that typify a disorder than on the reasons why they occur. The result was a diagnostic category with good reliability but dubious validity, a category that lacked congruence with other, well-established conceptions of psychopathy. […]
The problems with DSM-III and its 1987 revision (DSM-III-R) were widely discussed in the clinical and research literature (Widiger and Corbitt). Much of the debate concerned the absence of personality traits in the diagnosis of ASPD, an omission that allowed antisocial individuals with completely different personalities, attitudes and motivations to share the same diagnosis. At the same time, there was mounting evidence that the criteria for ASPD defined a disorder that was more artifactual than “real” (Livesley and Schroeder). […]
Most psychopaths (with the exception of those who somehow manage to plow their way through life without coming into formal or prolonged contact with the criminal justice system) meet the criteria for ASPD, but most individuals with ASPD are not psychopaths. […]
The differences between psychopathy and ASPD are further highlighted by recent laboratory research involving the processing and use of linguistic and emotional information. Psychopaths differ dramatically from non-psychopaths in their performance of a variety of cognitive and affective tasks. Compared with normal individuals, for example, psychopaths are less able to process or use the deep semantic meanings of language and to appreciate the emotional significance of events or experiences (Larbig and others; Patrick; Williamson and others). […]
Things become even more problematic when we consider that the DSM-IV text description of ASPD (which it says is also known as psychopathy) contains many references to traditional features of psychopathy. […]
The failure to differentiate between psychopathy and ASPD can have serious consequences for clinicians and for society. For example, most jurisdictions consider psychopathy to be an aggravating rather than a mitigating factor in determining criminal responsibility. In some states an offender convicted of first-degree murder and diagnosed as a psychopath is likely to receive the death penalty on the grounds that psychopaths are cold-blooded, remorseless, untreatable and almost certain to re-offend. But many of the killers on death row were, and continue to be, mistakenly referred to as psychopaths on the basis of DSM-III, DSM-III-R or DSM-IV criteria for ASPD (Meloy). We don’t know how many of these inhabitants of death row actually exhibit the personality structure of the psychopath, or how many merely meet the criteria for ASPD, a disorder that applies to the majority of criminals and that has only tenuous implications for treatability and the likelihood of violent reoffending. If a diagnosis of psychopathy has consequences for the death penalty- or for any other severe disposition, such as an indeterminate sentence or a civil commitment- clinicians making the diagnosis should make certain they do not confuse ASPD with psychopathy. […]
Diagnostic confusion about the two disorders has the potential for harming psychiatric patients and society as well.
In my book, Without Conscience, I argued that we live in a “camouflage society,” a society in which some psychopathic traits- egocentricity, lack of concern for others, superficiality, style over substance, being “cool,” manipulativeness, and so forth- increasingly are tolerated and even valued. With respect to the topic of this article, it is easy to see how both psychopaths and those with ASPD could blend in readily with groups holding antisocial or criminal values. It is more difficult to envisage how those with ASPD could hide out among more prosocial segments of society. Yet psychopaths have little difficulty infiltrating the domains of business, politics, law enforcement, government, academia and other social structures (Babiak). It is the egocentric, cold-blooded and remorseless psychopaths who blend into all aspects of society and have such devastating impacts on people around them who send chills down the spines of law enforcement officers. [Hare, Robert D., Ph.D., Psychopathy and Antisocial Personality Disorder: A Case of Diagnostic Confusion, Psychiatric Times, February 1996: Vol. XIII Issue 2]
Regarding essential psychopathy, Lobaczewski tells us:
Let us characterise another heredity-transmitted anomaly whose role in ponerogenic processes on any social scale appears exceptionally great. We should underscore that the need to isolate this phenomenon and examine it in detail became most evident to those researchers who were interested in the macro social scale of genesis of evil because they have witnessed it. I acknowledge my debt to Kasimir Dabrowski in doing this and calling this anomaly an “essential psychopathy.”
Biologically speaking, the phenomenon is similar to color-blindness and occurs with similar frequency,(slightly above .5 percent) except that, unlike color-blindness, it affects both sexes.
Here, Lobaczewski suggests a particular low frequency of occurrence of essential psychopathy. However, in his book, he also mentions a 1.15 percent of his total population of 5000 subjects that did not demonstrate any overtly identifiable pathology except that they performed actions that bring harm to other people for no explainable reason. If we consider what Dr. Hare has written above, that psychopaths have little difficulty infiltrating the domains of business, politics, law enforcement, government, academia and other social structures and can blend into all aspects of society, we must ask the question: is it possible that Lobaczewski’s 1.15 percent of unidentified “evildoers” were this type of psychopath? As he points out, it could very well have been the diagnostic criteria that was lacking, and had he utilized Hare’s psychopathy check-list, this group might very well have been identified as psychopaths. The point I wish to make is the number of psychopathic individuals likely to be found in any given cross-section sampling of society may be much higher than we suspect. Lobaczewski suggests that the occurrence of psychopathy is about the same as color-blindness: .5 percent. But if you add that figure to the 1.15 percent that he couldn’t identify, the actual number in his population may be closer to 1.65 percent.
Let’s recall that Harvard psychologist Martha Stout claims that 4 percent of “ordinary people” (one in 25) often have an “undetected mental disorder, the chief symptom of which is that the person possesses no conscience. He or she has no ability whatsoever to feel shame, guilt, or remorse… They can do literally anything at all and feel absolutely no guilt.”
That just happens to fit right in with Hare’s description of psychopathy, though we are obviously dealing with an entire spectrum of manifestation, as Dr. Stout emphasizes, not to mention the difference between pathologies that are mechanical, i.e. brain damage, and pathologies that are inherited. If we add Stout’s figure of 4 percent of undetected, “ordinary” people, to Lobaczewski’s .5 percent, and include the 1.5 percent of people who had done harm to others with no evident pathology, we then have a figure of 5.65 percent – almost 6 percent of the population. My math may be off, but I am reminded of what Lobaczewski wrote about the influence of “indoctrination” on his peers.
It was relatively easy to determine the environments and origin of the people who succumbed to this process, which I then called “transpersonification”. They came from all social groups, including aristocratic and fervently religious families, and caused a break in our student solidarity in the order of some 6 %. […]
Even then, we had no doubts as to the pathological nature of this “transpersonification” process, which ran similar but not identical in all cases. The duration of the results of this phenomenon also varied. Some of these people later became zealots. Others later took advantage of various circumstances to withdraw and reestablish their lost links to the society of normal people. They were replaced. The only constant value of the new social system was the magic number of 6 %.
This is an interesting thing, this number. I have no explanation for it because we are certainly talking about many factors and not a single pathology. Perhaps there is more to the problem than anyone has yet discovered?
Continuing with Lobaczewski’s ponerological view of psychopathy:
Its intensity also varies in scope from a level barely perceptive to an experienced observer to obvious pathological deficiency. Like color-blindness, this anomaly also appears to represent a deficit in stimulus transformation, albeit occurring not on the sensory but on instinctive level. Psychiatrists of the old school used to call such individuals “Daltonists of human feelings and socio-moral values.”
The psychological picture shows clear deficits among men only; among women it is generally toned down, as by the effect of the second normal allele. This suggests that the anomaly is also inherited via the X chromosome but through a semi-dominating gene. However, the author was unable to confirm this by excluding inheritance from father to son.
Here, it is interesting to speculate that George Bush inherited his psychopathy from his mother, Barbara.
Analysis of the different experiential manner demonstrated by these individuals caused us to conclude that their instinctive substratum is also defective, containing certain gaps and lacking the natural syntonic responses commonly evidenced by members of the species Homo sapiens. […]
Our natural world of concepts then strikes such persons as a nearly incomprehensible convention with no justification in their own psychological experience. They think that normal human customs and principles of decency are a foreign convention invented and imposed by someone else (“probably by priests”) silly, onerous, sometimes even ridiculous. At the same time, however, they easily perceive the deficiencies and weaknesses of our natural language of psychological and moral concepts in a manner somewhat reminiscent of the attitude of a contemporary psychologist – except in caricature.
The average intelligence of individuals with the above mentioned deviation, especially if measured via commonly used tests, is somewhat lower than that of normal people, albeit similarly variegated. However, this group does not contain instances of the highest intelligence, nor do we find technical or craftsmanship talents among them. The most gifted members of this kind may thus achieve accomplishments in those sciences which do not require humanistic worldview or practical skills. Whenever we attempt to construct special tests to measure “life wisdom” or “socio-moral imagination”, even if the difficulties of psychometric evaluation are taken into account, individuals of this type indicate a deficit disproportionate to their personal IQ.
In spite of their deficiencies as regards normal psychological and moral knowledge, they develop and then have at their disposal a knowledge of their own, something lacked by people with a natural worldview.
They learn to recognize each other in a crowd as early as childhood, and they develop an awareness of the existence of other individuals similar to them.
They also become conscious of being different from the world of those other people surrounding them. They view us from a certain distance, take a paraspecific variety.
Natural human reactions – which often fail to elicit interest because they are considered self-evident – strike psychopaths as strange and therefore interesting, even comical. They therefore observe us, deriving conclusions, forming their different world of concepts.
They become experts in our weaknesses and sometimes effect heartless experiments upon us. … Neither a normal person nor our natural worldview can perceive or properly evaluate the existence of this world of different concepts.
A researcher into such phenomena can glean a similar deviant knowledge through long-term studies of the personalities of such people, using it with some difficulty, like a foreign language. … [The psychopath] will never be able to incorporate the worldview of a normal person, although they often try to do so all their lives. The product of their efforts is only a role and a mask behind which they hide their deviant reality.
Another myth and role – albeit containing a grain of truth – would be the psychopath’s brilliant mind or psychological genius; some of them actually believe in this and attempt to insinuate this belief to others. In speaking of the mask of psychological normality worn by such individuals (and by similar deviants to a lesser extent), we should mention the book The Mask of Sanity; the author, Hervey Cleckley, made this very phenomenon the crux of his reflections:
Let us remember that his typical behavior defeats what appear to be his own aims. Is it not he himself who is most deeply deceived by his apparent normality? Although he deliberately cheats others and is quite conscious of his lies, he appears unable to distinguish adequately between his own pseudointentions, pseudoremorse, pseudolove, and the genuine responses of a normal person. His monumental lack of insight indicates how little he appreciates the nature of his disorder. When others fail to accept immediately his “word of honor as a gentleman,” his amazement, I believe, is often genuine. The term genuine is used here not to qualify the psychopath’s intentions but to qualify his amazement. His subjective experience is so bleached of deep emotion that he is invincibly ignorant of what life means to others.
His awareness of hypocrisy’s opposite is so insubstantially theoretical that it becomes questionable if what we chiefly mean by hypocrisy should be attributed to him. Having no major values himself, can he be said to realize adequately the nature and quality of the outrages his conduct inflicts upon others? A young child who has no impressive memory of severe pain may have been told by his mother it is wrong to cut off the dog’s tail. Knowing it is wrong he may proceed with the operation. We need not totally absolve him of responsibility if we say he realized less what he did than an adult who, in full appreciation of physical agony, so uses a knife. Can a person experience the deeper levels of sorrow without considerable knowledge of happiness? Can he achieve evil intention in the full sense without real awareness of evil’s opposite? I have no final answer to these questions. [Cleckley]
All researchers into psychopathy underline three qualities primarily with regard to this most typical variety: The absence of a sense of guilt for antisocial actions, the inability to love truly, and the tendency to be garrulous in a way which easily deviates from reality.
A neurotic patient is generally taciturn and has trouble explaining what hurts him most. […] These patients are capable of decent and enduring love, although they have difficulty expressing it or achieving their dreams. A psychopath’s behavior constitutes the antipode of such phenomena and difficulties.
Our first contact [with the psychopath] is characterized by a talkative stream which flows with ease and avoids truly important matters with equal ease if they are uncomfortable for the talker. His train of thought also avoids those matters of human feelings and values whose representation is absent in the psychopathic world view. […] From the logical point of view, the flow of thought is ostensibly correct…
[Psychopaths] are virtually unfamiliar with the enduring emotions of love for another person… it constitutes a fairy-tale from that “other” human world. [For the psychopath] love is an ephemeral phenomenon aimed at sexual adventure. However [the psychopath] is able to play the lover’s role well enough for their partners to accept it in good faith. [Moral teachings] also strike them as a similar fairy-tale good only for children and those different “others.”[…]
The world of normal people whom they hurt is incomprehensible and hostile to them. […] [Life to the psychopath] is the pursuit of its immediate attractions, pleasure and power. They meet with failure along this road, along with force and condemnation from the society of those other incomprehensible people.
It should be emphasized that psychopaths are quite often interesting – even exciting! They exude a captivating energy that keeps their listeners on the edge of their seats. Even if some part of the normal person is shocked or repelled by what the psychopath says, they are like the mouse hypnotized by the torturing cat. Even if they have the chance to run away, they don’t. Many Psychopaths “make their living” by using charm, deceit, and manipulation to gain the confidence of their victims. Many of them can be found in white collar professions where they are aided in their evil by the fact that most people expect certain classes of people to be trustworthy because of their social or professional credentials. Lawyers, doctors, teachers, politicians, psychiatrists and psychologists, generally do not have to earn our trust because they have it by virtue of their positions. But the fact is: psychopaths are found in such lofty spheres also!
At the same time, psychopaths are good impostors. They have absolutely no hesitation about forging and brazenly using impressive credentials to adopt professional roles that bring prestige and power. They pick professions in which the requisite skills are easy to fake, the jargon is easy to learn, and the credentials are unlikely to be thoroughly checked. Psychopaths find it extremely easy to pose as financial consultants, ministers, psychological counselors and psychologists. And that’s a scary thought.
Psychopaths make their way by conning people into doing things for them; obtaining money for them, prestige, power, or even standing up for them when others try to expose them. But that is their claim to fame. That’s what they do. And they do it very well. What’s more, the job is very easy because most people are gullible with an unshakable belief in the inherent goodness of man which, I should add, has been programmed into normal people by psychopaths.
Returning to the work of Lobaczewski, he next gives us the most important clues as to how and why a truly global conspiracy can and does exist on our planet though it certainly isn’t a conspiracy in the normally accepted sense of the word. You could even say that such conspiracies arise simply as a natural result of the un-bridgeable divide between normal people and deviants. In a certain sense, understanding the view the psychopath has of “normal people,” that they are “other” and even “foreign,” helps us to realize how such conspiracies can be so “secret” – though that is not the precise word we would like to use. Even if different ponerological groups are opposed to each other, they will still exclude “normal people” from their confidences. It is only the “normal” people who have been induced into their webs that provide the “leaks.” Lobaczewski describes it in the following way:
In any society in this world, psychopathic individuals and some of the other deviants create a ponerogenically active network of common collusions, partially estranged from the community of normal people. Some inspirational role of the essential psychopathy in this network also appears to be a common phenomenon.
They are aware of being different as they obtain their life experience and become familiar with different ways of fighting for their goals. Their world is forever divided into “us and them” – their world with its own laws and customs and that other foreign world full of presumptuous ideas and customs in light of which they are condemned morally.
Their “sense of honor” bids them cheat and revile that other human world and its values. In contradiction to the customs of normal people, they feel non-fulfillment of their promises or obligations is customary behavior.
They also learn how their personalities can have traumatizing effects on the personalities of those normal people, and how to take advantage of this root of terror for purposes of reaching their goals.
This dichotomy of worlds is permanent and does not disappear even if they succeed in realizing their dreams of gaining power over the society of normal people. This proves that the separation is biologically conditioned.
In such people a dream emerges like some youthful Utopia of a “happy” world and a social system which would not reject them or force them to submit to laws and customs whose meaning is incomprehensible to them. They dream of a world in which their simple and radical way of experiencing and perceiving reality [i.e. lying, cheating, destroying, using others, etc] would dominate, where they would, of course, be assured safety and prosperity. Those “others” – different, but also more technically skillful – should be put to work to achieve this goal. “We,” after all, will create a new government, one of justice [for psychopaths]. They are prepared to fight and suffer for the sake of such a brave new world, and also of course, to inflict suffering upon others. Such a vision justifies killing people whose suffering does not move them to compassion because “they” are not quite conspecific.
And there it is. Lobaczewski has said outright that psychopaths – from a certain perspective – are a different type of human being, a type that is aware of its difference from childhood. Put this together with his statement that such individuals recognize their own kind, and consider normal people as completely “other,” and we can begin to understand why and how conspiracies can and do exist among such individuals. They collect together, with similar worldviews, like fat floating on a bowl of soup. When one of them begins to rant, others like them – or those with brain damage that makes them susceptible – “rally round the flag,” so to say. And what’s more, they know this and know how it works.
Speaking of networks, we need to take a closer look at how psychopaths affect other human beings whom they use to create the basis for their rule in macro-social dynamics. This highlights the fact that the lack of psychological knowledge among the general public, not to mention the general neurosis of most people, make them vulnerable to such predators.
Lobaczewski: Subordinating a normal person to psychologically abnormal individuals has a deforming effect on his personality: it engenders trauma and neurosis. This is accomplished in a manner which generally evades sufficient conscious controls. [Wolves in Sheep’s Clothing] Such a situation then deprives the person of his natural rights to practice his own mental hygiene, develop a sufficiently autonomous personality, and utilize his common sense. In the light of natural law, it thus constitutes a kind of illegality which can appear in any social scale although it is not mentioned in any code of law.
Psychologist George Simon, quoted above, discusses what he refers to as “Covert-aggressive personalities” which, upon reading his book, reveal themselves to be members of the psychopathy spectrum. He writes:
Aggressive personalities don’t like anyone pushing them to do what they don’t want to do or stopping them from doing what they want to do. “No” is never an answer they accept.
[In some cases], if they can see some benefit in self-restraint, they may internalize inhibitions [and become covertly aggressive].
By refraining from any overt acts of hostility towards others, they manage to convince themselves and others they’re not the ruthless people they are. They may observe the letter of a law but violate its spirit with ease. They may exhibit behavioral constraint when it’s in their best interest, but they resist truly submitting themselves to any higher authority or set of principles. [They are] striving primarily to conceal their true intentions and aggressive agendas from others. They may behave with civility and propriety when they’re closely scrutinized or vulnerable. But when they believe they’re immune to detection, [they will do anything they want.]
Dealing with covert-aggressive personalities is like getting whiplash. Often, you really don’t know what’s hit you until long after the damage is done. …
Covert-aggressives are often so expert at exploiting the weaknesses and emotional insecurities of others that almost anyone can be duped…
Covert-aggressives exploit situations in which they are well aware of the vulnerability of their prey. They are often very selective about the kinds of people with whom they will associate or work. They are particularly adept at finding and keeping others in a one-down position. They relish being in positions of power over others. It’s my experience that how a person uses power is the most reliable test of their character… [Simon, op. cit.]
Now, just imagine that the almost 1 in 25 people mentioned by Martha stout: “The Sociopath Next Door,” being the very ones who seek and achieve positions of power and authority in just about any field of endeavour where power can be had, and you begin to understand how truly damaging this can be to an entire society. Imagine school teachers with power over your children who are “covert-aggressives.” Imagine doctors, psychologists, “ministers of the faith” and politicians in such positions.
With this understanding, we begin to get an even better idea of how psychopaths can conspire and actually pull it off: in a society where evil is not studied or understood, they easily “rise to the top” and proceed to condition normal people to accept their dominance, to accept their lies without question.
We can also include within psychopathic categories a somewhat indeterminate number of anomalies with a hereditary substratum…
We also meet difficult individuals with a tendency to behave in a manner hurtful to other people, for whom tests do not indicate existing damage to brain tissue and there is no indication of abnormal child-rearing background. The fact that such cases are repeated within families would suggest a hereditary substratum.[…]
Such people also attempt to mask their different world of experience and play a role of normal people to varying degrees… These people participate in the genesis of evil in very different ways, whether taking part openly or, to a lesser extent, when they have managed to adapt to proper ways of living. These psychopathies and related phenomena may, quantitatively speaking, be summarily estimated at two or three times the number of cases of essential psychopathy, i.e. at less than two per cent of the population.
Here I want to comment that, if we speculate the actual number of psychopaths to be around 6 percent – or even just 4 percent as Stout claims – then these other “people” Lobaczewski is talking about could be as frequent as 12 to 18 percent of the population. That would mean that the total number of psychopaths plus “almost psychopaths” would be 16 to 24 percent of the total population. However, it is obvious that the statistical spread can be different in different countries at different times. We will look at that issue further on.
Lobaczewski: This type of person finds it easier to adjust to social life. The lesser cases in particular adapt to the demands of the society of normal people, taking advantage of its understanding for the arts and other areas with similar traditions. Their literary creativity is often disturbing if conceived in ideational categories alone; they insinuate to their readers that their world of concepts and experiences is self-evident, also it actually contains characteristic deformities.
The most frequently indicated and known type is the asthenic psychopath which appears in every conceivable intensity, from barely perceptible to an obvious pathologic deficiency. These people, asthenic and hypersensitive, do not indicate the same glaring deficit in moral feeling and ability to sense a psychological situation as it appears in essential psychopathy. They are somewhat idealistic and tend to have superficial pangs of conscience as a result of their faulty behavior. On the average, they are also less intelligent than normal people, and their mind avoids consistency and accuracy in reasoning. Their psychological worldview is clearly falsified, so their options about people can never be trusted. A kind of mask cloaks the world of their personal aspirations which is at variance with the official ones demanded by a situation. Their behavior towards people who do not notice their faults is urbane, even friendly. However, the same people manifest a pre-emptive hostility and aggression against persons with a talent for psychology or proper knowledge in this area.
They are relatively less vital sexually and therefore amenable to accept celibacy; that is why some Catholic monks and priests often represent lesser or minor cases of this anomaly. They are the chief factor which inspired the anti-psychological attitude traditional in Church thinking.
The more severe cases are more brutally anti-psychological and contemptuous of normal people; they tend to be active in the processes of the genesis of evil on a larger scale. Their dreams do not lack a certain idealism similar to the ideas of normal people. They would like to reform the world to their liking but are unable to foresee more far-reaching implications and results. Spiced by deviance, their visions may influence naïve rebels of people who have in fact suffered injustice. Existing social injustice may look like a justification for a radicalized world-view and the assimilation of such visions.
The following is an example, given by Lobaczewski, of the thought-pattern of a person who seems a typical and severe case of asthenic psychopathy:
“If I had to start life all over again, I’d do exactly the same: it’s organic necessity, nor the dictates of duty. I have one thing which keeps me going and bids me be serene even when things are so very sad. That is an unshakable faith in people. Conditions will change and evil will cease to reign, and man will be a brother to man, not a wolf as is the case today. My forbearance derives not from my fancy, but rather from my clear vision of the cause which give rise to evil.”
Those words were written in prison on December 15, 1913 by Felix Dzierzhynski, (1877-1926), who is best known as the first head of the Soviet “Cheka,” or Soviet security police, the forerunner of the KGB. Spreading fear in a time of chaos, the Cheka was the perfect instrument for Stalin’s ruthless consolidation of power and extermination of opposition. Dzierzhynski made Robespierre look like a pansy, being responsible for the murder of literally millions of people.
If the time ever comes when “conditions will change” and “evil will no longer rule,” it could be because progress in the study of pathological phenomena and their ponerogenic role will make it possible for societies to quietly accept the existence of these phenomena and comprehend them as categories of nature. The vision of a new, just structure of society can then be realized within the framework and under the control of normal people. Having reconciled ourselves to the fact that psychopaths are different and have a limited capacity for social adjustment, we should create a system of permanent protection for them within the framework of reason and proper knowledge.
Here it should be noted that psychologically normal people constitute both the great statistical majority of human type beings and thus, as Lobaczewski points out, according to natural law, should be the ones to set the pace; moral law is derived from their nature. Power should be in the hands of normal people.
For our purposes, we should also draw attention to psychopathic types with deviant features: these were isolated relatively long ago by Brzezicki and accepted by E. Kretschmer as characteristic of Eastern Europe in particular.
Skirtoids are vital, egotistical, and thick-skinned individuals who make good soldiers because of their endurance and psychological resistance. In peacetime, however, they are incapable of understanding life’s subtler matters or rearing the younger generation prudently. They are happy in primitive surroundings; a comfortable environment easily causes hysterization for them. They prove rigidly conservative in all areas and supportive of governments that rule with a heavy hand.
Kretschmer was of the opinion that this anomaly was a biodynamic phenomenon caused by the crossing of two widely removed ethnic groups which is frequent in that area of Europe. If that were the case, North America should be full of skirtoids. This anomaly should be taken into consideration if we wish to understand the history of Russia, as well as Poland to a lesser extent.[…]
The above characterizations are selected examples of pathological factors which participate in ponerogenic processes. […] The current state of knowledge in this area is nevertheless still insufficient to produce practical solutions to many human problems, particularly those on an individual and family scale. Some outstanding psychopathologists, convinced that developing a calm and sufficient view of human reality is impossible without psychopathological findings, are therefore unfortunately right, a conclusion difficult to accept by people who believe they attained a mature world-view without such burdensome studies. The defenders of the natural world-view have tradition, belles-lettres, even philosophy on their side. They do not realize that during present times, their manner of comprehending life’s questions renders the battle with evil more problematic. […]
In attempting closer observation of these psychological processes and phenomena which lead one man or one nation to hurt another, let us select phenomena as characteristic as possible. We shall again become convinced that the participation of various pathological factors in these processes is the rule, not the exception.[…]
[O]ur social, psychological, and moral concepts, as well as our natural forms of reaction, are not adequate for every situation with which life confronts us. We generally wind up hurting someone if we engage our natural concepts and reactive archetypes in situations which seem to be appropriate to our imaginings although they are, in fact, essentially different. As a rule, such different situations … occur because some pathological factor difficult to understand has entered the picture. The practical value of our natural world-view generally ends where psychopathology begins.
Familiarity with this common weakness of human nature and the normal person’s “naiveté” is part of the specific knowledge we find in many psychopathic individuals.
In order to comprehend ponerogenic paths, especially those acting in a wider social context, let us observe the roles and personalities of individuals we shall call “spellbinders” who are highly active in this area in spite of their statistically negligible number. They are generally the carriers of various pathological factors, some characteropathies, and some inherited anomalies….
Spellbinders are characterized by pathological egotism. Such a person is forced by some internal causes to make an early choice between two possibilities: the first is forcing other people to think and experience things in a manner similar to his own; the second is a feeling of being lonely and different, a pathological misfit in social life. Sometimes the choice is either snake-charming or suicide.
Triumphant repression of self-critical or unpleasant concepts from the field of consciousness gradually gives rise to [conversive thinking. i.e. paramoralism.]
The conviction that moral values exist but that some actions violate moral rules is so common and ancient a phenomenon that it seems to have some substratum at man’s instinctive endowment level, and is not just a representation of centuries of experience, culture, religions, and socialization. Thus, any insinuation enclosed in a “moral slogan” is always suggestive even if the “moral” criteria used are just an ad hoc invention. Any act can thus be proved to be immoral or moral by means of using “paramoralisms” through active suggestion and people who will succumb to this manipulation are plentiful.
In searching for an example of an evil act whose negative value would not elicit doubt in any social situation, ethics scholars frequently mention child abuse. However, psychologists often meet with paramoral affirmations of such behavior in their practice.
Lobaczewski earlier gave the example of the woman with prefrontal-field damage who was sadistically abusive to her child, but was supported in her abuse of the child by her brothers who were totally under her influence and convinced of her “exceptionally high moral qualifications.” Particularly heinous examples of this type of thing often occur in a religious context where children have been beaten to death to “get the devil out.” It is always done to “save their souls,” and that is an example of “paramoralism” used in a conversive way. We have certainly been subjected to this type of use of “paramoralisms,” but that’s another story.
Paramoralistic statements and suggestions so often accompany various kinds of evil that they seem quite irreplaceable. Unfortunately, it has become a frequent phenomenon for individuals, oppressive groups, or patho-political systems to invent ever-new moral criteria for someone’s convenience. Such suggestions deprive people of their moral reasoning and deform its development in children. Paramoralism factories have been founded worldwide, and a ponerologist finds it hard to believe that they are managed by psychologically normal people.
The conversive features in the genesis of paramoralisms seem to prove they are derived from mostly subconscious rejection (and repression from the field of consciousness) of something completely different which we call the “voice of conscience.” … Like all conversive phenomena, the tendency to use paramoralisms is psychologically contagious.
Lobaczewski points out that “paramoralisms” stream profusely from such individuals so that they flood the average person’s mind.
To the spellbinder, everything becomes subordinated to their conviction that they are exceptional, sometimes even messianic. An ideology can emerge from such individuals that is certainly partly true, and the value of which is claimed to be superior to all other ideologies. They believe they will find many converts to their ideology and when they discover that this is not the case, they are shocked and fume with “paramoral indignation.” The attitude of most normal people to such spellbinders is generally critical, pained and disturbed.
The spellbinder places on a high moral plane anyone who succumbs to his influence, and he will shower such people with attention and property and perks of all kinds. Critics are met with “moral” outrage and it will be claimed by the spellbinder that the compliant minority is actually a majority.
Such activity is always characterized by the inability to foresee its final results, something obvious from the psychological point of view, because its substratum contains pathological phenomena, and both spellbinding and self-charming make it impossible to perceive reality accurately enough to foresee results logically.
In a healthy society, the activities of spellbinders meet with criticism effective enough to stifle them quickly. However, when they are preceded by conditions operating destructively on common sense and social order – such as social injustice, cultural backwardness, or intellectually limited rulers manifesting pathological traits – spellbinders activities have led entire societies into large-scale human tragedy.
Such an individual fishes an environment or society for people amenable to his influence, deepening their psychological weaknesses until they finally become a ponerogenic union.
On the other hand, people who have maintained their healthy critical faculties intact, attempt to counteract the spellbinders’ activities and their results, based on their own common sense and moral criteria. In the resulting polarization of social attitudes, each side justifies itself by means of moral categories.
The awareness that a spellbinder is always a pathological individual should protect us from the known results of a moralizing interpretation of pathological phenomena, ensuring us of objective criteria for more effective action.
[A high IQ] generally helps in immunity to spellbinders, but only moderately. Actual differences in the formation of human attitudes under the influence of such activities should be attributed to other properties of human nature. The factor most decisive as regards assuming a critical attitude is good basic intelligence, which conditions our perception of psychological reality. We can also observe how a spellbinder’s activities “husk out” amenable individuals with an astonishing regularity.