September 30, 2019
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.