The Psychopathic Tendency in World
by Jerry Russell and Richard Stanley
February 12, 2006
For many years, psychologists have studied
the frightening reality of psychopathic or sociopathic personalities
-- the serial killers, the child abusers, the pathologically consistent
liars and incorrigible thieves. The scientific study of these
individuals was systemically organized by Hervey Cleckley and
his 1941 classic "The Mask of Sanity", and today the
specialist Robert Hare is one of the foremost authorities in the
field. According to Hare, the key emotional and interpersonal
traits defining the psychopathic personality syndrome are: a smooth,
glib capability to lie, manipulate and dissemble; a completely
callous lack of empathy or concern for others; shallow emotional
affect and lack of remorse; and egocentric grandiosity.
While most psychological studies of psychopathy
have been based on prison populations, there's an emerging (and
controversial) recognition that many individuals with this cluster
of personality characteristics, are not in prison. The traits
of these individuals are so distinctive that they may even represent
a distinct taxon, a true sub-species of mankind -- consisting
of otherwise normal human beings who are completely lacking in
normal human responses to social interactions with others.
In his book, "Without Conscience",
"To give you some idea of the enormity
of the problem that faces us, consider that there are at least
2 million psychopaths in North America; the citizens of New York
City have as many as 100,000 psychopaths among them. And these
are conservative estimates. Far from being an esoteric, isolated
problem that affects only a few people, psychopathy touches virtually
every one of us.
Consider that the prevalence of psychopathy
in our society is about the same as that of schizophrenia, a devastating
mental disorder that brings heart-wrenching distress to patient
and family alike. However, the scope of the personal pain and
distress associated with schizophrenia is small compared to the
extensive personal, social and economic carnage wrought by psychopaths.
They cast a wide net, and nearly everyone is caught in it one
way or another.
The most obvious expressions of psychopathy
-- but by no means the only ones -- involve fragrant criminal
violations of society's rules. Not surprisingly, many psychopaths
are criminals, but many others remain out of prison, using their
charm and chameleonlike abilities to cut a wide swath through
society and leaving a wake of ruined lives behind them.
Together, these pieces of the puzzle form
an image of a self-centered, callous and remorseless person profoundly
lacking in empathy and the ability to form warm emotional relationships
with others, a person who functions without the restraints of
conscience. If you think about it, you will realize that what
is missing in this picture are the very qualities that allow human
beings to live in social harmony.
It is not a pretty picture, and some express
doubt that such people exist. To dispel this doubt you need only
consider the more dramatic examples of psychopathy that have been
increasing in our society in recent years. Dozens of books, movies,
and television programs, and hundreds of newspaper articles and
headlines, tell the story: Psychopaths make up a significant portion
of the people the media describe -- serial killers, rapists, thieves,
con men, wife beaters, white-collar criminals, hype-prone stock
promoters and "boiler-room" operators, child abusers,
gang members, disbarred lawyers, drug barons, professional gamblers,
members of organized crime, doctors who've lost their licenses,
terrorists, cult leaders, mercenaries, and unscrupulous businesspeople.
What about politicians? Well, here we
have to be careful, because in any individual case it can be very
difficult to get the data that's needed for a complete scientific
diagnosis. However, in some cases there is enough information
available to make a persuasive case. For example, Chris Barr in
his essay Towards a unified theory of Clinton notes the psychopathic
aspects of Clinton's obsessive-compulsive work habits and decision-making
processes, his multiple sexual escapades and denials, and his
slimy yet inescapable "Sun King" charisma. Unfortunately,
Barr's article is less attentive to Clinton's murderous attack
on Yugoslavia, his coverup of the Vince Foster scandal, and his
cynical manipulation of the financial markets to produce a massive
and artificial boom-bust cycle, all of which would prove much
more devastatingly that Clinton was a cold-blooded killer and
Based on the conduct of the Iraq war,
more and more people worldwide are concluding that George Bush
is a psychopathic, insane individual. Some skeptics argue that
the events of 9/11 were a cynical hoax, intended to provoke America
into fighting aggressive wars in Afghanistan and Iraq, causing
the deaths of hundreds of thousands if not millions of innocents,
in a quest for Imperial power. If this is agreed, then it really
should not be necessary to offer any further evidence of the psychopathy
of George W. Bush. But there is much more: in this essay by Bev
Conover of Online Journal, Bush isn't a moron, he's a cunning
sociopath, we learn that in his youth, George W. "enjoyed
putting firecrackers into frogs, throwing them in the air, and
then watching them blow up." Reporter Richard Gooding of
the tabloid STAR stated, in a well-referenced article, that Bush
was the president of Yale's Delta Epsilon Kappa fraternity --
which "barbarically branded its new members on their backsides
with a red-hot metal rod as part of a sadistic hazing practice."
Reportedly, "the branding resulted in a second-degree burn
that left a half-inch scab in the shape of the Greek letter Delta."
While he was not busy slumming at Delta
Epsilon Kappa, Bush also joined the highly elite Skull and Bones
fraternity at Yale. Some boys just can't get enough of that "Greek"
There's a lot of controversy over whether
psychopathy should be viewed as a disease caused by some sort
of organic birth defect or brain damage. Injuries to the frontal
lobes can cause a syndrome that's similar in some respects, but
Hare has done a series of studies showing that they're not identical,
and that "true" psychopaths basically have highly intact
cognitive skills, unlike victims of brain injuries.
Whether it's a "defect" or not,
our speculation is that the psychopathic personality is an inherited
trait (although this would certainly be controversial among psychologists,
many of whom would argue that it can be a result of traumatic
childhood experiences or brain injuries.) From our perspective
on the literature, it seems reasonable to speculate that it may
be only a matter of time before scientists isolate the particular
genes that are involved in creating a pre-disposition towards
the psychopathic syndrome.
A paper by Harris, Rice & Quinsey
(1994) argues that psychopathy is a "taxon" -- that
is, a discrete subclass, more or less as distinctive as male vs.
female, or cat vs. dog. This is based on a statistical analysis
of a population of subjects with their scores for psychopathy.
The distribution of scores is strongly bimodal, indicating a lack
of "shades of gray" for the psychopathic personality
syndrome. This is a strikingly unusual result in personality research,
which usually finds a continuous range of variability in personality
traits. While a five-factor personality model (introversion/extroversion,
agreeableness, conscientiousness, emotional stability and openness)
is often considered sufficient to describe the normal range of
personality, the psychopathic personality is very difficult to
represent within this space (see Miller et al., 2001), exhibiting
highly differentiated sub-traits within the major personality
dimensions (where we would normally expect to find correlated
sub-traits.) The unusual pattern of sub-traits is, in our view,
another basis for believing that psychopathy represents a distinct
A review article "the sociobiology
of sociopathy an integrated evolutionary model"(Mealey, 1995)
treats "primary sociopathy" more or less as a synonym
for Cleckley/Hare psychopathy, and argues that it's an evolutionary
adaptation -- that enables a percentage of the population to fill
the ecological niche for cheaters and scam artists.
Along these lines, Kent Bailey(1995) argues
that psychopaths should be called "warrior hawks", and
that a healthy contingent of them would be necessary for the survival
of any primitive band, faced with the need to survive in violent
competition with neighboring tribes. "Warrior Hawks"
is perhaps a kinder, less judgmental euphemism for the phenomenon.
But on the other hand, it might be unfair to those who might favor
warfare in some specific set of external circumstances. "All
warrior hawks are psychopaths"? Dramatic, but probably not
strictly accurate. (Some warrior hawks might only appear to be
A related issue is the extent to which
"normal" individuals can adopt the behavior patterns
of psychopaths. The ideals of empathy, social cooperation and
altruism have been supported by a wide variety of philosophical,
ethical and spiritual arguments over the years. More importantly,
they may also be backed by millions of years of evolution, as
many species have adopted cooperative modes of behavior for survival.
A revulsion for excessive wanton cruelty may be literally instinctive
for most human beings. Nevertheless, any evolutionary tendency
towards kindness, empathy and cooperation can apparently be overcome
in certain circumstances -- for example, when the government issues
a call to war, and tells the people that the enemy must be killed
as a matter of the society's own survival.
The psychopaths have developed an extraordinarily
powerful camouflage mechanism. When it fits their purposes, they
are glib, friendly and easy-going, devoid of the petty anxieties
that trouble most of us and cast a pall over day-to-day interactions.
They are the very embodiment of charisma and chutzpah. In this
way, they stay hidden and undetected by their victims until a
trap is sprung. Precisely because most human beings have an instinctive
internalized sense of fair play and altruism, they are incapable
of seeing when another human being does not share these attributes.
We simply do not believe that such evil could exist -- and when
we do undeniably encounter it, we may be tempted to ascribe it
to supernatural causes, invoking the Devil himself. It is particularly
stunning and incredible to contemplate that a powerful and reputable
person, a company president or a Senator, or the Ruler of our
Country, could possibly be a true psychopath, a man devoid of
Yet we maintain that this is quite frequently
the case, from the beginning of history down to the present day.
Psychopaths and Political Power. Sometimes
(and seldom more than today) it seems impossible to escape the
conclusion that the whole world is going insane with war and preparation
for war. However, the situation is merely a manifestation of a
psychopathic tendency in politics, a sinister undercurrent which
is always present and sometimes erupts into ugly prominence.
In order to explain how this has happened,
we will take the liberty of expressing a theory in terms of primitive,
pre-historical culture. (Ever since Rousseau invented the concepts
of the "noble savage" living in the "state of nature",
philosophers have appealed to pre-history in support of their
frameworks, and scientists have criticized those models as little
better than fables. Keeping this criticism in mind, we offer this
historical just-so story as a model, but not as a proof.)
A pre-history of psychopathy. Primitive
man lived in small tribes of perhaps a hundred people or so. Within
these tribes, all the basic functions of government and religion
had to be filled--educating the young, taking care of the old,
making plans for hunting and gathering, providing an ethical system
and a knowledge base for dealing with the world, and interacting
with other tribes. To fill these functions, we might imagine that
hierarchies would naturally emerge, based on strength, skill and
In this intimate environment, an unintelligent
psychopath who actualized a criminal desire to kill or steal from
his fellow tribesmen, would obviously be maladaptive as well as
easily detected. However, a more clever individual with the psychopathic
personality syndrome could find himself in an advantaged position
in a tribal society.
With respect to a neighboring tribe --
a well-timed lie about their intentions, or false allegations
of evil actions on their part, could inflame the passions of the
psychopath's own tribe. This would have tremendous advantages
in terms of the outcome of prehistoric warfare -- the ability
to carry out an attack with surprise at a time of one's own choosing.
A psychopath could satisfy his blood-lust, and emerge as a hero
of his tribe as well -- while a non-psychopathic leader would
spend time pondering the pain and suffering of the neighboring
tribe, as well as the risks to his own people.
With respect to one's own tribesmen --
clever, well-spun and glib lies about Nature or "The Gods"
could help fellow tribesmen achieve a (quite likely false) sense
of assurance and confidence about the world and their place in
it, while more honest individuals would simply scratch their heads
at the mystery of it all. As long as the lies are not caught (and
religious ideas are often framed in terms which are not subject
to verification) the psychopath can earn the respect of his tribe,
and probably extra benefits in terms of a greater share of the
wealth of the tribe, and better access to women.
As society became more complex, the psychopath's
psychological edge may have become more significant. To the extent
that psychopathy and intelligence are both hereditary, those advantages
would have compounded the sociological advantages of better education
and greater wealth that would naturally have accrued to the children
of the leading lights of the tribe.
Psychopathy at the dawn of history. With
the development of writing, the elite class would multiply their
advantage over the commoners, because these highly specialized
skills could be used to create an aura of mystery as well as a
body of tremendously useful proto-scientific knowledge. Of course,
not all members of the elite would be likely to be psychopathic
by any means -- on the contrary, we would expect that accidents
of birth, the distribution of skills within the broader society,
and the advantages of conscientiousness and honesty, would be
a constant balancing force. However, the activities of the psychopathic
element would put a continuously insane "edge" on the
acceptable range of elite conversation, and more often than not,
non-psychopaths would find it much to their advantage to play
along with the lies of the psychopaths (even when they were able
to understand the fraudulent nature of those lies.)
By the time of earliest written history,
we would argue that the psychopaths must have been pretty firmly
in control of the emerging civilizations. We find that hordes
of slaves were enlisted to build gigantic stone temples for the
benefit of rulers who were seen as Gods Incarnate, while fear
of the Gods (and rulers) was sometimes maintained through human
sacrifice at the altar of those same gigantic temples. And this
was in the stable, civilized part of the world -- which was wracked
from time to time by invading hordes of roving barbarians who
sometimes left none alive of the vanquished. The hatred of human
sacrifice was a major part of the dialectic by which Rome conquered
the ancient world.
The strategy and tactics of class struggle:
As Karl Marx wrote in the Communist Manifesto --
The history of all hitherto existing society
is the history of class struggles. Freeman and slave, patrician
and plebian, lord and serf, guildmaster and journeyman, in a word,
oppressor and oppressed, stood in constant opposition to one another,
carried on an uninterrupted, now hidden now open fight, a fight
that each time ended, either in the revolutionary reconstitution
of society at large, or in the common ruin of the contending classes.
Yet Marx was quite incorrect in viewing
Capital as the fundamental underlying nature of this struggle.
Many other factors are just as important, if not more so. Capitalism
had not even been invented when the process of Class Struggle
was firmly entrenched in human society. We argue that history
should more precisely be viewed as a struggle of Truth and Common
Sense to emerge against the ongoing efforts of psychopathic elements
within the elite classes, who promote chaos and insanity for their
A list of the ever-evolving tactics of
the psychopathic elite classes would certainly include the following
(1) Capitalist economics. Wealth obtained
by the elite through conquest or theft, or inheritance, or monopolistic
practices, or government-granted privilege, is treated equivalently
to wealth generated by hard work or trade or innovation. In this
way, the elite co-opts the support of the productive middle class.
(2) Socialist economics. The elite captures
a large percentage of the total income of society through taxation
(as in most modern nations). This is done ostensibly for the benefit
of the common people at large, but most of the resources are appropriated
for elite purposes, while only a relatively small trickle is used
for "bread and circuses" to maintain support from the
lower and middle classes.
(3) Feudal, fascist or communist economics.
The common people are more or less owned by the elites as slaves,
who are alternatively terrorized and cajoled into compliance.
This system occurs when the elite is able to cause the breakdown
of capitalist or socialist economic system.
(4) Democratic political systems. All
politicians come from the elite classes or serve the interests
of elite classes, while the people have the illusion of determining
outcomes for their benefit.
(5) Authoritarian political systems. Royal
or dictatorial power is used to direct as much as possible of
all social resources towards elite goals. The system may be justified
on patriotic, ideological or religious grounds. Typically associated
with feudal or fascist economic systems.
(6) Popular religions. Often created and
always manipulated by psychopathic lies from the priesthood, popular
religions exploit natural human spirituality to promote the goals
of the elite. Typically, individuals are encouraged to behave
honestly and altruistically on behalf of elite goals (in contrast
to the elites themselves, who routinely rely on deceit and treachery.)
Religion may also be used to promote war and ethnic hatred, when
this is required by elite strategies.
(7) Conspiracy. Elite individuals may
choose to cooperate secretly with other elite individuals in other
institutions or nations, to achieve mutual goals. Since elites
do not necessarily share the religious and ethnic prejudices of
their citizens or subjects, these conspiratorial alignments may
often seem paradoxical or impossible when viewed in terms of conventional
(national or institutional) paradigms. They make sense only in
terms of the universal class struggle transcending national or
(8) War and conquest. Elites in aggressor
societies use their power and deceitfulness to incite the population
to make war. War creates anxiety, and allows the upper classes
to appropriate more resources to defeat the enemy. For the losing
side in war, the population at large may suffer complete defeat
(and death or slavery) but the losing elite typically emerges
in quisling status -- reduced but far from impotent. Sometimes
a militarily strong but culturally inept nation or tribe invades
and conquers another, only to find themselves ruled in short order
by the elite classes of the conquered.
A particularly astounding example of the
creation of war by elite banking interests is the extraordinary
level of funding of both Hitler and Stalin in the build-up to
World War II, as documented in Antony Sutton's books "Wall
Street and the Rise of Hitler" (1976) and "National
Suicide, Military Aid to the Soviet Union" (1973). These
interests were obviously more important that Hitler in creating
World War II, yet they went unpunished and indeed invisible at
the Nuremberg War Crimes tribunals, and they are leading the charge
to war today as well.
(9) Revolution and submergence. If the
lower classes make troublesome demands, the elite may stage or
permit a revolution which promises a major overhaul in the social
structure. Following the revolution, the same old elite class
emerges in control of the new institutional framework.
(10) Economic and social chaos. Elites
may intentionally create or exacerbate economic boom-bust cycles,
instigate ethnic conflict, or intentionally sabotage the productive
capacities of a society, in order to increase the relative power
and status of government and corporate institutions.