Wednesday, March 07, 2007

Robert Hare, "Without Conscience" (1993).

Having finished the Robert Hare book(Without Conscience) that I mentioned two days ago, I can honestly say that I am no closer to a true understanding of what a "psychopath" is. I understand that there are a set of characteristics associated with the condition, but I feel that they apply to most adolescents. Simply speaking, most immature adults will match the profile outlined by Hare. What does this mean? Not a whole lot, really.

Hare fails to let us critically examine his Psychopathy Checklist, and he warns us against trying to apply a diagnosis without competent professional assistance. But we have no real way of assessing qualifications, especially since he points out that so many mental health professionals are confused about the definition of "psychopathology". Further, even if we did correctly identify a psychopath in our life, Hare admits that there has been no success in treating the condition. The suggestions he provides in his "A Survival Guide" chapter are (at best) of minimal help.

I must admit that I question whether a disorder called "psychopathy" really exists, as such. It seems to me to include a broad range of negative traits cobbled together under a catchall title. Since scientists and psychologists have been unable to isolate any cause, or even any single symptom that applies to all "psychopaths", I have a hard time thinking of it as a specific disorder. The most cohesive form I am willing to attribute to Hare's definition is a "cluster", in that it is a vaguely articulated list of descriptive generalized terms bundled together in a checklist. And if categorization under this system has no useful meaning (in terms of suggesting a treatment approach) then maybe it is simply better to pay attention to the differences within the group labelled as "psychopaths". Perhaps it makes no sense to bundle all these individuals together. This approach strikes me as having just about as much validity and utility as labeling these individuals "evil".

As Hare points out, it is difficult to treat anyone who does not believe he/she has a problem. Clearly such individuals are not going to be motivated to seek change within themselves. They have developed strategies for life that seem to work well in furthering their own self interests. The absence of consideration (empathy, compassion, conscience, etc.) for others' feelings is instrumental for them. A denial of their own emotions in the interests of cold rationality might actually make the most sense to them. Is a "treatment approach" even appropriate to confront someone who is acting exclusively for their own benefit?

For me these questions are more applicable to philosophy, rather than "mental health". Psychopathy seems like more of a worldview than anything else. Maybe there is something to be said for claims that humanity needs "faith". If one doesn't believe in "god", then it is a rational conclusion to believe that humans are merely animals. In increasingly harsh environments, animals are known to act less social towards one another. If you don't believe in anything greater than yourself, then what incentive do you have to develop what we call a "conscience"? Hassan-i Sabbah, the Iranian missionary and founder of a community of assassins, is notorious for saying, "Nothing is true, everything is permitted." I can't think of a better motto for a "psychopath".

4 Comments:

Blogger somewhere joe said...

Author/physician Scott Peck was curious as to whether there exists ontologically evil people - his findings are set forth in his book "People Of The Lie". What I recall (I read it more than a decade ago) is that yes, there probably are, and besides a range of various antisocial impulses, they have two outstanding and persistent traits in common: they are reflexive and utterly committed liars and have intensely strong wills. Sounds pretty simplistic but he makes a convincing case in the book.

9:21 PM  
Blogger Merge Divide said...

But it brings to mind the concept of the "banality of evil". It seems to me that the average human represses his/her will through mechanisms deeply ingrained by social conditioning. If these checks on behaviour don't get internalized, then it seems natural that the individual will use dceceit as just one strategy among many employed to achieve his/her ends.

10:17 PM  
Blogger laurie said...

While most people can exhibit some of the behaviors that meet the criteria of a psychopath from time to time, not too many folks are bonafide psychopaths.
They're predators, in the sense that they seek out individuals to exploit for completely selfish reasons.
Having no altruism, even their "good" deeds are carried out for their own benefit.
Often they are violent, either physically or psychologically and they justify the behavior through lies and manipulation of not only others, but themselves as well. They are convinced that they, and no others, are right in their beliefs/dealings and can take extreme measures to make that known.
Typically, they're unable to maintain anything long term: employment, relationships, repayment of debts, contracts, etc.
They're dangerously vindictive and impulsive. The kind of person who'll hurt you, physically or emotionally, with a smirk of satisfaction on their face.
They'll move from group to group, place to place, live on the run, even end up in jail partly due to the chronic nature of the disorder.
Shoot, I could go on and on about this one. Did a lot of research a while back...
What bothers me is that the label, or diagnosis, can be misused to describe the relatively harmless 'deviants' in society if it's twisted the right way.
But, yeah, I believe the disorder exists.
lk

4:10 AM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

Do psycopath exist ? Yes, and this is very different from .
How do I know ? Because I have crossed one, he is the brother of my wife, noticed nothing in 6 years, appeared to be a very good friend. Untill I have done a business relation with him. This cost me a lot of money, 6 months of nightmare including all types of attacks, phone calls, persuaded relatives, legal suits, even threats. Althugh he has stolen a lot money, most of the family believes I have betrayed his trust. Well when this happened I researched and learned this... they exist and you will cross them sooner or later so be prepared...

5:24 PM  

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