The Magick of Psychopathy
Some years ago, I was friends with a group of gals who shared my love of Anne Rice’s vampire novels. We often engaged in moral/intellectual debates about which of the vampires in Rice’s novels were best and who was right or wrong in various story lines. We even named ourselves for the vampire of our choice. Louis was a vampire who felt guilty about killing people. I despised him for that but he was the favorite of the majority of my friends. They self-identified as Louisians. Those who favored Armand called themselves Armandians. I was a Lestatian due to my allegiance Lestat who was the most rational of the vampires. He said things like, “God kills and so we shall kill” and “evil is a point of view.”
I was not “out” to them as a psychopath. But one day, one of my friends shared an interesting puzzle she had found on the internet. It was the story of a girl who killed her sister. The puzzle went…
While at the funeral of her mother, she met a man whom she did not know. She thought he was amazing, her dream guy, and she fell in love with him but never asked for his number and could not find him after the funeral. A few days later the girl killed her sister. What was her motive in killing her sister?
The answer was
She was hoping that the guy would appear at the sister’s funeral. If you answered this correctly, you think like a psychopath. This was a test used to test if one has the same mentality as a killer. Many arrested serial killers have taken this test and answered it correctly. If you didn’t answer correctly, good for you. I’ll seriously like to know your response, please comment!
I got it right away. None of my friends did. One of them asked me why I seemed proud to have the mind of a psychopath. Why, indeed? I realized immediately that none of my friends really understood me and never would. Given our debates, which went on at great length, I was kind of surprised that they would be shocked that I accepted so readily the mantel imposed by my correct answer to the quiz. Maybe I was more like Lestat than they felt comfortable with. (Disclaimer: Lestat is later shown in less flattering lights as Anne Rice, herself, probably developed. But that’s besides the point.)
My blog just got a new follower. I visited the blog of this person and was surprised to see the lead title: Psychopath vs. Empath: The War Between Evolution and Stagnation by Waking Times. The author, Universe Theyself, clearly identifies as an empath. For example, she writes, “Psychopaths are indifferent, apathetic and emotionally shallow; empaths are deeply thoughtful and compassionate.” I would add that empaths certainly certainly seem to have a high opinion of themselves. That isn’t quite consistent with the statement that “empaths are humble and sincere.” She goes on that “Psychopaths are overconfident and narrow-minded; empaths are confident but open-minded.” If psychopaths are overconfident and empaths merely confident, what are those people who suffer from a lack of confidence? Moving right along, “Psychopaths are selfish and violent; empaths are selfless and loving. Psychopaths are rigid, inflexible, and intolerant; empaths are open, flexible, and tolerant.” Well. Empaths are all kind of wonderful, aren’t they? Selfless and loving. Open, flexible and tolerant. We, on the other hand, are selfish, violent, rigid, inflexible and intolerant.
Such black and white thinking is what is called splitting and it is usually associated with people with Borderline Personality Disorder. It looks to me that such absolute division of people into pure goodness and pure badness is not consistent with the quality of being “deeply thoughtful” or “open-minded.”
Ah, but Universe Theyself realizes how false black and white thinking really is and admits: “But human nature is never so black and white.” Yet, she still assigns the narrow-minded, selfish and violent traits to that part of human nature which she labels psychopathic. We each have traits of both the psychopath and the empath within. Yet 1% of the population consists of actual psychopaths. She got this figure from the same deeply insightful website that tells us “How to Spot Psychopaths.” She also mentions that the book The Mask of Insanity by Dr. Hervey Cleckley said psychopaths number greater than 4%. That book’s title is The Mask of Sanity. A third reference is Dutton’s The Wisdom of Psychopaths but only through a review in The Guardian. Too bad she apparently hasn’t read Dutton’s book because she might find out we are more than just narrow-minded, “rigid, inflexible, and intolerant” folk, traits that are incompatible with wisdom.
She continues her analysis by connecting psychopathy with the “lizard brain” which gives us a tendency to cling to tradition and habit. She seems to equate psychopathy with conservatism and admonishes us to be “able to cut through the bullshit divisiveness of religions and narrow it to a single concept that we can all agree on: love, especially love for our children.” While she is insisting that psychopaths are a bunch of stodgy, conservative advocates of religious tradition, she might be surprised to know that many psychopaths don’t follow any religion. Our “lizard brains” are not propelled by fear. In fact, fearlessness is one of the traits of psychopathy. Fear can, of course, make people unwilling to let go of “tried and true” dogmas of society. But it is Conservative brains that have been shown to have a large portion of fearfulness. Empathy, itself, isn’t always linked with progressive politics. For example, a lot of Hitler’s speeches invoked empathy on the part of German people towards suffering of their own kind, suffering allegedly caused by the evil Jews. Paul Bloom wrote a book audaciously entitled Against Empathy which Universe Theyself would do well to read.
Psychopaths are less attached to a static self. We are also, for the most part, less burdened with the baggage of conventional thought. I have been a critic of conventional thought all my life. Rationality is one of the known characteristics of psychopathy. The irrationality of our society drives me wild. For example, in an episode of Law & Order: SVU, a woman was desperately trying to earn a living with which to support herself, her husband and her terminally ill child by working in the porn industry. One day, unable to find a baby sitter, her husband in the hospital, she brings the child to work, where they kept her in a place where she wouldn’t be exposed to dreaded porn. Unfortunately, the kid broke free from the adults looking after her just when the cops where there so these cops and their charming ADA arrested the woman for child endangerment. They went on to endanger the child, themselves by separating her from her mother, one of the few people who knew how to administer medical care to her daughter. If is considered worse for a child to witness pornography than for a child to suffocate without the adults who know how to keep her breathing. These kinds of irrational thinking are just accepted by most people without even questioning them.
Psychopaths have some of the worst press in the world. We, the publicly acknowledged psychopaths, have been working on rehabilitating our image with limited success. We are also glamorized and, in a crazy way, I think it is our very glamorization that makes people reluctant to see us as we are—people. They like the larger than life evil-but-exciting image. Thing is, some of that glamorization is justified. Many of us are charismatic. What is charisma? Psychology Today defines it thus: “Charisma is the ability to attract, charm, and influence the people around you. Charisma is often said to be a mysterious ineffable quality—you either have it or don’t have it—but it’s actually easy to break down many of the key factors that make someone charismatic.” There are churches which give special focus on the Holy Spirit calling themselves charismatic.
Charismatic people do have magic. Some of that magic has to do with daring to step outside of society’s rules. There have always been mythical figures from Till Eulenspiegel to the Pied Piper who beckoned those laden with the norms and responsibilities most people dare not shuck off. The notorious Led Zeppelin reference the Piper in their notorious song, Stairway to Heaven:
And it’s whispered that soon, If we all call the tune
Then the piper will lead us to reason
And a new day will dawn
For those who stand long
And the forests will echo with laughter
Wikipedia says “Till Eulenspiegel is a trickster figure originating in Middle Low German folklore. He appeared in chapbooks telling episodes that outlined his picaresque career in Germany, the Low Countries, Denmark, Bohemia, Poland, and Italy.”
A third verse captures for me the magic of psychopaths:
Could I revive within me
Her symphony and song,
To such a deep delight ‘twould win me,
That with music loud and long,
I would build that dome in air,
That sunny dome ! those caves of ice !
And all who heard should see them there,
And all should cry, Beware ! Beware !
His flashing eyes, his floating hair !
Weave a circle round him thrice,
And close your eyes with holy dread,
For he on honey-dew hath fed,
And drunk the milk of Paradise.
Kubla Khan, Samuel Taylor Coleridge
Magic, trickery, charisma and joy are all part of the secret allure of the psychopath. In Psychopath Night, Oliver James says psychopaths are, “ultimately, completely self focused…. They never do anything that doesn’t benefit themselves.”
Society has a strong bugaboo against acting in one’s own self-interest. The highest compliment NTs hand out is to call someone “selfless.” I remember Harry Potter was so-described. Let’s look at selflessness for a moment. Harry Potter was protected from Lord Voldemort, who wanted to destroy him, by his mother’s selfless sacrifice of her own life on his behalf. But, the moment he would become an adult, his protection would vanish. So his friends arranged a risky means of moving him to a safer place at that moment. Lives were lost during this transfer but it succeeded. So what did “selfless” Harry do the moment he was safe? He prepared to leave this place of safety because he didn’t want to impose danger on his friends by being there. HELLO! His friends had already lost lives and sacrificed much. So idiot-Harry wants it all to have been for naught? He could have wandered off into the world without protection and spared them the peril if he was so damned selfless. Ever hear the phrase “too good to live?”
While selflessness is reified, “selfishness,” it’s opposite, is shamed. Nobody wants to admit s/he considers hir own self-interest first. Nobody but a psychopath, that is. James Renard said it well. “An example of the second difference (morals that only a psychopath would have) is “to thine own self be true”. Whereas most people would view this statement merely in terms of self-identity, I take it altogether more literally. My primary function is to help myself. Ergo, where helping others takes precedence over helping myself, I am being true not to myself but to the weakness of others. Altruism is self-betrayal and time spent helping others when you could be helping yourself is shameful weakness, and morally repugnant to me.” There is something vitally refreshing in being able to proclaim, not as a shameful admission, but as a point of pride, that it is, not only alright, but right to put oneself first. It takes courage and self-regard to unapologetically claim it as a right. They say we have a sense of self-entitlement. Damn straight, we do!