The opening sequence of one of the best Sci-Fi epics of all time; Blade Runner opens up in a dystopian urbanised future where mankind has created a race of androids called “Replicants” that are functionally identical to humans except for one thing: they can’t experience human empathy. They can’t feel emotionally for other beings. The test that is administered to potential Replicants is called the “Voight-Kampff Empathy Test” and it is a much less evolved, much less cool version of this that Joe Ronson has explored in his book “The Psychopath Test”.
The only difference is that in reality the Replicants are actually human and we call them “Psychopaths”. Personally I find that a Hell of a lot scarier.
Utilising the tried and tested Louis Theroux style “Reserved Dry Brit goes in on Quest to be in Proximity to Insane People and Ask Questions of Them”, he has written an entertaining yarn about how he found himself researching how and why people are determined to be psychopathic by modern psychology. He learned that there is indeed a much lauded contemporary test for psychopathy and if your asocial behaviour results in your being subjected to this test and you fail by a governmentally determined unacceptable percentage, you can indeed be labelled a psychopath and lose half your life to institutions that have no real idea how to cure you.
The book addresses the outstanding issues surrounding the test, are psychopaths common? Should everyone be proactively tested and instituationalised if determined to be psychopathic? Is the Psychiatrist who made the test even qualified to do so? How do we tell the difference between a psychopath and an evil person in full control of their faculties? How many psychopaths are there? Should psychopaths be allowed to work in high ranking positions due to the damage they could potentially inflict on the people below them? Is there such thing as a normal person with psychopathic tendencies? It does it in a conversational way that covers a lot of bases but I kind of felt it glossed over important bits in favour of narrative.
As a whole I found reading it to be interesting, but ultimately incredibly frustrating. Pretty much like the author did actually. Hmm. If someone writes a book about finding the process of writing about something to be very disturbing and ultimately frustrating and you walk away from the process of reading it feeling very disturbed and ultimately frustrated, can that be qualified as a good book?
Anyway, the reason it was so unsettling was simple: the book is no more successful at suggesting an cure to the effects psychopaths have on society than society as a whole have managed and it also in my mind kind of missed the real point that one should draw from that. As a result, I’m going to go on a little rant. Because I have to to feel normal about this. For those of you who immediately utilise the vitriol of said rant as hard evidence of my psychopathy I say fuck off or I’ll stab you up the guts right and proper with my favourite box cutter.
So. First of all, I should probably explain exactly what a psychopath actually is because rather unbelievably when you see the potential damage they can inflict on the rest of us, when they have been overtly described at all in popular media they’ve been continuously mis-characterized as plainly insane evil robots who are as obvious as a dude with a black hat, crazy mask, permagrin and a blood spattered butcher knife in his back pocket.
So here’s a shit explanation of what they actually are because the reality is much more nuanced and varied. The common definition of a psychopath is a person who was born without the ability to experience human empathy. This means they don’t feel bad when bad things happen to other people and they don’t feel good when good things happen to people who aren’t them. Even people they have claimed to “love”. This means that when the majority of us were developing an interconnected sense of communal interest based on a mutually agreed group of laws and social contracts that was underpinned by a common sense of hope for positive outcomes and experiences for everyone psychopaths were thinking, how can I take advantage of these stupid fucktards so I get what I want and drive away in a cool car to fuck the prom queen?
The thing is though, what isn’t commonly known is that this doesn’t mean that when you meet a psychopath that they’re deranged or odd or intense or any of the things you would think because one of the first things that psychopaths learn is how to lie. They spend their life lying. This means they’re incredibly good at it. In many cases they’re much better at it than we are at spotting it. They watch how other people act and they imitate it. They know when they should be sad and what that looks like. They know how to be funny and look happy and even in certain cases fake being loving. They can be confident and successful and attractive. They can basically be normal. The book gives multiple examples of charming, funny, effusive multiple mass murdering rapists. Which makes sense. Because they’re PSYCHOPATHS.
And that’s the problem, even the non-violent ones suffer from a complete moral disconnect. Once they get bored, and they always get bored, they stop pretending. And then they become fucking awful. And at any time if they genuinely believe that they can they can just flip on you and get what they want, they will. The best you can hope for is that they deem you necessary to acheive their longterm goals so they don’t actively fuck you over. They make you part of the mechanism of their success.
Now, what I find odd about this is the following and it’s something that the book kind of overlooks: Why in the world aren’t we as a society more focused on finding people like this and exposing their sickness so that they can’t wreak their patterns of self-centered, morally detached insanity on the rest of us? Why do people give a shit about race, or about creed, why do they have witchhunts and look for communists or capitalists when we have determined that this anti-social malady DEFINITELY exists and requires societal action in the same way someone with an anti-social sexual addiction does?
The problem is of course not all psychopaths become violent criminals, many of them grow up knowing that it’s important that they blend in so they’re hard to spot. Mix in the fear many people feel at our inability to prove psychopathy beyond a shadow of a doubt resulting in worries at incorrect diagnoses committing normal people and you see why most people aren’t pushing for change. If psychopaths grow up in middle class or rich families they can of course learn to toe the line and work hard and ultimately become respected members of our high-return industries, typically being extremely successful in financial and corporate communities. Then when they’re given the opportunity, they do whatever they can to win. And instead of seeing why they did it we laud them for their success. They destroy communities, invest in things that they know to be wrong, decimate the moral standards for their industry, expand pain and unemployment and put us all at risk because ultimately they don’t give a shit about us. Their actions then have a trickle down effect because normal people think “Well if I don’t do this, someone else will” not realising that the someone else they mean may be a fucking PSYCHOPATH.
If people want to ask ourselves why we so frequently hear statements from our business community that seem bereft of all humanity, we have no one to blame but ourselves for letting people with this predilection get into positions of power. Why the hell don’t we insist on having less fucking skinjobs in our banks?
And it’s not like this is new news. There is no more oft used trope in modern storytelling than that of the human being who’s utterly evil behavior doesn’t seem to be hampered by the whys and wherefores of what we commonly term human empathy. It seems kind of metropolitan to chuck in a psycho, a wolf in sheep’s clothing, like the inability to experience human empathy is a direct consequence of proximity to excellent museums, glass skyscrapers and cocktail bars. We can typically spot psychopaths in TV and movies because they seem flat, undeveloped, obviously bad and totally disconnected from the pain they are happily inflicting on the rest of the characters. But the insanely weird thing is for the most part, we don’t these characters as ‘psychopaths”. Instead we define them as the “baddie”, as if their evilness was some kind of intrinsic aspect of their being that came as a result of a series of consciously evil decisions rather than a result of a maldeveloped emotional landscape. But what if it’s not??
Emperor Palpatine, Hans Gruber, Agent Smith, Alonzo Harris, Annie Wilkes, Cyrus Grissom, Dick Jones, Fernand Mondego, General Zod, Lex Luthor, Maximillian Shreck, The Sheriff of Nottingham, Simon Phoenix, The Terminator, Anton Chigurh.
Why hasn’t anyone said “Do these people all have something in common?” Or at the least, “Did these people learn their behavior from a psychopath?” It’s almost enough to make you think that somewhere there is a secret society of self-aware psychopaths working from a dark bunker to destroy and enslave the hated Empaths so that they can finally reign supreme.* And I don’t just mean Hitler, Stalin and Simon Cowell.
In my mind it’s fundamentally important that at the very least we don’t overlook the fact that psychopaths are usually much more successful than other people because they discount the common rules that we all abide by as malleable if they don’t get caught, so what seems like common sense about what works best can lead you to the absolutely ridiculous idea that what psychopaths want is what works best and as such what they say should happen should be acceptable. And that is totally insane. It allows the moral underpinnings of our community to be destroyed and for us to live in a society where people lie to each others face while fucking each other over as a standard. And no where else in the world is this more evident than in our current financial situation. Do you think we’d be in this global recession if “Do Unto Others” was the standard behaviour?
It’s an evidenced fact that there is a much greater concentration of psychopaths in two arenas, maximum security prisons and the financial sector. How in God name is this not bigger news? Has no-one simply put the dots together? Does no-one think it might be an interesting thought experiment to institute testing of our leaders? Of our leader’s subordinates? Of the people in charge of our economy, our healthcare, our laws? Can anyone REALLY look at someone like Rick Perry and not wonder “Is he even capable of experiencing empathy?”
I say this now and I say it loud: PSYCHOPATHS ARE REAL AND THEY WANT TO FUCKING DESTROY YOU! HIDE YO KIDS, HIDE YO WIFE!
If we’re gonna have another witchhunt, if we’re gonna blame someone for ANYTHING let’s do it in the right direction. Ask a neighbour or a loved one today:
ARE YOU FUCKING PSYCHO??
*If I die in what seems like incredibly unsuspicious circumstances in the near future, I hope someone puts two and two together.