Sunday, February 12, 2012

Psychopaths

I was watching a BBC programme on psychopaths late last night. They are people who, basically, do not feel empathy, so it is not a problem for them if they do awful things to other people.

Researchers have been doing brain scans on psychopaths, and there are areas of the brain that do not light up in the way normal people’s brains do. And they’ve also found a gene responsible.

Fascinating stuff. Incidentally I’m not anti-science, though I might sometimes give that impression. What I’m anti is science using its establishment power to insist that it is the only valid way of describing reality. In that way it is no different to the medieval Catholic Church.

Anyway, one of the researchers, James Fallon, who is a well-known brain scientist, decided to test his family for the psychopath gene. In his family there is a history of violent murderers. And guess who in his immediate family turned out to have the gene? You’ve guessed it, Mr Fallon himself. He was astounded, as he is not an obvious psychopath, yet when he asked his family, they all went actually there is something odd about you, something a bit detached, it’s like you are 2 people, and then he confessed that when something awful happens to someone, he really doesn’t care.

The reason he says he is not an active monster is because he had a healthy childhood. He reckons that the combination of an abusive childhood plus the gene is what is needed to create a real psycho.

The programme then moved on to a legal case in the US, in which a man had murdered his wife. In court it was argued that he’d had an abusive childhood AND had the psycho gene, and could therefore not be held fully responsible for what he had done: what he did was inevitable when you look at his brain and background. The arguments were accepted and the guy got done for some sort of manslaughter instead of murder.
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This is fascinating, for it raises all sorts of questions about free will and determinism and responsibility and is our behaviour just the inevitable product of brain chemistry? Being responsible for your actions in relation to others is fundamental to being human, so though that guy got off the charge of murder, the reason seems to imply that he did so because he is less than a human being, he is a mere animal.

And it’s not just that people are going to be getting off with things because you can prove their brains are f**$=d. The other side of the coin is that if someone does something harmful and the empathic part of his brain is functional, then you can insist that they were responsible for their actions. And it proves to the criminal that he has the capacity to act otherwise, to make different choices, and that seems to me like a good thing. And probably most criminals will be in this category. Even though a high percentage are psychopaths – in prisons it is around 25% - they are still a minority.

Anders Breivik, who slaughtered 77 people last summer and shocked Norway, is not in my opinion a psychopath. He did it for political reasons but, importantly, he said that when he started the shootings, he found it very difficult, he had an instinctual resistance to killing which he had to overcome. A psychopath would not feel like this. Breivik made a choice: he wilfully ignored his own feelings, which is characteristic of the Aquarius Sun square Uranus that he has in his chart.

The programme explored the training of US marines, and the problems you get afterwards with soldiers who have been trained to kill. It can tip them over the edge and they can end up violent in their civilian lives. And they reckoned it was because killing goes so much against people’s natural instincts. Yes, we have testosterone which makes us aggressive and selfish and capable of killing, but there is also oxytocin which produces empathy. What people do have is a natural desire to protect, so the army trainers, instead of getting the soldiers to hate the enemy and to see them as sub-human, were experimenting with the 'protecting your people' motive. Either way it is a grisly business, but as George Orwell said: “We sleep safely at night because rough men stand ready to visit violence on those who would harm us.”

Perhaps psychopaths are there for evolutionary reasons, they are the ‘rough men’ that a community needs to survive. Psychopaths love to win, to rise to the top. Maybe that is why we glorify the warrior, in order to attract the psychopaths to the role they were made for. Just a speculation.

The programme also briefly looked at psychopaths in the business world, which is said to contain about 4% of them, as opposed to 1% in the population at large. An interesting point made here was that the psychopaths in prominent positions usually produce poor results, but through a combination of charm and force of personality they are able to talk their way out of this.


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10 comments:

Moragh said...

Interesting article. From my admittedly limited experience of psychopaths (gained from working in prison rather than in the boardroom) they seem to exude a kind of animal magnetism & charm of a sort. They're also highly manipulative. In fact, there's not much to choose between the ones at the top of the tree & the ones behind bars, apart from the salaries.

MaryBeth said...

Yes, I married one (now divorced). But the term that is best used to describe a non murderous psychopath is a sociopath. Anyway, you might wish to read the book, "The Sociopath Nextdoor" It's fascinating really to see how common it is...

Anonymous said...

I found Simon Baron Cohen's book "Zero Degrees of Empathy: a new theory of human cruelty" to be a very insightful and informative read. Had me wondering about serial killer, Aileen Wuornos' natal chart with Mars and Neptune at zero degrees.

Anonymous said...

I found Simon Baron Cohen's book "Zero Degrees of Empathy: a new theory of human cruelty" to be a very insightful and informative read. Had me wondering about serial killer, Aileen Wuornos' natal chart with Mars and Neptune at zero degrees.

Magic Dragon said...

Interesting. No doubt Psychopath can find their way into high business positions, which explains a lot about how companies, banks, etc. are run. More so, it puts the finger on a systme that allows for them to get and be there! That has to be reviewed by us all.
Maybe there is an evolutionary reason as you say for psychopath to exist. The same can be said about war. But we need to make things happen, evolve as to make war and psychopath a thing of the past. There should be no reason for violence and we should get to that stage. The sooner the better.

omphale said...

In your research, are there particular astrological configurations that are common to psychopaths/sociopaths ? If an abusive childhood is a contributing factor, I would guess hard aspects to the Moon from Mars or Saturn, or other outer planets...... I browsed through Liz Greene's 'Dark Night of the Soul' years ago, and she suggested that the percentage of psychopaths in any population is higher than the number you gave...... 10-15% as I remember. She also mentioned that when the leader of a country is a sociopath, that he gives a sort of 'permission' for the sociopaths to come 'out of the closet' and act out. GW Bush comes to mind...... and his administration of rendition and torture. Now the sociopaths don't want to go back underground again...... and have taken over what used to be the Republican party in the US.

Anonymous said...

Therapy of sociopaths works best, or only works, if the behavior change desired is linked to their interests. It means making them better sociopaths in service of safety for the rest of us. There is also the matter of age. When they are younger, sociopathy is more energized, and consequences to self interest have not accumulated sufficiently. While sociopaths lack empathy, they sometimes do have anxiety - which can be useful.

TheDeepGoat said...

I love your writings, not only because they are interesting, but because you are not afraid to walk into taboo territories...one could say that our current reality structures on which society has evolved with are errant and 'sociopathic' to nature, and some people may be overwhelmed and driven into removing or reducing or altering these structures as they find them too uncomfortable to exist in!our structures are often anti nature and spirit and some people find it hard to be 'canalised'...if you look at a model of human reality and experience holistically, incorporating many dimensions/expressions, then there will be areas that are wounded, warped, and more 'wires than spirit'...it is these areas that need healing...it is not all 'sweetness and sugar '...and in order to progress in a more balanced way we need to tackle these subjects as you do dharmaruci...thanks for the ground you cover:)

Debbie Rutter said...

Here's an email about psycopaths that did the rounds for a while:

Psychopath Test
Read the question, come up with an answer and then click through for the result. This is not a trick question. It is as it reads.

A woman, while at the funeral of her own mother, met a man who she did not know. She thought he was ‘amazing’. She believed him to be her dream partner so much, that she fell in love with him right there, but never asked for his number and could not find him.

A few days later she killed her sister.

Question: What was her motive for killing her sister?

[Give this some thought before you answer. Click through to read the answer]






This is VERY interesting!

Answer: She was hoping the guy would appear at the funeral again.

If you answered this correctly, you think like a psychopath. This was a test by a famous American psychologist used to test if one has the same mentality as a killer.

Many arrested serial killers took part in the test and answered the question correctly.

It's a hoax of course but amusing.

Fletcher said...

As a victim of a psychopath part of my road to healing came from writing a book. In this book I have recorded transits for the four years the relationship lasted. Significant birth charts are in the back of the book. THE RUSTY VIRGIN, is available as an ebook on my website www.fletcherdale.com