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What I liked about this book: It is very well written. Its substance, however, is cartoonish pop psychology masquerading as information. It draws its popularity from the same source as the The Da Vinci Code, under-informed, uncritical readers with a penchant for sensationalism; mostly [redacted]. In the hands of its intended audience, it is pure mind poison. This evil class is partly bred by American tradition and society because they reward people for being competitive and individualistic and then helps the evil sociopaths hide.
Thus, the reader is indirectly victimized even by the institutions of American culture. But this book gives you the easy steps you need to survive the evil, so buy a copy for your friends—your non-sociopath friends, that is. Thus, all con men are sociopaths. All non-starving burglars and thieves are sociopaths. Leaders who start wars are sociopaths Jefferson Davis? Your ex who lied to you and manipulated you? A friend lies to you three times—only probably a sociopath. This idea is so bad, it is amazing it made it into print. One can see why the book finds a market.
Conspicuous examples include former U. The book then implies that most politicians and successful business people are probable sociopaths.
The books recommends tests such as: Has the person lied to you three times? Has the person hurt you more than once and asked for mercy? However, even the constellation of factors from the DSM is embarrassingly non-specific: Sounds like most high school students. Thus, the mean old woman next door who has a trust fund and fights with her neighbors over trifles and who puts a rock over a groundhog hole in her own yard is a sociopath. You can find a sociopath wherever you want to—with the help of this book. In the pages of The Sociopath Next Door, you will realize that your ex was not just misunderstood.
They have judged their audience well. I have a conscience. I am not a sociopath denier. I believe in sociopathy. I believe it is fairly common. If a person lies to you, or hurts you, or cheats you, you should drop them because that person did bad things to you, not because a book says the person has a psychiatric disorder that makes them a member of an invisible evil society of the congenitally amoral that you can only see with included decoder glasses. The main fallacy of the book is that it begins by saying sociopaths are hard even for professionals to detect, but then claims that this book can let anyone do it.
This is accomplished because the book makes the remarkable conclusion that everyone who persistently does bad things is a sociopath. So what value is the book? It is mainly good at one thing: Making money for Martha. Beyond that, it is also very thought provoking as an exemplar of what can pass for legitimate publishing these days. Even so, the book asks many good questions. The books gets one star, not because it is all bad or badly executed. There are innumerable quality chunks in it.
However, the cumulative effect of the book is, in my opinion, as dangerous and anti-social as the activity of any sociopath. This pernicious effect of the book is not only terrifically obvious, but far outweighs any claim that the book, in its present form, is valuable as a "warning" or "tool" for people to protect themselves with. The book wantonly maximizes these anti-social and sensationalist effects and embraces them as a path to the best seller list and to big money. The complete absence of conscience from the author's decision-making is all too palpable.
View all 26 comments. Jan 03, Bill Kerwin rated it liked it. An entertaining and informative book, the thesis of which is that the conscienceless among us are not restricted to the serial killers, CEO's, lawyers and politicians among us, but may also be teachers, doctors, nurses, clergy--anyone who is impervious to the bond of love and cares about nothing but power and the ability to manipulate other people.
View all 21 comments. Oct 07, Petra X rated it did not like it Shelves: Somehow or other this review lost it's original story. I don't know how, so I'm putting it in. Not so much because it is a review of the book it isn't but because I never want to forget it, I want to set it down. Living next door to a sociopath is terrible, one of the worst things you an imagine. I want to remember it properly and this was the story.
The part of the review that remains is the end story that led up to the finale as it were, that I wrote at the time it was happening. So I've lef Somehow or other this review lost it's original story. So I've left it at the bottom. She told the landlady the builder was stealing materials. The apartments are set in quite a lot of land and require a gardener, the neighbour wanted to arrange that and also the letting and collecting of rents as the landlady lives on another island. She wanted there to be a high turnover of tenants so she scratched cars, picked locks or otherwise got into apartments, disconnected the gas, drained the cisterns, complained about them etc.
She pretended to be my friend for a year or so because her best friend was a very long-time good friend of mine. When I had to leave my apartment because the landlord wanted to rebuild it , she found me this place. She told terrible lies about her life, maybe I was meant to know she was lying, maybe not. Because of that she popped my car tyres - three times in a week once, which led the tyre lady who fixes them to do it for free, interfered with the radiator and scratched the car. She did a lot of stuff in my place and around it.
She killed my cat. The mistakes she made were that the builder, who was my next door neighbour at the time, is a very decent person and he was building it up for free for the landlady because her husband had died and she needed security and the families were very close. So the builder couldn't steal what was his! The neighbour knew none of this. The second mistake she made was that I lived next door to the builder for fifteen years so they knew me. They knew I wasn't a troublemaker.
The third mistake was that although the policeman who dealt with it, and who was a friend, couldn't devise a method to catch her. She disconnected the electricity when she bust into my house so the cameras didn't work. Although he couldn't do it, he did support me and on the day when he was away that her boyfriend threatened me and my son with the rock, and he phoned the police station to complain, he got an officer whose father and my grandmother were close friends.
He said the right things And that was the end of that. Two and a half years of that. Oh and my close friend doesn't speak to me. She said that the ex neighbour wouldn't stand for her still being friends with me so Our kids grew up together. Its like my mind goes blank faced with any kind of self-help book. Perhaps, even with my appalling criminal neighbour I'm beyond redemption.
I cannot finish this book. Hell, I can hardly start it. Its sitting in my kitchen window so if the psychopathic neighbour decides to break in again she will see it: My only way of annoying my neighbour I'm neither a criminal nor a psychopath was revving up my jeep outside her window for a minute or two and it drove her insane. We had the police up within the hour. A stupid man he phoned the landlady to complain and she told him that since he didn't live there or pay rent there he had no right to complain. The landlady then phoned the neighbour who presumed I had complained, the boyfriend not having wanted to confess his ignominous dismissal by the landlady, and said it was all a lie, I had made it up.
She also quite gratuiously told the landlady that the only reason she had taken my cat was that I put it in the back of her car and it woke up eight miles later and scratched hell out of the boyfriend so they threw it out of the car! Anyone with a cat knows the cat would have scratched them to death by the bottom of the drive. The landlady said that it was the boyfriend, not me, who had phoned her and that she was a liar and gave her notice to leave.
That was back in November. Hides her car and pulls her blinds down in case a lawyer comes to serve her papers. The landlady says she has a lawyer but since she lives on a different island she hardly ever comes over to see what is going on. I don't care, the neighbour is so frightened she hides behind her pulled-down blinds and restricts her mischief to keying mine and another neighbour's vehicles. I could live with it. It took more than a year for the landlady and lawyers to get her out.
Since then I've had nice neighbours. Original review was written 28 April , but most of the story was missing, so I rewrote it 5 August View all 25 comments. Jul 20, Bob rated it it was amazing Shelves: This book has sparked more re-evaluation by me than any other book I've read for quite some time. The author postulates that conscience is based on the ability to have emotional attachment to other people. Sociopaths are incapable of such attachments.
They see other people as objects which are to be dominat This book has sparked more re-evaluation by me than any other book I've read for quite some time. They see other people as objects which are to be dominated or manipulated. Sociopaths are capable of simulating positive emotions when it suits their manipulative purposes.
The classic example is the abuser who tries to get the victim to pity and forgive the abuser: In fact, a constant appeal to pity and sympathy is put forward as one of the most telling signs that one is dealing with a sociopath. This is all complicated by the fact that sociopaths are often quite charming manipulation, remember? Unlike people with attachment disorder who are incapable of charm. But a sociopath can be ruthless when it serves their interests and they think they can get away with it.
So, a sociopath may be well-liked in public and hated by those in private life who are toyed with to satiate the sociopath's relentless crusade against being bored. The sociopath doesn't feel bad about the victims, unlike a narcissist who feels bad if other people don't like the narcissist as much as the narcissist does. Since starting to read the book, I've been looking at all of my friends and family and myself as if with new eyes.
That some people who I know are sociopaths would go a long way to explain some of the behavior I'd otherwise be at a loss to explain. I might have considered the possibility sooner had I known that sociopathy occurs so frequently. The book contains much interesting info, including how to recognize and deal with a sociopath.
The only part of the book that dragged for me was The Origins of Conscience, but luckily it only drones on for fifteen pages. The rest of the book I found to be very interesting. Okay, now that I'm on guard against sociopaths, the next book I need to read is how not to be paranoid! View all 5 comments. If given the opportunity to read a text about sociopathy and its prevalence, don't bother reading Stout's work.
Instead, read "Without Conscience" by the psychologist Hare. Hare's work on sociopathy is notable in the field, and after reading it, you will be shocked to notice that entire sections of "The Sociopath Next Door" appear to be lifted from "Without Conscience," slightly reworded, and placed into the text. View all 4 comments. There's a whole lot of fear mongering going on here. The Sociopath Next Door, I'd give it 2. I keep going back and forth between 2 and 3 stars. According to Martha Stout, just about everyone knows a few sociopaths I know two people for sure that I used to work with I may even be related to one.
But the author gets a little dramatic. Yes, these people are ruthless, they don't care about anyone's feelings they really don't have many of their own. But if you ke There's a whole lot of fear mongering going on here. But if you keep your eye's open, hopefully you can spot them and avoid them. If you can't avoid them, then just don't get caught up in their games But the author makes it sound as if we are all doomed and we must prepare ourselves for the Sociopath Apocalypse a better title for this book.
I found a site that lists a Sociopath tendencies Sure does to me They are the mean people. But their existence must suck for them. So good, thanks Karma. There were some good stories in this book and the descriptions of the sociopath were well done. As I was reading, I had a few moments of View all 32 comments. Mar 10, Caroline rated it it was amazing Recommends it for: Fans of things brain-related, Hare's Without Conscience, true crime and psychological thrillers.
Stout knew this and smartly interspersed her narrative with captivating non-fictional anecdotes and the occasional fictional anecdote to illustrate her to-the-point explanations about this terrifying disorder. Such a set-up keeps interest high while making the subject very accessible to the lay reader; this is not a tedious psychiatric work that feels like homework to read.
Readers searching for a quality book about sociopathy will be pleased with this choice. A must-read-now that will change the way readers view the world around them. View all 41 comments. Jul 06, Laura rated it it was ok Shelves: You know that neighbor of yours who ignores you when you say hello to him in the hall?
In fact, four percent of the United States' population is composed of sociopaths. You know what this means, don't you? That might as well be the flap copy of Martha Stout's book, which doesn't seek to enlighten so much as to inflame. Stout throws out a lot of scary-sounding statistics cobbled together with some vaguely philoso You know that neighbor of yours who ignores you when you say hello to him in the hall?
Stout throws out a lot of scary-sounding statistics cobbled together with some vaguely philosophical maundering about the nature of conscience, presents a bunch of unpleasant characters purportedly drawn from real life, and informs us that sociopaths are freely interspersed among us, trying as hard as they can to ruin our lives. All is not lost, though, as Stout also gives us a list of 13 rules we can use to thwart the sociopathic horde -- some of which, such as "The best way to protect yourself from a sociopath is to avoid him, to refuse any kind of contact or communication," might be of limited use if the person you're dealing with is, say, your boss a likely scenario, if you take Stout's thesis seriously.
She then ends the list with "Living well is the best revenge. To make matters worse, a glance at the end notes reveals that Stout bases her conclusions on statistics gathered from old studies -- the book was published in and a lot of the source materials are dated and earlier -- which makes you wonder about the basis of her conclusions. Stout doesn't help her argument by using composite characters, at least one of whom the aforementioned nasty neighbor appears to be completely fictional.
The Sociopath Next Door by Martha Stout
Another supposed case study, while perhaps based on a real person, is obviously mostly fictional, as Stout purports to tell us what exactly what the person was thinking when she did so and so a terrible thing to such and such an innocent victim. The reader is left wondering why, if this problem is so widespread, Stout couldn't have presented her audience with some real people.
The most interesting and enlightening parts of the book are Stout's recounting of other studies -- for example, the famous Milgram experiment. Stout also presents an interesting discussion of the difference between sociopathy and narcissism. But these brief glimmers of interest provide nowhere near enough basis to slog through this whole book.
View all 6 comments. Jul 27, Abel rated it really liked it Shelves: A weird byproduct of listening to this book a Daily Deal, well worth it was a conscious undercurrent of pitting myself against the composite sociopaths depicted. I kept thinking, I hope it's not me. Or, It can't be me. Then that led to, Only a sociopath would see himself in a book about sociopaths. So ultimately I decided that I'm a narcissist with sociopathic tendencies. This is exactly why I don't read side-effects of medications, or delve too deep into Zen Buddhism--koans? Get the hell A weird byproduct of listening to this book a Daily Deal, well worth it was a conscious undercurrent of pitting myself against the composite sociopaths depicted.
Get the hell outta here, those break my fragile mind, cause cosmic vertigo--or follow any campaign trails. Some things, while enlightening, taint a neurotic. So what'd I do about rekiltering my autodiagnosis? I bought a book about narcissism. And of course I'll find myself in there. I will have to cleanse the palate with something after all this mental disorder, maybe Seuss. Let's get this out of the way - I find the idea of sociopathy some call it psychopathy, others call it anti-social personality disorder infinitely fascinating.
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The fact that some people can go about their lives with the inability to love, the inability to form emotional attachments and a pure and total lack of empathy for their fellow man is as interesting as it is terrifying. In practice, sociopathy is a scary thing. I have a feeling I have crossed paths with more than one sociopathic person Let's get this out of the way - I find the idea of sociopathy some call it psychopathy, others call it anti-social personality disorder infinitely fascinating. I have a feeling I have crossed paths with more than one sociopathic person in my life, and you probably have too.
This book helped shed some light on exactly why I might have felt that a certain person was a little off when I first met them, but it wasn't quite what I was expecting. This book does give hints and tips about pin pointing the sociopaths in your life, but it is weighed down so heavily in overly wordy, scientific language that at times I thought I was back in high school falling asleep while trying to read my psychology text book.
If you're into a lot of references, heavily researched hypotheses and the occasional case study, then this book is for you. I much preferred the case study chapters and they were the only thing that kept me going throughout this book. As it is, this took me a month to read. This shit is dense. However, having said that, this book is filled with truth bombs. The reflections of society as a whole, flashbacks to studies about human nature and hypotheses about the evolution of conscience as our seventh sense are equal parts enlightening and horrifying.
This was a mixed bag, the case studies were incredible but I wish there were more of them.
Overall, I feel like I learnt a lot and will hopefully be able to more effectively identify sociopaths in the wild , now. I will probably read more from this lady, she certainly knows what she's talking about. Perhaps she's a sociopath herself and we'll never know, unless we use her tricks against her! Now I'm just being paranoid. O 3 Stars I originally picked up this book because this amazing podcast mentioned it in passing. If you like true crime, you should be listening to them. And if you are already, let me know!
I'd love to know if you're a fellow murderino. View all 10 comments. This is a good, though somewhat light being intended for the pop-psych crowd description of just what a sociopath is, what makes them tick, how to recognize them, and how to avoid them. It's not full of gruesome crimes or case studies, because Stout's key message is that sociopaths, for the most part, are not psychotic serial killers. They are seemingly ordinary people who can live ordinary lives fooling most everyone around them. And if you do realize that someone is a sociopath, there isn't This is a good, though somewhat light being intended for the pop-psych crowd description of just what a sociopath is, what makes them tick, how to recognize them, and how to avoid them.
And if you do realize that someone is a sociopath, there isn't much you can do about it if they aren't actually doing anything criminal. Sociopaths all play dominance games and view other people -- even their own families -- as objects to be manipulated and used, so the only thing you can do is disengage, even if the sociopath is your own parent or child.
The scariest and most heartbreaking thing about them is that they are completely incurable. Stout's lengthy explanation of conscience is sometimes interesting, though full of a lot of speculation, blending as she does viewpoints from every field from religion and mysticism to evolutionary psychology. She tries to address questions like "What causes sociopaths? The fact is that according to Stout 1 in 25 Americans is a sociopath, and this crosses all economic and social strata. Contrary to what you might assume, sociopaths don't seem to be produced by abusive or traumatic childhoods.
She tries hard to argue that sociopathy is a combination of innate and environmental factors, and clearly there is no gene for sociopathy, but it does seem to be the case that sociopaths are pretty much born, not made. If there is any way to detect early warning signs that a young child might have sociopathic tendencies and correct it before it's too late, psychology does not yet seem to have figured it out. Stout claims without a lot of evidence, I thought that sociopathy is more common in Western society.
Obviously sociopaths have always existed in every society, but she argues that Western society encourages sociopathic behavior by giving rewards to "winners" even if they win through ruthless and unscrupulous means. I find this questionable; not that sociopaths can rise high in the political or business world obviously they can but that any other society is better at filtering out people without a conscience. There's plenty of ruthlessness and corruption in Asia, the Middle East, Africa, and even small tribal societies, so I really doubt sociopaths thrive less there than here in the U.
Stout ends the book with an attempt at a reassuring message that sociopaths really don't win in the end; that they mostly live hollow lives of perpetual unfulfillment and can never even appreciate what they are missing. This may be true, but I suspect a lot of sociopaths feel pretty darn self-fulfilled when they get what they want. Nice guys may not always finish last, but if you're competing with a sociopath, it's going to be an ugly race, and the evidence around us suggests we are competing with a lot of them.
May 02, Julie rated it really liked it Recommended to Julie by: Don't read this book if you have a tendency to be paranoid. I'm now looking around me now wondering, "Is SHE a sociopath? One WITH conscience cannot fathom what this might even be like, and "sociopath" seems like such an extreme label, so the non-sociopaths rarely identify sociopaths as sociopaths "we" make excuses for their questionable behavior, because how on earth could someone actually be doing what this looks like they're doing?
That makes them dangerous. A couple quick giveaways in addition to your intuition that "something's wrong with this person" is: Do not play their game you won't win , and cut them out of your life. Jul 02, Mizuki rated it really liked it Shelves: I read the Chinese translation of the book. So what should we do with this knowledge? Here are a few hints: Plus most of these sociopaths do not admit they have any problem. Plus in their mind, everyone expects themselves are only game pieces on the board for them to manipulate and move around.
Because it isn't uncommon for conscience to be misdirect or blurred away. For example, people can think like this: Well, some reviewers dislike the author Martha Stout for singling out and labeling people as 'sociopaths'. However, as a layman, I have to ask: Why shouldn't we be taught to recognize the typical traits of predators and psychic vampires before they can hook their claws on us? Jul 10, Shell rated it it was amazing Recommends it for: Let me begin by saying, I'm not a psychologist and honestly, I know very little about it.
I took two psychology classes in college years ago and that's about the extent of my knowledge. I did, however, love this book. It was comprised mostly of case studies and Dr. Stout's 25 years of experiences dealing with clients who have been affected and harmed by sociopaths in their lives. It discusses how manipulative, deceitful, charming, personable and fake a sociopath can be and the lengths one would Let me begin by saying, I'm not a psychologist and honestly, I know very little about it.
It discusses how manipulative, deceitful, charming, personable and fake a sociopath can be and the lengths one would be willing to go to get what they want. Whether it be the power of getting others to respond and do as they wish, dominating another, controlling another or getting good people to doubt themselves. Whatever the case may be, a sociopath does it with a plan in mind. At first, Reebok had been not very different from the Audi, an- other acquisition, a marker of Joe's independence and material pros- perity.
But soon Joe had fallen in love with the animal himself. Reebok adored Joe unconditionally, and from puppy- hood had followed him around the house as if Joe were the center of all that was good in the universe. As his puppy grew to doghood, Joe realized that this creature had as distinct and individual a personal- ity as any human being, and that his liquid brown eyes contained at least as much soul.
Now, whenever Joe looks into those eyes, Reebok wrinkles his soft beige brow into several folded-carpet furrows and stares back. In this way, the sweet, ungainly dog appears preternatu- rally thoughtful, as if he can read Joe's mind and is concerned. Sometimes when there is a business trip, like today, Joe is gone from home for a day and a half, or even a little longer, and each time he comes back, Reebok greets him at the door with bounding joy and instantaneous forgiveness.
Before he takes one of these trips, Joe always leaves large mixing bowls full of food and water for Reebok to consume in his absence, which Reebok does easily. But this time, between the furnace problem and his panic about the 8: The dog has no food and maybe even no water, and no way to get any until tomorrow evening, when Joe returns from his trip.
The Sociopath Next Door
Maybe I can call someone to help out, Joe thinks desperately. He is between girlfriends at present, and so no one has a key to his house. The impossibility of his situation begins to dawn on him, and he grips the steering wheel even harder. He absolutely must make this meeting, and he can be there on time if he just keeps going. But what about Reebok?
He will not starve to death in a day and a half, Joe knows, but he will be miserable — and the water — how long does it take an animal to die of dehydration? Joe has no idea. Still driving as fast as the traffic will bear, he tries to think about his options. The available choices tumble over one another in a rush. He can attend the 8: He can go to the meeting and leave in the middle. He can try to get a later flight, but then he will be very late for his appointment in New York, may even miss it entirely, which could cost him his job.
He can ignore the dog until tomorrow. He can turn around now, miss the 8: Like a man in pain, Joe moans loudly and slumps in his seat. He turns the car around and goes home to feed Reebok. Amazingly, from a certain point of view, the human being we are calling Joe decides to be absent from an important meeting with some wealthy clients, an event he has spent several days planning for, and where his personal interests quite clearly reside.
At first, he does everything he can to get to the meeting on time, risking all the , possessions in his town house to a repairman he has never met be- fore, and his own physical safety in his car. And then, at the very last minute, he turns around and goes home to feed a dog, a guileless, wordless creature who could not even so much as reprove Joe for ig- noring him.
Joe sacrifices a high-stakes desire of his own in favor of an action that no one will witness except maybe the repairman , a choice that will not enrich him by even one penny, hat could pos- sibly cause a young, ambitious lawyer to do such a thing? Most readers will smile a little when Joe turns his car around.
We feel pleased with him for going back to feed his dog. But why are we pleased? Is Joe acting out of conscience'? Is this what we mean when we make an approving remark about someone's behavior, such as "His conscience stopped him"? The question is a complicated one, even as it pertains to the sim- ple vignette about Joe and Reebok, because, surprisingly, there are a number of motivations other than conscience that, separately or to- gether, might cause Joe — might cause any of us — to make an appar- ently self-sacrificing choice.
For example, perhaps Joe simply cannot stomach the thought of returning from his New York trip to find a Labrador retriever dehydrated and dead on his kitchen floor. Not knowing how long a dog can survive without water, he is unwilling to take the risk, but his aversion to the horrifying scenario is not exactly conscience. It is something more like revulsion or fear. Or maybe Joe is motivated by what the neighbors will think if they hear Reebok howling in hunger, or, worse, if they learn the dog has died, alone and trapped, while Joe was on a business trip.
How will he ever explain himself to his friends and acquaintances? This worry is not really Joe's conscience, either, but rather his anticipation of serious embarrassment and social rejection. If this is why Joe goes back home to feed his dog, he is hardly the first human being to make a decision based on the dread of what others will think of him, rather than on what he might do if he were sure his actions would remain a complete secret.
The opinions of other people keep us all in line, arguably better than anything else. Or maybe this is all a matter of the way Joe sees himself. Perhaps Joe does not want to view himself, in his own mind's eye, as the kind of wretch who would commit animal abuse, and his self-image as a decent person is crucial enough to him that, when he has no other alternative, he will forgo an important meeting in the service of pre- serving that image.
This is an especially plausible explanation for Joe's behavior. The preservation of self-image is a motivator of some notoriety. In literature and often in historical accounts of human ac- tion, dedication to one's own self-regard is referred to as "honor. Maybe Joe is willing to relinquish a few career points today in or- der to feel okay when he looks at himself in the mirror tomorrow, in order to remain "honorable" in his own eyes.
This would be laudable and very human — but it is not conscience. The intriguing truth of the matter is that much of what we do that looks like conscience is motivated by some other thing alto- gether — fear, social pressure, pride, even simple habit. And where Joe is concerned, a number of readers will strongly favor an expla- nation other than conscience because some of his behaviors are al- ready questionable. He routinely leaves his young dog alone for many hours at a time, sometimes for nearly two days.
This very morning, though he is skipping his meeting and going home to feed the dog, he still intends to make that Reebok will have no one to be with, and nowhere to go except a small fenced-in backyard. Consigning a dog to such a situation is not very nice — it reflects, at best, a certain lack of empathy on Joe's part for the animal's social needs. Still, truth to tell, being nice would not necessarily be conscience, either.
For brief periods, any reasonably clever sociopath can act with saintlike niceness for his own manipulative purposes. And peo- ple who do possess conscience are often unkind despite themselves, out of ignorance or, as in Joe's case perhaps, inadequate empathy, or just run-of-the-mill psychological denial. Conscience is something that we feel. Conscience exists primarily in the realm of "affect," better known as emotion.
To clarify this distinction, let us take another look at Joe. He is not always nice to his dog, but does he have a conscience? What ev- idence would cause, say, a psychologist to decide that, when Joe passed up his meeting and went home to rescue Reebok, he was act- ing out of conscience rather than because of what other people would think, or to preserve his own self-image, or maybe from the noteworthy financial consideration that, three years before, he had paid twelve hundred dollars for a purebred Labrador puppy guaran- teed against hip dysplasia and heart disease?
As a psychologist, I am persuaded most by a feature of the story we have not even addressed until now — the fact that Joe feels affec- tion for Reebok. He is emotionally attached to his dog. Reebok fol- lows Joe around the house, and Joe likes it. Joe gazes into Reebok's eyes. Reebok has changed Joe from a trophy pet owner to a smitten pet owner. And on account of this attachment, I believe that when Joe gave up his morning plan and went home to take care of his dog, he may possibly have been acting out of conscience. If we could give Joe a truth serum and ask him what was going on inside him at the moment he decided to turn the car around, and he were to say some- thing like, "I just couldn't stand it that Reebok was going to be there hungry and thirsty all that time," then I would be reasonably con- vinced that Joe was conscience-driven in this situation.
I would be basing my evaluation of Joe on the psychology of con- science itself. Conscience can motivate us to make seemingly irrational and even self-destructive decisions, from the trivial to the heroic, from missing an 8: It can drive us in this way only because its fuel is none other than our strongest affections.
And witnessing or hear- ing about an act of conscience, even one as ordinary as feeding a dog, pleases us, because any conscience-bound choice reminds us of the sweet ties that bind. A story about conscience is a story about the connectedness of living things, and in unconscious recognition, we smile at the true nature of the tale. We understand how excruci- ating Joe's feelings are as he struggles with his conscience, and we smile at Joe and Reebok — because we always smile at lovers.
The History of Conscience. Some people will never experience the exquisite angst that results from letting others down, or hurting them, or depriving them, or even killing them. If the first five senses are the physical ones — sight, hearing, touch, smell, taste — and the "sixth sense" is how we refer to our intuition, then conscience can be numbered seventh at best. It developed later in the evolution of our species and is still far from universal. To make matters murkier, in the day-to-day course of our lives, we are usually unable to tell the difference between those who pos- sess conscience and those who do not.
Could an ambitious young lawyer conceivably have a seventh sense? Could a mother of several young children have a seventh sense? Of course she could. Let us hope so. Could the powerful political leader of a whole nation of people have a con- science? Or, contrastingly, could any of these people be utterly without conscience? The answer is once again, unnervingly, yes. The anonymity of "evil" and its maddening refusal to attach itself reliably to any particular societal role, racial group, or physical type has always plagued theologians and, more recently, scientists.
Throughout human history, we have tried mightily to pin down "good" and "evil," and to find some way to account for those in our midst who would seem to be inhabited by the latter. In the fourth century, the Christian scholar Saint Jerome introduced the Greek word synderesis to describe the innate God-given ability to sense the difference between good and evil. He interpreted Ezekiel's biblical vision of four living creatures emerging from a cloud "with brightness round about it, and fire flashing forth continually.
The face in front was human, the face on the right was that of a lion, the left face was that of an ox, and the face in back was an eagle's. In Jerome's interpretation of Ezekiel's dream, the human face repre- sented the rational part of man, the lion reflected the emotions, the ox symbolized the appetites, and the lofty eagle was "that spark of conscience which was not quenched even in the heart of Cain. And yet in some men we see this con- science overthrown and displaced; they have no sense of guilt or shame for their sins.
Augustine assured his followers that "men see the moral rules written in the book of light which is called Truth from which all laws are copied. Why do we "see this con- science overthrown and displaced" in some people? And this ques- , tion remained at the center of the theological discussion about conscience for many centuries. Despite the sticky wicket, the alter- native suggestion — the proposal that only some people had con- science — was impossible to make, because it would have meant that by withholding the Truth from a few of His servants, God Himself had created evil in the world and had distributed it, in seeming ran- domness, among all the types and enterprises of humanity.
A solution to the theological dilemma over conscience seemed to come in the thirteenth century, when Thomas Aquinas proposed a roundabout distinction between synderesis, Saint Jerome's infallible God-given knowledge of right and wrong, and conscientia, which was comprised of mistake-prone human reason as it struggled to reach decisions about behavior. To make its choices concerning which ac- tions to take, Reason was supplied with perfect information from God, but Reason itself was rather weak.
In this system, fallible hu- man decision making, not a lack of conscience, is to blame for wrong decisions and actions. Doing wrong is simply making a mistake. In contrast, according to Aquinas, "Synderesis cannot err; it provides principles which do not vary, just as the laws that govern the physi- cal universe do not vary. Conscientia, a mental debate about how to behave, then takes this Truth into con- sideration. The fact that Joe does not turn the car around instanta- neously but, instead, spends a few minutes deliberating is the result of the natural weakness of human reason.
That Joe does make the right decision in the end means, in Aquinas's scheme, that Joe's moral virtues are, through strengthened Reason, developing in the right direction. Getting down to theology's brass tacks, according to the early church fathers, 1 the rules of morality are absolute; 2 all people innately know the absolute Truth; and 3 bad behavior is the result of faulty thinking, rather than a lack of synderesis, or conscience, and Since we all have a conscience, if only human reason were perfect, there would be no bad behavior.
And indeed, these are the three be- liefs about conscience that have been held by much of the world throughout most of modern history. Their influence on the way we think about ourselves and other people, even today, is inestimable. The third belief is especially hard to let go of. Nearly a millennium after Aquinas made his pronouncement about synderesis, when someone consistently behaves in ways we find unconscionable, we call on an updated version of the "weak Reason" paradigm.
We spec- ulate that the offender has been deprived, or that his mind is dis- turbed, or that his early background makes him do it. We remain extremely reluctant to propose the more straightforward explanation that either God or nature simply failed to provide him with a con- science. For several hundred years, discussions about conscience tended to center around the relationship between human reason and di- vinely given moral knowledge.
A few corollary debates were added, most recently the one over proportionalism, a divine loophole wherein Reason asks us to do something "bad" in order to bring about some- thing else that is "good" — a "just war," for example. Freud proposed that in the normal course of development, young children's minds acquired an internalized authority figure, called a superego, that would in time replace the actual external authority — the actual external authority MARTHA STOUT being not God but one's own human parents.
With his "discovery" of the superego, Freud effectively wrested conscience out of the hands of God and placed it in the anxious clutches of the all-too-human family. This change of address for conscience required some daiint- - ing shifts in our centuries-old worldview. Suddenly, our moral guides had feet of clay, and absolute Truth began to submit to the uncer- tainties of cultural relativism. Freud's new structural model of the mind did not involve a hu- man part, a lion part, an ox part, and an eagle.
Tripartite instead, his vision was of the superego, the ego, and the id. The id was composed of all the sexual and unthinking aggressive instincts we are born with, along with the biological appetites. As such, the id was often in conflict with the demands of a civilized society. It could think logically, make plans, and remember, and because the ego was equipped in these ways, it could interact directly with society and, to varying de- grees, get things done for the more primitive id. The superego grew out of the ego as the child incorporated the external rules of his or her parents and of society.
The superego eventually became a free- standing force in the developing mind, unilaterally judging and di- recting the child's behaviors and thoughts. It was the commanding, guilt-brandishing inner voice that said no, even when nobody was around. The basic concept of superego makes common sense to us. We often observe children internalizing and even enforcing their par- ents' rules.
Mother frowns and says to her four-year-old daughter, "No shouting in the car. Some of us hear it quite often, in fact. It is the voice in our heads that says to us, Idiot! Why'd you do that? For purposes of illustration, let us speculate that Joe's pet- withholding father used to say to him when he was four, "No, little Joey, we can't get a dog. A dog is a tremendous responsibility. When you have a dog, you always have to interrupt what you're doing and take care of it. In a more abstruse manner, Freud himself might have wondered whether Joe's superego had caused Joe to set up his whole morning, unconsciously of course — being in too much of a hurry, forgetting to put out the dog food — such that his father's rule could be "proved," and Joe "punished" for getting a pet.
For in Freudian theory, the superego is not just a voice; it is an operator, a subtle and compl ex manipulator, a prover of points. It prosecutes, judges, a n d carries out sentences, a n d it does all this quite outside of our conscious aware- ness. While the superego, in the best case, can help the individual get along in society, it can also become the most overbearing and perhaps the most destructive part of his personality. According to psychoanalysts, an especially harsh superego, hammering away in- side someone's head, can create a lifelong depression, or even propel its poor victim into suicide.
And so Freud introduced the world to the decidedly secular no- tion that conscience might need to be repaired in some people, and that through psychoanalysis, one might actually rep a ir it. In addition — more shocking still — Freud and his followers linked the final establishment of the superego to the child's resolution of the Oedipus complex. The Oedipus complex, sometimes called the Electra complex in girls, is formed when the young child begins to realize, between the ages of three and five, that he or she will never completely possess the parent of the opposite sex.
In prosaic terms, boys must accept that they will not marry their mothers, and girls must accept that they will not marry their fathers. Oedipal struggles, MARTHA STOUT and the resulting feelings of competition, fear, and resentment toward the parent of the same sex, are so powerful and dangerous to ; the child's family relationships, according to Freud, that they must be thoroughly "repressed" or kept from awareness, and this "repres- sion" is made possible by a drastic strengthening of the young super- ego.
From this point on, should any sexual feelings arise toward the parent of the opposite sex, or any rivalrous feelings toward the par- ent of the same sex, these feelings will be vanquished by the dreaded, ruthless weapon of the newly fortified superego — immedi- ate, unbearable guilt. In this way, the superego gains its autonomy and its crowning advantage inside the mind of the child. It is a se- vere taskmaster installed to serve our need to remain a part of the group. Whatever else one may think of such theorizing, credit must be given to Freud for understanding that our moral sense was not a one-size-fits-all hermetic code, but was instead dynamic, and intri- cately tied up with essential family and societal bonds.
With his writ- ings on the superego, Freud imparted to an awakening scientific world that our usual respect for law and order was not simply im- posed on us from the outside. We obey the rules, we honor the virtues, primarily from an internal need that begins in infancy and early childhood to preserve and remain embraced by our families and the larger human society in which we live.
And some people's superegos are rather more insulting than others. Still, superego is not the same thing as conscience. It may feel like conscience subjectively, and may be one small part of what con- science is, but superego by itself is not conscience. This is because Freud, as he conceptualized the superego, threw out the baby with the bathwater, in a manner of speaking. In ejecting moral absolutism from psychological thought, he counted out something else too. Quite simply, Freud counted out love, and all of the emotions re- lated to love. Though he often stated that children love their parents in addition to fearing them, the superego he wrote about was en- tirely fear-based.
In his view, just as we fear our parents' stern criti- cisms when we are children, so do we fear the excoriating voice of superego later on. And fear is all. There is no place in the Freudian superego for the conscience-building effects of love, compassion, tenderness, or any of the more positive feelings. In fact, the seventh sense, in those individuals who possess it, is primarily love- and compassion-based. We have progressed, over the centuries, from faith in a God-directed synderesis, to a belief in a punitive parental superego, to an understanding that conscience is deeply and affect- ingly anchored in our ability to care about one another.
As an illustration, imagine that under some impossibly bizarre set of circumstances, one night you take temporary leave of your senses, sneak over to the house of an especially likable neighbor, and, for no particular reason, murder her cat. Just before daybreak, you recover your senses and realize what you have done. What do you feel? What is the specific nature of your guilty reaction? Unseen behind your living room curtain, you watch your neighbor come out to her front step and discover the cat. She falls to her knees. She scoops up her lifeless pet in her arms. She weeps for a very long time.
What is the first thing that happens to you? Does a voice inside your head scream, Thou shalt not kill! You'll go to jail for this! Or, instead, do you feel instantly sick that you have murdered an animal and made your neighbor cry in grief? In those first moments of watching your stricken neighbor, which reaction is more likely to befall you? It is a telling question.
The answer will probably determine what course of action you will take, and also whether you are influenced only by the strident voice of your superego, or by a genuine conscience. The same kind of question applies to our old friend Joe. Does he decide to sacrifice his meeting because of the unconscious fear in- stilled in him in childhood by his father's opinions about dogs, or does he make the sacrifice because he feels awful when he thinks about Reebok's predicament?
What directs his choice? Is it pure superego, or is it fully formed conscience? If it is conscience, then Joe's decision to be absent from a scheduled meeting at work is a mi- nor illustration of the fact that, ironically, conscience does not always follow the rules. It places people and sometimes animals above codes of conduct and institutional expectations. Fortified with po- tent emotions, conscience is a glue that holds us together, and it is stickier than it is just. Superego would never do that. A strict superego berates us, saying, You're being naughty, or You're inadequate.
A strong conscience insists, You must take care of him [or her or it or them], no matter what. Fear-based superego stays behind its dark curtain, accusing us and wringing its hands. Conscience propels us outward in the direc- tion of other people, toward conscious action both minor and great. Attachment-based conscience causes the teenage mother to buy the little jar of creamed peas instead of her favorite fingernail polish.
Conscience protects the privileges of intimacy, makes friends keep their promises, prevents the angered spouse from striking back. It in- duces the exhausted doctor to pick up the phone for his frightened patient at three in the morning. It blows whistles against institutions when lives are endangered. It takes to the streets to protest a war. Conscience is what makes the human rights worker risk her very life. In small and large ways, genuine conscience changes the world. Rooted in emotional connectedness, it teaches peace and opposes hatred and saves children. It keeps marriages together and cleans up rivers and feeds dogs and gives gentle replies.
It makes individual lives better and increases human dignity overall. It is real and com- pelling, and it would make us crawl out of our skin if we devastated our neighbor. The problem, as we are about to see, is that not everybody has it. In fact, 4 percent of all people do not have it. Let us turn now to a discussion of such a person — someone who simply has no con- science — and see what he looks like to us. Skip looked forward to his summers in Virginia. There was not a lot to do there, but the one activity he had invented was so much fun that it made up for the general lack of excitement.
Skip was brilliant and handsome, even as a child. And so they could not understand why his grades were so mediocre, or why, when the time came, he seemed to have so little interest in going out on dates. What they did of each summer. There was always someone, usually an older girl, who was willing to succumb to Skip's flattery and his charming smile. Often the girl would sneak him into her room, but sometimes he and a girl would simply find a secluded spot on a playground or under the bleachers at the Softball field. As for his grades, he really was ex- tremely smart — he could have made straight A-plusses — but get- ting C's was completely effortless, and so that was what he did.
Occasionally, he would even get a B, which amused him, since he never studied. The teachers liked him, seemed to be almost as vul- nerable to his smiles and his compliments as the girls were, and everyone assumed that young Skipper would end up at a good high school and then a decent college, despite his grades.
His parents had a great deal of money, were "megarich," as the other kids put it. On several occasions when he was about twelve, Skip sat at the antique rolltop desk his parents had bought for his bedroom, trying to calculate how much money he would get when they died. He based his calculations on some financial records he had stolen from his father's study. The records were confusing and incomplete, but even though he could not arrive at an exact figure, Skip could see clearly that someday he would be quite rich.
Still, Skip had a problem. He was bored most of the time. The amusements he pursued, even the girls, even fooling the teachers, even thinking about his money, did not keep him energized for longer than half an hour or so. The family wealth held the most promise as an entertainment, but it was not under his control yet — he was still a child. No, the only real relief from boredom was the fun he could have in Virginia.
Vacations were a very good time. That first summer, when he was eight, he had simply stabbed the bullfrogs with a scissors, for want of another method. He had discovered that he could take a net from the fishing shed and capture the frogs eas- ily from the mud banks of the lake. Then he would hurl the corpses as far out into the lake as he could, yelling at the dead frogs as they flew, "Too bad for you, you little fuck-face froggy! He could spend hours at a time killing them, and still it looked as if there were hundreds and hundreds of them left for tomorrow. But by the end of that first summer, Skip had decided that he could do better.
He was tired of stabbing the frogs. It would be so great to blow them up, to have something that would make the fat little squirmers explode, and toward this end he had a really good plan. He knew plenty of older boys back home, and one in particular he knew took a family trip to South Carolina during spring break every April. Skip had heard that fireworks were for sale and easy to get in South Carolina. With a lit- tle bribe from Skip, his friend Tim would buy him some fireworks there and smuggle them home in the bottom of his suitcase.
Tim would be scared to do it, but with a pep talk from Skip, and enough money, he would. Next summer, Skip would have not scissors but fireworks! Finding cash around the house was no problem, and the plan worked like a charm. That April, he came up with two hundred dol- lars for a fireworks variety pack called "Star-Spangled Banner," which he had seen in a gun magazine, and another one hundred dollars to sweeten the deal for Tim.
And when Skip finally got his hands on the package, it was a beautiful thing. He had chosen "Star-Spangled Banner" because it contained the largest number of devices small enough to fit, or almost fit, into the mouth of a bullfrog. There was a supply of tiny Roman candles; and some "Lady Fingers," which were slim little red firecrackers; and a bunch of one-inch shells called "Wizards"; and his favorite, some two-inch shells in a box labeled "Mortal Destruction," which had a skull and crossbones blazoned on the front. Or sometimes he would put the ignited frog down, run off, and watch from a distance as the animal ex- ploded on the ground.
The displays were magnificent — blood, goo, lights, sometimes a big noise and those colorful flowerlike shapes. So wonderful were the results that soon he began to crave an audience for his genius. One afternoon, he enticed his six-year-old sister, Claire, down to the lake, let her help him capture one of the frogs, and then before her eyes, made an airborne explosion of it.
Claire screamed hysterically and ran as fast as her legs would carry her back to the house. The family's stately "cottage" sat about half a mile from the lake, beyond a serene stand of hundred-foot hemlocks. This was not so far away that Skip's parents had not heard explosive noises, and they imagined that Skipper must be setting off fireworks by the lake. But they had long since realized that he was not the sort of child who could be controlled, and that they needed to choose their battles very carefully. The fireworks issue was not one they chose to deal with, not even when six-year-old Claire came running in to tell her mother that Skipper was blowing up frogs.
Skip's mother turned up the record player in the library as loud as it would go, and Claire tried to hide her cat, Emily. Super Skip Skip is sociopathic. He has no conscience — no intervening sense of obligation based in emotional attachments to others — and his later life, which we will get to in a moment, provides an instructive exam- ple of what an intelligent adult without a conscience can look like.
Amoral and uncaring, does he end up isolated on the edges of society? Does he constantly threaten and snarl and quite possibly drool, devoid as he is of such a fundamental human characteristic? One might easily imagine that Skip grew up to be a killer. In the end, perhaps he murdered his par- ents for their money. Maybe he wound up dead himself, or in the bowels of a maximum-security prison. Sounds likely, but nothing of the kind actually happened.
Skip is still alive, he has never killed any- one, not directly at least, and — so far — he has not seen the inside of any prison. To the contrary, though he has not yet inherited his par- ents' money, he has become successful and richer than a king. And if you met him now, encountered him as a stranger in a restaurant or on the street, he would look like any other well-groomed middle- aged fellow in a pricey business suit. How could this possibly be? Did he have a recovery? Did he get better?
In truth, he got worse. He became Super Skip. With passing, if not stellar, grades, his charm, and his family's in- fluence, Skip did indeed get into that good boarding school in Massachusetts, and his family breathed a sigh of relief, both for his acceptance by the school and for his relative absence from their lives. His teachers still found him charismatic, but his mother and sister had learned that he was manipulative and spooky. Claire would sometimes speak of "Skipper's weird eyes," and her mother would give her a defeated look that said, I don't want to talk about it.
Most everyone else saw only a handsome young face. When college came around, Skip was accepted into his father's alma mater and his grandfather's before that , where he became legendary as a party boy and a ladies' man. Graduating with his cus- tomary C average, he entered an MBA program at a less prestigious institution, because he had figured out that the business world was a place where he might master the game easily and amuse himself using his natural skills. When he was twenty-six, he joined the Arika Corporation, a company that made blasting, drilling, and loading equipment for metal-ore mines.
He had intense blue eyes and a stunning smile at all the right moments, and to his new employers he seemed almost magically talented at motivating sales representatives and influenc- ing contacts. For his part, Skip had discovered that manipulating ed- ucated adults was no harder than it had been to convince his young friend Tim to buy fireworks in South Carolina, and of course lying, in increasingly elegant ways, came as easily as breathing. Even bet- ter, chronically bored Skip relished the pressures of fast-track risk taking and was more than willing to take the big chances that no one else would.
Before his third anniversary at the company, he had gone after the copper in Chile and the gold in South Africa, eventually making Arika into the world's third-largest vendor of both shaft and open-pit mining equipment. Arika's founder, whom Skip privately viewed as a fool, was so enchanted with Skip that he gave him a new Ferrari GTB as a "corporate gift. Skip made sure that Juliette's fa- ther saw him as the brilliant, ambitious son he had never had. Skip saw his billionaire father-in-law as what he was, a ticket to just about everything. And, quite accurately, he saw his new wife, Juliette, as a sweet, repressed gentlewoman who would thoroughly accept her role as wife and social coordinator, and who would pretend not to know that Skip's life remained just as devoid of personal responsibil- ity and full of random sexual encounters as it had ever been.
She would be attractive and respectable on his arm, and she would keep her mouth shut. Do you really need to do this to her life? But then he was apparently struck by something funny, and he replied to her protest with an ear-to-ear grin. Skip's mother looked confused for a moment, and then she shuddered. By this time, he and Juliette had two little girls, completing his public dis- guise as a family man.
His contributions to the business came with a certain price, but nothing that could not be handled in a cost- efficient manner. Employees sometimes complained that he was "in- sulting" or "vicious," and Arika was sued when a secretary claimed he had broken her arm while trying to force her to sit in his lap.
The case was settled out of court with fifty thousand dollars and a gag or- der for the secretary. Fifty thousand dollars was nothing to the com- pany, relatively speaking. He was "Super Skip," and his employer understood that he was well worth the upkeep. Of the incident, Skip later remarked privately, "She's insane. She broke her own arm. She struggled with me, the stupid bitch. Why the hell did she put up such a fight? The other board members began to refer to him as their "company prima donna.
And in , at the age of fifty-one, Skip took over as chief executive. More recently, some of his problems have become slightly less manageable, but with his usual arrogance, Skip is confident he will land on his feet — perhaps a little too confident. He de- nied the charge, of course, and at present the decision of the SEC is pending. Playing the Game No, Skip was not consigned to the edges of society, he does not drool, and he is not yet in prison. In fact, he is rich and, in many circles, respected — or at least feared, which masquerades brilliantly as respect.
So what is wrong with this picture? Or perhaps the ques- tion should be: What is the worst part of this picture, the central flaw in Skip's life that makes him into a tragedy despite his success, and into the maker of tragedies for so many others? Skip has no emotional attachments to other people, none at all.
He is cold as ice. His mother is there to be ignored, or sometimes baited. His sis- ter is there to be tormented. Other women are sexual plunder and nothing more. He has been waiting since childhood for his father to do only one thing — to die and leave his money to Skip. His employ- ees are there to be manipulated and used, as his friends have always been. His wife and even his children are meant for the eyes of the world. Skip is intellectually gifted, and he is fabulous at the gamesmanship of business.
But by far his most im- pressive talent is his ability to conceal from nearly everyone the true emptiness of his heart — and to command the passive silence of those few who do know. Most of us are irrationally influenced by appearance, 1 and Skipper has always looked good.
He knows just how to smile. He is charming, and we can readily imagine him showering flattery on the boss who gave him the Ferrari, meanwhile thinking him the fool, and underneath it all being incapable of gratitude toward anyone. He lies artfully and constantly, with absolutely no sense of guilt that might give him away in body language or facial expression. He uses sexu- MARTHA STOUT ality as manipulation and hides his emotional vacancy behind vari- ous respectable roles — corporate superstar, son-in-law, husband, fa- ther — which are nearly impenetrable disguises.
And if the charm and the sexuality and the role playing somehow fail, Skip uses fear, a sure winner. His iciness is fundamentally scary. Robert Hare writes, "Many people find it difficult to deal with the intense, emotionless, or 'predatory' stare of the psychopath," and for some of the more sensitive people in his life, Skip's intense blue eyes, the ones his sister sees as "weird," may well be those of the dispas- sionate hunter gazing at his psychological prey.
If so, the result will probably be silence. For even if you know about him, know what his heart is like, and have caught on to his modus operandi, how will you call him out? Whom can you possibly tell, and what will you say? But this is a leader of the community, in an Armani suit. This is Juliette's beloved husband, and the father of two! Just what are you accusing him of, and what proof do you have? Who is going to sound crazier — chief executive Skip, or his accuser?
And sealing his invulnerability, there are those who need Skip to be around for one reason or another, including people who are wealthy and powerful. Are they going to care what you say? In his unassailability, and in many other ways, Skip is an exem- plary sociopath. He has, in the words of the American Psychiatric Association, "a greater than normal need for stimulation," and s o he oft en takes big risks, and he guiltlessly charms others into taking them, too.
H e has a history of undocumented childhood "behavior problems," obscured by his parents' social privilege. He is deceitful and manipulative. He can be impulsively aggr essive with "a reckless disregard for the safety of others," as he was with the employee whose arm he broke, and with the other women whose stories will never be heard.
The closest he ever comes to that is one too many scotches after dinner. Otherwise, the picture is complete. He is not genuinely interested in bonding with anyone, he is consis- tently irresponsible, and he has no remorse. And so how does all of this turn in his mind? What makes him tick? What exactly does Skip want? Most of us have other people to motivate us and to populate our desires.
People drive our wishes and our dreams. People who live " with us, people who are far away, beloved people who have died, ag- gravating people who will not leave, places made sentimental by whom we knew there, even our pets — these fill our hearts and our thoughts. Even the most introverted among us is defined by her re- lationships, and preoccupied with reactions to and feelings about, antipathies and affections for, other people. Emotional intrigue, ro- mance, nurturing, rejection, and reunion comprise nearly all of our literature and song.
We are overwhelmingly relational creatures, and this is true all the way back to our primate ancestors. Jane Goodall says the chimpanzees she observed in Gombe "have a rich repertoire of behaviours that serve to maintain or restore social harmony. The embracing, kissing, patting and holding of hands that serve as greetings after separation. The long, peaceful sessions of relaxed social grooming. The sharing of food. The concern for the sick or wounded. Evidently, we would be the players of a game, one that resembled a giant chess match, with our fellow human beings as the rooks, the knights, and the pawns.
For this is the essence of sociopathic be- havior and desire. The only thing Skip really wants — the only thing leftAis to win. He does not worry about friends or family members who may be sick or in trouble, because he cannot worry about other people. He can have dinner with whomever he pleases, but he cannot share the moment with anyone at all. And when his children were born, he was not scared, but neither was he excited. He can derive no real joy From being with them, or from watching them grow up. But there is one thing Skip can do, and he does this one thing better than almost anyone else: Skip is brilliant at winning.
He can bend others to his will. When he was a boy, the frogs died when he decided they should die, his sister screamed when he wanted her to, and now he has gone on to bigger and bet- ter games. In a world where people struggle just to make a living, Skip convinced others to make him rich before he was thirty. He can make fools of his well-educated employers and even his billionaire father-in-law. He can cause these otherwise-sophisticated people to jump, and then laugh at them behind their backs.
He influences large financial decisions on an international playing field, can turn most such arrangements to his own advantage, and no one protests. Or if someone does complain, he can cut that person off at the knees with just a well-placed word or two. He can frighten people, assault them, break an arm, ruin a career, and his wealthy colleagues will fall all over themselves making sure he never pays the penalties any or- dinary person would pay.
He believes he can have any woman he wants, and manipulate any man he comes across, including, most re- cently, everyone at the Securities and Exchange Commission. He is Super Skip. Strategies and payoffs are the only thrills he knows, and he has spent his entire life getting better at the game. For Skip, the game is everything, and though he is too shrewd to say so, he thinks the rest, of us are naive and stupid for not playing it his way.
And this is exactly what happens to the human mind when emotional attachment and conscience are missing. Life is reduced to a contest, and other human beings seem to be nothing more than game pieces, to be moved about, used as shields, or ejected. By definition, most people, including so- ciopaths, are average in intelligence and looks, and the games that average sociopaths play are not in the same elite league as Super Skip's global competitions. Many contemporary psychologists, my- self included, recall first learning about psychopathy from an educa- tional movie on the subject, viewed when we were college students in the s.
The nebbishy case study in the movie is remembered as "Stamp Man," because he devoted his whole life to the unlikely project of stealing postage stamps from United States post offices. He was not interested in possessing the stamps, or in selling them for cash. His only ambition was to execute a simple break-in at night and then find a spot a little distance from the post office he had just robbed, where he could watch the frenzy of the first employees to enter the building in the morning, followed by the emergency arrival of the police.
Skinny, pale, and mouselike, the man interviewed in the movie was anything but scary. His intelligence was average at most, and he could never have played Skip's grand international game, with its masterful strategies and billionaire opponents. But he could play his own game, and psychologically, his simple stamp- stealing game was surprisingly similar to Skip's corporate one. Unlike Skip's, Stamp Man's plans were inelegant and transpar- ent, and he was always discovered and arrested. He had been to court and then to jail countless times, and this was the way he lived his life — robbing, watching, going to jail, getting out of jail, and rob- bing again.
But he was unconcerned, because the eventual outcome of his scheming was irrelevant to him. From his perspective, all that mattered was playing the game and seeing, at least for an hour or so each time, the irrefutable evidence that he, Stamp Man, could make people jump. In Stamp Man's opinion, being able to make people jump meant he was winning, and in this way, no less than phe- nomenally affluent Skip, he illustrates what a sociopath wants. Controlling others — winning — is more compelling than anything or anYone else.
Short of a sociopathic leader who diverts the course of an entire nation, leading it into genocide or unnecessary war, the psy- chopathic killer is surely the most terrifying example of a psyche without conscience — the most terrifying example, but not the most common one. Homicidal sociopaths are notorious. We read about them in newspapers, hear about them on television, see them por- trayed in films, and we are shaken to our core by the knowledge that in our midst there are sociopathic monsters who can kill without pas- sion or remorse. But contrary to popular belief, most sociopaths are not murderers, at least not in the sense that they kill with their own two hands.
We can see this from statistics alone. About one in twenty-five people are sociopathic, but outside of prisons, or gangs and other poverty- and war-torn groups, the incidence of murderers in our population is, thankfully, far less. When sociopathy and blood lust come together in the same per- son, the result is a dramatic — even a cinematic — nightmare, a horror figure who seems larger than life. But most sociopaths are not mass murderers or serial killers. They are not Pol Pot or Ted Bundy.