Psychopaths don’t feel much emotion. That doesn’t mean they don’t understand it. When we talk about emotion understanding, we talk about both emotional and cognitive empathy. Emotional empathy is just what it sounds like – we empathize with emotion through our own emotional response. This is what happens when you watch a movie about a bad breakup that then triggers the memory of how Deborah broke up with you on the pier two years ago, Alex. (I really hope an Alex is reading this who went through that exact situation. Cry for me, Alex.). Cognitive empathy is different. It’s the logical process of understanding emotion through learning how it affects others. We can see the cause and effect of triggering Alex, and if we dig deeper we can see the processes in between.
"I bet if Jared Leto was playing a chimp in a movie, he’d study chimps as intensely as Jane Goodall does."
People with psychopathy don’t use emotional empathy because that would require feeling emotion in the past in order to try and empathize with it. Instead, we employ cognitive empathy to feel more like you fine folk. It’s like Jane Goodall watching chimps, except psychopaths are not watching the chimps, we’re watching Jane Goodall. Why does she get off spending most of her life watching chimps? Maybe if we watch Jane Goodall enough we can get in her mindset and become like her? But what if she’s just watching chimps to become like a chimp herself? Would we become chimp-like eventually? I bet if Jared Leto was playing a chimp in a movie, he’d study chimps as intensely as Jane Goodall does. Wait – maybe he’d be a bit more intense. He’s method. Would Jared Leto shit in his own hand and masturbate at the zoo? Probably. This isn’t about Jared Leto, this is about Jane Goodall – I mean, fuck. This is about people. The point is, we study people to become more like people. We learn to not empathize with people emotionally, but cognitively.
This cognitive understanding also aids something called, theory of mind. It’s kind of a philosophical point, but basically it means a person is another person and we understand that a person is another person. This other person has different ways of thinking than we do, because in their mind they exist within their own universe and are the central player in it. Now, psychopaths are pretty good at understanding theory of mind. This allows us to cognitively, not emotionally, put ourselves into the shoes of another person and predict how they may think or react to things that happen to them. It’s how a serial killer can catch you in a spider’s web of their own making, or how you take Deborah back even though she broke your heart, Alex, but she knows all the right things to say to make you forgive her… Alex…
So, now that we know these things, let’s explore the fucking shit show of an issue on America’s plate today – child prisoners. I’m not going to call them detainees, like the White House wants us to. They are prisoners. Of concentration camps. American concentration camps. These children come to America through unbelievable hardships in order to have a chance at living a life where they won’t be drafted into a gang just to survive or decapitated for having the audacity of going to college instead.
"We need to put ourselves in the shoes of an immigrant. And they’re probably wearing TOMS Shoes, so they should slip on pretty easily."
You see, us Americans… We aren’t thinking with our heads right now. We aren’t utilizing cognitive empathy to understand the situation of these immigrants. And I use “we” for the Left and the Right because there is far too much divide in our country. I won’t let this post be another brick in the wall separating us. We need to put ourselves in the shoes of an immigrant. And they’re probably wearing TOMS Shoes, so they should slip on pretty easily. It’s not hard to say, “fuck, the world outside of my own immediate bubble is fucked.” Well, what are we as a nation going to do to make it less fucked? Taking a kid away from their parents for simply wanting to live a better, safer life is morally abhorrent. Yet, our government locks them up like criminals. Like an inferior species to those of us born on a side of a fence where we can get In-N-Out burgers without worrying about being deported if we’re pulled over along the way. It’s fucked up to think that this is what a nation that was built and populated by immigrants has come to. But, to truly get on the path of understanding who we are and what we are willing to stand for, we have to go back to theory of mind to see if we're even capable.
A good test for theory of mind is to put an animal in front of a mirror. If the animal recognizes their own reflection as themselves, there is a good chance they are displaying theory of mind. If they think their reflection is another animal then they are not self aware and less able to display theory of mind, and thus, less able to empathize emotionally or cognitively with the situations of others. Chimpanzees aren’t known to have this kind of understanding. Put one in front of a mirror and it may see its reflection and may think it’s another chimp. The chimp might react with hostility toward itself, because it is less aware of the self. We can take this analogy and put it toward the American psyche. If we put ourselves in front of a mirror and see an immigrant staring back at us, do we see them as ourselves? As our equals? Or do we treat them as an other? A lesser? What we do now speaks to the true nature of not just our American, but rather our Human empathetic response. It doesn't matter if it's a cognitive or emotional response - If we can’t grasp the harsh realities that our brothers and sisters face then maybe we are just animals. And then… What’s the point of anything?
Look – I’m a psychopath. I don’t emotionally care about anything. You can die reading this, and I’ll be glad I at least got a hit on my blog. What I do cognitively believe to be right is that every human being on this planet is entitled to the same quality of life as everyone else. We need to stop locking kids in cages and start looking at ways we can solve global problems while treating our fellow humans like humans ought to be treated. We can start by standing up for what’s right, and appeal to our government. Call your representatives. Protest in the streets. Save our souls before hatred and fear and inaction destroys them.
Note: I am not a mental health professional. I’m just a psychopath who loves to read and research psychopathy. Nothing I say here should be taken as psychiatric advice or diagnosis. Please consult your doctor if you feel you are a danger to yourself or anyone else.
THE PSYCHOPATH CHECKLIST
If there is one thing you’ve heard or read about psychopathy, it’s the Hare Psychopathy Checklist, or “PCL-R”. The checklist was created by world renowned psychopathy expert, Dr. Robert Hare, and is one of the most widely used tests to determine whether a person is a psychopath or not. It’s also really expensive to get the manual which trains a person to properly administer the interview and evaluation, so a ton of people will go by just the basic names of the twenty psychopathic “traits” on the checklist. This, of course, has led to a ton of weirdos online doing self evaluations, and probably not doing them correctly. In this post, I’ll talk a little about the PCL-R and tackle the first trait on the list, “Glib and superficial charm”.
The actual PCL-R examination is not self reported, but actually has to be administered by a mental health professional that has been trained in its use. This is the only way an actual diagnosis can come about from the use of the checklist. The PCL-R includes the aforementioned interview in which the administrator can then evaluate the subject on each trait. These traits are given either a 0, 1, or 2 depending on how high the subject qualifies. At the end, the scores are added up. A 30 or above means the subject is a strong candidate for psychopathy. A score less than 30 does not necessarily mean the subject isn’t a psychopath, as the lack of criminality and deviance could severely lower someone’s scores, even if a person has a psychopathic brain.
You can probably see how self reporting this test can be a problem. We all have altered perceptions of ourselves, and it’s hard to give an honest answer when we are unconsciously feeding ourselves this rose-colored reality. It’s because of this that I’m not going to give you what I believe my score to be, but rather talk you through each of these traits and try to discover where we could potentially fall into this psychopathy scale. If you would like to take a quick self-reporting alternative, you can do the Levenson Self-Reporting Psychopathy Scale, and see where you place. We’ll talk properly about that test another day, but for now we’ll discuss about the traits of the PCL-R. These traits include:
1. Glib and superficial charm
2. Grandiose (exaggeratedly high) estimation of self
3. Need for stimulation
4. Pathological lying
5. Cunning and manipulativeness
6. Lack of remorse or guilt
7. Shallow affect (superficial emotional responsiveness)
8. Callousness and lack of empathy
9. Parasitic lifestyle
10. Poor behavioral controls
11. Sexual promiscuity
12. Early behavior problems
13. Lack of realistic long-term goals
16. Failure to accept responsibility for own actions
17. Many short-term marital relationships
18. Juvenile delinquency
19. Revocation of conditional release
20. Criminal versatility
Now that you know what lies ahead on the list, let’s take a look at the first trait, “Glib and superficial charm”.
THE SHOW ROOM
You walk into a dealership with a decent down payment in your bank account and your guard completely up. You’ve dealt with “their” kind before – or at least you’ve seen movies. The point is, you ain’t no punk-ass chump. In your eyes, this spotless showroom might as well be a lion’s den. The salesman with the shiny, overly-whitened teeth are just waiting to sink those canines into your wallet, pushing for every upgrade and warranty they can think of. But you know better. You know where you are and what you want, and you are ready to take control of a typically powerless situation.
A salesman comes up to you. He says his name is Bill. He asks if he could help you look at some cars today. You tell him with a firm voice that you are there to buy a 2018 Hyundai Kona. He snaps his fingers quickly, startling you. With a deep sigh, followed by a laugh, he explains that he just lost a bet to his coworker, Mark. You see, Bill bet Mark that you were in there looking for a 2018 Hyundai Santa Fe. You just “look like the type”. You don’t really know how to take that. It must be a compliment, right? It doesn’t matter; you reaffirm your stance that you are there to buy a Kona. He just smiles impossibly wide and says he could get that paperwork started for you immediately, oh and the Vans you’re wearing are really cool. He likes collecting Vans Shoes because they are very comfortable and the styles are usually fashionable with a large variety of outfits. You tell him you feel the same way, and that you go to the outlet store to get new pairs because the Vans store is so expensive. He doesn’t know this outlet store, but he thanks you because you’re so smart and you just saved him a bunch of money with his Vans obsession. Way to go, you. God damn, there is something about his smile…
Three hours later you drive out of there in your 2018 Hyundai Santa Fe which cost $8,000 more than the Kona, not to mention the three years of OnStar you signed up for, the XM package, and the various other bells and whistles that you just barely have an understanding of. What the hell happened? Well, my friend, you just met a psychopath well versed in superficial charm.
Superficial charm is the personality trait of surface-level adaptability. Someone with this trait would produce a smooth, likeable version of themselves which would somehow say everything you want to hear. They are charming and appear vulnerable with how open they are willing to be with you. I like to think it is akin to cold-reading psychics. They often initiate conversations and slyly introduce subjects until something hits. It’s important to know that this whole act can be harmless, or it can be positioning you to be more open to the psychopath’s suggestion.
I like to think of this primarily as a first impression kind of trait, (though, it is fun to try and use superficial charm to gain back the trust of someone after you’ve lost it). It’s important in the use and understanding of psychopaths, because a ton of charismatic leader-types use superficial charm as the base of their power. The charming first impression can gain someone’s trust and entrench that trust deep in the person’s conscience. This is how cult leaders gain followers and business leaders gain support. This is especially how politicians get votes. For others, it’s just a way to be liked.
It is important to most psychopaths to be liked. Actually, when we’re talking about the PCL-R, the scale is weighed on two factors. Factor 1 is more related to the narcissistic personality traits, such as our “glibness and superficial charm”. Factor 2 deals more with the deviant spectrum of psychopathy. This could take an extreme form where the psychopath needs to be loved by people, rather than merely liked. Cult leaders are especially likely to need that form of validation. People like me, however, just like to be liked.
I think that this is where we can really break down whether we can estimate if we reflect trait 1. Working retail most of my life, I enjoyed using superficial charm on customers in order to gain their trust. It didn’t matter what I was selling – I hated selling, even when I worked on commission. I just loved finding out how a person ticked. I wanted to see what the best way to get in their favor was. So, I utilized a lot of another trait on the list, pathological lying, and had in-depth conversations with people about shit I knew nothing about. Fuck, I still do that sometimes. There is this compulsive nature in the psychopathic mind which wants some understanding from another person. We’ll go into theory of mind and cognitive empathy a bit later to better understand why this compulsion may exist.
When it comes down to it, we just want to be charming. These traits should also not be seen as designated only for the extremes – serial killers, sexual psychopaths, car salespeople, etc. There are plenty of law abiding citizens who could qualify as a 2 on this trait. Are you the kind of person that utilizes superficial charm to earn a person’s trust in order to use them, or simply because you like to be liked? Either way, the psychopath using superficial charm always has something to gain.
My name is Steven Michael Blacksmith. Throughout my life I have lied, cheated, stolen, injured, manipulated, cursed, beat, bullied, and hurt people in many more ways than I can think of right now. That’s not a confession of any sort. Confessions seem to be guided by some tinge of remorse or desire for forgiveness. I don’t desire forgiveness. I don’t feel remorse. I’m quite incapable of looking back at anything I have done and feeling that tug of guilt on my heart which is so elegantly dramatized in our culture. My past and sometimes-present is often saturated with the psychic scars emotion leaves in its wake. These scars never belong to me, however, as I am instead the catalyst. So, no, this is not a confession. This is a celebration; an awakening of a sort. My name is Steven Michael Blacksmith, and I am a psychopath.
The word “psychopath” is quite the loaded term these days. Webster’s Dictionary defines it as “a person with a psychopathic personality, which manifests as amoral and antisocial behavior, lack of ability to love or establish meaningful personal relationships, extreme egocentricity, failure to learn from experience, etc.”. Urban Dictionary, on the other hand, defines the term as, “A person with severe mental disorders. Usually possesses a cultish mentality and religiously believes that he or she is the president of the world, and that everyone else is a lower lifeform. Usually seen masturbating to fairytale creatures and insulting the "dumb masses" with l337 speech.”. While both of these definitions have merit, they are both essentially wrong. Albeit, I have probably masturbated to fairy tale creatures in the past, I don’t believe that such rash generalizations apply to all psychopaths. Let’s dissect both of these and see where they went wrong.
Webster’s starts off pretty well. Psychopaths are people with psychopathy. Good observation Webster’s. You let the interns write this one, huh? Let’s continue. Their behavior is "...amoral and antisocial..". This is where we’ve started to take a turn. While psychopathic behavior can be amoral, they can also be extremely social. It’s easy to confuse personality disorders, and what Webster’s seems to have done here is confuse psychopathy with antisocial personality disorder. The rest of the generalizations include egocentrism, inability to create emotional attachment, and just not learning from past mistakes, “etc.”. By the way, don’t you only use “etc.” when the rest of the list can be inferred or is common knowledge? You can’t just write “etc” on a list of possible conditions. What if you put that shit on a pill bottle? “Psychopathitrax can cause irritability, insomnia, violent sneezing, runny or way-too-solid diarrhea, Ebola Zaire, etc.” Wouldn’t you want to know what the rest of those side effects might be!? All-of-a-sudden you’re on the bathroom floor with that brain disease which makes you laugh uncontrollably cause some fucker didn’t have time to write a few more words down. Ridiculous… But, yes, while everything Webster’s says can apply to some people with psychopathy, it is completely erroneous to think this applies to all psychopaths. Psychopathy is in no way that narrow.
The Urban Dictionary definition is just as right and wrong as Webster’s. Psychopathy is not always “severe mental disorders”, though it is important to note that many some with psychopathy also have one or more other mental disorders as well. Psychopathy itself is not really a severe mental disorder. I would argue that it is not a disorder at all, but we’ll get into that later. Now, the “cultish mentality” is interesting because it is very true that cult leaders can often be diagnosed with psychopathy. This is usually accompanied with narcissistic personality disorder which makes them desire this adoration from everyone they meet with a fixation on controlling that attention. So, this characterization of psychopaths should really be a “cult leader” mentality. Psychopaths are not followers. Group think isn’t part of their normal routines. And this makes sense. Psychopaths tend to be either wise and strong leaders or give off the perception of wisdom and strength. Both ways can easily garner a following from people who cannot live without being led. Psychopaths are, more often than not, master manipulators – something shared with politicians and cult leaders alike. These strong leadership qualities often stem from this hard headed notion that the psychopath is correct and all others are not just wrong, but lesser. I, myself, am absolutely guilty of thinking this every now and then. This makes me a strong leader off the bat, but I do everything in my power to back it up. When leaders get far by just claiming to be right all the time, but have few skills other than personality, you get a clusterfuck like the Trump Presidency, (another post for later). The l337 speech shit from the Urban Dictionary definition and the masturbating to fairy tale creatures cannot be solely attributed to psychopaths. Elves are hot and we’ve all jerked off to them. l337 speech is angry, video game nerd shit attributed to sad trolls hiding behind a keyboard and wishing they were as fuckin’ rad as us psychopaths.
I suppose my point is that both of these definitions are right and wrong. The fact of the matter is that psychopathy is a relatively new field of behavioral disorder. A few decades ago we were associatingFparticular it with other mental disorders and conflating it with them so much that psychopathy gained a stigma that would terrify and intrigue the entire world. Now that more study and characterization has been given to the disorder itself, we are learning that psychopathy may have some broad, general conditions on which it is based, but there are many, many branches of behavior in which psychopathy can differ. You may have a psychopath with narcissism that mentally tortures ex girlfriends for fun, and you may have another one who is really good at their job, raises foster children, donates their time and money, but has no emotional attachment to anyone or anything. The point is – we’re not all killers and maniacs.
A more accurate definition of psychopathy would be, “a person with extremely dulled or non-existent emotional reflex due to malformation of the brain, particularly an underdeveloped amygdala and reductions in grey matter volume with underperforming connections in the prefrontal cortex, resulting in severely hindered emotional learning and development.” It’s not as sexy as either Webster’s or Urban Dictionary’s definitions, but goddamnit, it’s accurate, if not overly simplistic. And I use this very scientific definition for a reason – everyone wants to be a psychopath these days. It’s in fashion. It’s all the rage in Paris. Models are wearing psychopathy on runways around the world. It’s Versace, or at least, Andrew Cunanan. Psychopathy is gaining traction as an end-all excuse for shitty behavior by fuckboys and online trolls and the occasional mass shooter who really just let their emotions get the better of them. But that’s the thing – a psychopath has physical brain anomalies which prevent them from feeling such a pitiful thing as emotion. They don’t cry in court when their murder trial comes up. They don’t feel guilty after firing an employee and watching them suffer on the streets. It’s business. Murder and money – it’s all business. And a game. And a way of life.
This blog isn’t about psychopathy – it’s about me. I won’t go too far into details on the history of psychopathy research or the neuroscience behind the disorder, or the HARE test. Honestly, all of those things are fascinating, and I may just recommend a few books a the end of this one, but I am not here to get into those topics. This is the story of my journey of self discovery. This is the culmination of taking a deep dive into the inner workings of my brain and my years of questioning just what I really find to be true. Stick with this blog and you’ll find a new way of looking at life. My way of looking at life. You may not be a psychopath, but you may find that my reasoning makes a bit of sense. And if you are a psychopath – know that my experience may be different from yours, but on some level I get it. Now drop that picture of Orlando Bloom in The Lord of the Rings, get your hands out of your pants, and let’s begin.