Donna Andersen has been a great friend to me and has done so much for victims of sociopaths. She deserves an award. The latest thing she did for me personally was to lend me her copy of The Psychopathic Mind by J. Reid Meloy. When I initially thought about reading the book it was more expensive than it is now; the price has come down quite a bit. That is good because I am going to have to buy Donna a new copy since I’ve marked up the entire book with notes about material to discuss here. My overall reaction to the book was negative to lukewarm until I got to page 318 (that I’ll discuss next week). After that page, I came to believe that on the whole this book is a great contribution to the field.
This week I want to use a quote from a judge to begin to discuss some of the myths regarding sociopaths. Here is the quote found on page 359:
“Well I tell you, the world is full of productive sociopaths. Some of them hold high public office. Some of them are lawyers. It could be that a couple of them are judges, and sociopathy by itself is not necessarily a dangerous condition. It can be productive. I think it was Clarence Darrow who commented on that…”
Let’s cover these numerous false assertions out of order.
- Sociopathy by itself is not necessarily a dangerous condition. This statement is completely, absolutely, categorically FALSE. Sociopathy/ASPD/psychopathy is always a dangerous condition. It is the most toxic personality poison and only a drop in a swimming pool of water will sicken an entire city. By definition sociopathy involves serious harm to other people and a track record of serious irresponsibility. If these characteristics are not present, the individual is not a sociopath!
- It can be productive. Sociopathy is never productive. Unless you measure productivity by ruined lives and the number of dead bodies left along the road. But where would the judge and possibly Clarence Darrow get the idea that sociopathy is productive? These people are confusing sociopathy (a disorder) with the power motive or dominance drive. It is this motive that is both productive in terms of leadership and harmful in terms of aggression. This motive is present in all humans to a certain degree. The aberrant unmitigated expression of the power motive that is seen in sociopathy is neither normal nor productive. Sociopaths may be productive in spite of disorder not because of disorder. See the next point.
- Some of them hold high public office. Some of them are lawyers. It could be that a couple of them are judges, Connecting this statement with describing sociopathy as a benign, productive condition is where the judge goes wrong. When sociopaths manage in spite of disorder to attain the power they crave, the results are disastrous for society.
- The world is full of productive sociopaths. This statement is partly true but this truth is not a reflection of points 1 and 2 above. As a group sociopaths are hands down losers. They die at early ages, get many more serious illnesses, and abuse substances. They usually end up losing everything and occupationally disabled. There is an appearance that the number of productive sociopaths reflects the disorder, simply because of the sheer number of sociopaths in the country. At any one point in time a given sociopath may be “successful” but that is only a snap shot. There may be a few who die before they fall but these are the extreme minority. Since there are so many sociopaths even this extreme minority may seem like a lot. If you consider the life histories of sociopaths two truths emerge. Sociopaths waste energy hurting people that could have gone into building rather than destroying. Also, the only reason they survive is that others help them. They may have power but they are by no means autonomous. This is the great irony of the disorder, antisocial individuals require a society to survive and operate!
- I am still trying to verify the origin of these false beliefs on the part of the legal profession stems from famous lawyer Clarence Darrow. If anyone can produce a quote, I would be grateful.
If you think about it, this judge is exemplifying a reasoning error due to lack of training applying research to practice. It is very difficult to apply group data to an individual because any one individual at any one point in time may not display all the characteristics of the group.
The message is clear. Judges and lawyers should stop rationalizing the leniency they extend to sociopaths. They should realize them for the dangerous, parasitic individuals they are. They should stop enabling them by forcing us to be with them. That “us” includes former spouses, children and society at large.