Recent covers on The New Yorker replicate cartoons from the Great Depression—fat cats with martini glasses, floating away from the Titanic as it slips from view. Fat cats hoisting picket signs pleading for things to remain as they are. These would be amusing if it weren’t for their accuracy in depicting a class of people best described as psychopaths. In a recent photograph (sadly, I can’t recall where I saw this), a cluster of such history-challenged individuals gathered on a balcony above Wall Street, sipping champagne and sneering at the protesters below.
The word psychopath excites images of serial killers, but serial killers aren’t the largest contingent of this dysfunctional sector of our society. Estimates are that between 100 and 500 serial killers live among us, while “Joseph Newman, the head of the psychology department at the University of Wisconsin-Madison estimates that up to 1 percent of the general population in the United States can be described as psychopathic. This means that there are among us, roughly 3 million psychopaths.” http://www.psinvestigates.com/Psychopath%20At%20Work,%20Home%20and%20Play.htm
Consider (while contemplating our bankers and political leaders) Hare's PCL-R 20-item checklist for assessing psychopathology, generally considered authoritative.
1. GLIB and SUPERFICIAL CHARM -- the tendency to be smooth, engaging, charming, slick, and verbally facile. Psychopathic charm is not in the least shy, self-conscious, or afraid to say anything. A psychopath never gets tongue-tied. They have freed themselves from the social conventions about taking turns in talking, for example.
2. GRANDIOSE SELF-WORTH -- a grossly inflated view of one's abilities and self-worth, self-assured, opinionated, cocky, a braggart. Psychopaths are arrogant people who believe they are superior human beings.
3. NEED FOR STIMULATION or PRONENESS TO BOREDOM -- an excessive need for novel, thrilling, and exciting stimulation; taking chances and doing things that are risky. Psychopaths often have a low self-discipline in carrying tasks through to completion because they get bored easily. They fail to work at the same job for any length of time, for example, or to finish tasks that they consider dull or routine.
4. PATHOLOGICAL LYING -- can be moderate or high; in moderate form, they will be shrewd, crafty, cunning, sly, and clever; in extreme form, they will be deceptive, deceitful, underhanded, unscrupulous, manipulative, and dishonest.
5. CONNING AND MANIPULATIVENESS- the use of deceit and deception to cheat, con, or defraud others for personal gain; distinguished from Item #4 in the degree to which exploitation and callous ruthlessness is present, as reflected in a lack of concern for the feelings and suffering of one's victims.
6. LACK OF REMORSE OR GUILT -- a lack of feelings or concern for the losses, pain, and suffering of victims; a tendency to be unconcerned, dispassionate, coldhearted, and unempathic. This item is usually demonstrated by a disdain for one's victims.
7. SHALLOW AFFECT -- emotional poverty or a limited range or depth of feelings; interpersonal coldness in spite of signs of open gregariousness.
8. CALLOUSNESS and LACK OF EMPATHY -- a lack of feelings toward people in general; cold, contemptuous, inconsiderate, and tactless.
9. PARASITIC LIFESTYLE -- an intentional, manipulative, selfish, and exploitative financial dependence on others as reflected in a lack of motivation, low self-discipline, and inability to begin or complete responsibilities.
10. POOR BEHAVIORAL CONTROLS -- expressions of irritability, annoyance, impatience, threats, aggression, and verbal abuse; inadequate control of anger and temper; acting hastily.
11. PROMISCUOUS SEXUAL BEHAVIOR -- a variety of brief, superficial relations, numerous affairs, and an indiscriminate selection of sexual partners; the maintenance of several relationships at the same time; a history of attempts to sexually coerce others into sexual activity or taking great pride at discussing sexual exploits or conquests.
12. EARLY BEHAVIOR PROBLEMS -- a variety of behaviors prior to age 13, including lying, theft, cheating, vandalism, bullying, sexual activity, fire-setting, glue-sniffing, alcohol use, and running away from home.
13. LACK OF REALISTIC, LONG-TERM GOALS -- an inability or persistent failure to develop and execute long-term plans and goals; a nomadic existence, aimless, lacking direction in life.
14. IMPULSIVITY -- the occurrence of behaviors that are unpremeditated and lack reflection or planning; inability to resist temptation, frustrations, and urges; a lack of deliberation without considering the consequences; foolhardy, rash, unpredictable, erratic, and reckless.
15. IRRESPONSIBILITY -- repeated failure to fulfill or honor obligations and commitments; such as not paying bills, defaulting on loans, performing sloppy work, being absent or late to work, failing to honor contractual agreements.
16. FAILURE TO ACCEPT RESPONSIBILITY FOR OWN ACTIONS -- a failure to accept responsibility for one's actions reflected in low conscientiousness, an absence of dutifulness, antagonistic manipulation, denial of responsibility, and an effort to manipulate others through this denial.
17. MANY SHORT-TERM MARITAL RELATIONSHIPS -- a lack of commitment to a long-term relationship reflected in inconsistent, undependable, and unreliable commitments in life, including marital.
18. JUVENILE DELINQUENCY -- behavior problems between the ages of 13-18; mostly behaviors that are crimes or clearly involve aspects of antagonism, exploitation, aggression, manipulation, or a callous, ruthless tough-mindedness.
19. REVOCATION OF CONDITION RELEASE -- a revocation of probation or other conditional release due to technical violations, such as carelessness, low deliberation, or failing to appear.
20. CRIMINAL VERSATILITY -- a diversity of types of criminal offenses, regardless if the person has been arrested or convicted for them; taking great pride at getting away with crimes.
Each item on the checklist is scored from 0 to 2, with 2 the score for manifesting the characteristic wholly. A score above 25 indicates some measure of psychopathology. I may be harsh, but here's how I score politicians (in general) and bankers (forget the general):
( (1) Most have to be glib with superficial charm to engage the broadest number of voters or the greatest number of investors. (2) To aspire to lead—men, women, people of all ages, colors, belief systems—that takes a grandiose sense of self-worth, even if all you’re leading them into is poverty. (3) Politicians and bankers are gamblers and risk takers, guesstimating their way into office or into a profitable trade (although there is some question about how much risk bankers ever really expose themselves to). (4) Who lies more frequently than a politician? Oh, yeah. A banker. (5) You can’t persuade people to vote for you or to give you their money by telling them the truth. Adlai Stevenson tried it and look what happened to him. To my knowledge, only Bernie Sanders has had significant luck with the truth. No banker ever tried it. (6) Declare war and watch thousands or hundreds of thousands of people die? No problem. Inflate the value of real estate, collect your profits, watch people tossed into the street? Next. (7) C’mon. No one with feeling could countenance ten minutes of the existence of an Abu Ghraib or a Guantanamo, not if they could end it. And who could endure champagne and caviar while grinning down at the hoi polloi? (8) See #7. (9) Who’s more parasitical than politicians and bankers? (10) If these guys don’t have poor behavioral control, I am a model of decorum. With their hands either in the till or up somebody’s skirt—they can’t imagine not taking whatever they want. (11) See #10. Also, if you google “sex scandal” and “politician” you’ll get an eyeful. For days. (12) Who knows? (13) Well, this is a gimme. Where has industry or politics ever shown the slightest far-sightedness? If these guys have grandchildren, I assume they believe sufficient wealth will enable those kids to buy filtered air and water while the rest of the population chokes. (14) No comment. (15) Another gimme. Do politicians or bankers even know this word? (16) Remember Dubya saying he took full responsibility and he’d done nothing wrong? He pretty much summed up what the rest of these guys would say if they were as dumb as George W. Bush.
The rest is debatable and not very interesting, geared primarily to the identified criminals in our midst. It’s the unidentified, or rather unindicted criminals we need to concern ourselves with.
Think about it.