This blog probably would not have been possible without the "assistance"
of psychopaths. That's because I would not have had a legal story to
tell if Mrs. Schnauzer and I had not encountered several likely
psychopaths at critical junctures over the past 10 years or so.
I've covered a number of legal stories that do not involve my wife or
me--the Don Siegelman and Paul Minor political prosecutions, the
domestic-relations nightmares of Alabamians Sherry Carroll Rollins and
Angela Turner Drees--and I strongly suspect that psychopaths play
leading roles in those cases, too.
After witnessing over-the-top misconduct by a number of individuals,
Mrs. Schnauzer and I have found ourselves, in so many words, saying,
"That boy (or girl, in a few cases) ain't right." Those thoughts
inspired me to conduct some layman's research on sociopathy--that term
and psychopathy can be used interchangeably; they mean the same
thing--and write several posts on the subject, as it applies to justice
and politics. (See here
, for example.)
Now we have a new, best-selling book that draws attention to psychopaths and the impact they can have on our lives. "The Psychopath Test: A Journey Through the Madness Industry
," by Jon Ronson, sits at No. 17 on The New York Times List of Best Sellers in the Hardcover Nonfiction category
We are pleased to see a well-known author--Ronson wrote "The Men Who
Stare at Goats"--tackle an important subject. But we suspect readers who
are seriously interested in psychopathy should use Ronson's book as an
entry point to the subject. I haven't read Ronson's book yet, so I
cannot offer a review. But a check of reviews to this point indicates
Ronson's book is entertaining but relatively lightweight and short on
The book is based on The Hare Psychopathy Checklist
developed by Robert Hare, a renowned Canadian criminal psychologist.
Hare has spent more than 35 years researching psychopathy, and his
checklist has become the primary psycho-diagnostic tool for assessing
Hare's 20-part checklist can be divided into three categories:
Factor 1: Personality "Aggressive narcissism"
Grandiose sense of self-worth
Lack of remorse or guilt
Shallow affect (genuine emotion is short-lived and egocentric)
Callous/lack of empathy
Failure to accept responsibility for own actions
Factor 2: Case history "Socially deviant lifestyle".
Need for stimulation/proneness to boredom
Poor behavioral control
Lack of realistic long-term goals
Early behavior problems
Revocation of conditional release
Traits not correlated with either factor
Promiscuous sexual behavior
Many short-term marital relationships
Reviewers indicate that Ronson makes an effort at examining psychopaths
in the halls of power, in business and politics. But the effort sounds
rather perfunctory, and I'm left with the impression that Ronson does
not understand the importance of Hare's work, even though the author
attended a three-day seminar on the subject. In a review subtitled "Madmen Among Us
Laura Miller writes:
Ronson decided to book a spot in a three-day training course
run by Hare (something of a guru in the field) and by the end of the
weekend he was identifying possible psychopaths right and left,
including a Vanity Fair critic who had "always been very rude about my
Ronson, reviewers indicate, becomes concerned about his ability to
identify so many psychopaths and concludes that Hare's test might be
dangerous. Ronson, however, misses the point of Hare's work: The
checklist is not meant to be used by amateurs like Ronson (and me). It
is meant to be used by true professionals, who know what they are doing.
From Without Conscience,
Hare's Web site:
Because an individual's scores may have important
consequences for his or her future, the absolute value is of critical
importance. The potential for harm is considerable if the PCL-R is used
incorrectly, or if the user is not familiar with the clinical and
empirical literature pertaining to psychopathy.
In other words, "don't try this at home." But those who want to gain
insight on psychopathy should read some outstanding books that go well
beyond Ronson's best seller. I have read the following and can highly
* Without Conscience: The Disturbing World of the Psychopaths Among Us
, by Robert D. Hare (1999)
* The Sociopath Next Door
, by Martha Stout (2006)
* Snakes In Suits: When Psychopaths Go to Work
, by Paul Babiak and Robert D. Hare (2007)
At the heart of all of these works is the exploration of a personality
disorder. In fact, the technical term for psychopathy is antisocial
personality disorder, a term we explored in the following post:
Will Personality Disorders Jeopardize Our Future
How can your life be affected by encounters with those who show signs of
having antisocial personality disorder? We have examined that question:
Antisocial personality disorder, also called sociopathy or
psychopathy, basically refers to a lack of empathy for the rights and
feelings of other people. It is notoriously difficult to treat, partly
because those who have it almost never acknowledge that they have a
problem. It's the people around them--family members, neighbors,
coworkers--who suffer. . . .
Personal experience tells me that coming in contact with people who have
personality disorders makes life much harder than it should be. For
example, if you take people with personality disorders out of the
equation, my wife and I never set foot in a courtroom--except maybe as
potential jurors--and never experience any of the ugly events described
in this blog.
Take people with personality disorders out of the equation, and I'm still contentedly--and effectively--working at UAB.
Like Ronson, I'm not remotely qualified to diagnose an individual as a
psychopath. But I can make this layman's observation: In looking back
over 10-plus years of legal mayhem, I can think of at least a dozen
people who exhibit many of the traits outlined in "Factor 1" of Hare's
checklist--superficial charm, grandiose sense of self worth,
pathological lying, cunning/manipulative, lack of remorse or guilt,
shallow affect, callous/lack of empathy, failure to accept
responsibility for own actions. In fact, I can point to a number of
people in our Legal Schnauzer
story who exhibit every one of those traits.
Most of these individuals don't really know my wife and me--and either
have made no effort to know us, or have no reason to know what makes us
tick. We hold these folks in contempt, but our feelings are somewhat
impersonal because . . . well, we don't know them either, and we really
don't want to.
The most disturbing individuals are the few who do know one or both of
us. I'm talking about one or two people from my former workplace, UAB,
who have known me for 10 years or more. I'm talking about one or two
people who have had me in their homes on multiple occasions. I'm talking
about one person, in particular, who has known both me and my wife
quite well for way more than a decade. But these individuals knowingly
cheated me out of my job, lied to my face about the real reasons for
their actions, have even lied about their actions under oath in court
documents, and have not shown the first sign of remorse, guilt, empathy
I have no idea how such people live with themselves--and I hope I never
find out. But I do think the problem of psychopaths in our midst, and
the destruction they can cause, goes way beyond my little world.
Think about business scandals of fairly recent vintage. Think about
individuals such as Bernie Madoff, Ken Lay (Enron), Bernard Ebbers
(WorldCom), and Dennis Kezlowski (Tyco). Do you think there might be a
psychopath or two in that crowd?
As for politics, think just about the eight years of the George W. Bush
administration. Think about individuals such as Rove, Cheney, Rumsfeld,
Gonzalez, and Dubya himself. Do you think there might be a psychopath or
two in that crowd?
How much damage have these heavy hitters caused in the worlds of
business and politics? How would some of them fare on the Hare
Psychopathy Checklist? The words "off the charts" come to mind.
For readers who want to learn more about psychopaths and the havoc they
can wreak, Jon Ronson's best-selling book might be a good place to
start. The work of Robert Hare definitely would be a good place to
Here is a video with Hare, and others, discussing psychopathy and corporations:
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