Why Write About Psychopaths?

 Why write about psychopaths?

Certainly they are horrible people not worth our time or effort. The same could be said for murderers, yet the strong popularity of murder mysteries remains evident in recent best-seller lists.

We, as humans, are fascinated by “Evil”, especially the unadulterated and guilt-free evil to which psychopaths are prone. And is there another word that better describes the sometimes petty, sometimes grandiose self-serving acts of personal destruction that psychopaths wreak?

Almost everyone has fantasized about doing something terminally unpleasant to their boss or mother-in-law but how many would be able to live with themselves afterwards? The psychopath worries only about being caught and what impact this might have on their own life. They do not consider collateral damage to society, to those ostensibly close to them, or to their own innermost soul (which might be entirely absent).

Psychopaths or sociopaths (we use these labels interchangeably) are individuals who are profoundly incapable of empathy. They represent a small but impactful minority in any society, causing a level of damage far greater than their small numbers might suggest. The PCL-R (Psychopathy Checklist, Revised, as developed by Robert D.Hare) is the gold standard for assessment of this syndrome. The modal psychopath is a superficially charming, grandiose, pathological liar who will manipulate everyone around them to obtain their goals, which are power, sex, status, and a life materially good yet not requiring consistent effort, focus, or work.

Some have said that certain psychopathic characteristics might be beneficial to various leadership roles or occupations. Consider the extreme ruthlessness and risk-taking required of the modern CEO. Here charm alternating with cold calculus produces a willingness to throw partners over the gunwale whenever advantageous. Consider the military sniper. Who better to ‘kill and forget’ than a psychopath? The average person would likely succuumb to PTSD and implode after even a short such career.

Psychopaths, like any group, are characterized by wide variation. Just as the personalities, goals, and capabilities of computer programmers differ, so too for psychopaths. While some use their charm and cunning to achieve status and power, others, likely with a more limited arsenal of charm and cunning, use their powers simply to maintain a parasitic lifestyle either as a kept spouse, low level fraudster, itinerant scam artist, or malingerer.

Bad behaviour makes for good stories. Who writes exclusively about good people working towards socially worthwhile ends by co-operating fruitfully with other good people? More importantly, who would read such tedium? Stories demand conflict: good versus evil. In many cases that evil can be supplied by psychopaths.

Psychopaths make perfect super-villians. They provide obstacles for our heroes. They are unpredictable. They lurk undetected before they unleash their chaos. They say charming things then perform unspeakable acts. The subterfuge and sabotage they deploy can be subtle or dramatic. They impede us by exercising whatever power, no matter how limited, they possess. They are serial killers and pet assassins. They spit in our soup. They refuse to validate our parking. They cause no end of confusion and pain.

Statistically speaking, you will be in the line of fire for several of these dangerous misanthropes during your lifetime. So to return to the original question: why write about psychopaths? Because knowledge is our first line of defense. Forewarned is forearmed.

You who are in the know, share your insight. We need to know.

If you have a short story related to this or one of the other themes stated at www.freshblueink.ca/subm.html, consider sending it to us!

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