Wednesday, June 01, 2005

Of psychopaths, sociopaths and the presidency


I am not a mental health specialist, nor have I ever played one on TV. But I've encountered a few "evil fucking bastards" (the layman's term for psychopaths and sociopaths) over the years and have come to understand how they operate.

The terms "psychopath" and "sociopath" have undergone many changes over the years, including being, at times, used interchangeably (see here). The US Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders has long since lumped the two conditions together ss "antisocial personality disorder". The distinction I once heard went as follows: "The psychopath knows other people have feelings and enjoys hurting them; the sociopath has no conception that other people have feelings and any harm caused is purely incidental to his own ends." So, for the purposes of this rant, and because there is a useful distinction between the two modes of thought, here is how I define them:

Does not understand that other people have feelings, emotions, wants and needs like himself. The world is populated by robots that look similarly to him and act similarly to him but have no feelings whatsoever. Like a child in a world where toy soldiers are everywhere he looks, these "toys" can be destroyed as part of whatever game he is currently playing. They are infinitely replaceable and cannot be hurt. Everyone but himself is an animated doll.

Understands all too well that other people have feelings, emotions, wants and needs like himself but gets off on hurting them. Although causing pain may be enough, usually the psychopath wants to make himself feel superior to his victims. The psychopath will warn his victims of his intentions as a way of "handicapping" himself, although truth be told the psychopath may believe his victims are on an even footing but they are actually at a disadvantage: the warning serves to make the victims struggle (in vain) to avert the impending disaster and heightens their suffering. The psychopath will gloat in his successess: the gloating serves to rub in the psychopath's success and make the victims suffer even more.

So what of Bush and Cheney?

Bush is quite clearly a psychopath. He enjoys fucking people over. He gives you warnings of what he's going to do to you so you can suffer in the anticipation. For example: "If this were a dictatorship, it would be a heck of a lot easier, just so long as I'm the dictator" - Bush is well on his way to becoming a dictator. For example, what people assume is a mispronunciation when he declares a "War on Terra," is a warning - everything Bush has done has been aimed at destroying the ecosystems of planet Terra (if you don't know Latin, "Terra" is Latin for "Earth"). Bush loves rubbing our noses in it too: take this deeply sick "humour" as an example - he fucked us over and he gets his jollies knowing it.

Cheney is not so clear-cut. Cheney hides in the shadows. Cheney doesn't give us warnings of what he's going to do. Cheney doesn't gloat afterwards. It's possible that Cheney is also a psychopath but one who gets greater kicks from financial reward than by hurting people. However, when you look at Cheney's "dead fish" performance in interviews, and the lies he tells long after even his supporters acknowledge they are lies, it's clear he thinks he's talking to his animated dolls.

Which of the two is more dangerous? Psychopaths are more likely to over-reach than sociopaths: Pyschopaths are driven by an urge to prove their superiority; sociopaths are just playing with their animated dolls. On the other hand, psycopaths understand that they can over-reach whereas sociopaths have no conception whatsoever that it is possible to over-reach, and would be as astounded by people reacting negatively as a child would be by its toy soldiers staging a mutiny.

Perhaps the DSM has it right and there is no significant distinction: both Bush and Cheney are evil fucking bastards. Knowing what drives them doesn't change the diagnosis, only (perhaps) how we attempt to counter them.


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