We at LouisianaVoice are not into pop psychology, but in reading interviews with three authors of two separate books, one about sociopaths and the other about psychopaths, we could not help noticing first, the character traits the two have in common and second, how those descriptions seem to fit a certain Louisiana elected official like a Brioni suit.
All three authors are respected practicing psychologists.
Martha Stout, Ph.D., is a clinical psychologist and former Harvard Medical school instructor. Author of The Sociopath Next Door, she has spent much of her professional life trying to decipher the psyche of the sociopath and has determined that the central trait of a sociopath is the total lack of conscience.
She estimates that one in 25 people, 4 percent of the population, are sociopathic. That translates to roughly 12 million Americans. The percentage, she said, most likely increases as one climbs the ladder of success.
Dr. Stout describes sociopaths as those who, through grand schemes of contrivance, manipulation and deceit, seek to undermine and manipulate simply because they can.
She is also quick to point out that sociopaths generally are not violent and don’t necessarily look like Charles Manson. Instead, she says, they are like most other people in that some of them are brilliant, some stupid and others somewhere in between.
In fact, they are often charming and charismatic and the skilled ones will study the way we emote and use that to his or her advantage. Beneath that façade, however, Dr. Stout says they live “only to dominate others and win.”
While loath to practice amateur psychology, we have to ask: does this sounds like anyone we know?
“In a perfect world, human respect would be an automatic reaction only to those who are strong, kind and morally courageous,” Dr. Stout says. The person who profits from manipulation and fear is not likely to be any of these, she added.
One lie, one broken promise or a single neglected responsibility might well be a simple misunderstanding, she said. “Two may involve a serious mistake. But three lies says you’re dealing with a liar and deceit is the linchpin of conscienceless behavior.”
Most disturbing of all, Stout says at least six out of 10 people “will blindly obey an official-looking authority to the bitter end.”
Two other experts, Robert Hare, Ph.D. and Paul Babiak, Ph.D. have conducted extensive research into psychopathy and have come up with several similarities between Dr. Stout’s description of sociopaths and their own characterization of psychopaths.
In their book Snakes in Suits: When Psychopaths Go to Work, they note that psychopaths “have an inordinate need for power, prestige, wealth, etc. They operate according to their own self-serving principle: look out for number one, no matter what the cost to others and (do so) without guilt or remorse.”
Again, sound like anyone we know?
The emotional life of psychopaths lacks the range and depth found in most individuals, Dr. Hare says. “…No amount of training and practice will allow…the psychopath to really understand the emotional life of others, except in a vague intellectual, inferential sense. To put it simply, they don’t know how you feel, nor do they much care.
“They are described as without conscience and incapable of empathy, guilt or loyalty to anyone but themselves,” he added.
Dr. Babiak added that psychopaths make great first impressions and “talk a good game on a surface level, and will use technical jargon and glib, superficial charm” to convince others of their experience and expertise.
He said the psychopath “operates on the surface level,” presenting a mask or persona that is in keeping with the expectations of the audience and that they are “more observant of others and are motivated to take advantage of the traits, characteristics and personal situations of those around them.”
“Other people only exist to fulfill the supporting roles required of them—the pawns and patrons,” he added.
He said most psychopaths they have known were “loners” in the sense of only thinking of themselves, but that “they do surround themselves with supporters and followers to facilitate their activities.”
Babiak then dropped a bombshell during the interview about their book:
“While economic slowdowns can lead to layoffs and plant closings,” he said, “there is still the need for seasoned, experienced leaders who have the wherewithal to meet the challenge of recovery and turnaround. These individuals are rare. What a perfect scenario for the psychopath to enter as the ‘solution,’ replete with the skills (faked), abilities (faked), and background (faked) necessary to take over and make things right.”
Babiak said the change of organizational structures from large and bureaucratic to lean, mean and flat (read: consolidation and privatization) has inadvertently made organizations more attractive to psychopaths because of fewer rules and at the same time, easier to negotiate (faster progression—as in education reform legislation).
“The mantra became ‘do more, better, faster with less,’” Babiak said.
He said psychopaths are intolerant of creativity and innovation and that in an atmosphere of constant policy changes and restructuring, new structures “are always in a state of flux and never reach the ‘ideal’ state. This frustrates and confuses those who have grown accustomed to the stability that large organizations used to provide.
“Being a thrill seeker by nature, the psychopath relishes the chaos,” Babiak said. “On a practical level, a constantly changing work environment provides the psychopath and endless source of new co-workers to target and many opportunities to move from project to project when boredom sets in.”
“Sadly, even after being victimized, many members of a group will refuse to face the truth, continuing to believe that the scamster is basically good at heart or that there must be a reason why he or she took advantage of the group,” Dr. Hare said.
“There is little evidence that psychopaths can be or even believe they should be, rehabilitated. Their behavior reflects a well-established, stable personality structure,” he said.
“They have solid positions from which they continue to use their organization (read: office) for personal gain,” Babiak added.
One more time: sound like anyone we know?
We’re just sayin’…