You've Met One Today: 5 Creepy True Facts About Psychopaths
Hey, remember that time there was a mass murder and the media blamed it on the shooter's autism? Or all those serial killer movies where the murderer is driven by hallucinations and/or schizophrenia? For some reason our society has decided that the mentally ill are all ticking time bombs, when statistically they're no more dangerous than everyone else. But you know who should scare you?
If you thought "psychopath" was just a general term for "crazy person," you're way off. The reason psychopaths are terrifying is that they're strikingly normal -- but with streaks of impulsiveness, fearlessness, and a cold lack of empathy due to a largish chunk of their brain having come unplugged. And where a sociopath is someone who's out of control enough that you can often spot them, the defining trait of psychopaths is they can walk invisibly among us (think The Joker vs. Patrick Bateman).
Sure, some of them are serial killers. The vast majority are not. If you find that comforting, well, read on ...
You've Probably Crossed Paths With A Psychopath Today
While your chances of living to (briefly) regret showering in some rundown motel as your lifeblood washes down the drain in glorious black-and-white are somewhat less than probable, the odds that you've encountered an honest-to-goodness psycho in your day-to-day activities are pretty much a sure shot. In fact, he might be the dickhole who made you work that extra shift last Saturday.
When we say that psychopaths walk undetected among us, that's because not even experts know how to spot them -- it's not like they're always whistling down the sidewalk with a cloak of human skin draped over their shoulder. The gold standard exam for psychopathy literally requires the testee to be imprisoned, and the next-best test is a long questionnaire that requires a trained professional to properly score. As such, science's best guess places the number of psychopaths in the general population at around one in a hundred.
One in 10 if you live here.
That means that if you live in an average-sized city, you probably bumped into a couple psychopaths the last time you ran out for tacos. Where the numbers get really crazy, though, is when you examine people in certain careers -- that is, middle-management and above -- because that's when the number suddenly quadruples. It seems that those with psychopathic tendencies are genetically pre-wired to become other people's bosses.
But before you blow your next paycheck on body armor to prevent your liver from becoming so much cracker spread, you should also know that not all psychopaths want to murder you. It's just that they don't care what happens to you at all. You're a cog in a machine they believe is designed only to give them pleasure. Gruesome crimes are one possibility, but psychopaths don't like jail any more than you do.
So that means it's entirely possible that your thunderous shit-weasel of a manager is literally incapable of comprehending why your life should matter to him or her at all. Whether they're cutting your hours or laying you off and dooming you to homelessness just so they can earn some month-end bonus, they're incapable of feeling bad about it. You can see why certain organizations would value those traits.
All organizations, in fact.
For, you see ...
Psychopaths And Heroes Are Remarkably Similar ... And Are Often The Same People
Let's do some role-playing. Imagine you're walking down the street, when suddenly you see a house that's engulfed in flames. A child leans out of a second-story window, screaming for someone -- anyone -- to help. Do you A) wrestle with your own fear of death, desperately grasping for some way to help without endangering your own life, before heroically whipping out your cellphone to dial 911, or B) charge straight into the blazing inferno without so much as a second thought for your own personal safety?
If you answered B, congratulations, you hero! And also psychopath!
See, when it comes to defining something as intricate as a human's mental functions, labels can both help and harm. Most mental disorders are on a continuum. So where it would hardly be comforting for a parent to hear that their child is just a touch psychopathic, that child might have just enough empathy that, combined with their psychopathic inability to give a single fuck, turns them into Batman. At one end of the spectrum is a monster and at the other end is something indistinguishable from a normal person, with lots of gray area in between. But what you need to remember is this: Many of history's greatest achievers fall closer to the "Monster" side. You know, like if it turned out some world-famous entertainer was secretly a serial rapist his whole life.
Burn in hell, you piece of shit.
Heroes and psychopaths have been described as "twigs off the same branch" due to the uncomfortable amount of overlap in their personality traits -- namely, both are likely to be an "impulsive, argumentative person that readily breaks rules, acts impulsively, [and] challenges authority." But that phrasing makes it sound like they are two separate groups, that our job is to sort the good psychopaths from the bad. They're often the same person. Hell, even Ted fucking Bundy spent time volunteering for a suicide-prevention hotline.
Wait ... does that mean that the architects of our society were, in many cases, unfeeling monsters? Yep! And ...
Governments Treasure Psychopaths (For Their Natural Killing Abilities)
Depending on the circumstances, heroism might mean ripping a crying baby from the burning wreckage of a horrific motorized stroller accident, or it might mean murdering the absolute shit out of as many sons of bitches as possible. When it comes to the latter, you need yourself a good old-fashioned psychopath.
After all, what's the perfect career path for a person who is unable to comprehend another's pain and who strives to impose his power and authority over others? If you said high school P.E. teacher we'll give you extra credit points, but no, the answer we had in mind was one of the few careers outside of a slaughterhouse where racking up a kill count is not only acceptable but highly encouraged: soldiering.
"It still could have been P.E. teacher if that stupid school board had just let me teach dodgeball my way."
In a Military Review article disconcertingly titled "Natural Killers -- Turning The Tide Of Battle," U.S. Army Major David S. Pierson waxes poetic about the importance of having emotionally disconnected, charismatic killers on hand for deployment on the battlefield. According to Pierson, a natural killer is one who "enjoys combat and feels little or no remorse about killing the enemy." Hey, science has a word for that guy!
Of course, you can't always count on Mother Nature to crank out sufficient numbers of murderous flesh-robots. That's probably why the British government has funded studies with the intent of developing a "psychopath helmet" that would temporarily turn off the sections of the brain related to fear and empathy, thus allowing Her Majesty's fighter pilots to transform her enemies into Michael Bay's daydreams without the slightest hesitation. Remember that one time you got to the bar and embarrassingly realized you were still wearing your name tag from work? Yeah, let's hope that situation never happens with psycho helmets.
"They said they wanted shots, so I shot them -- oh, missed a spot."
So now we've established psychopaths' penchant for obtaining high-level positions, and their utter disregard for the lives of their fellow humans. Are you wondering what might happen when you combine the two? Well ...
Psychopaths Crashed The World's Economy (And They'll Do It Again)
Remember how we said earlier that the psychopathic brain is custom-built for managerial work? Yeah, well, the thing about that is, as Oxford research psychologist Kevin Dutton put it, "Psychopaths are very reward-driven. If they see a benefit in something, they zone in on it and they go for it 100 percent." A psychopath won't be satisfied with some measly department manager position. No, a psychopath wants to be the ever-loving CEO. And all those people who have to get flattened along the way are to them just noisy little speed bumps.
"Literally, once I get an S-Class."
"But wait!" you're probably saying right now. "Companies would never intentionally allow that to happen!" Actually, there's evidence that major investment banks have actively encouraged the hiring of psychopaths, knowing full well that they'll work their asses off to make more and more money for themselves and the company -- at the expense of society as a whole, if that's what it damn well takes. Cold, focused, relentless.
So what happens when every corporate ladder is teetering with grinning Hannibal Lecters, waving down at your pitiful existence from on high? Well, unless you were in a coma in 2008, you already have a pretty good idea of what happens.
That's when the economy tanked thanks to some incredibly shortsighted decisions made by the heads of the world's largest banks and brokerage firms. It's generally agreed upon that the actions taken by financial leaders in the run up to Black Monday II represented the kind of idiotic villainy rarely seen outside of a Captain Planet cartoon, not because of how greedy the suits were but because no one seemed to care that a crash had become inevitable.
And who does the "not caring" thing better than anybody? Yep, you guessed it: According to the highly plausible "Corporate Psychopaths Theory Of The Global Financial Crisis," the highest echelons of some of the world's most powerful companies had become so inundated with "corporate psychopaths" that they essentially took a big, pink eraser to the Corporate Responsibility section of the company manual and worked solely to enrich themselves. Then they sat stroking their white lap cats and maniacally laughing as the world's finances crumbled to dust around their $1,500 socks.
"I wear them with $5,000 sandals, because fuck you, that's why."
And where are all these corporate psychopaths today, you ask? Why, for the most part, they're still sitting in their fancy corner offices. What, you thought they'd let a little thing like a worldwide financial collapse get in the way of paying off their volcanic island lairs? And by continuing to foster a corporate environment that rewards psychopathic behavior, it seems we're straight-up demanding Black Monday 3D, which, as history has clearly demonstrated, precisely no one actually wants.
And yet ...
Psychopaths Might Be The Best People To Have Around In A Crisis
Say it happens again. The ravenous horde of powerful psychopaths whose only joy comes from amassing pennies just to keep them out of your pockets tosses the economy down the shitter, and this time they remember to flush. There's rioting in the streets. Food is scarce. Entire cities burn. Holy shit, your iPhone doesn't work anymore.
"It's as if millions of Siris suddenly cried out in terror and were suddenly silenced ..."
Who do you turn to for help? Ironically, the answer to that question might be "the psychopaths."
That's because their inability to empathize and their shaky morals -- both frowned-upon traits in a happier world -- suddenly transform into advantages when said world goes post-apocalyptic. A recently declassified file from the U.K.'s Home Office examined how Britain would recover from a wide-scale nuclear attack -- 300 megatons of nuclear bombs, all plopped smack dab in the middle of the island in less time than it takes the average Brit to say "aluminium." The infrastructure would immediately collapse; the police force (or what's left of it) would quickly prove inadequate to maintain any semblance of order in the smoking chaos.
"TEA! WE NEED TEEEEEAAAA!"
Jane Hogg -- a scientific officer for the Home Office when she's not busy oppressing the Duke boys -- had a novel suggestion: The country could put their psychopaths to work, enlisting them as the backbone of an unfeeling labor force to help those victims most affected by the disaster. Research has shown that when psychopaths are shown images specifically designed to cause revulsion in the average human being, the images don't faze them in the slightest. So while the horrors of post-nuclear devastation could mentally break even the most street-hardened of cops, a psychopath isn't going to let the fact that your left nipple has become an eyeball get in the way of doing their goddamned job.
"Stop squirming so I can get that damn eyelash out of there, you big baby."
As Hogg put it, "These are the people who could be expected to show no psychological effects in the communities which have suffered the severest losses."
So when the day inevitably comes that your family is crouching over the smoking husk of your sedan in a vain attempt to heat your last can of Beanie Weenies, just remember: It's the heroic psychopaths who are out there protecting your helpless ass from the wolfskin-wearing gangs of bandits. As for the fact that they're also the ones who caused this whole apocalypse in the first place, try not to think about it. After all, it's been the case since Day 1: There are unfeeling pod people all around you, and for better or worse, they run this shit.
Now that you've figured out if you're a psychopath or not, check out whether or not the Internet has turned you into a sociopath in The 5 Types Of Sociopath Invented By The Internet. Or check out 5 Terrifying Serial Killers Who Happened To Be Animals, because psychos exist in Mother Nature also.
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