Books: The Wisdom of Psychopaths by Kevin Dutton

One of my secondary concentrations as an undergrad was psychology. I enjoy this aspect of people—that is, the way they think, their motivations and such—I find it interesting. And Dutton writes in a way that's not so over the head of an average reader. He makes the information accessible.

I'd go into the various points Dutton makes, but that's what the book is for. The subtitle of the book (which I felt was too long to include in the title of this post) is What Saints, Spies, and Serial Killers Can Teach Us About Success. The saint bit isn't very strong in the book, and it's mostly toward the end. The spies thing . . . Well, think about it: Is James Bond a psychopath? Probably. In that line of work, most people are, have to be to stay cool under pressure. So a big chunk of the book talks about that, and about how soldiers (Special Forces in particular) must be psychopaths, too. Or maybe it's just that psychopaths are drawn to that kind of work and are good at it. Chicken, egg.

Here's what I think divides the saints from the serial killers. And I say this as someone who comes in at 15 on the PPI, which is about halfway to clinical psychopathy. If psychopaths are motivated by reward—and who isn't, really, in life? look at how we tempt our kids with promises of a cookie if they eat their veggies—and if reward is, in fact, their primary focus . . . Psychopaths zero in on what they want, more so even than the average person. They're looking for the high they get from whatever gives them pleasure. And that high doesn't last long, so they go after the next thing, and the next thing, and the next thing. A steady sort of mainlining, really. They need the stimulation.

So here's what makes the difference. Take someone like me: I get high from helping people. I don't do it because I'm a "good person," I do it because I'm selfish and I like the feeling I get when I help a tourist find where they need to go or rescue a stray animal. That's my "hit." That's where I get satisfaction. If I got the same feeling from shoving people in front of cars, well, I'd probably do that instead. Lucky for me and the world, I guess, that that's not the case. (I did shove someone in front of a car once, but I was five and he'd kissed me and given me chicken pox, so he deserved it. And anyway, the car turned down another street before it got as far as where we were standing. Long story short: I get no satisfaction from shoving people in front of cars. Lesson learned.)

But then there are the psychopaths who derive pleasure and rewards from hurting people. These are your Ted Bundy types. They have the same primary motivation: to get that high feeling. Unfortunately, they way they get high is, er . . . Yeah. That.

Look at Sherlock Holmes, for instance. He always said he'd make a good criminal if he'd turned in that direction. I suppose it's lucky for Scotland Yard that Holmes's high came from nabbing the bad guys rather than joining them. (That and the cocaine when he was bored. Psychopaths are terrible when they're bored.)

Now, whether the divide is nature or nurture, who knows? A little of both, I imagine. I grew up in a happy enough home. Was a bit of a bully to some of my friends, though. But somewhere down the line I got that out of my system. What changed? Well, it seemed to happen when we moved, so there's an environmental factor, I suppose. I dunno. It's interesting to think about though.

All this isn't telling you much about the book, is it? Well, it's a good one if you like this sort of thing. As I said, easy enough to read. Lots of anecdotes and various studies. A visit to Broadmoor. If you ever wanted to hear from a psychopath but were afraid to get close enough, Dutton does it for you. An interesting read.

1 comment:

Roland D. Yeomans said...

You'd probably enjoy THE PSYCHOPATH TEST written by the reporter who wrote THE MEN WHO STARED AT GOATS. It starts with the mystery of a hand-made books of riddles sent to a variety of scientists around the world -- one of which contacts the reporter to see if he can trace who is sending this brilliant book.

It sounds like fiction but is fact. In his research and clue-hunting, he seeks to find the scientific answer to what makes a human a psychopath. It's by Jon Ronson. I think you might enjoy it.

Just a thought. Have a great weekend.