By Dr George Venturini*
Abbott & Co. = “a bunch of psychopaths?”
Society has conspired with Hollywood to put two seemingly-sexy psychology terms into our collective consciousness – psychopath and sociopath. They are pop psychology terms for what psychiatry calls an antisocial personality disorder. Both types of personality have a pervasive pattern of disregard for the safety and rights of others. Deceit and manipulation are central features to both types of personality. And, contrary to popular belief, a psychopath or sociopath is not necessarily violent. Both psychopaths and sociopaths present risks to society, because they will often try and live a normal life while coping with their disorder, but psychopathy is likely the more dangerous disorder, because they experience a lot less guilt connected to their actions.
Few disorders are as misunderstood as is psychopathic personality and, instead of indulging in any amateurish analysis, one should reach out to the work of Dr. Martha Stout, a clinical psychologist who was long affiliated with Harvard Medical School. She is the author of The sociopath next door: The ruthless versus the rest of us (New York 2006) and other popular books on emotional disorders. In her writings Dr. Stout tends to use the term sociopath instead of psychopath, on the ground that the terms are often used interchangeably by mental health professionals.
Of course, sociopathy is not a form of insanity. It is a spectrum of personality types classically centering on narcissistic self-importance, a willingness to manipulate others and the charm to do it effectively, and a perpetual habit of deflecting blame when self-interested actions cause harm to others. This all stems from a basic lack of conscience, the defining trait of the sociopath.
The term psychopath has been used by specialists since the nineteenth-century, but was popularised by psychiatrist Dr. Hervey M. Cleckley, a psychiatrist from the Medical College of Georgia, in his 1941 classic The mask of sanity: An attempt to clarify some issues about the so-called psychopathic personality (Augusta, Georgia 1988) For Dr. Cleckley the psychopathic personality was initially defined by a relatively high-functioning, aggressively narcissistic, extroverted persona concealing an antisocial and latent psychotic core. Whether most psychopaths are truly psychotic beneath their affable, charming, manipulative mask is dubious, as Dr. Cleckley later recognised, though some may in fact, like severe borderline, paranoid or schizotypal personalities, be compensated psychotics.
Cleckley’s original list of symptoms of a psychopath is:
- Considerable superficial charm and average or above average intelligence.
- Absence of delusions and other signs of irrational thinking.
- Absence of anxiety or other ‘neurotic’ symptoms considerable poise, calmness, and verbal facility.
- Unreliability, disregard for obligations and no sense of responsibility, in matters of little and great import.
- Untruthfulness and insincerity.
- Antisocial behaviour which is inadequately motivated and poorly planned, seeming to stem from an inexplicable impulsiveness.
- Inadequately motivated antisocial behaviour.
- Poor judgment and failure to learn from experience.
- Pathological egocentricity and total self-centeredness incapacity for real love and attachment.
- General poverty of deep and lasting emotions.
- Lack of any true insight, inability to see oneself as others do.
- Ingratitude for any special considerations, kindness, and trust.
- Fantastic and objectionable behaviour, after drinking and sometimes even when not drinking – vulgarity, rudeness, quick mood shifts, pranks.
- No history of genuine suicide attempts.
- An impersonal, trivial, and poorly integrated sex life.
- Failure to have a life plan and to live in any ordered way, unless it be one promoting self-defeat.
Psychopaths are not delusional or psychotic; in fact, two of the hallmarks of psychopathy are a calculating mind and a seemingly easy charm.
Diagnosis, of course, does not require every trait to be evident in an individual.
Dr. Cleckley theorised that some people with the core attributes of psychopathy – egocentricity, lack of remorse, superficial charm – could be found in nearly every walk of life and at every level, including politics.
Dr. Robert D. Hare, Emeritus Professor of the University of British Columbia and another leading expert on the disorder, developed the most commonly used test for diagnosing psychopathy, and has noted that psychopaths generally have a heightened need for power and prestige – exactly the type of urges that make politics an attractive calling.
There is more at work than just the drive to seek office, though; psychopaths may have some peculiar talents for it, as well. Research has shown that disorder may confer certain advantages which make psychopaths particularly suited to a life on the public stage and able to handle high-pressure situations: psychopaths score low on measures of stress reactivity, anxiety and depression, and high on measures of competitive achievement, positive impressions on first encounters, and fearlessness. And does this sound like the description of a successful politician and leader?
When psychopaths capture positions of power the result is totalitarianism, also known as pathocracy. The word derives from Greek, pathos: feeling, pain, suffering and kratos: rule. It defines a totalitarian form of government in which absolute political power is held by a psychopathic élite, and their effect on the people is such that the entire society is ruled and motivated by purely pathological values. At that point, the government operates against the interests of its own people except for favouring certain groups: banksters, tycoons, media proprietors, transnational miners, intercontinental legal advisers, tax experts, turf accountants and other rent seekers parasites …
“Politicians are more likely than people in the general population to be sociopaths.” Dr. Stout told the Huffpost Science. “I think you would find no expert in the field of sociopathy/psychopathy/antisocial personality disorder who would dispute this.”(‘Are Politicians Psychopaths?‘).
Psychopathy is complex and counterintuitive, and understanding has been very slow, even though some psychologists credit (debit?) psychopaths with starting the second world war and with creating the conditions for the 2008 worldwide financial meltdown.
Politicians and stockbrokers share many of the same characteristics as criminal psychopaths. The only difference is that career high-flyers usually stay within the law.
Some could be defined as ‘successful psychopaths’, according to Dr. Lisa Marshall, a forensic psychologist at the University of Toronto and at the Glasgow Caledonian University.
School – she said – was found to be a boring and bad experience for most psychopaths.
And Dr. Marshall suggested: check if the person next to you a psychopath by ticking as appropriate:
- remorseless user of others.
- pathological liar.
- glib and a con artist.
- lacking in remorse.
- failing to accept responsibility for actions.
- with a high sense of self-worth.
- chronically unstable.
- with a socially deviant lifestyle.
- needing constant stimulation.
- with a parasitic lifestyle.
- having had childhood problems.
- a juvenile delinquent.
- having unrealistic goals.
The typical profile of a sociopath certainly suggests they would flourish in politics.
“Robert Hare, perhaps the leading expert on the disorder and the person who developed the most commonly used test for diagnosing psychopathy, has noted that psychopaths generally have a heightened need for power and prestige.” James Silver, a former American federal prosecutor and currently a criminal defence attorney, reported in The Atlantic, “exactly the type of urges that make politics an attractive calling.” Silver also noted that other typical sociopath traits, including fearlessness and strong competitive drives, make sociopaths likely not only to enter politics, but succeed in it. (J. Silver, ‘The startling accuracy of referring to politicians as psychopaths’, The Atlantic, 31 July 2012).
The current understanding of psychopathic mental disorders is only now beginning to attract serious attention by the general public and that would seem to be entirely appropriate given the high associated costs of psychopathic behaviours.
One could very well say that the knee-jerk reaction of calling an offending person ‘psychopath’ is inaccurate, irresponsible, misleading and unethical – unless one is provided with the medical knowledge of a Dr. Nelson, or at least of a psychologist such as Lyn Bender, a graduate from La Trobe University.
On 13 May 2014 she asked the question: “What if Abbott and his cronies are just a bunch of psychopaths?” She observed that the psychopath may be smart even highly intelligent, but lacks empathy and is a chronic manipulator.
And Ms. Bender went on: “He is morally bankrupt due to this lack of empathy and narcissism. What he doesn’t feel, he mimics to further his own ends.
The psychopath or sociopath is careless of others feelings, exhibits no guilt or remorse, lies compulsively and acts impulsively with little regard for the consequences of those actions.
Grandiosity inflates a sense of getting away with anything.
The focus is never on reparation – but on escaping any responsibility for the harm inflicted on others.
The drive is essentially narcissistic, even if it is paraded as altruistic.
The actions are thoroughly Machiavellian with the end justifying the means – but the ends are narcissistically focused.
The latest revelations about the Abbott Government’s manipulation [such as Treasurer Hockey’s fictional budget crisis], deceit and lies have led me to wonder: was Prime Minister Abbott incapable of human feeling?
What is keeping me awake at night is the following nagging thought: ‘What if [former] Prime Minister Tony Abbott was just a psychopath?’
Surrounding himself with like-minded ministers advisors and old cronies, Abbott is forging his way towards his version of a small government free market quasi neo conservative nirvana.
A brave new land where the poor are punished for being poor, the disabled are abandoned, universal education and health care is degraded and the old and poor are denied health care in the hope that they will work until death, at seventy.
Currently, that is still mostly the inglorious dream of those espousing the perverted Right-wing agenda of the denialist propaganda think tank the Institute of Public Affairs – and Abbott’s handpicked Commission of Audit.
Indeed, while Tony Abbott avoids the A.B.C. like the plague, he is most comfortable in the company of friends.
Indeed, as I write this section [in May 2014], Abbott is working to implement his agenda, [which are the I.P.A.’s goals].
They include repeal of measures and bodies to combat climate change and the breaking up and sale of those vile socialists, the A.B.C. and S.B.S.:
- Break up the ABC and put out to tender each individual function
- Privatise S.B.S.
As we know, there is too much free speech and left wing science on the ABC, and Abbott has attacked it for: “… not being enough on the side of the home team.”
The unpatriotic A.B.C. also reported on those asylum seeker abuse allegations – of having their hands burned by the Australian Navy. The A.B.C. should never have reported them, in Liberal Party world, since they were vigorously denied by Morrison and Abbott.”
Ms. Bender then asked: “ … is this just a bumbling rookie government with a fixation on becoming a replica of the American Tea Party movement?
Or is there evidence that Abbott and his cronies are running a psychopathic government?
In my view, there is no question.
Consider the evidence – she wrote, and made the following points:
1. Tony Abbott is a compulsive liar.
2. Lack of empathy and compassion.
3. On Tony doing whatever it takes.
“Abbott said in 2010 on Lateline that he took the view of Australia Day that, while some Indigenous people regarded it as Invasion Day, they have much to celebrate in Australia’s British culture.
Not much empathy or respect there.
Abbot can’t hear, understand, or empathise with the voices expressing the suffering of aboriginal people as whites celebrate Australia Day.
4. Abbott completely disregards the well being of future generations.
Former Prime Minister Paul Keating derides Abbott as failing to adopt carbon pricing.
According to Keating, Abbott’s modus operandi is: “If you don’t give me the job, I’ll wreck the joint!”
5. Abbott’s cronies.
And one should not ignore those whom Abbott has gathered around him and those who are reflecting his psychopathology. For Abbott has beside him cronies who are implementing policy which is downright sociopathic in its intent.
“[Then] Immigration Minister Scott Morrison [and now Treasurer], who could be dubbed the minister without a heart, administer[ed] the illegal murderous Abbott ‘stop the boats’ policy, which has been criticised by the UN. Amnesty International has also critiqued, as inhumane, offshore processing under Operation Sovereign Borders – soon to become Border Force.
The policy now [in May 2014] has international fame – or rather infamy – for its violation of human rights. Under it, Morrison, on behalf of Abbott, has just pushed another boat back to Indonesia, reportedly adding – as though they were not actually humans – three extra unwanted (by Australia) refugees located on Christmas Island to the vessel being turned back – potentially an offence under Australia’s own domestic laws against people smuggling.
But ultimately, it is in fiscal policy that the greatest good or harm can be done. It looks as though [then] Treasurer Joe Hockey – with Tony Abbott’s blessing – is taking the harm option. [On 8 December 2015 Mr. Hockey was rewarded by Prime Minister Turnbull to become the next Ambassador of Australia to the United States. He assumed his position on 29 January 2016].
The Treasurer [Mr. Hockey, as he then was] is urging the poor to tighten their belts, while hyperventilating about overspending causing the budget crisis. But most credible economists say is not an immediate crisis, but a long term problem requiring a restructuring of revenue – not belt tightening.
Should we bring out the smelling salts or the cigars? The financial team appear to be in triumphant cigar smoking mode, as the poor and the disabled the old and unemployed come within the budget’s rifle sights. [The late] Bob Ellis dub[bed] Hockey on [Independent Australia] as the ‘dumbest politician ever’, as the treasurer crows about implementing an austerity regime that has been utterly discredited throughout the western world, including by world renowned economists such as Paul Krugman and Joseph Stiglitz, because of its clear economic contraction effects. Hockey is also, ironically, under a cloud regarding hefty donations for providing exclusive access to select groups, including business and lobbyists, at pricey functions.
Finally the ultimate destructive piece de resistance by Abbott must be his decision to completely ignore the warnings of 97 per cent (or more) of the world’s climate scientists on the extreme danger to our planetary home, of human induced global warming, including Australia’s own chief scientist Ian Chubb. David Suzuki has called it wilful blindness and a crime against future generations for Tony Abbott to ignore the threat and suppress action on climate change.
Meanwhile, Abbott supports and subsidises fossil fuel polluters and is hell bent on suppressing investment in renewable sources of energy. He has by the way, appointed climate sceptic Dick Warburton to review the renewable energy target – flagging his contempt for renewables.
Abbott shows no respect for scientific evidence or empathy and concern for the fate of Australians and millions of the world’s poor, or for his own children and future grandchildren.
Is it because he is a psycho with no empathy or care for anyone apart from himself, who has gathered a bunch of sociopaths around him?
Traditional counselling does not work for psychopaths, who may add skills thus gained to their manipulative repertoire.
Less intelligent psychopaths may end up in jail. Smarter ones may end up running companies or the country. If Tony Abbott is a psychopath he is incapable of genuine care for others. He should, therefore, not be running the country.
Be afraid; be very afraid.” (L. Bender, ‘What if Abbott and his cronies are just a bunch of psychopaths?’, 13 May 2014).
Or could Tony Abbott be regarded as a ‘political sociopath’?
Tomorrow: Abbott & Co. = “a bunch of psychopaths?” (continued)
* In memory of my friends, Professor Bertram Gross and Justice Lionel Murphy.
Dr. Venturino Giorgio Venturini devoted some sixty years to study, practice, teach, write and administer law at different places in four continents. In 1975 he left a law chair in Chicago to join the Trade Practices Commission in Canberra.
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