[p2p-research] The psychopath as peer?

Paul D. Fernhout pdfernhout at kurtz-fernhout.com
Sun Nov 1 17:47:19 CET 2009

A digression onto a psychopathic aspect of the current system, related to my 
previous post on changing social mythology which seems counterproductive, 
which concluded:
The problem being right now that a very few people get what they still think 
are very big benefits by the current economic system, as long as they look 
the other way about systemic risks of collapse (economic collapse, war, 
unrest, plaque, and so on) that we *all* face together, even the wealthy.
   And, it looks like even the children of the wealthy are worse off for it:
"Children of the Affluent: Challenges to Well-Being"
"The Culture of Affluence: Psychological Costs of Material Wealth"
"Why Affluent, High-Achieving Teens Are Often Depressed"
   If even the children of the wealthy are being harmed by the current 
system, then who is the current system really working for?
   One possibility: Psychopaths? :-(

Here is some more on that theme of psychopath as "peer". :-)

   "Psychopaths among us"
Ever since I visited Dr. Robert Hare in Vancouver, I can see them, the 
psychopaths. It's pretty easy, once you know how to look. I'm watching a 
documentary about an American prison trying to rehabilitate teen murderers. 
They're using an emotionally intense kind of group therapy, and I can see, 
as plain as day, that one of the inmates is a psychopath. He tries, but he 
can't muster a convincing breakdown, can't fake any feeling for his dead 
victims. He's learned the words, as Bob Hare would put it, but not the 
music. ...
   And it's really just beginning. Psychopathy may prove to be as important 
a construct in this century as IQ was in the last (and just as susceptible 
to abuse), because, thanks to Hare, we now understand that the great 
majority of psychopaths are not violent criminals and never will be. 
Hundreds of thousands of psychopaths live and work and prey among us. Your 
boss, your boyfriend, your mother could be what Hare calls a "subclinical" 
psychopath, someone who leaves a path of destruction and pain without a 
single pang of conscience. Even more worrisome is the fact that, at this 
stage, no one -- not even Bob Hare -- is quite sure what to do about it. ...
   The Psychopathy Checklist consists of a set of forms and a manual that 
describes in detail how to score a subject in twenty categories that define 
psychopathy. Is he (or, more rarely, she) glib and superficially charming, 
callous and without empathy? Does he have a grandiose sense of self worth, 
shallow emotions, a lack of remorse or guilt? Is he impulsive, 
irresponsible, promiscuous? Did he have behavioural problems early in life? 
The information for each category must be carefully drawn from documents 
such as court transcripts, police reports, psychologists' reports, and 
victim-impact statements, and not solely from an interview, since 
psychopaths are superb liars ("pathological lying" and 
"conning/manipulative" are PCL-R categories). A prisoner may claim to love 
his family, for example, while his records show no visits or phone calls. ...
   The most startling finding to emerge from Hare's work is that the popular 
image of the psychopath as a remorseless, smiling killer -- Paul Bernardo, 
Clifford Olson, John Wayne Gacy -- while not wrong, is incomplete. Yes, 
almost all serial killers, and most of Canada's dangerous offenders, are 
psychopaths, but violent criminals are just a tiny fraction of the 
psychopaths around us. Hare estimates that 1 percent of the population -- 
300,000 people in Canada -- are psychopaths.
   He calls them "subclinical" psychopaths. They're the charming predators 
who, unable to form real emotional bonds, find and use vulnerable women for 
sex and money (and inevitably abandon them). They're the con men like 
Christophe Rocancourt, and they're the stockbrokers and promoters who caused 
Forbes magazine to call the Vancouver Stock Exchange (now part of the 
Canadian Venture Exchange) the scam capital of the world. (Hare has said 
that if he couldn't study psychopaths in prisons, the Vancouver Stock 
Exchange would have been his second choice.) A significant proportion of 
persistent wife beaters, and people who have unprotected sex despite 
carrying the AIDS virus, are psychopaths. Psychopaths can be found in 
legislatures, hospitals, and used-car lots. They're your neighbour, your 
boss, and your blind date. Because they have no conscience, they're natural 
predators. If you didn't have a conscience, you'd be one too.
   Psychopaths love chaos and hate rules, so they're comfortable in the 
fast-moving modern corporation. Dr. Paul Babiak, an 
industrial-organizational psychologist based near New York City, is in the 
process of writing a book with Bob Hare called When Psychopaths Go to Work: 
Cons, Bullies and the Puppetmaster. The subtitle refers to the three broad 
classes of psychopaths Babiak has encountered in the workplace.
   "The con man works one-on-one," says Babiak. "They'll go after a woman, 
marry her, take her money, then move on and marry someone else. The puppet 
master would manipulate somebody to get at someone else. This type is more 
powerful because they're hidden." Babiak says psychopaths have three 
motivations: thrill-seeking, the pathological desire to win, and the 
inclination to hurt people. "They'll jump on any opportunity that allows 
them to do those things," he says. "If something better comes along, they'll 
drop you and move on."  ...
   "A lot of white-collar criminals are psychopaths," says Bob Hare. "But 
they flourish because the characteristics that define the disorder are 
actually valued. When they get caught, what happens? A slap on the wrist, a 
six-month ban from trading, and don't give us the $100 million back. I've 
always looked at white-collar crime as being as bad or worse than some of 
the physically violent crimes that are committed."  ...
   After thirty-five years of work, Bob Hare has brought us to the stage 
where we know what psychopathy is, how much damage psychopaths do, and even 
how to identify them. But we don't know how to treat them or protect the 
population from them. The real work is just beginning. Solving the puzzle of 
the psychopath is an invigorating prospect -- if you're a scientist. Perhaps 
the rest of us can be forgiven for our impatience to see the whole thing 
come to an end."

So, how do we help psychopaths be happier people? And how do we have p2p 
networks that are resilient given the presence of some few people acting 
like psychopaths?

More sunlight, vitamin D3, and other vitamins like B12?

"Epidemiological evidence shows an association between reduced sun exposure 
and mental illness."

   "Vitamin B12 may help with preventing "paranoia (megaloblastic madness),
delirium, confusion".

This is not to suggest most mentally ill people are psychopaths; often they 
are the victims of psychopaths. But, anything cheap like that which might 
improve the situation might be worth looking into.

More philosophy?
   "Curing Psychopathology: Can Philosophy Help? "

Even religion? :-) Or developing good habits of interactive behavior?

More p2p research? :-) Including in peer-based social ranking systems 
perhaps? Still, no doubt any system like that could be gamed. There were 
probably many good reasons the Iroquois women elected their leaders from the 
boys they had known from birth...

Only the collective can probably resist or deal with psychopaths on an 
ongoing basis...

Maybe we could even think about jobs that psychopaths could be really 
helpful in to the collective? Other than where they hurt people? Jobs that 
are thrilling but dangerous? Jobs that involve winning against some terrible 
social problem? I can't see positive jobs involving hurting people though, 
at least not in any large numbers (sometimes, like with medical surgery, you 
might have to cut someone to cure them, of course).

Like any human thing, there are probably lots of interrelating aspects to 
behavior that seems like that of a psychopath. Some of it might also be 
social; maybe there are some few who are hard core psychopaths, and more who 
are situational psychopaths?

As a caution, given our capitalist society, one should probably not confuse 
a millionaire wannabee with a psychopath, though they may sometimes overlay:
   "The Wrath of the Millionaire Wannabe's"

James P. Hogan talks about in "Voyage From Yesteryear" and some other novels 
of his how what many people in the USA aspire to (vast unshared wealth and a 
life of idleness) would be considered mental illness in other cultures. 
Still, that doesn't make aspiring to idleness and wealth the same as being a 
psychopath. That seems to take more active malice, impulsiveness, and lack 
of a conscience.

Maybe even unusual brain wiring:
"Brain Difference in Psychopaths Identified by DT-MRI Tractography"
"The investigators found a significant reduction in the integrity of the 
small particles that make up the structure of the UF of psychopaths, 
compared to control groups of people with the same age and intelligence 
quotient (IQ). In addition, the level of abnormality was significantly 
related to the degree of psychopathy. These results suggest that psychopaths 
have biologic differences in the brain that may help to explain their 
offending behaviors."

"Psychopaths are distracted, not cold-blooded "
"This suggests that psychopathic individuals sense fear as much as anyone, 
and only seem fearless because they find it harder to pay attention to what 
is scary and what is not, says Newman, who hopes his hypothesis can be used 
to discourage psychopathic repeat offenders. "They're famous for being 
difficult if not impossible to treat," he says."

"Violent, antisocial, beyond redemption?"
"ASPD is related to psychopathy, but psychopaths must also exceed a score of 
30 in a checklist called the PCL-R. They are rare, making up perhaps 0.5 per 
cent of the UK population, and are manipulative, lack empathy and disregard 
social obligations. Yet psychopaths and people with ASPD are not necessarily 
violent. To muddy the waters still further, the diagnostic criteria for some 
personality disorders overlap, and people may suffer from several at once. 
... One DSPD treatment project in particular, which specifically focuses on 
psychopaths, is attracting interest from forensic psychiatrists. Psychopaths 
at a specialist unit within Frankland prison in Durham, UK, are being 
subjected to the most intensive treatment plan yet devised. Known as 
Chromis, it employs individual and group therapy to try to shift ingrained 
patterns of thought and behaviour. Rather than just relying on short 
sessions of therapy, it recruits the entire staff of the unit to turn 
prisoners' lives into a continuous exercise in cognitive-behavioural therapy."

Children who rate high on callous traits are not necessarily destined to 
become psychopaths. Although not many studies have followed such children, 
one found that 20 percent of who were the most callous and unemotional at 
age 12 were still that way as adults. "One way to look at it is that the 
vast majority didn't grow up to be psychopathic," says Frick, "However, 
these kids are at high risk for very serious outcomes."
   Frick published a study in 2007 that looked at preschoolers who were 
starting to show such characteristics. He found that they respond best to 
very consistent parenting. "For the parents who were most consistent, 
[children's] conscience development went up," he says.
   Interestingly, the study found that while both the typical and sensitive 
kids responded poorly to strict, authoritarian parenting, callous kids were 
more likely to develop a conscience when parents used that style. "While the 
other kids did a lot worse, they did better," he says, noting that corporal 
punishment had a negative effect on conscience development for all types of 

Note there are a wide range of parenting styles, some a better match for 
some parents and for some children (so, no one size fits all):

But there are many other possible factors. I'm not trying to blame the 
parents here; there are many factors, and parents have a tough job as it is, 
and could use a lot more help:

"Generation F*cked: How Britain is Eating Its Young"
"“The reason our children’s lives are the worst among economically advanced 
countries is because we are a poor version of the USA,” he said. “So the USA 
comes second from bottom and we follow behind. The age of neo-liberalism, 
even with the human face that New Labour has given it, cannot stem the tide 
of the social recession capitalism creates.”

But, consider simple nutritional issues, like omega-3 from fish, or problems 
with additives in junk food, or just that fact that junk food crowds out 
good nutrition.

"Omega-3, junk food and the link between violence and what we eat: Research 
with British and US offenders suggests nutritional deficiencies may play a 
key role in aggressive bevaviour"
That Dwight Demar is able to sit in front of us, sober, calm, and employed, 
is "a miracle", he declares in the cadences of a prayer-meeting sinner. He 
has been rocking his 6ft 2in bulk to and fro while delivering a confessional 
account of his past into the middle distance. He wants us to know what has 
saved him after 20 years on the streets: "My dome is working. They gave me 
some kind of pill and I changed. Me, myself and I, I changed."
   Demar has been in and out of prison so many times he has lost count of 
his convictions. "Being drunk, being disorderly, trespass, assault and 
battery; you name it, I did it. How many times I been in jail? I don't know, 
I was locked up so much it was my second home."
   Demar has been taking part in a clinical trial at the US government's 
National Institutes for Health, near Washington. The study is investigating 
the effects of omega-3 fatty acid supplements on the brain, and the pills 
that have effected Demar's "miracle" are doses of fish oil.

Some may be genetic too:

"Bullies May Enjoy Seeing Others in Pain: Brain Scans Show Disruption in 
Natural Empathetic Response"
"Aggressive adolescents showed a specific and very strong activation of the 
amygdala and ventral striatum (an area that responds to feeling rewarded) 
when watching pain inflicted on others, which suggested that they enjoyed 
watching pain," he said.
   Unlike the control group, the youth with conduct disorder did not 
activate the area of the brain involved in self-regulation (the medial 
prefrontal cortex and the temporoparietal junction).
   The control group acted similarly to youth in a study released earlier 
this year, in which Decety and his colleagues used fMRI scans to show 7- to 
12-year-olds are naturally empathetic toward people in pain.

I'm not saying all violent people are psychopaths, most probably are not. 
I'm just suggesting fixing the nutritional deficiencies and vitamin D 
deficiencies may help improve things in general for people who have 
psychopathic tendencies and may otherwise be impulsively violent.

Likewise, I'm not saying all bullying people are psychopaths, again, most 
probably are not. But addressing bullying issues may help improve things in 
general for people who have psychopathic tendencies and might otherwise be 

Like with any paradigm, likely we will figure out how to move beyond the 
"psychopath" paradigm at some point and see some bigger picture, including 
nutrition, helping parents better match their style of parenting to their 
child's current needs, and more social supports (including a basic income, 
which would give many people the opportunity to just walk away from 
relationships at work or at home to psychopaths and in general any other 
dysfunctional relationship, or alternatively, have the resources to help fix 
the relationship).

Might there be societies where people with the same inclinations just could 
not be "psychopaths" in terms of behavior effects because of other 
collective societal aspects? Or where better diet prevents the worst part of 
this? Maybe, even if we can't "cure" the psychopath, we can cure the society 
that lets him or her run wild, and worse, elevates him or her to positions 
of responsibility over others and major resources?

Maybe we also need to resist psychopaths with collective joy and humor? :-)
   "Patch Adams Healthcare Speech Clip"

I suggested the failure to have an academic culture that promoted more 
information sharing may have cost global society literally 100 trillion US 
dollars in relation to not understanding Vitamin D deficiency sooner:
The costs from Vitamin D deficiency alone as far as direct medical costs I 
suggest invalidates any value to copyrights and patents if they have impeded 
scientific understanding.

It may, with some handwaving and pointing to WWI and WWII and this:
be literally the case that a failure to share information on psychology 
leading to a better understanding of psychopaths, and in general to have a 
healthier psyche and healthier society, may have directly cost in the 
equivalent of quadrillions of present-day US dollars in the 20th and 21st 
centuries, especially in terms of both wars and things not done.

Anyway, dealing with psychopaths in the context of p2p is something that may 
be an important issue down the road. In any case, helping more people lead 
joyful fulfilling lives through better nutrition, better supported families, 
and through more scientific research (including through peer production by 
professional amateurs), are probably all good things to do. :-)

--Paul Fernhout

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