Loving the psychopath

Society’s worst actors aren’t necessarily beyond redemption.

From 1960 forward, America has made great strides becoming more inclusive of formerly marginalized populations, including the “differently abled” and homosexuals.  It may be that we can become more inclusive of the most outcast population of all: career criminals, also called psychopaths.


“Sociopath” and “psychopath” mean the same thing.  “Anti-social personality disorder” (ASPD) is the same as “psychopathy,” although different criteria are used to measure them.  None of these labels apply to children.

Extremely unruly children — with an emphasis on “extreme” — may be said to have “conduct disorder” (CD).  This comes in two forms.  If the offending begins in adolescence, the individual will most likely stop offending once she or he reaches adulthood.  If the offending begins before adolescence, it will most likely continue one’s whole life; the individual will be judged as psychopathic or having ASPD as an adult, and will be a “life-course persistent offender.”  Indeed, the criteria for diagnosis of ASPD and psychopathy include that the person must be shown to have been conduct disordered in childhood.


Psychopathy is a brain disease.

It is hereditary.  50% of psychopaths have a parent or sibling who is a psychopath also.

There are genetic markers, specifically, defects in certain genes that manage the serotonin metabolism.  There are marked deformities in half a dozen portions of the brain, with each affected portion bearing on specific features of the psychopathic personality.

I have not found any information about this, but am supposing the genetic markers may be more common in some demographics than others.

Mothering and poverty.  Poverty is a major risk factor for the development of psychopathy.  However, a context of poverty — that is, chaos — is prone to evoke anti-social behavior patterns from anyone, regardless of genetic endowment.

The Wikipedia article, “Conduct disorder,” places great weight on one study that found as follows: a mother’s responsiveness to a toddler’s emotional cues, correlates to the degree of empathy the toddler shows.  In short, empathic mothers raise empathic children.  The study did not examine any other feature of the child’s personality.  Now, a woman’s mothering style — and a context of chaos — will not implant or remove the genetic markers, but may affect the child’s brain development.

Related:  Poor children have smaller brains

The mother’s responsiveness itself, or lack thereof, may reflect socioeconomic factors.  “The poor are … less attentive parents.”[13]  I mention parental inattentiveness in “The self-loving reptile.”  Lack of parental supervision is a major factor in juvenile delinquency; as also is the possibility that the child resulted from an unintended pregnancy.  She may be psychopathic herself.


Psychopathy affects 1% of the overall population, but 22% of prison inmates.[14] This does not tell us how many psychopaths are not in prison.  Given that they are impervious to punishment, this can inform us as to recidivism.  And whereas harsher punishments may deter normal criminals, they are useless as to the worst offenders.

Psychopathy affects half of substance abusers.  This does not tell us how many psychopaths are not drug addicts.  Unknown is by what mechanism or pathway psychopaths find their way into drug abuse.  Conversely, substance abuse may (1) alter brain functions and (2) compel the user into anti-social behavior patterns, amorality, criminality and so on.  There may be a facade of remorselessness for reason that, given all an addict’s offenses against family and friends, not to mention the law, allowing oneself to feel any remorse at all would open the floodgates to truly overwhelming, crushing remorse.


  • amoral
  • irresponsible
  • self-centered
  • callous; unfeeling
  • lacks empathy
  • fearless
  • incapable of remorse
  • impervious to punishment
  • highly impulsive; does not plan; does not consider likely outcomes of one’s actions
  • readily loses temper
  • demands immediate gratification

Related:  Can’t resist temptation?  That may not be a bad thing.

  • disregards social norms, including rules and laws
  • disregards others’ rights
  • disregards others’ safety
  • disregards own safety
  • thrill-seeking
  • sexually promiscuous

Irresponsibility. “Irresponsibility is a core characteristic of this disorder: they can have significant difficulties in maintaining stable employment as well as fulfilling their social and financial obligations, and people with this disorder often lead exploitative, unlawful, or parasitic lifestyles.”[4]

Fearlessness. The Wikipedia article on conduct disorder makes clear that fearlessness is the outstanding personality trait of these children.  That puzzled me; I would have expected fearlessness to be desirable, as in test pilots, commandoes and mountain climbers.  I had underestimated its role in socialization:  if I am engaged in some activity that might harm another man, his facial expression of fear may warn me to discontinue that activity.  The psychopath, however, cannot recognize in another person what she or he cannot experience in oneself.  Called upon to name the expression of fear on a person’s face in a photograph, one said,  “I don’t know what that expression is called, but I know it’s  what people look like right before I stab them.”[12]

Empathy. There is some evidence that psychopaths can turn it “on” or “off;” it happens normally to be “off.”[12]

Criminality. The proverb says 10% of people commit 90% of crime, but psychopaths offend at a rate far exceeding that of other criminals.  Quantitative research was completed on 9,945 juvenile male offenders between the ages of 10 and 18 in Philadelphia, Pennsylvania in the 1970s.  Only 6% of the youth were responsible for 52% of the delinquency within the entire study.  The same 6% accounted for 71% of the murders and 69% of the aggravated assaults.[1]

A matter of degree

Psychopathy pertains to deformities of half a dozen brain structures; but how deformed are they, in any individual?  The degree of deformity in any one may be minimal, moderate, or profound.  The chaos or order of the child’s context may affect this greatly.  And it may reflect how many, or how profoundly, any individual is affected by any of the attributes.

Psychopathy is most often measured with a 40-item inventory.  In the U.K., one who scores 25 or higher is designated as a psychopath; in the U.S., the cutoff score is 30.

The average score among U.S. prison inmates is 23.

Probably any of us would score positively on a handful of items, maybe more; maybe many more.  It’s all a matter of degree.  But we need to accept and deal with many folk in daily life who may fall anywhere on the scale.

The word “psychopath,” in the end, is a label, nothing more.  In and of itself, the label does not equip us to deal with the underlying facts, that is, the anti-social attributes different people have.


Which of the attributes aren’t black?

This instant, as I ask this, is not a time for value judgments, guilt, shame or condemnation.  It is a time to consider dispassionately What Is.

And What Is appears to me to be that enough American blacks display enough of those attributes strongly enough, as to make them a cultural, ideological force.

How many of them appear in the Dwight C. Wells event?

One could point to the values trumpeted by hip-hop; clearly, the “real nigga,” as defined by hip-hop, is a psychopath.  But before hip-hop came to prominence, I was already distressed by Michael Jackson’s “Off the Wall.”  “Life ain’t so bad at all / If you live it off the wall.”  People livin’ life off the wall right now in Baltimore’s Sandtown-Winchester, which is why that ‘hood’s murder rate is twice that of the city as a whole.

Responsibility, as a concept, is controversial among American blacks.

Related:  Dez Bryant, love and responsibility

The world over, poor people in general avoid responsibility, no matter what their color.  But the concept isn’t controversial, as it is among black Americans, as a matter of ideology.

I will remark below that the attributes, taken all together, boggle any conventional understanding as to solutions.  This may explain America’s failure to improve the black condition.

The preschool-to-prison pipeline

From circa 2010 to 2016, the media gave much attention to what came to be called “the preschool-to-prison pipeline.”  This attention somehow abruptly stopped coincident with the 20 January 2017 inauguration of Donald Trump.

The doctrine is that children who are punished for acting out in preschool are irreparably traumatized, scarred, stigmatized and labeled for life; to the extent that, in their despair and in conformity to the expectations of their stigma and labeling, they inevitably continue to act out — and be punished — throughout their school years, and become criminal offenders and imprisoned as adults.

Longitudinal studies confirm those behavior patterns, but do not necessarily substantiate the doctrine.  Everything about psychopaths confirms that they begin acting out as small children.  A different picture might emerge if the adult victims were screened for other factors associated with childhood misconduct, such as fetal alcohol syndrome, lead poisoning, and the genetic markers of psychopathy.  This screening must be done on adults, so as to avoid stigmatizing little children.

Related:  A hidden epidemic

The scandal is that wildly disproportionate numbers of black boys are punished for acting out in preschool.  The doctrine attributes this wholly to systemic racism and the personal racism of the teachers and caregivers, black or white.  A common statement is that black boys are punished more often and more harshly than white children for the same offenses.  The orthodox construction of that statement is that just as many white children as black children act out, and just as often, but only the black children are punished.  An alternative construction might ask if there are differences in how many and how often white or black children act out.

On reading any report, I wind up scratching my head and asking, What did the child DO?”  As to black children, there is never an answer.  Under political correctness, the most taboo of all questions remains, how folk act who are black.

Related:  Upland school calls police on 5-year-old boy

Choosing the best

I may be less hopeful now than I was at the outset.

The spectrum of psychopathic attributes totally boggles all conventional wisdom.

The best “we” can do for “them” is to do the best “we” can for “us.”  For me as a Christian, that means seeking to see God’s image in every single person I meet, no matter how “differently abled” or deviant/deviate she or he may be.  That does not rule out taking care for my own safety.

It may be that psychopaths can learn to choose the best for oneself.  This means, in seeking to gratify any impulse, weighing different options and choosing that which is most likely to bring the best outcomes — in terms solely of one’s own self-interest, and not with reference to any morality or law.

For example, the best outcome will not normally involve going to jail.

America has yet to choose the best.  When we do, “justice” will mean wholeness, not retaliation.


[1]Wikipedia: Juvenile delinquency
[2]Wikipedia: Oppositional defiant disorder
[3]Wikipedia: Conduct disorder
[4]Wikipedia: Antisocial personality disorder
[5]Wikipedia: Psychopathy
[6]Wikipedia: Restorative justice
[7]Related: Psychopaths’ Brains Don’t Grasp Punishment
[8]Related: Playlist of the Lambs: psychopaths may have distinct musical preferences
[9]Wikipedia: The Mask of Sanity — highly informative
[10]Related: Anatomy of a Psychopath: The Neurological Basis of Evil
[11]Related: What makes a psychopath?  Answers remain elusive.
[12]Related: 10 Crazy Facts About Psychopaths


[13]Maggie Fox, “Poor people aren’t stupid; bad decisions are from being overwhelmed, study finds.”   Quoted in “Chaos overwhelms the poor.”

[14]This matches well with what I perceived when I was in jail myself, that the majority of those guys, perhaps 75%, did not need to be there.  Incarceration is very expensive — three hots and a cot for the duration on the taxpayers’ dime, in facilities that are costly to build and operate, while the detainees are forced to be idle — when they might optimally instead be paying taxes.  Make no mistake:  these are not nice guys.   But there is no public safety need for them to be locked up.  Work release, community service and restorative justice are all far preferable options.

As to the remaining 25%, yes, they do need to be locked up, as a matter of public safety.

3 thoughts on “Loving the psychopath

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