For a long time, I’ve feared that I was a psychopath. As you may know, the primary characteristic of a psychopath is a lack of empathy. They have very little ability to see things from other people’s perspective. This is why they make good corporate CEOs. (Really!) When I’ve brought up my concern about myself, my friends have scoffed at it. I’m more like the anti-psychopath. But I never found this terribly compelling. Perhaps I’m such a great psychopath that I fool everyone — even myself! So when I came upon the Levenson Self-Report Psychopathy Test (LSRP), I was very excited. Here at last was an opportunity for me to find out for sure.
As soon as I saw the questions, I knew that I was safe. The first question was, “Success is based on survival of the fittest; I am not concerned about the losers.” Obviously, I disagree with this. But I have definitely known people who would completely agree with it. The funny thing is that I’ve always assumed people who said things like that were kidding — that they said it for effect. Then again, that sentence better sums up the philosophy of Ayn Rand than any other that I can think of. And this is more or less what we hear from Republican politicians and throughout the business world.
There are other questions that are close to exact quotes from Mitt Romney’s presidential campaign. Who could forget when Romney said he would be unfit for president if he paid one cent more in taxes than he had to? Well: “In today’s world, I feel justified in doing anything I can get away with to succeed.” Or what a hard-nosed businessman he was? Enjoy: “I let others worry about higher values; my main concern is with the bottom line.” And don’t forget that car elevator: “My main purpose in life is getting as many goodies as I can.” And remember why he didn’t win the election? It certainly wasn’t his fault, “Most of my problems are due to the fact that other people just don’t understand me.”
The LSRP measures two things. First, there is primary psychopathy, which is lack of empathy and tolerance for antisocial behavior. Then there is secondary psychopathy, which is rule breaking and a lack of effort toward succeeding on society’s terms. Not surprisingly, I scored higher on the second scale. Scores range from 1 (non-psychopathic) to 5 (very psychopathic). I got a 1.4 on the primary marker and 2.0 on the secondary marker. Here are my results plotted on their graph:
It’s important to remember that psychopathy does not necessarily indicate that a person is violent. That’s why I highlighted Mitt Romney. I actually think that our society is rather fond of psychopaths — as long as they aren’t interested in being too antisocial. In addition to CEOs, psychopaths are over represented among surgeons. That’s doubtless a good thing. I know someone like me would be useless in an emergency room. It’s in politics that being a psychopath could be a bit of a problem for society. Certainly we need analysts who just look at the facts. But most people don’t run for president thinking that they are going to do what is best for the nation based upon the facts. They just want the “goodies” that go along with the job.
I tend to think that Rand Paul is a psychopath. He is, after all, a surgeon. And he is nominally a libertarian — a philosophy that seems to appeal to psychopaths. And most of all, he’s been ditching any inconvenient positions in order to become president. His guiding principle seems to be that he should be president. It’s not clear how he would govern, given that his positions are determined simply by whatever will get people to vote for him. I think we know how he would answer this question, “Even if I were trying very hard to sell something, I wouldn’t lie about it.”
But at least I feel better knowing that I’m not a psychopath — even if it means that I’m not as successful as I might be if I were. What does it say about a society that being empathic and helpful is a bad thing?
See also: Is Mitt Romney a Psychopath?
Update (10 May 2015 2:40 pm)
I had to change references to “doctors” to “surgeons” above. General practitioners tend to be less psychopathic. It is surgeons (which is what Rand Paul was) who are psychopathic. Also high on psychopathy: police officers, lawyers, salesmen, journalists, and clergy.