The Psychopaths Among Us

After a conventional mid-Western childhood and up through university, my first encounter with a serious mental aberration was in the US Army in Germany when I worked for an Army captain, the likes of whom I had never seen.  He was a pathological liar, and repeatedly claimed to be a "tough son-of-a-bitch" or a "mean son-of-a-bitch."  The gentleman was erratic and abusive toward lower ranks, was indecisive in action until given direction by higher authority, but maintained a correct attitude toward senior officers who publicly commended him based more on his appearance and speaking ability than on any performance.  I seriously thought he must be crazy.  Our Colonel, whom had previously spoken highly of the Captain, caught the Captain in a serious operational dishonesty, and it was "Good-bye, Captain!"  In the next eleven years I worked for three more very similar personalities in the military and in industry. 

Years later in the 1970s there were a series of psychopathic serial murder cases (Ted Bundy, Dean Corll, John Wayne Gacy) but I did not relate my experiences with military officers and industrial mangers to serial murderers.  It was not until the 1990s that there were several cases of widely publicized corporate fraud (Bernie Ebbers at WorldCom, Jeff Skilling at Enron) and the perpetrators were identified as corporate psychopaths.  This was the type personality that I had observed decades earlier and I now have professional confirmation that I have worked for four different psychopathic-type personalities. 

Now psychologists are saying that one percent of all people are psychopathic and therefore lack a conscience to restrain their wilder impulses.  Psychopaths are quite rational, and rationally fabricate a false and attractive personality to provide cover for their conscienceless frauds and misdemeanors.  Psychopathy is randomly distributed and psychopaths may come with any combination of physical and intellectual attributes and quirks, but psychopaths are lacking in moral conscience.  Intelligent and manipulative psychopaths can be among the most dangerous creatures on the planet. 

Psychologists have become quite good at identifying psychopaths but usually only after a crime has been committed.  Even though psychopaths are rare, if you learn to spot certain indicators, you can avoid these hazardous personalities.  It has also becoming quite obvious that different psychopaths follow different psycho paths, and there are many such paths.  This article is intended to familiarize the reader with psychopathic types, groupings, and patterns.

Bullying behavior is invariably psychopathic in nature.  The statement I heard repeatedly, "I am a tough son-of-a-bitch," is meant to intimidate.  The Society for Human Resources Management (SHRM) is the premier HR organization and identifies "bully bosses" as a major and very expensive (multi-billions of dollars) problem in management, though SHRM in effect denies that there is such a thing as a psychopathic boss, in spite of well-publicized psychopathic CEOs such as Ebbers and Skilling.  Rahm Emanuel is widely known for bullying behavior, as was the late Senator Ted Stevens who was quoted as saying, "I'm a mean, miserable son-of-a-bitch."  Stevens was also regarded as "a tough character -- brusque, short-tempered, and even vindictive," who bragged about breaking laws and regulations.  Rod Blagojevich is a former governor or Illinois; Blagojevich was lampooned for his bullying behavior and was imprisoned for corruption.  It is typical of organizational psychopaths that they are successful in narrow specialized and commendable capabilities while having a destructive, bullying personality.  Upper management does not know how to deal with this type situation, and ends up transferring the psychopath to other positions, spreading the destruction widely. 

Not all psychopaths come across as bullies all of the time: some are charming and even charismatic when they need to impress someone.  Jim Jones was a charismatic religious communist who had the characteristics of a psychopath and who led over 900 people in his flock to their deaths by suicide in the jungles of Guyana.  Religious psychopaths are frequently charismatic, including the semi-fictional Elmer Gantry.  David Koresh fit the pattern.

Captain Bligh of Mutiny on the Bounty and the semi-fictional Captain Phillip Queeg of The Caine Mutiny exhibited the characteristics of operational psychopaths.   The real life model for Captain Queeg was an Annapolis Naval Academy graduate.  A real life operational psychopath in command of a major USN warship was Captain Holly Graf who was charged by the Navy with "cruelty and maltreatment" of her crew.  She was reported to have thrown ceramic coffee cups at the heads of subordinates.  Captain Graf was also a graduate of Annapolis Naval Academy.

Financial and political psychopaths were reported to be instrumental in the 2008 worldwide financial meltdown, as at Fannie Mae and Freddie Mac which were major players that accepted sub-prime mortgages and treated them as prime.  Bernie Madoff created the greatest private Ponzi scheme in history and had many of the characteristics of a financial psychopath. 

Alcibiades was a contemporary and associate of Socrates.  Alcibiades was also an Athenian politician and military leader who appears to have been an early example of a psychopath who had recurrent strategic failures due to his personality failures.  Alcibiades shifted allegiance from Athens to Sparta and then to the Persians and back to Athens again, making enemies as he went.  Everyone agreed that Alcibiades could talk a good fight but his results were decidedly mixed and his psychopathic actions made him suspect in repeated circumstances as his loyalty to principle and to his city-state, Athens, was non-existent. 

Rahm Emanuel has followed a similar career trajectory to Alcibiades.  Emanuel is a master fund raiser and salesman, but was a participant in the original failure of Hillarycare.  Emanuel has hop-scotched to Freddie Mac, which was embroiled in the 2008 mortgage meltdown, to Congress to business and back to the White House under Obama and is now mayor of Chicago.  Emanuel's bullying behavior is a factor in his moves, but now he is in trouble because of poor performance in Chicago.  Regardless of charisma or salesmanship, when given operational responsibility a psychopath will invariably fail.

Jon Corzine followed a similar career path.  Corzine was involved in the Long-Term Capital Management (LTCM) multi-billion dollar disaster followed by a term as a US senator, and later became Governor of New Jersey leaving record debts, record disapproval ratings, and major personal scandals behind him. Corzine then became CEO of MF Global, and nineteen months later MF Global entered bankruptcy in one of the biggest corporate failures in history.  There were allegations that Corzine used clients' money in an attempt to shore up MF Global, and there were losses in client's accounts.

Alcibiades, Emanuel, and Corzine all followed a set psychopathic pattern, rising on their persuasiveness and falling on their nasty personalities, lack of moral character, and operational incompetence. 

Alcibiades, Emanuel, and Corzine are also noted for their creative approach to problems, but their creativity may or may not result in success.  Corzine gained much favorable attention when his financial model for LTCM was introduced, but that was before LTCM crashed and burned.  In fact, creativity often appears to be a factor related to psychopathy.  Many artists, writers, and movie and theater people are quite Leftist in their political orientation and psychopathic in their behavior.  Lillian Hellman was an ardent supporter of Stalin at a time when Stalin was persecuting and executing creative types such as Hellman. 

Dr. Andrew Lobaczewski spoke of the "Spellbinder," an authoritarian psychopathic personality that can by force of personality and eloquence move his listeners to self-destructive behaviors.  Alcibiades, Napoleon, Lenin, Hitler, and Obama fall within this category of psychopathic spellbinders.

The rarest psychopathic type is the intellectual psychopath, with Karl Marx as the leading example.  Saul Alinsky, Richard Cloward and his wife Frances Fox Piven, and Obama's buddy and terrorist Bill Ayers seem to fall into this category.

The most damaging psychopaths are the political types.  The only totalitarian dictator determined to be psychopathic was Stalin (by Dr. Andrew Lobaczewski of Poland), but all totalitarian dictators are controlling, narcissistic, and anti-social and may be termed as operational psychopaths or functional psychopaths.  Mass murder certainly may be considered as anti-social, a key characteristic of totalitarian dictators.

Most known psychopathic dictators fall into one of two categories that may be identified as either having had an abusive childhood or having had a privileged childhood.  Stalin, Hitler, Mao, and Saddam Hussein were abused as children, but Napoleon, Lenin, and the Kim family in North Korea led lives of privilege.  Obama lived a life of privilege with many disruptions, which is probably a factor in his psychopathy.  I have long observed that an abusive upbringing and a privileged upbringing may produce the same results, that is, a psychopathic adult personality.

It is also noteworthy that many psychopathic leaders were outsiders and perhaps alienation is a factor in their psychopathic actions.  Napoleon was not French but Corsican.  Lenin was not Russian but was Kalmyk and Turkic.  Stalin was Georgian.  Hitler was Austrian.  And Obama's father was Kenyan, his mother later married an Indonesian, and Obama spent several of his formative younger years in Muslim Indonesia.

This summary of psychopathic types is intended to help individuals to identify psychopathic personalities and to avoid them insofar as possible.  It may also shed light on the otherwise incomprehensible actions of politicians and other leaders.

James G. Long has been an army captain, a professional engineer, an author, and a blogger, with a lifelong interest in organizational management problems.