More than 600,000 pageviews from 150 countries


Monday, October 10, 2011

Are We Becoming a Nation of Sociopaths?

     It was Joe McGinniss, in his 1984 book "Fatal Vision," who introduced the general public to sociopathy, a personality disorder found in normal looking and acting people who commit cold-blooded murder. "Fatal Vision" explores the sociopathic personality of Dr. Jefferey MacDonald, an Army physician convicted of murdering his pregnant wife and two small children.

     In the true crime genre, the 1980s became the golden era of books about serial killers, all of whom were sociopaths. Readers and TV viewers became familiar with FBI profilers John Douglas, Robert Ressler, and Roy Hazelwood, the founders of the FBI's Psychological Behaviorial Unit housed at the FBI Academy at Quantico, Virginia. Through hundreds of books and true crime television shows, serial killers such as Ted Bundy, Jefferey Dahmer, John Wayne Gacy, and David Berkowitz (Son of Sam) became household names. Dr. Park Dietz, a high-profile forensic psychiarist, author and expert witness, educated the public on the most common traits found in the sociopathic personality which include: narcissism, lack of empathy, pathological lying, the inability to admit guilt, the belief one is smarter than everybody, and the belief one is above society's rules of behavior and laws.

     Now, when people discuss sociopathy, it is not always in the context of criminal behavior. That's because not all people with sociopathic qualities are serial killers and/or rapists. Recently there have been numerous articles about how to identify a sociopathic person, what professions tend to attract them (politics, business and law) and how to deal with these difficult people.

     Nobody knows for sure if sociopaths are born or made, but they seem to be multiplying. Maybe it started with Mr. Rogers and his you-are-special message. Perhaps it's our celebrity culture where rich and famous people are worshiped regardless of how they achieved their wealth and fame. The lesson here seems to be: If you want something bad enough, and are willing to do whatever it takes to get it, you will succeed because you are special and deserve to get what you want. (Have you noticed that on reality TV people can't talk about themselves for more than a couple of minutes without breaking down in tears? What is that?)

     Tens of thousands of people will show up in a city to audition for TV shows like "American Idol." They all have this pathological need to share their unique talents with the world, and are inspired by former winners who all say the same ridiculous thing: "Don't give up your passion, your dream. If I can make it, so can you." This of course is a load of crap. The odds of getting rich and famous are one in a million. And if you do get rich and famous, it probably won't last. You'll end up like one of those has-beems who say things like, "You might remember me as the janitor in the 1975 sitcom, "Barney Meets Betty." Winners of "American Idol," instead of enouraging fools like themselves, should say: "I'm stupid like you but I got real lucky. Instead of chasing an impossible dream, prepare yourself for real life."

     It seems we're raising generations of young people who, if they don't realize their dreams of wealth and fame, become despondent and morose. They live the rest of their miserable lives blaming "society" for their lost opportunities. Some of them turn to drugs, alcohol and crime.

     Several years ago I investigated a swindler who operated as a literary agent and publisher. A typical sociopath, she believed she was smarter than the people she bilked. This wasn't the case and the woman ended up in federal prison. I wrote a book about her called, "Ten Percent of Nothing: The Case of the Literary Agent from Hell." As an epigram to the book, I wrote: "As a nonfiction crime writer, I have come across more than my share of sociopathic personalities. As one who feels guilty about everything, I find these people fascinating. When sociopaths end up in jail, neurotics like me end up writing about them."

     If I were writing this book today, I would leave out the part about finding sociopaths fascinating. I now find them annoying, and depressing.

No comments:

Post a Comment