Oxymoronic, isn't it, the idea of a "good psychopath"?
But in their just published book, The Good Psychopath's Guide to Success, Andy McNab and Kevin Dutton argue that relying on some psychopathic traits can lead to a more successful life.
Andy is a British Special Air Service veteran and novelist; Kevin is an Oxford University psychologist. Kevin studies psychopaths. Andy says he is a psychopath.
Their checklist of psychopathic traits includes: charisma, charm, coolness under pressure, fearlessness, focus, impulsivity, lack of conscience, mental toughness, reduced empathy and ruthlessness.
"None of these characteristics are inherently bad in themselves," Kevin says. "When they become dysfunctional is when they are deployed inflexibly in the wrong contexts."
On the other hand, functional psychopaths — according to the book — are able to modulate their feelings to be more productive in business, in politics and in life.
The Path To Psychopathy
Don't we already have enough psychopaths in the world? we ask Kevin. By encouraging people to get in touch with their inner psychopath, aren't you removing guilt and shame and conscience from the equation? Won't that be deleterious to society?
"I'm not saying that psychopaths per se are good for society," Kevin says. "A pure psychopath is going to ruin his or her life and also the lives of those who they come into contact with."
But Kevin does believe that certain psychopathic characteristics, such as those listed above, "can — when dialed up at certain levels, in certain combinations and in certain contexts — predispose one to success."
No Such Thing
The whole idea of a "good psychopath" has succeeded in upsetting Lillian Glass, a behavioral analyst who has written or co-written a raft of books including Toxic People: 10 Ways of Dealing with People Who Make Your Life Miserable and A Guide to Identifying Terrorists Through Body Language.
"The words 'psychopath' and 'success' should never be in the same sentence," Lillian says. "Psychopaths are dangerous people, and to encourage someone to act like a psychopath is both irresponsible and dangerous."
She does not subscribe to the notion that we all have some psychopath within us. "You either are one or you are not one," she says. "And if you are a psychopath, you don't dial up the levels of the traits. ... It can't be done. Psychopaths don't pick and choose how ruthless or nonempathetic they will be. They are these traits, and it is not by degree."
Lillian says, "All of these characteristics are wrong when they hurt others. A lack of conscience is very wrong, and an absence of one can lead to committing criminal acts on others. Ruthlessness is not a good characteristic. It is a bad characteristic."
So, we ask Oxonian Kevin Dutton, can you point to a successful psychopath who has made positive contributions to the world?
"Psychopathy is on a spectrum," Kevin says. "It is neither all or nothing. Nor should 'successful psychopathy' be removed from context. But someone who was pretty high on the psychopathic spectrum was Winston Churchill."
The Protojournalist: Experimental storytelling for the LURVers — Listeners, Users, Readers, Viewers — of NPR. @NPRtpj