It’s ‘cause you’re psychopaths!

I see the MiddleClass as psychopaths. When you say the word psychopath. Images of axe wielding homicidal maniacs come to mind. But the truth is considerably less histrionic. And comes in the form of the compulsive liar who always gets what they want. The social butterfly who leaves a whirlwind of destruction in their wake. Or the “interspecies predator” who controls others to satisfy their own selfish needs.

I have always been suspicious of the MiddleClass. Never really able to understand their demeanor. But when I came across Dr. Robert Hare’s Psychopathy Checklist. While researching on my first screenplay. It all fell into place.

The checklist is the psycho-diagnostic tool most commonly used to assess psychopaths. It is a clinical rating scale of twenty items.

  • Glibness/superficial charm
  • Grandiose sense of self-worth
  • Pathological lying
  • Cunning/manipulative
  • Lack of remorse or guilt
  • Shallow affect
  • Callous/lack of empathy
  • Failure to accept responsibility for own actions
  • Need for stimulation/proneness to boredom
  • Parasitic lifestyle
  • Poor behavioural control
  • Promiscuous sexual behaviour
  • Lack of realistic long-term goals
  • Impulsivity
  • Irresponsibility
  • Juvenile delinquency
  • Early behaviour problems
  • Revocation of conditional release
  • Many short-term marital relationships
  • Criminal versatility

When completed. The test subject is scored anywhere between “0” and “40”. The prototypical psychopath scores the maximum “40”. A score above “30” diagnoses the subject as psychopathic. I see scores above “30” manifest all the time in the attitudes and behavior of the MiddleClass. Individual members may not be psychopathic. But as a class it’s a different story. Take that core member of the MiddleClass. Bankers. I’d score their behavior as follows.

  • Glibness/superficial charm (2)
  • Grandiose sense of self-worth (2)
  • Pathological lying (2)
  • Cunning/manipulative (2)
  • Lack of remorse or guilt (2)
  • Shallow affect (2)
  • Callous/lack of empathy (2)
  • Failure to accept responsibility for own actions (2)
  • Need for stimulation/proneness to boredom (2)
  • Parasitic lifestyle (2)
  • Poor behavioural control (2)
  • Promiscuous sexual behaviour (2)
  • Lack of realistic long-term goals (2)
  • Impulsivity (2)
  • Irresponsibility (2)
  • Juvenile delinquency (1)
  • Early behaviour problems (1)
  • Revocation of conditional release (2)
  • Many short-term marital relationships (0)
  • Criminal versatility (2)

That’s a Checklist score of “36”. They should be banged up. But they’re not. They’re allowed go about their business. In the name of the free market. And a profit.

I see scores above “30” in the well dressed politician who demonstrates a complete lack of empathy by admonishing the long term unemployed. There in the grandiose sense of self-worth innate in parents who set up a school for their children. And there in the bankers who fail to accept responsibility for the whirlwind of destruction they left in their wake.

I have no idea what to do with this insight. But there is some small satisfaction in being able to j’accuse. “It’s ‘cause you’re psychopaths!”

Natured or nurtured?

I have been working through some ideas for a character who is for want of a better word a psychopath. Not the axe wielding homicidal maniac type. More your person who leaves a trail of destruction in his wake type. This got me thinking about whether or not the psychopaths behaviour is something constructed by environment or naturally occurring. Is it caused by some genetic deficiency? Or is it part of some contemporary malaise? Is their behaviour natured? Or nurtured? I’m not a great believer in nature as the organising force of society. It seems to me we left the forces of nature behind when we moved into cities. And allowed every aspect of our lives to be controlled in some way. From birth to death. There is an organising principle in place. A body to categorize. An institution to reward this behaviour. Or punishes that. I think nurture is the dominant force in our lives. And holds much greater sway than nature. I can see there are some elements of what we do that are natural. That come from some deep genetic imperatives. But from where I stand. The vast majority of our behaviour. The rituals we adhere to. How we interact. Are all nurtured into us. So if we are taught to behave in certain ways by the world around us. The psychopath must be a form constructed by society. If that is the case? And they are? What lay the foundations for their behaviour? Is it some twisted version of competitive behaviour? Amplified by some early setback? Or personality trait brought on by repeated rejection by a parent? All decisions I will have to make before long. I’m guessing it was both. Plus some as yet to undiscovered traumas.

Psychopath class

When you say the word “psychopath” images of an axe wielding homicidal maniacs come to mind. Norman Bates dragging a knife into Marion Crane’s shower. Mark Lewis skewering women so he can capture their fear with his father’s cine-camera. But those are metaphorical psychopaths who inhabit our imagination. And manifest in the films of “Psycho” or “Peeping Tom”. The truth is considerably less histrionic. A whole lot more mundane. And come in the form of the compulsive liars who always get what they want. The social butterflies able to evade responsibility for the whirlwind of destruction they leave in their wake. And the “intraspecies predators” who control others to satisfy their own selfish needs.

While researching on my first screenplay I came across Dr. Robert Hare’s Psychopathy Checklist. The checklist is the psycho-diagnostic tool most commonly used to assess psychopaths. It is a clinical rating scale of twenty items. Each item is scored between “0” and “2”. A value of “0” is given to any item that does not apply. A value of “1” is given to any item that applies somewhat. A value of “2” is assigned to any item that applies fully. The twenty items are.

  • Glibness/superficial charm
  • Grandiose sense of self-worth
  • Pathological lying
  • Cunning/manipulative
  • Lack of remorse or guilt
  • Shallow affect
  • Callous/lack of empathy
  • Failure to accept responsibility for own actions
  • Need for stimulation/proneness to boredom
  • Parasitic lifestyle
  • Poor behavioural control
  • Promiscuous sexual behaviour
  • Lack of realistic long-term goals
  • Impulsivity
  • Irresponsibility
  • Juvenile delinquency
  • Early behaviour problems
  • Revocation of conditional release
  • Many short-term marital relationships
  • Criminal versatility

When properly completed by a qualified professional the test subject is scored anywhere between “0” and “40”. The prototypical psychopath would score the maximum “40”. While someone who has no psychopathic tendencies would score the minimum “0”. A score above “30” diagnoses the subject as psychopathic.

I am not a qualified professional. But I know at least two individuals who would score above “30” on Dr. Hare’s Checklist. More worryingly I look around and see it manifest in an entire class of people. Whose actions. Attitudes. And behaviour. If taken as a whole. Would score “30” or more. I know I’m throwing boulders into the water. But I am pointing a finger. And saying it. The Middle Classes are psychopaths.

I’m not the first to look at an entire institution and conclude if it were an individual it would be diagnosed as a psychopath. Jennifer Abbott and Mark Achbar’s 2003 documentary The Corporation did exactly that. They applied Dr. Hare’s Checklist to the corporation. And concluded that if it were an individual. It would be a clinically-diagnosed psychopath.

The individual members of the Middle Class may not be psychopathic on their own. But as a whole. With a set of clearly defined values. They score “30” or above. Take that core member of the middle class. Bankers. I’d score their personality and case history as follows.

  • Glibness/superficial charm (2)
  • Grandiose sense of self-worth (2)
  • Pathological lying (2)
  • Cunning/manipulative (2)
  • Lack of remorse or guilt (2)
  • Shallow affect (2)
  • Callous/lack of empathy (2)
  • Failure to accept responsibility for own actions (2)
  • Need for stimulation/proneness to boredom (2)
  • Parasitic lifestyle (2)
  • Poor behavioural control (2)
  • Promiscuous sexual behaviour (2)
  • Lack of realistic long-term goals (2)
  • Impulsivity (2)
  • Irresponsibility (2)
  • Juvenile delinquency (1)
  • Early behaviour problems (1)
  • Revocation of conditional release (2)
  • Many short-term marital relationships (0)
  • Criminal versatility (2)

By my gorilla maths that gives them a Checklist score of “36”. They should be on a psychiatric hold. Receiving treatment. A danger to themselves and others. But they’re not. They’re allowed to go about their business. In the name of the free market. And a profit.

I have absolutely no idea how to deal with it in any meaningful way. But the next time you see some banker on television failing to accept responsibility for their action by asserting their right to a bonus. Or some well dressed politician demonstrating a callous lack of empathy by admonishing the long term unemployed. Or you see the grandiose sense of self-worth innate in parents who set up a school for their children. Take a look at the checklist. And see how they score. When I do it. They are always Middle Class. And they always score “30” or above.

Class on my shoulder

I bumped into someone yesterday who damaged me both personally and professionally. I hadn’t seen him in almost ten years. And met him quite by chance in a confined situation. My gut reaction was to vent. Punch him in the face. Make him pay for the things he’d done. But I didn’t. I put my hands in my pockets. Bit my tongue. And let him walk.

My father. In his youth. Would’ve punched his lights out. At least one of my cousins would’ve taken a baseball bat to his shins. But I put my hands in my pockets. Bit my tongue. And let him walk away. My lack of visceral action no doubt leaves me on the moral high ground. But there is still a part of me that thinks. I should have taken him outside. And damaged him. Physically. That’s what you’re supposed to do where I come from. Stand up for yourself. Physically.

This kind of behaviour is portrayed in the media as a symptom of social decline. A disease with no cure. The subtext to all that hyperbole is fear. Fear of the countless people who fall out of the pub on a Friday night. And respond to an insult with physical action. Put simply it is fear of the working class.

It is the working class who respond to insults with physical action. It’s all they have. The thing of it is. The thing I have come to realise. The person I am talking about. His behaviour was no less violent. No less damaging than the fist thrown in a street brawl. But he did it in the name of a profit. With a smile. And a sense of entitlement I only ever come across in the middle class. The thing I’m struggling to articulate is this. The middle class façade of polite behaviour. Is just that. A façade.

I have had something of an education. Not as much as I would like. But enough to move in middle class circles. And survive. Almost. I say almost because no amount of education will ever make me one of them. I will always be on the outside looking in. I lack the ruthless sensibility that is innate in these people. The cold selfishness that is their birth right. I come from, dare I say it, more honest stock. They might punch you in the face when you cross them. But they would never betray you for thirty pieces of silver.

Fortunately there will always be a part of me that remains working class. A part of me that still lives on a council estate in the North East of England. A part of me that wants to take duplicitous scum outside. And damage them. Physically. A part that keeps me honest. I suppose that’s why they say. You can take the boy out of the council estate. But you can’t take the council estate out of the boy.