Science of the SpiritS


Florida Psychologist calls Madoff a psychopath

Boca Raton - The Richards depend on their neighbors for dinner these days. All of their money, millions of it, was with Bernard Madoff.

"We scraped together every nickel that we had and sent it into Bernie and we've been invested with him ever since, almost 30 years," says Steve Richards.

Now, like many, they are wondering why someone considered a friend for so long potentially scammed them. Forensic psychologist Dr. Phil Heller works on thousands of criminal cases. He has never met Madoff, but says the financier fits a profile.

Dr. Phil Heller says, "A psychopath makes you give them money, believing in something else and you're betrayed."

A psychopath is someone who lacks a conscience and empathy. In his practice, Dr. Heller has dealt with victims of people with anti-social personalities.

Eye 1

To understand war criminals we must learn to understand the irrational mind

The psychopath, in this case the pro-Israel apologist, feels no compunction about lying to justify the torture and mass murder of a defenceless civilian population because in his dissociative mental state he sees no connection between himself and his victim

(THE SCENE: A graduate seminar in political psychology at a Canadian University. The professor enters and takes his place at the end of a medium-sized oblong table)

Professor: "Good morning, and welcome to Aberrant Political Psychology. I'm Professor Langston. Before we begin, a show of hands - how many of you are taking this course because you want to know what makes people become evil? (a few hands go up.) Hmm. You'll save yourself and this class a lot of aggravation if you leave right now and sign up for a Bible study course. 'Evil' is a moral absolute found only in the simplistic, zero-sum world of religion and American movies. It has no place in a rational investigation of the human mind."

Eye 2

UK: Peter Tobin's 'mask of sanity' concealed the horrific truth

Peter Tobin
© AFP/Getty ImagesPeter Tobin, 61

He sat calmly in court throughout the 21 days of his trial, apparently unmoved by the public airing of his terrible crimes. He simply denied he had committed them and sat impassively as the awful details of his deeds were revealed one by one.

The magnitude of the charges he faced and the sheer harm he caused to his victim, her family and her friends appeared to escape him. He just sat, small and silent, day after day, taking the odd note, gently smiling in recognition at a witness asked to identify him in court.

This was a man not intent on proving his innocence, but a psychopath completely untouched by the terror inflicted on Vicky Hamilton, just 15 when she was drugged, sexually assaulted and murdered; indifferent also to the 17-year nightmare he created in the aftermath.


SOTT Focus: The Lesson of Jonestown

The events of November 18, 1978 in Jonestown, Guyana were a tragedy that few can come to grips with even today, 30 years later. But that was not a singular event. As a sign posted at Jonestown read, "Those who do not remember the past are condemned to repeat it."
I'm Warren Olney in Los Angeles. Ninety minutes ago came word from Guyana, making this bizarre story more bizarre than ever. Troops from Guyana have found between three and four hundred bodies at the People's Temple commune at Jonestown. No marks of violence on any of the bodies. No marks of anyone alive, despite reports that as many as 1,200 people lived in Jonestown. There had been predictions that a mass suicide would occur from several defectors. We don't know that that's what happened. We don't know what happened to the rest of the people who lived at the commune. We don't know what's happened to attorneys Mark Lane or Charles Garry, or to the Reverend Jim Jones. And we don't know how much longer this awful story will take to unfold. For Edwin Newman and for all of us at NBC, I'm Warren Olney in Los Angeles.

Heart - Black

Best of the Web: Corporate Psychopathy

In psychiatry there is a diagnostic entity variously known as psychopath, sociopath and antisocial personality disorder. The central feature of this disorder is the failure to develop any ethical standards of social behavior, The concept of "do unto others as you would have them do unto you" is foreign to the psychopath. That remarkable advice is replaced by "do unto others as it pleases you regardless of consequences." We do not know for sure the cause of such behavior, whether it is genetic in origin, the result of early developmental trauma, or a combination of the two. The outstanding feature is that the psychopath has a natural talent for using and exploiting others and does so with such skill that true motives remain concealed by ingratiating ways and apparent normality. At some point the bubble bursts and the victim awakens to the reality that they have been taken.

In a democratic society government is supposed to serve the needs of every member of that society. There are two models for such societies, Both involve capitalism. The social democratic societies, such as in Scandinavia, temper the profit motive so as to restrict the massive inequities and ensure that health, education, security and opportunity is available to all. They do this by a system of taxation that succeeds in narrowing the gap between the haves and the have-nots so that a significant proportion of the population is not in trouble.

In the United States where capitalism is given a much freer rein there is the possibility of the profit motive getting so out of hand that those on top are enriched at the expense of those left behind, That is "wild capitalism". The recent run of failures of formerly very profitable corporations are a prime example of that, and how painful it is for those who are ultimately victimized by it. Victimhood is the characteristic feature of psychopathy.

Heart - Black

SOTT Focus: Hypocrisy of the Authoritarians

©Daryl Cagle

As Sarah Palin's vice-presidential nomination continues to energize the religious right, the hypocrisy of right wing authoritarians becomes more apparent than ever.

According to psychologist Robert Altmeyer, authoritarian personalities are characterized by hierarchical submission to traditional authorities, aggression and conventionalism. Altmeyer has done extensive empirical research on the subject, which is summarized in his book, 'The Authoritarians'.

Alarm Clock

Flashback Best of the Web: Twilight of the Psychopaths


"Our society is run by insane people for insane objectives. I think we're being run by maniacs for maniacal ends and I think I'm liable to be put away as insane for expressing that. That's what's insane about it." - John Lennon, before his murder by CIA mind-control subject Mark David Chapman

When Gandhi was asked his opinion of Western civilization he said it would be a good idea. But that oft-cited quote, is misleading, assuming as it does that civilization is an unmitigated blessing.


Do criminal psychopaths enjoy other peoples fear or just not notice it?

­­­When most of us think of killers like Ted Bundy or John Wayne Gacy, we imagine people who feel compelled to harm other huma­n beings, who enjoy causing fear and who feel no remorse for their actions. And for the most part, these characterizations are entirely correct. Serial killers (and many other types of violent criminals) are typically considered to be psychopaths with aggressive and anti-social characteristics. But not all psychopaths are violent -- some are "merely" manipulative, dishonest and incapable of experiencing deep emotions, and they may blend in with society with relative ease. A CEO who cheats his employees out of their pensions and then walks off without a tinge of regret may be a psychopath. Psychopaths, violent or non-violent, have no "moral compass," no conscience. They do not experience feelings of guilt for the crimes or betrayals they commit. A recent study of the brains of psychopaths, published in the British Journal of Psychiatry, may shed some light on what's going on -- or not going on -- in these people's heads.

Comment: Also for more information on psychopathy read Robert D. Hare's Without Conscience and Snakes in Suits: When Psychopaths go to Work

Black Cat

Flashback Columbine: The Depressive and the Psychopath

Columbine Footage
©News Interactive
Security footage of the Columbine killers.

Five years ago today, Eric Harris and Dylan Klebold murdered their classmates and teachers at Columbine High School. Most Americans have reached one of two wrong conclusions about why they did it. The first conclusion is that the pair of supposed "Trench Coat Mafia outcasts" were taking revenge against the bullies who had made school miserable for them. The second conclusion is that the massacre was inexplicable: We can never understand what drove them to such horrific violence.

Comment: Incredibly enough, it seems that psychopaths such as Harris may be the "unsuccessful" ones. For an example of where a "successful" psychopath may end up, we suggest looking no further than the White House.

Indeed they are all around us as this article shows. Contempt for normal human beings can be detected in nearly every aspect of life these days, from the financial dealings of greedy banks, to the corraling of future food supplies by Monsanto.

Heart - Black

Flashback Psychopathy shouldn't be treated as an illness

What kind of person could kill Holly Wells and Jessica Chapman? John Wayne Gacy, who murdered 32 young boys during the 1970s, said: "I see myself more as the victim than as a perpetrator. I was cheated out of my childhood. If only there was someone, somewhere, who could understand how badly it hurt to be John Wayne Gacy!"

Gacy perfectly expressed a position that has come to hold the status of orthodoxy in the eyes of the criminal justice establishment. No one is essentially, irredeemably bad: they are made bad by circumstances, and their badness can be cured if their circumstances are made better.

The worse the crime, the less likely it is that the perpetrator was fully responsible for it. He must have been in some way mentally deranged, either by his experiences or by a mental illness, to be capable of it: a reasonable person could not have done it.