Psychopathy and Its Growing Understanding

I have long been stumped, frightened and intrigued by psychopathic¬†persons since encountering them in adolescence in my sheltered growing up years. Then in college, I began to see them in action in observing some arch manipulators and charismatic leaders in the circles of campus radicalism around me in the late 19060’s and early 1970’s. I attended a large university that was one of the national hotbeds of student radicalism. I was fortunately naive and protected by this in a sense though I did not realize this at the time. What I did realize was the ideas advocated by most student radical leaders, both local and national, were in my view “just plain nuts.” Then I began to realize their effect on surrounding students, some of whom I knew. The followers were almost ‘converted’ by the charisma of these charlatans. One speaker/leader I particularly remember was an acclaimed author of one of the Bibles of those years, but he had a very checkered personal and legal background that everyone who endorsed his ideas, ignored. He was actually instated by the university¬†as a writer in residence for a semester, holding seminars and colloquia. He as incredibly smart, clearly of superior, genuine intellect, and many of his student attendees ate up what he had to say. However, I am happy to be able to say that many of us had a totally different take on him as a showman, manipulator, a ‘false prophet’ as the Christian or Jewish community might term him, and intellectually dangerous. Fortunately, the program that he was operating under as a guest temporary faculty, permitted open separate discussions by students who were exposed to him. It was in a sense reassuring that many of us saw through his entire view of the world and realized he was in his own way dangerous. But he was really good at carrying off his “schtick” as some in the entertainment industry would call it. So good that he was famous on the basis of his one book he had produced that had charmed millions I would expect and was a best seller for years, and still is standard fare for the college student for the last forty years.

As a medical student, I was exposed to psychopaths a few years after mulling over my attendance at the above-described author’s seminars. These persons continued to stump me. I recall interviewing once a copycat killer who emulated Ted Bundy (still alive at the time, but imprisoned and very famous). This man was designated a “criminal psychopath” under that state’s forensic laws and serving an “indeterminate sentence,” a sentencing category that largely does not exist because of unconstitutional issues. I recall this man had applied for admittance to the nearby state university’s law school. Of course, he was turned down as unfit, but that did not stop him. He sued the law school briefly on the grounds that since he felt then President Nixon was a “psychopath,” and was a lawyer himself, this man could also become one. My encounter with him and his absurd lawsuit occurred during that later stages of the Watergate hearings and President Nixon’s downfall. But the grandiosity and anti-social conviction and self-justification of this man astounded me and further added to my almost locked in interest in this subject.

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