How are you evil? Let’s count the ways.


By Kit-Bacon Gressitt

Jon Ronson, British journalist extraordinaire and best-selling author, has a new book out, The Psychopath Test. If Ronson’s name doesn’t ring a bell, think goats — or, more specifically, The Men Who Stare at Goats, which became an oddly fascinating film in 2009. The Psychopath Test recently hit the publicity circuit with a bang and, in the process, the book is popularizing the Hare Psychopathy Checklist-Revised (PCL-R). The PCL-R is a tool developed by Dr. Robert Hare, a criminal psychology researcher, to diagnose a subject’s psychopathic or antisocial tendencies and to predict the likelihood a subject will engage in violent behavior.

I've not yet read Ronson’s book, although I probably will, but it's the checklist that caught my attention. Reading through it is akin to surfing the net for explanations of one’s medical symptoms. You know: “Oh ye gads, I have that symptom and that one! How many of these must one have to be the lucky recipient of this crummy diagnosis? Am I gonna die?!” Well, yes, but probably not from some dread disease that Google managed to find for you.

In the case of the PCL-R, however, the winning diagnosis is not deadly; it just means you are a psychopath (a subset of the antisocial personality disorder diagnosis). Indeed, if you rank high enough on the scale — 0 point (doesn’t apply) to 3 points (really, really applies) for each of the 20 qualifiers — you win the title. In lay term this means that, while you can be charming on the outside, on the inside you enjoy doing things you know you shouldn’t, you feel no guilt or shame for what you do, it’s always someone else’s fault, and you don’t care a whit about anyone to the point of feeling contemptuous toward the rest of the world. In other words, you are a creepy, nasty person with a whopping sense of superiority and you can look someone straight in the eye and lie like the dickens.

Hmmm, sounds like many of the politicians I know. County Supervisor Bill Horn comes first to mind. Sounds like most hate-mongering activists. Brian Brown of National Organization for Marriage comes to mind.  Sounds like many of the heteronormative men behind The Koala — grandiose sense of self-worth, conning and manipulative, lack of remorse or guilt or empathy, pathological lying, parasitic lifestyle... Yep, they all come to mind. Take a look at the checklist for yourself. Sound like anyone you know?

1.   Glibness, superficial charm 2.   Grandiose sense of self-worth 3.   Need for stimulation, proneness to boredom 4.   Pathological lying 5.   Conning, manipulative 6.   Lack of remorse or guilt 7.   Shallow affect 8.   Callous, lack of empathy 9.   Parasitic lifestyle 10. Poor behavioral control 11.  Promiscuous sexual behavior 12. Early behavior problems 13. Lack of realistic long-term goals 14. Impulsivity 15. Irresponsibility 16. Failure to accept responsibility for own actions 17. Many short-term marital relationships 18. Juvenile delinquency 19. Revocation of conditional release 20. Criminal versatility

Of course, Ronson and Hare both warn that misuse of the checklist is dangerous. Hare says it should only be employed by clinicians with “advanced degree[s] in the social, medical, or behavioral sciences, such as a Ph.D., D.Ed. or M.D.” and who have experience with criminal populations. So, forget everything I just wrote. And, unless you are qualified, don’t ever, ever compare the list to any of the glibly nasty people you know. No, never.

Love, K-B

Crossposted at San Diego Gay and Lesbian News.