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A lot of people -- including, I must confess, me -- have been tossing terms such as psychopathy, psychopath, and psychopathic around rather cavalierly lately, usually when talking politics. Most use it pejoratively, e.g., "I don't like you at all, therefore you are a psychopath" sort of thing. It is in fact a clinical diagnosis, referring to a certain condition combining pathologies of neurological, psychological, and social development. It is well-defined, and is exhibited in the form of traits that are listed in the Hare Psychopathy checklist. In his The Psychopath Whisperer: The Science of Those Without Conscience, psychologist Kent A. Kiehl, PhD, list the salient traits of true psychopaths:

1) Glibness, superficial charm
2) Grandiose Sense of Self-Worth
3) Need for constant stimulation [e.g., sex, drugs, caffeine, tobacco, excitement, etc. (italics mine, YRD)]
4) Pathological Lying
5) Conning [as in "con-artist"]/manipulation
6) Lack of remorse or Guilt
7) Shallow Affect ["affect" meaning "emotions," i.e., shallow or non-existent emotional responses to events or situations by which others would be moved emotionally]
8) Callousness/Lack of Empathy
9) Parasitic Lifestyle
10) Poor Behavioral Controls
11) Promiscuous Sexual Behavior
12) Early Behavioral Problems
13) Lack of Realistic, Long-Term Goals
14) Impulsiveness
15) Irresponsibility
16) Failure to Accept Responsibility for One's Own Actions
17) Many Short-Term Martial Relationships
18) Juvenile Delinquency
19) Revocation of Conditional Release [e.g., strongly tends to violate probation, etc., and thus is at high risk of re-offending]
20) Criminal Versatility [doesn't just commit one type of crime, but tends to commit many such]

Just one such trait by itself doth not a psychopath make. In fact, a 20-25% score on this checklist is considered low. But scores ranging from 26-40% are somewhat alarming, and when you get up to about 70%, you have a psychopath.

Does any of this ring a bell? We've all know people who borrow endless sums of money and never pay them back, whose attitudes toward potential sexual partners is callous and even cruel, for whom "sex, drugs, and rock-and-roll" describes a way of life rather than an occasional party, and so on. Also, we've had many politicians in the news lately who seem to display an alarming number of these traits (e.g., Mitch McConnell, declaring he doesn't care about his constituents and what they think, the Clintons, and so on).

But who among you have known people who chalk up a solid 70-100% score on that checklist? I've known five, and possibly six in my life. This is no casual interest for me, and I don't use terms such as "psychopath" lightly. The damage such people do to others can leave scar for life -- and sometimes take lives, as well. But how many have you known? And how well do you know that checklist, and know how to apply it?

Mud-slinging is easy to do. But charges of libel carry serious costs with them, and even gossip about slander can hurt people outside of a courtroom. Successful communication demands accuracy. Can you be accurate when it comes to this issue?

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Yael Dragwyla

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