Characters Without Conscience Are Dangerous

Those Without Conscience

Some among us are without conscience. That’s a fact hard to accept. Still, it’s a fact. What’s more sobering is to realize just how seriously impaired the consciences of some who actually have a conscience can be. No one, however, is more dangerous than the person with virtually no conscience. There’s nothing to hold such a person back when they’re tempted to do the unthinkable. And there’s nothing to propel them to act nobly, even when it would serve everyone’s better interest for them to do so.

Pioneering researchers in the areas of psychopathy and sociopathy couldn’t believe what they were discovering. Some folks, they realized, had no compunction whatsoever about callously using and abusing (and preying upon) others. They did the unthinkable with no regret or remorse. And they had no shame. This seemed so totally irrational to the researchers that they assumed such folks suffered from a type of insanity. In fact, one researcher coined the term psychopath as way of describing what he regarded as “moral insanity.”

The Conscience Impairment Spectrum

Fortunately, those among us totally without conscience are rare. But sadly, such folks are more common than they used to be. And that’s largely because a culture already steeped in narcissism actually affords them a degree of welcome. Moreover, because narcissism is so prevalent, its most malignant forms don’t stand out as much. We barely notice the predators among us. That is, until they do us in!

It’s worrisome enough that we have so many more psychopaths and sociopaths among us than we used to have. But it’s even more worrisome that so many folks these days, short of being psychopaths or sociopaths, have serious conscience impairments. That’s what lies at the heart of the more serious types of character dysfunction. And that’s also what causes so many problems in our relationships.

Vetting Character in a Character Disturbed Age

We’ve largely lost the art of properly vetting the character of potential relationship partners. Some of us don’t care enough about character matters to even bother. That’s always a recipe for disaster. And even those of us who do care often don’t know how to make proper character assessments.

Character disturbance is so common that it’s hard to spot the more troubling characters among us. And when you consider how unskilled many are about properly vetting character, it’s no wonder so many relationships end up toxic.

The Heart of the Danger

With folks without conscience, anything is possible. And therein lies the danger. Folks who lack a sound internal self-regulating mechanism are capable of the most unconscionable behavior, even when experiencing little duress. That’s why we should never, ever, afford such folks the reins of power. While such folks might indeed do some things that we like or appear to benefit us, it’s folly to think we’re in safe hands. And that’s perhaps the greatest peril we all face: not recognizing or appreciating the level of danger those lacking conscience inherently pose.

I talk about these matters on the latest Character Matters podcast.


15 thoughts on “Characters Without Conscience Are Dangerous

  1. Hi, Dr. Simon,

    I know psychopathy is considered rare but I’m wondering if you think that is really a fair assessment?

    Martha Stout illustrates that many of the psychopaths are not residing in jail and don’t break enough laws to be considered criminal. She showed how common this personality is with her example of 1 in 25 people are estimated to be psychopaths which if my math is correct is 4% of the population.

    Dr. Robert Harris estimates that 4% of the population fits the definition of psychopath with approximately 1% incarcerated due to criminality. I live in a city with 100,000 people approximately 38 sq miles. So 4%, if my math is correct, would be 4,000 psychopaths grocery shopping, driving and living among me. That sounds like a lot to me! Even if we reduce by 1% for criminal behavior resulting in incarceration that’s 3000 psychopaths living and working among me within 38 sq miles. That really sounds like a lot to me!! That doesn’t sound or feel rare to me!

    Also, as an aside:
    Interestingly enough, if I remember correctly, Dr. Harris is a Canadian researcher and his PCL-R (Psychopathy Checklist Revised, a form used by prisons to gage recidivism risk for parole hearings— for others reading the post) uses a higher score for the U.S. than Canada and Great Britain in order to keep his 4% estimate in all three countries aligned. I believe he stated he needed to take into account the higher aggression levels in the US again if I remember correctly. To me that sounds like the US has a higher proportion of psychopathy than other countries. Which actually makes sense to me if we take into account how the US grew its population. It’s a lovely romantic story to see all immigrants as defined in the Lady Liberty poem:

    Keep, ancient lands, your storied pomp!” cries she
With silent lips. “Give me your tired, your poor,
Your huddled masses yearning to breathe free,
The wretched refuse of your teeming shore.
Send these, the homeless, tempest-tost to me,
I lift my lamp beside the golden door!”

    The reality is that taking the risk, leaving behind family, friends, belongings and all that you know to come to America to achieve wealth and riches (it was rumored that America’s streets were paved with gold!) fits within the psychopathic personality I would think. (INOTE: I am in NO WAY stating ALL immigrants then or now are psychopaths or that I’m against immigration then or now. I’m simply illustrating why the US may have a disproportionate amount genetically to Canada and Great Britain.)

    So I’m wondering if you think it’s a fair assessment for the psychological community to label psychopathy as rare. And I wonder how many people labeled as narcissistic are actually malignant narcissists ie psychopaths. And if it is by literal definition rare at 4% should we not take into account the amount of damage psychopathic personalities do to individuals and society as a whole since they’re drawn to power (hence the transition into the term sociopaths)? One psychopath/sociopath can damage and impact a lot of people! And in positions of military, police, clergy, psychology, doctors, financial sectors like Wall Street and government they can impact very large groups and absolutely change the fabric of our nation’s character.

    I’m curious as to your thoughts. As I imagine you can see, this data has a significant impact on me and my interactions with others since I don’t see this as rare. I look at a group of 25 and think at least one person here is most likely a psychopath and it’s so often hard to tell. I know from my past experience, it’s probably going to be the person I like the most and feel the most comfortable with which obviously impacts my ability to make even casual social connections. I would love to know I’m exaggerating or being over dramatic in my understanding of the data. Advise?

    1. Hi Charlie,

      You’ll find other articles addressing this issue, too. And thanks for mentioning Dr. Hare, whose work I became familiar with long ago and later became a certified PCL-R scorer. I reserve comments about some of the others in this field who might have had sensationalism and sales numbers at least partly in mind when they wrote their books. Full-blown psychopathy is rare. But the spectrum of serious pathology is broad, and serious “almost a psychopath” pathologies are much more common, in part due to social milieu factors. And while those totally devoid of conscience are still relatively rare, those with highly impaired or virtually absent consciences are not, which is a major factor influencing why all forms of character dysfunction have been increasing. Access the other articles on this and related topics to get a fuller picture.

  2. Dr. Simon and Charlie,

    I agree with both of you on many points and believe the assessment and evaluation of the numbers of psychopaths is subjective. Given the information Charlie sited I believe is only the tip of the iceberg as a large portion of psychopaths are very calculated and run under the radar.

    I think the percentage of psychopaths is based on the ones that have be caught for their crimes. Also the percentage is based on psychiatric evaluations that are done on individuals in the population when they are committed or elicit a psychiatric syndrome such as depression separate from the psychopathy and is assessed in a MMPI exam.

    If we truly open our eyes and assess the events of the world today, especially, the WEF Klaus Schawbe and his assistant Yuval Harari who openly states we have “six and one half billion useless eaters” isn’t it a given these individuals haven’t a iota of regard for human life ie, a cesspool of psychopaths who are considered normal.

    I think it is a system that is encouraging the narcissism we see today and as a result the hardening of heart, soul and mind of the population to adapt to a mindset of being to be psychopaths.

    The Ultra Mind Control, the hypnotic music of extreme violence along with the violence the TV pumps out, hardens ones perception of human life and in a sense creates narcissistic, psychopathic individuals.

    One does not have to be a Jeffery Palmer, Ed Geine etc…., to qualify as a psychopath.
    The obvious right now is Epstein, Maxwell and the war mongers, Bernie Madoff, how many lives did these people inadvertently murder. One cannot deny these are psychopaths. I believe the percentage to be well over 10% of the population are proxy psychopaths as they stand by and do nothing,

    Interesting topic that I believe we have discussed in length in the past.

  3. On the subject of psychopaths. Please this is a very good documentry on youtube on the 2008 stock market crash

    I am FishHead


    1. Joey,

      I watched the documentary and I was sickened as I have had my fair share of encounters with psychopaths, sociopaths and narcissists.

      I would encourage others to watch this documentary.

      Thanks for sharing

  4. Dr. Simon,
    I have to leave right now and wasn’t able to read the replies left here so please excuse me if this question was already answered.
    How do you properly vet someone in a relationship?

  5. I think my ex may well have been a psychopath. The fact that I didn’t recognize it really bothers me. I grew up in an alcoholic home and I think that is probably partly the reason, also, he was a really good liar and manipulator and I was young and gullible. Its too bad people who come from homes where there was dysfunction gravitate to what they know – dysfunction, without even realizing it.

    1. Kat, you wrote, “Its too bad people who come from homes where there was dysfunction gravitate to what they know – dysfunction, without even realizing it.

      It seems to be this way doesn’t it? What about enablers? No one seems to speak out to the enablers, including myself. I don’t speak out to a son, a brother or anyone because they’d deny they are enabling. Years ago I was in a short term marriage with what I can say was a narcissist, a term unheard of back then. I challenged him every step of the way, I challenged the bulls?@t he fed other people, I called him out on his lies to me and in the end he left the marriage and told my close friend “she couldn’t hand it.” My close friend replied “It’s not that she couldn’t handle it, it’s that she wouldn’t put up with it.”

      “It” meaning his narcissistic traits and we all know what they are. I’m one of the fortunate ones to have gotten out early. I can’t say my upbringing was dysfunctional so why do two of my brothers raised in the same home as I enable dysfunctional wives? It’s very bizarre to witness.

  6. Abuser are born not made. The dysfunctional upbringing makes them worse. Dr james Fallon describes it as a three legged stool.
    If abuse makes someone an abuser please read ” A BOY CALLED IT” and read what Dave Pelzer had to endurd. He is a a personnel hero of mine.
    The late DR Stanton Samenow thought the same.

    1. A good book to recommend. Any of Samenow’s books,too. While it’s not completely accurate to say that abusers are born (because biological predispositions alone don’t fully determine character), it’s definitively accurate to say that the experience of victimization is NOT causal to perpetuation.

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *