I found my bunch of Orycon 2016 notes the other day, and thought some were worth writing up. This panel particularly impressed me, since the panelists (Matt Bellet, Bart Kemper, SD Perry) brought some very interesting experience and insights. Matt has worked in rehabilitating young offenders on parole; Bart Kemper, an officer in the Army Reserves who served in Iraq and Afghanistan (and is also an engineer with current Secret Security clearance with the DoD); and SD Perry, who writes horror and dark fiction and therefore researches this stuff constantly.
Is there such a thing as a “Criminal Mind”?
- SD Perry: Yes, there are brain differences. Psychopaths show reduced frontal lobe activity, no emotional reaction to danger words, and increased amygdala activity. However, ordinary people can also be criminals through anger and self-righteousness. There’s sociopathy.
- Matt: Yes. Some people have brains that work differently. Others are “typical” but do things that are criminal because of their circumstances.
- Bart: Not all criminals are psychopaths nor are all psychopaths criminal.
- SD Perry: Yes – some psychopathic traits can help careers. They’re over-represented among surgeons, CEOs, media journalists for example. Our society values people without empathy. They avoid criminal acts through rational decisions.
- Bart: Killing people is acceptable depending on the circumstances – if the people are on the other side. It’s the difference between being a soldier, who kills people vs a murderer who needlessly kills people. Killing can be justifiable, but other crimes like rape may not be. The death penalty for rape is rational because there’s no justification for rape.
- Question: What about women killing their abusers?
- Bart: Most murders are personal.
- Matt: I told my guys that I will talk about what’s legal and illegal, but not about right and wrong. It’s not my job to look at the ethics of the situation.
- SD Perry: Psychopaths don’t think of right and wrong. They consider everything only in relation to themselves. Rehab also has to be different. It’s also true with narcissism – everything is about them. Difficult to treat them. There’s the Dark Triad: Psychopathy, Narcissism, Machiavellianism. Together with Sadism. Goes into the “Criminal Personality,” causes Criminal thinking errors.
- Someone said something about Death Squads and Torture. “You lose part of your soul.”
Question: What about naked craziness? (I think the reference was to people on the street who act really weird and dangerous, but not sure.)
- Matt: Drug addiction, rule-breaking, mental illness, drawing attention – these account for some of those behaviors.
- SD: There’s a thin line between sanity and not-sane.
- Bart: Criminals aren’t stupid. Smart people can deceive themselves.
- Matt: Criminals are not only the hero of their own story, they’re also the victim.
- SD: Psychopaths will lie.
- Matt: They know what you want to hear.
Question: Is the internet causing psychopaths?
Psychopaths are born, not made. But people can relate to them: for instance, John Wick (violent action movie hero) was a sympathetic person.
Question: There was some study in the 1920s which found there was no psychological difference between police and criminals?
Bart: A manipulative personality can be used to manipulate people in good ways. E.g. a coach, or a criminal rehabilitator.
SD: Any job that offers power will draw psychopaths. E.g. Police. Surgeons. CEOs. Don’t have moustache-twirling bad guys as your villains.
Matt cited the Milgram studies. He noted that people who hadn’t completed high school wouldn’t press the button (to apparently torture the “victim” of the experiment). High School is where you learn to obey authority.
Bart: Countering the stupid authority requires ethics training. “Question every order.” Military reward people who revealed the Abu Ghraib incident, and prosecuted the bad guys.
That’s all I have in my notes. Really liked the session. I think I learned a lot. I was reminded of it recently when I read the Atlantic Monthly article, When Your Child is a Psychopath, which notes that 80% of psychopaths are not criminal, and also this article: Life as a Nonviolent Psychopath.