Let’s be clear about a couple things. Contrary to the clinically glib, reckless thesis that Kevin Dutton, Ph.D and his creative collaborator, Andy McNab, have been promoting in their spate of strange, deviant books on the subject of psychopaths, psychopaths have no wisdom, and there are no good psychopaths.
Here are some of the dubious titles of their books, which has really become their growing “brand:”
The Wisdom of Psychopaths, Kevin Dutton, Ph.D
The Good Psychopath’s Guide To Success: How to use your inner psychopath to get the most out of life, Kevin Dutton and Andy McNab
Sorted!: The Good Psychopath’s Guide to Bossing Your life: How to Own Your Day-to-Day Psychopath Way, Andy McNab and Kevin Dutton
Certainly, it seems these authors have been channeling what they might call their own “inner psychopaths” to perpetuate, with a kind of psychopathic unconscionableness, the dangerous, fraudulent notion of psychopathy’s meritorious properties. In Amazon’s descriptive copy of their book(s), McNab is described as “a confirmed, good psychopath.” Really? So, there’s now a clinically valid category of “good psychopaths,” and McNab has been “confirmed” as one? Did he have a “confirmation ceremony,” perhaps presided over by Dutton, after which he was given his framed certificate? Does McNab like to showcase that framed certificate on his office walls, or just in his books?
Further down in the Amazon description of their book, the terms are elaborated a bit more. We read, “Professor Kevin Dutton has spent a lifetime studying psychopaths. He first met SAS hero Andy McNab during a research project. What he found surprised him. McNab is a diagnosed psychopath but he is a GOOD PSYCHOPATH. Unlike a BAD PSYCHOPATH, he is able to dial up or down qualities such as ruthlessness, fearlessness, conscience and empathy to get the very best out of himself – and others – in a wide range of situations.”
We also read, enticingly, “And how can thinking [like a good psychopath] help you to be the best that you can be?” (The italics are mine.)
We further read, “The Good Psychopath’s Guide to Success will help you find out if you are a good psychopath – and if you’re not, how you can behave like one.” That’s wonderful—Dutton and McNab promise to teach us how to become psychopaths, but only good ones?
And another enticement, “The Good Psychopath Manifesto gives you a unique and entertaining roadmap to self-fulfillment both in your personal life and your career.”
Dutton made his man-crush on psychopaths pretty clear in The Wisdom of Psychopaths. In that big-selling book, his warped premise pretty much boiled-down to this: “If only psychopaths could use many of their traits in non-harmful, non-violating ways, as some seem close to being able to do, they could be amazing, enviable, admirable human beings.” (That’s my admittedly loose paraphrasing of his basic theme, not a direct quote.)
But guess what, Dr. Dutton? They can’t. And that’s what makes them psychopaths. True psychopathic individuals will have a history of targeting and exploiting vulnerable others, of transgressing others (or systems) with indifference to the harm they’re aware they may be inflicting. They are unconscionable transgressors. Maybe not 24/7 transgressors; maybe even very selective exploiters; but they possess mentalities, comprised of psychopathic traits that include gaping empathetic/compassionate/moral deficits, that destine them to unconscionable acts of violation.
Now, if you have psychopathic traits but never deploy them in exploitative ways, then you’re not a “good” or “wise” psychopath—you’re just not a psychopath. Obviously, it’s possible to take particular psychopathic traits and use them more advantageously. That’s not a revolutionary concept. We can learn to use, say, our capacities for traits like manipulation and charm to better advantage and self-interest. This is what Dutton and McNab are prescribing—guidance to help us use various psychopathic traits more advantageously. But so long as we’re not cultivating these traits for use to “fuck over” others remorselessly, then we’re not psychopaths—good, or bad. We’re just using various traits that psychopaths possess, and that psychopaths selectively deploy unconscionably–only we’re using them less unconscionably, less irresponsibly, with less purposefully exploitative aims towards others.
In other words, we aren’t channeling our “inner psychopaths” even if Dutton and McNab teach us how to be more effective manipulators and charmers. Because we’re not psychopaths, we have no “inner psychopaths” to channel, fortunately. But this is where Dutton and McNab demonstrate the psychopathic quality of glibness. Merely in conceptualizing such clinically cynical concepts as “good psychopaths” and “inner psychopaths”—this is epically glib.
Here’s the thing, too, about McNab, respecting his decorated military history. If he lacks a history of callously exploiting vulnerable people, then he’s not (and never was) a psychopath. Hence, the very depiction and selling of him as a psychopath, no less as a “confirmed” psychopath, would be false and manipulative. Forget about his PCL score—I repeat, if McNab lacks a history of deploying whatever “psychopathic traits” he allegedly knocks out of the ballpark in harmfully exploitative ways against vulnerable others, with no remorse, then he’s not a true psychopath.
And if he has that history, then he’s not a “good” psychopath—he’s just a psychopath, and that’s not good.
Ironically, there’s much that’s psychopathic in what Dutton and McNab have been executing. Among other things, they’ve exhibited glibness, manipulativeness, shallowness, grandiosity and deception in what amounts to the “conceptual coup” they’ve striven to pull off—reframing psychopathy, in an apparently shameless bid to expand their publishing brand, as something from which to learn and practice with their guidance. Sure, they will teach us only “good psychopathy,” not “bad psychopathy.”
Or maybe, in the end, they’ll teach us only what many psychopaths know all too well—that you can sell pretty much anything to anyone, even “clinical snake-oil,” if you’re just convincing, charming and manipulative enough.