My blood always boils when I hear claims that psychopaths are guaranteed to be soul-sucking monsters that contribute nothing to society. If psychopathy is reflective of neurophysiology in which those structures that control affective empathy and impulse control (for example) are deficient, then we must realize that not everyone with those physiological profiles are unchecked with their antisocial behavior. While I tend to be of the opinion that the antisocial facet is important to confirming psychopathy – a disorder – I also realize that the underpinnings of the condition lie in many that are not antisocial. So we are left with two counterexamples to the claim that psychopathy is always a disease on society. First, there are those that lack empathy that have found ways to avoid overtly antisocial behavior. Second, the past need not dictate the future so those that meet the diagnostic criteria for the disorder are capable of making changes if they so wish.
There are many reasons that those with a psychopathic neurophysiological profile may not become antisocial. Some theorize that the antisocial mechanisms are latent and activated by trauma or childhood distress. With this in mind, any attempts to provide a blanket statement in which all psychopaths are antisocial are flawed. In an age in which more and more laypersons call for neurophysiological screening of individuals for signs of psychopathic structures, it is especially Orwellian to imagine the number of false positives and ruined lives that could result as a result of such. We still possess some element of free will and environmental factors can play a huge role in whether latent proclivities become reality.
Just as important, we must not forget the role of free will that I mentioned previously. For myriad reasons, psychopaths tend to mellow over time. Whether this is the result of age or delayed maturation is irrelevant. I’d like to think that I am a far different person than I was in my teens and early to mid twenties. I’ve learned – granted, through many sessions in therapy – that my antisocial past was not getting me anywhere positive. I do not claim that I am anything but the exception to the rule, however. It is well documented that many psychopaths will fall into the legal system at an early age, be released, and then fall back into the system with more severe consequences. However, if we are a society that truly values liberty, then we must allow for the possibility of reformation. Punish actions, not proclivities.
I am not going to be so trite as to claim that on average the psychopath provides more than she takes. That said, we must recognize those exceptions. Just as it is dangerous to characterize all of any group for a subset, it is disingenuous to throw all psychopaths under the bus for the actions of a subset – even if that subset may be a majority. There are multiple and valid reasons that the psychopath may either never become overtly antisocial or may reject the antisocial actions he has committed in the past as anathema to the present and future. The world may demand that the psychopath take the lead in education on this front, but an enlightened society holds a responsibility to do its own analysis.