Wanted: Jewish Male Psychopath
Kevin Dutton’s new best-seller rehashes Norman Mailer’s ideas on deviance, but it leaves out Jewish men
As for the useful psychopathic traits Dutton discusses, it’s easy to see how coolness under pressure would be good in the military and in finance, fields where social rituals, patterned behavior, and superficial regimentation make it easy for those with lower social skills to at least appear to fit in. If you wear a uniform every day, you don’t have to figure out what’s appropriate to wear—and this more or less goes for Wall Street, too.
But it’s also easy to see that the emotional tone-deafness that accompanies these traits can lead to disaster. The so-called London Whale and other errant or rogue traders who in recent years have nearly brought down several brokerage houses lacked some traits that normal people have, like empathy, fear, and the ability to see themselves realistically. Psychopaths are missing an understanding of social context that can undermine their other unusual abilities—and their grandiosity and impulsivity precipitate their downfall.
Poor impulse control seems to be the bane of the high-functioning psychopath. Stanley McChrystal and David Petraeus are probably in this category—Petraeus less obviously so than the famously eccentric McChrystal. Their unusual traits took them very far up the ladder. But they were ultimately brought down by stupid stuff, mistakes many less-intelligent men wouldn’t make. How hard is it not to criticize your political superiors to a reporter? How hard is it, at 60, to avoid having an affair with the kind of woman who hijacks your email account?
Those who have mastered impulse control and have some psychopathic traits can rise very far. Many of those who disliked Mitt Romney on personal grounds adduced what they took to be cold-heartedness and an absence of empathy. The consensus on President Barack Obama is that he also is cold, tends to egocentrism, and has a remarkable degree of stress immunity. (This might be the place to note that no Jew has ever run for president, much less been elected.)
It’s hard not to like Dutton’s book, unless you, like me, tend to dislike books that are too ingratiating—and I liked it even so, for offering a corrective to the usual politically correct idiocy. Dutton, like Mailer, is waging war against the bien-pensant. And I’m with him. Life would be more fun if more people cultivated their inner psychopath. I’m tired of being told to wear a bike helmet (it would make more sense, statistically, to wear one while driving a car); I’m tired of being frowned on for having two cigarettes a week, or for pointing out that the odds of getting AIDS from unprotected sex for white heterosexuals are about those of dying by choking (look it up).
But I know something I think Dutton doesn’t: how frustrating it is to love a psychopath. Dutton, though he confesses that his father and his childhood best friend were psychopaths, probably hasn’t dated any. Psychopaths stand you up for no apparent reason. Or they show up at your house in the middle of the night having happened to be in the area. They never send love letters, and if they buy you flowers, it’s an ironic gesture. On their way to spend the night at your house, they let it slip that they’re moving in with another woman. They propose marriage just when you have met someone new. And if you accepted, they’d likely leave you at the altar. (Luckily, I never got that far.) What’s more, they will do these things again and again. It wears one down.
Dutton’s book is worth reading—though Mailer’s essay, for those who haven’t seen it, is a better read. It is a guide to what to expect in the future; Dutton suggests, correctly I think, that our society is becoming more psychopathic, partly due to the rise of celebrity culture that sets up charismatic individuals with psychopathic traits as role models. And remember, girls, if you buy it for your favorite psychopath, it won’t change a thing about him.
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