Why would a man want to label himself as a psychopath? At least self-proclaimed female psychopaths or sociopaths or whatever are sexy and less likely to go to jail. And no, please do not bring up your crush on Hannibal Lecter to me because Hannibal Lecter isn’t real. Real-life male “psychopaths” are upper-middle-class pasty white 20-year-olds who murder schoolchildren after playing too much World of Warcraft. That’s what CNN tells me, and that’s what I’m sticking with, OK?
Meet Dr. James Fallon, the good psychopath. How does James Fallon know he’s a psychopath? He’s a neuroscientist, and he’s found that psychopaths’ brains “light up” in certain places during an MRI scan, and Fallon’s brain lights up in the very same place, so he is a psychopath. Or at least he can go around telling people he is a psychopath, like M.E. Thomas, only with a set of scan results. And a penis.
And in fact, Fallon’s narrative isn’t much different from Thomas’s on first glance, although he doesn’t go on as much about sex. Presumably this is because the image of the overweight, middle-aged Fallon mid-coitus is less of a popular draw than the image of a mysterious lady psycho in the sack. I suppose it’s also because sex is considered a more risky activity for women than for men, so a male psychopath needs to go further into the realms of questionable human behavior to qualify.
However, just like Thomas, Fallon doesn’t admit to anything particularly awful. He stole some booze from his friends’ parents as a boy and made a few pipe bombs. As an adult, he’s even less wicked. In every interview of his that I’ve read, he says that he’s a psychopath because he took his brother to an African cave where the Marburg virus was found, but that sounds more like a boast about being tough enough to be a white hunter in darkest Africa than a boast about being psychopathic enough to kill your own brother, what with his brother not actually dying and all. According to the Amazon reviews, if you read the book you also find out that Fallon flirts with women other than his wife and drinks too much. This is bona fide hurtful behavior, unlike the Marburg incident, but it’s pretty common and isn’t as exciting as wandering around a spooky death cave so Fallon leaves it out of his publicity.
I’m going to guess why Fallon suddenly became a psychopath in his annoying-yet-not-murderous middle age. It’s a way for him tell people about all the cool things he does, except that nobody would listen to him before because perhaps they weren’t that cool in the first place, er, because he wasn’t a psychopath. Neuroscience career boring people? Well, now those boring studies can be replaced with the story of how Fallon was this close to becoming an evil murderer (but not really, thanks mom!) Nobody wanted to see Fallon’s pics of Africa? Well, now they do! Because spooky murder cave. Now Fallon has a book and everyone is paying attention to him. And if they find out about some of his worse behavior, well, he’s a psychopath! So it’s to be expected!
Now I don’t believe that Fallon isn’t doing anything shockingly harmful by pretending to be shockingly harmful. He’s twisting around a psychological definition that wasn’t very clear in the first place and which was already commonly misunderstood, and he’s getting people to listen to his blowhard stories. Nobody has to buy his book. You don’t have to subsidize Fallon’s life of non-crime.
However, Fallon is promoting a delusion much more dangerous than fake sociopathy. In order to find out what it is, you’ll have to watch Fallon’s TED video, in which he talks about something other than his self and his various diagnoses. That’s when things get odd.
OK, now–what do you think of the conflict between Israel and Palestine? And no, before you give me any opinions, I’m only going to give you two choices. Pick one.
A. It’s a conflict over a very small space of arable land in which one group lost the land within living memory, and the other group thinks the land was willed to them by God. This space is manipulated by multiple other entities which can use the conflict for their own purposes–so the longer it goes on, the longer they can reduce pressure on their own societies and put off examining their own beliefs.
B. It’s a conflict because 14-year-old girls are jumping on terrorist bones because terrorists are super hawt and manly, therefore breeding lots and lots of psychoterrorists who naturally conflict with one another.
If you picked A, well, you may or may not be right. If you picked option B, you agree with James Fallon and welcome to the magical world of evopsych.
In Wikipedia terms, evolutionary psychology aims to show how certain psychological traits evolved over time–genetic explanations for behavior. In popular practice, evopsych means just-so stories, a lot of which are about sexual behavior and a lot of which are kind of creepy.
Evopsych seems to be heavily intertwined with the men’s rights ethos, mostly as a justification (“Science says I don’t have to date fatties!”) but also as a form of anxiety–men wonder why women aren’t selecting them to breed with, and then conclude that there is something innately wrong with them. Some of them displace that fear by blaming women, saying that feminism has corrupted women, they’re all gross sluts anyway, etc.
Why is evopsych dangerous? Evopsych teaches dudes that genetics are destiny, sexual behavior has been constant through all time, and that the only important way of proving their worth is getting with a woman in a short period of time. If they don’t do that, then they’re nature’s failure. If you take the evopsych argument at face value, it’s almost like the “you’ll never conceive!” argument on steroids–women are failures if they’re not pregnant by 30, but men are failures if women aren’t “selecting” them by what, 25? It’s especially ridiculous because once a boy hits puberty, he technically can get a woman pregnant for the rest of his life. Granted, fertility falls over time and sperm gets wonky, but realistically there’s a 40- or 50-year span in which the odds are good. There’s no rush here, guys.
Still, jumping into the gene pool doesn’t mean that a person is our idea of a “winner.” If a 500-pound guy with buck teeth, pimples, and an IQ of -10 has a kid after having one sexual encounter in his entire life, he’s still evolutionarily ahead of George Clooney, just because his genes are passed on. His kid may turn out to be an evil, stupid son of a bitch, but he or she exists, and 99% of winning is just showing up, etc. His kid may also be a good, smart person, but then he or she gets hit by the truck that nobody saw coming, and that’s the end of that set of genes. There’s a lot of chance involved.
However, the reality of evolution raises a lot of touchy questions and doesn’t fit into our ideal of survival of the fittest, in which rich, good-looking people are “winners” no matter how many infants their loins produce. Also, it involves dealing with the end product of breeding, babies, who are tiny timesucking poop machines that you don’t see a lot in commercials selling products to make you attractive to the opposite sex. So being able to attract women becomes the goal in and of itself. with Richard Dawkins, of all people, which “proved” that survival of the fittest was real because young, attractive women were willing to sit with Dawkins at a party. I didn’t watch the whole thing so maybe I missed the part where they had Dawkins’s babies, but I’m going to take a stab in the dark and conclude that didn’t happen. I don’t know, maybe the old-timers are right and you can get pregnant if you touch too close, or maybe the “evo” in “evopsych” is total bullshit.
Evopsych creates a world in which sexuality is hardwired into the human consciousness and women are hardwired to reward a certain type of man with sex, for genetic reasons that don’t actually have anything to do with genetic propagation. It’s a scientific construct that has nothing to do with science. Fallon is propagating that construct, and that’s why he’s dangerous.