The Psych Club at my college was hosting a colloquium on "The Psychology of Superheroes," and they asked me if I'd join the panel discussion, posing as my favorite comic book character.
And it's true.
I never read comic books as a kid, and I have no interest in the superhero action movies that Hollywood endlessly rolls out.
Now that sounded tempting. And I'd just
finished reading an article on "successful psychopaths" that I could
reference in the discussion. So I said I'd do it.
The serial killer is perhaps the prototypical psychopath, and, to be sure, plenty of psychopaths end up behind bars serving long sentences.
Lilienfeld and colleagues dub these,
When psychopathy is mixed with a high degree of intelligence and a strong ability to delay gratification, the result is a ruthless, Machiavellian type whose path to power is paved with the dashed dreams and broken bodies of countless others.
Yet "successful psychopaths" are too clever to ever get punished for their crimes.
On the contrary:
You might well think there'd be safeguards against psychopaths rising to power in a constitutional democracy such as ours, but you'd be mistaken.
Lilienfeld and his coauthors report on a
personality analysis of the first 42 presidents, which found that
success in the White House was strongly correlated with the traits
of the successful psychopath. These traits can also be found among
contenders for the presidency, especially those high
in the polls.
How can you be successful and pathological at the same time?
Research instead has focused on the unsuccessful psychopath, in particular those convicted of heinous crimes.
To a certain degree, this is due to a
legitimate desire to better understand criminality and its causes.
They're also easy to find, since there are plenty to be studied in
any given prison.
One such notice advertised for people who were,
Apparently, successful psychopaths know who they are and don't wish to hide their true identity, because plenty respond.
Subsequent tests confirm high levels of
traits associated with antisocial personality disorder but also of
positive traits such as extraversion and conscientiousness.
I expected a brief Wikipedia stub, but
what I found was a detailed and well written article on Lex
Luthor that was even longer than the encyclopedia entry for our
current president! (12994 words for Luthor, 11476 words for
Obama. By comparison, presidential contender and Lex
Donald Trump only gets 8850
words in Wikipedia - not so huge!)
I felt as though I'd tumbled from my ivory tower into an alternate universe of comic book scholarship.
Here's just a snippet of the DC Comics website entry on Lex Luthor:
This description fits the profile of the
successful psychopath to a T.
But I do hope that this time we, as a
nation, can see through the guile of this year's bumper crop of
presidential hopefuls and elect a person who has the best interests
of the nation at heart.
Just before posting this entry, I learned that the "Psychology of Superheroes" colloquium had been canceled. Superman was a no-show. He must have found out about my stash of kryptonite.
Curses, foiled again!