From Internet Troll to Psychopathy Expert: The Con-Artistry of Thomas Sheridan
by Joe Quinn and Niall Bradley
Sun, 19 Aug 2012 00:20 CEST
Compared to, say, ten years ago, a lot of people today are aware of and talking about psychopaths. On the one hand this is encouraging, but on the other, it’s a little troubling. It is heartening to see awareness of psychopathy breach the mainstream frequency fence here and there, but the signal-to-noise ratio, as with all knowledge relevant to the growth and survival of decent human beings, remains high on the ‘noise’ side. We see ridiculous studies in the news portraying psychopaths as curable and articles making the rounds about how not having a Facebook account may indicate that someone is a psychopath. We’ve also seen Twitter being touted as a tool for ‘spotting psychopaths’ and, just today, news that the US justice system is considering acceptance of biological evidence that someone is a genetic psychopath in court with a view to using it to mitigate the sentences of criminal offenders. The reasoning being that psychopaths can’t help being psychopaths, that they lack free will and therefore they bear diminished responsibility for their crimes.
Well, yeah, that’s exactly why they need to be held under lock and key permanently.
Perhaps we shouldn’t be so surprised that the burgeoning awareness of psychopathy has been vectored away from the truth of the matter in this way. This is an information war after all, so if the psychopaths in positions of power gauge that the ‘psychopath awareness train’ has left the station, they would naturally be working around the clock to load it with nuclear capabilities in the hope of derailing it, or at least sending it down the wrong track. The name of their game is to misinform people about what psychopaths are really like by trivialising and obscuring the issue: hence the proliferation of junk science that claims psychopaths can be cured, that psychopathology is a harmless evolutionary adaptation, or that psychopaths can be spotted based on analyses of their Twitter feed and Facebook page (or the lack thereof).
A case in point is an author who has written a couple of books of the issue. When Irish artist Thomas Sheridan published Puzzling People: The Labyrinth of the Psychopath in 2011, we initially felt that, overall, Sheridan had done a decent job of synthesizing the available information on psychopathy, which is largely walled in by academic jargon, and putting it together for a wider audience. Four of his five core characteristics of a psychopath were sound (except for ‘high testosterone’ – there’s no correlation between psychopathy and baseline testosterone), but we had reservations about some of the ‘secondary characteristics’ he listed as markers for psychopathy, and worried that they tended towards ‘spotting the psychopath’ based on visual cues, such as being able to read the condition in someone’s eyes.
Those of you who have read Dr. Robert Hare’s Without Conscience will remember that the best psychotherapists are fooled from time to time, even when they practically have a clipboard in front of them with a patient’s history that is stamped ‘Probable Psychopath’! Yet here was, Thomas Sheridan – a new author on psychopathology – stating with absolute certainty, in a book that provided no citations, that “when one becomes skilled in recognising these traits and pathologies, psychopath-spotting becomes relatively straight-forward.” [p.10]
Really? That certainly hasn’t been our experience. Sheridan also claimed in Puzzling People that “all psychopaths get it in the end.” [p.108] Not only is this not true, it must run counter to reality given that the vast majority of people are totally unaware of their existence – at least, they are limited to an awareness of psychopaths as mass-murdering sadists, whose numbers are tiny relative to the psychopathic population as a whole. Our research actually puts their number at around 6% of the global population (and that may even be conservative), so the overwhelming majority of the planet’s 420,000,000 psychopaths live from cradle to grave undetected, leaving a swathe of emotional, social and financial destruction in their paths. And this is to say nothing of the massive destruction wrought by the actions of psychopaths in positions of power in governments and corporations who almost invariable get away with mass murder.
Much of Sheridan’s Puzzling People read like it would not have been out of place on the Cassiopaea forum, so despite our reservations about some of Sheridan’s claims, we nevertheless endorsed his book and encouraged SOTT readers, family members and friends to pick up a copy. From correspondence with the author, we learned that he had been a big fan of our work for several years. He has also been a member of our forum since 2009, when he introduced himself as “Transsociopathica, Demonic Sociopath Entity Destroyer”.
Where Puzzling People was a compilation of the research and insights of others, Sheridan’s second book, Defeated Demons, Freedom from Consciousness Parasites in Psychopathic Society, is enriched with his own ‘original’ material. The long and short of it is that Defeated Demons is ‘not even wrong’.
In a section called ‘The Self-Raised Predator’ (p.24), Sheridan proclaims that the fact that psychopaths are born into this world is “propaganda by the pathologically-driven, genetics-obsessed elitist faction that psychopathy is ‘all in the genes’… a myth peddled by prescription-happy psychiatrists… and creating enormous anxiety among ordinary people.” Raising the issue of psychopaths in power abusing research into genetic psychopathy is one thing; throwing the baby out with the bathwater by stating that there is no genetic component to psychopathy is something else altogether. Whether or not Sheridan realised it, by doing so he discarded the core problem of psychopathy altogether. By definition, psychopaths are born, not made. According to all of the psychiatrists and psychologists that have spent years researching the topic, and psychopaths themselves, psychopathy is not an acquired mental illness that can be fixed.