An argument could be made that psychopaths – notorious for being pathological liars – are constitutionally unable to lie!
I’m going to get off the train just before it gets to that particular stop, but going some way along that line does open a new view on both psychopathy and lying.
The psychopath is a pathological liar and so is by definition a pathological truth-teller. It’s one and the same thing to him – a set of devices to enable him to dominate another.
If the psychopath does not tell lies or truths in the same way as a regular person, does it make good sense to say that he’s up to the same thing at all?
What is it like to be a bat?
I’ve been trying to find a metaphor to make this point. Let’s see whether this one can bear the necessary weight. A bat lives in darkness. During the day it sleeps in a pitch-black cave, at night it comes out finding its way and its prey by sonar. If it does encounter light, is the bat blinded? No, it’s eyesight is generally very good.
The bat, here, is the psychopath, and sonar is his intuition for finding prey. What is vision? Vision is, it might surprise, is the psychopath’s moral vision. The psychopath knows what is conventionally understood as right and wrong and he can operate by that light if he has to. But on a different plane of existence, his victim-sonar operates every waking minute.
And finding prey is the raison d’être; for that pupose, light/dark, right/wrong are beside the point.
He is the lie, from hello to good-bye.
The writer M.L. Gallagher once fell for a psychopath:
He is the lie….
From hello to good-bye. I love you to I hate you. You’re beautiful to you’re ugly.
It was all a lie….
When friends or my family ask, but what about this, or what about that, I tell them. It was all a lie. There was no truth in him.
If I spend my time trying to figure out fact from fiction, all I am doing is trying to prove — I wasn’t so stupid. See, this was true. That’s why I fell in love with him.
Truth is. I fell in love with him because I believed his lie.
When I discovered the truth, I was so enmeshed in his lie, I couldn’t find the truth in me. And so I sank.
Does the pathological liar lie?
Crooks and liars has a piece Melanie Morgan caught lying, and says, “Honestly, I might as well have written ‘Melanie Morgan caught breathing’; I think both actions are equally natural for her.” Now, I can’t vouch for the accuracy of this judgement, but you gett my point about how in some instances the word lie loses its meaning.
Similarly, if, for the psychopath, it is all a lie then to call indiviudal utterances truths or lies seems pointless – misleading even. Hence my suggestion that perhaps it makes little sense to call a psychopath’s lies lies.
An analogy. People with Asperger’s Syndrome are famously dispassionate. But there’s a difference between he is being dispassionate and he is dispassionate. The former suggests for now while the latter suggests now and always.
Once we have these two locutions to choose from, it seems that it would be wrong to describe someone with Asperger’s as being dispassionate, rather than dispassionate, period. It would certainly be odd to say that he is capable of being dispassionate, it seems to me, as he does not have the capacity to do otherwise.
Does the Asperger’s person know the difference between being dispassionate and not dispassioante? Yes, but it is not meaningful to him. And does the psychopath know the difference between right and wrong? Yes, but, similarly, this is not meaningful to him.
My definition of the lie needs amendment:
What qualifies something as a lie, then, is not its truth or falsity. rather, having the capacity for both deception and non-deception and then making the conscious (or unconscious) attempt to deceive (or be deceived by) others (and/or oneself).
Psychopaths are liars, but (it can be argued) they don’t tell lies!
Tomorrow’s guestpost is by a bonafide human lie detector who explains how she goes about identifying lies.