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The gentleman protests too much
on May 11, 2014
I heard the author of this book, Jim Fallon, on Fresh Air talking about this book. He is a neuroscientist who discovered that his own brain scans are very much like the scans of the psychopaths that he studies. He is forced to recognize that not only is he himself a psychopath; he's also bipolar. He is well into his sixties when he realizes this, although friends and family have been trying to tell him for years that there's a problem.
Fallon admits that he's a narcissist and a psychopath, and he goes into some detail about the havoc this has wrought in the lives of his children and wife especially. He is apparently a deceitful womanizer, a sometimes drunk, a cold revenge-seeker, and a party animal extraordinaire. His candor about these character problems is admirable and chilling at the same time. In the end, unable to avoid the truth about himself, though, he just says, "I don't care." This is one of the most disturbing and revealing parts of the book.
The odd thing, though, is that he ends the book by claiming that psychopaths are on the whole good for society (if bad for the individuals around them) because they make life more fun, or something. This is the least convincing part of the book. He has just shown us how he callously tricks his family and colleagues, to the point that some of them refuse to associate with him any more. Then he claims it's all for the greater good! And he doesn't seem to see that this attitude is in itself psychopathic.
The most important point that he makes, for those of us who are parents, is that he would have been a much worse psychopath--possibly a criminal--if his parents hadn't raised him so well. In other words, he went from believing that genes are destiny to believing that the environment, one's upbringing, is the real determinant of whether or not a person with the "warrior gene" and the psychopathic brain scan will go on to be a serial killer or just a party animal scientist like himself.
I'm sure he's correct that childhood experiences, especially in the first few years when the brain is growing rapidly, are extremely important in shaping personality and character. But I think he underestimates the damage he's done to the people around him, or perhaps, as he says, he just doesn't care. I think Mr Fallon is not quite as benign as he sees himself, despite his professional success and lack of a criminal record. He was very lucky not only to have good parents, but to have married an extremely patient and loyal woman. I wonder what her book about him would be like.