(image by Ian Hughes)
R.K.: Okay. Now, you say narcissists exert a disproportionate influence on society because the number of characteristics of narcissistic personality disorder mean they are more likely to reach positions of authority than those with normal psychology. Can you talk about that?
I.H.: I think for a number of reasons that's true and also I'd like just to say a little bit about the, the title of the book is Imperfect Design , and the reason that I've chosen that title is because it's not only about the psychology of psychopaths and narcissists and paranoids, it's also about the psychology of the rest of us and particularly in the case of narcissists, we very often find them very attractive personalities. They're hyper-confident.
They are absolutely certain about what they're saying so they don't say, we could do this or we could do that, they're absolutely certain about a particular direction and we often find that particularly attractive and they can be very charismatic personalities and of course they have the drive because they feel like they are entitled to this, the absolute conviction that they are entitled to this position, so for all of these reasons, it's the interaction of the psychology of the minority with the psychology of the majority population and in the case of narcissists, they are very often, it's an issue of style winning out over substance.
R.K: Okay. Now I just want to get a little more into the paranoid person because I'm not really clear, I mean, the narcissist and the psychopath, they seem to make sense to me. Can you explain how the paranoid person fits in with this collection of evil people?
I.H.: I think the paranoid person plays a very important role, again in the interaction between the psychology of the minority and the psychology of the majority. Their role really is to scapegoat enemies and to whip up the paranoid feelings of the majority against particular external or internal enemies. So if you look at the role of paranoia in Hitler's Germany, you look at the role of paranoia in, I guess if you look at sectarian conflict where, particular groups, anywhere where a particular group is feeling under threat, whether it's a majority group where the minority is now beginning to agitate for it's rights or whether it's a, what's coming to mind is almost a religious conflict in the Middle East or even the religious conflicts, sectarian conflict in Northern Ireland where I grew up, the role of the paranoid in those situations is to vilify the enemy and do it with such bile and conviction that they are dogmatic, they are absolute, I would say they are the cheerleaders for hatred against enemies.
R.K.: Cheerleaders for hatred against enemies. Now, when we first made contact you told me that it was your experience with some of the things that happened in Ireland that led you to get in to this. Could you talk about that?
I.H.: Well I guess in writing the book I've written the book over those past four or five years but it's been a long time in the making. The idea of as I say, and I was about five or six whenever the Troubles broke out in Northern Ireland so that was going on in the background whenever I was growing up for my entire childhood and early adult life.
But the idea which we often hear in much of my book is sort of a reaction against, we often hear we are all the same, Aleksandr Solzhenitsyn even said that his lesson from being in the Gulag was that everyone was the same , he said that the line of good and evil runs through every human heart. And I could never believe that.
My experience growing up in Northern Ireland was this was very definitely not the case. This line of good and evil, the people who were doing this weren't people like my father and my uncles who abhorred the violence that was going on around them. This was definitely not that we are all the same.
There was a group within Northern Ireland and it was on both sides and it was a minority who were engaged in a lot of the sectarian violence and the majority, as I said, it's not as clear cut as being that the majority doesn't want this to happen because very often once the violence begins, the groups line up behind their own particular brand of psychopath. So once the violence starts and everyone gets in to the sectarian camp and lines up behind their own particular brand of psychopath.
But my experience in growing up in Northern Ireland is our propensity for violence is definitely not the same for everyone. In terms of getting the idea was really when I started training in psychoanalysis and came across the idea of personality disorders and started doing more work on them and realizing that there are people whose psychology is such that they have a propensity for violence that is beyond the norm.
That had began to make sense to me and what was happening around me in Northern Ireland began to make sense.
R.K.: Okay. Now you write that the most reliable means of recognizing someone with the personality disorder or psychopathy is through the detrimental effects they have on the ability of psychologically normal people to think. When faced with someone with a personalty disorder, normal people experience confusion. Can you talk about that some more?
I.H.: It goes back to something we were talking about earlier in terms of, if you take for example the narcissist, that narcissists can come across as highly intelligent because they're never short of something to say but the reason they can be come across as very intelligent is because their aim in an interaction is very different from you or I, the aim that you or I might have.
So in this conversation we're exploring, we're talking together and we're exploring ideas and we're trying to come up with, move further along in our thinking. If one of us were a narcissist, the outcome of the conversation would be that I defeat you and so you would become confused because they're continually shifting their idea. You could be arguing down a particular line of thought and then a few moments later you suddenly realize that they're arguing against themselves.