Without ConscienceI have at last finished reading Robert D. Hare’s seminal 1993 study, Without Conscience: The Disturbing World of the Psychopaths Among Us. The reading (at times academically dry but always interesting) was research for a fictional character who is intended to be both charming and treacherous, a person who inspires love but betrays her lovers. Is that possible? Hare’s answer would be a definite ‘yes’. He describes psychopaths as ‘fast-talking, charming, self-assured, at ease in social situations, cool under pressure, unfazed by the possibility of being found out, and totally ruthless.’ (p. 121) Moreover, ‘Psychopaths feel it is legitimate to manipulate and deceive others in order to obtain their “rights”, and their social interactions are planned to outmanouvre the malevolence they see in others.’ (p. 195) They are, he writes ‘generally well satisfied with themselves and with their inner landscape, bleak as it may seem to outside observers. They see nothing wrong with themselves, experience little distress, and find their behaviour rational, rewarding and satisfying; they never look back with regret or forward with concern. They perceive themselves as superior beings in a hostile, dog-eat-dog world in which others are competitors for power and resources.’ (Ibid.) That is my intended character to a tee. But Hare alas undermines another intended element in my plot; you cannot ‘cure’ a psychopath and you can’t really ‘treat’ her. (Which is why the last chapter in Hare’s book is entitled ‘A Survival Guide’!) Confusingly, though, the condition (effectively, the absence of a conscience) is no defence in a court of law, which is why Hare cites the cases of various notorious murders and other criminals (he shows how they were clearly psychopathic). In a throw-away observation Hare leaves his readers with a potentially frightening prospect. The disorder seems in part at least to be hereditary. Since psychopaths are notoriously promiscuous, they could be on the increase. This sounds like the basis for a good 1950s paranoid/allegorical Cold War B movie. As to my anti-heroine, I will have to re-think the plot.