Edit: In the original post, I neglected to ntion the connections between Antisocial Prsonality Disorder and Cnduct Disorder and Oppositional Defiant Dsorder, nd structural racism, sxism, and ableism. typos b/c eited from pphone.
Psychopathy: Racism and Ableism from the Medical-Industrial Complex
This constructed term of art does not in fact refer to an accepted diagnostic label in psychiatry or psychology. In the recently-replaced DSM-IV (the American Psychiatric Association's Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders), the closest label was "Antisocial Personality Disorder," a diagnosis that still exists in the current DSM-5. The DSM-5 also contains the newly created diagnosis of Conduct Disorder. The diagnostic criteria for Antisocial Personality Disorder and Conduct Disorder come perhaps the closest to the lay definition for psychopathy that is usually intended when the term is invoked.
The lay definition for psychopathy typically goes like this:
Someone who has little or no empathy for other people and no real control over their behavior.
Psychopathy is usually invoked when referring to either
- violent people, such as murderers, serial killers, school shooters, terrorists, or rapists, either by the mass media or by legal professionals, including prosecuting and defense attorneys, judges, sentencing advocates, probation and parole officers, and corrections officers and prison guards
- other disabled people, such as autistics, people with mental health or psychiatric disabilities, or learning disabilities (though usually when a person in this group has been accused of or formally charged with a crime)
- members of oppressive classes, such as wealthy people, cisgender men, or abled people, and especially when the member of the oppressive class is in a position of political power in addition to apolitical structural power
Yet, as noted before, psychopathy is not even a medical or psychiatric diagnosis. It doesn't exist in the DSM-IV nor does it exist in the DSM-5, and as much as I hate lending any further credence to the medical-industrial complex's state-sanctioned and socially-approved authority, this is important to recognize. Even the medical-industrial complex does not officially recognize psychopathy as a diagnosis.
On the other hand, Antisocial Personality Disorder is recognized as a psychiatric diagnosis by the medical establishment. And who are the people typically diagnosed with Antisocial Personality Disorder? They are overwhelmingly poor students of color who frequently have other disabilities. Antisocial Personality Disorder, the diagnostic category that comes closest to approximating the lay definition of "psychopathy," is a tool for criminalizing poverty, blackness and brownness, and disability. It is the diagnostic label to legitimize non-compliance as a mental health problem.
Refusal to take psychiatric medications? Non-compliant. Doing poorly in math class? Non-compliant. Stimming in public? Non-compliant.
If you are non-compliant, you are anti-social. You are mentally ill. You have Antisocial Personality Disorder. You are a psychopath.
The language of pathology, of mental illness, of disease, of disability, has long been used to reinforce existing structural oppressions like racism, classism, sexism, heterosexism, binarism, cissexism, and ableism. I spoke at UC Berkeley this past Friday on the need to recognize and move beyond ableist metaphor. Ableist metaphor is all-pervasive in public discourse, in academia, in grassroots organizing, in progressive and radical movements as well as in conservative, neoliberal, and nationalist movements. Ableist metaphor draws on the language of disability to characterize, to denigrate, to attack, to rhetoricize, to politicize -- and it does so based on the presumption that deviation from typical thought, movement, emotional processing, communication, bodily/mental functioning, learning, remembering, sensing is evidence of defect, deficiency, disorder, and ultimately, moral failure. And if this is so, then it is certainly justifiable to refer to one's political opponents as blind or deaf to progressive ideas, or to refer to structures like capitalism or anarchy as social diseases, or to refer to violence visited either by individuals or oppressive systems as evidence of psychopathy.
To use psychopathy as the lens through which one views systemic or individual violence -- the violence of capitalism or patriarchy, for example, or the violence of a single serial killer or rapist -- is to reinforce the structural power of the medical-industrial complex, and to do so at the expense of disabled people, poor people, and people of color who have been victimized by the labels of non-compliant, anti-social, and psychopathic.
To defend the use of this term as medically accurate is to imply that you have knowledge that an individual has been medically assessed as and diagnosed with Antisocial Personality Disorder or Conduct Disorder, which in itself, cedes control and power to the psychiatric establishment and the medical-industrial complex. It presumes personal medical knowledge, it reinforces the creative fictions of these diagnostic labels, and it enables the systems of violence that use the language of disability to pathologize and ultimately, to dehumanize.
Be precise in your language, and say that oppressive structures are violent and manipulative. Say that those who abuse their structural positions of power act with reckless disregard for other human beings. Say that they are callous and unabashedly wielding the power that comes with their privilege.
But don't call them psychopaths.
I've experienced enough ableism in my life to last me several lifetimes. I don't need fellow radicals feeding into ableism.