Can we make a Taxonomy, or a tree, of evil personalities?

Do people’s personalities fall into clusters – or are we all on a continuum of traits? Assuming that people exist in a “personality space” where each dimension is another trait of personality, is this space populated by dots – each dot being a type of person — or is it populated by one big continuous area of personalities grading into each other?

Pertinent to this is an interesting new book by Joe Navarro, who worked for the FBI as an agent and a criminal profiler, on the 4 types of “dangerous personality”.
He lists them as:

  • The Predator
  • The Narcissist
  • The Emotionally Unstable personality
  • The Paranoid Personality.

The cluster idea also raises other questions. Stanton Samenow interviewed criminals for many years, and he has written books on the way they think, which is quite different from the way most people do. So is criminality like “autism” – a (possibly genetic) disorder with certain identifiable behavior and thinking changes? We do know there is a genetic component to criminality – at least in some criminals – from studies of twins reared apart.

And then there are terrorists – some say they are just criminals who latched on to an ideology, and others say they are normal people who were indoctrinated.

Muslim training camp - USA
Muslim training camp – USA

I used to believe that criminals are very practical people who do not believe in any cause apart from themselves. However, it is not rare for criminals to embrace causes, in fact there are 22 or possibly more militant Islam “camps” scattered across the United States. They are part of or linked to a Pakistani militant group called Jamaat al-Fuqra, which was founded in New York in 1980 by radical Pakistani cleric Sheikh Mubarak Gulani. Gulani recruits young men, many from prison, into joining his “Soldiers of Allah” fight. They are being trained in kidnapping, explosives, weapons use and guerrilla warfare to prepare them for jihad.
But on the other hand, the world’s most successful terrorist, Osama Bin Laden, did not have a criminal history. He believed in something bigger than himself. He was an “idealist.”

Killing Compartments
Killing Compartments

A good point was made in a recent book “The Killing Compartments” where the author points out that mass murderers are not at all beasts, monsters, or psychopaths. In fact the proportion of psychopaths among mass murderers is in fact no greater than in the rest of the population—about 5%. Before engaging in the brutal slaughter of unarmed civilians, most of the perpetrators “may not have ever harmed a living soul,…Once it is over, most of them by far will never again physically hurt another person.” The men who carry out these acts (nearly all genocidaires are men) are fully functional members of their society before, after and even during their participation in the murders; they have normal friendships, are devoted fathers and loving husbands, are economically successful.
And when interviewed, years after, they are not even sorry for what they did – Robert Lifton interviewed Nazi doctors who did horrible experiments on living victims – and he was fed up with their lack of remorse, even years later.

My uncle, a history professor, told me that “humans are infinitely plastic.”

Now let’s go back to the Joe Navarro book:

He says of the “unstable type”

These personalities often don’t take criticism well, are very sensitive to real or perceived slights, and can turn on you when they feel insulted. They’re quick to feel victimized, so they immediately demonize others or accuse them of disloyalty based on unfounded suspicions.
They stockpile and are constantly on the alert for social slights, mistreatment, incidences of inadvertent forgetfulness, or faux pas in order to later unleash reminders of them, like arrows, to hurt others.
Unstable personalities are perennial “wound collectors.”‘
At home or in business, if you give in to them, they’ll walk all over you, always wanting more of your time, special treatment, attention, or rule bending. Refuse to accommodate and you’re accused of being uncaring, bad, or disloyal.
For these personalities, there really are no boundaries or social conventions. Because they fear abandonment, when they feel needy, they need you now…God help you if they get your cell phone…
In essence, they become stalkers, but they can also become saboteurs.
“If you have children with a parent like this, you have a responsibility to try to provide safety and respite for them. Sadly, in my experience, most parents fail to act…”

Then here is the “paranoid” type
Some examples are:

  • The driver who thinks you cut him off. intentionally, so he tailgates you with horn honking, headlights flashing, rude gestures, and cursing. He may even follow you all the way home.
  • The man who thinks everyone’s hitting on his wife or girlfriend, so at parties he sticks his nose into every conversation she has, especially with men, and makes sure those men don’t loiter very long.
  • The anonymous author of an acrid online attack, accusing you of having a hidden agenda and knowing what you “really meant.”
  • Navarro notes that President Richard Nixon, who had many of the features of the paranoid personality, kept an enemies list and repeatedly stated to others that he just could not “confide in anyone.”‘ It is claimed that Obama has such a list too (see sources).

The paranoid type may seek space, isolation, and distance to calm their fears. Sadly, that can’t be done because the paranoia comes from within them.
Some isolate themselves at a school, at work, in a city, or even within a family—they become the loners. Some take it a step further and live in the wilderness (the desert Southwest, Idaho, Montana, and Alaska are favorite choices) to get away, avoid others, or “prep” for some apocalyptic event.

Randy Weaver
Randy Weaver
Francis Degan
Francis Degan

In extreme cases, they may take their whole family to live in the middle of nowhere, as happened when Randy Weaver and his wife took their family to live in a cabin they constructed in Ruby Ridge, Idaho, in 1992.  In August of that year the FBI came to try and collect him and a siege began. Eleven days after it had begun, a 14-year-old boy, a 42-year-old mother, and one yellow Labrador retriever had all been shot dead by the FBI, and the Weavers (or an ally) had shot a federal marshal, Francis Degan.  Randy Weaver had been a Green Beret, and Francis Degan a former marine.  A sad irony.
Events at Waco Texas, where law-enforcement besieged a compound of a cult led by “David Koresh” also reinforced anti-government attitudes by militias and others.

…law enforcement officers tried to arrest David Koresh. That attempt transformed itself into a threat against those who believed in the divinity of Koresh. When government agents tried to rescue the children from within the compound, the Davidians themselves set fire to the buildings, immolating themselves rather than allowing the breakup of the group. The siege lasted 51 days and 76 people died, including many innocent children.” Once again, paranoia overrode parental sensibilities.

Moving on to the narcissistic type:
Leaders of cults fit this description.

The narcissistic personality as sect leader purports to have all the answers and secrets to a better life and makes all the decisions.

Navararo adds:

Those were our observations about cults, but if you think about it, many of these same characteristics (secrecy and isolation, psychological and/or physical abuse to weaken free will, absolute power concentrated in one person’s hands) can be found in toxic work environments or organizations, in homes ruled by tyrants, or even in nation-states.

For instance, Joseph Stalin, took on titles such as:

  • Coryphaeus (literally “the leader of the chorus”) of Science
  • Father of Nations
  • Brilliant Genius of Humanity.

He changed his name to Joseph Stalin to reflect his view of himself, literally, as the “Man of Steel” (Stalin means “steel” in Russian).
He also killed tens of millions of people, remarking that “One death is a tragedy; one million is a statistic.”

If you are around these types long enough, they cause you anxiety, which can be a good thing, because it is a warning to you not to hire them, marry them, or befriend them.
For instance, Navarro writes: “Paranoid personalities will suck the joy out of your life. They will make you tense, worried, irritable, and edgy. You see, you must view and fear their enemies as they do; otherwise, in their opinion, there is something wrong with you.”

When people are dealing with a dangerous personality, the usual well-meaning advice they hear is generally some version of “Try to talk to him; try to get her some help; try to work things out together; give him another chance.” Nicole Brown Simpson, former wife of 0. J. Simpson, did all of that. She’s dead. I think this is fine advice when you’re dealing with run-of-the-mill interpersonal problems. But when it comes to the four dangerous personalities in this book, things are a little different.”

There is also the predator – the worst of the four types to run into, but I lack space here to summarize the section on him.

So as a final speculation from this blogger, perhaps we can ask:

1. Are there more than 4 types of dangerous personality?

2.  Thoughts interact with temperament.  If we all were perfectly rational, perhaps we would come to similar conclusions about the world we live in, and who the villains are and who the heroes are, but we aren’t and we don’t. Sometimes we do evil because of mistakes in what we believe, and sometimes we do evil because of mistakes in how we think, and sometimes we do evil because of our personality, and all three interact. If we are going to cluster people, do we cluster them by a combination of these three?
For example, on the 75th anniversary of Kristallnacht, (a day when Jews were attacked in Nazi Germany) neo-Nazis marched through Stockholm (Sweden) in solidarity with the Greek Golden Dawn party followed by a protest of “leftists” some of whom were waving Hamas flags. Both groups agree on some things, and both groups are “extremist”. They don’t think like I do. Do they represent a different moral system than me, a different personality cluster, or do they just happen to have different ideas?

Judging by Navarro’s book, work has been done to cluster personalities and thought patterns of the troublemakers of our species. It would be interesting to see if more clusters can be found, and plotted on a graph in high dimensional space, and whether those clusters can be correlated with genes, or for that matter, environment.

Dangerous Personalities  – by Joe Navarro (2014) published by Rodale Press – on Obama’s “enemies list – on the “Killing Compartments” book. on Nazis and leftists in Sweden


One thought on “Can we make a Taxonomy, or a tree, of evil personalities?

  1. All very pertinent to today’s world situation. Individual psychopaths, narcissistics, etc., rarely cause problems on a global stage, but to generalise, the sect-leader types and the followers have caused most problems throughout history. They need each other and feed off each other at the expense of everyone else. This is the commonality between the Mansons, the Taliban, ISIS, the IRA, the Nazis, etc.,as well as more “acceptable” forms of patriotism and political activity. If these maniacal leaders were deprived of their legions of followers, they could do relatively little harm. By riding on the back of what may seem like acceptable beliefs and causes they manage to do even better, of course.

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