So, like all of you no matter where you are, my eyes are on Ukraine. It’s unimaginable what the Ukrainians are going through…literally unimaginable. Empathy is the ability to understand and be able to share the feelings someone else is experiencing but how can we do that when the people of Ukraine are experiencing something that is so out of the realm of comprehension? It’s impossible to even try to put ourselves in their shoes. A young woman was interviewed the other day after her apartment complex was destroyed and said this: “One day I was taking care of my kids and going to work and spending time with my husband. Today, I’m digging my life out of rubble, my husband is fighting in the streets, my children are terrified and I fear for their lives, and we’re living in a basement of another building which could be hit any minute.” There are no words.
Of course this all centers around Putin and since I teach Psychology and Sociology, my students and I have been discussing not only the war itself but the why’s behind why Putin would do such despicable acts. Examples? Before the invasion of Mariupol, about 600 Ukrainians had been killed but 2500 have been added to that list in the last couple of days. Eighteen hospitals have been bombed including a maternity hospital and right now, a hospital in Mariupol has been taken over by Russian troops and 500 doctors and patients are being held in the basement of the partially bombed building in which the ICU was targeted. Further, at least 85 kids have been killed in this war and over 100 wounded. I know the word evil is greatly overused in our society but Putin is evil. I believe he’s the most evil tyrant since Hitler and the comparison between him and Putin in what’s happening now is horrifying.
The ‘why’s’ that my students ask are impossible to answer…no one knows what’s going on this man’s head. However the ‘what’ of Putin is very easy to grasp: he’s a psychopath. This isn’t based on my own opinion or that of the many pundits that agree, but on the Hare Psychopathy Checklist (revised) which is the leading tool we use to determine this in people. Let’s take a look at the characteristics of a psychopath and what Putin shows (I combined some of the traits):
- Glibness/Superficial Charm: Putin being filmed fishing, riding horseback shirtless, driving a Formula 1 race car, and playing hockey show this ‘charm’ and his glibness shines through with every insincere comment he makes.
- Grandiose Sense of Self-Worth – I don’t think this one need illustrated. At all.
- Proneness to Boredom and Low Frustration Tolerance – once again, the activities already listed plus daily swimming, weightlifting, hand gliding, being an advanced black belt in Judo, using a crossbow to kill an endangered grey whale, and the list goes on. Lots of stimulation there.
- Pathological Lying – “Yes, there will be a cease fire.” ” “No, we haven’t targeted civilians.” “Kids have not died.” “We’ll open a corridor for evacuees.” and these are just from the last 2 weeks.
- Conning (Manipulative) and Lack of Sincerity– silencing all news outlets in Russia and bombarding the people with propagation is only 1 example of thousands.
- Lack of Remorse or Guilt – Wow. Yes.
- Lack of Affect and Emotional Depth – Putin’s face rarely shows emotion, even when talking about his ‘own people’ being killed.
- Callous/Lack of Empathy – Killing children? Bombing maternity hospitals? Displacing millions of people from their homes? Attacking apartments where families live? Hmmm.
- Parasitic Lifestyle – This is one that’s hard to determine since it’s usually meant to be one person (the parasite) using another (the host) for anything they desire. Maybe Putin isn’t this on a personal scale, but he does feed off the people he rules.
- Lack of Remorse or Guilt – a given
- Short-Tempered and Poor Behavioral Control – can’t stop killing children? Threatening nuclear war?
- Frequent Marital Relationships – Putin was married to his ex-wife for 31 years so this is a no.
- History of Early Behavioral Problems and Juvenile Delinquency – Putin was born into poverty and lived with his parents in a single room in an apartment with 2 other families and had no hot water, little if any heat, and scarce food. He was basically left to fend for himself (and was possibly adopted by another family around 9 or 10) while his parents worked, and was bullied severely until he learned to defend himself which he did often and ferociously. Needing to prove himself was learned very early in his life.
- Lack of Realistic, Long Term Plans – taking over the world, which is what many say his final goal is, is unrealistic. I hope.
- Impulsivity / Irresponsibility – oh yeah
- Many Types of Offense – invading countries, killing off political dissidents, committing war crimes again and again, working for the KGB and doing what are undoubtedly horrific things, and the list goes on. And on and on.
- Revocation of Conditional Release – another one we can say no too.
In terms of determining psychopathy, each of these characteristics is given a score from 0-2 and people with psychopathy score a 30. Criminal offenders average 22 and the general population is 5. And, a “prototypical” psychopath would receive a maximum score of 40 and there’s no doubt Putin scores this. The top.
So what causes psychopathy? James Fallon, neuroscientist extraordinaire, is a man who thought nature was everything in this development and to prove this, he studied the brains of psychopaths and found astonishing differences in brain physiology as compared with non-psychopaths. However, he came to realize the importance of nurture in terms of how these inborn traits are played out when he scanned his own brain and found it to be that of a psychopath. He talks about how this reveals itself in his life in terms of lack of empathy (he has ‘cognitive’ empathy), how difficult it is for him to be close to people, how he wants people in his world for the attention/adulation, and how he’s always on the ‘make’. However, he has no criminal tendencies which he states are because his early environment was loving, stable, nurturing etc. So psychopathology begins in the brain but how it’s expressed is definitely based on environmental influences. Seeing the early years of Putin show the trigger that enhanced these traits, including the criminality, to their fullest. In other words, nature gives the psychopathy and nurture determines how and what is expressed with it.
How can those of us without psychopathy understand Putin? We can’t. We simply can’t get in the head of someone whose brain is dark and evil with absolutely no conscience at all. And that’s what makes him frightening.
I’ve heard so many people say “He’ll back down. He’s all talk.” Really? A psychopath will just ‘back down?’ Capitulate to what’s asked of him? Stop what he started and take blame for it? Make amends? Promise to never do it again. Right now there is info that peace talks show promise. I don’t believe anything this man says…pathological lying is such a trademark of psychopathy (and narcissism which Putin has in spades) that nothing can be taken at face value. Nothing.
I don’t think he will stop this war unless he’s under attack himself. After all, he’s the most important man on the planet…in his mind (and right now, maybe it’s true). It’s simple machiavellianism: the ends justify the means no matter what the means are. Gaining back the lands that were once a part of the Soviet Union is what Putin’s end-game apparently is…and the means to accomplish this can be anything and everything just for the win. So, he’s understandable in terms of ‘what’ he has. But his behavior is so beyond what we can even imagine in terms of the essence of humanity that we’ll never truly understand.
I don’t know what’s going to happen next but I do know that we’re all in danger. Everyone. He’s purposely targeting civilians and kids to force NATO to go against him. It’s a bully saying “Cross this line…I dare you.” And eventually we have learned that the only way to take down a bully is to be stronger than they are. This was a lesson learned in terms of Hitler, albeit a horrible lesson that killed so many across the world.
In fact, a video meeting with congress and Vladimir Zelensky just ended and he asked for US and NATO support. He reminded Congress that after Hitler invaded Poland in 1939, France and Great Britain declared war and the US followed suit in 1941. He stated that the severity of the Ukraine invasion is parallel to the invasion of Poland.
I pray another World War doesn’t happen again. I pray that Ukrainians be free of these atrocities. I pray that all those in Russia who are against this war are heard. I pray that our young men and women won’t face a war that could potentially destroy countries with the push of a button…which I have no doubts Putin would do. I pray for peace. And lastly, I pray for us all.
Take care, peeps.