Just a few nights ago I watched a television programme broadcast on BBC Four about the career of Lance Armstrong, the many times winner of the most gruelling sporting event known to man, the Tour de France, and was riveted by it. To win that thing once takes some doing, you almost have be prepared to kill yourself to succeed. Now, Lance won that damn thing seven times. It is hardly surprising that American big business was inspired by Lance’s achievement
He became the pride of America, corporations invited him to represent them; he spoke to the workers about the importance of mental discipline, ambition and dedication; he became the friend of successive Presidents and near Presidents; he founded a multi-million charitable foundation that was endorsed my countless movie stars and celebrities.
What was extra special about Lance was that after winning his first Tour he was diagnosed with Testicular Cancer. Now this condition can be treated if it is recognised early. However Lance’s cancer had already spread into other parts of his body including his brain. So Lance’s road to recovery was fraught with difficulty. Yet recover he did, and he went back to France to win the race another six times. No wonder then that American capitalism was in awe of Lance the over achiever. I have to admit that even me, a full time slacker, was impressed.
However it later transpired that Lance had won his tours by cheating on a grand scale. He had linked up with an infamous sports scientist who knew how to juice up the body to make it perform well beyond its natural state. If you wanted to be part of Lance’s all conquering team you had to participate in his well-orchestrated cheating.
Most of Lance’s support team went along with it because they believed every other cycling team on the tour was likely doing something similar. In fact Lance was taking so much juice that it might have been the toxins that brought on the cancer in the first place
While watching the documentary film two thoughts formed in my mind. The first was that Lance was the perfect match up for a certain type of ruthless capitalism; the business press often celebrate the top business executives by labelling them alpha males, they seem driven to succeed and will stop at nothing.
My second thought was he was a type of sociopath. This thought only came into my mind near the end of the film when Lance telephoned a former teammate and his wife to apologise for all the bad things he had done to them by lying about them at a judicial hearing and to the press. They were at first a little gob smacked that he had taken over an hour to apologise to them and even seemed open to believing him. But then they realised that Lance’s apology was in fact just another Lance tactic, it was merely a PR ploy invented by Lance and his public relations team to save what was left of his damaged reputation and declining financial position after he had been shown to be, not just a cheat, but also an unrelenting liar.
Now I am no psychiatrist, so I went to the World Wide Web to find out what the professionals have to say about the term sociopath that had popped into my mind while watching the documentary.
I found out that the term originates from the America of the 1930s and was considered a useful one for separating those with specific anti-social characteristics from people who were criminal and dangerous i.e. the psychopaths. Today it is a common description for a type of personality that belongs in a group who may be said to exhibit a syndrome known as anti-social personality disorder. The popular use of the term is a little bit worrying for professionals because it gets mixed up with another state of mind disorder that also belongs to the group syndrome, namely the psychopath.
People with anti-social personality disorder exhibit the following behaviours:
1 They often breach the moral codes and conventions of the community they were socialised by.
2 They routinely lie and deceive family and friends.
3 They are impulsive and don’t foresee the likely consequences of rash decisions.
4 They are more prone to confrontation and conflict with other people than is normal.
5 They don’t feel guilty about harming other people who they believe are placing obstacles in their way.
6 They easily forget about bad things they have done to others in the past and expect family and friends they have hurt to always welcome them back no matter.
7 They are selfish most of the time, and have little thought for the troubles of others.
This is not the full list of criteria used by professionals but it is the essence of the matter. It has been argued that in the USA about 3 percent of the population can be assumed to be in the sociopath group and 1 percent in the psychopath group.
Now I dare say that most people might think that they could qualify as fitting the description if faced with abnormal circumstances, but the sociopath and the psychopath belong there given normal circumstances, they have a right to belong there.
I put Lance in the sociopath box mainly because he appeared not to be violent and a danger to others in the physical sense. He is not Ben Logan, brilliantly acted by Ben Kingsley in the film Sexy Beast, as convincing a portrayal of a murdering psychopath, as you are likely to see on the big screen.
It is to our benefit that people with personality disorders are thought to be a minority within our community. However all things are relative and there is a difference between the number of probable sociopaths and the number of probable psychopaths. It is generally believed by people who research these things that psychopaths are a tiny minority because they are produced by a fault in their physical nature, while sociopaths are more likely to pop up because their condition is attributable to nurture.
Well if the number of sociopaths can change due to changing social conditions then we have to be made aware of how this works itself out. It seems that a very stressed family situation, involving the rearing of children, is the place to start, being the social condition that makes for an individual acquiring the personality disorder syndrome. If a probable 4 per cent belongs to the groups; that is still 1 in every 25 people that you might know. It should be pointed out that most people who have the condition do not suffer from what is called a psychosis, meaning a detachment from reality due to the experience of suffering delusions or hallucinations. In short they do not strike one as being mad.