Without Conscience by Dr. Hare: Summary & Review

without conscience book cover

Without Conscience (1993) takes the readers into the minds of some of the most dangerous individuals on earth: criminal psychopaths. 
What makes them so dangerous, explains Robert Hare, is their complete lack of conscience, emotions, and inhibitors.

Summary

About The Author: Robert D. Hare is a researcher in the field of criminal psychology and widely recognized as one of the leading experts on psychopathy.
He drafted the “Hare Psychopathy Checklist”, which has received relevant criticism (also see “The Psychopath Test“), but which is still widely in use. Robert Hare is also the author of “Snakes in Suit“.

#1. All Take Far More Than They Give

Not all psychopaths are in prison.

And many of them can manage not to ever have any troubles with the law -or at least, manage never to get caught-.

However, as Robert Hare says “all take far more than they give”.

My Note:
I wouldn’t know if all of them take far more than they give.
But the way psychopaths look at the world, as a big chessboard where to take things without having to give back, goes at the core of why psychopathy is a potential threat to society.

#2. Psychopaths Need Power And Control

Psychopaths have a strong need for psychological and physical control over others.

They must be in charge and will use any means to achieve it, from manipulation to charm to violence to intimidation.

That doesn’t mean you shouldn’t stand up for your rights, but you should do so keeping in mind who you are dealing with.
Winning is their goal, and they are ready to do what you’re not ready to do.

Power Moves Against Psychopaths

Here is a Machiavellian strategy to win against a psychopath:

Knowing that all the psychopath wanted was winning, the smart lawyer of the mother proposed to him joint custody of the children.
Once he got it, he didn’t even want to see the children: all he wanted was to win.

That’s an example of a risky, but smart power move that takes the opponent’s psychology into account.

Also read:

#3. Some Infamous Psychopaths

Robert Hare opens “Without Conscience” with a quick overview of some of the most infamous psychopaths.

Including:

  • Gary Tison: who manipulated the criminal justice system, escaped and went on a murder spree
  • Kenneth Bianchi: raped, tortured and murdered a dozen women and fooled some experts to believe he had multiple personalities and the crimes were committed by one of his “bad” personalities
  • Diane Downs: shot her own children because the man she liked didn’t want them, drove them to the hospital and calmly made up a carjacking lie

Those are only the violent tip of the iceberg though.
As Robert Hare says:

We are far more likely to lose our life savings to a swindler than our lives to a steely eyed killer

#4. Games Psychopaths Played With Hare

One psychopath pulled a knife on Hare.

Then he said he didn’t want to use it against him, but against an inmate who had made a move on his protege.

Why did he do it?

Because Hare was new and if he told the guards of the weapon he would look like a snitch and lose his chances of working with the inmates.
But by not saying anything, he violated the law of “always report armed prisoners”.

When Hare didn’t report him, the psychopath had him and took full advantage of it.

When finally Hare refused his working request on his own father’s business, he flew into a rage.
And later, while working to repair his car, he cut the breaks.

Hare found out, reported the incident and the psychopath was confined into “the hole”.
When he came out, he acted completely normal around Hare as if nothing had happened.

Another good book for prison games psychopaths play is:

#4. Social-Personality Disorder VS Psychopaths

SPD refers to a cluster of antisocial and criminal behaviors. 

The majority of criminals meet the diagnosis of SPD, but they are not all psychopaths.

Psychopathy is defined both by a cluster of personality traits and socially deviant behavior.

The difference, he says, has been blurred also because of the wrong characterization by the media, including journalist turned into psychologist Daniel Goleman.

#5. Criminal Behavior Decreases After 40 YO… But It Might Be False Indicator

Psychopaths commit fewer crimes after forty years old.

But first of all, not all of them improve: some of them keep committing criminal acts until the day they die.

And second, it’s not because they “improve” their traits or cure themselves, because their personality stays the same.

Hare says it’s because they might simply get better at escaping the law and/or learn to get what they want through manipulations and crimes which are less likely to land them in jail.

Manipulation: Techniques, Strategies, & Ethics

#6. White-Collar Psychopaths Get It Off Easily

Robert Hare says that white-collar psychopaths might escape prison.

And when they get caught, they usually get much lighter punishment and even preferential treatment.

It’s obvious Hare does not agree with that as he says that they are equally as harmful to society.

Also read:

#6. Females Victim of Psychopath Manipulation

Hare says the typical victims of psychopath seductions are nurturing women.

They are the ones most likely to think “poor him, he had a terrible childhood”.
They are often in the helping professions and tend to look at the good of others while minimizing their faults.

Of a psychopath a woman said “I always had the urge to cuddle him” and “he needs mothering” (this is “parent seduction”, read the full list of seduction techniques here).

Also read:

Some women married to a psychopath and who believe in traditional roles might as well keep suffering to “save the marriage”, sometimes “doing it for the sake of the children” and in the meanwhile “hoping against hope it will improve”.
Some women even end up blaming themselves (read: how low self-esteem dooms you to abusive relationships), or tell themselves that if they try harder “he will finally realize what a wonderful gift he has”.

#7. The “Fascinating Pull” of Criminals: The Admirers’ (Faulty) Psychology

Hare says that the criminals who attract the largest groupies are for psychopathic serial killers whose crimes are sex-related.

The author says that the admirers are victims of their own psychological hang-ups, including:

  • Unrequited love
  • Vicarious dangerous experience
  • Notoriety, excitement
  • A cause worth fighting for (abolition of death penalty, a soul to be saved or mistaken belief the crimes were results of abuse)

And, as well for some, seeing the psychopath’s behavior as an expression of manhood which the psychopath is happy to distort.

The girlfriend of a psychopath referred to him as “deeply sensitive, a mover and shaker, a man not afraid of anything”.

“Deeply sensitive”, LOL.

Career Women Are Psychopaths’ Targets

With the world changing, career women have become psychopaths’ targets for their resources.

Especially single women who are struggling in the dating market make for great targets.

Some psychopaths seek women in places where single career women would go, like single bars, cocktail after-hours or dancing lessons.

Also read:

#8. Characteristics of A Psychopath

“Without Conscience” has tons of example for each one of these bullet points.

Here are some I took note of:

  • Egocentric and grandiose

They seem themselves at the center of the universe and justified to act as they please.

One typical example is psychopaths who want to defend themselves even though they have no ideas of law.

If they get lucky, their grandiosity can pay off spectacularly (and maybe little later fail spectacularly, see “Bad Blood“).

  • Glib and superficial

They are often likable and charming, witty and articulate.
But they can come across as fake and insincere, as if they are acting. 

If you want to see an example, check :

They attempt to appear knowledgeable in specific fields, but it’s rarely deep knowledge and more the throwing around of keywords that make them sound like an expert.

  • Lack of remorse or guilt

Psychopaths don’t feel bad for their victims.
And the way they justify or minimize the pain of their victims would be comical if it weren’t tragic.

Some of them even say their victims enjoyed, or they did them a favor (ie: rape victims who enjoyed the rape or burglary victims who will be able to claim insurance).

  • Lack of empathy

They are totally indifferent to the people around them, which includes their relatives and partners.

One female psychopath allowed his partner to molest her five-year-old daughter because she wasn’t willing to have sex.

My Note: Might be too black and white here
Hare might be too black and white here. Some psychopaths have “theories on mind” or “cognitive empathy” with which they can predict what others are feeling (Fallon, 2017).

  • Deceitful and manipulative

Psychopaths lie.
A lot.

They see the world as made by predators and preys and it would be silly not to exploit others.

  • Shallow emotions

Some of them will deny having only shallow emotions (like Ted Bundy), but their behavior shows it.

  • Social deviance
  • Impulsivity

They live day to day, with little or no plans.

  • Poor behavior controls

They have little or no inhibitory controls, which makes them are highly reactive to the slightest provocation. 

Psychopaths are the incarnation of “short fuse”, but they refuse to acknowledge the problem and often see their reactions as well proportionate.

  • Need for excitement

Some psychopaths do crime for the adrenaline rush that comes with it.

Even non-criminal psychopaths cannot stand repetitive tasks and sticking with things (which is why Marta Stout says they are rarely at the top of corporations, which requires sticking with the same tasks and company).

  • Lack of responsibility

They don’t care about their own children, don’t pay alimony, and don’t care about putting others at risk.
Some of them consider their children an inconvenience.

Of course, many of them will tell you they do care.

A lack of responsibility is also what makes psychopaths unsuited even for high-danger occupations such as firefighters and soldiers, where they fail to stick to procedures.

  • Early behavioral problems

Setting fires, running away, school problems, theft, vandalism, promiscuity, cruelty to other children, and cruelty to animals. 
They tell the stories of their animal cruelties either emotionless or with pleasure. 

One psychopath shot a “mutt” in the anus with a pellet gun and then watched it shriek and crawl on the floor until it died.

  • Adult antisocial behavior

And not part of the checklist:

  • Lack of allegiance

They have no loyalty except for “look up for N.1” (ie.: themselves).

Even though they’re not afraid of the dangers and sometimes seek danger, they still don’t make good soldiers.

When in the rare case they make the selection into high-risk fighting units, they are seen as “cowboys” and “loose cannons” and usually don’t last long (also see: it’s not true that good and evil are twigs of the same branch).

They also don’t care about flags, countries, or who they are fighting for.

  • Living in the moment

Hare says that at the risk of angering some new age practitioner (a jab at “The Power of Now”), psychopaths’ behavior makes sense if you only lived in the now.

Psychopaths are incapable of thinking long term.

  • Contradictory statements

Psychopaths have difficulties at monitoring their own speech.

Within the same sentence, a psychopath might tell you he’s not a criminal and then tell you about his burglaries or murders.

  • Incoherent flow of concepts

They can jump from one topic to another, without any apparent connection between the two.

  • Don’t answer the question, or answer in a way which seems unresponsive to the question

This is another reason why I think Donald Trump is a sociopath.

without conscience book cover

Bullet Wisdom

  • Psychopaths constitute a significant proportion of persistent batterers (25% measured in a program of batterers, which they attend just to appease the courts)
  • Predictions of criminal behavior can be vastly improved if we know whether a convict is a psychopath or not (psychopaths are twice more likely to commit crime again and 3 times more likely to commit violent crimes again)
  • Sexual offenders who were psychopaths and got aroused at images of deviant sex were three times more likely to rape again (as measured by an electronic device strapped around the penis)
  • The psychopath is like a color-blind person who has learned the position of the colors in a traffic lights. He reacts to them, but has no real understanding of the colors
  • Psychopaths are in large part born, but parenting can have an impact on the expression of the antisocial disorders towards more violent or more white-collar crimes (it’s not attachment issues that raise psychopaths, but more like the other way around)
  • You can sometimes recognize psychopaths by their stare. It’s not the eyes of evil as some think, but the eyes of emotionless predators
  • Therapy doesn’t work: psychopaths don’t see anything wrong with themselves and no therapy has ever been effective

Quotes

Asked about how many children he has, a psychopath replies:

I don’t really know, a few I guess, I have been accused of being a father, but I tell them “fuck you, how do I really know it’s mine”

On the ridiculous grandiosity of a psychopath, clashing with his actual life and accomplishments as commented by the interview:

If I hadn’t been so afraid of him, I would have laughed at his face for his blatant self-worship

At how some psychopath victims are actually rather gullible and ready to take them at their words:

He always told me how much he loved me, and I believe him. Even after  I caught him fooling around with my sister.
It took me a long time to realize he didn’t care about me at all. 
Even after he beat me up, he used to use how much he loved me.

About Hare making the case psychopaths have lots of children as a reproductive strategy:

Are promiscuous to have lots of children and reach some sort of “genetic immortality”
He laughed and replied “I just like to fuck”

CONS

  • Some conjectures

Hare implies there are plenty of psychopaths at the top of corporations and psychopaths are responsible for many economical disasters (he mentions the savings and loan defaults).

But there is not much to back that up or to give us an idea of the phenomenon.

Update: I gathered much of the available data myself to compile this article on psychopathy and business organization

The Myth of Emotional Intelligence: Machiavellis At The Top

  • Unfounded predictions

“Without Conscience” makes the case that our society is getting worse, criminality is increasing, drug use is increasing and the “acceptance of psychopathic traits is increasing”.

I didn’t agree with that.

He also says that the generation which grew up in the ’60s and ’70s, with “higher levels of impairment in juvenile dysfunction” should worry us about their ability to bring up the next generation.

That made me think Robert Hare is a major conservative and I don’t agree with his future projection.

  • Made up evolutionary psychology explanation

The author says that psychopaths are adopting a specific reproductive strategy: having as many children as possible without caring for them (as opposed to fewer children and caring for them).

I don’t disagree and I can imagine there are plenty of psychopaths who think and behave like that. 

Also, I think that Psychopaths might end up with a strategy that resembles that of an inseminator who shares no resources (see lovers VS providers), but I doubt they do it consciously (see the last quote in the “quotes” section, with Hare feeding his own interpretation).

The author talks about “reproducing as often as possible” which might be more befitting some religious communities far more than it does psychopaths.
And I’d even doubt most psychopaths are even very effective at reproducing.

Update: I have run into a psychopath who adopts this strategy consciously, and I drafted an article. See “psychopaths’ sexual strategy“.

  • Was he a psychopath or was she trying to control the relationship?

I shouldn’t be saying this, but just to be clear: this is not to justify abuse.
But one should still consider the full picture.

Imagine this scene:

One night she asked him lightly if he felt like stepping out the corner and bring her an ice cream.
He didn’t reply. 
When she looked up, he glared at her and said “always got everything you wanted, didn’t you”, he said in a strange, snide way

He then accused her of being pampered and having people do stuff for her. And she said “what are you talking about, I’m not like that”.

The power dynamics here show that she was making a big request to him. And what he replies might have actually made sense.

But the voices in the audiobook make him sound like a wolf and her like an innocent sheep.
In my opinion, that might easily be a distortion of the facts.

Also read: how women control men.

  • Some weird “felonies”

Among the felonies listed on a psychopath’s case, there were “sodomy” and “oral copulation”.
I understand the book has aged a bit, but how are those “felonies”?

Review

“Without Conscience” is a seminal book on psychopathy and a wonderful text to understand psychopathy.

It has a ton of examples that will help you understand how psychopaths think, which makes it a great read for psychiatrists and laymen alike.

It’s skewed towards criminal psychopathy, but the tendencies, mindset and traits are the same.

I recommend to anyone interested in abnormal psychology, psychopathy or simply to defend themselves against natural predators and manipulators.

Also read:

Or get the book on Amazon

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