Thanks to Steve Pizzo for this - he sent it as a weekend reading assignment :)
The question posed
Author Mark Crispin Miller's The Bush Dyslexicon: Observations on a National Disorder, comes from a sincere wish to understand who is inhabiting the White House.
Is George W Bush a Psychopath?
My primary field is biomedical aspects of autism. I've published in neuroanatomy, molecular genetics, immunology, and several related fields. I've long realized that were Dubya's word-use mistakes evaluated at a diagnostic clinic such as the child-development unit of a children's hospital, he would merit a diagnosis within the general ballpark of learning disabled. His verbal errors indicate a pathology whereby his decision-making process is not fully informed by memory. But there is more to consider.
A professor intending to write a book about Dubya's errors noticed an important fact (as reported in Toronto Star, 11.28.02), an observation that has increased the specificity of Dubya's potential diagnosis. The President's errors tend to occur in positive contexts and not to occur in negative and aggressive contexts. Dr. Miller concluded that the patterning in Dubya's gaffes is consistent with similar patterns found in sociopaths (10). Needless to say, Dr. Miller's observations caught my attention. Analysis of atypical linguistic patterns is a recognized diagnostic tool often accompanied by genetic testing (eg, for Fragile X Syndrome), brain imaging (eg, MRIs), and brain-wave testing (eg, MEGs & EEGs).
A Medline search (within databases of National Library of Medicine) generated a number of related studies published in peer reviewed medical literature. These studies focus upon language use by sociopaths and psychopaths and, relatedly, upon observable alterations in brain function. An initial bibliography is presented below (1-9). I have perused these articles and, as a result, have become concerned about ramifications stemming from the likely validity of Dr. Miller's initial observation.
Diminished empathy is associated with the psychopathic personality. He or she (usually he) does not react normally when perceiving emotional expressions of others. These differing reactions can be perceived via MRI and EEG and can differentiate normal people and non-psychopathic criminals from psychopaths.
Furthermore, aside from his verbal gaffes, Dubya's public-policy choices and pronouncements regarding Iraq, the environment, and health care are consistent with diminished empathy. He does not give sufficient weight to the expressed opinions and feelings of others.
For instance, several months ago Dubya et al made "factual" pronouncements about Iraq. Quickly, the CIA and FBI announced disagreement with the Dubya team's statements. But that disagreement did not register as important to Dubya. 'Twas an annoyance to be brushed aside.
Similarly, Dubya seems to have no real feelings for the environment nor for the tens of millions of people who want a cleaner environment and who want to preserve natural areas. Consider global warming. The Dubya team has seen fit to purge world-class scientists from related committees and now increases tax breaks for SUVs that pollute the environment and increase our need for oil.
Now, I'm not saying that he or any other politician can't have a position different from pro-environmentalism, but Dubya's stance is too often that of the neighborhood bully for whom a victim's cries of anguish have no meaning. He appears to have impaired empathy that manifests as political decrees imposed without the give-and-take of Congress unless it rubber stamps his declared
Although further consideration is needed by others versed in neuroanatomy and psycholinguistics, I believe we ought take seriously Mark Crispin Miller's observations about Dubya's sociopathic personality as indicated by patterns in his language. The US government may never have had a sociopath as president. The nearest parallel is Adolph Hitler -- who also was elected to high office before revealing his heart's innermost ambitions. Dubya is frighteningly similar. And many sociopaths are known to be bright and to have kept the darker side of their personality hidden for years.
Consider another parallel which is instructive about time frames and the perception of sociopaths. Ted Bundy was a serial killer of women. Most of us learned about him and his personality after his arrest. Thus we rapidly came to know the evil that lurked in his heart. But consider victim #4 (or #7, whatever) when she was just meeting Mr. Bundy. He was a good looking young man,
and he must have had a fair amount of charm -- and that's how he set the stage whereon his deeper motives played forth.
If, as Dr. Miller has suggested, President Bush indeed has a sociopathic personality, we as observers would (as in the case of Hitler) have been fooled for a long time prior to his innermost self showing forth clearly. And now that Dubya has been in office for slightly more than two years, most of us are no longer fooled. As prompted by Dr. Miler's preliminary observation, Dubya's sanity and the underlying basis of his motivations and decision-making merit intense scrutiny.
This commentary and its citations are a preliminary step, one that furthers the observations offered by Dr. Miller.
1. Rieber RW, Vetter H. The language of the psychopath. J Psycholinguistic Res 23.1.1-28 1994.
2. Williamson S, Harpur TJ, Hare RD. Abnormal processing of affective words by psychopaths. Psychophysiology. 1991 May;28(3)260-73.
3. Patrick CJ. Emotion and psychopathy startling new insights. Psychophysiology. 1994 Jul;31(4)319-30.
4. Stevens D, Charman T, Blair RJ. Recognition of emotion in facial expressions and vocal tones in children with psychopathic tendencies. J Genet Psychol. 2001 Jun;162(2)201-11.
5. Swartz S. Issues in the analysis of psychotic speech. J Psycholinguist Res. 1994 Jan;23(1)29-44.
6. Patrick CJ, Cuthbert BN, Lang PJ. Emotion in the criminal psychopath fear image processing. J Abnorm Psychol. 1994 Aug;103(3)523-34.
7. Levenston GK, Patrick CJ, Bradley MM, Lang PJ. The psychopath as observer emotion and attention in picture processing. J Abnorm Psychol. 2000 Aug;109(3)373-85.
8. Day R, Wong S. Anomalous perceptual asymmetries for negative emotional stimuli in the psychopath. J Abnorm Psychol. 1996 Nov;105(4)648-52.
9. Kiehl KA et al. Limbic abnormalities in affective processing by criminal psychopaths as revealed by functional magnetic resonance imaging. Biol Psychiatry. 2001 Nov 1;50(9)677-84.
10. Bush Anything But Moronic, According to Author Dark Overtones in His Malapropisms by Murray Whyte, November 28, 2002, Toronto Star