May 25th 2014

Psychopaths as Predators of the Poor

by Ian Hughes

Ian Hughes is trained in psychoanalysis. In the area of political science, he co-authored a study on the effectiveness of democracy in Ireland. He graduated with a PhD in atomic physics from Queen’s University in Belfast, and worked in some of the top research laboratories in Europe and the United States. These included JET, the nuclear fusion research facility, and Oak Ridge National Laboratory in the United States.

In his 2018 book Disordered Minds: How Dangerous Personalities are Destroying Democracy, he brought together his experience in science, psychology and political science to demonstrate that a small proportion of people with dangerous personality disorders are responsible for most of the violence and greed that scars our world. The book explored how demonstrably dangerous individuals, namely psychopaths and those with narcissistic and paranoid personality disorders, can so easily gain power, attract widespread followings and lead societies towards calamity. He is also contributing author to the 2019 book “The Dangerous Case of Donald Trump: 37 Psychiatrists and Mental Health Experts Assess a President.”

He is also a Senior Research Fellow at the Marine and Renewable Energy Ireland (MaREI) Centre, Environmental Research Institute, University College Cork. His work at MaREI is aimed at helping to establish a common understanding among decision-makers across government of the challenges and opportunities associated with system transitions for sustainability and the policy responses which can enable the system changes needed to address climate change.

History is the story of the struggle of the psychologically normal majority of humanity to free ourselves from the tyranny of a psychologically disordered minority who are marked by their innate propensity for violence and greed. This minority is comprised of psychopaths whose psychology excludes the possibility of empathy, and narcissists and paranoids, whose minds are frozen into states of perpetual superiority and fear.

In this long historical struggle, previous generations have crafted a number of essential safeguards to protect us against this tyrannical minority. The most fundamental of these is the rule of law. In the absence of effective law enforcement, citizens are left at the mercy of those of a psychopathic disposition. Today, those who suffer most are the world’s poor.

A Global Epidemic of Everyday Violence

The link between poverty and hunger, poor health, lack of education and slum housing is clear. The link between poverty and vulnerability to violence however is less widely recognised. When the poor are listened to, however, violence is very often their number one concern.

Death and injury from war and violent conflict fills our news bulletins every day. However an even higher toll of suffering results from common everyday violence in countries that are relatively stable. According to the World Bank, for example, gender violence is responsible for more death and disability for women and girls between the ages of 15 and 44 than war, malaria, cancer, and traffic accidents combined[1].

In their recent book The Locust Effect, Gary Haugen and Victor Boutros catalogue the immense suffering caused by the fact that the majority of the world’s poor live beyond the protection of the law. What they report is an epidemic of slavery, sexual violence and enforced homelessness.

Today’s slaves are overwhelmingly the world’poorest. The vast majority have been conned into forced labour through the loan of a debt which the lender ensures can never be repaid. Gopinath, a young man from India, is typical. A loan of $10 to buy food was enough to condemn him to 15 years of slavery working hard labour in a rock quarry in his home state of Tamil Nadu. Incredibly, there are around twice as many slaves today as were forced from Africa during the entire four hundred years of the trans-Atlantic slave trade and almost all of them are desperately poor.

Then there is sexual violence. According to the British medical journal The Lancet, 10 million children are held in forced prostitution worldwide[2]. Millions more adult women are raped many times daily for the profit of their captors. These children and adults live under the most brutal circumstances imaginable, and once again the vast majority are desperately poor.

The world’s poorest people also suffer from the daily threat of forced eviction from their homes. The poor are vulnerable to having their homes stolen because no reliable system of property ownership exists in many developing countries. The numbers again are staggering. According to Haugen and Boutros, more than 115 million widows, with half a billion dependent children, are susceptible to forcible eviction, either by relatives or by local authorities, abusive corporations, developers, and criminal gangs[3].

The Law is an Ass

As Haugen and Boutros document, criminal justice systems across much of the developing world are a dangerous joke.

The first problem is a lack of resources. Washington DC spends about $850 per person, per year on policing. By comparison, India spends less than 13 cents per person, per day on policing. Across most of sub-Saharan Africa the figure is lower still[4].

This lack of investment means that levels of training are woefully inadequate. In the absence of trained prosecutors, police officers with little or no education often assume the prosecutor’s role in court. In poor countries, many judges too – especially in Africa – have never been to law school and have little or no knowledge of the law. These amateur prosecutors and judges are usually able to convict the uneducated poor, but they are no match for those wealthy enough to hire a lawyer in their defence. As a result, those charged with serious crimes, and wealthy enough to buy their way out, almost always walk free. With criminal justice systems so dysfunctional, the developing world’s thugs are free to prey on their societies without any fear of ever being brought to justice.

The Police as Predators

A second problem is that rather than being a part of the solution, law enforcement in the developing world is often a major part of the problem. For many poor people in the developing world, ‘the police are just another gang.’

In many countries the police do not need any evidence to arrest someone and put them in jail. With no necessity for charges to be brought within a reasonable time, innocent people can be arrested by police and left to languish in prison without charge for many years in ‘pre-trial detention’. In India, for example, there are 30 million people awaiting trial, with an average wait of fifteen years before their case comes to court.

Reflecting conditions in many countries, a review of pre-trial detention in Bangladesh found that almost all those in prison were poor, almost three quarters had never been charged with a crime, many had been in jail longer than the maximum sentence for the crime of which they had been charged, and most had never seen a lawyer.

This extraordinary power which police across the developing world have, to imprison people without charge where they can be held for years, gives them a blank cheque to bribe and terrorise the poor.

But the involvement of the police in everyday violence often goes far beyond the arrest and detention of innocents. In many poor countries, the police also run their own criminal enterprises, including sex trafficking and drug smuggling, provide intimidation for criminal gangs, and act as hit men by assassinating those who report or resist criminal activity.

In such cases, not only are the police protecting psychopaths, their ranks are full of them too.

Justice and Development

The Locust Effect tells the story of Mariamma who was held for years in slavery in a brick factory in India. The brick factory’s owner offered Mariamma and her colleagues around $40 each to cover the costs of moving to their new jobs at his factory. Once they arrived, the owner told them they could not leave until they repaid their ‘debt’, paid them little or nothing, and brought local thugs to viciously beat them at random to show what would happen if they tried to run away. The women and girls were repeatedly raped by the owner and his son, while the men were regularly beaten.

When Miriamma and her colleagues eventually escaped and tried to press charges, the police refused to take any action for two years saying that a father and son would never do such a thing. After six and a half years, a trial was finally heard. During the trial however a new judge stepped in and acquitted the owner and his son of all charges without listening to any witnesses or looking at any evidence.

Such stories are an everyday reality for the poor across the developing world. They reflect the state of the world everywhere just a few hundred years ago, when justice for the poor was a distant dream.

Since then humanity has made enormous progress towards a more civilised world. The enforcement of the rule of law has been central to this progress. Today we know that a minority of humankind – psychopaths, narcissists and paranoids – are responsible for most of the violence and greed in the world.

For Sigmund Freud, civilisation was the ability of society to contain humanity’s innate predisposition to violence. A civilised world is also one in which the poor have their human rights respected and where justice is no longer a distant dream. A civilised world is one in which the poorest and most vulnerable are not left defenceless in the face of predation from psychologically disordered thugs.

Such a world will only come about however if law enforcement across the developing world is capable of reigning in the predatory violence of the psychologically disordered minority among us.



[1] Quoted in UN Fact Sheet ‘How Widsepread is Violence Against Women?’, 2008

[2] Brian M. Willis, Child prostitution, The Lancet, April 20, 2002

[3] Gary A. Haugen and Victor Boutros, The Locust Effect, Oxford University Press, 2014, p81

[4] Gary A. Haugen and Victor Boutros, The Locust Effect, Oxford University Press, 2014, p137



Dr. Ian Hughes' blog DisorderedWorld can be found here.


Other articles by Ian Hughes on Facts & Arts:

Nelson Mandela and the Wisdom of Non-Psychopathic Leaders

Published 22.02.2014
Failure of leadership is arguably the greatest curse afflicting our world. Too many countries are cursed still by leaders who oppress their people, make a mockery of the institutions of government, and cling to power regardless of the cost in...

Dangerous Personality Disorder in a Leading Position: Mao

Published 22.02.2014
Ten years ago, on the one hundred and tenth anniversary of Mao’s birth, a group of dissidents wrote a letter entitled ‘An Appeal for the Removal of the Corpse of Mao Zedong from Beijing’. In it they wrote[1], ‘Mao instilled in people’s minds a...

Dangerous Personality Disorders in Leading Positions

Published 08.02.2014
Small proportion of people with dangerous personality disorders have dominated the psychologically normal majority of the population in every society on earth for most of human history. The conditions that prevailed the world over, until...



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