🔒 Inside the mind of a State Capturer

By Chris Bateman

It would be “completely logical” for a person facing potentially dire consequences to tell barefaced lies. Often the best strategy is simply to respond, “I don’t know what you’re talking about.”

This rather than any character disorder like narcissism or psychopathy might explain why a person facing monumental, society-changing wrongdoing would steadfastly refuse to confess to anything. This is according to a forensic psychiatrist in the State mental health sector who daily assesses the fitness for trial of people accused of fraud, theft, murder and drug-related crimes, plus those convicted of these and similar offences whom the courts commit to his institution. Stressing from the outset that he was bound by ethical rules not to pronounce on anyone’s behaviour without having first assessed that person and having obtained their permission to discuss their mental health in public, the psychiatrist however agreed to speak in broader, general terms, given the context of the Zondo Commission of Inquiry into State Capture.

He adds; “then of course, you also get somebody terribly narcissistic like President Donald Trump who would have huge difficulty in confessing to any crimes; it’s just too shameful – plus they’d get into a lot of trouble. It’s like a lot of people I assess here. Denial is the only defense they have, nothing else is acceptable. There’s usually a high degree of narcissism, though I’m not saying that exists in this case. They can’t bear the thought of being found out. It’s unthinkable, but reality-based, because if they do admit to it, the consequences are quite severe.”

He gives the example of woman he recently assessed after she murdered two people.

“She’s been convicted, but denies vehemently that she did it, to this day. She can’t confess to something so shameful with such dire consequences. There’s no benefit whatsoever to confessing. Such a person might do it, (confess), privately, but not publicly. For a person at a State Capture commission to have all his followers hear him admit that he’s a crook is too much. You can’t expect them to do that.”

Psychopaths found everywhere

He stressed that psychopaths were widely distributed across the population.

“They run gangs, companies, countries, or can be prominent academics; but the fact that you have that label doesn’t mean you’re going to be an evil murderer or an outright crook. You have to be very careful how you bandy these words around. There’s always something else at play, like opportunity, greed, plus a host of other motivations, including power,” he added. The psychiatrist, a veteran of the criminal justice system, cited an ethical principle in psychiatry and psychology called “the Goldwater Rule.” 

It’s named after former US Senator and 1964 presidential candidate Barry Goldwater, about whom the magazine Fact published an article entitled, “The Unconscious of a Conservative: A Special Issue on the Mind of Barry Goldwater”. The magazine polled psychiatrists about US Senator Goldwater and whether he was fit to be president. Goldwater sued magazine editor Ralph Ginzburg and managing editor Warren Boroson, and in Goldwater v. Ginzburg (July 1969) received damages totalling $75,000 ($512,000 or R7.12m today). The Goldwater rule is the informal name given to section 7 in the American Psychiatric Association‘s (APA) Principles of Medical Ethics, which states that it is unethical for psychiatrists to give a professional opinion about public figures whom they have not examined in person, and from whom they have not obtained consent to discuss their mental health in public statements. In 2016 and 2017, a number of psychiatrists and clinical psychologists faced criticism for violating the Goldwater rule, as they claimed that Donald Trump displayed “an assortment of personality problems, including grandiosity, a lack of empathy, and ‘malignant narcissism‘”, and that he has a “dangerous mental illness”, despite having never examined him. John Gartner, a practicing psychologist, and the leader of the group Duty to Warn, stated in April 2017 that: “We have an ethical responsibility to warn the public about Donald Trump’s dangerous mental illness.” The debate rages on to this day.

M Scott-Peck in his best-known book, The Road Less Travelled, wrote that most people who come to see a psychiatrist suffer from either a neurosis or a character disorder. Put simply, these two conditions are disorders of responsibility, and as such are opposite styles of relating to the world and its problems. The neurotic assumes too much responsibility, the person with a character disorder, not enough. When neurotics are in conflict with the world, they automatically assume they are at fault. When those with character disorders are in conflict with the world, they automatically assume that the world is at fault. Scott-Peck wrote that the speech of a person with a character disorder relies heavily on “I can’t,’’ “I couldn’t,” I have to,” and, “I had to,” demonstrating a self-image of someone who has no power of choice, whose behaviour is completely directed by external forces totally beyond his or her control. Those with character disorders are more difficult, if not impossible to work with because they don’t see themselves as the source of their problems; they see the world rather than themselves as being dire need of change and therefore fail to recognise the need for self-examination.

 “Neurotics, compared to character-disordered people, are easy to work with in psycho-therapy because they assume responsibility for their difficulties and therefore see themselves as having a problem,” he writes.

The State forensic psychiatrist interviewed by Biznews gave body-language interpretation, something many observers of former President Zuma’s testimony have dined out on, short shrift.

“It’s nonsense – pseudo-science,” he scoffed.