The Republic of T.

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Psychopaths in Power, Part I

Since posting that bit about James Dobson’s childhood, it’s been in the back of my mind to post a bit more about it based on some things I’ve read since then. In particular this post from The Carpetbagger caught my eye as it recounted Dobson’s penchant for torturing animals as a child.

Even more alarming, Dobson admits in one of his books that as a child he arranged a fight between two mismatched dogs. The battle involved a tenacious bulldog and a “sweet, passive Scottie named Baby,” and Dobson provoked it by throwing a tennis ball toward Baby. He writes what happened next: “The bulldog went straight for Baby’s throat and hung on. It was an awful scene. Neighbors came running from everywhere as the Scottie screamed in terror. It took ten minutes and a garden hose for the adults to pry loose the bulldog’s grip. By then Baby was almost dead. He spent two weeks in the animal hospital, and I spent two weeks in the doghouse. I was hated by the entire town.”

As any child psychologist will tell you, this type of cruelty toward animals is a sign of a serious psychological disturbance.

Don’t take my word for it. Read it for yourself. But keep in mind this is a man who guides the selection of judges under this administration, and who may thus influence American life in ways we can’t yet measure, and for several generations.

And yes, by the way, this type of cruelty towards animals is a sign of serious psychological disturbance. How serious? Let’s see.

Before we start, I’m just going to assume that Dobson hasn’t been treated for any of the stuff I’m about to name, because I can’t imagine him talking to a shrink no matter how badly or obviously he needs one. That said, let’s consult the DSM-IV definition for anti-social personality disorder.

A. There is a pervasive pattern of disregard for and violation of the rights of others occurring since age 15 years, as indicated by three (or more) of the following:

(1) failure to conform to social norms with respect to lawful behaviors as indicated by repeatedly performing acts that are grounds for arrest

(2) deceitfulness, as indicated by repeated lying, use of aliases, or conning others for personal profit or pleasure

(3) impulsivity or failure to plan ahead

(4) irritability and aggressiveness, as indicated by repeated physical fights or assaults

(5) reckless disregard for safety of self or others

(6) consistent irresponsibility, as indicated by repeated failure to sustain consistent work behavior or honor financial obligations

(7) lack of remorse, as indicated by being indifferent to or rationalizing having hurt, mistreated, or stolen from another

B. The individual is at least age 18 years.

C. There is evidence of Conduct Disorder with onset before age 15 years.

D. The occurrence of antisocial behavior is not exclusively during the course of Schizophrenia or a Manic Episode.

As for Conduct Disorder, well, I think Dobson has pretty much diagnosed himself with his childhood stories.

Aggression to people and animals

(1) often bullies, threatens, or intimidates others

(2) often initiates physical fights

(3) has used a weapon that can cause serious physical harm to others (e.g., abat, brick, broken bottle, knife, gun)

(4) has been physically cruel to people

(5) has been physically cruel to animals

(6) has stolen while confronting a victim (e.g., mugging, purse snatching, extortion, armed robbery)

(7) has forced someone into sexual activity

Dobson’s childhood, unsurprisingly, includes symptoms 1, 2, and as well.

His father canceled the next four years’ worth of speaking engagements, put the Oklahoma house up for sale, and took a pastor’s job in San Benito, Texas, a small town near the Mexican border. Dobson had two years of high school left, and when he started classes he found himself the target of a couple of bullies. Rather than turn the other cheek, Dobson wheeled around and threw his schoolbooks in the face of one annoying youth. “By the time he could see me again I was on top of him,” Dobson writes. Dobson also tried a little bullying himself, targeting a boy whom he sized up as a “sissy.” But the boy gave him such a thrashing that Dobson concluded bullying wasn’t for him.”

That Dobson decided “bullying wasn’t for him” is questionable based on, well, just about everything he’s done (or urged others to do) in adulthood. Let’s also take into consideration that Dobson, in writing about bullying as an adult, blames bullying on the victim due to a “susceptibility for being bullied.”

Evidences of gender confusion or doubt in boys ages 5 to 11 may include:

5. A susceptibility to be bullied by other boys, who may tease them unmercifully and call them “queer,” “fag” and “gay.”

There’s no mention that anything’s wrong with bullying or with one kid calling another “queer, “fag” and “gay.” The implication is that the bullied child is to blame because he can’t or won’t conform to adolescent ideals of masculinity. My guess is that Dobson’s response to such a child would be the same one I got when I came home complaining of being bullied and called those same names: “Well you’re not, are you?” The implications are (a) that you’d better not be and (b) if you are then you deserve what you get and are bringing it on yourself.

I think we can take Dobson’s previous accounts of his childhood into account, since that’s what a psychiatrist would do during an initial intake session. And we can draw a parallel to the empire he’s built almost entirely around not only rationalizing or being indifferent to having hurt or mistreated others, but encouraging and enabling others to do so.

Taking all of the above into consideration with Dobson’s long-held opinions on child rearing, he might even qualify for another diagnosis that’s more blunt in its appellation and includes the following symptoms.

Enduring, pervasive, maladaptive patterns of behaviour which are usually recognised before or during adolescence.

It is long-standing and its onset can be traced to adolescence or early adulthood, but is not due to drugs (of abuse or medication) or to a medical condition eg head injury.

Has used physical cruelty or violence for the purpose of establishing dominance in a relationship (not merely to achieve some noninterpersonal goal, such as striking someone in order to rob him or her).

Has treated or disciplined someone under his or her control unusually harshly, e.g., a child, student, prisoner, or patient,

Is amused by, or takes pleasure in, the psychological or physical suffering of others (including animals),

Has lied for the purpose of harming or inflicting pain on others (not merely to achieve some other goal)

Gets other people to do what her or she wants by frightening them (through intimidation or even terror)

That last one might be debatable, but I’d argue that enough talk of hellfire and brimstone would (and probably has) worked to get a great many people to do what they might otherwise at least hesitate to do. And not just that, but they probably feel good about it afterwards. They feel good when they get the same messages from others like Dobson, too. Take for example the 15-year-old who thinks the best thing about Tim LaHaye’s Left Behind series is “the way non-Christians get their guts pulled out by God.”

In that sense, Dobson’s dogfight was just a practice run, and what he and his followers inflict or seek to inflict on non-believers today is just the warm-up act for the really big show; one Dobson and his flock intend on enjoying.

If that’s not sadistic and disturbed, then what is?


  1. they say Bush too, tortured animals when he was a kid, and we all know he’s a sociopath. I wouldn’t be surprised if they all were, but that’s kinda too easy–and it explains and rationalizes and makes acceptable unacceptable behavior and actions.

  2. You may find it useful to research the term narcissism, it's very close to ASPD but I suspect it would be more applicable to your argument.

    You might also enjoy investigating the Jungian concept of The Shadow. In particular, you may enjoy the article linked on that page by Paul Levy.