Following from C.S. Lewis’s trilemma, we often wonder whether people engaged in horrific evil are merely insane or have consciously decided to listen to their inner demons. Borrowing from the fields of counterintelligence and r/k theory, I propose that monsters exist on a spectrum from deluded to selfish and that the best predictor of a “guilty mind” is in the character of their everyday lives.
People who are lying at a conscious level–who know exactly what they’re doing, that it’s wrong, and they just don’t care–live personal lives characterized by vices, arrogance, and licentiousness. They may have some specific brilliance that makes them useful, charismatic, or temporarily endearing, but they are nasty people in general. This is most easily detected in their humor, or rather their lack thereof. They can’t write jokes except as weapons to mock and demean their many enemies. They can’t laugh at jokes that aren’t cruel. They especially can’t laugh at themselves. They lack any appreciation for happiness, preferring irresponsibility and abandon. No one wants to be around them for long and certainly not to raise a family near them. If they engage in self-sacrifice, it will generally have been an accident in a drug-induced mania with the details left vague by narcissistic hagiographers (their fellow travelers). Example groups include blacks, the upper class, “bad” guys/girls, Communists, and in general those whose social intelligence is higher than their technical intelligence.
In the case of Kim Philby, the motive was explicitly ideological. He was a devout communist from, as he says, his last undergraduate term at Cambridge. “I left the university with a degree and with the conviction that my life must be devoted to communism” (My Silent War, London, 1968). But this was written under KGB direction after he settled in Moscow. For decades, he had devoted all his extraordinary skill in conspiracy and tradecraft to the manipulation of his friends and enemies. I submit that ideology may have been his door into his career as a manipulator, but his motive from birth to death was the satisfaction he derived from manipulation, and from the sneaky, smug act of betrayal itself. After betraying his country, his organization, his colleagues, and any number of agents, who lost their lives, he came to roost in Moscow, where he betrayed his only friend, Donald Maclean, by stealing Maclean’s wife.-William R. Johnson, Thwarting Enemies at Home and Abroad
People who are lying at an unconscious level–who believe so strongly in what they’re doing that they’ll make great personal sacrifices in the course of doing evil–live lives characterized by emotional resilience, practical sensibility, and personal humility. They enjoy hearth and home, babies and puppies, and smiling faces. They laugh at themselves and love others with great-hearted magnanimity. They are, in general, wonderful people to be around when they aren’t thinking about what their ideological premises imply they must do. Insofar as they are insane, the insanity is curiously particular and abstract and rarely bleeds over into their everyday conduct, where it would cause immediate contradictions. This humble conceitedness is a very slow life history, k-selected phenomenon, in contrast to the grandiose conceitedness of fast life history strategy conmen. Such ideologues are often saved by their sheer incapacity for introspection and internal coherence, because the logical endpoints of their ideologies often demand they burn the world and everything around them to achieve its purest expression. They can predict the end of days while at the same moment increasing their 401k contributions and feel no contradiction. When their lives fall apart, it is usually because luxury has allowed them to purity spiral into true belief and not due to vices. Example groups include whites, the middle class, “nice” guys/girls, the Japanese, and the vast majority of those with technical degrees.
An example of a professional who was in charge of his own operation was Michal Goleniewski, a colonel in the Polish State Security Service and a co-opted collaborator of the KGB. He reported to CIA through a mail channel that he set up, and through dead drops he arranged through his mail channel. He concealed his own identity from CIA until the time came for him to defect outright. Despite these evasions, his reporting exposed a number of very-well-placed KGB penetrations, including some mentioned in this book (Felfe, Blake, Molodiy/Lonsdale), some mentioned in other public sources, and some still unpublicized.
Goleniewski was a competent clandestine intelligence officer who happened not to have the weaknesses cited above, or at least not fatally. An ironic fact worth pondering is that Goleniewski was insane. He believed himself to be, not Napoleon, but the Czarevich Aleksei, who would have been heir to the throne of the Romanovs if he had not been murdered on July 16, 1918, by the Bolsheviks. Whether his insanity contributed to or simply did not affect his skill as a clandestine operator is a question for all us sane operators to think about sometimes in the wee hours when sleep evades us.Ibid
tl;dr- People who do evil self-consciously tend to be bad people in general and their grandiose narcissism will be very concrete and omnipresent in their personal lives. Look for a history of drugs, alcohol, affairs, betrayals of business partners, underperforming progeny, and get-rich-quick schemes. People who are deluding themselves tend to be good people in general and their grandiosity will be abstract, particular, and strangely contradictory with their everyday actions, with their holy wars being mostly restricted to fantasies of their idealized self-concept (and beware the exceptions to that rule).