Lipton’s Journal/February 1, 1955/402

From Project Mailer

Back from lunch and a walk and black coffee, and I am very excited because I think I’ve come up with something. I think I can clarify for myself the difference between the saint and the psychopath, particularly a species of psychopath I have hardly touched on up to now, to wit the criminal psychopath, the homicidal psychopath. What has been throwing me off all this time is that I have been holding in certain ways to the conventional view of the criminal psychopath—which is that he has no social sense. It is absolutely false. The reason a psychopath, a criminal psychopath, is so dangerous is that he has a total view of society. His S is altogether developed, completely authoritarian, and constantly punishing. But in a sense he is schizoid—the war of H vs. S never meets in compromises the way it does in more normal people. (I am of course talking of the imaginary total criminal psychopath.) He sees and feels nothing but his H—the S is merely present as a sort of Holy Ghost, converting every one of his life impulses into a self-criticism which becomes so intolerable that he must demean everyone, see the enemy in everyone, suspect goodness no matter how or where it appears in himself or in others. So, even to talk to him is exceptionally dangerous, and if I were ever in prison as a prisoner I would be in danger of my life every instant I opened my mouth, for the key to the criminal psychopath is that deep within him he worships society like a graven stone, only the stone is in his heart. Essentially, he believes that everything about society is good, perfect, immutable, churchly, absolute and total. Psychologically, his hatred of himself, his hatred of others is his passport to heaven. Once accept himself, once accept anything radical to society, and at the instinctive level he feels himself doomed to go to hell, for that is real heresy.

So, as Bob[1] told me, prisoners will kill each other for being told they are mother-fuckers. You-do-not-fuck-your-mother is the first commandment of society. You-do-fuck-your-mother is the first commandment of H. Between them the epic-or-tragedy of man’s existence is played. But the criminal psychopath has the absolute S-taboo, he is cut off, amputated, from the source of H-satisfaction, and so his H must become more and more exacerbated, more violent, because each of his actions are the attempt to flee the more and more pressing H-imperative to the orgy (the orgy being always a variant of the fuck-your-mother drive.)

Just as the sadistic cop is the criminal reversed—the cop, identifying with S can allow free play to the worst of his H, or put another way the cop sees all H as bad unless it is used in the service of S—which is why the cop sees the crook everywhere, so the criminal identifying with H but convinced H is bad, able to express his H only under the shadow of S, can never grapple with S because S is totally good to him no matter how he may believe he hates it, no matter how he may rail against it.

Therefore, homicidal psychopaths are invariably reactionary in politics rather than radical—as are cops—to approach a homicidal psychopath when he is aroused and attempt to convince him that there is a good man in him is to court your own murder. Only the unrelenting approach of the priest or the hyper-moral minister can work—no reward can be offered, no hope other than the extended hope that years of punishment may bring surcease. To offer a reform, a concession to the psychopath is to open for him the possibility that he may be right. But if he is right, then he has denied God so Hell awaits him. (One further reason psychoanalysts have ducked homicidal psychopaths is that they would have had to come to grips with religion vs. sex and this they dare not do. They would become socially unrespectable again.) The prison lore of wardens and guards know that to give concessions to homicidal psychopaths—that is to depart from the original prison environment (be it hideous or comparatively liberal like Chino—Calif) is to encourage further trouble. The psychopath feels in his soul—and what a miserable maimed outraged soul!—that he has to be stopped or he doesn’t make Heaven. So for every concession he must demand more until he is finally killed or stunned (life imprisonment). Ironically, I would guess that once given life imprisonment with no hope of parole, knowing he is totally immured against the mother-fucking urge, he probably quiets down, branches out, even becomes a useful member of the community. Lifers make good trustees.

So, what a prison problem! For what I have outlined above is true for only a small percentage of the prison population, and that not even totally true for no man is completely a type. So, for the radical urge of some, the reformist demands of many, and the total imprisonment essential for a few, the attempt is made to simmer them all in the same pot with only the crudest separations, and above this stands the warden—a man more and more traveling the spectrum from the cop-bureaucrat to the criminal psychopath, so his sympathies are divided, his anxieties contradictory, tormented by the unconscious knowledge that he half longs for the day when the prison population will dynamite the wall and destroy him.


  1. A prominent Baltimore psychoanalyst and writer, Robert Lindner (1914 – 1956) became acquainted with Mailer after reading Lindner’s 1952 sharp critique of current psychoanalytic practice, Prescription for Rebellion (1952), published by Mailer’s publisher, Rinehart. The letter, which contained both praise and criticism for Lindner’s ideas, led to a close friendship over the next four years, including many visits and the sharing of work, including Lipton’s. See extended note on entry 56.