PSYCHOPATHY

8 10 2017

The More Beautiful World Our Hearts Know Is Possible is available for free at this link, but I urge you to buy the book and show your support for the author.

Note: This another amazingly relevant chapter from a book written four years ago. Because of its length, I am reading half of it this month, and half next month.

If something bites you, it is inside of your clothes.

—Swahili proverb

I have argued that change will come not from overcoming the powers-that-be, but through their transformation. I have stated that we are fundamentally the same being looking out at the world through many sets of eyes. I have described how our perception of evil comes from a lack of understanding of what it is like to be another person. I have asserted that what we do unto the other, we do unto ourselves, and that this is something we can feel. And I have invoked the principle of the gift, that we are all here to contribute our gifts toward something greater than ourselves, and will never be content unless we are. In answer to all of these, sometimes people bring up the counterexample of the psychopath, a distinct subset of humanity that supposedly possesses no compassion, no ability to feel love, and no shame.

These people are, it is said, totally out for themselves, suffering no compunctions in ruthlessly pursuing short-term self-interest. Unfeeling, charming, charismatic, daring, and ruthless, they tend to rise to the top in business and government. To a large extent, they are the powers-that-be, and it would be naive to think that anything but raw force would stop them. Without pity, without conscience, without even the capacity to feel anything but a few basic proto-emotions, they are the epitome of evil. According to many researchers, they can never be cured. They don’t want to be cured. They are happy the way they are…..

….

Many classic psychopathic behaviors make sense within the context of a general shutdown in feeling. Inured to feeling, the psychopath nonetheless has, like all of us, a strong physiological need to feel. Therefore he is given to impulsiveness, drama, pointlessly risky behavior that doesn’t contribute to his self-interest at all. Anything powerful enough to breach the walls he has constructed will attract him. For some, it could be the intensity of infatuation, for others, murder, for others closing the big deal. It could be the big risk, the big purchase, the big gamble. Many psychopaths are addicted to such things that, they sometimes say, make them feel alive. Most academic researchers believe psychopathy is a conjunction of two independent axes of variation: lack of empathy, and impulsivity. In my hypothesis, the two are closely linked. The risky behavior is an attempt to breach the lack of feeling.

I must acknowledge that there is very little research supporting this hypothesis. I base it on my own experience—first and foremost with myself. I was an extremely sensitive child and, due to traumatic bullying in my early teens, learned to shut off most of my feelings. Though the shutoff wasn’t nearly as profound as that of a psychopath, still it enabled me to do some pretty callous, manipulative things. I also exhibited other psychopathic traits, such as impulsivity and a penchant for drama. I was trapped in numbness and wanted desperately to feel. Tori Amos’s lyric spoke to me: “Give me life, give me pain, give me my self again.”

music: Tori Amos “Little Earthquakes” (Note: the video for this song contains a lot of shockingly graphic images, as befits a song that seems to be about domestic violence.)

Second half, which concludes the November broadcast:

In addition, I have also had extensive interactions with several psychopathic individuals, at least one of whom was profoundly so: a man whose ruthlessness knew no bounds. I’ll call him C. He also had other classically psychopathic traits: glib self-justification, total lack of shame, extreme impulsiveness, extraordinary charisma, and great physical courage that often crossed the line into foolhardiness. But there were a few times when I caught a fleeting glimpse of something else, a tenderness or a purity that came out in very convoluted ways, for example as spontaneous, secret, and sometimes magnanimous acts of generosity or caregiving. These were distinct from the cynical devices he routinely enacted to seem a swell guy. There was something else, a real human being. As far as I know, that real human being is still deeply buried, but it is in there and somehow, someday, might awaken……

…..Imagine what this world could be, if we could channel that tremendous pent-up life-force toward something worth caring about. To be sure, most people do have access to things worth caring about on a personal level. There are babies to hold, shoulders to cry on, gardens to plant. Our Story of the World and its systems often squeeze these simple avenues of service to the hurried margins of life. Besides, we also need more than just these, at least in certain stages of life. That is why we, and especially young people, hunger for a cause. Like F., we want to care. We want to find a way to open the floodgates of the heart. Such things as “ending polio in Africa” or “internet freedom” might serve for a time, but eventually they cease to excite us. The gates shut again, maybe via burnout or compassion fatigue. For some of us, none of these causes, taken in isolation, can pierce the ennui, the uncaring, the cool. We need to see what bigger thing we are serving. We need a story of the world we really care about.

Music: Bjork, “It’s In Our Hands

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2 responses

10 10 2017
Caz Loth

Check out: Political Ponerology: A Science on The Nature of Evil adjusted for Political Purposes by Andrew M. Lobaczewski

10 10 2017
brothermartin

That title rings a bell–not sure if I read it a while back or just have heard about it, but thanks for the recommendation!

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