I was watching a BBC programme on psychopaths late last night. They are people who, basically, do not feel empathy, so it is not a problem for them if they do awful things to other people.
The reason he says he is not an active monster is because he had a healthy childhood. He reckons that the combination of an abusive childhood plus the gene is what is needed to create a real psycho.
The programme then moved on to a legal case in the US, in which a man had murdered his wife. In court it was argued that he’d had an abusive childhood AND had the psycho gene, and could therefore not be held fully responsible for what he had done: what he did was inevitable when you look at his brain and background. The arguments were accepted and the guy got done for some sort of manslaughter instead of murder.
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This is fascinating, for it raises all sorts of questions about free will and determinism and responsibility and is our behaviour just the inevitable product of brain chemistry? Being responsible for your actions in relation to others is fundamental to being human, so though that guy got off the charge of murder, the reason seems to imply that he did so because he is less than a human being, he is a mere animal.
And it’s not just that people are going to be getting off with things because you can prove their brains are f**$=d. The other side of the coin is that if someone does something harmful and the empathic part of his brain is functional, then you can insist that they were responsible for their actions. And it proves to the criminal that he has the capacity to act otherwise, to make different choices, and that seems to me like a good thing. And probably most criminals will be in this category. Even though a high percentage are psychopaths – in prisons it is around 25% - they are still a minority.
Anders Breivik, who slaughtered 77 people last summer and shocked Norway, is not in my opinion a psychopath. He did it for political reasons but, importantly, he said that when he started the shootings, he found it very difficult, he had an instinctual resistance to killing which he had to overcome. A psychopath would not feel like this. Breivik made a choice: he wilfully ignored his own feelings, which is characteristic of the Aquarius Sun square Uranus that he has in his chart.
The programme explored the training of US marines, and the problems you get afterwards with soldiers who have been trained to kill. It can tip them over the edge and they can end up violent in their civilian lives. And they reckoned it was because killing goes so much against people’s natural instincts. Yes, we have testosterone which makes us aggressive and selfish and capable of killing, but there is also oxytocin which produces empathy. What people do have is a natural desire to protect, so the army trainers, instead of getting the soldiers to hate the enemy and to see them as sub-human, were experimenting with the 'protecting your people' motive. Either way it is a grisly business, but as George Orwell said: “We sleep safely at night because rough men stand ready to visit violence on those who would harm us.”
Perhaps psychopaths are there for evolutionary reasons, they are the ‘rough men’ that a community needs to survive. Psychopaths love to win, to rise to the top. Maybe that is why we glorify the warrior, in order to attract the psychopaths to the role they were made for. Just a speculation.
The programme also briefly looked at psychopaths in the business world, which is said to contain about 4% of them, as opposed to 1% in the population at large. An interesting point made here was that the psychopaths in prominent positions usually produce poor results, but through a combination of charm and force of personality they are able to talk their way out of this.