Saturday, 8 November 2014

Psychopathy, Good and Evil - A Primer

The psychologist James Fallon's account of his self proclaimed psychopathy in this article (October 6th, 2014) is highly plausible. We can summarise its content by reproducing one paragraph although I recommend that you read the full interview for yourself:
In 2006, Fallon was studying the brain scans of psychopathic killers when he happened to compare them to a scan of his own brain. The characteristic deactivation of emotional regions was unmistakable. He discovered for himself what friends and family had been insisting for years: Fallon was a psychopath—albeit a “pro-social” one, as he likes to say. The 66-year-old father of three is happily married, highly successful in his field, and has no criminal record
His Buddhist comment is suggestive, sounds intuitively right and rather chimes with our own criticism of the creed with its detachment and 'death instinct'. The path to zen/chan thinking has many of the attributes of what the Western liberal mind might call 'psychopathy':
You know, there’s one psychiatrist I spent time with in India. She goes, “Jim, you’re actually a natural Buddhist. The type of empathy you have is not for people, but for mankind. That’s very Buddhist.” I think if I had been brought up in the Buddhist system, it might’ve been even easier.
Despite the obviously and possibly deliberately manipulative aspects of an interview designed to sell a book, there is the meat of some important thinking in here about our species, about the balance of skills within the species necessary for survival and about empathy as equal to and not superior to psychopathy in that context.

There is also some reason to think further here about the mis-diagnosing of Hitler and the SS as psychopaths and of Gandhi and Mandela as empaths (because it suits the liberal mind to have false links between good and evil on the one hand and these diagnostic attributes on the other) and about the 'feminisation' (I refer to cultural norms of the feminine and not actual female behaviour here and the distinction is important) of the West.

And about how moral codes are inculcated and chosen - his remnant catholicism is familiar to me as a 'recovering Catholic' as is the idea that a strict code can switch into a denial of the source and meaning of the code and yet become, nevertheless, existentially central to the person and about the importance to this sort of mind of manipulative intention and dislike of illusion, and of the dangers (in my view) of becoming lost in unnecessary intellectual mind games just for the sport of it.

In his case, this competitve sporting aspect is perhaps most interesting. Fallon has denied himself and others free will because he seems to be driven by the need to play a game within codes he likes to think are absolute. This need for the absolute is perhaps a hidden need for absolution for simply being alive and this has led him to see that this is formally 'psychopathic' (I think he is right). Psychopathy in his case may simply be a despairing death instinct, a form of hidden depression about life.

Nietzsche's 'beyond good and evil' is thus not psychopathic but the possible cure for both psychopathy and dysfunctional empathy insofar as it is also 'beyond the necessity to play a game' - and beyond the need for absolutes and so beyond the need for absolution. Fallon has not escaped the game and so he has not worked or cannot work through his apparent psychopathy to where it should lead - that point most liberal minds are terrified of, incorrectly in my opinion, despite the fact that it results in a more functional inability to do evil.

Ceasing to play the game on terms that loosen all the structures that seem both to hold the alleged psychopath to account and to institutionalise the language (though less certainly the practice) of empathy is not merely a potential liberation but a potential exorcism of the 'evil' associated with the sociopathic and a stripping away of the illusory good that lies in the pain and presumption of the self declared 'empath'.

The outrage and irrationalities of the empath and the encoded gaming mentality of the psychopath remain anxious, either willing the world to be not what it is and descending into fantasy or accepting what is given too readily in order to 'game it'. This is a point beyond the Christ or the Buddha where the zen or chan master may also lead but to which there are many other paths.

'Beyond good and evil' is thus being beyond both the wilful denial of the brute nature of men and the enforced cultural codes of the empath, certainly beyond the exploitative game-playing without real purpose except the game (the mentality of the football fan), into something where the world is taken as it is - not as it must be - and as it could be through effective positive manipulation.

The world 'as it must be' is always a dynamic projection of the individual with all his or her anxieties and insecurities. The individual is better off dealing with the world 'as it is' on their own terms and not on the terms of some inherited and habituated absurd game. Such an attitude is beyond empathy and psychopathy but contains elements of both. It has to see into the souls of others and read the signs in order to truly understand the world yet become detached in relation to the ebb and flow of neuroses and hysteria that is at the core of the world of souls.

Detachment is thus recovered as a 'good' but is redirected from the Buddhist 'death instinct' to the flow of life in the world and with a decent mindfulness of the likeness and well as difference of others from oneself, the desire to 'do no evil' simply emerges, not from some anxious troubled empathy but from the facts of the matter. The 'doing of no evil' soon becomes the 'doing of sufficient good'.