A common theme throughout my book is that of passing. Passing is the act of successfully convincing another person that you are something that you are not. A transgender person passes when pass through spaces gendered according to their target gender undetected. A psychopath passes whenever others are not aware of his callousness or affective empathy deficit. Passing, of course, applies to other groups as well. A person seeking a promotion needs to pass as confident, regardless of any inner shaking. The father consoling his scared daughter needs to pass as fearless. Passing, in and of itself, is not a bad thing. It is a mechanism for survival and for advancement that humans have adopted for millennia. As with all things, it can certainly be spun in an impure fashion, however.
You think you know me, man. We’ve had some great times, you know? Laughing and playing, flirting and dancing. Yeah man, you think you know me. You think you’ve touched me, you know? You think that you left an impression on me just as I’ve left one on you. Yeah, you think you know me. You don’t know anything. But don’t worry, you’ll come crawling back after I am done.
Psychopaths speak of masks a lot. The use of the term ‘mask’ in conjunction with psychopaths originated with Hervey Cleckley’s Mask of Sanity which posited that psychopaths often appear normal, but really they are masking the “insanity” that lies underneath. ‘Insanity’ to Cleckley was merely an adjective to describe antisocial behavior, not literal madness. In recent years, with the advent of the Internet, psychopaths have begun to use the term in a very similar fashion. The masks we speak of are our personas and our abilities for misdirection. Such lets psychopaths appear ‘normal’ in a land that is hostile to our existence.
This post will not make sense without the context provided in the previous post.
Thomas’ words regarding the hope of redemption for the psychopath upset me greatly. Maybe I am looking too deeply into her words, but the meaning seems to be clear: only through assimilation can the psychopath be accepted as part of the human condition. I believe that restraint toward overtly antisocial behavior is key for surviving in a (relatively) prosocial society and I do not believe in multiculturalism, but I also believe that the psychopath is worthy to stand on his two feet as he is. It is the responsibility of those opposed to him to get out of the way, not for the psychopath to change his core self to adapt to society. Curbing antisocial behavior does not imply that one cannot be true to themselves. “Curing” their behavior in full and disavowing the neurological differences that he possesses destroys all hope of an authentic life.
The argument reminds me of the plight faced by intersexed children. The authority – doctors in this case – proclaim that they are doing the social good as well as doing good by the child, by enforcing an approximation of a given sex via genital surgery. Children with ambiguous genitalia are mutilated so that they approximate either true male or true female. They are not given the choice to make their own choice in life. These children are not allowed to seek authenticity; it is mandated for them. Thomas seems to be arguing for similar logic: that the responsibility of the psychopath is to fall in line with society via normalization of their traits. Rather than approximating normal, it is the goal of the psychopath to become normal it seems.
Often times our lack of empathy is of no real harm to others. So what if we can’t feel the pain or joy of others? We often have our masks in place and can feign enough concern or elation to where those around us don’t realize the disconnect between our thoughts and actions. Other times, our mask does not fit well enough and the perceptions others have of us come crashing down. Of course this is bound to happen; like one wearing a corset, eventually true forms return.
The long-time reader knows that I have been married before. The relationship was one of parasitism and it wasn’t until I drove my ex-husband to the brink of suicide that my playtoy left my life. In an intimate situation like that, every move is both under scrutiny and quickly forgotten. We notice the quirks of those that we are around most, but at the same time we often gloss over those details that are incongruent to that we expect. Many years ago, my lack of empathy would take the relationship to the brink – long before I had a word that explained it.