Saturday, 19 January 2013

Thought for the day: rise of the psychopath

Thanks to a certain Hitchcock film, most people don't have a good understanding of what it means for someone to be a psychopath so, when I tell you that I see more people exhibiting psychopathic tendencies than ever before, I have to explain what I mean.

A psychopath is not necessarily a cold-blooded killer.  What we are talking about, when we use the word psychopath, is someone suffering from a personality disorder.  If we consider the developmental theory of Jean Piaget, we could say these are individuals who continue to display the egocentrism inherent in the preoperational stage of development (2 to 7 years) throughout their lives.  There will be a lack of remorse, empathy or fear.  Instead, the psychopath manipulates and breaks rules to get what they want.  They may have an inflated sense of their worth and a low threshold of boredom, together with an inability to accept responsibility for their actions.

What I see is a general lack of consideration for others, or how others will be affected by the actions of the individual, and it is more widespread than ever before.  Of course, I can only speak for the small part of the UK where I live, but it is still troubling.  In people across the age spectrum (not just youths, as the media would have us believe), there seems to be a belief that a person must always put themselves first, no matter if getting what they want inconveniences, or even hurts, others in some way.

More troubling is that seeing someone wilfully cause distress to someone else is not uncommon now, and it's easy to believe it is done for amusement.

Any evidence I provide will be anecdotal, so there is no reason for you to take what I say at face value.  Therefore, I simply put the thought out there: maybe there are more psychopaths than there ever were before.  Of course, the definition, or the very existence, of psychopathic behaviour is contested within psychiatry.  If we are becoming generally more self-centred and less empathic, could there be something driving this change?

A few nights ago, I saw a TV programme where a young child was demanding protection money from an adult, so that his car would not get scratched.  It was not a documentary, it was supposedly a comedy.  The clear message was that this child would scratch the car if he was not paid the sum demanded.  This is clearly anti-social behaviour, and the programme was passing it off as something approaching normal, or commonplace, and mildly comical.

Since the Thatcher/Reagan era, I have noticed a gradual desensitisation to things like this.  TV programmes, films, music and even the printed media have become ever more eager to push the boundaries of what is acceptable and seem to aim to shock the viewer/listener/reader.  Is it a coincidence that all of this ties in with the influence of neoliberalism under Reagan and Thatcher?  The very cornerstone of neoliberalism is the belief that people are inherently selfish, and protecting their own interests is the only thing that will regulate their behaviour.  Such cynicism, and desensitisation to increasingly shocking imagery, language and written words could, in my opinion, be the driving factors behind this change in behaviour.

We have also seen the steady decline of Christianity in the United Kingdom.  Even if you are not religious, surely you must see the value of the ethical guidelines of organised religion?

I don't believe there is any will to keep the problem in check, or even a recognition of the problem.  Our modern cynicism tells us that people are self-centred, they will put their own interests ahead of any other considerations, and that is just the way things are.

I don't have an answer to any of this.  My hope is that the problem is recognised for what it is, so an answer may come from someone with the intelligence to develop a solution.

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