Wednesday, May 14, 2014

How to Grow a Psychopath

The mere sight of the word "psychopath" activates a churning, unpleasant feeling in my gut. Most of us recoil at the thought of a person without remorse; one who can lie, cheat, steal, even kill without self-reflection or a guilty conscience.

Of course there are the officially sanctioned psychopaths such as rogue prison wardens, policemen and soldiers that kill, maim and torture simply because the system in which they are trapped encourages this behavior (unofficially of course). But since they belong to socially acceptable organizations, very few are held accountable in the criminal justice system.

Then there are the"official" psychopaths - usually loners that belong to no one but their own alienated selves. They are more vulnerable to incarceration simply because no framework exists in which to justify their heinous actions. But how does one become a psychopath? Aren't all babies born inherently good, albeit with personalities (already a dicey proposition)?

Apparently, a being coming into this world of sorrow can be dealt a bad hand, meaning a set of genes that puts one's temperment squarely in the non-empathetic sphere of behavior. Combine that roll of the dice with abusive parenting, abandonment, mistreatment of all kinds at the hands of harsh or sadistic adults and voila! You have created a psychopath.

Interestingly, although evidence exists that genes play a role in the making of a human monster, there is a caveat that can change the entire evolution of that person: warmth, loving kindness, and positive attention-giving during formative years. Sometimes even those on Death Row (the ones who were definitively guilty) can sense a ray of light entering their being when meeting a sympathetic or insightful mentor.

One of the most insanely brutalized psychopaths, who lived during the first half of the 20th century, was on a mission to kill any human being he could lay his hands on. Thanks to the unceasing punishments he had experienced most of his life, he was certain that all humans deserved extermination. But at the end of his life, before being hung in a state that doesn't usually do such things, he wrote that there was only one person on earth he didn't want to kill - a prison guard who had given him money to buy special items at the canteen, passed him cigarettes, and sent him letters when he was eventually transferred to a new hell hole.

Case closed.


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