Sorry, I couldn’t resist.
Sorry, I couldn’t resist.
In the middle of Cleckley’s The Mask of Sanity he takes some time to describe psychopaths from different lifestyles and professions, based upon his many observations and interviews. While writing about the psychopath as psychiatrist, he notes the following:-
Let us first direct our attention to him many years ago when, as an author of some papers on psychiatric subjects he attracted the interest of several inexperienced young physicians then at the beginning of their careers. The articles, it is true, were marred by grammatical errors and vulgarities in English a little disillusioning in view of the suave and pretentious style attempted by the author. At the time, however, they impressed this little group of naive admirers as having all the originality that the author so willingly allowed others to impute to them, and , as a matter of fact, implied not too subtly himself in every line of his work.
The Mask of Sanity
The pompous scholar discussing the pompous psychopath; another reason to love Cleckley.
Much of medical science today is about further understanding disease, disorder, and treatment. By manipulating context, we hope to tease the unknowns out of the chaotic vacuum of human ignorance into the controlled environment of categorization and understanding. There is nothing more satisfying in research to draw a statistically probable connection between concept x and concept y. The mind revels in these successes and after years of research, shedding blood, sweat, and tears, it can feel like the beast has been tamed.
However, as is the nature of scientific knowledge, there are never absolutes, only probabilities. And so once we have our category, it soon becomes apparent that sub-categories are needed. In the world of psychology, humans are forever providing exceptions to what we thought we knew (who would’ve thought that with billions of neurons and trillions of synapses, humans would ever throw continual curve balls?).
In psychopathy research, there have been some tremendous strides in identifying those with the disorder. The PCL-R and the CAPP are both powerful tools, but it is also important to remember that just as all people are different, the list of behaviors that make up these tests can be exhibited very differently, depending on the individual. This is partly why it takes a trained mental health expert, with a thorough understanding of the subject’s history, to determine whether or not the criteria is met.
Psychopathy, for many years now, is still being explored within different sub categories; along gender lines, within prison populations, in children and adolescents, and in those whose behavior never resulted in incarceration. The latter of this group have previously been termed ‘successful’ psychopaths, and researchers have pushed to see if there are any brain differences that could explain this phenomenon; for example, do psychopaths who have never been incarcerated have better impulse control? Does the way they express their ‘psychopathic’ behavior never quite fall foul of the law? Are they simply more intelligent and better at covering their criminal tracks?
Cleckley seems to recognize the problem of varying degrees of psychopathy in a variety of different individuals. In The Mask of Sanity, he lists six types of individual and attempts to explain how psychopathy manifests in all of them: These are psychopaths as business man, man of the world, gentleman, scientist, physician, and psychiatrist.* This list is clearly indicative of his time, and one has to wonder what the few pages on psychopath as customer service representative, rap star, or cable guy would look like. However, it is an interesting debate to see if there is anything remotely formulaic about how a psychopath’s career could influence and be influenced by all of the behaviors they are known to exhibit (in varying frequency), that is if they are a psychopath that can maintain a career for any length of time.
Psychopathy remains a very dynamic disorder, and there is clearly a profound amount of difference between those afflicted. There are many areas in the brain that have been implicated in the disorder, and it is when these areas have failed to develop that the disorder could start to make an appearance. One has to wonder that in the symphony of brain development, how much of x has to fail to develop, in light of the failures of y and z to reach maturation? What are the ratios in terms of tissue development and cellular activity that will increase the probability of psychopathic behavior to the point where the disorder is there to stay?
How much can psychopathy be parceled up, before it splits into independent diagnostic components?
*Despite having listed two female case studies, when theorizing Cleckley tends to default to psychopaths as male.
Many [psychopaths] are plainly unsuited for life in any community; some are as thoroughly incapacitated in my opinion, as most unmistakable cases of schizophrenia. Whether this is to be regarded as a more or less willful contrariness or as a sickness like schizophrenia, in which the patient is to be protected and looked after, may for the moment be put aside.
Mask of Sanity
This view of Cleckley sums up the argument still had today, but the question has changed. Instead of ‘willful contrariness’, because of a demonstrated absence of empathy, we now see the argument as is psychopathy an adaptation (behaviors enhancing reproductive success and the passage of ‘psychopathy’ into the next generation), or a disorder? In my opinion, the latter is true as a see no valid selection pressure against the non-psychopathic.
Renowned critics and some professors in our best universities reverently acclaim as the superlative expression of genius James Joyce’s Finnegan’s Wake, a 628-page collection of erudite gibberish indistinguishable to most people from the familiar word-salad produced by hebephrenic patients on the back wards of any State Hospital.
The Mask of Sanity
I’m currently reading Cleckley’s ‘The Mask of Sanity’, and I feel compelled to share some of his thoughts as I go. Even though this is something of a classic for psychiatric literature, I still laugh out loud at what must be Cleckley’s sense of humor.
Commenting upon the newspaper headline – Now in Mental Hospital, Accused of Treason, Held Insane, Ezra Pound Given Top Poetry Prize – Cleckley notes the following:-
The headlines emphasize what sometimes seems to be a rapt predilection of small but influential cults of intellectuals or esthetes for what is generally regarded as perverse, dispirited, or distastefully unintelligible. The award of a Nobel Prize in literature to Andre Gide, who in his work fervently and openly insists that pederasty is the superior and preferable way of life for adolescent boys, furnishes a memorable example of such judgments.
I have held off writing about my thoughts on this matter for a while, but the more I think about it, the more it seems to make sense. Clearly, Batman is a fictional character, and one that has appeared in many incarnations, but I believe his overall personality and history seems to make him a close candidate for a diagnosis of psychopath. I’m not a clinical psychologist or a psychiatrist, but here is my case.
Young Bruce Wayne witnessed both of his parents murdered together in cold blood. The emotional trauma of this event and the extreme misery to follow could very easily stymie brain development in profound ways. For a child witnessing their parents die in a grotesquely violent act at the hands of a killer, that killer has also just abused the child in a very serious and disturbing way. Child abuse is one of the primary suspects for the development of serious personality disorders, including those that result in a lack of empathy. Presumably, this act also made the young Bruce develop an obsession with criminals and instill in him the need to make sure they are brought to justice.
I don’t know much about the adolescent Bruce Wayne, perhaps someone who is more familiar with the canon can let me know if he was socially deviant, reckless, and callous.
There can be little doubt that Batman himself is extremely violent. Beating villains into a bloody mess seems second nature. Other than the apparent lack of empathy, it is worth noticing that the violence dished out by Batman is very personal; it is close quarter, bone crunching, skin ripping, joint popping, and back stomping violence. In other words, it’s a very intimate level of violence. This seems to point to him getting a thrill out of hurting people, which makes him a sadist. It is widely known that Batman does not use guns (an aversion that could perhaps be explained by his parents being gunned down), but guns are very impersonal. The irony here, which helps enrich the story, is that the Joker also likes to use personal forms of violence, such as knives, on his victims.
There is also an argument to be had that the adult Wayne (and Batman) lack emotion. Batman is usually very clear-minded, cold, and calculated in his behavior. One often hears it is bad to let “emotion” get in the way of making decisions, but perhaps here, Batman has very little to get in the way. Yet clearly, there is always an explosive rage ready burst out of Batman, usually in the form of fists, feet, and head butts. Arguably, he doesn’t have much of an emotional spectrum, which is perhaps one of the reasons he cannot seem to maintain a good relationship (with the exception of Alfred).
There is a parallel between Batman, and the fictional serial killer from Jeff Lindsay’s novels, Dexter. While Batman does typically withhold from killing, he still has a code that provides the parameters for his violence. These parameters help to keep him socially acceptable, as he’s only going after the bad guys. Although, Batman’s code, like all tyrannical codes, have an element of the greater good. Any philosophy that incorporates the greater good will result in the denial of human rights to at least one, but often many individuals. Depending on the group, one could argue that the temporary denial of their rights is necessary, as politicians often do (although not in these words), but nonetheless it places people on different levels of worth. In fact, prisoners, which were at one time criminals, are an incredibly vulnerable group of individuals because they are very much at the mercy of the state, and in scientific research, the use of prisoners is heavily regulated.
Much of these ideas have already been realized in the superhero comics, especially how morality is very often a slippery slope.
Still, if I was asked to write a Batman story, and part of the story included him being diagnosed using Hare’s Psychopathy Checklist, I don’t think it would be a stretch to convince people of a score of at least 25.
While the promise of thrill seeking is enough to excite your average psychopath, the Bat Signal clearly gives Batman a raging boner.