I am a student; one youthful mind against a universe that is all too ready to patiently teach me my imperfections – a universe that is swift to anger and slow to forgive.
I initially had a great deal of difficulty selecting my specialization for post-secondary study. It was not that I enjoyed every potential discipline, but that my holistic understanding of truth would not permit me to attempt a lifelong career of academia while fully aware that the nature of knowledge is such that to overlook a single element is to err. As of this writing, I am currently pursuing a double specialization in Research Psychology and Computer Science.
To every mind, they are apparently polar opposites in discipline, in technique, in method, and in philosophy of understanding the world and its inhabitants. They appeal to me because whereas one discipline represents a world that I intuitively understand, the other represents a world in which I am seemingly born colorblind; rudderless and adrift without any real control condition to which I can compare my findings.
The particular area of research I have been involved in for several years is the study of dark personalities (narcissism, psychopathy, and machiavellianism), more specifically in the psychopathic continuum and its applications to the forensic population. I am not a diagnosed psychopath, but I share with this minority population a profound absence of emotional understanding, and the subsequent compensation we must utilize to stay afloat. Even though I cannot identify with their lack of fear and impulsivity, I find a kinship in our mutual opinion of emotional motivation as opaque and unknowable.
Whereas general society frowns upon psychopathy as a choice comparable to criminal behavior, it is not always so simple. Consider that much of psychopathic manifestations occur as a result of compensation for inborn deficits; an effect of an organic cause. If a child has no understanding of the emotional motivations behind average human behavior, then he must discover an alternate methodology for interpreting social situations, not limited to rationalization, intellectual study, observation, and experimentation. People become to him not people but objects, objects whose state of existence goes unquestioned but not unnoticed.
An individual with deficient emotional experience would also, conceivably, lack the barriers to self-actualization which in much of humanity is a source of restraint. If this individual does not experience love, then they are incapable of reciprocity. Likewise, if this individual does not experience guilt, then what is to stop him from manipulating people in his circle of influence, from committing theft without thought, from torturing animals as a child, or from reveling in the pain of others?
Dark personalities may be merely interpreted as a dimension of intensity – all of humanity is narcissistic, psychopathic, and machiavellianist but the diagnostic criteria for research purposes set aside a minority population who take these characteristics to extremes.
Consider also that serial homicide offenders, a large portion of whom exhibit signs of schizoid and psychopathic personality, are also a result of their rearing environment. Although childhood abuse is not a predictor of later serial homicide or psychopathy, it is overwhelmingly significant. Nearly every single incarcerated or executed serial homicide offender in the FBI database have histories of physical, sexual, or psychological abuse.
It is not difficult to imagine that, given decades of negative environment coupled with social isolation and peer rejection which invariably follows from a lack of empathy, this absence of emotional understanding can be a slippery slope toward the development of a dark personality.
I recently returned from a youth leadership camp, in which one group activity involved sharing our personal testimony and perspective. I was asked to describe my perspective on human interaction. I proclaimed that I found humanity much too interdependent than the existing justification for being so – survival via social cohesion. This interdependency beyond mere sharing of resources is not something that I intuitively understand. Likewise, there are many facets of human interaction that I am only now competent in because I have spent years of quiet observation and study.
Understandably, they did not fully understand, so I endeavored to illustrate by example.
You are at your uncle’s funeral, I presented. You are a small child, and all around you the adults are quiet. Your aunt is sobbing into your mother’s shoulder; broken, dry gasps under her veil, but all that occurs to you as you watch them is how uncomfortable it must be to have someone cry into your neck. All that occurs to you is what self-restraint your mother must have in order not to push her away in disgust as the saline dribbles down her blouse.
Your second uncle is standing rigidly as the coffin is lowered, and he does not so must as twitch or sway. It is thirty-seven degrees centigrade and he is wearing his black, thick wool navy uniform complete with white-vested cap, but you look at him and giggle because, finally, here is another person who does not understand why people are weeping at a funeral. Here is another person who does not understand why another person’s death causes a community to grow silent and somber.
He lowers his gaze and frowns at your celebratory grin. You are are gruffly told to respect the dead. It then occurs to you at that moment that you are alone, that he is yet another gray member of the city that weeps at funerals. To respect the dead it seems, to you, is futile, but you remain silent.
To avoid reproach and punishment, at future funerals you always shed tears and give platitudes. You spend the next decade blending into the emotional majority in an intricate dance of complex mimicry and forced substitution. You have become an excellent student of conventional moral and emotional conduct, although they exist to you at an intellectual level. You confuse goodwill with avoidance of punishment, and you confuse compassion with social reputation. To you these internal and external motivations are one and the same, but as time progresses you come to the realization that you are different, that while the world turns and people experience love, joy, and empathy you remain stagnant – such things but mere abstractions. As the next decade approaches, you become embittered. You begin to utilize your studies in malevolent manipulation, your absence of remorse leads you into antisocial behavior and criminality. At thirty years of age, the judge finally sentences you to life imprisonment, and as you plead your case – childish need for belonging, you are rejected and begin to harbor a profound, deep-sated rage.
I do not doubt that this child made poor decisions, but every individual makes poor decisions. It is humbling to think that within 1% of the population (Hare, 1989), is the capacity for intense malevolence. This lack of complete emotional experience may begin with an organic precursor – a genetic predisposition, and when coupled with peer rejection and parental abuse, is a dangerous combination of inability to identify with others, sadism, and a fiery foundation of rage. Is the child himself to blame, even when so many formative factors were beyond his control? An absence of much needed intervention, as stated by the criminal justice system, explains but does excuse poor decisions, but we must remember the child.
We must remember the child.