HERVEY Cleckley, an American psychiatrist, in his monograph, ‘ The Mask of Sanity’ provided a vivid description of psychopathy. In this schemata, the mask referred to the well adjusted, even charming nature of psychopaths as a cover for their underlying pathology. This has a searing resonance in Kashmir where, in the recent past, unspeakable crime has surfaced- ranging from the murders of elderly parents , to chopping of a woman and murder of an 8 year old child, to name a few egregious ones. Maybe these crimes always existed and lurked under the surface of society and maybe these crimes garner attention because of the ubiquity of media. But whatever the case, the ‘trend’ is alarming’ and insidious. What can be done about it? Can these kinds of crimes that have a clear pathological ingress be eradicated?
In the final analysis, while these crimes can be solved( amateurishness and clumsiness of the perpetrators) or effective policing methods, these can never be eradicated by mere policing. The problem is ‘social’ in the sense that it emanates from society and culture, given that culture can, at times, provide a gloss for psychopathology. So what is this phenomenon?
According to Wikipedia( a limited, public and non academic source), ‘ psychopathy is characterized by persistent anti-social behaviour, impaired empathy and remorse, and bold dis-inhibited egotistical traits’. These are the clinically recognized aspects and elements of psychopathy. The problem arises because a ‘typical’ psychopath obscures his or her condition with socially, inter-personally and culturally acceptable behaviour and is, oftentimes, charming. What are the underlying conditions of psychopathy or what leads to it?
I am neither a psychologist nor a psychiatrist but culled from amateur readings of the phenomenon, It maybe that distressed or distressing childhood experiences, cultural and social repression of the psyche, inhibited impulses , flawed validation , encouragement and at times discouragement of attitudes and behaviours, bad parenting , bullying , psychological violence and its untreated effects and some warped social and cultural incentives might be among the myriad causes that lead to psychopathy. There may also be physiological and chemical mis-alignment reasons for the same. If these elements hold, then obviously it is exceedingly difficult to check psychopathic behaviour let alone detect it. But if the problem emanates from social conditioning or more accurately flawed social conditioning then the partial solution lies in society.
In the basic unit of society, the family, parents must be clued into the behaviours and attitudes of their children. Psycho-emotional issues if and when they arise in children- a morose child who does not play with his or her peers( not always a psychological problem) , who broods or articulates strange thoughts, does not engage with his or her studies, and so on must be doubly taken care of. He or she must not be bullied into changing behaviour but conditioned to be ‘normal’ by professional empathetic counselling. This can be the starting point. At a broader, aggregate social level, culture and sensibilities thereof must not obscure and put a gloss on pathological behaviour. If a problem is detected in an individual(s), society must rise to the occasion and get these individuals to seek help, albeit empathetically.
Yet again, at the levels of the family and society, psychopathy can never be eradicated. So how are individuals – especially the young and the vulnerable – to be protected from psychopathic predators?All members of society must be sensitized and made aware of potential predators that lurk under the facade and veneer of civility and charm. This means being alert to, one, the fact that civility and charm while great attributed can at times be taken recourse to by predators to obscure their evil intents and two, no matter how ‘close’ or personal a given relationship- uncle, aunt, or even son or daughter, if persistent traits that define psychopathy are exhibited by a person, he or she needs to be treated or at times reported to the police. Here neither culture nor social sensibility must deter from reporting or treating these people. (Of course this can be misused but a proper and reasonable methodology to determine psychopathic behaviour, admittedly subjective, can help in checking abuse).
In the ultimate analysis, psychopathy, a universal phenomenon, is real and cannot be entirely eradicated from society. But a prudent starting point to check its abuse and prevalence would be awareness of the same. With respect to Kashmir, it also means that no matter the nature and stereotypes about us- gentle, hospitable and genteel people- there are psychopaths among us who use the same attributes and stereotypes to cover their fundamentally evil nature. This recognition can alert our society to the presence and dangers of psychopathy and hopefully prevent predatory murderous crimes. While, to repeat, psychopathy and the ‘Mask of Sanity’ it presupposes and puts, cannot be totally eliminated, awareness of the same can check its prevalence. This along with the prayer , ‘ May God protect All’ is perhaps the best that can be done!
- Views expressed in the article are the author’s own and do not necessarily represent the editorial stance of Kashmir Observer
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