Tuesday, March 06, 2012

the ravings of a lunatic

We watched a show on the teevee last night about psychopaths. It is the way of our people to take in entertainment that will either teach us something ('How it's Made') or make us feel better about ourselves ('Cops,' 'World's Dumbest'). By happy coincidence, this program about psychopaths promised to combine those two hallmarks of fine television into one program (much like 'hoarders,' only more intellectual and less heart-stringy).

Now, I can hear some of you pondering out loud 'why on earth would you want to watch a show about dangerous murderous evil people, Tiff? WHAT IS WRONG WITH YOU?' and I would have to answer that 1) there is nothing wrong with me for wanting to watch shows about dangerous murderous evil people, because duh how else are you going to know how to recognize them when you happen upon one in the wild and 2) there is only so much 'House Hunters' one can take in before the urge to Hulksmash the next person who pouts about the carpet color overtakes and you wind up doing something stupid like breaking a coffee table or switching to reality teevee.

So, psychopaths.

Within 5 minutes we got the first kicker. To wit: Not all psychopaths are evil dangerous murderers and sowers of mayhem. In face, MOST psychopaths are not. No, most psychopaths are 1) CEOs, 2) lawyers, 3) other persons of power, 4) charmers, 5) charismatic, and 6) perceived as attractive and dynamic while having no real sense of empathy or social responsibility toward others.

Yep - those people who we hold up as examples of success and achievement can, in no small measure, be outed as psychopathic and probably lacking in the empathy that most people use in daily life to recognize when they're being manipulative, aggressive, and unemotional. Oddly, that LACK of empathy is what makes psychopaths so admirable - they're seen a s 'tough,' with great ideas, a certain recklessness, and a go-for-it attitude that is a siren song to many who don't possess those attributes and who then promote the psychopaths to the top of leadership because by gum that person is GOING FOR IT and that's the kind of spirit we want in our company/army/gang.

Except (and this is the really good part), the psychopathic leader is only good at one thing: self-centered thrill seeking. They're not interested in the welfare of the company/unit/territory, they only crave the next level of exctiement and manipulation, are really only into the whole leadership thing because of the goodies it brings and the power they achieve through ascent into the stratosphere of whatever pursuit or organization in which they find themselves. To actually LEAD that group is not in their interests. Once at the top of the heap, it's quickly found that their leadership abilities are sadly lacking, at which point they self-defensively become bullies or skip town to another company. Psychopaths simply do not CARE enough to make a go of their success - they just want more of it.

It's that thirst for thrill, that power, and a really bad childhood that sometimes perverts itself in the occasional psychopath to turn 'bad,' into a killer or cult leader or lil' Hitler. One of the surprising things I learned was that there are about 4% of us who are psychopaths, who fit the bill both in actions, and, it's being proven, in brain structure and DNA.

4%. That's millions of people!

One of the experts on the show was really really interested in how the brains of 'normals' and psychopaths are different, so he did a little MRI thingie using the emotional aspects of trigger words to track what parts of the brain light up in response to reading the word. There was a mix of nonsense words and real words, some of which are clear triggers like 'death' and 'murder.' Those words 'lit up' areas of normal people's brains that were utterly unresponsive in psychopathic brains (oh, and they used the locked-up kind of psychopath for this experiment, not the CEO types. The convicts, one would assume, didn't care about being remunerated for their time in the tube...). The pattern was clear and pretty remarkable - there was not an emotional component to words in the psychopath's brains, it was as though nonsense words and emotionally-laden terms all meant nothing out of context.

Then the expert decided to scan a group of people in the general population to see what the incidence of psycopathology was an a 'normal' population. What he found was a mix of pictures, with differing degrees of adherence to the 'normal' or 'psychopathic' brain response type, except for one person.

'Uh-oh,' Mr Expert thought - 'I need to do something about this, to let them know maybe, to advise them of some of the issues that might be gong on with them and how they can address them to live a more fruitful satisfying life!' so he broke the code and found out that it was HIM that was the psychopath!


How I did laugh. OK, I snickered, because my emotional responses to most things are fairly blunted except when I've had a few beverages, at which point the emotional responses are as exaggerated as bad street mime's attempts to get out of an invisible box, which is to say, very much over the top. But still, Mister Expert being the psychopath was pretty funny. Droll, really. But to be expected, I'd imagine, because at some point someone with the psycopathic type is going to take an interest in those people who seem so familiar to them yet so distinct in such a graphic horrible way.

It's like a freak show - we want to see people who are like us but NOT like us to remind us how normal we are but how badly things could go wrong. We feel better about ourselves leaving the tent, don't we. We feel more normal and happy about who we are, even though in our heart we know there are still things wrong with us but dang at least it's not claw-hands or alligator skin or tiny little stubby arms! That's what the psychopath expert had to be leaning towards when he started his research, suspecting somehow that he was like these brilliant charismatic people who could be so dangerous, feeling good that he's not a murderous freak with no self-control and an elegant mind. Surely being a scientist who studies psychopaths has to be better than BEING one!

But nothing can stop you from being who you are. Even his family admitted, as did he, that he can be difficult and hard to get along with, that he has moods and (it was intimated) can swing wildly between them, and needs periods of quiet at calm to be at his best.

And that is the point at which I declared to myself that I shall never be tested for psychopathy or any sort, because if his family's description of him is any indication, then I'm just one twitch away from becoming a stone-cold killer. Sure, that happy face you see works nicely to keep the social waters flowing, but if I find out 'I am what I am,' it might unleash a couple of things 1) regret for all that wasted corporate-climbing potential and 2) fear for what shall happen when I become a crazy old lady and one day decide I'm queen of the world. Will I go totally rogue and start charming the folks at the nursing home out of their dollar bills so I can get an orderly to sneak in a bottle of hooch for me, or skulk around the hallways poking a spitty finger into their puddings before dinner time, or start vicious rumors about that One Girl I Don't Like to get her taken down to the med ward for all kinds of horrible tests so I can have the good seat by the window in the rec room that she hogs to herself all that time?

Because I can see it happening. I can totally see me doing those things.

Of course, it might not be psychopathy at all that does this to me, because the night before last I watched a show on Asperger's/autism and I'm even more sure I have the Asperger's. Because it's a rare psychopath who would have named her bicycle as a child and got so upset when it got scratched that she put a BANDAID on the fender to make it feel better. Or who makes sure plates are stacked properly so they're more 'comfortable,' but who is puzzled by a lot of human interactions. And who can't have tags in her shirts. And who don't like to wear tight things around her neck, or be around too many people, or who can assign colors to tastes.

Asperger's, while not something necessarily to celebrate or deride, is a better (to me) option than being branded a psychopath. But when I get old, I'm TOTALLY telling people I'm psychopathic, and might just do that pudding thing from time to time to keep everyone in line. Because, really, life just goes a little better when people don't really know what to expect from you, wouldn't you agree?

Tiff out.

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