Mainstreaming psychopathy

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Although the idea that psychopathy is a black and white kind of a mental disorder will probably not go away anywhere, there has been quite a bit of chatter on the Internet recently about a different kind of a perspective on this topic. About the fact that it is not a condition, but a spectrum, which is dysfunctional only at the very extreme and which along more moderate ranges can come with several personal characteristics, about which it is hard to say that they are not in some ways desirable or valuable. A good overview of this perspective is given in a book called The Wisdom of the Psychopaths by Kevin Dutton. 

Psychopaths are all around us, often in positions which require remarkable focus and endurance of stress and pressure. An immunity against anxiety and stress, and the ability to live in the flow — that magical state of functioning where time stops and we just completely immerse ourselves in whatever we do, which we all sometimes experience — makes such people uniquely suited for tasks, under which most of us would crumble. A lack of fear makes them more determined, a unique charisma gives them the ability to navigate social situations with effortless ease. They have a keen eye for detecting emotional or mental states of others and contrary to widespread beliefs, might actually be more benevolent and helpful under some social conditions than “normal” people. You find such people working in management, in the trading halls of stock markets and operating halls of hospitals, in court rooms, the police and the military. And although the book does not touch upon that specific topic, I am sure politics is full of people with psychopathic qualities as well. 

Of course there can also be undesirable flavours. These are the psychopaths we usually associate with the term, the irreparable and extreme criminals and social deviants, who can kill you without a second of thought, steal your clothes and go wear them in a bar the same evening, trying to score. For such people, the qualities of a lack of impulse control and conscience, manipulativeness and lying make them extremely dangerous. But as the book tries to make clear, they are the rather rare exception, the extreme of the scale, which is not that common. 

So it turns out that at the end of the day, both our heroes and our villains are psychos. Just with different flavours. Which is not that surprising — Hollywood films have captured this rather well over the years. 

Especially the recent series Hanniblal. Of course, being Hollywood (in a broad sense of this word), it is disappointing in several respects, not least among them the fact that it wastes the potential of being a truly magnificent psychological mind-fuck (which to some extent it of course it is) and trades it for cheap zombie-style splatter in some moments. Still it is worth watching, especially for the aesthetics. Explicit and brutal violence was mainstreamed already some time ago, and Hannibal saves it from being so yesterday by merging it with style and elegance. Blood, flesh and death becomes art, but also food, which you would normally eat in a super-hipster high-class restaurant.

​So have a nice meal, a good watch and a good read. 

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