“It’s easier to prove you are crazy than to prove you are sane.”
I finished reading Jon Ronson’s “The Psychopath Test”, an entertaining journalistic introduction to the world of psychopaths and psychology. Subsequently, I immediately ordered a copy of the DSM IV manual for mental disorders (which, at 964 pages of dry descriptions, I’m sure won’t be such an entertaining read, but interesting reference material nonetheless). The DSM is a list of supposed mental disorders that was compiled by a group of American psychologists in an attempt to categorise any deviation from “normal behaviour”. Without a clear definition of what is normal, how can we go about labelling the abnormal? There is a sort of confession in the book from one of the authors of the DSM III manual, who said they were basically asking all the psychologists to come up with as many mental disorders as they could, argue in favour of them, and then include or exclude them based on a majority vote. It seems so… arbitrary… that the loudest voice gets to make the new entry. If that voice would also happen to have ties with a pharmaceutical company that happens to sell antidepressives or mood-altering drugs, then so be it, all for the greater good of making sure more and more people are considered abnormal. New mental disorders mean more opportunities for companies to sell their drugs.
The above quote comes from a man who faked being mentally ill to avoid getting out of a jail sentence. To his surprise, he was categorised as a psychopath, locked up in a mental facility for 14 years, and no matter what he did to prove his sanity, everything he undertook was seen as yet another example of his insanity. Is he friendly? He must be using Item 5 on the Hare PCL-R checklist for psychopathy: manipulative behaviour and Item 1: superficial charm. Is he being aloof/reclusive? Clearly an example of Item 2: Grandiose sense of self-worth and Item 8: Callous/lack of empathy.
Of course the journalist rightly wonders whether or not this man saying he’s not insane is maybe also just part of his manipulative nature, him being a diagnosed psychopath and all.
While I do not doubt the existence of psychopathy (since amygdala responses clearly differ), I’m sceptical about the general overclassification and the labelling obsession of having to call every type of action a mental disorder. Take frotteurism for instance, the disorder in which the “patient” rubs up his/her genitalia against a non-consenting person, usually in public spaces – now, I am no rocket scientist (which wouldn’t be helpful here anyway), but it seems like this “disorder” may have been invented by a psychiatrist who may have “suffered” from this himself and needed a good excuse to defend himself in court. My Dutch dialect has a better, almost onomatopoeic word for such a person, and it’s no disorder at all: “FRUSTRO!” (I don’t think this requires translation)
According to Bob Hare, the inventor of the infamous PCL-R psychopathy checklist, my resistance against these labels is based on my being a “very liberal, very left-wing intellectual”. Which I guess also shows the political kind of intellectual he is.
It also made me think about how lucky that guy I met in Australia was. He had been receiving government support for a number of years because he was deemed “mentally unfit” and had to reappear in front of a commission each year to be assessed. He told me he just faked some stories about hearing voices in his head and the money would keep on coming (Item 9: Parasitic lifestyle, Item 6: Lack of remorse, Item 4: Pathological lying, Item 5: Cunning/manipulative…..… Damn, maybe he WAS insane!)
For all I know, it being pre-Facebook and all, he finally got his comeuppance and is now having to prove his sanity in a mental institution – morally, I couldn’t agree with this way of system cheating; maybe I’d be less categorical now, me and my loose morals!
I am not a psychopath (because I like cats and not dogs, because psychopaths prefer dogs, because they are slaves!), even though I may have some traits…
Timmy takes the PCL-R Psychopathy Test!
Item 1: Glibness/superficial charm? Hmmm… I like to think my charm isn’t superficial, but that one’s hard to judge for yourself, really.
Item 2: Grandiose sense of self-worth? “Grandiose” may not be how I would describe it.
Item 3: Need for stimulation/proneness to boredom? Don’t we ALL have that?
Item 4: Pathological lying? Nah, I don’t think my lying is pathological. Or maybe that’s a pathological lie? Or maybe this is? AHHHHH!
Item 5: Cunning/manipulative? Don’t we all try to shape our world so that it suits us just slightly better?
Item 6: Lack of remorse or guilt? That’s a tough one, because as someone who doesn’t like dwelling on the past and rather looks ahead with a positive spirit, I do feel remorse/guilt aren’t very useful emotions. I guess I have them though.
Item 7: Shallow affect (genuine emotion is short-lived and egocentric)? Nah, I have long emotions, long and hard ones!
Item 8: Callous/lack of empathy? Not true in general, though I guess it depends on whether or not the victim was worth showing empathy for (again a trait we may all possess sometimes)
Item 9: Parasitic lifestyle? Definitely not, I have never ever found myself living inside another person’s body to survive. Sure, penetrative, but that’s only… what would you call it, mister Hare?…. “short-lived and egocentric”?
Item 10: Poor behavioural control? No, I hold my joystick pretty well.
Item 11: Promiscuous sexual behaviour? Of course not! May da Good Lord strike me down if I’m lyin’ pathologically here!
Item 12: Lack of realistic long-term goals? Oops… well, actually no, because I do consider my long-term goal of becoming Emperor of Europe realistic! GHA!
Item 13: Early behaviour problems? No, I don’t get up until noon, so you really won’t see any behavioural problems with me early in the day.
Item 14: Impulsivity? That’s not always a bad thing though, is it? I’m generally not that impulsive, but if I’d have to save a kitty from dying under a falling washing machine, I’d make an impulsive decision to think about whether or not it would be worth doing and calculate as to how attainable the rescue would really be. *SPLAT!*
Item 15: Irresponsibility? No, only when the big fiery ball returns to us and I have yet to seek my way into my bed, inebriated but content.
Item 16: Failure to accept responsibility for own actions? Yes! No! Maybe! I don’t know! I blame someone else for not knowing!
Item 17: Many short-term marital relationships? I don’t think so.
Item 18: Juvenile delinquency? Hahahahaha, look at me as a “juvenile” and you have your answer!
Item 19: Revocation of conditional release? I said NO! What part of NO don’t you understand, mister Hare? I have a good mind to pick up the nearest blunt object and come mutilate you to death (and the nearest blunt object is…. *rumbling*…. a pillow!)
Item 20: Criminal versatility? Absolutely. I could say I have been a fraudster, I have been arrested for alleged theft (untrue) and drunkenness (also untrue! Not a pathological lie, how dare you!?). And occasionally, I drive a bit over the speed limit.
So Mr. Hare, did Timmy do well?