Keeping the masks on

I have continued my studies of psychopathy by reading Hervey Cleckley’s rather classic work The Mask of Sanity (available freely on this page). So far I’ve gone through the biographical accounts of the several select patients Cleckley had an opportunity to become familiar with while working in mental institutions. It should be noted that all of those psychopaths who made themselves available for study in mental institutions basically belong to one particular subset of psychopaths who aren’t able to hide their rather extraordinary behavior from the society for long (though they certainly are capable of fooling almost all of their casual acquaintances into thinking they are trustworthy or whatever it is the psycho in question wants their marks to believe) despite most of them being highly intelligent and talented in several ways so they aren’t quite the same kind of a psychopath who can succeed for long in business, politics, academia and religious communities and who cause more widespread mayhem.

I wouldn’t say the book, or rather the section containing the biographical accounts, has so far given me that much new insight into psychopaths but it has definitely given me more insight when it comes to the other non-psychopathic people who are supporting them. Many of these American psychopaths under the psychiatrist’s scrutiny came from rather wealthy and influential families who were often able to keep them from getting serious prison sentences especially when combined to the natural talents of the psychopaths themselves even though they caused almost constant havoc when allowed to participate in the society. And the parents never seemed to learn that maybe the right thing to do was not trying to keep them from facing the most serious consequences as time and time again doing that proved futile and just caused further trouble later on. Cleckley describes most of these parents as rather responsible, respected and well-adjusted but at times I can’t help but to think that the reality may have been a little darker in some cases. As for example there surely must be something wrong with a man who arranges a job for a thoroughly irresponsible psychopath as a county judge. I’d rather think a sane and responsible man who actually understands what’s going on would certainly not want a psychopath as a county judge even if that psychopath would be his own son and that particular judge’s responsibilities were rather limited. Things like this make me suspect that maybe some of the parents weren’t quite what they appeared to be to the casual observer either (also the evidence I’m aware of supports the claim that psychopathic traits are quite heritable). If I’m correct they were just much better at wearing their masks than their children. And indeed, when I think about it, just like the children who never seemed to learn from their irresponsibility, neither did most of their parents seem to learn that doing the same thing over and over again won’t help in rehabilitating their psychopathic children.

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