Tuesday, July 16, 2019

The ABCs of Sociopathy

"Philoctetes on the Island of Lemnos" by Guillaume Guillon-Lethiere (1798)
Labelling someone a sociopath or psychopath is a convenient way of distancing yourself from them. You have only to pick up the paper to find a list of off-the-charts behaviors in both the public and private sectors. A fraternity hazing results in death while a video shows a sitting president boasting about groping any woman he likes. Another president comes a cropper for trying to insert a cigar in an intern’s vagina. Only recently a New Jersey judge tried to dismiss a rape charge under the theory that the 16-year-old perpetrator was an excellent student from a good family. What separates these offenders from a Harvey Weinstein or Jeffrey Epstein who have both been or are in the process of being totally ostracized by society? Is it just a matter of the extent of the transgression? Or is there another factor? Who's to say that a person who commits anti-social or even criminal acts can’t be charming, humane and charitable? Is there for instance honor among thieves? The Greek war hero Philoctetes was exiled because of the noxious smell of his wounds. In the #MeToo era there have been a number celebrities amongst them Garrison Keillor, Charlie Rose and Al Franken who have been shunned by society. Louis CK has begun to make a comeback, but there are many public figures who have not been so lucky. How to mete out punishment? Even if someone is not convicted of a criminal offense, many people don’t want to get their hands dirty by way of association. It’s easy to say that so and so was not who they purported to be as a way of staying away from them. In fact, the sadder truth is that a person who veers from the straight and narrow might be the self-same individual who was in fact experienced as kindly and humane in other circumstances. He or she may be troubled though not a monster, merely someone who has, for one reason or another, done something wrong.

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