Wednesday, April 02, 2008

The Psychopath and the Gun Slinger

Clint Eastwood plays this character who sits in the barber's chair, the barber's hand is shaking so badly he gets lather all over Clint's face, Clint "looking" at him, the barber going even shakier, and then trying to hold the straight-razor steady as he attempts to shave Clint's throat of a week's beard. A third character stands by the door. He says to Clint: "The Rojas brothers wanted to meet you." Clint says: "I don't know those men." The guy in the doorway says: "Now you never will. You just killed them." As I recall, Clint looks mildly amused. Or is it just me? It's been 40 years since I saw the movie so the details are as fuzzy Clint's beard. What is clear is that Clint's character encountered three men on a dusty frontier street, that they drew their guns on him, and he shot them all down before going off for his shave and a haircut, which he didn't actually get, perhaps his only real regret of the day. He killed three strangers and didn't bother to know more about them than that. What do you think? Would it wash today among the EU/UN crowd? I don't think so. But look at this instead and think how well the character would be received by the same lot as above:

Anthony Hopkins is bound and masked and other ways made immobile on his way from one prison cell to another, during which time he manages to free himself of his restraints to kill a prison guard and more, I can't recall exactly, before he goes on to murder a whole whack of folks, all in the name of getting away with previous murders. I can't recall and I don't want to. The so-called liberals among us can, perhaps do, come up with all kinds of "theories" about how social conditions have created such a person, how we are all responsible for the being of such a being in our midsts, and ya ya.

I see a difference between Clint Eastwood's Man With No Name and Hopkins' Hannibal Lecter. I see the former as a man with principles, and I see the latter as a psychopath. At wikipedia we read: "Red Dragon firmly states that Lecter does not fit any known psychological profile. However, Lecter's keeper Frederick Chilton claims that Lecter is a "pure sociopath" despite characteristics in his behavior that are inconsistent with the disorder. Lecter's pathosis is explored in greater detail in Hannibal and Hannibal Rising, which explain that he is irreparably traumatized as a child when he witnesses the murder and consumption by desperate military men of his younger sister, Mischa." Spare me.

In Eastwood's character we might find moral ambiguity; in Hopkins' character it is society that is, at best, ambiguous, and more than likely outright evil in the making of an evil person. What value do we have in mind as we relate our desires and being to such characters? Given that few of us drift around the world encountering those who would kill us without a thought, and that most of us actually work day jobs and have evening and weekend families, what are we thinking when we relate to cinema idols? Most of us, I think, have a sense of fair-play and honor, seeing ourselves as competitive in business if ruthless in self-defence; but what about those of us who don't see anything beyond ourselves as victims bent on revenge for slights and woes, for outright evils visited upon us by life? What do we value anymore? We, those who might cherish the thought of adopting a Palestinian suicide bomber baby? We who might find ourselves in a flashy new and brightly lit public library coming up from the darkest depths with glibberies excusing those who kill for the sake of Islamic rectifications and yet more and more ya ya?

Kim Bolan, "Society encourages psychopaths: expert." Vancouver Sun; 2 April 2008

Today's society is a fertile breeding ground for psychopathic behaviour, says an international expert in the field.

Dr. Robert Hare, professor emeritus at the University of B.C., says that shifting ethical standards, reflected in television crime shows that glamorize the abnormal, allow psychopaths to flourish.

"What is clear is that society is making it a lot easier for psychopathy or psychopathic behaviour to flourish," Hare said.

"The moral ethical standards that we have now are shifting. What is acceptable now would not have been acceptable five or 10 or 20 years ago."


Hare, author of the best-selling Without Conscience, The Disturbing World of the Psychopaths Among Us.... Hare said research indicates that about 15 per cent of the prison population in Canada is psychopathic, compared to a guess of about one per cent of the general population.

He said it is hard to know if the numbers are increasing overall because studies are generally limited to people in jail and not society at large.

But he said changing social values -- reflected in popular TV hits like Dexter, which is about a heroic serial killer -- have made things worse.

"I won't even watch Dexter," he said. "In a sense what they are doing is glorifying, glamorizing and making normal what is really abnormal. All these programs like CSI and the hundreds of others. They are caricatures of what law enforcement does."


"My argument is that they know the difference between right and wrong. They know the rules of the game. They are perfectly aware of what society expects of them, but they have chosen for whatever reason not to follow these rules," he said of psychopaths.

"If it is to their advantage to engage in pro-social good behaviour, they are going to do so; if it is to their advantage to engage in anti-social behaviour, they are going to do so."


I read Hare's book about 15 years ago, and in that time I think people haven't gotten any worse, but I do think many people are acting far worse than at any civil time in living memory. Which means?

Psychopaths flourish in wars and civil catastrophes. It is then they are unrestrained and seldom captured; that they are even lauded as the best of men in the worst of times. We seem in our day and in our neighbourhoods to like them now. Witness the hero-worship of jihadis among our intelligentsia. See our politicians go groveling before the cold-eyed killers of countless civilians; our dhimmi academics hurling stones at democrats; see our artists lying dead on the streets for challenging them.

What are you going to do when life is really boring and you can't find anything on tv worth wasting your time on? What if your life is totally boring and you have no values to keep you morally sane? Well, there's always a place to hang out and chat about the latest victims you admire who are fighting back against the system of which you are an unhappy part but wish you weren't. Definitely, if you're a psychopath with a grievance you'll find a sympathetic audience among the Middle-Class-bored and the desperate-for-meaning crowd. If you're a barbarian, they'll still love you. Maybe especially so if so.

Maybe some of us are still Clint Eastwood fans rather than cheerleaders for the lunatic fascist Grand Gesture types. Maybe some of us would happily and casually shoot down a few psychos on the street without thinking much about it if the latter pulled guns on us and meant to kill us. But we might then land ourselves, still living, in jail. Hard call, ain't it? Especially when it's not the movies but the subway or the office or the local school under attack. Yeah, London and Madrid, New York and Washington, Beslan, Bali... you pick it.

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