Psychopathy And Politics In Nepal - I : Kedar Maharjan
Psychopaths are popularly associated with mass murderers, multiple gang rapists, fanatical suicide terrorists and odious villains depicted in crime fiction. Hardly ever are psychopaths associated with people with whom we interact in normal everyday life. These kinds of psychopaths are no less dangerous than those of a criminal kind, but they are far harder to detect, and, as politics is a career to which they are often attracted, this article has relevance to Nepal.
Across most cultures, the popular image of a psychopath is a demon or a monster in human form. International news journalists who report human massacres, genocides, horrific murders and other similar atrocities frequently describe the perpetrators of these crimes as ‘psychopaths’.
Think of a serial male strangler who only targets childless widows who are 70 years of age or older. Think of a serial female arsonist who only sets fire to homes where there will be infant male children. The thrill which such people derive from their actions is not from the incalculable suffering that they inflict on their victims but rather from not getting caught and escaping justice.
Remorseless criminal psychopaths like these rarely comprise more than a small proportion of the jail population – perhaps 15 percent at very most. According to a leading forensic psychologist in Australia, John Clarke, the other 85per cent of jail inmates do not fit the standard profile of a psychopath.
These ‘ordinary’ criminals tend to fall foul of the law because, like almost everyone else in the general population, they lapse into moments of unbelievable stupidity. For example, the average robber might hold-up at knife point an exclusive shop in an upmarket shopping mall but stupidly forgets that overhead electronic surveillance is videoing the robbery in real time.
Imagine another amateur thief who, having decided he would rob a shopkeeper at gunpoint, unwittingly turns into a mass killer. Unaware that his firearm is not only loaded but is also faulty, the weapon accidentally discharges before the planned robbery even begins, and the bullet, which ricochets off a distant wall, instantly kills an approaching bus-driver, whose vehicle is overloaded with passengers.
The dead driver’s right foot stays pressed against the motor’s accelerator. The bus, though now effectively driverless, speeds into an oncoming fully-loaded petrol tanker that explodes on impact. The resultant fireball incinerates more than 150 innocent people alive – tanker driver, passengers and bystanders. The criminal in this particular example too is much more stupid than psychopathic.
The average rapist is similarly so stupid as to forget that DNA testing deriving from sweat, flaking skin, semen and saliva - and even a carelessly discarded cigarette butt - enables a positive identification, even if his victim has never seen his face. Although electronic communication technology easily enables the average terrorist to plot a kidnap or bombing, it is with similar ease that, using the same technology, police and anti-terrorist agencies can thwart the plot and capture the plotters.
John Clarke further argues that, in the ordinary places where we spend our routine daily lives (like offices, army barracks, market places, shops, police stations, courtrooms, clinics, classrooms, temples, schools, workshops and families), there also operates a minority of people with psychopathic personalities. Unlike criminal psychopaths, these people are sophisticated who know how to manipulate the rules of behaviour so that they are able to violate their victims without creating suspicion.
In common with criminal psychopaths, ‘everyday life’ psychopaths have no moral conscience, and they too never feel guilt or remorse. Again, like their criminal counterparts, they get overwhelming thrills from never getting caught and always escaping justice, no matter how much their victims might suffer mentally, rather than physically.
Clarke’s theory is that the psychopathic personality in everyday life is a syndrome of behavioural characteristics, which is shaped, not just by social factors alone, but also by other multiple factors such as the person’s physiology, biology, genetics and sociological milieu.
The psychopath generally shows a cluster of specific behavioural traits which, besides a lack of remorse or guilt, likely includes impulsive behaviour, lack of any sense of responsibility, spreading lies and deception, manipulating other people in ways they want so they get what they want, and a constant need for stimulation and excitement.
Although they exude superficial charm and intelligence, these people are unreliable and dishonest. They exercise poor judgment and fail to learn from their mistakes. They not only possess an ostentatious sense of self-worth, they are also egocentrics, always placing themselves above and before anyone else. Devoid of emotion, they are also incapable of love and affection.
John Clarke considers that not every psychopath possesses all of the characteristics which he enumerates, there being different types of psychopaths who exhibit different sets of characteristics and behaviours. According to him, most of us have come across a psychopath at some stage of our life, mostly not realising that the person concerned was in fact a psychopath, especially as that person may not have been physically violent.
Also according to John Clarke, psychopaths have walked on the planet since the birth of civilization. A study of officially sanctioned decadence of the Roman Empire of the first century AD through to the more recent war on terror led by American President George W. Bush will show that absolute autocratic power has permitted psychopaths, working on behalf of the government, to seduce and entice their victims to official torture, murder, sexual abuse and other depravities. Be it in the past eras of Genghis Khan, Adolf Hitler and Josef Stalin - or in the modern era dictatorships which have emerged in Africa, Asia and South America – psychopaths who operate under the guise and, often with the sanction, of a legitimate government have brought incalculable suffering and misery to countless numbers of people.
Abuse of power
It seems that politics - and more recently religion - with the inherent infinite power that it commands has always attracted - and still continues to draw - small groups of psychopaths to its causes. Psychopaths of this kind unhesitatingly abuse their access to power and intelligence to gratify their own needs at the expense of larger deprived communities that far too often comprise socially, culturally, economically and ethnically marginalised peoples. (To be continued…)
(Maharjan holds a Master's degree in Human Rights and Democratisation (2013) as well as a Master's degree in International Public Health (2007), both from the University of Sydney;