Monday, January 28, 2013

Random Thoughts of Homicide

Not all that uncommon these days, in Ottawa, a part of the Great White North. In fact, the weather has been so awful of late that random thoughts of homicide may be all that's holding me on the delicate edge of sanity. Last week we Ottawa inhabitants suffered through a spell of severe Arctic chill. Minus forty with the wind chill, which means the same in Celsius and Fahrenheit. Really! It was just bloody awful out there. My partner, Suzanne, clearly made of sterner (and younger) stuff than I, ventured out onto the Rideau Canal late last week for an hour's skating. And assured me that she enjoyed it. The fact is, I believed her. For those unfamiliar with Ottawa, one of our boasts is that we own the "world's longest skating rink", with a measured length of 7.8 km. For the non-metric folk down south, that's almost 5 miles. Until last week, though, with the ups and downs in the ambient temperature, the ice was not thick enough for skating safety. But now it is. For the moment. Today  we have snow falling, but by Wednesday, two days hence, it will have been raining - yet again - and the temperature will have climbed to +14 Celsius. So much for the skating rink, and for our collective peace of mind and soul.

Anyway, back to the thoughts of homicide.

Some months back, I wrote some words on the subject of psychopathy. And now I will write a few more. I am currently reading a book on the subject, intriguingly titled The Wisdom of Psychopaths. The book is by the social psychologist, Dr. Kevin Dutton, who toils for his crust at the University of Cambridge, and who is Research Fellow at the Faraday Institute of Science and Religion at St. Edmund's College. Dutton writes with a light hand and a keen mind, a combination not often enough encountered.

The Wisdom Of Psychopaths

The book covers far too much ground for an easy synopsis, and I am not going to attempt one. I will say, though, that a major part of Dutton's thesis is that we "normal" folk live among a large population of psychopathic characters, and they are active in any number of professions, some highly valued and regarded. This is not necessarily a news flash, but it is worth repeating. The Hollywood image of the psychopath as a drooling maniac compulsively slaughtering innocents for fun (and even profit) is wildly inaccurate. Although some of the more infamous psychopaths do almost fit that description: Ted Bundy, Jeffrey Dahmer, and John Wayne Gacy do pretty much fit the picture. They would be comfortably at home with the fictional characters Hannibal Lecter and Jame Gumb, aka "Buffalo Bill" - he "skins his humps" - from the Thomas Harris novel, The Silence of the Lambs.

Dutton helpfully provides a list of professions where individuals with strong psychopathic characteristics do very well, and are also well-represented:

Business CEO; Lawyer; Media (TV/Radio); Salesperson; Surgeon; Journalist; Police Officer; Clergyperson; Chef; Civil Servant.

And you can add to that list certain military personnel, especially those in the high risk-taking branches; the British Special Air Service (SAS), the U.S. Navy Seals, and so on. And also, IMHO, politicians, notably some of those who rise to the highest offices.

It is important to note - again! - that psychopathy is not necessarily directly associated with criminality. But equally important to note that where it is so-associated, you will have some very scary individuals.

Early in his book, Dutton cites a story that has been making the rounds on the Internet; as many stories, most of them fictional, will do. This one purports to be a quick test for psychopathic characteristics.  (Perhaps some of you have seen it; I had a vague memory of having seen it myself.) It goes like this.

While attending her mother's funeral, a woman meets a man she's never seen before. She thinks he's incredible. She believes him to be her soul mate and falls for him instantly. But she never asks for his number, and when the funeral is over, she cannot track him down. A few days later, she murders her sister. Why?

Think about it. I did, but I was unable to think of an answer. As I said at the start, this is put forward as a quick test to determine if one thinks like a psychopath. The non-psychopathic answer could be that she is jealous of her sister, having discovered that the sister is involved with the man. Or that she finds her sister in bed with him. But that's the wrong answer, at least in the context of the test.

The correct - i.e, psychopathic - answer? The lady killed her sister in the hope that the man, who had to have had some unknown (to her) connection with her family, would turn up again at her sister's funeral.

If that is the answer any of you came up with, there is no cause for panic. The "test" is no test at all. As support for that, Dutton gave the "test" to a significant number of "real" psychopaths, many of whom were in prison for heinous crimes - rape, murder, paedophilia, armed robbery - and none of them came up with that answer. Almost all of them came up with the jealousy-revenge - i.e., the "romantic rivalry" - rationale.

Which is a real comfort, for me and two of my friends. When I put the test-question to my partner, Suzanne, her reply was instant: "That's a no-brainer; she was hoping for another funeral so she could meet the guy again." And similarly for the wives of two friends who I will call John and Tony. The wives had the same quick response, while John and Tony reacted the same way I did. They did not come up with the "correct, psychopathic" response.

Does this small "survey" mean anything at all? Probably not, but it is at least interesting. And, as noted, I take comfort from the fact that Dutton declares that it's not a valid test for psychopathy. I am certain that "John" and "Tony" probably feel the same way.

1 comment:

Hannah Dennison said...

Ha ha ha! I am sorry but I had to laugh at the test - maybe because I did not come up with the psychopathic answer. Intriguing post. Loved it!