AN ENDEMIC SOCIAL DISEASE, A MASK OF SANITY
This introduction to "alien reaction machines" in human form describes individuals with Anti-Social Personality Disorder (APD), Sociopaths, and Psychopaths.
(In referring to these entities below, I use "that" instead of "who" to reinforce the distinction between machine-like reactions and normal human behavior.)
There is considerable overlap of symptoms as medical researchers have refined the classifications. One of the links below provides detailed distinctions among these definitions. It also includes an extensive bibliography. In this essay, next, however, the older, generic term "psychopath" is used.
A psychopath is a person who appears normal on the surface, until he/she performs some outrageous criminal act. At that point it has been customary to label the behavior as temporary "insanity", but that is a legal term, not a medical one. The prison psychiatric hospital environment greatly reduces the options for the new patient to make the kind of independent decisions that caused the original trouble in open society. In this controlled environment he/she appears normal, shows no overt signs of psychosis, passes all probing tests with flying colors, and is discharged as "cured". On the street again, more crimes are committed, and the cycle repeats. Thus, these individuals fall through the cracks between law and medicine.
Most people, including judges and juries, are still unable to make the distinction that not all prison inmates are psychopaths and not all antisocial individuals are convicted criminals. The links below can be confusing unless one is aware that the label "psychopathic personality" was the original descriptive term for today's aggressive "antisocial personality". The new euphemism is an obfuscation of an unpleasant truth about people we are forced to deal with on a daily basis. It is difficult for all of us, especially when associating with disruptive school children, whose unearned "self esteem" must be protected at all costs. In the literature one can expect to see both the new and the old terms, without much distinction between them.
Western industrial civilization has developed a complex set of rules of behavior for its citizens. These rules have evolved from the need for cooperative organization in order to produce the goods and services actually needed by society for minimum survival as a group, and also to produce the intangible benefits that make that survival tolerable for the individual. It makes most sense to reserve the greatest rewards to those individuals who produce the most goods and services of the highest quality. Most people understand they need specialized training for any role above some minimum level, and they must compete for that training, and later compete on the job itself. They understand that the need for group survival dictates the rules of the game, and they must not disrupt the group process by uncooperative, dishonest, unethical, or violent behavior, or flagrant violation of the rules.
Psychopaths believe they are "entitled" to the lifestyle benefits of Western Civilization that most people only hope for as a potential reward for outstanding job performance, organizational loyalty, and smooth cooperation with other members of a team. Psychopaths can't or won't work at the high performance level that might logically provide upscale benefits. At a lower level where they might be more qualified, they feel that any menial, boring, dirty, or disgusting WORK is "beneath" them. Thus, whether at a high level or low level, any meaningful, honest "work" is a dirty word to a psychopath.
With extraordinary assistance from motivated parents, some more intelligent, but still antisocial people can and do gravitate to higher-paid management, politics, or the professions, where power and prestige can be significant ego enhancers. However, they are always "close to the edge" emotionally, and are likely to abuse sex, drugs, and alcohol. Also, they may tend to "seek out" excuses to deliberately over-indulge, in order to remove temporarily the stifling "mask of sanity" that never quite fits. Then, when "under the influence" they are more likely to exhibit aggressive, violent, and/or bizarre behavior in inappropriate public places. This odd behavior is the key classic sign of acute dysfunction. Some reference books provide fascinating case histories describing typical incidents.
When one realizes that the antisocial syndrome is pervasive in today's society, what protection is available to the average adult citizen? How can one know the alien body snatcher before any actual overt criminal act? There are two simple test tools available to any perceptive, educated adult: The tools are contrived casual conversation and unobtrusive observation. With these tools one can make a simple first screening test to possibly rule out psychopathic personality in public officials or others:
The psychopath is a dangerously clever "alien reaction machine" that has practiced giving all the correct answers. However, much of that verbal practice will have taken place in institutions or in dysfunctional families in lower-class neighborhoods. When those same answers are given in upscale surroundings, they come out as contrived falsehoods.
Another clue is that the alien machine will not take responsibility, but will tend to "blame others" for misfortunes with drugs, sexual partners, bosses, co- workers, authorities, or whatever. Also, the full-blown psychopath is NEVER altruistic or ethical (except by accident), but may be shrewd enough to pretend altruism as sham behavior (to attract votes). By accepting a psychopath's statements at face value, without cross- checking public records or other sources, a careless or inattentive interviewer can fail to pick up on the frequent lies. For example, to trip up corrupt politicians or self-described "experts", sometimes it is only necessary to compare two different answers to the same or similar questions repeated on two or more different occasions, without involving external sources at all. Any pattern of lies will stand out as outside the norm of ethical conduct. By itself, this discrepancy is insufficient to classify the individual as antisocial, but it is an indication that other tests should be made.
Cleckley, Hervey (1903-1984): The Mask of Sanity, Fifth Edition, 1988. Previous editions copyrighted 1941, 1950, 1955, 1964, 1976 by The C. V. Mosby Co. Over 300 additional references are cited in the Bibliography. (This is the classic reference book. It is easy to read and has many detailed case histories.)