Theodore Dalrymple, one of my all-time favorite essayists (I highly suggest Life at the Bottom: The Worldview that Makes the Underclass), has a fascinating op-ed on psychopathy over at the Wall Street Journal.
Accurately pointing to Hitchcock’s “Psycho” as the jumping off point for the popularization of psychopaths, Dalrymple rightly observes that psychopathy carries with it the vein of authenticity that pervades much of post 1950 pop-culture. We are all supposed to “find our bliss,” make sure we “keep it real” and are “true to ourselves.” The only real sin in this period of heightened existential awareness is to hold a false consciousness. As such, psychopaths may be depraved and condemnable for their actions, but at least they haven’t bought into the bourgeoisie mentality of those running the rat race to their own destruction.
A recurrent theme in Dalrymple’s work is identifying ways in which the psychobabble of psychologists filters down to the hoi polloi and offers an excellent source of absolution. Regular people who have done atrocious things start using words to describe their actions that seem pulled straight from the DSM-IV. They talk about themselves as their own clinical subjects.
The result is a bizarre mix of seeming non-sequitors – “I did it doc, but I didn’t do it” – that only make sense in the context of the language of authenticity that has infused our culture in the last 50 years.
Give it a read. For more on this attitude of authenticity and finding our blisses, I suggest Brink Lindsey’s The Age of Abundance.