|Botero, The Thief, 1994|
Could there be more going on around us than the break down in social norms and modern cultural decline explored and deplored by the likes of Jacques Barzum in his book From Dawn to Decadence?
A recent essay makes an argument that we live in an age with an ever increasing incidence of impersonal psychopathic behavior marked by greater narcism laced with casual callousness and a lack of empathy.
The essay is from a new book called The Wisdom of Psychopaths: What Saints, Spies and Serial Killers Can Teach Us About Success. It makes some interesting points about the roots of criminal behavior. The Cambridge University Professor includes an argument that the loss of empathy by current generations may be a direct result of their failure to read fiction, because reading imbues the reader with empathy by placing the reader in the position of the characters.
No, he’s wrong there, it’s because they’re not reading this Florida Criminal Law Blog, as you do my empathetic reader. Anyway, other than some debatably odd conclusions here and there, here are a few excerpts:
In a recent study in London, 120 convicted robbers were asked why they did it. The answers were revealing. Kicks. Spur-of-the-moment impulses. Status. And financial gain. In that order. Exactly the kind of casual, callous behavior patterns one often sees in psychopaths….
…(Yet) in the right context, certain psychopathic characteristics can actually be very constructive. A neurosurgeon I spoke with (who rated high on the psychopathic spectrum) described the mind-set he enters before taking on a difficult operation as “an intoxication that sharpens rather than dulls the senses.” In fact, in any kind of crisis, the most effective individuals are often those who stay calm—who are able to respond to the exigencies of the moment while at the same time maintaining the requisite degree of detachment.
I suddenly get a flash of insight. We talk about gender. We talk about class. We talk about color. And intelligence. And creed. But the most fundamental difference between one individual and another must surely be that of the presence, or absence, of conscience. Conscience is what hurts when everything else feels good. But what if it’s as tough as old boots? What if one’s conscience has an infinite, unlimited pain threshold and doesn’t bat an eye when others are screaming in agony? …
More than social norms which change over time and place, it’s conscience that keeps some of us from abusing others with callous criminal behavior. If conscience could be measured and reliably enhanced that frowning Judge at sentencing would be much more likely to grant your Clearwater Criminal Defense Attorney’s request for mercy.