by Hervey Cleckley, "Mask of Sanity" Online, 5th edition
[In my opinion, no one has come close to describing/hypothesising about the inner experience and possible workings of psychopathy as Cleckley has. ~InvictaMA]
The surface of the psychopath, however, that is, all of him that can be reached by verbal exploration and direct examination, shows up as equal to or better than normal and gives no hint at all of a disorder within. Nothing about him suggests oddness, inadequacy, or moral frailty. His mask is that of robust mental health. Yet he has a disorder that often manifests itself in conduct far more seriously abnormal than that of the schizophrenic. Inwardly, too, there appears to be a significant difference. Deep in the masked schizophrenic we often sense a cold, weird indifference to many of life's most urgent issues and sometimes also bizarre, inexplicable, and unpredictable but intense emotional reactions to what seems almost irrelevant. Behind the exquisitely deceptive mask of the psychopath the emotional alteration we feel appears to be primarily one of degree, a consistent leveling of response to petty ranges and an incapacity to react with sufficient seriousness to achieve much more than pseudo-experience or quasi-experience. Nowhere within do we find a real cause or a sincere commitment, reasonable or unreasonable. There is nowhere the loyalty to produce real and lasting allegiance even to a negative or fanatic cause.
Just as meaning and the adequate sense of things as a whole are lost with semantic aphasia in the circumscribed field of speech although the technical mimicry of language remains intact, so in most psychopaths the purposiveness and the significance of all life-striving and of all subjective experience are affected without obvious damage to the outer appearance or superficial reactions of the personality. Nor is there any loss of technical or measurable intelligence.
With such a biologic change the human being becomes more reflex, more machine like. It has been said that a monkey endowed with sufficient longevity would, if he continuously pounded the keys of a typewriter, finally strike by pure chance the very succession of keys to reproduce all the plays of Shakespeare. These papers so composed in the complete absence of purpose and human awareness would look just as good to any scholar as the actual works of the Bard. Yet we cannot deny that there is a difference. Meaning and life at a prodigiously high level of human values went into one and merely the rule of permutations and combinations would go into the other. The patient semantically defective by lack of meaningful purpose and realization at deep levels does not, of course, strike sane and normal attitudes merely by chance. His rational power enables him to mimic directly the complex play of human living. Yet what looks like sane realization and normal experience remains, in a sense and to some degree, like the plays of our simian typist.
In Henry Head's interpretation of semantic aphasia we find, however, concepts of neural function and of its integration and impairment that help to convey a hypothesis of grave personality disorder thoroughly screened by the intact peripheral operation of all ordinary abilities. In relatively abstract or circumscribed situations, such as the psychiatric examination or the trial in court, these abilities do not show impairment but more or less automatically demonstrate an outer sanity unquestionable in all its aspects and at all levels accessible to the observer. That this technical sanity is little more than a mimicry of true sanity cannot be proved at such levels. Only when the subject sets out to conduct his life can we get evidence of how little his good theoretical understanding means to him, of how inadequate and insubstantial are the apparently normal basic emotional reactions and motivations convincingly portrayed and enunciated but existing in little more than two dimensions.
What we take as evidence of his sanity will not significantly or consistently influence his behavior. Nor does it represent real intention within, the degree of his emotional response, or the quality of his personal experience much more reliably than some grammatically well-formed, clear, and perhaps verbally sensible statement produced vocally by the autonomous neural apparatus of a patient with semantic aphasia can be said to represent such a patient's thought or carry a meaningful communication of it.
Let us assume tentatively that the psychopath is, in this sense, semantically disordered. We have said that his outer functional aspect masks or disguises something quite different within, concealing behind a perfect mimicry of normal emotion, fine intelligence, and social responsibility a grossly disabled and irresponsible personality. Must we conclude that this disguise is a mere pretense voluntarily assumed and that the psychopath's essential dysfunction should be classed as mere hypocrisy instead of psychiatric defect or deformity?
Let us remember that his typical behavior defeats what appear to be his own aims. Is it not he himself who is most deeply deceived by his apparent normality? Although he deliberately cheats others and is quite conscious of his lies, he appears unable to distinguish adequately between his own pseudo-intentions, pseudo-remorse, pseudo-love, and the genuine responses of a normal person. His monumental lack of insight indicates how little he appreciates the nature of his disorder. When others fail to accept immediately his "word of honor as a gentleman," his amazement, I believe, is often genuine. The term genuine is used here not to qualify the psychopath's intentions but to qualify his amazement. His subjective experience is so bleached of deep emotion that he is invincibly ignorant of what life means to others.
His awareness of hypocrisy's opposite is so insubstantially theoretical that it becomes questionable if what we chiefly mean by hypocrisy should be attributed to him. Having no major values himself, can he be said to realize adequately the nature and quality of the outrages his conduct inflicts upon others? A young child who has no impressive memory of severe pain may have been told by his mother it is wrong to cut off the dog's tail. Knowing it is wrong he may proceed with the operation. We need not totally absolve him of responsibility if we say he realized less what he did than an adult who, in full appreciation of physical agony, so uses a knife. Can a person experience the deeper levels of sorrow without considerable knowledge of happiness? Can he achieve evil intention in the full sense without real awareness of evil's opposite? I have no final answer to these questions.
Attempts to interpret the psychopath's disorder do not, of course, furnish evidence that he has a disorder or that it is serious. For reliable evidence of this we must examine his behavior. Only here, not in psychopathologic formulations, can we apply our judgment to what is objective and demonstrable. Functionally and structurally all is intact on the outside. Good function (healthy reactivity) will be demonstrated in all theoretical trials. Sound judgment as well as good reasoning are likely to appear at verbal levels. Ethical as well as practical considerations will be recognized in the abstract. A brilliant mimicry of sound, social reactions will occur in every test except the test of life itself. In the psychopath we confront a personality neither broken nor outwardly distorted but of a substance that lacks ingredients without which normal function in major life issues is impossible....
If such a disorder does indeed exist in the so-called psychopath, it is not remarkable that its recognition as a major and disabling impairment has been long delayed. Pathologic changes visible on the surface of the body (laceration, compound fractures) were already being handled regularly by medical men when the exorcism of indwelling demons retained popular favor in many illnesses now treated by the internist. So, too, it has been with personality disorders. Those characterized by gross outward manifestations have been accepted as psychiatric problems long before others in which a superficial appearance of sanity is preserved.
Despite the psychopath's lack of academic symptoms characteristic of those disorders traditionally classed as psychosis, he often seems, in some important respects, but not in all, to belong more with that group than with any other. Certainly his problems cannot be dealt with, medically or by any other means, unless similar legal instrumentalities for controlling his situation are set up and regularly applied.
I believe that if such a patient shows himself grossly incompetent in his behavior, he should be so appraised. It is necessary to change some of our legal criteria to make attempts at treatment or urgently needed supervision possible for him, the most serious objections are primarily theoretical. Perhaps our traditional definitions of psychiatric disability can stand alteration better than these grossly defective patients and those about them can stand the present farcical and sometimes tragic methods of handling their problems.
This is not to say that all people showing features of this type should be regarded as totally disabled. It is here maintained that this defect, like other psychiatric disorders, appears in every degree of severity and may constitute anything from a personality trait through handicaps of varying magnitude, including maximum disability and maximum threat to the peace and safety of the community.
In attempting to account for the abnormal behavior observed in the psychopath, we have found useful the hypothesis that he has a serious and subtle abnormality or defect at deep levels disturbing the integration and normal appreciation of experience and resulting in a pathology that might, in analogy with Henry Head's classifications of the aphasias, be described as semantic. Presuming that such a patient does fail to experience life adequately in its major issues, can we then better account for his clinical manifestations? The difficulties of proving, or even of demonstrating direct objective evidence, for hypotheses about psychopathology (or about ordinary subjective functioning) are too obvious to need elaborate discussion here.
If the psychopath's life is devoid of higher order stimuli, of primary or serious goals and values, and of intense and meaningful satisfactions, it may be possible for the observer to better understand the patient who, for the trivial excitement of stealing a dollar (or a candy bar), the small gain of forging a $20.00 check, or halfhearted intercourse with an unappealing partner, sacrifices his job, the respect of his friends, or perhaps his marriage. Behind much of the psychopath's behavior we see evidence of relatively mild stimuli common to all mankind. In his panhandling, his pranks, his truancy, his idle boasts, his begging, and his taking another drink, he is acting on motives in themselves not unnatural. In their massive accumulation during his career, these acts are impressive chiefly because of what he sacrifices to carry them out. If, for him, the things sacrificed are also of petty value, his conduct becomes more comprehensible.
Woolley, in an interesting interpretation of these patients, compared them with an otherwise intact automobile having very defective brakes.219 Such an analogy suggests accurately an important pathologic defect which seems to exist. In contrast with an automobile, however, the braking functions of the human organism are built into the personality by reaction to life experience, to reward and punishment, praise and blame, shame, loss, honor, love, and so on. True as Woolley's hypothesis may be, it seems likely that more fundamental than inadequate powers to refrain is the inadequate emotional reactivity upon which the learning to refrain must be based. Even with good brakes on his car, the driver must have not only knowledge of but also feeling for what will happen otherwise if he is to use them correctly and adequately.
Some of the psychopath's behavior may be fairly well accounted for if we grant a limitation of emotional capacity. Additional factors merit consideration. The psychopath seems to go out of his way to make trouble for himself and for others. In carelessly marrying a whore, in more or less inviting detection of a theft (or at least in ignoring the probability of detection), in attempting gross intimacies with a debutante in the poorly sheltered alcove just off a crowded ballroom, in losing his hospital parole or failing to be with his wife in labor just because he did not want to leave the crap game at midnight (or at 3 A.M.), in such actions there seems to be not only a disregard for consequences but an active impulse to show off, to be not discreet but conspicuous in making mischief. Apparently he likes to flaunt his outlandish or antisocial acts with bravado.
When negative consequences are negligible or slight (both materially and emotionally), who does not like to cut up a little, to make a bit of inconsequential fun, or perhaps playfully take off on the more sober aspects of living? Dignity might otherwise become pompousness; learning, pedantry; goodness, self-righteousness. The essential difference seems to lie in how much the consequences matter. It is also important to remember that inclination and taste are profoundly shaped by capacity to feel the situation adequately. A normal man's potential inclination to give the pretty hatcheck girl $100.00 would probably not reach awareness in view of his knowledge that this would result in his three children's not having shoes or in his having to humiliate himself by wheedling from a friend a loan he will never repay.
If, as we maintain, the big rewards of love, of the hard job well done, of faith kept despite sacrifices, do not enter significantly in the equation, it is not difficult to see that the psychopath is likely to be bored. Being bored, he will seek to cut up more than the ordinary person to relieve the tedium of his unrewarding existence. If we think of a theater half-filled with ordinary pubertal boys who must sit through a performance of King Lear or of Beethoven's Ninth Symphony, we need ask little of either imagination or memory to bring to mind the restless fidgeting, the noisy intercommunication of trivialities, the inappropriate guffaws or catcalls, and perhaps the spitballs or the mischievous application of a pin to the fellow in the next seat.
Apparently blocked from fulfillment at deep levels, the psychopath is not unnaturally pushed toward some sort of divertissement. Even weak impulses, petty and fleeting gratifications, are sufficient to produce in him injudicious, distasteful, and even outlandish misbehavior. Major positive attractions are not present to compete successfully with whims, and the major negative deterrents (hot, persistent shame, profound regret) do not loom ahead to influence him. If the 12-year-old boys could enjoy King Lear or the Ninth Symphony as much as some people do, they would not be so reckless or unruly....
In a world where tedium demands that the situation be enlivened by pranks that bring censure, nagging, nights in the local jail, and irritating duns about unpaid bills, it can well be imagined that the psychopath finds cause for vexation and impulses toward reprisal. Few, if any, of the scruples that in the ordinary man might oppose and control such impulses seem to influence him. Unable to realize what it meant to his wife when he was discovered in the cellar flagrante delicto with the cook, he is likely to be put out considerably by her reactions to this. His having used the rent money for a midnight long-distance call to an old acquaintance in California (with whom he bantered for an hour) also brings upon him censure or tearful expostulation. Considering himself harassed beyond measure, he may rise from the dining room table in a petty tantrum, curse his wife violently, slap her, even spit on her, and further annoyed by the sudden weeping of their 6-year-old daughter, throw his salad in the little girl's face before he strides indignantly from the room.
His father, from the patient's point of view, lacks humor and does not understand things. The old man could easily take a different attitude about having had to make good those last three little old checks written by the son. Nor was there any sense in raising so much hell because he took that dilapidated old Chevrolet for his trip to Memphis. What if he did forget to tell the old man he was going to take it? It wouldn't hurt him to go to the office on the bus for a few days. How was he (the patient) to know the fellows were going to clean him out at stud or that the little bitch of a waitress at the Frolic Spot would get so nasty about money? What else could he do except sell the antiquated buggy? If the old man weren't so parsimonious he'd want to get a new car anyway!
And why did he (the father) have to act so magnanimous and hurt about settling things last Saturday night down at the barracks? You'd think from his attitude that it was the old man himself who'd had to put up with being cooped in there all those hours with louse-infested riff-raff! Well, he'd thanked his father and told him how sorry he was. What else could a fellow do? As for that damned old Chevrolet, he was sick of hearing about it. His grudge passing with a turn of thought, he smiles with half-affectionate, playfully cordial feelings toward the old man as he concludes, "I ought to tell him to take his precious old vehicle and stick it up his _____!"
Lacking vital elements in the appreciation of what the family and various bystanders are experiencing, the psychopath finds it hard to understand why they continually criticize, reproach, quarrel with, and interfere with him. His employer, whom he has praised a few hours before, becomes a pettifogging tyrant who needs some telling off. The policeman to whom he gave tickets for the barbecue last week (because he is such a swell guy) turns out to be a stupid oaf and a meddler who can't mind his own business but has to go and arrest somebody just because of a little argument with Casey in the Midnight Grill about what happened to a few stinking dollar bills that were lying on the bar....
It is not necessary to assume great cruelty or conscious hatred in him commensurate with the degree of suffering he deals out to others. Not knowing how it hurts or even where it hurts, he often seems to believe that he has made a relatively mild but appropriate reprimand and that he has done it with humor. What he believes he needs to protest against turns out to be no small group, no particular institution or set of ideologies, but human life itself. In it he seems to find nothing deeply meaningful or persistently stimulating, but only some transient and relatively petty pleasant caprices, a terribly repetitious series of minor frustrations, and ennui.
Like many teenagers, saints, history-making statesmen, and other notable leaders or geniuses, he shows unrest; he wants to do something about the situation. Unlike these others, as Lindner has so well and convincingly stressed, he is a "rebel without a cause."188 Reacting with something that seems not too much like divine discontent or noble indignation, he finds no cause in the ordinary sense to which, he can devote himself with wholeheartedness or with persistent interest. In certain aspects his essential life seems to be a peevish bickering with the inconsequential. In other aspects he suggests a man hanging from a ledge who knows if he lets go he will fall, is likely to break a leg, may lose his job and his savings (through the disability and hospital expenses), and perhaps may injure his baby in the carriage just below. He suggests a man in this position who, furthermore, is not very tired and who knows help will arrive in a few minutes, but who, nevertheless, with a charming smile and a wisecrack, releases his hold to light a cigarette, to snatch at a butterfly, or just to thumb his nose at a fellow passing in the street below....
It is difficult to illustrate by incident, by the expressed attitude of the characters depicted, or by any clearly implied evaluation of the authors the specific quality of what is evoked in these novels as the essence of an unhappy, mutilated, and trivial universe in which all the characters exist. The sense of pathology pervades to levels so deep that rational scrutiny cannot reach and meet the fundamental implications; nor can inquiry satisfactorily demonstrate its precise source. If the actual world and man's biologic scope were only that conveyed in these interesting works, it would perhaps be less difficult to account for obsessive illness and for the psychopath's career as reasonable reactions to a situation where no course is possible except one profoundly pathologic in one way or another....
We should remember, however, that we have no direct evidence to prove that a deficiency or distortion of this sort exists in the unconscious core of the psychopath. We can only say that his behavior strongly and consistently suggests it. This discussion has been based, of course on a hypothesis that the psychopath has a basic inadequacy of feeling and realization that prevents him from normally experiencing the major emotions and from reacting adequately to the chief goals of human life. [pp 383-405, "Some Questions Still Without Adequate Answers"]