Thursday, 2 April 2020

Outsiders.

Bogeymen, Real And Imagined: Is the number of psychopathic and sociopathic individuals in any given society truly as vanishingly small as we like to tell ourselves? Isn’t it more likely that the mass-shooters and serial-killers filling the headlines represent only the tip of a much, much larger iceberg of frightfulness? A proposition which, if true, raises another question: How big is that iceberg? What percentage of the population might best be described as “functioning” psychopaths and sociopaths?

WHAT IF THE BOGEYMAN is real? In six words, that is what Stephen King’s “The Outsider” is all about. The adaptation of King’s novel for HBO was exceptionally well done. The viewer, along with the hero, is led through the crack in reality which the arrival of “El Cuco” (the Spanish bogeyman) in a small Georgia town opens up. By the final, blood-soaked episode the suspension of our disbelief has become an accomplished fact. The Bogeyman is real.

King is no fool, however. Marching in lockstep with the supernatural is his depiction of the psychic disintegration of “El Cuco’s” slave – the would-be military sniper whose psychiatric test-results were so disturbing that, in spite of his excellent marksmanship, the military authorities felt obliged to decline his application. Thwarted, embittered, violent: “El Cuco’s” creature, now a police officer, spirals down into that all-too-real bogeyman – the American mass-shooter.

The festering sore that erupts on the back of the necks of “El Cuco’s” slaves may be a crude metaphor, but that doesn’t make it a bad one. How better to represent the raging social inflammations that have left no part of the United States uninfected? With mass shootings happening virtually every other day in the USA, we reach, almost unconsciously, for concepts like “a nation living under an evil spell”. When “natural” explanations come up short, where else is there to look except through that crack in reality – at the supernatural?

Resisting this temptation, we reassure ourselves that, even if a mass shooting occurred every single day in the USA, the number of shooters annually would only come to 365. In a nation of 327 million human-beings, 365 shooters represents a vanishingly small sliver (i.e. 0.0001%) of the population. Real though these mass-shooter bogeymen may be, we can at least comfort ourselves with the knowledge that there aren’t very many of them!

But, is that true? Is the number of psychopathic and sociopathic individuals in any given society truly as vanishingly small as we like to tell ourselves? Isn’t it more likely that the mass-shooters and serial-killers filling the headlines represent only the tip of a much, much larger iceberg of frightfulness? A proposition which, if true, raises another question: How big is that iceberg? What percentage of the population might best be described as “functioning” psychopaths and sociopaths?

An answer, of sorts, was provided just a few days ago in a Spinoff post by David Brain, co-founder of “Stickybeak” an online polling agency. Brain had been keen to discover the “mood of the nation” as New Zealand entered its first week of Level 4 lockdown. By in large, Kiwis responded positively to Stickybeak’s questions. Trust and confidence levels in the Government’s handling of the Covid-19 crisis were high.

Then came the question: “The government has now said that we all need to stay at home; not go to school or work; not travel or socialise with people outside our home for at least 4 weeks. Do you plan to comply?” It was not the fact that 91 percent of those participating in the poll affirmed their intention to comply with these rules that was surprising, but that 9 percent openly declared their intention to defy them.  

It is a disturbing result to reflect upon. In the midst of a state of national emergency, when the best medical advice insists that everyone other than workers in essential industries must “stay home and save lives”, an astonishing 9 percent of the population sees no reason to take the steps deemed necessary to keep the population – especially the elderly and other citizens with compromised immune systems – safe. Not even the warning that widespread lack of compliance with Level 4 rules would see the lockdown period extended, was enough to give these ‘9 Percenters’ pause.

It is possible, of course, that those indicating their intention not to comply with the rules are the very same essential service workers who must leave their “bubbles” to keep the rest of us safe. We must hope so. Because, if nearly 10 percent of the population are either sociopaths: manifesting grandiosity, narcissism, lack of empathy and a general disdain for the moral precepts that govern the conduct of their fellow citizens; or psychopaths: manifesting behaviour that is deviant, dysfunctional, distressing and/or just plain dangerous, then we are all in very serious trouble.

If 9 percent of the population refuses to comply with the lockdown’s rules, then the rest of us are not about to be released from it anytime soon. Indeed, it’s difficult to see how the Government’s strategy of eliminating Covid-19 can possibly succeed if close to a tenth of the population intends to withhold their co-operation.

It makes you think of all the perpetrators of domestic and family violence with whom the Police are required to contend every day. It recalls the behaviour of all the bosses and managers who have already signalled their callous indifference to the fate of their businesses’ employees during the Covid-19 crisis. You count up the thousands of cyber-bullies and Twitter trolls who delight in inflicting pain and humiliation on their fellow human-beings. And you remember all the postings and comments you’ve read over the past 7 days about New Zealand becoming a “police state”, and a “nation of narks”, and you can’t help wondering whether 9 percent is an underestimate of just how many real bogeymen and bogeywomen are out there.

As the Scots once prayed, and in these dismal times may still pray: “From ghoulies and ghosties and long-legged beasties and things that go bump in the night, Good Lord deliver us.” A grim list, to which Stephen King would no doubt add his own special plea for divine deliverance: from all those who position themselves outside the boundaries of human kindness and solidarity.

This essay was originally posted on The Daily Blog of Thursday, 2 April 2020.

19 comments:

Guerilla Surgeon said...

I suspect that the situation in the US, where people are far less concerned with the needs of society over the needs of the individual will be worse. Already two mega church leaders have been arrested for actually ENCOURAGING people to gather in large groups and forget about social distancing. It's one of my axioms, that in any large enough group there is bound to be a proportion of selfish eejits. Perhaps one or two arrests and incarcerations might encourage people to put the needs of society first. Being well over the age at which the death rate for this damn thing rises steeply, I would cheer them to the rafters.

KJT. said...

How many of the 99% intend to comply as best they can, with the intent of the lockdown?

I've seen several people, on Facebook, saying they intend to go hunting and fishing for food for themselves and others, or for their physical or psychological health, but they will still limit their activities to avoid others being put at risk, and are happy to keep to the distancing rules.

Obviously they are not going to follow the "letter" of the Governments rules, but they are not so sociopathic as to ignore the "intent".

Kat said...

The govt mentions looking into reinstating a version of the old MOW to manage looming massive unemployment and straight away out of the blocks comes Gareth Morgan saying no no no no no no no no no its up to the market and business to make decisions and govt should not be involved. Yeah right.

Yes the "outsiders" are coming out screaming.

Anonymous said...

Paragraph 8, second sentence contains a nice Freudian slip: “ ... saving lies”.

B'art Homme said...

Thanks Chris.

I suspect law abidence is always only ever going to be c. 9% I think of the fatally capital law to do with driving on the left hand side... I'd say perhaps 1% do no comply. Then speeding at least 9% maybe far more do not comply.

I suspect you're stretching facts in calling covid lockdown rule breakers psychopaths etc... For one thing...murder requires intent.

Not that you are intensionally shock jockeying here but I suspect like so many of us you are still reeling from the speed and pervasiveness of this puppy...

As a good thinker and historically oriented political perspectivist... It will be interesting to hear your considered thoughts about what c19 is all about, precedents, capitalism, the market, globalisation,and some useful stretching into our future...

Ta bra

petes new write said...

Another walk in the bush?

Tom Hunter said...

Well I'm sorry but that was always one of the stupidities of this lockdown strategy. For it to work it has to be close to 100% successful. Otherwise the law of compound interest can taken even that 1% and quickly multiply it.

There is no known process that is 100% efficient.

The real question then will be what NZ will do about this. Based on the reactions of my Left-voting friends here and around he world I think the answer is obvious. An even more hardline crackdown by the government security forces.

And don't worry about manpower shortages in the Police or the Army: as in all such situations there will be unemployed men eager to earn money. They'll have little or no training in many things, but being taught how to use a firearm or a blackjack is much quicker than learning about the laws around Civil Liberty that so concern the likes of Andrew Geddis.

Anonymous said...

"What percentage of the population might best be described as “functioning” psychopaths and sociopaths?" Not sure about the clinical definition however many of the managers I've known over a 45 year private sector career in NZ SMEs & Multinational organisations were largely self interested to the point of being dysfunctional wrt achieving sustained business success. Since the 1990s they were enabled by an ever increasing group of "fast track" business school Uni graduates who "knew it all" academically while having no business experience & were only interested in progressing their own careers managing up & using/walking over everyone below them. I saw the chickens come home to roost many times & that is likely to accelerate in the current crisis.

kiwidave said...

Bad timing Chris, I see Minister of health Clark has been busted driving miles from home so he can dick around on his bike. What's he doing back home, mid week, in the middle of this crises for a start.
I'm sure he'll be told to be a good boy and given a (virtual?) hug.
Some animals are more equal than others!

Guerilla Surgeon said...

What on earth difference does it make if someone "drives for miles" to "dick around on his bike" or if they just "dick around" locally? I can't see any logic here to be honest. It is not as if he's crossing any coronavirus borders or anything. As long as he maintains a social distancing I can't see what relevance how far he drives to do it has. This is just as much at criticism of the government as it is of Kiwi Dave to be honest. These regulations should be both clear and more importantly logical.

Bonzo said...

GS says "Perhaps one or two arrests and incarcerations might encourage people to put the needs of society first. Being well over the age at which the death rate for this damn thing rises steeply, I would cheer them to the rafters."

How heroic! We're not talking the "greatest generation" here are we? Narcissistic boomer seems to tick all the boxes. Screw my children's future, incinerate my grandchildren's future, just keep my scrawny arse safe.

David Stone said...

G S @ 12 36

I've been puzzling about that a bit too. The only thing is if the mountain biking provides more of a risk of injury and thus the need for rescue etc. But you can't get much exercise without some risk.

D J S

Nick J said...

Nice observations Anonymous. I remember the advent of MBAs in the 80s. Prior to that managers most important attributes were high EQ, good broad grounding and experience in their industry and some of that undefined quality of charisma / leadership".

The problem with that was that it took time and on job training /, mentoring and was not easily expanded. MBAs cured that with academically taught cookie cutter skills. Quietly in the background any me firster sociopath who would previously have been weeded out had a quick pass to the top. That of course fitted well in the neo liberal corporate worldview.

Guerilla Surgeon said...

Bonzo. What the fuck? These people are not just putting my scrawny arse in danger, they're putting everyone's arses in danger including their own – just because the death rate for young people is lower than mine doesn't mean to say they don't die. Babies have died. But you don't seem to give a fuck so who are we talking about being narcissistic here? On reflection, probably a libertarian. Eejit.

Bonzo said...

CS says "These people are not just putting my scrawny arse in danger, they're putting everyone's arses in danger including their own – just because the death rate for young people is lower than mine doesn't mean to say they don't die. "

Jesus Christ man get off your virtuous high horse. We are not all in this together. The WHO says that 95% of Europes dead are over the age of 60. 95%. We are destroying our economies and the future of our children to save, almost exclusively, Boomers like you. They ARE saving your scrawny arse AND you'll let them pay for it later. Show a little humility.

Guerilla Surgeon said...

You know what Bonzo, on my other favourite blogs where freedom of speech is value little more highly than here, the common response to idiot trolls like you is

1."Fuckoff troll"
2. "Blocked"
3. "Muted"

#2 and #3 are unavailable on this rather archaic blog site, so if I appear to be ignoring you in future, it's because I'm invoking #1.

Bonzo said...

Liberace has left the building... clutching his pearls and candelabra.

Guerilla Surgeon said...

You know what, you became a troll as soon as you mentioned my skinny boomer arse. And as soon as you did that I cannot be arsed with your flabby millennial arse or your flabby millennial mind. Now tell me, how much did that second sentence add to the discussion here?
Not to mention the fact that your analysis – such as it is - is full of shit. We are not closing down the country to annoy you and your little snowflake friends. (See – more useless insults) we are closing the country so that the hospitals aren't overwhelmed with coronavirus cases, and don't have to turn away people with coronavirus and maybe other diseases that might kill them. Jesus Christ your level of ignorance equals your level of rudeness.

So rule #1 applies.

Bonzo said...

Jesus mate... you only had one rule. "so if I appear to be ignoring you in future". What went wrong?