The Psychopaths Next Door
Part of my morning ritual everyday is to visit the two comics pages online and Foxtrot is one of them (the other is Doonesbury.) I've enjoyed Foxtrot for a number of years, though to be honest there are times when I wonder why as it doesn't really hit the issues like Doonesbury does, but then maybe that's why.
My last blog entry, Grizzly Man and Psychopaths, got me thinking about psychopaths and what it is that separates someone who anyone would look at and say, "God, that person's a psychopath", and the average person who for a multitude of possible reasons does things that are psychopathic in nature. Yesterday morning's cartoon rekindled this thinking, not only because it turned up here in Foxtrot, but I have heard kids at school talk about the videogame "Grand Theft Auto: Vice City", which Bill Amend is making fun of here in his comic strip. Here's a description of Grand Theft Auto (GTA):
The new GTA game is set in a fictional take on Miami, Florida, known as Vice City. The year is 1986, and Tommy Vercetti has just been released from prison after doing a 15-year stretch for the mob. The mob--more specifically, the Forelli family--appreciates Tommy's refusal to squeal in exchange for a lesser sentence, so they send him down to Vice City to establish some new operations. Tommy's first order of business in Vice City is to score a large amount of cocaine to work with. But Tommy's first drug deal goes sour, leaving him with no money, no cocaine, and no idea who wronged him. The mob is, of course, angry over the whole situation, and now Tommy has to make up for the loss before the gangsters come down from Liberty City to clean up the mess. As Tommy, you'll start the investigation, figure out who ripped you off, take care of business, and set up shop in Vice City in a big, big way. Oh, and you'll also drive taxis, get involved in a turf war between the Cubans and the Haitians, befriend a Scottish rock group named Love Fist, become a pizza delivery boy, smash up the local mall, demolish a building to lower real estate prices, hook up with a biker gang, run an adult film studio, take down a bank, and much, much more.
If you're concerned that this may be a bit over-the-top for your average teenager, be assured that GTA has its lighter side, too:
While Grand Theft Auto has always been a violent, mature-themed series, it has always balanced the violent crime with an equal amount of tongue-in-cheek humor and style. Vice City is no exception, presenting an exaggerated view of the 1980s that makes use of a number of the kitschy pop-culture stereotypes found in film and television from the decade. The drug-laced tale recalls such films as Scarface and television shows like Miami Vice. The humor comes mostly from the radio, which really drives home the sort of form-over-function mentality that most people associate with the '80s.
Now I have to ask myself, why is it that a game like this, and many others like it, is so popular with the average teenage boy? Now of course no one can really make the case that these games are turning kids into drug lords (well, at least not that I'm aware of anyway), but how is it that
something like this is so appealing to boys? They get to act like criminals, wantonly kill and maim, and indulge "form-over-function" mentalities - this is entertainment? I'm inclined to think that the reason this appeals is that it wouldn't take very much for a person to engage in this sort of thing in the real world were the circumstance right to induce such a thing, in other words it hits buttons in boys, and by and large it's boys who are playing these sorts of games, that are a basic part of their programming. So is there a thin line between our otherwise normally civilized selves and some psychopath self? I think that's true, but then maybe it's not so much a psychopath lurking in us as it is a high capacity for cruelty. The average human has a fair higher capacity for cruelty than they're otherwise inclined to think is the case, and maybe with a psychopath they're simply indulging cruelty without remorse - the rest of us, over time, will likely experience some measure of remorse, but they don't have that problem.
Well whatever the nature of psychopaths may be, there's us, the normal Jane and Joe, that we should be mindful of. Arnold Toynbee wrote a piece back in 1970 that you can find at Human Savagery Cracks Thin Veneer. He sums up what I've been thinking on this subject rather nicely:
There is a persistent vein of violence and cruelty in human nature. Man has often striven to rid himself of what he recognizes as being a hideous moral blemish, unworthy of human nature's better side. Sometimes man has fancied that he has succeed in civilizing himself.
Yes, indeed. We need to be sure that we don't kid ourselves about ourselves, like Timothy Treadwell in "Grizzly Man" kidded himself about the grizzlies and their relationship with him - we are cruel creatures, much of our actions throughout the world support this, even as do the videogames that our children play and enjoy.