By Prakash Kona
Dr. Ramani Durvasula’s book “Don’t You Know Who I Am?”: How to Stay Sane in an Era of Narcissism, Entitlement, and Incivility is an accurate study of the kind of people we are likely to come across whether at workplaces or in our relationships. That psychopaths seek power to normalize their behavior and legitimize it through occupying public positions, is a fact of life. The “Don’t You Know Who I Am?” attitude is particularly prevalent in countries like India where men and women who occupy positions of power are treated like demi-gods. Usually they are surrounded by sycophants who are eager to massage the boss where it pleases them the most.
The proverbial truth is that every psychopath in power needs a bunch of sycophants to prop their insecure and fragile ego. Sycophancy is a way of life in a classist-feudal setup, irrespective of the caste, region, race, language or religion that one belongs to. A lot of people with university degrees and diplomas, declaring that they know something worthwhile, dedicate their lives to being servile bystanders within institutions and organizations. That the sycophant is privately violent and passive aggressive is a well-documented fact. Suits them perfectly to live like donkeys happy to carry weights while sucking up to the ass wearing the tiger’s skin and parading as the Alpha male.
I use the terms psychopath and sociopath almost interchangeably though I am sure that there are subtle variations. I am slightly more inclined to go with the clinical term “antisocial personality disorder.” The antisocial personality is usually someone who will either bend over backwards to kowtow to power or use power to abuse others. The ones who grovel before power are antisocial because it is about safeguarding their own petty interests without any concern for others. The ones who use power against others are perceived as the worse of the two because the potential for doing harm is greater. The latter want to be recognized by the office they hold because deep down they know that they are nothing.
Where dishonesty and competition for resources is the norm, there is bound to be a certain kind of psychopathology to everyday life. In India, for instance, corruption and corrupt individuals are viewed as completely normal. There is no stigma or shame associated with corruption, to the extent that being corrupt could also be a badge of honor. People betray their friends and colleagues as easily as drinking water from a fountain on a hot summer’s day because they don’t want to be seen as inimical to power. A fundamentally unequal society has no way of communicating normally except through the language of power.
The psychopaths or antisocial personalities that interest me the most are the ones who make it their business to wear a mask in public and hide their true character beneath lies. Although it is easy to dismiss such types as “sick” and in need of help, what needs to be borne in mind is that certain kinds of sickness can be infectious and put the entire social order on a ventilator. The worst part is when we have created a social order where psychopaths are viewed as completely “normal” beings. This normalizing of psychopathic behavior on a large scale creates a sick society. The institutions are sick because the people inhabiting those spaces are themselves sick. What follows is a sick government, a sick political order, a sick law and order system and a sick civil society.
Where lying and deception are normal everyday behavior you are in the country of the blind where to be able to “see” means that you are abnormal. That’s what the HG Wells short story “The Country of the Blind” is all about. Nuñez the protagonist believes that because he can see, he could change things and make the others realize the value of sight. But being able to see is what ends up putting him at odds with the rest of the people who are comfortable and at home with their lack of sight. They are used to the life of blindness and are unwilling to see at all costs. This is what happens in countries where power can be bought with lies, deception and money. This creates a fertile ground for psychopaths to obtain the false “respectability” and social status that comes with power.
A place like India where people talk about caste and religion because they have nothing else to talk about, is a proper case study of how colonialism has turned psychopathic behavior into the norm cutting across the public versus private divide. Congenitally incapable of recognizing individual worth, we believe that hierarchies are a divinely ordained way to treat people as either inferior or superior, depending on one’s social standing. The average Indian is not particularly excited to learn that dark matter and dark energy are the driving forces behind the origins of the universe. That the earth and the universe will come to an end one-day means nothing to them. Their sense of time is less than that of a castrated bull moose desperate to grow new antlers. I refuse to be carried away by any of those ideologies that claim to represent oppressed groups. Give power to members of the so-called marginal communities and they will act in exactly the same way as members of a socially advanced group. Rarely will you find individuals who will rise above the seductions of power and create bridges between communities and social groups.
The kind of malice and hostility by so-called oppressed people who routinely play the role of victims even when they are victimizing others, is sickness beyond doubt. Toxic people are psychopaths with a personal agenda. It doesn’t matter what caste or religion they belong to. They are sick. Period. The deeper problem is that because society is an unequal one, the toxic psychopath seeks power as the only way that one can literally get respect or attention. The respect is of course not for who you are but for the position you occupy. But, often, the psychopath wants the world to believe that the position they occupy is their real self. Never happens that way. President Roosevelt is Franklin Delano Roosevelt who happened to be the president of the United States. He is not a president first and a person next. He is himself first and foremost an individual in his own right. For whatever reasons, he also happened to become the president of the United States at some point in his life. That’s not how a psychopath would look at it.
The “normal” psychopaths are cowards who thrive on the fear they instill in others. The subservient others are not without their own agenda. For them, flattery is the way forward through life. A typical profile of a psychopath is not something one is not familiar with. The psychopath with a devouring inferiority complex coming from an abused childhood. The psychopath who was treated as less than a dog and wanted to show the world that they are more than dogs, even if they are not completely human. Psychopaths, especially if they are men, who want to show other men that they are more male than them. The psychopaths, who earlier crawled the seas as jellyfish, now want to show that they have a spine after all. The psychopath beaten by his father and deprived of the support of a weak mother. One can go on endlessly to look at both the subservient types who will support anything to save their skins and the oppressive ones who will go to any extent to gain recognition.
Does that mean that the psychopath never gets to pay for their sins? Far from it: people pay the price for the choices they make. The one who is a psychopath is already going through a punishment in the form of a living hell. The torments of the devils in Milton’s Paradise Lost pale in comparison to the hell of the psychopaths. They know that they generate contempt when they meet people. Deprived of any real recognition, the psychopath has to rely on their sycophantic admirers, who themselves are objects of contempt. The irony however is that the sycophant who worships power is not looking at the person. They worship anyone occupying the position of power. In other words, for the sycophant one psychopath is as good as another as long as the individual is in power.
Can one stay sane where the narcissist bully and their sycophant supporters are seen as normal beings and not as abnormal as they should be seen? Of course, not! Political systems, bureaucracies, courts of law, public institutions, universities and corporate organizations, wherever bullyism and thuggery are the order of the day, they must be confronted even at the risk of being sidelined and victimized. While every psychopath is also a sycophant before a slightly more powerful person, it goes without saying that unless we create a system that is based on equality and respect for all, there is no end to the psychopathology of everyday life.