31 October, 2020

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Psychopathology Anyone?

By Emil van der Poorten

Emil van der Poorten

Emil van der Poorten

While there has been no dearth of analysis of one description or another of Sri Lanka’s progress towards an out-and-out dictatorship and of the hopeful signs since the 8th of January 2015 of at least a partial retreat from that headlong journey to perdition, at no point has the state of affairs from which I hope we escaped (at least temporarily) been subjected to a psychiatric/psychological examination. Neither has there has there been, to my knowledge, any attempt to put those dictating the direction in which this country has been taken on some kind of psychological/psychiatric examination table. In fact, leave alone microscopic examination, there hasn’t even been cursory attention paid to what made those who governed us “tick.”

While there has been no shortage, particularly since the white van menace has been in (temporary?) abeyance, of those who are now brave enough to classify the crimes of the recently dethroned, those critiques have generally been of the narrower “political” kind, listing the financial excesses and outright thefts committed in the name of governance in the “Democratic Socialist Republic of Sri Lanka.” Overall, there has been measurement of the miscreants on a scale of “badness.” However, the matter of “madness,” clinical or otherwise and serious examination for signs of mental illness driving particular behaviours has been conspicuous by its absence.

What got me thinking about this subject which is of particular relevance in our current context, was a piece by Prof. Raveen Hanwella in the MEDiScene supplement to the Sunday Times of April 26th, in which he deals quite comprehensively with the topic of the psychopath, given the length of the article.

Namal MahindaThe simple yardstick of measurement he adopts is extracted from a test devised by psychologist Dr. Robert D. Hare: Psychopathy Check List – Revised (PCL-R). To quote Prof. Hanwella: “The following are some of the traits listed: glib and superficial, egocentric and grandiose, lack of remorse or guilt, lack of empathy, deceitful and manipulative, shallow emotions, impulsive, poor behavior controls, need for excitement, lack of responsibility, early behavior problems and adult.(sic).”

Prof. Hanwella provides this basic information in the context of parents who had sought his assistance in dealing with serious behavioral problems displayed by their son. However, the yardstick that Prof. Hanwella provides can obviously be applied to measure those outside this specific case and I would suggest to anyone reading this (or Prof. Hanwella’s piece in MEDiScene) that they give serious thought to its application to Sri Lanka’s current crop of politicians, with particular reference to the behavior of the leaders in the regime that was defeated on the 8th of January.

On a personal note, I have a distinct recollection of my first experience of someone who would meet the criteria for a psychopath during my years in Canada. Despite the fact that I had worked very closely for several years with First Nations people in North Central Alberta, it was not until about 1990 that I had my first experience of working in circumstances where the Indian Act operated and some of the basic laws of the land did not appear to apply, giving unscrupulous Chiefs and their Band Councils the kind of power that the Rajapaksa Regime exerted over Sri Lanka.

To cut a long story short, an ambitious but very viable project to generate much-needed economic development on an Indian Reserve ended up a complete shambles because of the lowest common denominators of personal favouritism and financial corruption overriding every moral, ethical and even business impulse. (Sound familiar?!) At the time, my wife and I were nonplussed by what was happening around us, with the Chief (of the Indian Band) who was bonhomie personified, doing things that were totally unprincipled and seemingly out of character and which were destroying the entire project. Unfortunately, we didn’t have Prof. Hanwella’s check-list of symptoms at our disposal at the time! When, shortly after this unnerving experience, I was describing what had happened and attributing what we had experienced to the amorality of one man and his acolytes (the Band Chief and his Council), I saw a smile gradually enveloping my listener’s face. The obvious question burst forth: “Why are you smiling like that?” The reply of the person who was expressing wry amusement at my tale of woe was, “You are describing the classic symptoms of a psychopath, no less.” I couldn’t but place significant credibility on this opinion because it came from a consultant psychologist with years of experience.

I would suggest that anyone turning an objective eye on the Rajapaksa Regime, would be well advised to apply the criteria just listed. He or she will have ample evidence of truly psychopathic behaviour.

The unfortunate part of this tale is that, while there have been societal responses, of a theoretical nature at least, to “bad” behaviour” in the governance of this country there have been few, indications, if any, of attention being paid to the matter of “mad” behaviour. This has been particularly evident in Sri Lanka since the emergence of the xenophic “Master Race” syndrome. A classic example of the damage that fiction could do was that even so much as the mention of Post Traumatic Stress Disorder after a 30-year war that could not but have had a massively brutalizing effect on the national psyche simply provoked a xenophobic response that went something to the effect of, “Members of a nation built on Sinhala Buddhism, cannot conceivably contract such a disease of the weak! “ Sound familiar and, perhaps, reminiscent of a nineteen-thirties Germany?

I expect that the last sentences of the previous paragraph are going to provoke paroxysms of rage from the very people who, no matter how unknowingly, subscribe to and actively support such thinking and the resultant irreparable damage to Sri Lanka.

If we didn’t realize that we were gulled by psychopaths while it was happening, I hope it is not too late to wake up to the fact even now. Or are our own egos so closely intertwined with those of the manipulators to whom we were in thrall for so many years, that we cannot see the wood for the trees and will continue to follow the same or some other tyrant piper down the path to final destruction?

Even if we cannot or choose not to expose and bring to trial of one kind or another, those whose criminally insane behaviour caused irreparable damage to the Sri Lankan nation, the least we can do to maintain something resembling national sanity is to recognize what was done in the name of governance, who did it and the fact that, it was then and is now TOTALLY unacceptable. Even if punishment is not to be meted out for whatever reason, we need to learn from our ignorance of psychopaths and their pattern of conduct, that there is an unimaginable danger in putting our lives and that of our children and grandchildren in their care. THAT is what we, as a nation, did for the past decade and that is what we, as a nation, have to reject as the path for a Sri Lanka of the 21st Century and beyond.

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Latest comments

  • 4
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    Hold on a sec …. aren’t the two watches the pious devotees are wearing showing two different times??

    • 4
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      Emil van der Poorten,

      Do I see Maha Mootal and Chuti Mootal here?

      They Seek Astrologers, Temples Viharas, Devales etc.

      Bertrand Russel is supposed to have said, “95% of the solution is identifying the problem”.

      The Problem is the Modayas, Mootals and Fools. They sleep with the Liars, Crooks, Robbers, Criminals, Racists, Communalists, and now seek Dively intervention.

      They belong with Mara and wherever Mara resides.

    • 5
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      Ha ha ha… now you know the extent of madness we have been dealing with!

    • 4
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      the young man on the right cannot read and count, so it does not matter what the hands of his watch indicate. He wears one of his 365 watches everyday for show, for others to see.

      • 0
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        thrishu

        “the young man on the right cannot read and count, so ..”

        How come he got a law Degree from the Law College and is currently enrolled in a Sri lankan university to do a Ph.D.?

  • 2
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    Paddy.

    Sherlock Holmes eh?

  • 4
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    Emil van der Poorten,

    If you have been reading Kusal Perera’s articles in the CT you would realize that he brings out the sickness in the Sinhala society. The politicians didn’t descend from the sky – they are from the society that has been condoning such behavior by the politicians.

    Mass atrocities against Sinhala youth in two waves and pogroms and state imposed massacres against Tamil people many a times including during the war has not stirred the conscience of the Sinhala society: the society also took part in these atrocities.

    The society has in fact become immune and amoral to such inhuman behavior by the politicians, the state and the people. The society needs psychiatric or shock treatment like what the Germans had during the second world war’s end.

    • 3
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      Thiru:
      I find it hard to dispute the facts you lay out. However, I believe that, as was the case with Hitler (and several others before and since) historical circumstances made it possible for truly evil and totally conscienceless people to play on the fears and prejudices of desperate segments of society who often had little choice, because of their economic circumstances, but to go along with the “quick fixes” that were offered.

      • 0
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        Emily

        [Edited out]

  • 3
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    Politicians will always play out the people after coming to power

  • 3
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    Emil,

    This is too close for comfort for some ‘Yakkos’ to grasp and, you will be receiving plenty of brickbats in the next few days.

    I feel certain the sense of superiority and/or entitlement the deposed ruling clan personified came also from the worship they received from the ‘baiyas’ surrounding them.

    Everyone of us, except the mentally unstable, have a sense of right and wrong albeit of different degrees. How we choose to act upon them is another issue, and is relevant to the research your article refers to.

  • 3
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    The so called ‘society’ doesn’t want to understand the seriousness of the damage done to the country, people, mostly brutalized Tamils, destruction of their properties, livelihood,worshiping places, arable and fertile lands, education, schools and so many completely destroyed things.
    So many deaths, enforced disappearances, murder, rape…the entire society may or may not know every thing (which were successfully blacked out) but the ‘society’ wants everything to be forgotten for the sake of ‘false’ peace and unacceptable reconciliation. How things could be reconciled without those crimes are brought forward, investigated and justice done ?
    The society will, for sure. go on doing the same thing again and again, if the culprits are not given due punishment. That was why all these crimes and rowdyism continued since 1958 and going on with more and more vigor and violence.

    Law,order, discipline, punishment are the deterrent tools to stop this convenient racist madness. People and the bad rulers are not mad, they know very well as to what they are doing. They (except many good souls)breed full scale racism, attack others they just hate and get a savagery and sadistic kick out of it. Those kinds of people will behave only if law of rule is strictly enforced without prejudice or favoritism.

    Reconciliation could be considered only after civility, equal rights are restored and racial discrimination is completely eradicated. Unity and success will follow, peace will bloom !

  • 3
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    Except persons who became leaders accidentally such as Madam Sirimawo and Mr D B Wijetunge, all others who governed us probably had features that you mention in the checklist of a psychopath. If you look around, you’d find that the top level managers in fortune 500 companies do have these features. Otherwise, they would not have ascended to that height, some would say.
    I wonder whether Mr Prabhakaran would top the list when it comes to psychopaths. It is easy to point fingers towards people like Rajapaksa, Premadasa, Wijeweera and Prabhakaran as they are very visible. The difficult part is to identify the psychopaths among the doctors and journalists. A head of a media institutions who wittingly direct publishing of harmful information for the majority of public, for example glorified article of a celebrity suicide, exaggerated feature article or a documentary which will incite racial disharmony or deliberate concealment of corporate activity which is known to cause public health disaster, would escape being noticed, nevertheless would qualify to be psychopathic on similar grounds. One need not have a degree in psychology to come to such conclusion.
    The indian story is interesting and we may see parallels everywhere in the world where indigenous people are subjected to exploitation, usually by the white race. The effect of colonisation and neoliberal political economy deliberately created such situates in countries such as Canada and Australia. Irrespective of the social policies and government regulations, the economics of those countries were geared to create ‘chiefs’ who would allow the “White” masters to subjugate the wider communities by allowing bribery and corruptions to flourish. That is how they acquired land and oil and iron and gold from the native populations in ‘legal’ ways.
    You may find enough material in the internet to read on the effect of colonisation on indigenous people in the world. And re-read ‘confessions of an economic hit man’ to recapitulate the tactics of the neoliberal masters of the world.
    Psychopathy among the doctors is more difficult to identify. Especially when they are popular and made popular by media. The list of ‘good doctors’ you get when consulted a receptionist in a top private hospital in colombo would give one some idea. The true list could be obtained from pharmaceutical companies

    • 2
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      Bala:
      Thank you for those comments, with particular reference to colonialism and neo-colonialism.
      While one can’t quibble with your broad historical perspective, let me assure you from several years of hands-on experience working with First Nations, immigrants and refugees in Canada (better than a quarter century) that colonial history is only part of the story. The stage might have been set and cultural norms established by them, but are we (in the case of Sri Lanka) going to blame assorted invaders from India, the Portuguese, Dutch and English for what has been happening since 1948? A little defeatist, to say the least, I’d suggest.
      The manner in which I saw many new Canadians succeeding in making good lives for themselves, integrating rather than being simply assimilated, into the so-called mainstream is a case in point. I suspect that Canada’s policy of multiculturalism has a great deal to do with that fact and maybe there is a lesson, as there is in the matter of its Charter of Rights and Freedoms, for Sri Lanka. Mind you the Canadian situation is far from perfect insofar as minorities, particularly its aboriginal people, are concerned but is still in start contrast to our Sri Lankan reality.

      Also, Kotelawela might not have been the greatest of PMs but he went with dignity when defeated, as did Dudley Senanayake in 1970. Additionally, Dudley was accused of being “gutless” for resigning of his own volition after the deaths associated with the Hartal of 1953 when he was PM. Hardly the behaviour of a psychopath or megalomaniac!

  • 3
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    What is wrong with Mr Poorten to explore Psychiatry and Psychoanalysis.?.

    Elite, Anglicans and the Muslims were over the moon after their idol Ranil, got the unelected PM job.

    Ranil and his cohorts went around sacking poor Sinhala Buddhist small employees in BOI, RDA an UDA to please and impress the UNP supporters and their Elite mates in Colombo.

    But he couldn’t even touch Dr Mervyn, Mr Duminda and so many other real Sharks who got real Moolay from dodgy deals during the previous Regime. because they are from the rich UNP stocks or they are drinking and sleeping.with the Elite.

    Thankfully our SB President realized the injustice,intervened and saved the poor employees who were sacked by Ranil.

    That was the main item in the President’s speech yesterday at the Mayday Rally.

    Wonder whether the Diaspora have a May Day Rally in Scarborough or down town Toronto where Mr Pooerten can give a speech to the Diaspora non elite small workers like the ones the Yahapalana PM sacked in Srilanka.

    BTW, Has Mr Poorten managed to get a good deal for his Durian crew from Yahapalana bosses in Wilpattu?.

    Or has he moved to Qubec for good?.

    • 0
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      I usually run through the comments to catch K.A Sumanasekera’s for the comic relief it usually provides. I get the feeling he is peeved because readers are not granting him the respect he deserves because he is a Sinhala-Buddhist and apparently that alone should qualify him as a scholar, a pseudo fact he never fails to slip in between the lines and wherever the opportunity arises.

  • 1
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    K.A. Sumanasekera:
    I’d be in paroxysms of mirth if my parents hadn’t brought me up so that I wouldn’t laugh at the mentally unstable.

    Now, to add to the English tuition teacher that you need we’ll have to add some expert on religion/community, given that you have made me part of “Elite, Anglicans and the Muslims …”
    You have presented me with an additional problem by moving me from Scarborough, Ontario, where the English language predominates and I have never lived, to Quebec where French does!
    Now we’ll also have to get you a “Geography master!”
    Talk about a multiply-challenged ….!

  • 0
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    What is the man who prevented psycho-social counselling to those who went through Mullivaikkal and Menik Farm praying to Buddha about?

  • 0
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    The problem with Hani as he is known “in the house” is that he is always “in a hurry”. There are rumors that the ladies confirm this.

    Before rushing off to class the poor fellow as a psychopath tell Hani to take a look at the symptomology of Narcissistic personality disorder.Tell him to take into account the violent family relationships that are not mentioned in the symptomology but which are very well known to psychotherapists like himself.

    The anal sadism of the goat will also be an interesting subject to explore especially its relationship to the anal masochism of that fraudulent justice of the chief and also no less than that of you know whom which may account for why the goat is free while the basil is not.

    Sexuality and psychopathology it seems according to uncle Freud, are closely related it seems which is why whatever one may accuse cousin Chandika of being one can never accuse HER of being crazy.

  • 2
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    Emil it is not psycopath but sociopath which is more dangerous disease. It looks like our administrative system is also governed by sociopaths as they too are not sensitive to the effects.

    It is timely that you brought up this subject.

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