Wed | Sep 19, 2018

Garth Rattray | Harmed and dangerous (Part 2)

Published:Monday | November 20, 2017 | 12:00 AM

When a youngster grows up under-privileged, sexually, physically, and psychologically abused, and feeling abandoned/ ignored/unloved by mainstream (read privileged) society, there is a real danger that he/she will become dysfunctional and do anything to mitigate the psychological pain.

There is sometimes a simmering inner rage that could be misdirected into violence. Some people use that fire within to chart a positive path in life by excelling at something productive. But others resort to a more accessible pathway and engage in destructive, vengeful criminality.

Compounding the malevolent mix of social malfunction and malcontent was the politics of the 1970s, with its attendant hate, unhealthy rivalry, hero worship, dependency, violence, disrespect for human life and the deadly gun culture. All of them persist until today, albeit modified somewhat by contemporaneous social nuances.

Until we decisively deal with society's sins of commission and omission that are harming hundreds of thousands every day, we will be constantly plagued by dangerous, antisocial criminals who have no real purpose in life and, likewise, see no purpose for ours. Society's biggest sin of omission is the lack of love towards one another, especially towards our children.

Additionally, there is a genetic component to some of the violence within the society. American neuroscientist and professor of psychiatry and human behaviour, James Fallon, revealed in a BBC expose how he accidentally came to find out that he, a well-educated intellectualand decent, law-abiding citizen, possessed "the brain imaging pattern and genetic makeup of a full-blown psychopath". He was conducting research on convicted psychopaths who were awaiting their sentencing when their brain scan data became mixed up with those of some of his 'control subjects' - his family members and his own readings. It became a blind study (he didn't know whose data he was analysing).




Serial killers and psychopaths do not respond to test stimuli that would evoke empathy or disgust in normal human beings. In those individuals, their emotional-social brain areas did not show any response during scanning ... they were turned off. Whereas normal individuals might briefly think of committing a gruesome act and then become repulsed by their own thoughts, psychopaths act out their imaginings without any care or remorse.

The professor found that his brain scan revealed high levels of aggression and low levels of emotional empathy along with low levels of anxiety. The professor wrote, "I first discovered my 'hidden' psychopathy in 2006 during a series of scientific and clinical studies of murderers and patients with psychopathy and schizophrenia, as well as a separate imaging genetics study of Alzheimer's disease in which I happened to be a control subject."

When Professor Fallon returned to his childhood home, he inquired about his early childhood for objective clues to his shocking discovery. Family friends and eventually his mother revealed troubling signs of his occult psychopathic personality. He revealed that several respected, successful admired CEOs and world leaders (including several American presidents) possessed psychopathic traits when tested but were never manifestly psychopathic or criminal. In fact, those traits made them efficient leaders.

The professor deduced, "But why, in the light of the fact I have all of the biological markers for psychopathy, including a turned-off limbic system, the high-risk genetic alleles, and the attendant behaviours, including well over half of those listed in the psychopathy tests and low emotional empathy, did I turn out to be a successful professor and family man?

One most likely reason is that although I have the genetic makeup of a 'born' psychopath, some of those very same risk genes in someone showered with love (versus abuse or abandonment), from childbirth through the critical first few years of life, appear to offset the psychopathy-inducing effects of the other risk genes."

The professor mused, "If my world fell apart, what would I do?" He wondered what would happen if he were unloved and/or abused. Would he become a criminal or a killer? Chances are that he would, but because he was treated with love, respect and kindness, those dangerous genetic traits were turned off. Nurture triumphed over nature.

The professor emphasised that, if we want a safe society, we need to produce 'empathetic citizens' through love and respect.

- Garth A. Rattray is a medical doctor with a family practice. Email feedback to and