This is something I wrote 2 months ago, shortly after the horrific revelations about the sexual abuse of a child at Penn State surfaced. I thought that republishing it today, right after the death of Paterno, might be a timely reminder of the way things work.
"Not even a lifetime of heroism can make up for leaving a single child alone, abandoned to evil, weeping in the dark."
That was the final line in a column, entitled "The Devil and Joe Paterno," by ROSS DOUTHAT in the NY Times. The conservative columnist tries, rather superficially, to understand how men who do good deeds and good work could also commit heinous acts.
"Bad and mediocre people are tempted to sin by their own habitual weaknesses. The earlier lies or thefts or adulteries make the next one that much easier to contemplate. But good people, heroic people, are led into temptation by their very goodness — by the illusion, common to those who have done important deeds, that they have higher responsibilities than the ordinary run of humankind. It’s precisely in the service to these supposed higher responsibilities that they often let more basic ones slip away."
Sorry, Ross, but that doesn't really explain it, does it?
What does explain it, though, is a deeper knowledge of how the disorder known as "psychopathy" works.
Most people, when they hear the word "psychopath," think of mobsters, hedge fund operators and serial killers. But those criminals, crooks and maniacs are actually "sociopaths." As such, they are only part of a small and extreme subdivision of the "psychopathic character structure."
People with this type of personality are as frequently hailed as heroes as they are villains. How can this be so? Well, it is so because the person stuck in a psychopathic character structure serves his ego above all else and to a degree unlike any other personality type. Consequently, genuine empathy is not present to a normal degree in this person.
Power and control over others is what is sought by the psychopath, and if that comes through doing great good or doing great harm, it is irrelevant to this person in the deeper regions of their psyche. Cop or criminal, priest or politician, Guru or corporate scam artist, they are all roles that attract persons with psychopathy because they are positions that bring high levels of power and control.
While Ross Douthat may think it is easier for those he labels as "bad and mediocre people" to commit common "thefts and adulteries," it is very often the heros and kings that commit the types of crimes that cause devastation and disaster to many.