Consider this extract from a piece by Anthony Daniels in The New Criterion:
In his essay, The Empire of the Ugly, the great Belgian Sinologist and literary essayist Simon Leys recounts the story of how, writing one day in a café, a small incident gave him an insight into the real nature of philistinism.
A radio was playing in the background, a mixture of banal and miscellaneous chatter and equally banal popular music. No one in the café paid any attention to this stream of tepid drivel until suddenly, unexpectedly and inexplicably, the first bars of Mozart’s clarinet quintet were played.
“Mozart,” Leys says, “took possession of our little space with a serene authority, transforming the café into an antechamber of Paradise.”
The other people in the café, who until then were chatting, playing cards, or reading the newspaper, were not deaf to the radio after all. The music silenced them, they looked at each other, disconcerted. “Their disarray lasted only a few seconds: to the relief of all, one of them stood up, changed the radio station and re-established the flow of noise that was more familiar and comforting, which everyone could then properly ignore.”
Here is the conclusion Leys draws:
At that moment, I was struck by an obvious fact that has never left me since: that the real philistines are not those people incapable of recognizing beauty – they recognize it only too well, with a flair as infallible as that of the subtlest aesthete, but only to pounce on it, and smother it before it can take root in their universal empire of ugliness.
Thus philistinism is a positive, not merely a negative force.
In the article Daniels mentions other examples including that of Liberian rebels sawing off the legs of the only Steinway grand piano in the land, thereby rendering it useless. Now maybe this is just about snobs objecting to the blue-collar tastes of regular folks. But let’s take Ley’s thought about philistinism seriously for a minute and then apply it to psychopathy. So,
IF real philistines are not those people incapable of recognizing beauty – they recognize it only too well, with a flair as infallible as that of the subtlest aesthete, but only to pounce on it, and smother it before it can take root in their universal empire of ugliness,
THEN real pychopaths are not those people incapable of recognizing good – they recognize it only too well, with a flair as infallible as that of the saint, but only to pounce on it, and smother it before it can take root in their universal empire of sin.
I have never bought the idea that psychopaths cannot empathise with others; that they’re radically other, either brain-damaged or animals. To me the psychopath’s exquisite ability to know exactly how to hurt others suggests that he is brilliantly attuned to the inner worlds of others. Nor does the idea that psychopaths can’t tell the difference between good and evil stand up. Their infallible nose for doing wrong is evidence that the psychopath is an anti-saint.
One definition of saint is “persons eminent for holiness….those who distinguish themselves by heroic virtue during life”. Turn that on it’s head and you have the psychopath.
In my humble opinion, that is.