Back in November, I suppose, I came across a news story about a researcher who found that he had brain activity that fit the profile of a psychopath. I thought I’d been told that we stopped trying to identify criminals by their physiology since we condemned the Germans for being better at it. But evidently Minority Report was just too implausible to worry about, so the work goes on to identify the guilty without waiting for the crime.
Perhaps one day they will discover that by some cosmic coincidence the human condition is not only fatal but also corrupt. In the meantime we must accept progress in the small steps that science offers.
I learned something about this in college. No, not in the classes, and not from the instructors. Well, perhaps indirectly. I worked in the school library in the Course Reserves department, and I remember reading one of the selections on file that talked about the characteristics of abusive men. There was a list of something like 15 characteristics, of which offenders typically had at least seven or something like that. I qualified at something like six. Maybe more; I don’t remember if I made it all the way to a bona fide criminal or just an apprentice.
No, I learned more from my friend. He is still my friend, perhaps the only friend I have kept from that time. He is a man filled with pretensions. He is a man who wishes to control the world. He is a slave of his loves and a fugitive of his fears. In him I found a man I could understand, a man in whom I could see myself. At last I could see myself: my naked scheming, my pitiable attempts to present an edifice, my tar-baby battles with the shadows I cast. He is a man I can understand, a knowledge as damning as my comprehension of Browning’s poem Porphyria’s Lover. It is one thing if you can understand the words; that means you are literate. But if you can understand the poem, that means you are a bad man.
Max, here’s to you, my friend!
by Robert Browning