Saturday, November 8, 2008

When is it rational to appear irrational?

The most recent issue of The New Yorker contains an in-depth piece on the work of Dr Kent Kiehl. He is a young neuropsychiatrist collecting a vast corpus of data on incarcerated individuals afflicted with psychopathy. One of the most interesting sections is where he describes the attitude of an inmate who achieved a "perfect forty" on the psychopathy checklist,
Kiehl was at the prison on the morning that George arrived. After being processed, George stripped naked and walked around the track outside the cellblock in the pouring rain. “I was new here,” he later explained to Kiehl, “and I wanted to establish right away that I am a crazy motherfucker so leave me alone.”
This reminds me of my favorite scene from Watchmen, when Rorschach first goes to prison. He is hated by both the criminal underground and the prison gaurds, and there is indication that he will quickly be pummeled into subsmission. When another inmate begins harassing him in the mess hall line, Rorschach grabs a steaming hot pan of animal fat and slams it into the inmate's face. As the gaurds drag him away, he explains, "None of you understand. I'm not locked up in here with you. You're locked up in here with me."

Bottom line: Your first couple of days in prison is a great example that it can sometimes be in your best interests to appear completely crazy and irrational.