Section 3: Cataloging the Material

Part 2: A comparison with other disorders

39. The injudicous hedonist and some other drinkers



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39. The injudicous hedonist and some other drinkers

Those who devote their lives unduly to sensual pleasure are popularly regarded by

more sober and restrained members of society as wicked or depraved. By his fellows

who are especially austere the ways of the careless


bon vivant are often attacked with thunderous vigor and even, by certain extremists,

held as largely responsible for the ills of mankind.

It is well known, of course, that a large number of human beings, during their

development, pass through a stage of recklessness in which strong drink and casual

lovemaking are snatched at injudiciously. These jejune efforts to drink life to the lees

sometimes bring embarrassment or misfortune to young people. Having tried out his

wings of independence or of revolt and usually having received a fair number of bumps,

jolts, or bruises, the average fledgling learns his way about and ceases to lay aside

altogether his judgment and common sense when in pursuit of pleasure.

Ordinary people, young or old, if they contract a venereal disease, become

illegitimately pregnant, lose their jobs because of excessive drinking, or suffer some

other sharp reverse, observe the sequence of cause and effect and try to adapt

themselves so as not to suffer in the same way again. Indeed, even a severe headache or

other unpleasant features prominent in the aftermath of late hours and excessive

drinking will cause the normal person to avoid waking in the same condition the next

day. Sometimes, of course, indiscretion is piled on indiscretion and the bout of

dissipation causes prolonged discomfort. The general rule, however, is to learn, even if

slowly, by experience.

A significant difference then between the man popularly regarded as a dissipated

person and the psychopath is that the former, even though he breaks over into

indiscretion from time to time on occasions of excitement, tends to be guided by painful

consequences.289 More important still, the ordinary hard drinker or high liver appears

plainly to be motivated by pleasure principles which we can all understand.

What difference will one more drink make? What spoilsport insists on leaving?

Words and ideas come to him. The occasion grows more festive and he more sparkling.

Perhaps he is putting his best foot forward before some attainable or unattainable lady

or merely embracing in good fellowship and understanding some group which he finds,

in the general merriment, better able to know and value him. Someone breaks into

song, snatches of poetry are quoted, each man gives tongue to his special enthusiasm or

his special dislike. There is laughter, merriment, play, the dance. The general effort is

toward life, toward a more full and active living.

Sometimes these activities in the relatively make-believe world of synthetic

freedom, these pursuits of joy that is often not quite joy itself, make real living, or one's

ordinary capacity to live, seem drab or feeble by comparison. Sometimes it seems

desirable to shirk the harder, soberer transactions of the day and exist chiefly for the

escape into another world which is not quite one's own. In varying degree, depending

on how sound


is one's integration and how obdurate one's insight, persons profit by experience and

limit these indulgences in accordance with the hard and inescapable facts of self and of

the objective world.

In the wide range of the accepted normal, various degrees of responsibility,

various ethical and esthetic standards, various demands of ambition, and various

exigencies of the next day or of the next decade must be reckoned with before one even

comes to the question of whether drinking and conduct under the influence of alcoholic

drink constitute a psychiatric illness. Even when a person arrives at the point where a

definite illness or maladjustment unquestionably exists, many psychopathologic pictures

must be considered and discarded before segregating the particular picture which we

will, lacking a better name, call the psychopath.

For the Methodist pastor in Paris, Ala., to drink at all would indicate some

maladaptation of the man to his way of life. Yet the Anglican vicar in Stoke Poges or

the priest in Amalfi may take his port or his Vino Orvieto Bianco Secco without

arousing our suspicion. The middle-aged bachelor whose only tasks are to clip coupons

and squire admiring dowagers about his gardens may regularly sip whiskey and soda for

hours past midnight without invoking the significant consequences which such doings

would bring to a surgeon called on for major emergencies several nights a week or to a

young and ambitious businessman who must face a hard day's work each morning at 8


Several young doctors of philosophy might gather on Saturday night and hurl

loud argumentative words about until dawn, consuming no mean quantities of whiskey

while the structure of the hypothalamus, the prose of James Joyce, the sexuality of

Sappho, and the ideas of Norber Wiener or of Arnold Toynbee are discussed,

challenged, and defended. A couple of friendly mill workers whose wives are out of

town might settle down some evening before a holiday in a barroom and drink through

stages of shouting conviviality, loud song, blustering amorousness with prostitutes, to

snoring stupefaction. Such activities might be defended as human by some critics,

assailed as wicked by others, and interpreted, perhaps, as efforts to escape the routine of

the classroom or of home and factory by still others.

Two lovers who cannot for economic or legal reasons have each other freely

under the same roof may on every available occasion lie in each other's arms until 3 a.m.

in a parked automobile, having sexual intercourse as frequently as their abilities will

permit. They may drink enough whiskey to blur recognition of the inevitable morrow,

pouring out their feeling and fantasy to each other in a transient delirium of bliss. Each

may suffer definite impairment of effectiveness at work, fatigue, headache, nausea, and

many other discomforts day after day from deficient sleep and superfluous


alcohol. They may be condemned as unconventional, sinful, or foolish by other people

of various viewpoints. But their conduct has little in common with that of the

psychopath. They feel that the game is worth the candle and they mean to play it.

A man whose desire for his wife has palled may at every party he attends drink

too much, sway a little as he goes from group to group, try to make minor overtures to

nearly every woman he encounters, and, with the slightest encouragement, attempt

seduction. Such a man, most people would perhaps agree, is maladjusted in the sense

that he is far from happy in his life situation. His efforts to gain happiness may incur

social disapproval of varying degree, be they adroit or ludicrous. Whatever of his other

life plans or his ideologies he is ignoring, he is still moved by a fundamentally normal

drive, that it, to accomplish sexual relations with a woman who appeals to him.

Another man may successfully avoid drinking to excess but also seek every

opportunity to seduce female acquaintances, whether or not they are wives or sisters or

sweethearts or daughters of his friends. He may try to induce the lady he seeks to drink

to excess and so facilitate his purpose. This man might be called a sorry fellow by some,

a fiend by others, or a latent homosexual by still others. Again he might be explained as

one whose unconscious sense of inferiority or whose unrecognized sexual immaturity

demands compensation for his inadequacy, or his regular failure to achieve mature

fulfillment with each love object. Still another observer might regard him as a shrewd,

cynical person who merely knows how to get what he wants and is above ordinary

compunction. In some patients represented by the last example I have observed

attitudes, personality mechanisms, and efforts at adjustment which have considerable

resemblance to those of the psychopath. In the psychopath, however, is found a far

greater regression, a failure to follow out consistently any aim that could be understood

by the normal man, and a general disorganization of the whole life plan. The spite

reaction may be fundamental in the complete psychopath, but it is directed less

consistently toward bringing about an actual sexual union than in untranslatable

activities. It is also less obvious and more deeply concealed, not only from the patient

but also from the observer. He may start on his spree with such an objective

consciously before him, but he will occasionally pour into himself not stimulating but

emetic or soporific doses of alcohol and end by vomiting in the bed or falling limp on

the floor long before any other aim is achieved.

There are scores of patterns in which superficially hedonistic behavior can be

seen to represent an escape from or a compensatory reaction to some emotional

problem that the person has not solved. The man so


attached to his mother that his mature sex aims are distorted may over years maintain a

reputation for heavy and boisterous drinking, for being a great man about town with the


Deep marital unhappiness may lead one or both of a married couple to dull the

edges of frustration by drinking regularly to excess or by whooping it up at parties in a

relatively vain pursuit of excitement and fulfillment. I have known successful

businessmen and professional men who, over the years, have each day consumed

astonishing amounts of alcohol. Among these are persons who, sober or under

considerable influence, remain reliable, pleasantly sociable, and quite themselves. In

such cases it must be granted that the excessive drinking, whatever its value as an

anodyne, usually constitutes a problem in itself. It is not uncommon to find persons

who continue to make a successful adjustment in general, despite the fact that they

drink considerably more than many psychopaths. The distinguishing point is that gross

changes from a normal attitude and from normal behavior do not occur and a whole life

plan is not demolished.

There are people who may drink regularly to excess to enliven a career that has

fallen into boredom or relative idleness but who find a level of intake at which they

make an adjustment. Here the drinking is perhaps hit upon to kill time or as a substitute

for the diversity and activity lacking in their daily routine. Although persons of this sort

may lose control of the situation and become alcoholics in the clinical sense, many

continue to maintain themselves without help. Drinking in such cases may be thought

of as a handicapping factor but, since there are few responsibilities or vivid interests to

demand full activity, the subject remains able to carry on his attenuated career.

Specifically disturbed emotional and social relations may result not only in

alcoholism as a distinct illness but also in excessive indulgence over years or decades

without progressive loss of control. Persons with varying components of latent

homosexuality often find a partial and disguised outlet for their impulses in frequent and

injudicious alcoholic sessions with such groups. Mildly schizoid personalities shut off

from close personal contacts and lacking in occupations or preoccupations may solitarily

consume alcohol in excess but avoid any spectacular behavior attributable to drink.

Other types who use alcohol as a partial anesthetic include such figures as

O'Malley in Donn Byrne's story,37 who closes his career as a broken man, wandering

from tavern to tavern drinking steadily to excess. A brilliant, able, and charming person

in his ordinary life, he submits to this transformation when life holds nothing more for

him. His love object, whom he lost because of her being driven to an Anglican nunnery

by religious or pseudoreligious manifestations, had come to play so important


a part in his life that she could not be replaced. Without her it was a relief for him to

avoid full awareness, which he did by drink. He is pictured as a man old before his

time, shabby, aimless, slightly intoxicated nearly always, and looking forward to nothing

particularly except perhaps death. This, too, is drinking unlike drinking to be happy. It

is, however, far from the bellowing, vociferous episodes and the lyings-out of the

psychopath. In O'Malley's case the cause of his drinking is readily visible, and his choice

of a means to an end is not without logic and purpose. There is no effort on O'Malley's

part to make himself objectionable to others or to create shocking and fantastic

situations. He quietly becomes a drunkard to dull his sorrow and only seeks to be let


The psychopath, then, in my opinion, is something very much more than the

ordinarily dissipated or profligate person, even though the latter happens to be

extremely injudicious. An important mark of distinction is that the profligate is usually

after what everyone can see is a kind of pleasure or is seeking simple relief from pain we

can conceive, whereas the psychopath seldom drives at anything that looks very much

like pleasure or necessary analgesia.

Another type of behavior sometimes confused with the psychopath's life pattern

might be represented by the fairly common case of the married man, well established in

business and fond of his children, who throws away his security and his respectable

position to seek love with some trivial woman who cares nothing for him and on whom

he soon throws away what he has. It might be said that such a man is rash or even

foolish and some may call him depraved. But the appeal which drives him to his folly is

one that most normal people have no difficulty in understanding. Love is well known

for its power to make even sages give all, and some commitments between man and

woman are all but impossible to explain. Such a man gives up all the fruits of his life to

fulfill a definite erotic impulse. But the psychopath's impulse is not the result of fatal

infatuation, nor is it so well formulated and comprehensible as the desire of a man for a

woman's body.

The wrecked career of the psychopath is sometimes used by reformers and

prohibitionists who crusade against alcohol and vice in general as an example of what

dissipation will do to those who essay the primrose path. Well-meant though such

warnings may be, they are based on a premise of doubtful validity. What drives the

psychopath on in his career is not in any ordinary sense the love of wine or song or

women. Whiskey is sometimes one of his means to an end, and certainly it aids him in

his spectacular exploits, but it is not a primary cause in his life scheme. Though many

may come to grief in such pursuit, they are scarcely more likely to become psychopaths

than they are to become schizophrenics.


To drift with every passion till my soul

Is a stringed lute on which all winds can play,

Is it for this that I have given away

Mine ancient wisdom and austere control?

Surely there was a time I might have trod

The surilit heights, and from life's dissonance

Struck one clear chord to reach the ear of God:

Is that time dead?

Oscar Wilde


Such drifiting with passions may indeed prevent the development of greatness

and cheat the drifter of achievement and of deep happiness. There are many ways in

which a man can waste his energy, cheapen his emotional powers, and bring about his

maladjustment. There are many ways, perhaps by which a man can fall into mental

disorders and many types of disorder into which he can fall 127 Flowers of evil, whether

splendid, redolent and darkly glittering, or mediocre, may choke out the blossoms

ordinarily considered desirable. But the psychopaths whose stories are offered here do

not seem driven wildly and at random by such winds of passion as those referred to in

Oscar Wild's familiar verse, nor is it likely that their souls are played upon like stringed

lutes. One may listen indefinitely for the tragico-romantical notes of such a vibration,

but he will listen in vain. The winds of passion are blowing almost imperceptibly, if at

all, and no strings are in the lute. No vivid fleurs du mal will be culled from this garden,

for the garden is barren.


Next: Section 3: Cataloging the material, Part 2: A comparison with other disorders, 40. The clinical alcoholic


Energy Enhancement          Enlightened Texts         Psychopath           The Mask Of Sanity



Section 3, Part 2


  • Psychopath Hervey Cleckley THE MASK OF SANITY, Section 3: Cataloging the material , Part 2: A comparison with other disorders, 29. Purpose of this step
    Psychopath Hervey Cleckley THE MASK OF SANITY, Section 3: Cataloging the material , Part 2: A comparison with other disorders, 29. Purpose of this step, Some material has been presented in which manifestations of the disorder occur. It is our task to arrange it in such a way that its features can be seen clearly and compared with the features of other disorders. Such a step should be helpful in our efforts to recognize what we are dealing with and to evaluate it. Let us compare these patients known as psychopaths with others showing clinical illness and deviated reactions or patterns of living. Significant details should emerge, differentiation should become clearer, and distinguishing features of our subject should become more apparent at





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