Began this about 6 months ago, then life got in the way to keep me away, and life once again got in the way to bring me back to it.
There is no such word in the dictionary, at least as far as I know, if you know better, good for you!
This word comes from “sociopath”, meaning someone afflicted by no other mental deficiencies psychologically disturbed in a way they cannot function normally in a social setting, and “genesis”, meaning the beginning of something. This can be a noun and a verb. The word itself can be used to mean the process that breeds sociopaths, since it could be used for the whole process, or progression towards the end, it can be a noun and a verb. As a whole, this term refers to the process of breakdown in society and social relations. Not between family, between the various members of society and, in particular, the different social classes present. A second word word comes here, sociopathogen, in medicine, a pathogen is any organism that causes diseases (not spreads them, that’s a vector). A sociopathogen would then be that which causes diseases in society and causes social disharmony.
Now the elephant in the room full of problems obviously is, “What is so special that it needs a whole new word to describe it?” [Sadly, this is the question coming to our minds when the question should actually be, “Why is the room full of problems?” and that, folks, is the result of sociopathogenesis, that I shall discuss.]
The term itself seems to belittle the source of the problem, the problem being the great attachment that people have for physical objects or their own desires, the source can be any number of things. Some would say lack of God, others would point to belief in God, others to a poor upbringing; but it really isn’t the source per se that’s the problem.
It is the mixture of different, what we imagine to be, sources, that leads to the process of sociopathogenesis, breeding various types of people who are, while the going is good, good and very social, but show a very different face when things change. Take for example, someone, politically, professing to being a left winger, but when the person’s track record is analysed, one sees support for most of the right wing policies. In this situation, how credible do you think that person’s claim to being a supporter of the left are? This is an obvious example of a “walk right, talk left” routine. Put in a social setting, the monster evolves into a whole new being. A monster that is very familiar to all people but takes on a different form every time.
At the time the first thoughts for this piece were running through my head, I was struggling to find the right example to highlight my point. Then, on 24th April, 2013, an 8-storey building named Rana Plaza collapsed with around 3000 trapped inside. The building housed a number of garment factories, which is why there were that many inside in the first place. A day or two before, a huge crack was seen on one wall of a lower floor of the building. On knowing of the crack, BRAC Bank, at the base of the building, gave its employees a “stay at home the next day” order. The factory owners ordered the workers to return to work. The owner of the building, Sohel Rana, a politically well-connected personality, was arrested as he had permission to build a 5-storey structure only, 3 more being illegal additions. Most people had a knee-jerk reaction of accusing the owner and factory owners, but this (Facebook status) really summed up my thoughts regarding the whole matter.
Sohel Rana, the owner of the building, is described as the “symptom” not the “disease”. This is not the first time that a building has collapsed nor the first time that the flagrant flouting of safety rules has led to a massive loss of life. To understand the meaning expressed here, “symptom” and “disease” have to be understood from a medical point-of-view. The disease is the actual ailment that affects the patient. The symptom is a physiological (a bodily function) change brought about by the disease. Here’s the twist, in many cases, in medicine and when studying human behaviour, it is the symptoms and not the disease itself that is fought thinking “this is the appropriate treatment”. In medicine, doctors understand very well when it is that the symptoms are being alleviated and when it is that diseases are being treated. This clear understanding of cause and effect in this situation allows doctors and medical researchers to find cures for the diseases, and alleviate symptoms till the cure is found.
In a social context however, this clear division of the cause and effect:
- is not there,
- is grossly misunderstood when the first hints begin to emerge regarding the cause and effect.
This does not mean that social “diseases” are beyond the understanding of people, it does mean that a more careful study and a less knee-jerk reaction is needed to understand them.
Having clarified why Rana is a symptom of the disease, it should be clearly stated what the disease itself is, and how it leads to sociopathogenesis and further cultivates sociopathogenesis.
Society here is currently setup in a manner that it values wealth over anything else, the more divorced from wealth and power the needs are, the more they are devalued. Many will be quick to point out to the reaction of people to the building collapse at Savar as proof that I have called it wrong, in reply, I ask, why did it take a tragedy of this magnitude to give rise to humanity in people? Why did this tragedy even occur in the first place? Was this not a wholly preventable incident, and even disregarding the warnings given the day before regarding the structural integrity of the building, why was construction of the building even allowed? Has the system failed to such an extent that such abhorrent incidents are allowed to occur? Most importantly, I feel, have people become so blinded by their greed that they deliberately overlook any checks in place that were introduced for the protection of human life?
In case you are wondering about the checks, a simple example should clarify the matter – traffic regulations. The simplest traffic rule is that cars will move in the same direction down a street – one side for going up the street, the other side for going down the street with a divider between the two sides being optional. In North America, I have seen the busiest streets without a physical divider between the two halves carrying traffic up and down the street, a pretty unthinkable situation in Bangladesh, Dhaka specifically. In the foreign countries, head-on collisions due to street design where there is no divider are pretty rare (no, drunk driving and escaping criminals do not count). In Bangladesh though, head-on accidents are prevented mainly because the drivers are mentally conditioned to prevent untoward incidents (a good side-effect of driving in Dhaka, your responses become insanely quick).
This made me, as it should make you, think about what it is that causes these accidents more likely here than elsewhere. Many will start pointing to a poor law and order situation (more on that later), not enough training or education for the drivers and some more. Here’s a different thought, what if all the “problems” were, in actuality, just a different manifestation each time of the same underlying disease?
It is this same disease that afflicts every one of us, some more strongly than others and in each instance differently, but it is this same disease that is eating away at whatever social fabric there remains (it’s far from being “gone”). As the disease manifests itself differently every time, it is very difficult to come up with a singular description of the problem. Yet, a short description is warranted here, and provided it shall be.
From the outset, the one point that needs to be cleared up is that there are many symptoms of this process, the crime, the corruption, the callous disregard for people, even their lives. These are not unrelated issues, as much as we might wish them to be. They all stem from the same psychological outlook. In all the instances of such sociopathic behaviour, the perpetrators of such behaviour have but one target in common, the fulfilment of their own desires, or in economics-speak, the satiation of their own desires. It does make all the difference how one chooses to express these desires. In the case of Rana, the desire was to get rich quick, and there were many corners cut to ensure that he could enjoy the highest profit with the lowest investment, in the least possible time and effort.
This is just one example of what triggers sociopathogenesis. It is the importance attached to one’s desires over any other consideration that causes the gradual breakdown of human relations; at best reducing them to mechanistic behaviour (according to the laws and customs prevalent in the place), at worst there is no “mechanistic behaviour” either, with that person driven solely by their desire.
That is what underpins sociopathogenesis, people driven solely by their desire with nothing to control or place a check on the resulting behaviour. The example of Sohel Rana is a very obvious one, in which the desire to get rich quick directly led to a large number of deaths. The function of the various laws and regulations throughout history has been to place a control on the behaviour and interactions of people. In the absence of these laws, regulations and social norms, the various desires of man will be unrestricted and will lead to a “zero sum game”, where everybody will be a loser at the end. Studying human behaviour in a different context, the Glass-Steagall Act was introduced after the Great Depression to ensure that banks were not gambling with the money deposited by those who were looking for no more than a place to hold cash safely. Fast forward to 1998, when Glass-Steagall was repealed in the name of “modernizing finance” and alllowed the banks to, once again, gamble with depositor funds. The pressure came from the financial companies (banks, insurance companies, mutual fund companies and their ilk) as they saw that Glass-Steagall was severely constraining profit opportunity as they had access to a large amount of capital, from hundreds of millions to tens of billions lying around. The pressure to generate higher returns was not just from the companies, it was from people. As Reich so wonderfully explained in his book, Supercapitalism, it was not the greed of people that changed but the opportunity to act as per that greed (paraphrased).
As was pointed out, the sociopathic tendencies are present, in all of us, to varying degrees, and it is the external factors that restrain these impulses. Many will argue otherwise, however, as I said, they are present in varying degrees, and with it, I will add that the impulses have simply not been triggered with the correct set of events/circumstances.
It is this unrestricted “human impulse” that leads to the numerous social problems that are plaguing most places, Bangladesh in particular. In Bangladesh, it is not just that the rules are improperly setup but what rules are present are wantonly broken to satisfy these impulses, which have no end really. In other countries, the rules and laws are subject to the whims and fancies of the people, whoever wins the argument makes the rules and laws. The gradual erosion of these laws and rules is more than a “small” worry.
I’ll end with this excerpt from Muhammad Yunus’s article, Savar tragedy, garments industry and Bangladesh
“The crack in Rana Plaza that caused the collapse of the building has only shown us that if we don’t face up to the cracks in our state systems, we as a nation will get lost in the debris of the collapse.”
Expanding on that thought, the state system is cracked, i.e. faulty, as the people who man the state systems who are faulty. They are in an extremely urgent need of repairs.