Wednesday, December 15, 2010

Decadence and depravity

Decadence has both an outside and an inside. From the outside, it's simply a condition -- of resignation, self-contentment, ennui, without hope or despair. From the inside, though, it's a pose or posture -- as in Wilde or Beardsley -- a kind of rococo cool. Such a pose may or may not be itself a sign of genuine, or external decadence.

And depravity may or may not be an aspect of decadence. If it is, then it may be assumed, as part of the pose. But it can certainly be found on its own, as a condition characterized by indulgence in appetite, desire, or drive without moral considerations of any sort. Some may be born depraved, as in psychopathy, and some may become so. The latter at least have the possibility of extricating themselves from the condition -- the chance, in other words, of redemption.

Even psychopaths, i.e., the congenitally depraved, however, may learn to overcome their disability, as many do, to various degrees (making them notoriously difficult to detect). As a rule, we are all born with various instincts, including both moral and social instincts. The latter have to do with an implicit understanding of basic feelings and expectations in social situations, and those who lack these, even in varying degrees, are commonly assigned some position in a spectrum of autism disorders. The former, or moral instincts, have to do with an implicit understanding of basic fairness, justice, right and wrong, and it's interesting to consider the possibility that those who lack these, to whatever degree, might fit similarly on some spectrum of psychopathic disorders.

More interesting still is the question of how these instincts and their respective disorders might be related. Looking at them just as sets of instincts, one would tend to think of them as closely related, since social and moral behavior seem so intertwined. Yet psychopaths often have excellent social skills, and can use these skills to compensate for their lack of moral awareness; and similarly, I think, autistic people often have a strong moral sense, even if it's not always expressed in socially "appropriate" ways. So perhaps these kinds of instincts are more distinct than we might think?


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