In defence of Katie Hopkins? Wait, what?
Currently one of the most hated columnists/celebrities/presenters/human beings in the UK Katie Hopkins does have some fans though they are probably fairly demented. She has far more enemies. She regularly receives death threats and is parodied by alternative press, and most people think she deserves pretty much every response she has so far received. Not only that but she doesn’t care what people think of her. In combination with no tolerance whatsoever for those who she criticises, she has a remarkably high tolerance for any negative reactions.
It seems that her detestable personality may have a physical basis and that it could shortly be affected by a physical procedure to be carried out by open brain surgery to cure her of epilepsy. Hopkins claims to have attacks that affect her on an almost nightly basis. This is extreme given that most epileptics would expect attacks perhaps twice per week. The abnormal qualities in her personality are similarly extreme.
Bert Park describes one of the mechanisms of epilepsy as involving “An inability to assign appropriate emotional significance to external stimuli.” This certainly sounds like Hopkins, and describes her explanation of her behaviour. In the same chapter on saints and fanatics Park also has similar suggestions to make as a partial hypothesis to explain the actions and behaviour of a number of figures through history who fall on both sides of the line of good and evil but are all linked together by the exaggerated emotional response to external stimuli. Joan of Arc being one example and Adolf Hitler another.
“I not only proposed that the Fuehrer suffered from gallbladder disease and Parkinson’s syndrome but also suggested that his personality disorder might have been explained on the basis of temporal lobe epilepsy”
Interestingly when watching video of Katie Hopkins she does show herself to have similar mannerisms and exaggerated movements to those which Adolf Hitler uses in his speeches on film.
After the conclusion of her current television series Hopkins is to make a choice about whether or not to go ahead with the surgery to cure her epilepsy. She has spoken of a fear that she may die during the surgery or lose the use of one or more limbs. She also mentions the possibility that she may come around to find that she has a Welsh accent or has become a communist. While these comments may be tongue in cheek there is a very real chance that her personality may be radically changed after the surgery. It is wise that she waits till after the current television series as she may not have the same outspoken views afterwards. Although it is also possible that her attitudes may have become such an ingrained part of her brain that they will remain even after the instability has been corrected.
In general where surgery is successful it is likely that personality disorders will see some improvement, the improvement being greater, the earlier it is caught. Hopkins is therefore taking a risk by waiting for work commitments to be ended, but then as she has made a career out of having an abrasive personality that is probably a considered choice. At any rate improvement will likely be gradual and in different areas of personality. The irritability and anger that power Katie’s rants is likely to decrease, as is the spontaneity that often gets her into trouble, especially some time after the operation when things have started to repair themselves. Looking at past results it seems that it is the more severe symptoms that are likely to be most profoundly affected. At Katie Hopkin’s age it will be difficult to have as major an impact as would be possible with a younger subject but over time the new way in which the brain works will start to have an effect on the existing architecture. The gradual changes that appear in the first couple of years after the operation will continue to a degree in the future.
When Phineas Gage’s head was penetrated with an iron bar his entire life changed. He had lost substantially more of his brain than is likely to be removed in an operation for epilepsy. People said this is not Gage anymore.
It may be that whoever comes out of that operating theatre will not be Katie Hopkins as we know her. Her personality may grow to be so different that she will be deeply ashamed of the Katie Hopkins persona. Then again it is also possible that she may become even more Katie Hopkins than she is now. Whatever happens it seems a bit too coincidental at this point that she has a brain disorder and she also has an obviously malfunctioning personality residing within that brain. If a new improved Katie Hopkins emerges from the operating theatre then we may be able to look back on her time as a columnist and see that what entertained and outraged people was an effect of her disorder.
The reason she is on television might be very much like the way in which people laughed at fools, madmen and dwarves in history. In one episode of Blackadder the queen reminisces about the funny people with bells who made her laugh as a child. When her nurses suggests “Jesters?” it is revealed that the queen was actually thinking of lepers. One of the earliest examples of compensation for injury in the service of the crown was given to a man who fell from his horse, not because it was intended as compensation but because it amused the king so much. The manner in which disability and injury was treated in past centuries seems abhorrent to modern civilisation, in a similar light to the way in which Hopkins herself often speaks on television. It may be that in our blindness to their being an actual cause for her behaviour we are guilty of having a similar attitude to the afflicted of today simply because we are unable to recognise their affliction. She may have a disorder that renders her entertaining and is therefore the modern equivalent of a court jester. Because mental issues are so much less visible they are far easier to deride. Mockery of physical disabilities is no longer acceptable, I guess until mental disorders and personality disorders can be more easily identified people will continue to be used in this way because the state of their mind is easy to mock and makes an audience drawing spectacle.
I am not a fan of Katie Hopkins myself and do not think she should be allowed to say the things she says on television. Her opinions step beyond the boundaries of defensible free speech because they are abnormal. She does not represent any valid opinions on the subjects she discusses. I do look forward to seeing if the surgery will create positive changes for her. I can only wish her the best in that regard because in wishing her the best we may also be free of the negative persona that she has inflicted on us since her time on the Apprentice. She fears she may die on the operating table but it is just as likely that if she does then a far better Katie Hopkins will live in her stead.
Bert E. Park, Ailing, Aging, Addicted: Studies of Compromised Leadership , University Press of Kentucky.