What is Kim Jong Un's syndrome? Is he a sociopath? Psychotic? Or just garden-variety narcissist with unlimited license?
His actions are so bizarre, in so many different ways, that it's tempting to just settle for saying something like "Guy's got a screw loose," or, "He's out of control." Neither of those statements, of course, would convey any useful information. But, neither would be wrong, either.
I've tried hard to pigeonhole him, but I can't: there's no recognizable pattern of behavior, no familiar tics that make me think, aha -- that's his syndrome.
And add to that the fact that the news we get is often misleading, and it's sometimes hard to tell truth from fiction. Yesterday an article in the NY Post said that Kim Jong Un was claiming that the US and South Korea had conspired to assassinate him, and that the CIA had snuck operatives into North Korea to that end.
That sounds like paranoia, and given all the other outlandish claims Kim has made, it has to be taken with a grain of salt. But -- and this has to be said -- it's also plausible. Trump has escalated tensions with North Korea recently, and the most effective way to end the threat of a nuclear strike from that country would be to kill Kim.
So, who knows.
Kim would, based on some of his other actions -- killing his uncle and his half-brother, among many others -- seem to suffer from paranoia. And paranoia, according to all the psychology textbooks, goes hand in hand with delusions of grandeur, which Kim obviously in abundance.
(Kim is a little reminiscent of the Queen of Hearts in Alice in Wonderland, who was given to saying, "Off with his head!" The difference is that in that book, the queen's courtiers would never carry out her orders, whereas Kim's minions do.)
But, Kim does present an a tempting target. So maybe these other people were plotting against him. Plus, how many of those killings are due to people close to Kim planting a bug in his ear in order to eliminate their own enemies? All we know is, we'll never know for sure.
And even when it comes to his delusions of grandeur, how many of those are actually his, and how much are merely the machinery of the state? Remember, he is the son of Kim Jong Il, who had these titles bestowed upon him, and about whom it was said by the state press that he would regularly shoot three or four holes in one per round of golf.
North Korea is obviously an incredibly repressive regime, where not only the press but the citizenry speak their minds at their own peril. If Kim had created this society himself, it would be say to say he was a sociopath. But Kim basically inherited a dictatorship. And if that's all you've ever known, it would take a pretty remarkable person to change it.
At the same time, making excuses for Kim this way is a little like saying that we should sympathize with Ted Bundy because he was the product of incest and had been lied to about his parentage as a child. Just because Kim grew up in such extraordinarily warped circumstances doesn't mean he's not a sociopath.
Usually, it's fairly easy to find about someone's family background simply by checking out the Early Life section of their bio on Wikipedia. But Wikipedia gives no sense of what Kim Jong Un's relationship with his mother was.
And what the North Korean press has said about Kim's father doesn't exactly seem reliable: that when he was born on top of a sacred mountain, winter turned to spring. And that his body was so well calibrated that he never needed to urinate or defecate.
Anyway, all of this is a little like trying to analyze the last emperor of China, the boy king Puyi, who ascended to the throne in 1908 at age two years and ten months. He grew up in such unique, extreme circumstances that the normal rules of behavior -- and probably even psychology -- don't apply.
And the same obviously applies to Kim Jong Un. But that doesn't mean we shouldn't try to get some sense of his personality.
Is Kim Jong Un just extremely narcissistic because he's effectively been spoiled rotten from the time he was very young?
Is he autistic? That would be easy to believe too, given his seeming lack of personal skills. (Though really, he never really had to.) And if he does drop one of his nuclear bombs on a nearby country, that would be the equivalent of some Aspie -- like Christopher Harper-Mercer, or Elliot Rodger, or Adam Lanza, or Seung-Hui Cho -- erupting in a violent autistic meltdown.
Kim doesn't seem schizoid. Although it's easy to attach the word "crazy" to his behavior, if he were in fact psychotic, he wouldn't have been able to hold onto power. And his father wouldn't have chosen him over his various brothers and half-brothers as his successor.
There's such a syndrome as "learned narcissism," which is sometimes applied to movie stars, rock stars, and sports stars. These people have been so indulged, and so lionized, that they essentially just learn to act in a narcissistic fashion.
(Who among us can say that if we were lavished with praise and catered to at every turn, we would not learn to become self-indulgent?)
In a similar way, is it possible that Kim has "learned sociopathy?" As in, absolute power results in absolute corruption? Maybe he didn't start out that way, and maybe his mother actually loved him, and he was the recipient of her affection growing up. And maybe if he had inherited a benevolent monarchy, he would have somehow ended up a benevolent monarch.
In the end, it probably doesn't make any difference. If Kim is not a sociopath, he might as well be. Because whether or not his family background predisposed him that way, he now acts like a sociopath.
And as Kurt Vonnegut once said, you are what you act like.
So if Kim's claims about the CIA were right, well, they had the right idea.