OPINION – Seeing the world as it really is can be a challenge for any of us. For the sociopath, it is an impossible task. Sociopaths consider themselves superior for not being burdened by empathy for others. Empathy is considered a weakness.
A prime example of sociopathic thinking can be found in how many view the ongoing conflict in Gaza where anyone openly lamenting the loss of innocent life is inviting hysterical charges of “sympathy for terrorists” or “anti-Semitism.”
Having sympathy for the plight of a people who, after decades of military occupation, are living in what looks like the world’s largest prison camp is not the same as excusing the indefensible actions of murderous radicals launching indiscriminate rocket attacks.
Nor is criticism of the collateral deaths or suffering of innocent Palestinians the equivalent of seeking to deny a nation the right to defend itself. But nuance is lost on the folks who are content to parrot the talking points of predatory politicians and their media mouthpieces without so much as a second thought.
Much of the suffering in the world can be traced to reducing others to something less than human. At some point, calculated indifference takes on sociopathic qualities when it becomes the accepted conventional wisdom or worldview of a society.
Sociopaths are generally recognized by their tendency to view others as mere objects that have no inherent value or rights which, in turn, justifies the self-serving behavior of the sociopath. The sociopath feels no shame, remorse or guilt and will blame others—typically his victims—for the devastation he causes.
Sociopathic individuals and nations often come to regard themselves as all-powerful and all-knowing. This belief enables them to consider themselves beyond the reach of rules and boundaries and they tend to become hostile and domineering when their behavior is questioned.
When sociopathic attitudes are united with belligerent nationalism cleverly masquerading as patriotism, there is a real threat of a society turning loose of its moral compass completely.
George Orwell’s Notes on Nationalism include this excellent observation:
All nationalists have the power of not seeing resemblances between similar sets of facts. A British Tory will defend self-determination in Europe and oppose it in India with no feeling of inconsistency. Actions are held to be good or bad, not on their own merits, but according to who does them, and there is almost no kind of outrage — torture, the use of hostages, forced labour, mass deportations, imprisonment without trial, forgery, assassination, the bombing of civilians — which does not change its moral colour when it is committed by ‘our’ side.
To avoid falling into the trap of either thinking like a sociopath or empowering and obeying sociopaths, we must be vigilant.
Paul Rosenberg notes the good news is that only 1 in 50 people are truly predatory sociopaths. This means that we should be aware of the fact that they walk among us, but are still far outnumbered by good people. We should be particularly cautious about those who constantly seek after power.
Sociopaths love to become politicians because the state provides them the means to use violence, under color of law, against their fellow man.
Rosenberg also strongly suggests the value of learning to pay close attention to inauthentic emotions.
Authentic expressions of emotions are very complex, involving dozens of muscles, increased or decreased blood flow and pressure, pulse rate, posture, tone of voice, and more. Normal people are deeply familiar with these complicated arrangements and innately understand their patterns.
The sociopath, on the other hand, doesn’t feel them and can’t grasp their patterns. He or she must mimic them. But because of the great complexity involved, the sociopath can never mimic them terribly well.
This points to a need to cultivate strong personal understanding and appreciation of the good and bad of human nature.
Michael Rozeff recently suggested that it may not be a bad idea to test candidates on their love for music. Since music is a form of human expression, a candidate incapable of loving music deeply might likewise have difficulty loving mankind.
Shakespeare would likely agree as we can read in “The Merchant of Venice” where he warns:
The man that hath no music in himself,
Nor is moved with concord of sweet sounds,
Is fit for treasons, stratagems, and spoils.
Regular recalibration of one’s moral compass is not mere navel gazing as the sociopath would label it. Instead it is a hallmark of intellectual and emotional maturity and shows a willingness to accept responsibility for one’s actions.
The world’s conflicts cannot be solved by those who view others as objects and themselves as infallible. They will be solved by those who have the ability to see the world as it actually is; who see it as it could be; and are willing to bring the two together.
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