Perspectives: Why sociopaths cannot solve world problems

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.

Rosenberg writes:

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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  • DAVE August 20, 2014 at 8:25 pm

    Mr. Hyde,
    As a society; we are all sociopaths, in one way or another…

    A sociopath may perceive a threat from a foreign state and initiate war in an attempt to head off future conquest. Or a community of sociopaths might wage war in order to access resources that another community possesses.

    My favorite movie quote, came from an infamous sociopath:

    “I’d like to share a revelation that I’ve had during my time here. It came to me when I tried to classify your species and I realized that you’re not actually mammals. Every mammal on this planet instinctively develops a natural equilibrium with the surrounding environment but you humans do not. You move to an area and you multiply and multiply until every natural resource is consumed and the only way you can survive is to spread to another area. There is another organism on this planet that follows the same pattern. Do you know what it is? A virus. Human beings are a disease, a cancer of this planet. You’re a plague and we are the cure”.

    Have you ever discarded a non-biodegrable item?
    Have you ever used an aerosol with flourocarbons?
    Do you own a fossil-fuel powered vehicle?
    Do you rinse chemicals down your kitchen sink?
    Do you in any way, benefit from the research that was performed, by abusing animals in human disease studies?
    Are you living in a nation that was taken by force?
    Is any current successful thriving nation completely innocent of any history of socipathic mentality?

    We will probably never have the perfect civilization…

    “Did you know that the first Matrix was designed to be a perfect human world? Where none suffered, where everyone would be happy. It was a disaster. No one would accept the program. Entire crops were lost. Some believed we lacked the programming language to describe your perfect world. But I believe that, as a species, human beings define their reality through suffering and misery. The perfect world was a dream that your primitive cerebrum kept trying to wake up from. Which is why the Matrix was redesigned to this: the peak of your civilization”.

    The world exists in its current state, because it is ruled by sociopaths. But we give little thought to our imperfect world most days, because we are on a steady diet of electronic correspondence, energy drinks and cable TV. Everyone has their own deluded perception of reality… Their own justification of what is morally right or wrong.

    Every type of communication to the masses, in the form of news or social interaction, is to persuade yet one more human being into a carbon-copy of that persons sense of what is or isn’t socially acceptable. And sadly, only the very few are without bias.

    • Bryan Hyde August 21, 2014 at 5:27 am

      Sounds like you and Darwin are in agreement on survival of the fittest. True sociopaths, in the clinical sense, are real though rare. But the suffering they cause is far greater than any caused by mere self interest or personal bias. Recognizing and refusing to enable the actual sociopaths among us would greatly lessen their ability to cause suffering.

  • DAVE August 22, 2014 at 1:27 am

    I haven’t the slightest clue, how / why you came to the conclusion that I am a proponent of Darwinism? I responded to your article, because a “sociopath” is someone “who lacks a sense of moral responsibility or social conscience”.

    Your article went on to state that sociopaths have a calculated indifference and self-serving behavior. And in my response – I explained that most of us have our own sense of “calculated indifference”, because we have a general “lack of interest, concern, or sympathy” towards things we do that (ultimately) destroy our environment.

    Self-serving behavior (for example) – is anyone guilty of texting while they are driving, or perhaps the person who lets their children run amok in the supermarket, department store or a restaurant… anyone who talks loudly on their cell phone / bluetooth, while in the presence of others… Or how about the person in front of you who takes forever to complete a simple transaction?

    All people (in one way or another) appear to be absolutely clueless to the feelings / opinions of those around them. They are only focused on whatever is going on directly in front of their nose and seem completely tuned-out to everyone else around them.

    Am “I” a sociopath, because I worry more about what is happening in my country, than I do about people in the Middle East?

    Or perhaps I should show empathy toward the the individuals in Ferguson, who are rioting, looting and burning buildings?

    I beileve that “our society” is very close to “turning loose of its moral compass completely”. Most of us watch the news on our cell phones, laptops or television and watch the world fall apart around us. Then perhaps go so far as to offer our opinions on how things could (or should) change… and then do absolutely nothing to make it happen.

    There will ALWAYS be some political, religious or social group of people in conflict, with some other . But, so long as we can continue to have our cable, cell phone and internet service – sitting in our little bubble of climate-controlled comfort – we will never really be anything other than a self-serving individual, with a calculated indifference to those who do not fit within our sense of what is right or wrong.

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