Sociopathy as the “killer” moral argument.

UPDATE: This entry has been linked to by some bigot who calls me an “abnormal mentality.” All I can say is, don’t encourage the trolls (which is why I will not post a link to his blog).

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I’ve had some interest in sociopathy, and I decided to read Without Conscience: The Disturbing World of the Psychopaths Among Us, a book from the most established expert in the field, Robert D. Hare. I wasn’t exactly bowled over by the book itself. Many conclusions were unsupported and obviously were only adopted by Hare because they are more conducive to him getting money. There are also some logical gaps. All in all, it’s a spotty piece of writing.

The theory behind it, however, is clear enough. Sociopaths are people who have no conscience, no empathy, and no higher emotions. They see other people as nothing more than means to an end, and have no qualms about lying, hurting and killing others. They feel no guilt about their actions. Despite being only around 2% of the population, they compose a large proportion of criminals, and a majority of the violent criminals. The more successful sociopaths spend their lives exploiting others to get up the corporate or political ladder. Sociopaths are attracted to instant gratification and control over others most of all.

And the problem is not that they don’t understand laws or rules or mores: they do understand them, but they simply don’t have the motivation to follow them. These are individuals whose ethics are very limited, because they lack the internal components that would motivate them to be ethical. They understand that other people suffer, but they don’t have the empathy necessary to relate it to their own experiences. They understand that hurting others is wrong, but they can see no reason not to do so. They understand the consequences of breaking the rules, but long-term consequences simply don’t register.

The first conclusion we can draw from this is that sociopathy proves that morality is innate. If the opposite was true, and that all that sufficed for an individual to be good was for him to be subjected to, and understand, laws, rules and mores (including their consequences), then sociopaths should not be different from the rest of the population in that regard. But they are drastically different. The only possible explanation for this phenomenon is that morality is based on internal mechanisms, and disabling these mechanisms necessarily disables the ability of the individual to distinguish right from wrong, regardless of how much he intellectually understands the difference (forcing a disbelieving blind man to remember by rote that “there is a river to your right” is not the same as actually seeing the river).

This is not really surprising: Kropotkin already proved it a century ago, and scientists keep “discovering” it every year (and somehow they’re always surprised by it, and forget all about it the next year). But this is probably the most elegant proof of them all.

This also leads us to the interesting conclusion that sociopaths are, to a certain extent, innately evil. But that’s what the more principled statists claim all human beings are. They believe that without laws, rules or mores, human beings would be in a constant struggle against each other, because human beings are innately evil and only seek self-gratification at the expense of all other goals. This description actually almost completely fits sociopaths, the only difference being that sociopaths are like this whether laws, rules and mores exist or not.

The other interesting aspect to this is that sociopaths themselves seem to have a very pessimistic view of human nature. They share with statists the belief that man is innately corrupt, that you should harm people before they get a chance to harm you, and they see weaker individuals as being saps, as deserving to be harmed because of their weakness. In a pastiche of leftist views, they see themselves as victims of society, their upbringing, and so on; they cannot accept that they are at fault because they actually do believe that they have done nothing wrong, even if they were mass murderers.

Hare himself draws the exact opposite conclusion: his position is that anarchism, not statism, is more like sociopathy. In fact, I believe he falls into this confusion because he fails to differentiate between internal and external rules. He assumes that because Anarchists refuse to conform to external rules, they display something that is like a lack of conscience.

But that merely means that he has failed to grasp the lesson that morality is innate. As Lysander Spooner has demonstrated, moral laws, which he calls natural law (and which we now know to be an evolutionary adaptation), are universal and accessible by all- which we must now amend to mean, all those who are not hindered in their mental capacities in the way that a sociopath is. We Anarchists have nothing but the greatest respect for these moral laws: in fact, we often oppose hierarchies on the basis that they break these moral laws constantly and with impunity. For example, the excellent documentary The Corporation details how a corporation is like a sociopathic individual (and with the personhood granted to corporations, we can also say “literally”).

We Anarchists do not reject internal rules, rather the contrary. We also do not reject external rules which are legitimately established by the will of the people and implement rational and fair justice. We only reject external rules which are not legitimately established- a prime example of this being the byzantine system of laws and show trials which currently binds us. Suffice it to look at the actions of Anarchists and the actions of the policemen who gas and beat them to see which side is closer to cold wanton violence in the name of self-indulgence.

So once we realize that, we must examine legalism both from the aspect of outer rules and from the aspect of inner rules. The Anarchist rejects only part of the former, but the sociopath rejects both. Seen from that perspective, the sociopath is seen to correspond perfectly to the concept of atomistic individualism: an individual who lives as if he is in a vacuum, making decisions in complete disregard of society or any part of society. So not only is the sociopath a representation of the statist’s straw man, but he is a representation of the collectivist’s straw man as well.

In fact, sociopaths are our enemies, both on the criminal side and on the hierarchical side. Their lack of conscience and empathy makes them expert criminals, and their capacity to exploit others and their lack of remorse makes them good at climbing organizational ladders. And Anarchists should strive to learn more about them, because it is always better to know one’s enemies.

8 thoughts on “Sociopathy as the “killer” moral argument.

  1. justino September 20, 2010 at 20:07

    That is unfortunate Hare failed to make the basic distinction between morality and legislation.

    Does he say how he came up with the two percent figure? I would have guessed it was slightly higher.

  2. Zhawq December 5, 2010 at 02:35

    The 2% figure is an estimate. The book itself is a popular text, so the details about how statistics came about are left out.

  3. Francois Tremblay December 5, 2010 at 04:09

    Despite searching a great deal, I have not been able to find a better estimate.

  4. UKan January 6, 2011 at 06:10

    How egalitarian is it to target a segment of society as a enemy, because of a personality disorder? Who else will be added to this list of enemies?
    You do need to be more aware of sociopaths, because in my experience among anarchist collectives, the latter is easily swayed by charasmatic people. The vacuum of power that exists in any anarchist collective is a opportunity for any sociopath that happens upon it.

    • Francois Tremblay January 6, 2011 at 06:12

      I find it very strange that you berate me for treating sociopaths as our enemies instead of our equals, and then say that we should be warned against them. Why should one be weary of people who are not our enemies?

  5. Medusa January 7, 2011 at 01:09

    Why are you so insulted by being called an “abnormal mentality”?

    He didn’t say “disordered mentality,” mind you. Abnormal merely means what it says— veering from the majority. Isn’t that what you want for yourself, especially considering the comic you have in your header?

    I see no bigotry happening. You seem a bit knee-jerky and sensitive, to the point where you were the one who felt the need to troll the other blog with a 2-sentence admonishment (which basically translates as a useless “you suck! bye!”), and then proceed to immediately disappear without having any real discussion?

    • Francois Tremblay January 7, 2011 at 04:10

      Excuse me? I do not have discussions with bigots, and I do not take this kind of attack lightly. He put me in the same category of mentality as sociopaths. I find that not only bigoted but supremely offensive and defamatory. You and your fellow cronies keep trying to post hate-filled diatribes against me on this comments thread, showing the “mentality” that is at work here. I will not allow such hatred to come to this blog- keep it on the “sociopath’s world” blog (I assume it was name like this because the people there want to emulate sociopathy or something like that- at least that’s what it seems like when I read this manipulative shit you’re all trying to post here).

      In short: get the fuck out of my blog.

  6. Jason January 15, 2012 at 21:15

    Though I agree with you on some things you say I however say a sociopath is no more my enemy than someone with cancer or any other sickness. A person with AIDS is not my enemy but I would be wary of having sex with them. It is a common view in psychology that most people do not reach the highest levels of moral development. Sadly most people in our society base their morals on what other people say and what laws say.

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