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).
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.