What do you fear most? An evil group or an evil person? Read Shirley Jackson’s thoroughly scary story of group insanity, The Lottery. Watch Children of the Corn. Would you rather live in a town where there is a sole vampire terrorizing the population, or be the sole non-zombie in a town that has gone all-zombie? Ask yourself, who scares you more — Hitler or the mindless army he inspired? Would you prefer the tyranny of a dictator or the tyranny of an illiberal democracy, where a mob tramples over individuals? Dictators can be overthrown. Can an evil group culture be as easily displaced?
I’ve dealt with sociopaths before and was amazed at how effortlessly they would “win” when you got in their way. The most fundamental assumptions I had about human behavior were completely destroyed as they crushed me. I “follow the rules” and it is difficult for me to imagine other people not doing the same. Sociopaths know the rules far better than you. The rules that you acquired as a small child and “just follow” without thought or even awareness they have thoroughly examined under a light of hyper rationality. They may follow them most of the time but it is with the knowledge that it is to their benefit to do so at that time and place. When it is to their benefit to not follow them they effortlessly break them.
I began following M.E., a diagnosed sociopath, a year or more ago and my burning hate for sociopaths diminished some as read more. After a time I was able to develop a model for their behavior that allowed me see them in a different light. They lack empathy for other people. In a sense you can think of them as totally selfish but to do that would be to continue misunderstanding them in a way that is detrimental to both yourself and them. The short version of my model for them is hyper-rational beings who only care about themselves. They will act to the benefit of others but only if it furthers their own interests.
They examine the rules of society and understand them and use them to their advantage. They have and frequently need and want friends and family. They can be good friends, family, neighbors, and citizens when they want to be. But what you consider fundamental principles of behavior to them is nothing more than a suggested script to be read at the appropriate time. They examine, evaluate, and act with full awareness and no guilt for “going off script” when they need to achieve their goals.
This, perhaps surprisingly, was reassuring to me. It explained to me why there might be a genetic component to sociopathetic behavior. Having a small number of sociopaths in society is almost certainly an advantage to the group. Let me explain.
In The Walking Dead there are many people who avoid doing things that are clearly the rational thing to do and put themselves and a great many other people at extreme risk. You watch the show and you understand the dilemma of the character but you also understand they really need to put a bullet in the head of the zombie that was their child.
The show is make-believe but you have to be extremely well insulated from reality to not realize we have similar situations all around us.
We euthanize our pets when they are in pain and have no hope of recovery. We, in the gun community, think about and train for the use of deadly force to protect innocent life. Yet most, if ever in the position of taking the life of a human, even when clearly saving innocent life, will suffer for a significant period of time, if not their entire life, for doing the right thing. We send our young adults to war to kill and be killed when the alternative is even greater loss to our society.
These are tough choices and we agonize over them before and after making them when “the proper choice of action” is frequently crystal clear and obvious to the sociopath. Having people with this clarity of vision, ability to make these decisions quickly, and implement them without guilt or hesitation, is an advantage to a society.
One of the things that M.E. said in a previous post has almost haunted me. She said, IIRC, she fears mob behavior because it is so unpredictable. She understands individuals because after observing and interacting with them for a very short period of time she knows, with a high degree of certainty, how they will behave. Their behavior probably isn’t rational, but it is predictable. A mob is unpredictable and powerful.
This observation of mobs extrapolates well to a mindless or evil group culture which is destroying the good and the innocent. The sociopaths among us may be able to make tough choices, in direct violation of deeply held principles, and save a good society from the indecision which would result in the total destruction of that which is good.—Joe]