It is a commonplace that psychopaths are “fearless.” But we are easily bored. Risky, or fear-inducing behavior can be the antidote to such boredom. We can get high on fear. But is this just a psychopath thing? It seems to me that the average person can find fear enjoyable (as long as it’s under control). Why else do people flock to see horror films or go on scary rides at an amusement park? In Huxley’s Brave New World, life was so safe and predictable, they gave simulated experiences with chemicals because it was believed everyone needed a bit of trauma.
The less we experience uncalled for fear, the more we enjoy it or even long for it. There was a club I belonged to called The Suicide Club. It wasn’t for killing oneself. It was for scary and unpredictable experiences. For example, one time the members were “kidnapped” by leaders. We were blindfolded and taken in cars to an abandoned building where we had some sort of scavenger hunt. Another time we planned to go to a weekend visit with Moonies and see if we could be brainwashed. Definitely a group for the edgy. But psychopaths?
An article by Seth Augenstein, Psychopaths Feel Fear, But Not Danger, claims we do feel fear but can’t access threats. Of what are we then afraid, I wonder. We don’t notice, he says, “what pressing dangers there are around (us)” but we “do have the capacity, in the long-term, to feel concern and worry for (our) own safety.” I should hope so. Otherwise, I might not have made any plans for my long term security. Oh, wait! I didn’t make many plans for that. Nevertheless, I do take care of my own well being. Although I don’t always obey traffic lights, I also don’t step out in front of moving cars. I’m aware of danger but I don’t dwell on it, especially things that can’t be controlled. For example, I can see the possibility of Trump abolishing Social Security and my ending up in a homeless encampment. But I figure, if it happens, it happens. When I take risks, I’m mindful of danger. I guess that’s “fear.” When the worst happens, I’m calm and all about dealing with it. Fear seems to be for the unpredictable or uncontrollable. Action is the perfect antidote to fear. Maybe fear is just about the future. Staying focussed on present time, one needn’t feel fearful.
Charles Manson knew a lot about using fear for enjoyment. Describing the experience of fear when on a creepy crawly mission, he said, “Well, I go into Malibu and I pick a rich house. I don’t steal, I walk into the house and the fear hits you like waves. It’s almost like walking on waves of fear.” He clearly sought fear as a thrill to be courted.
In the UK Channel 4 show, Psychopath Night, Kevin Dutton tests a group of student volunteers and gives the two highest scoring and the two lowest scoring the opportunity to do a bungee jump. The low scorers opted out. The high scorers chose to do the jump. The highest scorer, Ikra, was visibly afraid as she rode up to where she would jump from. Nevertheless, jump, she did and she thoroughly enjoyed the experience.
Yes, fear can be a high when we are the ones who court it. Even when an unwanted threat comes into my life and I feel an undesirable threat, once I’ve overcome the threat, I feel an exhilaration the makes me feel more alive so perhaps I enjoy it retroactively, if that makes any sense. If not, I recall Manson’s words, “No sense makes sense.” Except longing for fear can really mean one is longing for the unknown.
Thomas Harris’ novel, The Red Dragon, is the precursor to Silence of the Lambs. The main character of The Red Dragon is a retired FBI detection named Will Graham. James Fallon, author of The Psychopath Inside, has written that Graham is really a pro-social psychopath. I found Fallon’s view of Graham jarring as it sharply conflicted with my own view.
When I read about him, I saw Graham as an empath whose genius in solving crimes was his ability to put himself in the mind of the suspect. Although useful, Graham found this ability upsetting since he didn’t like the way these killers thought. Of course, that very ability to intuit what the killer was thinking makes James Fallon think he is a psychopath, albeit pro-social.
The book starts out in the beach house where Graham and his wife are leading an idyllic life. Jack Crawford, the senior officer on an current case, is there to persuade Graham to come out of retirement to help him. He says he needs his help as Graham is the best. Graham’s empathy is immediately in evidence. As they sit at a picnic table,
“Jack Crawford heard the rhythm and syntax of his own speech in Graham’s voice. He had heard Graham do that before, with other people. Often in intense conversation Graham took on the other person’s speech patterns. At first, Crawford had thought he was doing it deliberately, that it was a gimmick to get the back-and-forth rhythm going
“Later Crawford realized that Graham did it involuntarily, that sometimes he tried to stop and couldn’t.”
It’s true, of course, that a psychopath can mirror other people in order to manipulate them. But to do it involuntarily with no ulterior motive seems more empathic than psychopathic.
Graham doesn’t want to get involved in the investigation. Molly, his wife, doesn’t want him to do it either. But his conscience and empathy force him against his will. “What the hell can I do?” he said. “What you’ve already decided. If you stay here and there’s more killing, maybe it would sour this place for you.” Sure Graham can empathize with the killers. But he also empathized with the victims. His empathy was always with him. In a restaurant, he empathized with strangers.
“He saw Crawford’s cigarette smoke bothering a couple in the next booth. The couple ate in a peptic silence, their resentment hanging in the smoke.
“Two women, apparently mother and daughter, argued at a table near the door. They spoke in low voices, anger ugly in their faces. Graham could feel their anger on his face and neck.”
Graham had previously been psychiatrically hospitalized for depression after he killed a perp who had been about to murder someone. Although he shot the to save a woman’s life, he still felt “there must be some way I could have handled it better.” He got so depressed over it, he stopped eating and had to be hospitalized. After he had told his step-son about it, the kid asked him, “Killing somebody, even if you have to do it, it feels that bad?” “Willy,” answered Graham, “it’s one of the ugliest things in the world.” Doesn’t sound like a psychopath to me.
The FBI psychiatrist, Dr. Bloom, said of him, “What he has … is pure empathy and projection. He can assume your point of view, or mine — and maybe some other points of view that scare and sicken him. It’s an uncomfortable gift… what do you think one of Will’s strongest drives is? It’s fear, Jack. The man deals with a huge amount of fear.”
on the other hand…
James Fallon had a very different take on Will Graham…
“My favorite example comes from the 1986 film Manhunter, starring Brian Cox and William Petersen. Cox plays Hannibal Lecter, a cannibalistic serial killer who was later reprised more famously by Anthony Hopkins in the films The Silence of the Lambs and Hannibal. Lecter is characterized by his lack of empathy, his glib and charming manipulation of people, and his utter lack of remorse for his horrid and perverse behaviors. In short, he is what many would consider a classic psychopath and would probably have scored high on Hare’s Checklist. Real-life psychopaths who resemble Lecter account for the more sensational and extreme cases — think Jeffrey Dahmer, Ted Bundy, or the Son of Sam.
“But according to Hare, there is an entire other category of psychopaths out there — those who don’t score as high on the PCL-R but who still exhibit strong signs of classic psychopathic traits. These are people like the hero of Manhunter, the FBI profiler Will Graham, played by Petersen. Graham recognizes that he has the same urges and lack of interpersonal empathy as Lecter. Although he is not a murderer, he is, in fact, a psychopath, or at least a near-psychopath, what I like to call Psychopath Lite. He might score a 15 or 23 on the PCL-R, just under the 30-point score cutoff for full psychopath, but other than that, you might think him completely normal. When my wife, Diane, and I saw the film in 1986, she pointed to Will and said, “That is you.” (At the time, it threw me off a bit, but I decided she was referring to how nice and deep a guy Will was.)
Graham a psychopath? How can that be? He had a conscience, one that made him clinically depressed after a justified and necessary homicide; a conscience that wouldn’t allow him to bow out of helping to solve another case of serial murder. Knowing he hadn’t done what he could to stop the murders, he wouldn’t have even been able to enjoy his idyllic life any more. I have gone through the book, looking for evidence to support Fallon’s point of view.
Hannibal Lecter, whom Graham caught, certainly either thought Graham was a psychopath or enjoyed taunting him with that possibility. When Graham visits Lecter in prison, enlisting his help, Lecter says, “”You just came here to look at me. Just to get the old scent again, didn’t you? Why don’t you just smell yourself?”
“Do you know how you caught me, Will?
“Good-bye, Dr. Lecter. You can leave messages for me at the number on the file.” Graham walked away.
“Do you know how you caught me?”
Graham was out of Lecter’s sight now, and he walked faster toward the far steel door.
“The reason you caught me is that we’re just alike” was the last thing Graham heard as the steel door closed behind him.
Graham’s nemesis, the tabloid newsman, Freddy Lounds, wrote,
He was brought back from early retirement to spearhead the hunt for the “Tooth Fairy.”
What went on in this bizarre meeting of two mortal enemies? What was Graham after?
“It takes one to catch one,” a high federal official told this reporter. He was referring to Lecter, known as “Hannibal the Cannibal,” who is both a psychiatrist and a mass murderer.
OR WAS HE REFERRING TO GRAHAM???
In the course of the story, Lounds becomes a victim of the “tooth fairy” as a plan to use Graham as bait backfires on Lounds. Since Graham and Lounds had bad blood, one could speculate Graham deliberately set Lounds up. The facts are pretty scanty. The news story that they planted to draw the murderer was published in Lounds’ paper, The Tattler. It was accompanied by a photograph of Lounds and Graham. “Dr. Bloom was surprised to see Graham put a comradely hand on Lounds’s shoulder just before Crawford clicked the shutter.” Lecter accused Graham of deliberately setting the murderer on Lounds. Lecter wrote a letter to Graham…
A brief note of congratulations for the job you did on Mr. Lounds. I admired it enormously. What a cunning boy you are!
Mr. Lounds often offended me with his ignorant drivel, but he did enlighten me on one thing — your confinement in the mental hospital. My inept attorney should have brought that out in court, but never mind.
You know, Will, you worry too much. You’d be so much more comfortable if you relaxed with yourself.
We don’t invent our natures, Will; they’re issued to us along with our lungs and pancreas and everything else. Why fight it?
I want to help you, Will, and I’d like to start by asking you this: When you were so depressed after you shot Mr. Garrett Jacob Hobbs to death, it wasn’t the act that got you down, was it? Really, didn’t you feel so bad because killing him felt so good?
Graham knew that Lecter was dead wrong about Hobbs, but for a half-second he wondered if Lecter might be a little bit right in the case of Freddy Lounds. The enemy inside Graham agreed with any accusation.
He had put his hand on Freddy’s shoulder in the Tattler photograph to establish that he really had told Freddy those insulting things about the Dragon. Or had he wanted to put Freddy at risk, just a little?
It’s against the nature of a psychopath to “agree with any accusation.” That’s a point for “empath,” I think. So, where do we stand? Fallon and Lecter are squarely on the side of Graham being a psychopath. Thomas Harris is on the side of empath, I think. Will Graham came to a very sad end. His marriage fell apart and the murderer he might have sicked on Lounds ended up getting to him. He lived to wind up in a hospital, knowing his marriage was over. A lot of sacrifice for other people. As a “pro social” psychopath, I would not choose this outcome to save the lives of strangers.
I’ll end this with a final word from Hannibal Lecter for not other reason than shits and giggles:
Here we are, you and I, languishing in our hospitals. You have your pain and I am without my books — the learned Dr. Chilton has seen to that.
We live in a primitive time — don’t we, Will? — neither savage nor wise. Half measures are the curse of it. Any rational society would either kill me or give me my books.
I wish you a speedy convalescence and hope you won’t be very ugly.
Will Graham was physically ravaged by Hannibal Lecter and Francis Dolarhyde (the Red Dragon) successively. Each time, he ended up in a hospital with substantial wounds. He was on a mental ward because he got depressed over killing a murderer. No thoughts could be so ugly? And now he might be ugly. Empathy. I stick to my guns. He was an empath.
This is a lighthearted look at the foolishness found on the internet equating psychopaths with reptiles. True, we all have a “reptilian brain,” the most ancient part of the brain. So what? Every psychopath I know has the rest of the brain that is standard in every human. But reptiles have always been demonized in the West, starting with the snake in the Garden of Eden. Since psychopaths are demonized too, why not lump them together?
This is hilarious. We must include our favorite conspiracy nut, David Ickes
OMYGOD! They said reptiles walk on fire. I walked on fire once. Does that make me a reptile? But of course. All psychopaths are reptiles, aren’t we? But even Fox knows about it so it must be true.
Reptilian Resistance Party. The reptilian brain is present in all of humanity. It takes an advanced soul to resist the pull. Be aware of secret snakes lying in wait close to you. They slither only for themselves.
With the advent of psychology and psychiatry, moral judgment of our fellow human beings has been replaced by an attempt to understand them. The concept of “bad” or “evil” has been discarded in favor of “sick” or “crazy.” Of course, there are obvious maniacs who are so bizarre and out of touch with reality that people have never really judged them the way they would normally do. Societies driven by religion could only try to explain insanity in terms of possession by evil spirits. They knew these people were not in control of themselves but still something evil had to be responsible. Instead of evil spirits, we now speak of schizophrenia. Psychiatry didn’t stop there. The field went on to explain other forms of bad behavior on the part of people who were obviously not crazy. Neurosis became a major catchword. The joke was, “The neurotic builds a dream house, the psychotic lives in it and the psychiatrist collects the rent.” We hardly hear the word “neurosis” much any more. But we hear about and talk about personality disorders a great deal. People with these disorders are still thought to suffer from mental illness. Only the rare bird tries to combine the language of medicine with the language of morality. M. Scott Peck is a medical doctor who has attempted to do just that. His book, People of the Lie, applies Christian morality to people with personality disorders. His book is subtitled, “The Hope for Healing Human Evil.” This immediately puts psychology, psychiatry and even medicine on a philosophical basis. No more could science dealing with human beings be considered “pure science,” divorced from value judgments. Perhaps that is a more honest approach. Has the science of humanity ever been value-free? There is a school of thought which debunks the whole concept of “mental illness.” Notable in this group is R. D. Laing and Thomas Szasz. This sort of questioning leads one perilously close to questioning the reality of even physical disease. Is “disease” merely one way to explain the distress our bodies experiences while coping with a bad diet and other poor lifestyle choices? Holistic medicine comes at least close to exploring that possibility. Nevertheless, we have chosen, as a civilization, to be patients and doctors. The patient submits to the wisdom of the healer and feels safe (or at least hopeful).
Some human behavior has been so disturbing to society that the conflict between the medical framework and a moral one has been perplexing, especially when applied to the field of criminal justice. Society has rules and people break those rules. Some infractions are not too serious while some shake our society to its foundations. Moreover, some of these people reject the idea that they are “ill.”
I just learned a new word: “Bioethics.” Interesting. We now know psychopathy is a neurological condition although some people try to make it more fluid and less absolute with epigenetics. In The Wisdom of Psychopaths, Kevin Dutton has discussed epigenetics and psychopathy. According to Book Raps,
“The author is very interested in epigenetics, which is the change in how a gene is expressed without changing the DNA sequence. This would appear to be looking at how environmental factors influence how the gene is going to be expressed. This could occur to the fetus during pregnancy or I would suggest the same definition could occur by experience in childhood but all impacting on some genes that perhaps had a tendency to produce psychopathy. The author considers also how such things as child abuse might even produce an enzyme that in a susceptible individual might make them more aggressive.”
So, not only does the brain shape behavior, behavior and experience can shape the brain as well. It puts a whole new spin on the “hardware” vs. “software” paradigm. But regardless of the etiology of psychopathy, we know the condition of psychopathy isn’t voluntary. We don’t chose to be psychopaths. We come to know we are psychopaths. But, if the condition isn’t voluntary, what about the actions of a psychopath?
“… arguably, psychopaths are both sinned against as well as sinners. If that is true, then their status as the victims of abusive subcultures partially mitigates their moral responsibility for the harms they cause. We argue, from the neuroethics of psychopathy and antisocial personality disorder (ASPD), that communities have a moral obligation to psychopaths as well as a case against them.
Unfortunately, the above article is not available at present except in this Abstract. Fortunately, the same website (Taylor & Francis Online) that contains this Abstract also has an article by Nada Gligorov that discusses the issues in greater depth.
“Those individuals repeatedly fail to be motivated by other’s suffering or by the negative consequences of their behavior. Similarly, if we were to employ the constructionist framework proposed by the authors, almost any individual with a systematic weakness of will, not resultant from a neurological disorder, could be absolved of moral responsibility because of that person’s consistent deficit in being motivated by moral reasons. This is a problematic outcome if the purpose of the constructionist framework is to help us identify only those individuals who are not morally responsible for their actions.”
And episode of the TV show, Law and Order: SVU, involves a serial rapist who uses an affirmative defense, claiming he is psychologically impaired by his addiction to pornography. Defense attorneys can’t be blamed for seizing upon any way they can to defend their client. That’s their job. But can society intelligently accept a propensity to commit a crime as an excuse? I think human nature has a built-in propensity to break the rules when there is a reward involved. Understanding the cause of an action doesn’t negate the presence of free will. Of course, there’s a clear distinction between actions that are truly involuntary. Tourette’s Syndrome, sleep walking, epileptic seizures, to give a few examples, cause actions that the free will does not control. But raping someone because of a strong desire is something else again. On the other hand, there are cases like Patty Hearst’s that resulted from actual brainwashing. A better word for brainwashing is coercive persuasion. Patty Hearst broke the law because she had been made to believe that it was her only chance of surviving.
On the philosophical issue of free will vs. determinism, I am firmly on the side of free will. I think confusion results from seeing it as in either-or situation. Free will and determinism work together. Everything has a cause, including our actions. But the fact that our actions have causes doesn’t negate the fact that our choices are freely made in accordance with our will. That’s partially something I experience intuitively. I choose an action and then perform it. The reason I choose A instead of B has causes, I’m sure. But I am still in the center of my will and make the decision.
An article by Guy A. M. Widdershoven, Beyond Bad and Mad, states Gillett and Huang’s position a little more clearly:
“Gillett and Huang try to do justice to the complex social nature of psychopathology. They want to overcome the simple equation of psychopathology with being bad, by emphasizing the developmental problems that psychopaths suffer from. In their approach, psychopathology is seen as a combination of two elements: being bad and being mad. Yet it remains unclear how the two are related. Does the element of madness make the psychopath less bad (since in a way he or she cannot help acting as he or she does)? Does the bad intention somehow make the psychopath less ad (since a psychopath really wants to hurt other people, unlike, for instance, a person who assaults another person because of a delusion)? Or does the combination of bad and mad make the psychopath in two ways different from ‘normal’ people, because he or she is neither a moral person, obeying societal norms and legal rules, nor a sane person, responding in a stable way to stressful events? In the latter case, the elements of bad and mad do not mitigate one another, but add up and make the psychopath deviant in a twofold way.”
Finally, there is Moral Responsibility and Psychopathy: Why We do Not Have Special Obligations to the Psychopath. The article basically states that psychopaths are able to understand society’s moral requirements and to choose whether or not conform or rebel.
“Psychopathy is a mental disorder that involves impaired capacity for empathy and remorse as well as impulsivity and impaired responses to fear-induced stimuli. Brain imaging performed on individuals diagnosed with psychopathy has shown abnormalities in the prefrontal cortex, anterior cingulated cortex, and amygdale (Damasio 2000; Blair 2003 2007). These regions of the brain help to mediate the cognitive processes that result in decision making procedures that are relevant to moral situations. Though many psychopaths exhibit a failure to control their impulses this does not imply that they have an inability to control them (Glannon2011). Regardless of how the psychopath was brought up or what role the distorted context of relational concepts like love and kindness have played in the creation of the habituated character of the psychopath, it seems that psychopaths are still responsive to reasons and act from an authentic psychological scheme that affords them the ability to reason about which actions they ought to perform. If this is true then I am having a hard time understanding why the psychopath is owed any special obligations from the community.”
I agree with this last statement. I don’t think there is real advantage to being considered unable to control what we do. Freedom and responsibility come together. If we are held not morally responsible, we can be confined to psychiatric facilities and lose our civil rights. In England, I understand, psychopaths who commit serious crimes are placed in psychiatric prison hospitals such as Broadmoor. A popular novel called The Psychopath Test by Ron Johnson describes the fate of a man who faked mental illness to get into a cushy hospital instead of jail. He ended up at Broadmoor where, instead of having to serve out his term, was confined indeterminately as the shrinks there diagnosed him with psychopathy. In America, psychopaths are treated more harshly than the ordinary criminal as we are considered more likely to re-offend. It is fortunately only applied in parole considerations. Parole isn’t a right. It’s a privilege so they can deny parole to whomever they wish. Some authorities actually wish to civilly commit convicts after they have served out their time. That is flat-out unjust. Even more sinister are the murmurs of the possibility of placing electrodes into the brains of psychopaths to change how we think. That gives me the willies. Sure, they could call it voluntary. But giving someone a choice between staying in prison or nuthouse or of getting this “treatment” and going free is making that person an offer he can’t refuse. Bad news. Psychopaths aren’t crazy. We are free. And I’d like to stay that way. Freedom is responsibility. I’m responsible for my choices. If society doesn’t like those choices, it can kiss my psychopathic ass.
On November 8th of this year, the “unthinkable” happened. Donald Trump was elected president. Although his campaign sounded more populist that free-market fundamentalist, his choices for cabinet tell a different story. Liberals and progressives and just plain poor people are deeply concerned about the future. Alternet has an article whose title spells it out: It’s Ayn Rand’s America Now: Republicans Have Stripped the Country of Its Last Shred of Morality. Now Trump is hardly the ideal of Objectivists or Libertarians. He doesn’t embrace freedom for the individual, not with his “pro life” and anti-immigrant stance; certainly not with his intention to punish anyone who burns the flag. But the Republican Party representing the 1%, may well make the country Ayn Rand’s America.
Many enemies of Ayn Rand’s philosophy (and there are many) like to call her a “psychopath.” Of course, many of these same people call anyone they disapprove of a “psychopath.” Is she one? Is her philosophy an expression of psychopathy, par excellence?
A friend of mine who, like me, is a socialist and also a psychopath has admitted that, were he wealthy, he would probably change his politics. I admitted I probably would too. We psychopaths are on our own side first and foremost. In that respect, we think in a way that is similar to the way Ayn Rand thought. But there is a difference. We are amoral and Ayn Rand was very moralistic indeed. We consider altruism optional. If we want to be altruistic, that’s our business. She considered altruism evil. “Altruism does not mean mere kindness or generosity, but the sacrifice of the best among men to the worst, the sacrifice of virtues to flaws, of ability to incompetence, of progress to stagnation — and the subordinating of all life and of all values to the claims of anyone’s suffering.” She does like “benevolence” which consists of acts of good will towards those one likes. But suffering should not entitle anyone to make demands. Only productivity entitles one to anything. Well, lack of empathy is harmonious with the refusal to considering the fact of suffering a moral imperative. Does that mean psychopaths are against the social safety nets? No. Rational recognition that life in a society with safety nets protects us as well as others can make government benefits look desirable for everyone who belongs to the 99%. Ayn Rand equated poverty with inferiority. She believed and preached that those who encounter economic hardship are “incompetent” and lacking in value. My article, Libertarianism and Psychopathy, is a rebuttal of that claim.
Her enemies, in addition to denigrating her writing and philosophical strength, made much of an infatuation she had with a serial killer, William Hickman. “Other people do not exist for him, and he does not see why they should,” she wrote, continuing that he had “no regard whatsoever for all that society holds sacred, and with a consciousness all his own. He has the true, innate psychology of a Superman. He can never realize and feel ‘other people.’” The fact that he brutally murdered some little girls doesn’t enter into her description of Hickman, nor does she give any indication that she admired murder. She is said to have modeled the character, Howard Roark of The Fountainhead on Hickman but only his indifference to public opinion seems to have made it into Howard Roark’s description. Roark, the architect, was all about producing great buildings. Her mention of the “Superman” in the above quote is a remnant of her earlier attachment to the philosophy of Nietzsche which she had discarded during her We The Living period. There are actually two versions of the latter, one of which shows Nietzsche’s influence and the latter of which does not. Although she admired Hickman’s sublime indifference to other people’s opinions, she didn’t seem to share it.
Ayn Rand put a lot of emphasis on living in a way that is consistent with one’s values. However, she didn’t manage to achieve that kind of consistency in her own life. While social programs such as Medicare was anathema to her,
“Isn’t it desirable that the aged should have medical care in times of illness?” its advocates clamor. Considered out of context, the answer would be: yes, it is desirable. Who would have a reason to say no? And it is at this point that the mental processes of a collectivized brain are cut off; the rest is fog… … After centuries of civilization, most men—with the exception of criminals—have learned that the above mental attitude is neither practical nor moral in their private lives and may not be applied to the achievement of their private goals. There would be no controversy about the moral character of some young hoodlum who declared: “Isn’t it desirable to have a yacht, to live in a penthouse and to drink champagne?”—and stubbornly refused to consider the fact that he had robbed a bank and killed two guards to achieve that “desirable” goal. There is no moral difference between these two examples; the number of beneficiaries does not change the nature of the action, it merely increases the number of victims.” (emphasis added)
she collected Medicare benefits to finance her treatment for lung cancer. She also collected Social Security. In comparing Medicare with criminal expropriation, she said, “the private hoodlum has a slight edge of moral superiority: he has no power to devastate an entire nation and his victims are not legally disarmed.”
Her excuse was that she paid into these programs so she deserved to benefit. But, if she really considered these programs a form of robbery, she must not have considered the benefits true recompense for the contributions the beneficiaries put into the program. If that were true, after all, the programs could not be compared to bank robbery at all but, instead, to withdrawing one’s own savings from from the bank. And she didn’t collect under the name of Ayn Rand. She used her married name, Mrs. Frank O’Connor. She didn’t want the public, including her followers, to know she collected Medicare and Social Security, just as she didn’t want them to know she got lung cancer from smoking. She had always glorified smoking. All her followers emulated her. She denied that smoking caused cancer and insisted that cancer came from a defect of character. Once she found out she had the disease, she put out her cigarette and never smoked again. But refused, when asked, to make a public statement warning others about the dangers of smoking. She probably still believed smoking came from a deficit in her character of which she was ashamed. That’s more narcissistic than psychopathic. Her classes in Objectivism which were attended by worshipful admirers provided all the narcissistic supply a narc could ever want. She became increasingly intolerant of disagreement among her friends. She discarded them one by one on grounds of even trivial differences. She ended life cut off from all but the few who were completely submissive. Expressing disgust at the collective stupidity of the masses, she fastidiously withdrew from public life, condescending only to put out a newsletter that was her unchallenged word dispensed to the faithful.
Critics of Trump are divided on whether to call him a narc or a ‘path. His ruthlessness seems psychopathic but his constant bragging and idealization of himself are very narcissistic. His candidacy didn’t focus very much on a clear-cut ideology. Instead, he urged the voters to believe in him as the solution. He would “make America great again.” Once he could do it.
I think both Trump and Rand wanted to create an ideal human being and to embody that ideal. People refer to this idea as the narcissistic “false self.” That self is a kind of superman, the grandiose god of the narc. Sam Vaknin has called Hitler a narcissist and has stated that a narcissist is more dangerous than a psychopath. Time will tell.
Eva Wachter, from Perspecteva, has written a blog on empathy. The original, in German, is on her blog but she has translated it to English to appear here.
Empathy, what does the word actually mean?
This term is today not only in everybody’s vocabulary, it is also used permanently in all kinds of contexts — but sadly it is obviously misunderstood?
Duden calls empathy: the ability, to get into the spirit of a specific opponent, for example even if he has another cultural background.
So it means in the literal sense to put yourself into another persons shoes, thus, to feel with the other person, whatever he/she is presently feeling.
The nonsense starts with the common use of the phrase: the ability for empathy.
It is as a matter of fact a pleonasm, a redundant/superfluous use of more words than are needed. The ability for the ability to feel with another person? The phrase is just about as intelligent as the most other allegations on this subject.
The word has found its way into German from the English “empathy,” which harkens back to the Greek empatheia (εμπάθεια), which actually means passion, but also viciousness.
Empathy is hailed as a keystone of human togetherness, the cradle of human morality. Allegedly it is thetypical human ability necessary to make one a functioning member of society. It’s lack is associated — if not equated — with evil and antisocial behavior.
Empathy, as it is meant by word usage today, is basically defined as emotional empathy. Either omitted or equipped with negative connotations is its counterpart, the cognitive empathy, also called “cold” empathy. The adjective “cold” is already stigmatized, as it implies that this kind of empathy is characterized by “cold-heartedness.”
Instead, the fact that understanding what is going on in the other person also can lead to comprehension/insight regarding his behavior and his actual life-situation, is devalued. Cognitive empathy is, by definition, not bound to emotion. It is a neutral understanding of the other person’s feelings. It is based, as the name immediately suggests, on analytical thought/mental processing.
Body language, voice, gesture, facial expression, which words the person chooses when speaking, his eye-tracking system — these and other perceptible facts get cognitively recognized and lead to an evaluation of the inner sensitivities/affectivity/state of mind of this person.
Cognition represents the collective term for the mental vigor of humans. Cognitive science designates/indicates it the sum of all information-processing and structures of an intelligent system — in other words — intelligence itself. Bertelsmann lexicon defines cognition as an umbrella-term for all mental processes required to understand and cope with a situation.
Thinking is an upper/higher brain-function which includes abstraction and the understanding of complex coherence, and therefore — due to this far-reaching overview — is allows us to make competent decisions. Therefore it is possible for us to reckon the consequences for our actions/behavior — not only for ourselves but also with regard to others. This kind of reasoning is the only skill/competence, that separates us from other mammals.
Throughout this evolutionary bonus of sense and language our consciousness received the opportunity to make a quantum leap into a higher level of existence.
This new level is in the realm of abstraction, where we discover our sensual experiences a second time in form of a mental thought construct — our whole world/reality for what it is — depending on what we think, know, or believe about it. Emotional empathy is a social reflex — it makes one feel literally at one with the other person, putting oneself into his shoes
This is where the often mentioned mirror-neurone come into game; it mirrors the same firing-figure that can be seen in the other person, which is widely proved by measuring the brain activity with brain-spectrograms. All mammals (at least) operate this way, so it is obviously our animal heritage.
And it does make sense — or, it would make sense, if, after birth, we had been brought up in a healthy sociotope, as we are shaped and stamped fundamentally throughout it in our first few years of life.
Mothers are supposed to react in a caring and affectionate way on their offspring, who should be more important to her than her own life. All over nature you easily can see the same thing happening. Animal-mothers literally die for their babies without hesitation.
Humans have removed themselves from this fundamental instinctive precondition for a very long time and too far to even have a clue as to what that could possibly feel like. Black pedagogic and other ridiculous reigning concepts as well as the disturbances of the parents themselves make it impossible for them to mirror their kids adequately in the reality they share — one of the most important tools for the rather vague inherent neurostructure of the brain — had it been functioning.
But in our time and society the mirrored emotional empathy does more harm than good to the developing brain of kids.
To give a simple example: If the little child discovers something new, which triggers joy, it immediately turns towards its mother. Facing her — their eye-contact leading to the connection and mirroring of their “mirrorneurons,” they are charged in a similar way.
Usually the mother the mother resonates to her child in a appropriate way, she is sharing its joy, and the kid shares her compersion — so its own joy is thereby amplified.
If the mother does not share the feelings of her kid, no matter if she surpasses it for reasons of abnormal educational-theories, or if she suffers from depression or another disorder herself, the result would be, that the baby suddenly does not get an amplification of its joy added, on the contrary — the feeling it gets mirrored from its mother is coldness, refusal, stress, whatever. The dissonance in the babies brain reacts, causing emotional stress, and usually suppressing any ongoing action. As such event would usually indicate, the kid might be in severe danger of instinctively would freezing and experiencing alarm, waiting for his mother to save it.
Additionally, up until the age of three, the kid is not able to differ between the mother and itself. It experiences them as a unit, as one being. Only when it starts to address itself as I, can it have stepped out of the symbiosis and developed an individually shaped personality. But, as the child was not aware that the feeling of having been refused, or hugely stressed, had nothing to do with him — that it just came from his mother — the permanent presence of two contradictory emotions at the same time, this permanent dissonance without any given reason causes faulty circuits in the net of neurons, it is basically malfunctioning from the first step into its aware being.
Humans, who use this empathy as the basis for how they choose and act, get systematically misled and end up in confusing situations again — as their reflexive emotional response-system is damaged, getting out of this situation by not using their logic and cognition, but instead their next instinctive feeling — will lead them to take the wrong way again, and … you see where this is going. The longer one strays, the smaller the chances that the brain will stay fully functional (which could explain the irritating amount of stupidity and dumbness we are surrounded with). In the meantime several scientists have proven with multiple studies, that empathy actually is noxious / harmful and workshops are offered to get rid of it.
One of the leading opponents of empathy is Paul Bloom, professor for psychology and cognitive science on Yale university.
Also it qualifies as prove that there is no coherence whatsoever between empathy and morality — an allegation that happens to be a keystone of the whole empathy-movement, by the way. Being a good human has nothing to do with empathy.
Furthermore, one has to ask oneself: How can you know, that what you feel, really is the same that the other is experiencing? As our early childhood coinages and personalities are so very different, so are all our following experiences and associations, that build up our world and how we see it.
Every personally conceptualized world qualifies as unique, it isn’t possible, to change brains and experience a complete unfamiliar layout of the world.
Also our personally structured world is all we got. So from a certain point on, everything we seem feel with another person is only projection — it’s what we expect ourselves to feel in the other person’s situation.
Indeed studies have established, that during the emphatic processes admittedly similar neuronal patterns fire in both persons brains — but they activate predominantly neutrons, that are responsible for motions. That indeed motions are mirrored gets obvious in this picture of a soccer-match please note the body language of the player and the watching crowd.
Another popular misconception is that empathy is the precondition for morality and altruism, while the so-called evil only can arise, when your suffer from a lack of it. There are thousands of books out there, preaching empathy in every possible context. Every human knows what is right or wrong, we do not need empathy for that.
If you see a child drowning, you KNOW instant, that the right thing to do is saving the child, while watching it drown is wrong. Of course you can first experience the feeling, how the poor child must feel right now, drowning alone, dying… then you can put yourself in the shoes of its parents, how horrible they must feel, loosing their child under this dramatic circumstances. But what for?? It is absurd, to feel all of this exhausting emotions, while the child keeps drowning. Skipping that part would get you in the water to actually save it much earlier.
We know very well what is right or wrong, and there must not even be any human life involved. So everybody essentially knows, that it is wrong, to bootleg data, to make insurance-fraud, to throw trash out of the window or to steal food from the supermarket. If we obey the rules, is a complete different question, of course. This decision has to be made by ourselves.
Empathy, by the way, is the worst adviser you can get, if you plan to act in a morally right way. For example test persons were given a fair list of kids, who qualify for an lifesaving organ. The kids move up the list one by one, if organs come in. The test person now were told the story of one kid, who was ranking very low, so there would be several other kids be safe before it would be her turn. They were told, that she would die, if she will not get it till Christmas, and whatever. Nevertheless, most of the people wouldn’t do that. Because moving her up the list would not only be a betrayal to all the families, who trust you to be fair in this matter — also it would be your fault alone, that the kid, that deserved the organ as next on the list, had to die now. Every kid has a very sad story, every of them will be dead to 50% before they get on the top of the list.
In the next round of the experiment it was the exact same situation, only that this time the test persons were shown to the same story this picture of the little girl, and they were told her name, and they were told, to put themselves in the shoes of this girl. The goal was to provoke empathic emotions in their test-persons. Now surprisingly the results were completely different: the majority moved her up the list. Which is in fact an unethical, a highly immoral choice of behavior, that said, they also committed a crime now, that could destroy their carrier if it ever came up.
This was only one of many experiments, who gave clear evidence, that empathy blurs and distorts our sagacity. As if this wasn’t enough, empathy also creates a huge bias in our decisions and actions.
Empathy is like a spotlight, that will zoom you into the destiny of a single individual — which causes you to sympathize with him and you will tend to do him some favor — no matter if he deserves it or not.
This is no new insight. Even Stalin knew already: a single death is a catastrophe, millions of deaths are statistics.
Because your power of judgment so easily can be contorted and biased in any desired direction, it is of course used on you already … to collect donations, for example,
if you only show people the picture of a child, they donate twice as much, as if you give them all plausible reasons and data on this matter.
It is a known fact, that people give for one human more than for five — only if they are shown a face and a name. Similar distorted perceptions can be triggered with mass-shootings. Mass-shootings create huge emotional responses, because media will always add a pic of a crying mother, who has lost her child on such an event.
People go in the barricades and demand any possible strategy of prevention, to avoid further events like this.
Completely unnoticed remains reality, which in this case tells us, that all mass-shootings taken together actually only make 0.1% of all homicides in America. This number is so astonishingly low, that — even if it would be possible to prevent from now on any mass-shooting, so this problem is dissolved — you would not even see that in the statistics, the numbers would be exactly the same as before.
Next weak point of empathy is the bias, it creates. Empathy namely only appears, if you can identify yourself with the victim. And of course you identify the better, the more similar the victim gets to you, in every connotation: job, looks, relationship status, age, whatever.
Not to forget, Empathy raises prejudice and preconceived notion distinctly.
It has been proven, that criminals will be sentenced to death the more frequently, the darker their skin color was — but independent from the crimes, they committed. Interesting is the fact, that even people who have dark colored skin themselves, judged the right person on this picture to death, not the one on the left side — that’s how deep the prejudice about black people is rooted in our emotional system.
Empathy suddenly does no longer seem so human and fair, does it? You orient yourself on race, nationality and even group-affiliation, whether you feel empathy or NOT. And as it seems, this feeling is reserved only for a very small circle of near friends or family.
This will be my last example of experiments, therefore its results will be dreadful, if not to say: horrifying.
The brain activity of the test-persons was measured while they were watching a person getting tortured with electric shocks. One group was told, that the person, who was tortured, was a fan of the same team as they were, the other group believed, he belonged to the opposing soccer team. The result was simply shocking: not only there was hardly any empathy for people of the other group, but the results of the measurement even showed enjoyment and pleasure while they watched the guy being tortured. Empathy is reserved only for members of their own group.
Psychotherapy programs in prisons showed a clear reduction of the rape after the prisoner was released into the world again, but only because one single prisoner kept raping afterwards. This blatant misjudgement resulted from the fact that people can identify with the victim, but not with the many woman, who have not been raped due to the program.
In Africa and India healthy kids get crippled, because they get the most money from white tourists, if they were sent begging. So when they were about to fly to this country, the tourists were told not to give these kids any money, because they are not helping, they only caused more children to have their arms and legs cut off; they were promoting this cruel act by giving money.
But nevertheless, most of the tourists still gave the most money to precisely these kids. Their justification was that they felt bad for them. The fact that their empathy caused more torture to children now, left them cold.
UNICEF debunked the poignant cruelty of empathic people. They dressed the same little girl differently for each of the two transits, they did with the experiment, to test the willingness to help.
The experiment had to be interrupted, because the kid became too upset, due to all these declining and even hostile reactions by people when she was dressed in rags.
So, in reality, it isn’t a question of being able to feel empathy. Its the question of to whom you choose to invest this feeling on. Advertising and all other forms of manipulation therefore count on the people’s empathy to reach their goal. Depending on what goal is to be pursued, different stories will be emphasized.
To take as current topic the refugee-issue. On side will show the terrible destiny of a poor refugee, the other one a woman, who has been raped by refugees.
Nobody reflects on the facts and thinks about developing a reasonable assessment of the subject and building up an opinion about a topic. Humans decisions are blindly emotional.
As a given fact effective altruism requires rational thinking.
Quite revealing is the story of Leslie Jamison, who originally was convinced, that the best doctors will have the most empathy, and vice versa. She rather put herself out for this reason in a very ambitious way — until she suddenly became severely sick and so experienced her theory suddenly as a real patient instead of just her theoretical construct about it. Her Odyssey led to a radical conversion of her disposition. She found out that she felt herself in good hands with doctors who had a complete different type of personality than she had expected. To quote Leslie:
Of course it is important, that a doctor treats his patients with respect, kindness, and that he really listens to his problems. He is supposed to understand the problem, and then search for the solution it in a competent way. Empathetic feeling the miserable situation of his patience is not necessary, it even could be obstructive.
Paul Bloom said in one of his lectures something like that regarding psychotherapy: He wants to be understood, but he doesn’t want to infect his therapist with the depression, which he suffers from.
This is last study, done in Yale — which I hope will clean up this deep-rooted prejudice, that empathetic people are more humane than others in their decisions. The test persons were measured for their empathy scores and then they were told a story: In Egypt an American reporter has been held and tortured. They had to chose a proper reaction for America to this event out of six possibilities.
The result shouldn’t surprise you at this point.
The more empathetic the test person was, the more irrational and cruel the retaliatory strike, that was held suitable to him. And where is the overall propagandized coherence between aggression / cruelty and the lack of empathy? It doesn’t exist. These results have also been confirmed by a meta study, which analyzed every, literally every single study ever made regarding empathy. The connection is pure fiction.
But what about all the dangerous psychopaths, the serial killer, aren’t they lacking in empathy? Yes they are, but that fact is not the factor, which causes their development into inhuman and dangerous people, in fact, empathy is one of the most irrelevant traits for this.
The following list names the parameter, which in reality show off a tendency for criminal behavior. These are the true risk factors, so to say.
Let us leave our own cultural environment to have a look at Buddhism.
Tania Singer worked together with Buddhist monks on researching about moral competence and social behavior, they in fact can look back at a really long experience and data, that they collected over nearly 20 years from their work. Fifty percent of the people were trained in empathy, the usual emotional empathy, where you are told to put yourself into the others shoes, the other fifty percent were trained in Compassion instead. Compassion is defined as Empathy from some distance – so you are not emotionally involved, but you understand the problem of the other person. In cognitive science we name that cognitive empathy. Compassion came off as the clear winner, she is a good indicator for the persons moral competence.
The results added shortly.
So what can we learn out of this?
Emotional Empathy is overhauled. It’s nothing more than a rudiment; a mammalian heritage. It lost its usefulness under our actual environmental conditions. Empathy is no proper tool to get adjusted in societies with no relation at all to the bonding — togetherness of social groups, they were built for.
Today it leads to wrong decisions, prejudices, it clouds clear thinking, sometimes it causes aggression, sometimes in large extent, but not called for in the given situation not at all called for. We are living in complex social constructs, where we need to be able to analyze the actual given situation rational and neutral, to get a reliable result, instead of being blinded by emotions.
Instinctive, reflexive reactions are exactly what makes us vulnerable to and unaware of manipulation — and manipulation is actually occurring on largest extent ongoing, if not by other people, then from propaganda, politicians, you name it. We can be programmed like machines throughout this tools on this basis.
Rudiments are features or phenomenon’s in organism, which are designed only incomplete and /or have lost meaningful functioning.
Organs as well as behavior can become redundant or dispensable in the course of time. They regress as a result or sometimes can even become a handicap.
Our appendix may serve for an example: Having played a central role for digestion, in times before some profound dietary change took place bin the lives of our ancestors, which led to its regression.
Of course the appendix — as useless it might be in its present context — has held a useful function for us — like hosting many cells of the lympt-system. The appendix is a retreat area now for the useful gut bacteria, they enter, when some infection is destroying the whole enteric flora, and help building up a new one, after the shitstorm will have ended someday.
But you also can live without it.
Empathy resembles its fate kind of. It may have its benefits, if applied with caution and care.
It will be destructive, if used as basics for your decision making and your judgement.
It makes you dumb, viewing empathy the headstone your humanity, and relying on it — it will make you the game ball for easy manipulation — which you never will understand, even though obeying it.
If somebody wants to become a “better guy” better promotes his cognitive empathy, not the emotional one.
My friend, Lucky Otter, brought my attention to a movement I didn’t really know much about, the Positive Thinking Movement. I knew, of course, that some people try to always think positive but I had no idea it was a movement. Otter pointed out the negative side of this way of thinking. It discourages one from acknowledging, not only our own pain, but the pain of others and was, therefore, counter-empathetic. Some of these people go so far as to blame the unfortunate by suggesting that their misfortune was a direct result of negative thinking. Now, it is possible for negative attitudes to draw misfortune to someone. But to think all misfortune is the result of negativity or the converse, that all good fortune is the result of positive thinking is more wish than reason. It is especially absurd to see Christians indulge in such nonsense. I would suggest they re-read the Book of Job.
That said, I think there is a lot of good in choosing to be happy. Yes, happiness is, to a large extent, a choice. The proof is the demeanor of some of the most downtrodden people you could meet who still manage to be surprisingly cheerful. I have noticed something strange about wealth (and poverty). No matter how much (or little) someone has, s/he often feels poor. I have heard wealthy men bitch about how little they have, how much their kids’ private school is costing them, yada yada. And they really mean it. Because no matter how much we have, our spending and expectations expand to consume it. I worked in a rehab for drug addicts. The women there had nothing. Most were on Welfare. But they still managed to enjoy life, they would put on a tune while cleaning up the place, and show a joy that was palpable. I do think we can choose happiness most of the time.
Personally, I try to stay in a good mood. I find things to do that make me happy. My grandiosity helps a lot there. Lucky Otter pointed to an article in “Harper’s Magazine tracing the rise of the positive thinking movement, and how it’s been taken to ridiculous and heartbreaking extremes, leading to the victim-blaming mentality and society-wide narcissism so pervasive today. This attitude that we can all be our own gods …” But I am my own god and I like it that way. Psychopaths are generally known to be pretty happy people. Perhaps lack of empathy and guilt has something to do with that. Not that I don’t ever feel down. I have to fight boredom in a life that is pretty limited. But I wouldn’t change places with an empath.
The pervasive attitude of society is that empathy is a wonderful thing. Those who have it are a lot more virtuous than those who don’t. Not everyone agrees. An article in the New York Times, Empathy is Actually a Choice, says “a growing chorus of critics, inspired by findings like those above, depict empathy as a source of moral failure. In the words of the psychologist Paul Bloom, empathy is a ‘parochial, narrow-minded’ emotion — one that ‘will have to yield to reason if humanity is to survive.'”
James Fallon has spoken about the ability of psychopaths to make choices that empaths are unable to. His famous trolley car experiment describes how a psychopath, by detaching himself from emotion, can choose to sacrifice one life to save six.
The best rebuke of the Great God Empathy was made in a comment on someone else’s blog (link to full comment and blog post below).
This empathy stuff is the biggest joke under the sun. So what if you got feelings? What makes yours so damn important? And while we are about that what makes you so more important that we should listen to you? Your feelings? Give me a break. You have to do better than that.
Don’t expect any sympathy from me. I have no sympathy, even for myself. Work out the best thing to do, and do it. And do it within the context of the law, and follow through. This emotional dross is the reason NTs are a real drag. Almost any person who thinks like me would say there is something wrong with an NT. They are programmed to almost always do the wrong or the worst thing. Hitler, btw, was no psychopath. He was an empath, that’s why he did what he did.
It’s about time someone pointed out the ultimate selfishness of empathy, the self-indulgence of it. It’s a feel-good drug. But it’s the only drug that enables the addict to speak from a high moral ground. I prefer the drug of grandiosity. I may be selfish and self-indulgent but at least I’m not posing in a white hat.