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What Sociopaths Can Teach Us

What Sociopaths Can Teach Us

By Dennis Loo (5/14/18)

When a sociopath succeeds “in passing,” that is, is not seen as what they truly are – self-centered and not caring about you at all – they successfully pass as not a sociopath, that is, like most of us – caring about others. Sociopaths do this instead of its opposite for a reason: the majority of us care about others. What happens to you on an everyday level if you don’t use “please” and “thank you” in whatever language you say it in? You are isolated.

There are those, however, who preach that the sociopathic way is the human way, that we are in our essence, selfish and greedy. Who has not heard that said? Indeed, if you ask most people they will happily repeat what is now so widespread it counts as a truism: that most people are really at bottom selfish.

Much our economics are based on precisely that notion, called “homo economicus.” And in politics it’s widely accepted as true and valid. (Of course, if we were truly mainly selfish, and most of us were just as narcissistic as Donald Trump, then we couldn’t be a society in the first place. No sociopaths would succeed “in passing” and Trump’s spectacular indifference to others’ condition would not raise anyone’s eyebrows, let alone the majority of people who now find his act offensive on the most basic level.

Now I should add a qualifier here since some people raise this objection: that we all take ourselves into consideration when we do or don’t do things. The fact that this is obviously true, does not then mean we are principally selfish. It means that we take ourselves into account, but it does not correspondingly mean we are therefore mainly selfish. If you are known by those around you as mainly selfish, then what do they do around you? They leave you alone and stay away from you as much as possible.

It isn’t a matter of one or the other. It is a matter of both, but they are not of equal amounts. Just because some element is there at all times for most of us such as we take ourselves into account in most situations does not then mean that most of us are therefore selfish. It means that our own skin means something to most of us, but that something does not therefore mean everything. Trump is again known for being extreme in this regard, but that does not then mean that he is the standard. Most of us are more concerned with others even as we also care for ourselves but most of us care more about others than we do care about ourselves. What do we call, for example, soldiers in battle who care exclusively or mainly about themselves? We call them cowards.

Let’s take an arena where competition is fierce – sports. I would argue even here where the focus is on winning (we all hate to lose whatever the level is), that cooperation actually exceeds competition. The NBA Playoffs are now in their penultimate stages and the desire to win is fierce. Yet to play at all we have to cooperate first and foremost: we agree that in basketball we will play in a court of predetermined size, we will field at any given time no more than five players, that they will wear specified jerseys of certain colors that differ from your opponents’ jerseys, that we will abide by the officials’ final rulings – even if we disagree with them! – that the winner gets to four games first, even if that team has fewer points overall then the other team, since any single game is decided by even as small as one point, and so on. What do the coaches spend much of their time emphasizing? That sharing the ball, moving the ball around quickly, and trusting each teammate is paramount.

What would happen if mutual reciprocity was explicitly recognized as the dominant standard in society rather than what is now the case where egoism is considered the dominant standard? As I said earlier, we have to currently actually privilege cooperation over competition in order to have the basis for society and group life. We have to and most, but not all of us, are loving parents and most of us go through a sustained period where we sacrifice many things for our children to our personal disadvantage in fact. This is the social norm and must be to even bring forth a new generation. Think what a difference it would make if we made what is in fact true the explicitly recognized social norm? Think what the world would be like then?

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