Wednesday, May 14, 2008

The Sociopath Next Door

I grabbed this book off the shelf of the library while I was waiting for a computer. It was disturbing not because of what the author talks about, but how she talks about it. The main message of the book is:

1) There are people who are not like you and me.
2) These people are born evil and cannot be cured.
3) Almost all of the problems in the world are caused by these people.
4) Psychologists know how to identify these people and protect you from them.

I exaggerate somewhat. I do not really believe that the author has some kind of dark plot to gain power by scapegoating a class of people. She admits information that works against her main point. This is nothing like a well-crafted propaganda piece; it is a logically flawed account of a real and confusing problem.

Let me list some contradictions in the book:

The author complains about how Western societies embrace individualism, because this encourages the antisocial actions of sociopaths. However, she also insists that we all need to teach our children to question authority and listen to their own conscience.

The author repeatedly insinuates that almost all of the evil in the world is directly or indirectly caused by sociopaths. She claims that everyone else has a conscience that makes them basically good. However, she admits to many ways that this conscience repeatedly and systematically fails to prevent people from doing evil.

The author celebrates 'postconventional morality' as the highest form of moral development. This ethical system basically says that you can break the rules if you think you have an important reason. This is exactly the thought process of the sociopath. They feel that they can break the rules because their needs are more important.

Overall, the book seems to be a desperate attempt to preserve a myth that most people are basically good. The author looks at all the evil in the world and tries to convince us that a small minority are responsible. She says that if only we can identify them and remove them from society, then everything will automatically improve.

The irony is that the author specifically identifies scapegoating as the favored tool of sociopathic tyrants throughout history. In fact, this book contains all of the facts and tools you need to see how wrong it is. She is intellectually honest; this is an academic discussion and not a political screed.

The fact is that evil can be found in anybody. Bad things usually happen not because of some evil plot by a soulless demon, but because normal people react hastily and emotionally to a complicated world.

1 comment:

Dylan Bruns said...

Ah, yes, people are basically good. Right, they just happen to follow sociopaths? If this was true, evil political movements would not exist. Had to laugh at the mismatch in silly beliefs. Reject individuality, but question authority? No sense at all.