Here’s the bad news: Predators walk among us, and they are indistinguishable from normal people. These differently wired humans have a predatory advantage, and they use it. This is not a plot from a scary movie; this is real.
I am deadly serious about this, though by the end of this column, I will also explain why there is also good news.
These predators are called sociopaths (psychopaths in the clinical literature). They rather seldom damage our bodies, but they make careers out of bleeding our souls.
I’m not trying to be dramatic, by the way. I was holding this subject for the next issue of my subscription newsletter, but the more I worked on it, the more I was convinced that I should publish some key points ahead of schedule. This is important.
So, before we go any further, I’d like to give you two essential facts that will allow you to protect yourself from sociopaths. If you can remember these, you’ll avoid a lot of pain:
1 in 50 people is a predator.
At least 2% of the overall populace are sociopaths, and some estimates are double that. Perhaps 75% of them are male, though no one knows why. That means that at least every thirty-third man is a sociopath, and every hundredth woman.
Most of us have a feeling that everyone has some goodness in them. This is generally a useful feeling, but it’s only true for 49 out of 50 humans. That last one is a predator without a conscience.
I don’t like the sound of that any better than you do, but it has been proven over and over and over. We need to face the facts, and we cannot treat these people like we do everyone else.
You must pay attention to inauthentic emotions.
Sociopaths have a “tell” that gives them away: Emotions that are not quite right. They don’t have much in the way of positive emotions themselves, so they fake them. But they can never fake them completely.
Authentic expressions of emotions are very complex, involving dozens of muscles, increased or decreased blood flow and pressure, pulse rate, posture, tone of voice, and more. Normal people are deeply familiar with these complicated arrangements and innately understand their patterns.
The sociopath, on the other hand, doesn’t feel them and can’t grasp their patterns. He or she must mimic them. But because of the great complexity involved, the sociopath can never mimic them terribly well.
So, you must notice inauthentic emotions, remember them, and not ignore them in an effort to be nice.
The How and the Why
There are a lot of things to understand about sociopaths, and we can’t cover them all in one column, but I will give you the basics, which are these:
Sociopaths have a profound lack of empathy for the feelings of others. They lack the internal feedback system by which normal people monitor themselves. (Most people call this “conscience,” which is probably as useful a term as any.) Sociopaths do not have this and don’t feel bad about abusing other people. It’s not that they feel bad and ignore it—they don’t feel it at all.
Sociopaths understand that they are different from normal people and learn to mimic normal behavior. This mimicry has a purpose: It gets the sociopath what he or she wants.
The sociopath hides his or her difference. After letting it show a time or two—and probably being punished by a parent as a result—the sociopath covers up the truth and keeps it covered. But the reason for hiding it is not embarrassment (the sociopath doesn’t feel embarrassment), but because it hinders him from getting what he want.
Since sociopaths have no empathy for others, making use of normal people feels just fine to them. Likewise, they feel no remorse.
Empathy, as viewed by the sociopath, is a weakness, and he considers himself superior, because he isn’t burdened by it.
Because they lack an internal feedback system, sociopaths are excellent liars. For example, they can often pass lie detector tests, since those tests register the effects of our internal feedback system, which they don’t have.
A sociopath is likely to maintain a group of people who believe whole-heartedly that he is a good, kind, honest person. He’ll work in calculated ways to create and maintain that opinion in them.
Here is what Hervey Cleckley wrote about sociopaths in his classic text on the subject, The Mask of Sanity:
Beauty and ugliness, except in a very superficial sense; goodness, evil, love, horror and humor have no actual meaning, no power to move him.
Now we come to the question of why sociopaths are this way, and we do have some answers.
Recent brain scans indicate that sociopaths have unusually small amygdalae (the part of the brain associated with emotional reactions, decisionmaking, and memory processing). A region of the brain’s frontal cortex, called the orbitofrontal cortex, seems problematic as well. This region, which communicates with the amygdala, is also involved with decision making.
So, the cause of sociopathy is almost certainly organic. Someday it should be curable with genetic engineering, but for now, there is no cure at all. That means that you have zero chance of talking a sociopath into behaving well.
Trying to repair a sociopath tells him that you’re a ripe sucker, and nothing more. He’ll play along, tell you what you want to hear, fake the emotions he thinks you’ll respond to, and bleed you dry, emotionally and physically. And he’ll never feel a moment’s remorse as you finally contemplate suicide.
Yes, I know this is dark stuff, but it’s better to be forewarned than to learn through harsh experience.
Why This Is Actually Good News
Considering that sociopaths make up 2% of the total population, and considering that a sociopath is responsible for several times more damage than the average person (I’d guess at least five to ten times as much), then… training people to recognize and avoid sociopaths would eliminate a serious percentage of human suffering.
And it gets better. Aside from natural causes like diseases, the number-one source of pain on Earth is political systems. For today I’ll pass up the argument of whether states are necessary or not; instead, I’d like to make a simpler point: Governments, like all hierarchies, are havens for sociopaths. And governments have, over the last century, killed approximately 260 million people. (See Death by Government, by R.J. Rummel.)
So, what would happen if millions of people, because they were able to recognize sociopaths, stopped empowering and obeying them?
I’m trying to think of any single thing that would eliminate human suffering better than sociopath recognition, and I’m not coming up with much. Furthermore, it would be easy: websites, billboards, tiny radio and TV ads, flyers, handouts, and just about anything else could be used. The concepts are simple and potent, and the motivation to avoid pain is inherent in human nature.
For far less than corporate charities spend, something like this would change the world… more, better, and faster.
Something to think about.
A Free-Man’s Take is written by adventure capitalist, author, and freedom advocate Paul Rosenberg. You can get much more from Paul in his unique monthly newsletter, Free-Man’s Perspective.
By Paul Rosenberg