Wednesday, September 22, 2010

The scheming sociopath myth

There seems to be a persistent belief that sociopaths are omnipotent scoundrels who are constantly taking advantage of mere mortals. Yes, sociopaths seem to naturally look for weaknesses and loopholes to exploit, but how is that any different from a day trader in the stock market playing off of whims of society, or a retailer, a corporate raider, or any other arbitrageur? Some of society's greatest achievements were made by someone who was trying to outplay the other guy, e.g. Christopher Columbus.

Plus it is quite rare to make a career completely out of exploiting others -- there simply are not enough opportunities to go around for all potential takers. And make no mistake, if there were more opportunities to go around, there would be more criminals. The prohibition against police entrapment exists because we believe that even your typical lay-abiding citizen will indulge in a unsavory scheme if presented with the right opportunity. Yes, you have your career criminals, "playmakers" who are not only looking for opportunities, but creating them: maybe con men, gypsies, golddiggers, or meth-addled petty thieves. The bulk of people committing an "exploitative" crime, however, are simply people who were presented with the right set of circumstances for their particular needs/wants/skills.

People who believe that there are ample, risk-free opportunities for sociopaths to live off of the weaknesses of others are the same delusional souls who respond to requests from Nigerian princes. The truth is that even for the bulk of sociopaths, when you factor in the risk of getting caught, crime simply does not pay.

I noticed a lot of responses in yesterday's post either scoffing at or supporting the idea of a successful sociopath. What a lot of people don't realize is that despite sociopaths being largely ruled by impulses (or perhaps because they are), they are incredibly sensitive to incentive structures and actively consider both actual costs and opportunity costs in their decisionmaking. I think "Gabriel" explained the situation very well in his comments:

I'm no world leader, but I do have a well-paying professional job in a Fortune 500 company rather than languishing in prison, so I guess you could say I am a successful sociopath. I'm as capable as anyone else of learning from mistakes. I certainly never learned empathy, but I'm intelligent enough to learn rules and learn that breaking them often has consequences that are unpleasant.

As to wanting to follow the rules, if following them benefits me sufficiently, then I'm fully capable of following them. If breaking them will bring consequences I don't like, then I don't break them. No empathy is involved, simply a logical examination of cause and effect.

I agree with your second paragraph, 2 said, that it's more likely dependent on intelligence. I have untoward impulses like any other sociopath, but I have the intelligence to foresee what the likely outcome would be, and decide whether it's worth it to me. I'm not ashamed to say that I usually make decisions based on what will benefit me the most, and acting impulsively and stupidly is rarely what will benefit me. Even I know that benefiting others in the short term is often what will benefit me most in the long term -- just like any normal person.
Having worked in major corporations for about 3 decades, I know that no matter how you choose to rise through the ranks, there have still got to be people higher who promote you, and they aren't going to do it unless you bring value -- to either themselves or the company. If all socios left nothing but a path of carnage and destruction along their career paths, do you think that's hidden from those with the power to move them upward?
Perhaps the best reason to want to avoid living off someone else, though, is the low quality of the people you could live off. Prostitutes, golddiggers, etc., they all have to "earn" it somehow, almost always by filling a role that nobody is willing to do for free, which makes them the underworld's equivalent of garbage men and tax collectors. If you want to be around quality people, you have to learn to check the manipulation and the gamesmanship and engage with those people on a higher level. If lower quality people don't demand the same from us, is it really our fault if we give them what they're looking for?


  1. I don't understand how a sociopath could live off a "golddigger". Isn't the golddigger looking for someone to live off? How would that work?

  2. Simple.

    The golddigger's personality could be highly insecure, self loathing, self destructive, things that sociopaths can sense, making them easy targets. This golddigger could be using someone else to gain, but not expecting another to use them. It has more to do with the personality of the golddigger, not what they are doing as far as gain.

    EX: Golddigger, for the sake of scenario, is a woman. She has an older man, sugar daddy, buying her everything she wants, taking really good financial care of her. The sociopath can be the man on the side, attractive, youthful, charming, giving her everything she is lacking other than money(good sex, good advice, makes her gain confidence, dangerously adventurous) and she'll start believing this other man is making her complete. He could be casually bringing up the fact that he needs something here or there after wooing her into an emotional and mental slave, and she would be willingly offering on her own since he makes her feel so good. And due to her own selfishness in taking from others, to give what she didn't initially buy, or earn, wouldn't bother her.

  3. What about a sociopath being the main gold digger in the household, got all the skills to mooch without guilt? Also, how many sociopaths might be working in the sex industry, stripping, porn etc?

  4. While I agree with Jasmine that exploiting a golddigger is possible, I believe that the blog itself was saying that golddiggers and other petty criminals are examples of average people who could be lured into crime without being socio. If a socio wants to be part of a more exclusive milieu than criminals, then he/she needs to adopt different tactics.

    The same could be said for criminal sociopaths, for that matter. They may have such an abysmal lack of skills or intelligence that they routinely rely on physical intimidation (assault, rape, murder, etc.). Or they might aspire to "higher-class" crimes, such as the multi-million dollar investment rip-offs that seem to crop up every few years or so.

    While not all these white-collar criminals are necessarily sociopaths, one has to wonder about the level of empathy, compassion, and conscience of anyone who steals the life savings or retirement funds of others, leaving the victims destitute while they amass more money than they can reasonably spend. I don't need a conscience to know that such actions indicate amorality. It's just amorality that requires more patience and skill than killing people for their wallets.

  5. ^^^Perfect, Gabriel, couldn't be worded any better.

    Sociopaths in porn? There are 521 of them in the industry.

    Who knows! Why would that matter?

    I feel like there should be more to your question, what's the point in asking that...

    I'm going to assume, for the sake of trying to answer your question, and to play smart :), that you're asking about sociopaths in the sex industry as far as profit, gain, and control. I don't think the job matters. Every job is an opportunity, not just for sociopaths. It depends on the person, and what they want to make out of it.

    I can't speak for everyone, but whenever I take on a job, I want it to be something I can gain alot from in the long run. I want it steady, provides a decent means of salary, and in the future build a reputation and strength in character that can aide in gaining more if and when I want it. If I were to take on the job of a stripper or porn star, in the long run, what would I gain as far as a respectable reputation? I'd have money depending on who I teased or fucked, but that world is too much unnecessary struggling. Having to entertain to makes ends means with nothing to show for it wouldn't feed my ego. Boasting about being either wouldn't help my resume if I happen to use it to look for a better occupation. I have two choices: work hard as someone in the sex industry, or work hard as someone in the business world, or any occupation that allows moving up a chain. One of the two provides positive opportunities which would allow me to gain more in life, PERIOD. Which do you think that is.

    Both of those jobs are low whether you are or aren't a sociopath in my opinion. But hey, if that's what someone wants to do, not gonna knock them for it. Not everyone has to like the same cup of tea.

  6. Regarding Gold Diggers: I know of a couple, running scams in the polyamorous scene, that is "master minded" by a sociopath and his low self-esteem wife. They have their feelers out everywhere looking for vulnerable people, with money, to attach to. When they find a target couple worthy of scamming, they will make a romantic link with them. Because the spouses in the scamming couple each view the other as a valuable scamming asset which they don't wish to lose, they hit a couple as opposed to a single person, thereby relieving any fear that one of them would run off with a target. Together, the gold digging couple scam and bleed dry the target couple and then move on.

  7. I certainly never learned empathy, but I'm intelligent enough to learn rules and learn that breaking them often has consequences that are unpleasant.

    No empathy is involved, simply a logical examination of cause and effect.

    Define "intelligence" and "empathy."

  8. I don't think following rules require any intelligence.

  9. Following rules doesn't require any thought. Rules are put in place when rule-makers want to take away decision making and choice. Rules are "No Brainers" unless you want to challenge them; and a lot of people are happy to go through life with decisions having already been made for them.

  10. In terms of being "successful", I think intelligence is less important than mindfulness and self-awareness; i.e. impulse control, cause and effect foresight.

    Though of course this depends on your definition of intelligence. For some, self awareness and mindfulness is indeed a form of intelligence.

    But I think Gabriel is saying that you need some kind of intelligence (self-awareness, mindfulness, whatever) to know to even follow the rules and why it is beneficial. As opposed to just following rules because you are supposed to and are told to do so.

  11. What Gabriel said is that he has the intelligence to discern whether he wants to follow rules or not. That kind of reasoning ability can make the difference between excelling or being one of the mindless masses.

  12. That's what I was trying to say.

  13. My actual point in the original post was to disagree with the premise made by another poster that socios don't/can't follow (presumably external) rules because of a lack of empathy. I was arguing that empathy isn't an absolute requirement for following rules, if one wants to follow rules. I and every other empathy-deficient person would be breaking all the rules all the time, if that were the case.

    Empaths have empathy, yet they at times decide to break the rules. I don't have empathy, yet I at times decide to follow the rules. Therefore, it follows that rule-following and empathy aren't inextricably tied together. It can't be ALL about feeling; at some point, one generally uses whatever flavor of intelligence they're comfortable with to decide whether to follow or break a rule, and I am capable of thinking.

    That said, at no point did I say that I follow all the rules (nor does any human). For the most part, I follow the rules -- not to escape guilt or keep from hurting someone else, but simply because I have personally found that it benefits me in the long run. One may disagree with why I follow the rules that I do, but it's ridiculous to say that I'm incapable of following rules simply due to a lack of empathy.

  14. More on crime eh? I disagree with the poster, because his/her point of view is obviously from outside of the criminal world. Most crime is not done by people who saw an opportunity to do crime, its done by people with little opportunity to do legitimate activities and make a decent living. That is why impoverished areas have high crime rates.
    I disagree that you can't make a career exploiting people illegally. Many opportunities are there. Drug dealing, prostitution, and gambling have and always will be the pinnacle of any criminal enterprise. Hell, even fish can slang wellies on the corner.
    Nor is it a fact that consequences out weigh the benefits. I would rather be in prison for life having lived the way I have, than live like a pauper. I've done the math. The eight hours of drudgery I would've had to do a day far out weighs the amount in hours I would do on a four year term if my number comes up.
    The game, as we like to call it, is just like the business world. There is a few winners, and a lot of losers. The only difference is the price you pay and if you are willing to pay it. You make it far enough and people will do your tasks for you, therefore eliminating much of the risk anyway.
    I do understand the point the poster is making. S/he is showing that the sociopath is not neccessarily guided towards 'bad'. My point is that criminals aren't a bunch of meth head moochers, gold diggers, and prostitutes. Nor is being successful in crime only for the white collar types. You should not generalize, especially when you are ignorant of the social sphere you speak of.

  15. UKan,

    While those at the top of criminal enterprises indeed make as much or more money than many top executives, I've read that it's estimated that the typical street-level member of said enterprises makes just at or below what is minimum wage in the U.S. One only has to look around to see that most criminals are hardly living in the lap of luxury, and indeed you allow that most end up on the losing end. Therefore, losing would be a valid generality.

    The ones at the top won't be getting four years, but more likely a sentence quite a bit longer, if they are successfully prosecuted, especially for drug-related offenses (at least in the U.S.). They may also find themselves the targets of their competitors, creating by necessitiy a more confined, restricted world than some would be comfortable with. Some have chosen to value freedom over luxury. So the math may not be all that convincing for the majority of people, which is the usual criterion for a generality. If the math works out differently for you, then of course you would have good reason to choose that path, and I wish you good fortune towards becoming or remaining one of the winners. To have both prosperity and freedom is the best of both worlds. I found it through corporate enterprise, but if you find it through other channels, then good on you, I take nothing away from your success.

    Your point regarding opportunity is well-made. There are many people who have managed to escape the poverty from which they were spawned, but the vast majority can't or don't. There's an intersection of opportunity and preparedness to seize the opportunity. It's evident that more criminal opportunities are available in low-income areas than socially acceptable ones.

    But within the equation for those with more fortuitous choices, the outcome of criminal work can too often be death or prison (at least in the U.S.), whereas the outcome from non-criminal failure is the need to try again or find something else to do. I don't think it's unreasonable that many of us don't like those odds. It all depends on what you consider acceptable risk.

    I'm not threatened by other opinions, even directly opposing ones. On the contrary, I often find them interesting, even if given by someone you personally might deem unqualified. You generalize as well by assuming I (and other non-criminals) know nothing of the criminal social sphere. Have you considered that perhaps some, or even many, of us have lived at least some time in both spheres, and made the decision to be non-criminal? That happens to be true in my case. That said, just because that was the right decision for me doesn't mean it would be the right decision for you or anyone else.

    I for one welcome your different perspective, and would hope you would considering allowing others to express theirs without labeling them as ignorant. Discussing why I chose the path I did is just as valid as you discussing why you chose otherwise. Even were it not, if the ignorant are never allowed to discourse with the educated, they would never have the opportunity to be anything but ignorant, would they?

    Generalities are by definition relating to what's typical and do allow for a significant number of outliers, but if my generalities are ignorant and ill-informed, if they aren't valid for the majority, then I'm perfectly open to being re-educated, especially if I'm not insulted in the process.

  16. You should not betray yourself if your are the original poster Gabriel.
    However, that being said I merely point out a different perspective. That is all.
    You are right in saying that those of more privileged upbringing would be foolish to choose a alternative lifestyle such as that I speak of. It is unwise, and I'm sure we both know it would also prove to be a determent, considering people like myself would take advantage of their naiveté, and many more easier opportunities are dangling in their face than to choose such a fate.
    Indeed the opposite is true, as I have been legitimate in business and indeed it was you fellows who took advantage when you could.
    My point is do not take criminals as fools, or feeble minded. A vast majority do not, as you say, seize opportunity. It is the same as the legitimate folk. The few succeed and the masses do not.
    I'm afraid the word ignorance does correlate with people who speak on things they know little about, so I cant apologize on my comment. I do regret that, because you sound very intelligent. However knowledge is read, and wisdom is through experience. I can't help but read between the lines. I'm sure you understand.
    That being said I do understand you are on the greener end of the pasture I seek. If your status is what I think it is I would risk nothing. I never risk more than there is to gain.
    Being general is being simple Gabriel, and I think you are better than that. Certainly there is more to my and your world than simple point of views expressed from regions that seem so far apart.

  17. I don't have empathy...

    Define empathy.

    However knowledge is read, and wisdom is through experience.

    Sadly, few people understand this.

  18. no one,

    Empathy is obviously a term with a plethora of attempted definitions, but for the sake of brevity, let's assume they're all valid aspects of an overall construct that generally has to do with relating to the feelings and/or perspective of others. You may have a different definition that you like, but that's the one I'm comfortable with.

    The only definition I've seen that I do have is the ability to detect and correctly identify emotions in others about as well as most people can. But I don't relate to how they feel, I don't take their perspective, I don't feel I'm sharing their experience, I generally don't care how they feel (unless it's going to negatively impact me), and I certainly don't sympathetically share their feelings -- just to address a few of the more common definitions of empathy I've heard bandied about.

    I'm not always wild about feeling some of my own emotions, so I can't say I often feel deprived to be free from feeling others'. When I witness a very sensitive empath burst out in tears over some stranger's misfortune, I often wonder why anyone would even want that. That's not a judgment, but simply pondering what's mysterious to me, as one who has never experienced it.

  19. When I witness a very sensitive empath burst out in tears over some stranger's misfortune, I often wonder why anyone would even want that.

    Hence I have never felt compelled to be an activist of any sort.

    I like my cat, though.

  20. Thank you for elabourating, Gabriel. that pretty much summed up my own experiences of empathy, though I would hardly call myself a sociopath/psychopath.

    Like Medusa, I quite enjoy my cat as well :) , and generally have more respect for animals than for humans.

  21. If you see the 'coming of christopher columbus' to the 'new world' and killing off most of the 'wise' gene pool as an accomplishment, I guess that's just one opinion.

  22. Very successful negligence lawyers are sociopaths. The opportunities are constantly there, taking advantage of the clients and the shenanigans that go on with their huge cuts, etc.


Comments on posts over 14 days are SPAM filtered and may not show up right away or at all.

Join Amazon Prime - Watch Over 40,000 Movies


Comments are unmoderated. Blog owner is not responsible for third party content. By leaving comments on the blog, commenters give license to the blog owner to reprint attributed comments in any form.