Saturday, April 13, 2013
Why we need psychopaths (part 4)
The psychological explanation that separates the group of respected professionals from the sadistic psychopaths lies in the existence of a conscience. The explanation of a conscience varies greatly but, in general, it is regarded as a built-in moral judgment that distinguishes right from wrong. When a person does something that violates their moral code, the conscience activates feelings of guilt and shame to alert them of this breach in ethics. Social norms require expressed remorse for the infraction, which often includes making restitution. Problems arise because morality is relative to individual societies, cultures and people. In other words, what is considered wrong by one individual may be encouraged and celebrated by another. To regulate the conduct of people in a society, written rules, with corresponding punishments, are put into place. The end result is that laws can be imposed but morality cannot. It stands to reason that if morality cannot be forcibly applied to a person, then the existence of a conscience should be irrelevant because “right” and “wrong” are subjective. As long as an individual respects the laws they are governed by, what difference does it make how one feels when they commit an offense? Furthermore, if they do feel bad is it because they harmed someone, or only because they got caught? The focus then is primarily on the emotional aspect while the behavior itself is secondary. This completely contradicts the way business, medical professionals and military troops operate in that their behaviors in the field are more important than the emotion behind it.
Although there is a distinction between morals and laws, the importance society places upon morality is best illustrated in a courtroom. When a criminal expresses remorse for their crime they are often given a lesser punishment. Conversely if a criminal shows pride in their deviance they face the harshest of consequences and are the subject of the judge’s contempt. Essentially, it is throwing the book (of laws) at their bad behavior (immorality). The punishment generally corresponds with the degree of decidedly bad behavior. Morality is measured in a court of law by the intention that spurs the action in question. A psychopath would be considered amoral, because they are unaware of, or indifferent toward, moral principles. Is a psychopath incompetent to stand trial because they cannot empathize with their victims? Ignorance of the law is no excuse but judging a person’s morality when they don’t have the ability to form it is akin to punishing a blind man for not having the ability to see. It comes back to the question of a conscience. Is it responsible for using emotions such as empathy and guilt to direct behavior or does one’s pattern of behavior indicate the existence of a conscience? Perhaps behavior operates independently of a conscience. Further, the absence of a conscience may not be as significant as it appears to be.
Not being guided by a ‘moral compass’ means that judgments of good vs. bad and rights vs. wrong are determined using a different mechanism. Psychopaths know the difference between right and wrong because they understand cause and effect. While such a simplistic method of decision-making leaves plenty of room for error, it also explains why they are sometimes unaware of the trouble they cause or outright do not care. If they choose to do what social norms and laws determine to be “good” and someone is unintentionally hurt in the process who assumes the burden of guilt? Their intention was good, indicating morality in that they chose to follow socially acceptable rules, but the behavior violated another person’s moral code and no remorse is being expressed on cue. It is in this space that the mask of sanity begins to slip and people are often shockingly aware that this person possesses very little real emotion. The psychopath, however, feels no guilt or empathy by default and can’t understand why the other person is so upset. There is no “guilty conscience” giving them a clue and they are displaying the symptom of being “indifferent to social norms” while most likely presenting as ‘cold-hearted.’ Why should a psychopath fake emotion just to appease the other person? His behavior is within the framework of the laws but his emotion is not fueling the behavior. They do not see a need for emotion to be involved so pervasively in life and regular people cannot fathom how it is possible to function without emotional connections to other people. Psychopaths seem to intellectually understand that losing a close friend brings about pain which leads to crying as a way to release overwhelming emotion in normal people. But to cry because your feelings were hurt is a foreign concept. Therefore, the psychopath sees no logical reason for either party to display emotion in this situation; rather, his good intentions and avoidance of malice are enough to justify his action. Just because it did not go according to plan does not make him responsible for the other person’s feelings. Furthermore, the slighted person doesn’t deserve an apology because it is they who are handicapped by irrational emotions.
It is here in this moral collide that the true function of psychopaths comes to light. Here we have Conflict Theory in that the powerful seek to impose constraints on their subordinates in order to retain control. The psychopath, seeing themselves as superior because they are not weakened by senseless emotions, seeks to impose laws that make logical sense. The non-psychopath, seeing themselves as more fully human because they possess a conscience, seeks to compel the psychopath with their admirable morality. Emile Durkheim’s (1893) theory on deviance comes to life as the parties war over what is “right” and “good.” The moral party will defend their principles and encourage other like-minded people to join together and build strength in numbers. The psychopath sees unrestrained emotion, which is confusing and frightening thereby perceiving a threat. The proceeding deregulation serves as Durkheim’s (1893) definition of anomie.
To label a person “bad” is a disservice to their inherent qualities that are necessary to sustain the delicate balance in which we exist. Psychopaths do not wish to possess the incomprehensible idea of a conscience but they are sorely aware something is missing. Normal people would not give up their ability to connect with others in a way only empathy can achieve, but in the midst of emotional or psychological trauma the temptation to trade morality for “an unburdened mind” is tremendous. As to which side came out the winner, the answer is decidedly both. They lost the battle but won the war. For that reason, psychopaths are a necessary component of society because they offer a unique perspective unlike that of normally functioning personalities.