Saturday, June 15, 2013

Fearing the unknown

I thought this recent comment was an interesting explanation of why people fear the unknown, particularly sociopaths:

You are upfront, but to what degree? You are telling us that you are manipulative for various reasons, and then asking us to take what you say at face value. You are different, you lack something, and we don't know what the effect of that is just as we don't know what could set off a dangerous predator. Do you trust a wolf, or a tiger? Maybe you would, if you were a wolf or a tiger. But you're not, so you break those creatures down to the impulses and instincts that make them dangerous - predators, cunning, violent. Nevermind that they are also caring, sweet animals that can show affection and mercy. 

In essence as a society, it's difficult to accept that there are people like you walking around as a member of the human family; just as individually it would be hard to accept the knowledge that we lacked the ability to control harmful impulses.

This comment reminded me of a time I visited a different continent for a wildlife tour. There were several dangerous animals and we were warned several times about avoiding them. However, we would also have impromptu picnics in the middle of the wildlife preserves. At one of these open-air picnics, I was chatting with a friend until she gasped, grabbing my shoulder in a vice grip, "Oh my God, we're going to die." I looked around us and we were surrounded by a 30 or so large rodent looking things. It was the first time we had seen this particular animal and our guide was not around to tell us what they were. Maybe my friend was overreacting, but maybe she wasn't, I thought, trying to remember whether the list of dangerous animals might possibly have included these. Even small animals can be dangerous, I rationalized -- think of those honey badger videos!


Or rabies? And it's not like we were close to any hospitals, should anything happen. The most unnerving thing about these animals, though, was the way they started closing in on us. It was like a Twilight Zone episode -- when we were looking directly at them, they would remain perfectly still, but every time we looked away, they would advance closer to us until they were within pouncing distance.

Without knowing anything about these animals, I had no clue how to react but my friend insisted that we abandon our food and try to wend our way through the fast approaching crowd. Unfortunately, a second, much larger species had appeared (or a more menacing adult-sized version of the first?). There were 60 or more animals between us and our tour vehicle and as we inched our way forward, my friend clutched my arm as if she expected impending death. We finally were able to climb onto the hood of the vehicle and waited there until our guide returned thoroughly amused at our reaction to what turned out to be perfectly harmless (in his mind), cuddly creatures.

Since returning home, I often think of this experience when I see commonplace wildlife native to where I live. How is it that I never noticed how ubiquitous squirrels are? Can they be rabid? Can raccoons hurt me? Was I wrong for worrying that the foreign animals were dangerous? Or am I wrong for not thinking more about the more familiar dangers that I encounter on a daily basis?

So although I can relate to the fear of unknown/sociopaths, it's also important to consider how concerned you want to be. Would you want to kill, lock up, or otherwise persecute a group of people because you don't understand them (and have made no real effort to try to understand or peacefully accommodate them)? Do they warrant that? Or not? Maybe you figure you've already been living a life with sociopaths without realizing it, like I had been living surrounded by squirrels without really noticing them, so how concerned should you be? Of course sociopaths are not like squirrels, more like bears or sharks or lions, but does the existence of those animals keep you from going camping? Or swimming? Or from copulating in Africa? Maybe. It's true that people have different tolerances for risk. Some are too afraid to even leave their apartment.

24 comments:

  1. Oh god reading through the article at first, good point makes sense all of that, but then I scroll down to find the honey badger video! Jesus shit that narrator can crack me up. I think he's on Jesus Chatline aswell when he call in as 'randall'

    But to the article. It happens a lot that people tend to judge a book by its cover. It's all dandy until the word sociopath come up, then things tend to get real stale.

    I agree with you M.E, the fear can be likened with fear of dogs. I remember when my brother ran for his life when a chihuahua wanted to play with him. My brother took off immideately and the dog of course went after him for fun while my brother mistook the chase as something dangerous.
    I still miss the times he was dumb Aw shit.

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  2. I think most people don't consider sociopaths as 'unknowns'. Most people think they know everything there is to know, and no amount of reasoning or metaphorical musings is going to change that.

    I hate to make circular arguments, but peoples' lives revolve around sparing their conscience. All their thoughts and actions must be justified, and they treat their morality as if it's entirely objective. When someone gets a 'bad feeling' about someone, then the source of that bad feeling is evil. I've realized that there are topics I choose to avoid, they give me a 'bad feeling'. When I examine that feeling, though, I realize that it says more about my own inner workings than anything that's happening outside my head.

    Racism, bigotry, and discrimination stem not from some objective truth about the targeted population. It comes from parents, the media, and peers teaching young minds to dislike groups of people, and this dislike is rationalized by exaggerations and outright lies until the population is appropriately villified. I hate smokers because I find the stench of burning tobacco absolutely revolting. I hate hobos because they ask for and feel entitled to my money. They force an unwelcome interaction with me, be it through a pervasive miasma or trying to sell me pins and dirty papers.

    Black guys and flamboyantly gay guys make me uncomfortable. I don't hate them, but I grew up in an ultra-conservative, ultra-white area. Fortunately, my family is not composed of bigots, so the extent of my racism and homophobicity is that I merely feel uneasy. I understand that this is a learned behavior, and the only way to unlearn it would be to interact with these people that make me feel uncomfortable, to teach myself that they are human, and not at all unlike myself. Most people, however, just consider people that make them uncomfortable to be evil somehow. It's much easier to reconcile their bad feelings this way, rather than recognize, admit, and try to change the fact that they themselves are the ones with the defect.

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    1. You think? I disagree. There are family members that create havoc in our lives when we have no ill will towards them. There are husbands/lovers that destroy our lives to the point that we are unable to trust again, not to mention the financial ruin. There are neighbors in our lives that bring hardship and chaos.

      I find it hard to believe that many, will embrace your theory. IMO.

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    2. You are placing in the same box people that makes you uncomfortable with people that are abusive. In the first case those people are doing nothing bad to you, so yes, it is you the problem, but in the second they are going to aggress you, so they are the problem. It is not about a perceived evilness behind a prejudice it is about real harmful actions done by someone, who, by acting that way, fully earns being called "evil".

      Jessi

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    3. Jessi, who in the 8:31 AM post are the ones that make others.........feel just uncomfortable as opposed to those that have an agenda to do harm? And rest assured you don't have the capabilities to determine those facts in others lives.

      Yes, it is true if you invite abusive people into your life and remain with them then the
      outcome rests with the invitee.

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    4. True. Whether or not we are related to them is not the issue.

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  3. Well there are examples of unusual pairings of predatory animals with thier
    "natural" victims. Cats and parakeets that mysteriously get along. But that
    is a "man bites dog" rareity for the "Animal Planet " network.
    The old adage is usually true: "If it walks like a duck and talks like a
    duck, it's a duck!
    For an Empath like me, it's always mildly sad when I see people fail to
    communicate, misjudge and misread other peoples intentions. The "Archie
    Bunker" type was never a source of amusement for me. I never laughed at
    him. I felt sad for him. A person like that is condemed to a "half-life."
    People need to understand that living in fear is a abject waste of time.
    Some people survive horrowing battles in wars; and some people are killed
    the moment they exit the boat. When you're numbers up, you're numbers up.

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    Replies
    1. It is a mistake to live in fear, if there is a real danger, the best choice it is always to take action to reduce the danger. We are not living in the wild, we don't let bears walk free between us. We take care of our safety. The same with other dangerous rational animals.

      Jessi

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    2. Anon 4:17, I like your comments. I like the way you write.

      Delete
  4. I think a lot of this fear stems from the fact that most studies of sociopaths have been done in the context of studying sociopaths who were also criminals or at least highly irresponsible people. There is a tension between the idea of sociopathy as a particular set of traits and the use of the term as a slur.

    Before I read M. E.'s book, I thought like this as I have a high level of empathy and have been the victim of a person with classic sociopathic traits hidden behind a mask of weakness and vulnerability which made me easy to control. It was easy to think of them as fundamentally dangerous as a group. But now I think of sociopaths like I would think of people on the autistic spectrum; in terms of different degrees of functioning. The lower-functioning types would be those who, as adults, continue to practice blatant aggression and crude, destructive manipulation. The high-functioning ones either have less impulsivity, or have found ways to keep it under control and learn that staying at least near the fringes of social norms is a better way to get what they want.

    If a person is born with little or no ability to process social and emotional information the way the majority do, I see no reason to make moral judgments about that. Practical decisions and assessments of danger are another matter.

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    1. I just wanted to say that I hate almost everyone, but I like you :)

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    2. Sociopath are an issue as far as they are damaging others, obviously. But a sociopath with no antisocial behavior will no longer be diagnosed as a sociopath...

      Jessi

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    3. The number one trait of a sociopath is a lack of remorse and guilt, you can posses these traits and not have any antisocial behavior. You have to learn behaviors differently, I learned how to behave based on watching how others behaved, but you aren't necessarily antisocial. In fact you could meet all the primary sociopathic traits and still be pro-social.

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    4. That is not what DSM says.

      Jessi

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    5. The Hare psychopathy checklist is the primary method of diagnosis for sociopathy/psychopathy. Factor one is composed of the primary personality symptoms. These are:

      Glibness/superficial charm
      Grandiose sense of self-worth
      Pathological lying
      Cunning/manipulative
      Lack of remorse or guilt
      Shallow affect (genuine emotion is short-lived and egocentric)
      Callousness; lack of empathy
      Failure to accept responsibility for his or her own actions

      None of these traits guarantees that a person is going to behave in an antisocial manner. Though I concede that it would be more likely for a person matching these traits to behave in an antisocial manner.

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    6. Pathological lying and manipulation ARE antisocial behaviors. Check the meaning of fraud.

      Jessi

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  5. What you're saying makes more sense than people realize. It had never, for example, actually been proven that people do good or feel guilt or accountability or compassion because of an inner compass. It could just as well be recognition that this is the best way to get along in society, that society admires and regards this behavior. In other words, a mind trick for the weak.

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  6. I would have told my "friend" to RUN!!! IMMEDIATLY!! Most predatory animals will give chase to the prey... Which means they will focus and possibly attack her while you escape unharmed. Entertainment and your safe?? Yeah

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  7. Glad to see Jamie has a pinch of a sense of humor.

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  8. i'm a sociopath because i have the balls to be the badguy
    because i can see things for what they are not what i want them to be or what i fear

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  9. Have the balls to not be "anonymous".

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  10. We don't fear the unknown per se. We fear what we are projecting. Ignorance has always been bliss

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  11. To disclosure your behavior is not projecting is informing.

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