Wednesday, December 18, 2013

A utilitarian view of justice? (part 3)

From the reader again:

I wonder if empathy is a refuge for people who don't believe in god but find utilitarianism too cold as a basis for morality. Or maybe people who have an excess of empathy find it abhorrent to be utilitarian, because it's somehow dehumanizing (ie, being utilitarian means you make an impersonal calculation about the greatest good for the greatest number, as opposed to treating everyone like as individuals)?

I'll share a story with you, which you're also welcome to publish on your blog: I was flying home from Africa a few years ago, and was seated beside a Moroccan woman and her son, on their way to visit family in Montreal. At one point, she asked me about my religion. I told her that I didn't believe in god, which immediately distressed her. I recall her almost frantically reassuring me that I was probably a good person anyway, and that I looked like I loved my family, and so on. I think she was, in her own way, trying to be nice to me and not make me feel bad about my atheism!

Her apprehension of me makes sense, I think.  Her morality derives from God. She doesn't kill, steal, or eat pork because Allah forbids it. Then she meets me, and not only don't I believe in Allah, I don't believe in any god at all. If I don't believe in god, then what stops me from killing and stealing? In her eyes, nothing! And yet I don't look like a monster. How is that possible? What prevents people from being monsters if not god? I think some empaths feel the same way about sociopaths and empathy.

I'm guessing that some empaths think about someone like you, who doesn't experience any emotional empathy, and freak out like the woman beside me on the plane did. Their morality is based on empathy/god. You have no empathy/don't believe in god. Therefore you have no morality. You now become completely unpredictable to them, hence the fear.  You eat pork and don't pray, so maybe you also murder?  You don't cry when others are in pain, so maybe you can kill someone and not feel badly about it?

This last part of the story reminds me a lot of this.


  1. Empathy is highly over rated. I agree with the descriptions from the reader, but have to say that it seems to me to be an illusion that empathy should have this large role in human life as some seem to display it. This world is not some sort of Utopia, and that fact should be accepted.

    Why should justice be a part of questions regarding empathy it? I can see right and wrong coming inti the picture, regulated by empathy. But what if right and wrong are only derfinitions regulated by facts? What will justice then be but a set of rules?

    Kim Jong-un executed his uncle recently abd coul'nt stop himself from bubeling over of joy this last weeekend, according to north-korean news media. So is the guy a sociopath, or is the question of empathy more complex then just a black and white picture?

    As stated before here on this site, I feel empathy. Many, many years ago a hate object of mine killed himself. I was bubeling over of joy about this fact up to six months after his death. I felt no empathy for him and wished im nothing but the worst. I canm understand his family, they are innocent in this. But him; absolutely not. Still feel a feeling of victory the day to day when I think of it. Empathy, feelings in general, human psychology, is not that simple.

  2. Someone's got to do something to help M.E. before it's too late.
    On a scale of 10, M.E. is an 11, so I can't see why no one would help.

    1. Your concern, dare I suggest is wasted-if you cried tears for me they would be only the most cursory interest.

  3. This post shows that psychopathy and sociopathy, is the most important and vital topic facing the world we inhabit. It covers everything from science and consciousness to spirituality and politics-from philosophy to use of digital technology accessing the human nervous system. Nations that do not adapt to the nature of this terrain will be torn apart by their own madness-sociopathy is how the hidden becomes bare and naked. And ultimately how the world actually functions. We are the most attuned to it, and those who cling to arbitrary morality are liable to miss the truth of the situation. To us on the spectrum all is laid bare and raw.

    1. I partially agree with you on this. I think sociopaths/those on the spectrum do have a clearer vision than the empathic majority because they are almost or entirely self directed- as in- their actions issue from an internal locus of control rather than from a need to receive external validation. For this reason, they spot bullshit much quicker than other people. I completely agree with you, psychopath-l-logical that (in your words) "We are the most attuned to it, and those who cling to arbitrary morality are liable to miss the truth of the situation. To us on the spectrum all is laid bare and raw."

      Sociopaths are humanity's secret weapon in weeding out narcissistic assholes. (Or maybe I've just seen too much Dexter). Sociopaths recognize malignancies in others- for this reason they tend to be loners and aren't terribly fond of one another. If a long term stable partnership is to be formed, it will be with a pleasant personality who has an addictive attachment to the sociopath that creates a sort of stability because the partner's need to be in contact with the sociopath is stronger than any cognitive dissonance the partner might experience causing them to question the partner. Long term attachment relationships that exist outside a version of the pair bond or kinship ties are impossible. Why? Because the sociopath must be dominant in all attachment relationships to maintain the necessary sense of absolute control that keeps these attachments from threatening a basic sense of autonomy. In other words, sociopaths have a lot of insight, but they aren't capable of sharing it with more than their inner circle of yes men.

      That inability to experience interpersonal friction with another person without immediately pathologizing the other person is the achilles heel of the upwardly mobile sociopath. This means all interaction with a sociopath is one sided and destined to lose energy because there is no positive friction to generate creative solutions to whatever dilemmas present themselves. There is only an understanding of the negative- what must be rooted out. Once corruption is neutralized and/or rooted out there is a sense of emptiness. The sociopath's overwhelming need to feel in control short circuits the creative process that is absolutely essential for sustaining motivation. It's like a sociopath puts a bubble around a certain portion of air to "protect" the oxygen from those who might steal it. Perhaps they are capable of annexing more air to procure more oxygen. But at a certain point, the oxygen is used up within the bubble. This dynamic is why sociopaths have to keep moving on to live unless they can be aligned with an empath who can bring oxygen/creativity into the bubble. But the second the empath indicates too much power, the sociopath has to squash that power and the attachment and/or the life force of the empath is no longer available.

      Another way of putting it is- the sociopath's blind spot is an inability to truly collaborate. Perhaps temporary alliances are employed for the sake of expedience, but they can never realize their full potential because their compulsion to keep control/upper hand in all relationships sabotages the necessary trust environment that is necessary for true collaboration.

    2. Maybe then the question facing the empathic is how to collaborate with sociopaths. I agree that the lack of friction that the absentee self induces is problematic in the arena of sustained motivation-maybe areas need cordoning off where the sociopath can have full control, maybe this would channel the despotic tendencies, I know that is an awful lot of maybes, but still. I live in hope that science will broach the divide with the spiritual and maybe give us computer controlled nervous systems so we can down load some of our dislocated rage...maybe.
      From my perspective the lack of ability to collaborate with another is caused by the fact sociopaths are unbonded-or have bonded with a physical landscape or an ideal-NOT with another living breathing human entity, as a result all close personal contact feels alien, and the sociopath is unable to process it. what may be affection or excitement feels like an assault on the virgin soil of the sociopathic psyche. Thanks for the post, most helpful!

    3. My hunch is that sociopaths and empaths will collaborate if they can identify mutual self interest and realize that their complementary ways of viewing a situation bring greater understanding than either perspective by itself.
      Trying to use a shared moral understanding will never work. If the word "should" ever enters into the negotiations the empath will lose the full participation of the sociopath.
      If a sociopath is to cooperate fully without playing the empath there has to be an understanding on both sides that full disclosure of motives/methods is necessary to prevent internal self sabotage. The empaths's legitimate fear that they are being exploited is what undermines cooperation and causes the empath to retreat into self justifying moralism when they place their need for self protection ahead of the common purpose that the collaboration serves.

      Because the sociopath is the "out group", the burden is on the sociopath to figure out how to reassure the empath they aren't being played so that a true collaboration is possible and self protectiveness doesn't get in the way.

      This is tricky, because an moral language given to reassure an empath will be perceived as false. The only way to reach an empath is to leave their emotions out of it and help them logically understand why it is in the sociopath's best interest to cooperate long term instead of bailing out and leaving the empath holding the bag.

      There's a saying "The best predictor of a person's future behavior is their past behavior." The sociopath would do well to remember this in the sense that if they can establish a reputation as a person whose behavior is predictable in the sense that they will not abandon the collaborative effort midstream but will participate until the end in a "one for all and all for one" sort of effort then they will seem more acceptable in terms of risk as a collaboration partner.

      If a sociopath hasn't established a reputation for follow through, the best way of creating trust is contractually. If clear penalties are spelled in out in such a way that an empath understands it's not in the sociopaths best interest to break the contract, then the empath can stop being so self protective and collaboration will be possible.

    4. Haven't been able to experience this. Don't think it's possible. I tried, it didn't work. (empath) Socio can't uphold his end of the bargain.

  4. Those whose morality is determined by conformity to an outside authority can not comprehend what it means to be directed by an internal locus of control.

    1. Excellent point. I agree with you.

  5. I've noticed several people now have mentioned sociopaths have "emotional hallucinations". A psychologist once said that people with borderline personality disorder have transient states of sociopathy. I wonder if people with antisocial personality disorder have transient states of empathy.

    1. I believe they must- and that these transient states are what enable the sociopath to understand the human psyche so well. It's the defining factor in what makes a sociopathic brain different than an Aspergers brain- because there are some nasty Aspergers individuals (think Adam Lanza) who possess malevolence but lack the capacity to manipulate others so that malevolence can never be successfully channeled into the destructive long cons white collar sociopaths excel at. (just opinion)

    2. I'd even go so far as to say that the intensely passionate connections they cultivate with certain empaths are the best way to access these "emotional hallucinations". For all practical purposes they literally download a portion of the empath's being and store it away for future persona creation. It's fascinating and intricately connected to charisma... victim websites talk about emotional vampirism and it sounds ridiculous, but it's a pretty good metaphor to access this phenomenon.
      The "twilight" movies struck a nerve with pop culture because our collective unconscious recognizes the reality of this pattern. The "Cullen vegetarians" (not drinking human blood) seem like the perfect expression of white collar psychopaths- and female attraction to this sort of soulless power broker.

  6. I don't care if someone believes in God, if their utilitarian, what their ethnicity is, if their sociopath, if their empath. Who cares? What I do care about is how people are treated. respectfully. If you don't like them, stay away. Do unto others as you would have done unto you.

  7. What this supposed to mean?
    “Being utilitarian means you make an impersonal calculation about the greatest good for the greatest number, as opposed to treating everyone like as individuals”

    I lack empathy but I don’t think like this. In one to one interactions, this is a very costly policy. I prefer win-win always. Win-lose outcomes are good for now, but…count your money when dealings are “really” done. For me individuals are very important -maybe even too important- I like to give my toughest punch to a person who is capable to hit back. So, treating others like individuals most of the time brings the greatest good for the greatest number.

  8. I miss empathy. I know I feel it when my eyes get all watery. And I imagine the colour red. To me when I remember what empathy feels like, the idea of we. I always forget about we because I focus all my attention on me. But we is a way to be plural. That means I'm not alone right? But safe at the same time because it is only us.

    1. Strangely I equate empathy with a bath of power. Like power to direct attention. A lot of people don't know how to use it. But its here for a purpose.

    2. Maybe its just for the purpose of making connections.

    3. Could you please explain what empathy is and what it feels like.


    5. em·pa·thy ( m p -th )
      1. Identification with and understanding of
      another's situation, feelings, and motives. See Synonyms at pity.
      2. The attribution of one's own feelings to an object.

      So it's basically just pity.
      This term is causing a lot of needless confusion.

    6. pity implies a level of condescension. Empathy is reexperiencing what the other person is currently experiencing. It is "sharing" their pain. It can be very comforting to be on the receiving end of this sort of attention if it is expressed sensitively. There is a sort of equality between 2 different people in that moment that is made possible by the empathic experience. A bond forms after this experience is acknowledged on both ends that is somewhat similar to a kinship tie (although usually lesser in degree). Traumatic survivors often receive their best comfort from other survivors because of the emotional resonance present in empathy.

      Pity, on the other hand, often gets tied up in shame if you are on the receiving end of it. Pity is about having one party acknowledge that the other party has been diminished somehow. If pity is expressed by a rival it is an insult, not a comfort. The one dispensing pity experiences a boost in status over the one on the receiving end.

    7. @Machavellianempath

      It's pretty clear that you have no idea of what you're talking about.

      Are you sure that you are in fact capable of actually experiencing 'empathy'?

    8. that sounds like a catch 22 kind of question.

      Since you are clear, then please clarify for me.

    9. @Machavellianempath:
      "Pity implies a level of condescension."

      Does this mean that you experience a sense of superiority when you meet someone less fortunate than yourself?

    10. not at all. But my experience is that people would far rather be understood (empathy) than pitied. Men in particular tend to dislike having people feel sorry for them unless they are the sort of individual who uses the guilt feelings associated with pity to extract resources from a target. I think it's because in many people's minds it implies weakness and vulnerability and if there is any degree of narcissism this runs counter to grandiose thinking.

      I find that if you are offering someone support it's far more effective to simply say "I understand" and if you don't understand say- "I haven't experienced this, but when I try to imagine this it makes me very sad that this happened to you." The reason I try to avoid using the word pity or the phrase "I feel sorry for you" is that it implies that the person who has experienced an injury or some other difficulty is somehow diminished.

      It's more empowering to a hurting person to validate their suffering (saying "that makes sense") than to act like the suffering has made them an object of pity. Pity is the sort of emotion you have for a bad ex who just can't pull his shit together. That's why pity can be so offensive.

      When I am hurting, I just want to know that the people in my life care about me. I don't want them to pity me. A subtle but important difference.

    11. Thank you, this makes sense to me, because of the way I process reactions to others. It helped me understand why I want to hide from certain people my inner life.
      I cannot feel safe being vulnerable around anything which feels remotely condescending.

  9. 1.Sociopaths do have a conscience.

    2.Sociopaths can feel empathy.

    3.Sociopaths can very well feel a very broad range of emotions.

    4.Sociopaths like to fancy themselfs that they don't have the above.

    5.Sociopaths are not actually "sociopaths", they are just a bit different.

    6.Sociopaths are pretty stupid. They don't have a mind that "cuts". They are "surface" creatures.

    6.Doctors that treat sociopaths are really stupid people also.

    7.If any of the so called sociopaths would came into a east European country, like for example Russia, they will be "cured" probably in less then a day.

  10. Also, the whole article is self-contradictory, and some point are self-refuting on individual merits. Thoughts???

    1. It's not an article. It's an account by an individual trying to understand what empathy based morality looks like.
      If it seems self contradictory it's because the author appears to be appealing to the audience to help clarify the seeming contradictions.

      When you say "some points" it's helpful if you specify which ones. Criticism tends to be more helpful when it is specific rather than a global denunciation.

      You are quite bold to classify all sociopaths as stupid. Do you consider yourself to be more intelligent? If so- why?

    2. @Machavellianempath

      Well, I was hoping actually that the author himself will answer to what I posted. So I will not respond you.Yet.
      As for my boldness, I was hoping to get a more intelligent question. As a hint, you already raised the question wrong, which either sociopath or not, makes you stupid. I will respond to you if you raise a better version of that question. Be very careful how you raise the question...
      Note: me stating you are stupid is nothing personally, I hope you can comprehend that!

    3. Hey Machavell,
      You are not pro-empathy, you are pro- your-ego. So, feed it.

  11. She's actually teaching us a lot and has given some very helpful guidance and advice, if you take the time to read through some of the blogs. This is an educational tool for those interested .


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