Friday, April 12, 2019

Transgressions vs. Sins and Differences in Motivations

This was also sent to me by a reader, and I found it to be a pretty interesting and valid distinction between the dark triads sociopathy, narcissism, and machiavellianism. I think that people can be surprised at why people do the things that they do. For instance, once sociopath recently told me about how when she was 21 years old, she got a job at a bar so she could get better tips than at her previous restaurant job. She only lasted two weekends because she was giving away free drinks (she says she grossly underestimated their ability to track alcohol sales) and stealing tips from other servers. I immediately related to this a sort of naïvety about the world, a childlike innocence.

I told this story to a lawyer friend of mine and immediately likened it to the way I was with my first law job, in which I exploited some of the weaknesses of that system in similar sorts of ways and ways that were equally unappreciated by my employers. My friend was scandalized by the free drinks and tip stealing, but responded to my story "who hasn't done that?" I thought this was an interesting response. Why? Is it just stealing from the server's? But a lot of servers split tips because of things like some people getting better areas of the restaurant, etc. In fact, this was exactly what was happening to the sociopath server. But my friend thought that my sketchiness was totally normal, and even that my employer probably had it coming or that was just part of the employment deal, whereas she was disturbed by the other story and thought there couldn't be any other explanation for the behavior other than maliciousness and greed.

I kept trying to give her different analogies to help her understand that it was really malicious, and wasn't even really this overwhelming sense of greed, so much as a childish way of exploiting things. I remember once being at Disneyland when I was aged 8 or 9. I was old enough to realize that lines were long and thought of the lines more like a multilane freeway than a static order of things, so I kept pushing forward in line until these people got very angry at me and said that no matter my physical position ahead of them, they were going to still ride the lines before me. Mine was a breach of a rule, yes, but I don't see it as a moral failing.

My theology has a word for the breach without moral failing, "transgression". You have transgressed a law, although you may not have necessarily sinned because you didn't have a sinful heart (so to speak) when you did the thing. Although cutting ahead of people in line did hurt others, and that was clear to me, I didn't understand it to be an unfair hurt. When I get off the plane and walk faster than others to the customs lines, that's also sort of like cutting in line, but we don't think of it that way. We don't have a sense of the line starting from the moment of the plane, so it's a fair exploitation of the system. It of course is hurting others, people for instance who have young children or a disability and cannot walk as fast and have to perhaps wait longer in line than I do. Or I may use scarce resources before others do. I'm going to camp at a location this summer that requires a permit. By me using the spot, someone else is not able to use that spot. That also is prioritizing myself at the expense of others.

I don't know. I have a strong sense of there being a distinction in the transgression behaviors that sociopaths engage in at the expense of others in which there's not really an intent to harm (even though there is an understanding that there will be harm), so there's no malice, vs. the sort of behavior that one might correctly classify sin.


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