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4% population is psychopathic and seek positions of authority.2/3 obey people in authority. Psychopaths do not set an altrustic example.

Dr Robert Hare is the expert on psychopaths(sociopaths). Stanley Milgram and others have researched extensively the tendancy of nearly two thirds of the population to believe/obey authority figures. How can sociopaths be readily identified?What can be done to alert people to the danger of electing these people to authority positions?

  • Mar 7 2012: I am under no illusion that this is a serious and difficult subject. Steven Pinker acknowledged that there was a problem in his excellent "The Blank Slate" and then seemed to ignore the problem. If he has a problem with this subject then I don't think that any easy solutions will be forthcoming. Anyone interested in the subject will enjoy reading Martha Stout's "The Sociopath Next Door".
  • Mar 4 2012: I believe that actually a small percentage of psychopaths go on to commit violent crimes, which is how the majority of the general population sees them. A large group of psychopaths can actually become quite successful in positions of authority, such as executive positions within large corporations. It seems that psychopathic behaviors are compatible sometimes with behaviors needed to be successful in this type of positions. This fact makes it kind of difficult to identify them because their behavior may be just the behavior we expect to see in those that hold positions of power. Extensive research has demostrated that most of us, given the right circumstances will follow orders from authority figures, even if it implies hurting other hyman beings.
    • Mar 6 2012: The figures that I have seen suggests that close to fifty percent of all serious crime is committed by psychpoaths. However it is not these people that I am concwerned with. What I am worried about are the people who learn how to manipulate all those they encounter for their own advantage. There are only two things that seem to motivate psychopaths and they are winning at all cost and dominating others.
      • Mar 6 2012: Hi,

        Pardon my misunderstanding, why I tried to say was that many psychopaths commit violent crimes, however, not all do, and not all criminals present psychopathic symptoms. I recently read that at any given prison, around 20% present psychopathic symptoms. But returning the argument to your actual point, I do agree with you that these type of people are motivated to win at all cost and lack any empathy towards others, some can be really successful in dominating others.
  • Mar 4 2012: I am not familiar with this topic but is it possible for psychopath to learn what he/she can/should do and should not do? Can they function in society such that they do not harm anyone but contribute as everyone else?
    • Mar 5 2012: This topic holds timely interest for me, having just recently listened to Robert's (audio)book - Without Conscience.

      If what he describes is correct... (and I believe in its veracity, as well as its primary conclusions)... then psychopaths are without doubt the most damaging group of people in the history of humanity. A small proportion of human beings that is genetically afflicted with the inability to develop the necessary empathy, emotions and forethought necessary for appropriate operation in our social world. Instead, using their otherwise working cognition to devise interaction with humans that are akin to how a person would think about a complex machine... or perhaps a video game character (i.e. people are seen as a series of inputs and outputs).

      And one of the more unfortunate conclusions reached by the book is that psychopaths are not really amenable to been taught... that they are among the hardest human beings to meaningfully teach these skills, because they lack the fundamental components of the required neuro-chemistry in order to properly grasp these skills - and that worse, teaching them in the traditional manner (the manner that we'd use for other individuals short on empathy and or violent) actually equips them to better take advantage of people.

      The only reasonable solution for now is raising societal awareness - like we are aware of terrorists... we need to be aware of psychopaths. And in that awareness, we need mechanisms and systems that properly isolate these individuals from the general population... they need their own specifically catered for institution - not just held in jail with the other criminals that they so deleteriously influence.
      • Mar 6 2012: Thanks George. I am very mindful of the fact that these people have rights. I feel sure that no one would ask to be born without the capacity for empathy. At this stage it seems to be all about awareness and that is proving a difficult task. It is extremely difficult for a person with empathy to contemplate a person not having any.
        • Mar 6 2012: I too am mindful of the rights they have as human beings. You're exactly right... no one asks to be born with a disability - least of all, one as deleterious and ill-fitting as psychopathy is.

          But, one must be mindful of the rights of others as well. Isolation may not be the best word - but the idea is simple - aggressive identification of psychopathic individuals as early as possible, in order to allow them to seek the specialized help that they require to develop into better moderated and more productive individuals than they would, if they were simply to emerge naturally in normal society.

          The point is, they require specialized help and care and education... all our various social institutions are just not equipped to deal with these types of people.

          In a future where they could be isolated in VR* - an sensory paradise that caters to their needs, without their ability to harm others... that would be the ideal outcome for the psychopaths and ourselves; catering for their needs and ours, respecting their needs wants and rights as individuals, while solving for their deleterious nature.

          *with the chance to prove themselves and earn gradual and less restricted social interactions.

          With the right chance and environments* and strains of interests... I think some of the negative energies of a mind genetically predisposed to psychopathy, could be positively channeled into individuals that are apt at accomplishing goals. Maybe pair a person with psychopathic tendencies (Hare describes people like Bill Gates and Steve Jobs as bordeline psychopathic - narcissitic personality disorders), with someone that is more moderate and calmer, but nonetheless has great strength of will. Wozniak was a decent foil, but needed a stronger backbone.

          *It's nonetheless worth noting that environments typically have muted or reduced impact on psychopaths developmentally speaking than the normal human mind.
      • Mar 7 2012: Thanks George.

        So far I have only check wikipedia on this topic and it seems to me that we don't have yet extensive research around psychopaths and what works or doesn't ? I would not want to base my opinion or a policy on one book or a limited number of studies.

        Is it possible for these individuals to, at least logically, deduct or learn that everyone, including them, experiences pain and therefore they have to minimize pain that they can cause to others, the same way others do?

        Also my question is whether psychopaths can learn this basic observation and function in non-destructive way in the society. Those that cannot will need to be isolated but those that can should not be arbitrary restricted in their freedom? Or do we have evidence that all psychopaths exhibit destructive behavior?
        • Mar 7 2012: The problem with psychopaths is not that they cannot learn. It is more a case of them learning too well. Unfortunately if you spend your life learning how to behave in any situation that involves emotion your "emotions" can appear to be more sincere then any one elses. I think that psychopaths percieve empathy as being a weakness that they are happy to exploit to their own advantage.