Tuesday, April 10, 2007

Sociopaths are everywhere

I was following links today and came across a claim by atheist Brent Rasmussen that altruism is ultimately just what some people do to feed their self-worth. I’ve encountered similar cynicism before. One can search Google with “altruism” and various other words. It’s easy to find others making a similar claim, though never with data in my experience, despite the large numbers of people who help others in need. Instead it’s always an argument based on the meaning of “selfish” to the person making the argument. I’ve written before about my high school teacher who did that many years ago.

The answer to this is not that hard to understand. People can indeed choose to be selfless. Whatever selfishness there is in making a choice doesn’t make the whole behavior selfish. The only way to deny that is to engage in black and white thinking. Maybe that’s hard for high school students to see through, but adults who do it strike me as trying to excuse their sociopathy, from my high school teacher on. That’s not because they like black and white thinking. It’s what they’re doing in denying the concept of altruism in the first place, being subversive, justifying their own selfishness as the only thing that’s real.

Of course not everyone is so honest about their sociopathy. Conservatives make many excuses why it’s OK to neglect the needy. They say the needy should help themselves. They make up simplicities about how the homeless are mostly mentally ill who choose to be homeless as they choose not to take their pills or how anyone can get a job if they just choose to. Those Bible-believing Christians who therefore should be following Matthew 25: 31-46 find that their God instead wants them to evangelize, fight against abortion or work on themselves personally. There are lots of excuses not to help the needy. My fellow liberals often find some excuses, too.

But not the people I know who help the needy. How many would I say are volunteers this way for the sake of their ego? There are none that I can tell. Yet sociopaths argue otherwise. Brent Rasmussen insisted I must be a liar for claiming there is such a thing as altruism that is an expression of love, not selfishness. There is something in me that wants to feel sorry for people who know so little of love that they claim everything in life is selfish. Yet there is something else, the anger I often feel on behalf of my clients for their suffering and on behalf of myself that just to talk about something basic like love in this world is so difficult. Some people really don’t know love exists. Some people don’t know there is a God who is love. Some people who think there is a God have no idea what love is, just rules, power, and inexplicable mystery.

There is love. There is more to life than just selfishness. I embrace that through God, but if someone can find the same thing in a different way, as Bertrand Russell did for one, I would think that’s a step in the right direction. To say no, there is only ego and selfishness, those are fighting words. That’s the enemy. That’s hatred, indifference and falseness all wrapped into one, the things that make life difficult for all of us.

I feel anger at such hurtful things, but they are too big for me. They may even be too big for God. Maybe the only reasonable way for any of us is to turn our backs on such ignorance and arrogance and embrace love and truth where it exists, not where it is absent. Everyone dies eventually. Love may die, too, or it may survive those who deny it, whether that’s complete denial or trivializing love as being something no different than chocolate. Either way I find it better to live with love than with sociopaths. Sociopaths are everywhere, but not everyone is a sociopath. Thank God.


given said...

But we are supposed to love everyone, if we are to do what the Bible says, and we must love all our fellow human beings, even people who are antisocial (sociopathic). There is a new name for them that is becoming used and that is dyslogic syndrome. People who are antisocial have a chemical imbalance, hence, they all have identical symptoms, I'm just passing along what I've learned recently. I've lost my faith, because the world is so hard to live in, but I am trying to love everyone equally, and it is getting easier, the more I understand they cannot help the way they are, and the best we can do for them is to find them something medical that will help them to live a normal life, and to love, cause I can't imagine not having that ability

DavidD said...

How does one love a sociopath? When I was still practicing medicine, I was surprised how easily I could do my best to help someone whom I found to be personally obnoxious, whether that was their sociopathy or something else. I eventually decided that it makes a difference that someone comes to me as a physician, even if they grumble and say harsh or duplicitous things to me. I've heard all that before. I don't care. I'm very much in control of that relationship. Perhaps more importantly it does make it easier to give them help when people humble themselves and ask for help.

Is biblical love more than that? It's true that, "Love God, love your neighbor, and love your enemies" add up to love everyone, but I'm quite sure that the men who wrote the Bible saw these categories differently. I don't know that there's anything in my last paragraph that is at odds with the Bible. I didn't say to take sociopaths out and shoot them. I said to embrace love and truth where it exists, not where it is absent. Good luck maintaining your sanity if you try to do the reverse or even measure yourself out equally for all people.

I have cared for patients. I have volunteered for the needy. It's impossible to treat all of those people equally. Does God want you to value equality over all else or to help people more where that help goes farther? Ask God. Maybe you'll get an answer.

The term "chemical imbalance" is a term at least fifty years old. There was a theory then that depression was an imbalance between acetylcholine and norepinephrine in the brain. That didn't turn out to be true. Since then it hasn't turned out that any mental illness or trait is the simple product of one or two chemicals. Anyone who says that is being incredibly simplistic.

We are all the products of biology, culture, some individual choices and even dumb luck. No two sociopaths are identical, not even twins who are gentically identical. Choices are available to all of us that would improve our lives some, no matter what we're stuck with. Science doesn't know much about why people make different choices, but it's not all biology.

I understand if you or others are trying not to be angry at sociopaths, but if you're doing that you haven't thought through your anger. Anger means "I don't like this." It doesn't necessarily mean, "You hurt me deliberately." Being in denial about something that might make you angry is something humans do naturally. Denial is not the last word on any subject, however.

Nadeem Malik said...

I know of a sociopath whose mother died. I knew he would not well to anyone showing any sympathy. He was uncontrollably angry. Later in life he became a criminal. Sociopaths no matter how great the grief do want sympathy from anyone they cannot with emotions of any kind.