Is a sociopath. If we live in the United States, that is. In other countries, the proportions are lower.
Those are the conclusions of Martha Stout, PhD, the author of The Sociopath Next Door, an examination she undertook based on her research as a clinician working with those who have no conscience.
That, she says, is the trademark of the sociopath, and makes them more different from the rest of us than anything else that divides us. Set aside skin color, sex or gender, national origin. The much more basic question is: does that person you just met at the office, in the neighborhood, through your children’s school, have a conscience that stops them from doing dreadful things?
There is evidence that the brains of sociopaths differ from the majority (cerebral cortex and temporal lobes). It can also be demonstrated that family environment and culture can determine whether a child with a sociopath’s brain actually become someone who inflicts pain without caring.
In China, at least historically, the rule of society has played a big part in personal behavior. Take a look at a group photo of Chinese military men of all ages. Notice that they all, without exception, have dark hair. It’s not vanity per se that dyes the hair of the over-40s. It’s the avoidance of standing out, looking different. They see the norm, and strive to meet it.
Stout argues that even though sociopathic people cannot feel that societal norms like “do not kill” must be obeyed, that can use their cognition to reason that through. This is why China’s sociopath population is only 1% instead of the US’s 4%, says Stout.
It is the American insistence on individual rights, plus a lingering Wild West atmosphere permeating our culture, that permits the expansion of sociopathy.
What about family? If a child is born into a loving family, one where parents set reasonable guidelines and explain their guidance decisions, that child, even with a faulty brain, is likely to grow into someone who does not seek out sadism.
But imagine children being raised in a family where violence or neglect is the norm, where slow-simmering anger often erupts. What will be the future of those children? Of the people around them as they grow older and more powerful?
Sociopaths come in both sexes; all colors and creeds; badly educated, well-educated, and everywhere in between. They bear no physical mark. The rest of us cannot easily identify others’ sociopathy. That makes it difficult to avoid.
Yet Stout gives us a hint in her chapter “How to Recognize the Remorseless”. She says, “…the best clue is, of all things, the pity play. The most reliable sign, the most universal behavior of unscrupulous people is not directed, as one might imagine, at our fearfulness. It is, perversely, an appeal to our sympathy.”
Thus, she says, “… good people will let pathetic individuals get by with murder, so to speak, and therefore any sociopath wishing to continue with his game, whatever it happens to be, should play repeatedly for none other than pity”.
That’s a tip to keep well in mind.