Friday, March 04, 2016


One of the things that makes communication difficult and some problems hard to solve is that very different things can be the same thing.

I wrote about DV as an example of taxonomies some time ago.
 Antisocial Personality Disorder and Narcissistic Personality Disorder are both different, but they get to the same place, seeing people as tools or toys to be used. And the old saw that "there are many paths to the top of the mountain" ignores the fact that there are actually many mountains, with many different points of view and the path you choose will change how you see the view more than the elevation.

I do believe some people are born unable to see that other people are real. It's an emotional thing and there is a sliding scale to it. At the extreme end, this is like a video game and other people are just pixels. Slightly less intense, many criminals don't feel shame. They just don't get it (See Fleisher's Beggars and Thieves for some corroboration). About half of my friends feel "trust" as an emotion and the others see it as a decision, but with no feeling associated. Which leads me to believe that it is probably possible to scale people's emotional palette.

That was a bit of an aside.
I believe some people are born sociopaths, and essentially don't have the capacity to develop an emotional palette that includes compassion or empathy. I believe a larger number have the capacity but it was never developed-- Babies are born inherently selfish and egocentric and must be taught that other people have feelings just like them. If that teaching fails, the child will be heartless. Sociopath? Functionally, but a very different mechanism.

And one can be placed in an environment where heartlessness is the only effective survival strategy. Humans are adaptable, and even people who will not be heartless on their own behalf can become heartless if that is the only way to protect or feed their children. It's rare, fortunately, and almost all of society is set up to prevent this. And the older and more entrenched you might be in your early socialization, the harder it will be to actually act... but in an environment where ruthlessness is necessary to survival, the survivors will be ruthless.

So, rambling as that was, three ways to get to almost anything. And none of those three ways are separate, they all interact:

Nature, socialization and selection.

  • If you have a genetic gift, you can be very fast.
  • If you are raised in a society where speed is rewarded and slowness punished, your childhood games will be based on developing speed. You'll be faster than someone with similar genetics raised differently.
  • And if all the slow kids die, the surviving kids will be fast.

For fighting or combat or making friends-- some have the right genetic mix of physical and mental attributes. Some learned. And some adapted because they had no choice.

For good things and bad things. That has a lot of implications for us as trainers, voters, people. It's not a single lens, not one size fits all. Do we want to train survivors? Selection doesn't do that, it weeds out the ones who need training most. Do we want to fix crime or any social problem? Eugenics, education and social welfare are three historic attempts to do that, each aimed at one of the three paths.


Kai Jones said...

Gene expression is a useful concept here. You can have the genes but unless something in the environment triggers them, they won't express to their full capability.

God's Bastard said...

I found it really interesting when I was with the circus to watch how the environment selected for certain narcissistic/ASP traits. In particular, watching some of the children grow up was an education, if also creepy as hell.

Malcolm Rivers said...
This comment has been removed by the author.
The European Historical Combat Guild said...

First define the collective it's strengths and what actually contributes to it. Also the the things that actually are... not what we think or a live they are and then apply that.. then find that the context and the needs change and then start afresh

The European Historical Combat Guild said...
This comment has been removed by the author.
Unknown said...

Hi Rory, I agree with you that sometimes sociopathic-type personalities can be created by circumstances, not born of genetics. During my twenties I worked in care homes, and it took a long time to come to terms with how cold the residents appeared in some circumstances. So if a resident died, you would hear responses such as, “Oh ok, can I have his X?”, or even, “I guess I’ll have to get a new boyfriend then”, with no show of emotion at all.

These people were generally older, and in many cases had been abandoned to an institution within days of being born, simply because of their physical disability, and subject to decades of profound institutionalisation. But I also saw it in a different, smaller and more modern home for younger people with learning disabilities. The day I left that job after several years, I was devastated, but the youngsters were casual as anything, just going off to school and college as normal. As staff we believed that this type of behaviour was because they had so often grown close to staff (who are in the end surrogate parents), only to have them leave and totally disappear from their lives over the years, over and over again. So I guess something had just died. As you say, “heartlessness is the only effective survival strategy” . . .

Agent Cbeppa said...

Thank you for the interesting post! This lines up really well with the psychology textbook I'm studying. Fascinating stuff!
I would just like to point out that there is no such thing as a "born sociopath." If you believe a person is born without empathy, you would call that person a "psychopath." If you think the person's environment is the cause for his/her lack of empathy, you would say the person is a "sociopath." It's a common mistake, but also an important distinction.

Erik Kondo said...

I use ATE (Atributes + Training + Experience) as a model to "describe" a person's baseline for how he or she "does" something.

You could also say that:

Attributes is similar to Nature (What God gave you)
Training is similar to Socialization (What you learned to do)
Experience is similar to Selection (Experience provides you the feedback of which selection of actions work best)

So, instead of 3 seperate ways, the 3 ways are intertwined.

But, it seems to be a similar idea in some respects.