Sociopathy and power

From Crime and Punishment by Fyodor Dostoevsky

I maintain in my article that all … well, legislators and leaders of men, such as Lycurgus, Solon, Mahomet, Napoleon, and so on, were all without exception criminals, from the very fact that, making a new law they transgressed the ancient one, handed down from their ancestors and held sacred by the people, and they did not stop short at bloodshed either, if that bloodshed—often of innocent persons fighting bravely in defence of ancient law—were of use to their cause. It’s remarkable, in fact, that the majority, indeed, of these benefactors and leaders of humanity were guilty of terrible carnage. In short, I maintain that all great men or even men a little out of the common, that is to say capable of giving some new word, must from their very nature be criminals—more or less, of course. Otherwise it’s hard for them to get out of the common rut; and to remain in the common rut is what they can’t submit to, from their very nature again, and to my mind they ought not, indeed, to submit to it. You see that there is nothing particularly new in all that. The same thing has been printed and read a thousand times before. As for my division of people into ordinary and extraordinary, I acknowledge that it’s somewhat arbitrary, but I don’t insist upon exact numbers. I only believe in my leading idea that men are in general divided by a law of nature into two categories, inferior (ordinary), that is, so to say, material that serves only to reproduce its kind, and men who have the gift or the talent to utter a new word.

The purpose of this post is to stimulate discussion rather than offer analysis/commentary. This post was partly inspired by Robert Lindsay’s Portrait of the Billionaire as a Monster. The question that I’ve always pondered over was this: Do the powerful abide by a different code of ethics than the rest of us? Are the “alphas” destined to rule over the “betas” and “omegas”? To what degree are sociopathy and power linked? In one of our discussions, an old friend told me that States are amoral because they are forced to juggle the competing interests of heterogeneous groups. But what of individuals? Do the powerful bend the rules by the sheer force of their will? What is the goal of acquiring power? Maximizing personal freedom? A broader question one could ask is if class is simply inherent to our species regardless of society and culture. If class is a function of talent, then the flatness of a communist society is an impossible pipe dream.

What are your thoughts on this?

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7 Responses to Sociopathy and power

  1. coward says:

    hey, Dota, I am beyond the 0.01% of human riches (my dad is worth more than a couple hundred million), and all of us in the family are ruthless enough to slit each other’s throats without a bit of remorse. We could put a baby in a shredder and laugh about it, and none of us have felt a single shred of what you may refer to as “love, empathy, sympathy, benevolence, altruism,” etc, but we do feel anger, pain, distraught, hate, fear, and rage. The fact is, you ordinary folk need us very much to make society’s dirty decisions, or else civilization would collapse. Our military leaders should see our soldiers as statistics and not humans, which would lead to certain defeat. Our politicians must nurture our people at the expense of the environment and the third world. You need us, we do not need you. So you should not want to get rid of us, you owe everything you have entirely to us “sociopaths”.

    • Dota says:

      The fact is, you ordinary folk need us very much to make society’s dirty decisions, or else civilization would collapse.

      I’ve considered this actually. But I think the ”ordinary” and ”extraordinary” need each other in equal measure. What most people fail to understand is that the ”alphas” look at the world with a very different set of eyes. For this reason alone most people do not comprehend international relations as they expect states to reason like ordinary individuals. I think that an effective leader must possess a certain degree of sociopathy to retain power, but must also possess a certain degree of empathy and concern for the ruled, to cement legitimacy. While western societies are morally universalist and individualist, they are collective minded and low trust on the global stage. A show of weakness is suicide and saving face becomes very important.

  2. coward says:

    A thank you would be nice, after all we “sociopaths” have done for you ordinary folk. Come on, would it really hurt to say thanks?

  3. niinjah says:

    An interesting question. I loved Susan Cain`s “quiet” where she introduces the distinction of introversion and extroversion, that to a certain degree remind me a bit of sociopathy. Are sociopaths more extrovert, since they are not “bothered” about what others thinK? Coward comments that we need sociopaths to take hard decision, but that is based on one principle: That the only way to rule is by sacrificing many for the gains of some. Some people even think we should not give medication to the poor and needy, because we are too many people already. But do we have examples of empathic leaders that still manage to take good decisions? I think we have! What about Gandhi and Mandela? What about mother teresa? They took a lot of decisions, but chose collaboration instead of war.

  4. mixedraced says:

    Sociopaths need non-sociopaths to feel superior. Without this their lives would be pretty empty.

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