“He’s an animal!” is a statement commonly made regarding sociopaths. To those like me who love animals, this comparison is a bit distasteful. However, this week we will see that this statement may indeed be true.
Previously, I introduced the idea of the Inner Triangle. The Inner Triangle is a way to understand the hows and whys of sociopathy, and to predict how a sociopath will behave in a given situation. The Inner Triangle consists of our Ability to Love, Impulse Control, and Moral Reasoning. I have already described Ability to Love and Impulse Control, and the relationship these have to the disorder. This week we will discuss the Moral Reasoning of sociopaths.
Animals do not possess moral reasoning
Although animals can love and use impulse control, they do not reason morally.
Other intelligent mammals do live in societies, so moral reasoning is not required for life in society. To have a society requires leaders whose purpose it is to motivate everyone else to give up his/her own agenda for the sake of the group. Leaders make decisions for the group and enforce these decisions so everyone can work/live peacefully together. Animal societies can be lead by males (apes), females (elephants, meerkats) or a couple (wolves).
Those whose job it is to lead are called dominants. Dominant animals control the resources available to everyone else and so have power. Since animals do not have laws or moral reasoning, dominant animals decide everything for the group. Research has shown that dominant animals enforce their power using charm, intimidation and if need be, aggression.
It is only our laws that stand between us and the kind of leadership found in the rest of the animal kingdom. Think about it—a sociopath behaves like he/she is a dominant animal living in an animal society. Unfortunately, in many places humans are still ruled by other humans rather than by laws. Interestingly, these ruling humans are very often sociopaths.
Moral Reasoning and sociopathy
Although sociopaths can recite the rules for behavior, they lack Moral Reasoning. They do not subscribe to the rule of law, they instead live according to the law of the jungle. To have Moral Reasoning requires more than the ability to recite words that relate to behavior. Moral Reasoning requires belief. Sociopaths do not believe in these rules the way the rest of us do. Because they do not believe in the rules, the rules do not guide their behavior.
Moral Reasoning involves belief
What is belief? Belief is an emotional connection to an idea. Moral Reasoning also depends on values. Values require emotional connection to ideas regarding sources of pleasure and punishment. Sociopaths understand sources of pleasure. However, they have a decreased ability to repond to punishment. The lack of Moral Reasoning seen in sociopaths is related to their lack of emotional connection to anything other than power and sex. For sociopaths, other people and society itself serve merely as supply sources to gratify their own desires for power and sex.
Understanding sociopaths can make us better
Coming face to face with a sociopath’s inability to love can make us more loving. Similarly, when we consider the lack of impulse control exerted by sociopaths, we are motivated to improve ourselves. What about Moral Reasoning?
My daughter will be 16 this week and is considering philosophical questions. She recently asked me if I really thought humans were “higher” than animals. She knows I have a deep love and appreciation for other species and so wasn’t sure how I would answer. I told her I thought that perhaps the single biggest accomplishment of humans to this date is the American Constitution. Some might say the same about other documents like the Magna Carta.
Our laws are documents that allow us to have leadership based on something other than the brain of the current power holder—truly remarkable when you think about it. Our laws stay the same regardless of who leads. The next time you are in church or synagogue and the reader says, “Oh, how I love Your law!” Reflect on your own experience with a sociopath. Then you will emotionally connect with the person who wrote that about 4,000 years ago.