Sociopathy and Rationality

So I ran­domly ran across a very in­ter­est­ing site about so­ciopaths. The links at the FAQ and in­for­mal test are par­tic­u­larly in­trigu­ing (es­pe­cially since many of us score lower on all 5 moral di­men­sions mea­sured at your­morals.org, al­though many of us would score higher if a liberty di­men­sion was added). So­ciopaths of­ten get a lot of flak, and a lot of this flak is com­pletely un­der­stand­able, since so­ciopaths of­ten effec­tively de­stroy the per­cep­tion be­tween malle­abil­ity and effort (since their per­son­al­ities are effec­tively im­malle­able, and no amount of effort, ex­pressed tra­di­tion­ally, could help them—al­though I do be­lieve that there are highly cre­ative solu­tions that could in­te­grate them bet­ter in so­ciety where they won’t feel like they have a need to con­stantly take from oth­ers) - and peo­ple who do be­lieve in the cor­re­la­tion be­tween malle­abil­ity and effort of­ten do end up more able to change them­selves. So­ciopaths also effec­tively re­duce the trust peo­ple have with ev­ery­one else—be­cause any­one else could be seen as a po­ten­tial so­ciopath (the pos­si­bil­ity of so­ciopaths forces peo­ple to use “tit-for-tat” as the de­fault strat­egy for deal­ing with oth­ers, rather than the “al­tru­is­tic” strat­egy—but peo­ple of­ten end up be­com­ing even less gen­er­ous than “tit-for-tat” due to their over­re­ac­tions to nega­tive ex­pe­riences). At the same time, I was quite struck by how many of these traits (ex­pressed in both links) also cor­re­late with traits we see in the highly ra­tio­nal (as so­ciopaths of­ten lack much of the emo­tional bag­gage found in neu­rotyp­i­cals). Of course, there are the dys­func­tional so­ciopaths who are truly dan­ger­ous for so­ciety at large, and the more func­tional so­ciopaths, who can ap­pre­ci­ate (through some highly cre­ative ar­gu­ments—I’ve used some of those ar­gu­ments on my­self to re­duce my ado­les­cent anger to­wards hu­man­ity—but it’s hard for peo­ple to re­ally think of those ar­gu­ments un­less they’ve gone through a similar phase of anger them­selves) that the world does not re­volve around their lives.

In par­tic­u­lar, I found the linked so­ciopath test to be in­trigu­ing, since I fit all 12 of those traits (ex­cept for pos­si­bly the trait about em­bar­rass­ment). The first ob­ser­va­tion was par­tic­u­larly in­ter­est­ing: “1. So­ciopaths typ­i­cally don’t smal­ltalk about them­selves as much as nor­mal peo­ple do. They will di­rect the con­ver­sa­tion back to the new ac­quain­tance as much as they can.” This seems like the perfectly ra­tio­nal thing to do (in most cases), since peo­ple gen­er­ally love to talk about them­selves, even though you prob­a­bly benefit most by hav­ing them do most of the talk­ing (since you learn more about their po­ten­tially in­for­ma­tive ex­pe­riences than they learn about your po­ten­tially in­for­ma­tive ex­pe­riences).

I don’t con­sider my­self a so­ciopath, how­ever, since I’m still very ca­pa­ble of feel­ing shame and re­morse when I’ve ac­tu­ally man­aged to hurt some­one (al­though it took a lot of time for me to de­velop that), and I’ve also be­come a near-ve­gan (since I do love an­i­mals).

I think an hon­est dis­cus­sion on so­ciopa­thy on LessWrong would be in­ter­est­ing.