Some of you may remember my ruminations on the evolutionary significance of sociopathy, my tentative musings that it may be not so much a pathology as an adaptation, and my almost pathetic relief (scroll down to Oct 14) when people with actual credentials wonder the same thing and thus make me look like less of a wing nut. In an attempt to regain that status I’ve gone further, describing autistics and sociopaths as entirely different “cognitive subspecies” — only to have Marnie Rice out of Penetanguishene one-up me by describing sociopathy as a process of “speciation”. (It won’t surprise anyone to learn that Echopraxia continues to play with this theme— even going so far as to steal a line from cognitive neuroscientist Laurent Mottron, who claims that describing autistics as people who are bad at socializing but good at numbers makes about as much sense as describing dogs as a kind of cat that’s bad at climbing but good at fetching slippers.)
As everyone agrees, the word for getting rid of a whole subspecies is not “cure”. I’m not quite sure what the right word might be, but it’s probably somewhere between extermination and genocide. (Let’s call it cultural genocide, in deference to the fact that the biological organism persists even though its identity has been eradicated.) We’re even seeing the flowering of something like civil rights advocacy, in the form of the neurodiversity movement that’s been picking up steam over the past decade or two.
From what I can see out here, though, that movement seems to be an Autistics-Only club: what’s lacking is any sort of pro-Sociopath lobby along the lines of, say, the American Vampire League from True Blood. One would think that both groups would warrant the same kind of advocacy; the arguments of cognitive subspecieshood apply equally to both, after all. You’re stepping onto a pretty slippery slope when you claim that the occupation of a distinct neurological niche warrants acceptance of one group, but this other group over here — no more responsible for its wiring than the first — should still be wiped ou— er, cured. After all, only a small proportion of sociopaths are actual criminals; most of them operate entirely within the limits of established legal, religious, and political systems. Hell, it’s hard to look at the Citizens Uniteds and Rupert Murdochs of the world and conclude that sociopaths didn’t play a major role in building those systems in the first place. And after all, both sociopaths and autistics tend to be lacking in the whole empathy department [Late-breaking edit: it has been brought to my attention that the word empathy is an imprecise beast which contains at least two different processing modes; and that autistics can actually score higher than baselines along the affective scale. See the Comments for more details, and thanks to Andrew Hickey for pointing out the problem.] So where’s the neurodiversity community when you need it, hmm? Where are the advocates speaking out on behalf of sociopath interests (beyond Goldman & Sachs and the other 0.1-percenters, I mean)?
I do not know the name of the person behind “Sociopath World”; doubtless that’s by design. He or she (actually, screw it; I’m gonna go with he) refers to himself merely as “The Sociopath” on his contact page, as “M.E.” on Twitter, and as firstname.lastname@example.org when he hands out his address (which makes me doubt that the “M.E.” Twitter handle is an actual set of initials). No matter. This is either a subtle and very labor-intensive hoax, or it’s your one-stop-shopping center for the interested empath (they call us “Empaths”, apparently, which I find both more precise and less condescending than the “neurotypical” label the Autistic Spectrum types seem to prefer). The most popular posts end up on the FAQ list: Do Sociopaths Love? Are Sociopaths Self-Aware? Am I a Sociopath? Can Sociopaths be “Good”? There are helpful how-to pointers: How to break up with a sociopath, for example (the illustration to the right was taken from that particular entry; at least we know that sociopaths have a sense of humor).
There are pop-culture observations: whether the new Twenty-first-century Sherlock really is a sociopath in the world of fiction, whether Lady Gaga is in real life, the potential infiltration of sociopaths into Occupy Wall Street drum circles. There’s a forum, rife with trolls and assholes and deleted posts; but there’s also legitimate debate there. And surprisingly, it also seems to function as a kind of support group for people in emotional distress.
You can even, I shit you not, order a Sociopath World t-shirt.
So. ME is out there, fighting the good fight. He’s getting noticed (at least, his blog gets shitloads more comments than mine, not that that’s a high bar to clear in the wide webby world). He’s showing up on the occasional psych blogroll. So now, I’m going to sit back and see if the neurodiversity community is willing to pick up the torch. If he is trying to kickstart the Vampire Rights League, though, I think he’s fighting an uphill battle.1
Which only makes sense. Martin Luther King Jr. didn’t have an easy time of it either.
1He’s well aware of this, of course. He discusses that double standard in his post “Am I My Asperger Brother’s Keeper?“, in which he points out that the most obvious difference between Aspies and sociopaths is that the latter group has better social skills. So why compassion for one group, and vilification of the other? Is it really that the social awkwardness of the Aspies allows us to regard them as children, and therefore unthreatening? Are we really such condescending assholes?
Of course we are. But pretty obviously, sociopaths with charming smiles and firm handshakes are also more likely to prey on us than is someone who has trouble even making eye contact; sociopaths are more dangerous, empirically. ME is not beyond pushing his own agenda. (He points to studies suggesting that autistics can be serial killers too — Jeffrey Dahmer gets cited as a case in point — but there are too many gaps in that claim for me to accept it at face value. As I recall, Dahmer did okay in the social skills department.)