How Many Sociopaths Do We Interact With?

Yesterday I posted an article on Vigilant Vote called Sociopaths Among Us. Part of me wanted to also share it here, but it was too political, and I don’t want to scare any of my followers away. But I think it is an important subject to understand. Even though I am not one for fear mongering, there are legitimate dangers that must be realized in order to be avoided.

I just finished reading A Clockwork Orange. Clearly the main character and narrator, Alex, is a sociopath. He has no conscience, and feels no remorse or guilt for the brutal assaults, rapes, and murders that he carries out. In discussing the book’s relation to politics, I mentioned how Alex’s friends joined in on these crimes, but were not caught, and therefore not punished. When Alex gets out of prison after a controversial treatment, he finds a former friend and a former enemy, both horrible thugs, have become police officers. The point being that sociopaths are drawn to positions of power, and therefore we must have the right mechanisms in place as a society to thwart that power when used unjustly against the innocent.

Really I was just using A Clockwork Orange as an example, while I had found another book, non-fiction, called The Sociopath Next Door by Martha Stout. I have not yet read it, but a review was helpful to explain that we do in fact live amongst sociopaths who are not murderers and rapists; not because they don’t want to be, but because getting caught would bring consequences that interfere with their desired lifestyle.

The fact is, we all almost certainly know at least one or more sociopaths already. Part of the urgency in reading The Sociopath Next Door is the moment when we suddenly recognize that someone we know—someone we worked for, or were involved with, or voted for—is a sociopath. But what do we do with that knowledge? To arm us against the sociopath, Dr. Stout teaches us to question authority, suspect flattery, and beware the pity play. Above all, she writes, when a sociopath is beckoning, do not join the game.

Now in the political realm, questioning authority is probably most important. But in day to day lives, being suspect of the pity play is more applicable.

(The only reason I haven’t focused much on suspecting flattery is because that one seems more obvious to me. If someone if throwing compliments your way they might be a sociopath, or they might have ulterior motives, or they might just be nice. I think however, that we are used to suspecting flattery: “What are you trying to get?”).

In A Clockwork Orange, Alex and his gang use the appeal to pity on multiple occasions to find victims. In the beginning their standard operating procedure is for Alex to knock on a door and innocently ask for help for his “sick friend who has passed out in the street”. One woman told him she did not have a telephone, but goes to get him some water after he continues his charade. When she fails to lock the dead bolt, he wriggles the chain lock undone, and barges in with his droogs to rape and beat the unsuspecting husband and wife. Of course if she had been less inclined to help someone in need, she may not have been victimized. Unfortunately this means only the most decent people are victimized, because a more selfish person would not fall prey, simply because they would not care about the fake victim.

The next victim of the thugs, an old woman with many cats, suspected that Alex was up to no good, and tells him to go away. Now while they do still break into her house, the old baboochka has time to call the police. This leads to Alex’s arrest and punishment for his crimes. While she was still victimized, the assailant suffered the consequences only when his victim did not fall for the pity play. The night before, Alex got away scott free (and guilt free since he is a sociopath) because his victims did not suspect he was playing on their pity to take advantage of their generosity and charity.

Now believe me, I am not saying you should abandon all charity for your fellow man. Many in need are sincere, and not trying to trick anyone. But beware the pity play. For example, my parents told me a story of how a man came to their Priest’s church claiming he did not have any money to fill his oil tank for winter. For whatever reason, the priest was suspect of this man’s story, but wanting to give him the benefit of the doubt, he decided to offer the man some help without putting himself out on a limb. He said that if the man wanted to earn some money he would be happy to pay him to rake some leaves. Well the man started to rake, but about 15 minutes later he was on his phone, and in another 15 minutes he was gone. That Priest’s charity will be better spent on someone who needs it, versus this apparent conman.

So it is not always a matter of blind trust or outright denial. There are ways to help people without putting yourself or your coffer in harm’s way: like giving the homeless man a sandwich instead of money that could go towards drugs. But often we should trust our instincts in situations that could become dangerous for us. Unfortunately it is not safe to give a random stranger a ride somewhere. There may be someone innocent who actually needs your help, but they should understand a stranger’s unease about helping another stranger, when that help puts them at the mercy of their passenger. A sociopath does not care for his victim, and therefore will exploit their good intentions. A normal person would understand your reservations about giving a ride to a stranger.

And of course it is not always just strangers that victimize. Some sociopaths among us you may already know, or even consider friends. We still must be suspect of the pity play. There is a difference between helping a friend in need, and being a doormat for people to wipe their feet on. Again, I think the best strategy is to offer help on your own terms, and the honest man will understand your reservations.

We have a tendency to fear being rude. But there are real dangers out there; as many as 12 million sociopaths could be amongst us in America alone. Sometimes if something doesn’t feel right, it is better to be thought rude, than to be victimized.