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Thoughts on "The Sociopath Next Door"

Hi Lucio,

I just finished this book that you recommended and found it really interesting. Especially the part about the pity play being the hallmark of sociopaths because it's one that's been used on me in the past. The author also mentioned that she believed most people are good, which is a nice change from a lot of the other psychology books out there. I'm trying to reconcile my understanding of the shadow parts of most people and also of people's kindness and generosity.
There is a very complex area between the author's assertion that most people have conscience and the general dark psychology understanding that most people have dark urges they repress in their subconscious minds.
It's still a nebulous area that I want to delve more into. What are your thoughts on this?
Quote from Isabella Vien on January 6, 2021, 6:49 am
I just finished this book that you recommended and found it really interesting. Especially the part about the pity play being the hallmark of sociopaths because it's one that's been used on me in the past. The author also mentioned that she believed most people are good, which is a nice change from a lot of the other psychology books out there. I'm trying to reconcile my understanding of the shadow parts of most people and also of people's kindness and generosity.
There is a very complex area between the author's assertion that most people have conscience and the general dark psychology understanding that most people have dark urges they repress in their subconscious minds.
It's still a nebulous area that I want to delve more into. What are your thoughts on this?

Hello Isabella,

Is there a specific question you have, or more of a general thing?

At a general level, I believe that:

  • Most people are a mix of "good" and "bad"

Albeit it can be confusing, it's only confusing insofar one expects people to be either 100% good, or 100% bad.

But, as for most things, reality is shades of grey, and so are most people.

And that's why being "good with people" is a lot about getting out the best from others, while minimizing the chances of getting the short end of the stick.

And it's part of the reason why "collaborative frames" is one of the basic strategies of this website: because it expands on the "good" and collaborative side of people, both in quality, and quantity.

  • Different people differ in their levels of "good" or "bad" 

Albeit any bad person can do something good and any good person can do something bad, it would be a mistake to pretend everyone's the same.

As much as people differ for almost any given trait, people also differ on the general tendencies of behaving "good" (value-giving) or "bad" (value-taking).

Martha Stout, the author of that book, says something very smart about this: it's exactly the people who are most predatory who want others to believe that everyone is the same, and capable of evil.
Very smart manipulation, since there is a backdrop of truth, of course: everyone can act badly, and even evil.
But it's fundamentally wrong because you can't compare the "average" person who acts evil under the pressures of the environment (think the Milgram experiment, or SS rounding up jews) with the guy who willingly, without any external pressure, seeks to harm others.

And you can't compare the generally honest businessperson who once lied on his loan papers with a mobster who spends his life plotting on how to take from others, with any means possible.


A few more notes:

  • Most people have a conscience:

True.
That doesn't necessarily mean that people with a conscience will never do something "bad" or value-taking to someone else.
It does lower those chances though, which is why people without a conscience tend to be more dangerous and value-taking (see sociopaths / psychopaths), and which is why you want to have the people in your core group to have a conscience

  • Most people have dark urges

This depends a lot on how we define "dark urges", but probably also true in the way that most people seem to define it.

Dark urges about increasing one's own status, power, and success, are not really "dark" to me, since they are very natural and not necessarily about "ruining" others.

Increasing one's own power and success can -and often is best- achieved through win-win as well (but not always, of course). So they're not really "dark", but more like "grey, with the potential of swinging in both directions, including the "good" side"

Makes sense?

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Matthew Whitewood
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It's precisely that point of the author that intrigued me the most, how predators paint all humans as fundamentally bad. I was in sales and I began to believe in that. It's taking some time to adjust to a broader conception of human nature than what was taught in 48 laws and in sales career.

Re: dark urges. I wasn't talking about ambition. More of how people tend to behave badly when given the chance, such as the experiment where the pretend guards started abusing the pretend prisoners.

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Lucio Buffalmano

Interesting that you're referring to sales.

SALES: MORE SOCIOPATHS THERE?

I've also noticed that, in sales, there is a higher concentration of both manipulators, and of more aggressive folks with a dog-eat-dog attitude.

I'll never forget years ago, the founder I was working for had a very specific attitude towards sales. He used to call it "the art of bullshiting".
Why should I want to make sale in your company, if I don't want to be a bullshit-artist?
Great attitude to only attract and retaining value-takers.

Anyway, interesting topic, but a bit off-topic. Feel free to open a thread on sales if you want.

DARK URGES

Isabelle: I wasn't talking about ambition. More of how people tend to behave badly when given the chance, such as the experiment where the pretend guards started abusing the pretend prisoners.

Got it.

Yeah, that can happen, which is also why it's a good idea to be power-aware and to take care of never being at the mercy of others.

BUT, it's also not true that everyone, or even most people would "naturally" turn into abusers when given power over others.
After all, it's easy to find out: most people would have the power to hurt someone, or some animal, and stay anonymous. But it's still only a few people that go ahead and do it.

In that Zimbardo's experiment you're referring to -which has also been heavily criticized for its methodology-, there were also other variables at play, including group dynamics of "us VS them", which were further accentuated by the experiment's design.

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Stef
Have you read the forum guidelines for effective communication already?

But it's still only a few people that go ahead and do it

I hope thats the case, I have to ask: how do we know how many people secretely and anonymously do that?

Lucio, this is interesting. How was that Zimbardo experiment designed in a way that accentuated that? It's that experiment that really bothered me for a very long time. I hadn't heard about the criticisms too in depth.

Quote from Lucio Buffalmano on January 7, 2021, 12:04 am

Interesting that you're referring to sales.

SALES: MORE SOCIOPATHS THERE?

I've also noticed that, in sales, there is a higher concentration of both manipulators, and of more aggressive folks with a dog-eat-dog attitude.

I'll never forget years ago, the founder I was working for had a very specific attitude towards sales. He used to call it "the art of bullshiting".
Why should I want to make sale in your company, if I don't want to be a bullshit-artist?
Great attitude to only attract and retaining value-takers.

Anyway, interesting topic, but a bit off-topic. Feel free to open a thread on sales if you want.

DARK URGES

Isabelle: I wasn't talking about ambition. More of how people tend to behave badly when given the chance, such as the experiment where the pretend guards started abusing the pretend prisoners.

Got it.

Yeah, that can happen, which is also why it's a good idea to be power-aware and to take care of never being at the mercy of others.

BUT, it's also not true that everyone, or even most people would "naturally" turn into abusers when given power over others.
After all, it's easy to find out: most people would have the power to hurt someone, or some animal, and stay anonymous. But it's still only a few people that go ahead and do it.

In that Zimbardo's experiment you're referring to -which has also been heavily criticized for its methodology-, there were also other variables at play, including group dynamics of "us VS them", which were further accentuated by the experiment's design.

 

Stef: I hope thats the case, I have to ask: how do we know how many people secretely and anonymously do that?

Albeit there are no official statistics, I think we can indirectly get an idea.

This is a case where we probably have more data and personal experience than we could imagine.

For example:

  • How many people destroy property when it would be easy to get away with it?

For example, I've had something stolen -like a helmet from my bike because I always left it on top of the rearview mirror, without ever chaining it-.

But I've never had anyone vandalizing my bike or property, which was often left equally exposed and "easy" to vandalize.

Vandalization does happen, of course, but the point is: how really common is it?
Most often it's from male teenagers who are seeking a "thrill", or "proving" themselves to their group.

Most grown ups don't go around, on their own, looking for hidden cars to vandalize and "get their kicks" out of it, even when it would be easy to do so without getting caught.

People who've had a string of acts of vandalization usually had some issues with other people, and it's more about them, then about others.

  • How many people harm and maim animals, even when they could get away with it?

I don't see many people going out of their way to hurt animals if there is no return for them. Including animals who have little power to hit back.

There are plenty of people who hurt animals, for sure, but the question is: is it the norm, or the exception?
In my opinion, it's more the exception, and often confined to a specific age: young kids experiments with their personal power over their environment.

I see far more people taking care of animals, even at a personal cost.
Having a dog means you must walk him out every day, something I could never do. Having a cat in the city means you have to clean his poop every day, something I'd also never do. But plenty of people do.

Hunters don't count, since the pain inflicted is for an end -eating the animal-, and even if today eating the prey is still not the main goal, the "drive to hunt" still evolved for a precise end goal.
And even then, there are probably as many individuals against hunting today, as there are hunters.

  • Evolutionary psychology provides a cue: why evolving "useless" behavior?

Not necessarily always the case but, usually, a behavior that is very common among all -or most- humans evolved because there was a reason. And that reason, most often, is a selfish return for the individual.

Going out of one's way to harm others when there is no return for you wastes energy and time, puts you at risk -you never know you deemed someone incapable of hitting back, and instead they can-, and gives you nothing back.

That's not a type of drive/behavior that evolution would exactly promote.

Have you read the forum guidelines for effective communication already?

Isabelle: Lucio, this is interesting. How was that Zimbardo experiment designed in a way that accentuated that? It's that experiment that really bothered me for a very long time. I hadn't heard about the criticisms too in depth.

There is a whole book going into that, which is also on my list.

But in short, if I remember correctly, the critics said that Zimbardo was pushing on the guards to enforce the rules, was applying pressure to be "strict", and that the rules himself were unnatural.

Zimbardo himself never called it "experiment", but a "demonstration", since it wasn't properly controlled.

I still believe the "demonstration" says a lot of important things, actually, but it's less about "people are evil", and more about how "certain roles, group dynamics, and circumstances can take the worst out of people, and make them act evil", which is a big difference.

You could design a similar demonstration to show that people help others even when there is nothing in it for them. And drawing the conclusion that "people are good" would be an equally wrong generalization.

I touched upon here:

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