Rob: In the paper, the extensive, long paper that you sent me, it was kind of a summary, it gave a couple ideas...one is that they are promiscuous and engaging coercive sexuality, i.e., rape...
Rob: And that they...basically, "the general population is predominantly cooperative, honest and trusting, which allows the small portions of individuals" -- I'm quoting from this paper -- "to capitalize on this benevolence by cheating--stealing valuable resources, and engaging in promiscuous sexual behavior."
SL: Yes, that's right. And so this comes a bit...I think another model, which is related to the first model I talked about -- they're not mutually incompatible -- is...comes out of something called game theory. And if people have seen the movie, A Beautiful Mind, about John Nash, people may remember that movie about the brilliant Princeton mathematician. He actually first developed these models that imply a particular kind of natural selection, not to be too technical, but if I can throw in one piece of lingo here...the term is frequency dependent selection. That's a bit of lingo, but I can explain how it works....is, if you believe this frequency dependent selection model, what you believe is that, I think you described it well, most people in societies -- in almost every society -- are honest. Most people are cooperative. So what that will often mean is that people who do cheat, people who do take advantage of other people...will have a selective advantage. So what that model implies is when most people are honest, if there's some genetic theory building the population, that may encourage a few people, maybe about 5%, that's interesting...in almost every culture it's been studied about 5% of people seem to account for 50/60% of all crimes...so maybe 5% or a bit less, to be dishonest and to cheat -- to take advantage of other people. Now why does that 5% not become 50%, eventually 100%? Well, because the other 95% of people become aware of that 5% and they develop things like police (which we have) and laws (which we have) and other people to engage in surveillance, and that keeps that number at a stable level. Sometimes it may push it back below 5%, but when it gets too low, people get too trusting again and get...and start becoming complacent and then that 5% starts creeping back up again. And then if it gets too high, it starts going back down again. So it kind of reaches what is sometimes called a Nash -- after John Nash -- Nash Equilibrium, a kind of roughly, stable but low percentage of people in almost every culture who lie, cheat and steal. And that's one potential interesting model.
Rob: Okay. I'm really feeling the time pressure here. We don't have that much time left. And I've got so much more to ask you.
SL: I've got another ten minutes or so, so that's fine.
Rob: Okay good. I call my show The Bottom Up Radio Show because I believe we're in a transition from a top-down to a more bottom-up culture. A top-down culture is what civilization is based on, and I believe that before there was civilization in tribal and band cultures, there was much more bottom- up interaction and that was the nature of culture. And with civilization came hierarchy, centralization, and domination. And I see a tie between psychopathy and domination and hierarchy. Can you get into talking about that at all?
SL: Yes, it's interesting. I don't know if I have much profound to add to that. I don't know, other than to say the obvious, which is that part of psychopathy is indeed dominance. Part of psychopathy is indeed predation. And once you start having, if I'm understanding your reasoning correctly, once you start having a very top-down society, there's always a risk that some individuals will occupy powerful positions, positions of leadership, who will then impose that power on others. And what I think the concern that some of us have, although there's very little research on this, is that again, some of these occupations, particularly in the domain of politics and maybe corporate CEOs, maybe inadvertently selecting for people some high levels of these traits. And as a result, what you might end up with is not merely a top-down society, but a psychopath-down society, I'm sure it's grossly oversimplified -- there are plenty of great leaders out there who are definitely not psychopaths, no question about that. But you might, if you're not careful enough, and if you have a citizenry that is not careful enough to evaluate its leaders thoughtfully, you might end up with a leadership hierarchy that is populated with too many people with these traits who then can impose some of their will on others.
Rob: Pretty scary thought. But I don't think it's that unrealistic either. I think that...
SL: Yeah, I think luckily, again maybe I'm idealistic, I think luckily that democratic society...we do have...people often aren't as vigilant as they could be but I do think when people are egregiously bad they usually do get voted out of office. So the one thing you will see about most psychopathic people -- not all -- but most of them are their own worst enemies in the long run. So even though they can fool people in the short run, more often than not, I think what you'll see is they will get themselves in trouble and find their way into scandal at some point. So I think there is a self-correction built into the system although sometimes these people can certainly wreak havoc in the short run. I think where it's more problematic, frankly, is in non-democratic societies where people don't have a voice, when people don't have a vote, and that's I think much worse, much more problematic. So in totalitarian organizations where you have people who can assume power by brute force and there's no opportunity to vote these people out, then I think you have a really dangerous combination.
Rob: Well you used the word, totalitarian, but so much of our culture -- our corporate culture in particular -- is top-down authoritarian culture. Isn't there a greater risk there too?
SL: Yeah, I think there is. I mean I think what that implies is that (A) there's a greater need to understand the implications of psychopathy for corporate culture and (B) the general public -- I think you're obviously doing this with your shows -- needs to be better educated to recognize these traits and to recognize how we can be fooled and duped by these traits because people with these traits often can seem to be altruistic, can seem to care for others, can seem to be charming and seductive, but may not always have our best interests at heart.
Rob: This is the Rob Kall Bottom Up Radio Show WNJC 1360 AM, sponsored by opednews.com. I've been talking with Scott Lilienfeld. He is the head...the President, is it?
SL: The President, right.
Rob: Of the Society for the Scientific Study of Psychopathy. He's a Professor of Psychology at Emory University. And we've been talking about the state of knowledge of psychopathy today. If you've come in late for listening to the show, you can go to opednews.com/podcasts with an 's' on the end to find the show and listen to the whole show, or you can go to iTunes, so it'll be up in about a day. We're going to continue the conversation though.
As I started Scott in this conversation, I told you I believe that what is needed is a massive project -- a mission to raise public awareness to understand psychopaths better, understand what they do, and to understand how to deal with them. Now what we really haven't talked about at all is how do you deal with psychopaths and their predatory nature, and the pain and the suffering and the hurt that they do? And I don't know that we're going to have time to do that in this conversation, but where I want to finish the conversation is to talk about the idea that I have that we need something like an Apollo Moon Landing, a Manhattan Project that invests massively more, proportional to the damage that they do -- and is there anybody talking about this? Is this something that has any potential or is this something you're interested in? What do you think about that?
(Note: You can view every article as one long page if you sign up as an Advocate Member, or higher).