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Well, yes and no. Recent research draws a new, finer distinction in the area of dominance these folks occupy. And it is welcome. The distinction that counts, at the most basic level of definition, is whether they are violent, on what basis do they care for others. The violent or abusive kinds often end up in prison, wards of the state. The non-violent psychopath is another sort. Many populate the ranks of power—CEOs, politicians, military officers and the like. Many behave in moral ways, but too many do not, and they are the danger. That distinction and its ramifications are the subjects of this page. The boundary between the good (useful in various degrees) dominant authoritarian and the bloody psychopath with the same traits is a fine one—finer than we thought. Both may behave outwardly compassionate, but they are just not on the same emotional or moral level. Along with their ruthlessness, both CEOs and true psychopaths have extreme views of self worth along with charisma and dominance. The key that separates one from the other is empathy. Empathy is the ability to identify with others. In other words, it is the ability to understand and imaginatively enter into another person's feelings—making the plight of another one’s own.

The key difference seems to be that one can “imaginatively enter into the feelings of another” in two ways: 1) coldly projecting one’s own outlook outwardly on how one might feel in the set of circumstances the other is in, and 2) warmly and truly identifying with how the other really does feel by inwardly reflecting how one’s innocent child might feel under those same circumstance. The key difference here is that the former route is taken by those in denial (whether induced by nature or nurture) who have no empathy, while the latter route is taken by those with empathy who are at peace with their inner selves. They have little or no neurons invested in hang-ups that distort their view of the real world. Recognizing which is which with any measure of certainty remains an outstanding problem. There is warm empathy, and there is cold empathy. How to distinguish them is the issue on this page. A problem is that this distinction is not clean nor is it always obvious. Charisma and degree of insights into people along with natural physical and intellectual charm can mask which is which. So can reputation or position in society. "It is all too easy to fall in love with a pretty face." is how Kris Rosenberg, a founder of this web-site always put it. Cold, manipulative, empathy works all too well, all too often, and it does so regardless of the "pretty face." The "party line" is equally seductive.

Joshua Greene, a psychologist at Harvard has been able to show scientifically that these two responses arise from separate parts of the brain. The empathizer who feels “with the other” employs the amygdala portion of the brain and its related circuits that give rise to emotions. In contrast, the projector in the same situation activates his/her brain in a very different way—the prefrontal and parietal cortexes. The latter involves the anterior cortex, the temporal lobe and the superior or temporal suclus. These regions give rise to rational reason that is affected by experience.

True, warm, empathy arises only from the amygdala and its related circuitry. In plain terms, one is truly compassionate, while the phony only pretends. The latter may be motivated by a desire to appear empathetic even though s/he is not—it is manipulative. In male dominated societies, the male is the more dangerous, but females can be equally phony. This finding by Joshua Greene—if it stands up to the test of time—may provide an early screen for the potentially dangerous psychopaths. That event would be a Nobel Peace Prize winning breakthrough.

The common problem we all have in present time is our inability to decipher which is operative in the people we work and live with, not to mention those whom we learn from or vote for—if it is not already too late. The true psychopath can typically read us a lot better than we can read him or her. We have encountered a dozen or so, mostly males in our professional careers and personal lives. Not one added to the quality of our lives, most caused us significant difficulties both emotionally and financially.

In counterpoint: Just as the least-educated of these folks took us to the cleaners, we witnessed one insightful woman who avoided a similar fate for her young daughter who was virtually in the clutches of an abusive psychologist who in fact eventually joined the prison population when one of his misdeeds backfired with real consequences. But that happened only after over 300 mostly young and defenseless female victims had been abused (this is insider information and may not be public record). The fact that we observed one mother of a teenager stand up successfully to this dangerous, but very charismatic abuser in a white coat gives us hope for a similar result for all of humankind. Given only the awareness that she naturally had she read this man in a white coat as the psychopath he really was. Even his staff read him wrong—so taken were they with his personality—as ammoral as he was. There are ways to avoid this trap.

For example:
  • We can parent our children in such a way that they too can read other folks, taking care to give them strong internal loci of control (morals and personal responsibility) and full respect for the external loci of control (rules of civilization that preserve the species in harmony with its many expressions put on by society).
  • Channel children's curiosity in such ways that they not only learn how to learn and find their niche, but to also become passionate about the learning process. The end result here is that our children become aware of their own strengths and callings. They typically become life-long learners able to move with, even lead, the times.
  • We can encourage our children to think and question, and how to find out for themselves how the world really works. After all it was only after putting observable facts together, and making sense of them, that the good and long lives we now enjoy became possible. This does not mean we have outlived any need for morality as taught by religions; instead, it gives us rational bases for moral behavior.
  • Compassion and empathy are best taught by example. This ability is natural, but in a fast-moving and hectic life it is often too little practiced or even recognized as an element of parenting. Isn't parenting at least as important as earning a living or achieving status?
  • We can home-school our children about our inblorn traits, inner conflicts, and how to deal with them on both personal and societal levels and reinforce that by providing similar courses all through K12. Those teachings must also include how it came to be that this conflict we each naturally feel is there and is something we are born with and why.

Peaceful adults are born and bred just these ways. See Five Pillars and links there for more.

Because such learning involves evolution, it may disturb the most-fundamental of our religious brethren. Our response to that is a simple question.

Three monotheisms have had some three millennia to eradicate violence and war, but each has failed to do.

When amoral "monotheists" corrupt a hierarchy, his/her church or government, they can and do go beyond moral directives such that their churches or nations engage in interminable wars (mostly against other montheisms), violence, and terrorism—such is our history anyway.

To emphasize, this history was not led by honest believers in a unitary god; it was driven by psychopaths who co-opted this monotheism or that and found ways to go to war. In fact matching the number of reports of violence on the internet when key words are matched with religion in balanced designs across all religions, the results indict monotheism as one of the problems. This is naturally hard to take by many believers. It is shattering to their innermost views. And naturally again, they may slip into denial, unconsciously, for that is how hangups, even good ones, work.

See Monotheism & Violence, for the data.
See Religious Cultures in Conflict for interpretations.

Taken together, all three monotheisms are multiples more violent than their eastern counterparts or atheism everywhere. Some results from just such a study, updated in 2010, follow:

Reports of violence per million adherents from the Internet produced the following multiples:

  • Monotheisms: 35.6
  • Easter Religions: 1.6
  • Atheism: 1.0

There is something seriously wrong with our attempt to civilize ourselves by religions that erected no barriers to the extremist authoritarian hijackers who were/are in it only for themselves. Monotheism looks very bad in this analysis by being some 22 times more violent than the Eastern Religions (Hinduism, Buddhism, and Confucianism) and nearly 36 time more violent than atheists. But the other options have not removed violence from civilization either. Whether a “violent residual” arises from nature, nurture, or both is not yet known, nor is there sufficient evidence yet for us to make an educated guess.

A new approach is needed. It is for this very reason that this web site exists. There are peaceful societies for us to study and learn why and how they work—Norway is one example; Tokyo is another; so are certain cities in India Varshney studied. So also for Baltimore, Washington DC and Detroit on the one hand compared with El Paso and Honolulu on the other hand.

Both psychology and sociology are concepts many of us prefer to avoid like the plague. We are defensive with good reason, but like our defensive hang-ups, it is not a healthy condition when we cannot let it go. Knowing we have dark sides is not exactly an ego-building realization. But what occurs with most who have faced up to what our nature/nurture handed us, is that the opposite actually happens. Our self esteem grows as we strengthen our Internal Locus of Control. It is liberating to know that we can at last say no when we encounter a psychopath of whatever ilk. Our survival as a species may well depend on just that liberation. It can come if a movement on behalf of all humankind develops. Human Right Watch is one excellent start.

On the terror front, the findings of Joshua Greene provide great hope that an early screen for the potentially dangerous psychopaths is possible. The challenge then becomes one of politics. Advocates of violence will argue that such a screen is an invasion of privacy. But we can tell you from personal experience that a brain scan is no-way as invasive as the body rub-downs that are being implemented at airports.


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