Hacker News new | comments | ask | show | jobs | submit login
[flagged] Ask HN: Should sociopaths be banned from business/power?
16 points by CM30 3 days ago | hide | past | web | favorite | 41 comments
Okay, this is gonna be an incredibly controversial question I know, but after seeing a bunch of stats saying psychopathy is apparently more common in business leaders and politicians, I've often thought:

Would it be morally right to just outright ban sociopaths (and maybe narcissists) from even getting into those fields at all?

I mean, imagine if by some miracle technology we could test for the presence of empathy in an individual's brain or what not. Would it be right to say 'you cannot ever become a CEO, start a business or run for president' if someone had no capacity to empathise with/care for others?

Would that improve society (and stop dictators) or make it worse?






This is a terrible idea. When you give someone the ability to label someone else as mentally ill you will get abuse. You know the Stanford Prison experiment? The people doing the judging become like the guards. They have no personal responsibility for the lives they ruin and at the same time are so full of themselves that they cannot process any state other than they are doing a good thing. It's not like they are incredibly wise and thoughtful people. No, lol, they're the same idiots who stop in the middle of the intersection when the light turns red. They're just people doing a job that pays well. They're looking out for #1. The end. If you replaced "can't be a business leader" with "needs a lobotomy" they would not bat an eye.

So while I agree with your sentiment we as a society are just not wise enough to implement that.


Stanford Prison Experiment wasn't legit. Guards were instructed and encouraged to act tough, and surprisingly few did. Prisoner breakdowns were kids acting and took it as an improv opportunity. And many other nuggets were exposed.

https://medium.com/s/trustissues/the-lifespan-of-a-lie-d8692...

Previous discussion: https://news.ycombinator.com/item?id=17287319


TIL

Zimbardo is a rather terrible person, IMHO.

I don't even agree with the sentiment. The "empathise with/care for others" gives them away, empathy has nothing to do with care. This question is pointless and is just a play to emotion.

Further, read up on the Stanford Prison experiment, it was pretty much faked. Here's the first google hit https://www.vox.com/2018/6/13/17449118/stanford-prison-exper...


> empathy has nothing to do with care

I find this a remarkable statement, what do you take empathy to be? Do you think that people can realistically care for others in a purely cognitive, non-emotional sense?


Empathy is the process of correctly evaluating another's motives and internal state. While it's frequently assumed, it doesn't follow that one must necessarily feel sympathy for them.

You need empathy to outwit an opponent, for example.


Yes, I do.

I cannot empathize with a goldfish because I can't know what it's like to be a goldfish but i can care for it because I know its needs.

I can empathize with someone who is ill because they are human and I've been ill but i cannot care for them because I don't know their needs.


So if you saw your goldfish being clearly uncomfortable or in pain, would you have an emotional reaction to it, making you feel bad for it? That’s empathy. You don’t need to imagine the goldfish's daily routine to experience this. In the absence of this emotion, there is no incentive to perform the mechanistic actions that constitute “caring for” it.

True, it's a terrible idea to let people label others as mentally ill or what not. And also true, something like this would be a horrible idea now, since there'd be no good, objective way to measure it.

But the question really dealt with a situation where it was objectively possible to figure out if someone was a sociopath. Like if you could do a DNA test and have cast iron evidence one way or the other.

Would that change the moral aspect somewhat?


Okay, I guess not. It wouldn't be right to deny someone a position based on that feature unless there were a way to link it to being abusive or something. When I said I agree with your sentiment I was just trying to avoid pissing OP off rather than connecting on something I thought all the way through. So what I'm really trying to say is I'm a liar.

You and the OP are basically describing eugenics.

> a bunch of stats saying psychopathy is apparently more common in business leaders and politicians

How do you know that being a business leader or politician doesn't induce psychopathy?

Furthermore, how do you objectively assess whether someone meets the threshold for being banned from a position of leadership?

If you're not opposed to watching anime, you might be interested in Psycho-Pass. It describes a future in which society persecutes people based on such assessments.


> How do you know that being a business leader or politician doesn't induce psychopathy?

Psychopaths are born, sociopaths are made.


Correlation does not imply causation, but that doesn't mean that correlation cannot be by causation. It sounds likely that these negative features arise from having received power. It's like Abraham Lincoln said, "Nearly all men can stand adversity, but if you want to test a man's character, give him power."

Also, I'm sure that to get to such positions, these people were thoroughly reviewed by others in all their aspects before being given such positions, so what you suggest is already done to an extent. It may be however that those people doing the reviewing may find these features desirable, or at least not bad enough to outweigh the features they found that are desirable.


I think not. However what I think we should do is;

1. Recognize culturally that sociopathy is real and present in a noticeable percentage of people.

It’s commonly seen as an exotic phenomenon that means someone is a tv serial killer, rather than someone who has a social deficit.

2. As well as teaching skills of empathizing, we need to also teach about the limits of empathy.

There is currently a trend towards teaching empathy in both schools and workplaces. I think that without also teaching the limitations and that different people genuinely have different capacities, this actually makes people more susceptible to sociopathic manipulation.

3. As a result of 1&2 we can make more discriminating choices of who should have power.

I think sociopaths can do a lot of harm from positions of power, but I don’t think they are somehow inherently evil.

We probably don’t need so many of them in unaccountable positions, but I think that ultimately it’s common form of neurodivergence and if we culturally understood that it’s not something to worship, but to come to terms with, we would be able to collectively mitigate the negative effects.

4. I think we are a long way away from any of this. Understanding the experience of a person who is neurodivergent in any way is not a common skill yet. This works both ways.


No. I would recommend reading the works of Thomas Szasz.

Declarations that somebody is "mentally ill" are almost universally done to target undesirables for persecution.


>I mean, imagine if by some miracle technology we could test for the presence of empathy in an individual's brain or what not.

This is close to the plot of the anime "Psycho Pass", except they were testing for some vaguely defined, emotion based "crime coefficient" rather than empathy specifically. Society was covered in surveillance gear that constantly scanned a person's "hue" and the moment it got too "cloudy," they could suffer social and legal consequences, including being locked away or shot on sight by the police.

Sometimes without even committing a crime, mind you. Merely witnessing a traumatic event can cloud your hue. Artists and musicians have to be licensed because of the societal risks of exposure to their work. One character was permanently outcast from society for merely questioning the system.

What resulted was a society that was, outwardly, peaceful and crime free, but seething with pathological issues just under the surface, a facade of utopia over a violent and ruthless fascist dystopia. Nothing good ever comes from declaring people with certain traits to be undesirable, then making them a permanent underclass.

The problem isn't that sociopaths exist, so much as our society encouraging and rewarding sociopathic behavior at the highest levels of power. If, rather, we rewarded and encouraged empathetic and moral behavior, then sociopaths would either have to conform to that to succeed, or wouldn't succeed.


Why do you want to ban them? If it’s to stop them from harming society, the legal system is already set up to do that. If punishing behavior isn’t working, trying to punish potential behavior doesn’t seem promising either.

As a psychopath I do not knwo. My “mild” psychopathy does not prevent me from functioning in the society but I will for sure seize every opportunity to climb the ladder without even thinking about the consequences.

You have to ask yourself. The creators of the Gulag, what were they trying to do ?

Because that answer contains the answer to your question.


it's not controversial at all, the answer is simple: no.

even assuming it's beneficial, who would define who's a psychopath and who isn't?


The judgement side wouldn't be done by a person, but by an automated DNA test. So I'm thinking of a situation where (in theory) there'd be no way to game the system on an accuracy level, since it'd be based on a scientific fact.

Of course, that doesn't stop it being abused for exactly what you say, since someone has to write the code or what not.


I wish I could upvote a comment more than once because this is very important.

I feel more and more ideas are floated around and taken seriously that involve punishment based on a categorization that's largely subjective and where the authority is granted to a mob.

This AskHN mentions sociopathy which anyone can declare anyone else as sociopathic by cherry picking personality traits and past experiences.

The answer is No. Always. Unless someone is infringing on someone else's rights or breaking the law of the land they are free to live their life as they see fit. Period.


Basically if we institute this rule its very likely the sociopaths will just ban all their enemies from business/etc. Nice job. I guess you will get some sociopaths banned but mostly because they were enemies of other sociopaths.

I will say maybe, if and only if, you have an objective measure of such.

As it stands the slippery slope of abuse far outweighs any potential benefits.


And logical next step is not allowing them to procreate, and boom, congrats, you have re-invented eugenics.

I’ve thought about this topic a lot, ever since I had a boss who I believe was both sociopathic and sadistic. The sociopathy made him remarkably effective at recruitment and strategy. The sadism was more self-destructive since, well, developers have employment options. Maybe sociopathy and sadism together are a more precise way of describing evil.

But that implies other possibilities. For instance, Vinay Gupta describes himself as an ethical sociopath. He thinks that being freed from emotional empathy gives him an edge when thinking about topics like disaster planning.

Similarly, I’ve heard it’s common for surgeons to have a bit less empathy than normal. Not full sociopaths. But enough to look on a bloody, twisted body pulled from a motorcycle accident, and operate a bone saw.

In the imaginary future where we can precisely test for qualities like sociopathy, it might be sufficient to have candidates for positions of power publicly disclose the ways in which their minds deviate from the norm.

Sociopathy might have some functions in human society, and maybe it’s been preserved by evolution for a reason. (Or maybe there’s some game theory thing happening where there’s a stable equilibrium of cooperators and defectors).

The real problem is when the rest of us are deceived into getting into a relationship with a sociopath, where we have to rely on their conscience.


What sort of precedent would this set? If you ban sociopaths whose attributes (lack of empathy for one) are perfectly suited to oversee thousands of individual people, would it lead to banning, for example, a brilliant person with Aspergers from writing code because they can be a difficult on a team?

I remember reading The Sociopath Next Door a few years ago, and the author, a Harvard psychologist who studies this stuff, claims that 4% of people are sociopaths.

My impression is that we aren't at the point where we can detect sociopathy reliably enough for a ban like this to be realistic. With such subjectivity and unreliability, it can just become a tool for governments, and those who influence governments, to abuse their power. I could even see it _increasing_ the amount of sociopathy amongst those in power. But once we develop the ability to detect sociopathy more reliably, I think the question changes, and I'm not sure what I think.


Sociopathy is not on/off thing. It's a scale. Some people have more callous and unemotional traits than others and different capacity for empathy.

Personality disorders are not considered mental illness under the law.


I recall reading that "sociopaths don't feel empathy" is largely a myth/misunderstanding. It's more like they do feel empathy, but they're capable of turning it off in certain situations. I can see that in myself to some extent. I would say on I'm more empathetic than the average person, but if someone threatens me (like a robber) then my empathy for them drops to 0 and they basically stop being a human in my eyes. Just a nuisance that needs to be removed permanently.

imo what you're describing is more self-preservation. For another example, take the most empathetic and understanding human you can imagine and then threaten their child with harm. The gloves will come off in short order.

Empathy as typical people experience it isn't something that can be turned on and off at will, it's controlled by external factors. Sociopaths can learn to develop a cognitive model to emulate empathy but it's not the real thing. That's why sociopaths can turn it on and off; it's just another con game to them.

Exactly. It's not the real thing. As soon as you realize this it totally changes the way you see things. It's emulation, it's pretending and sometimes you can even convince yourself that the empathy you feel it's real. But it's not and at the end of the day the only thing that matters is you.

Not all of them are law breakers. At the end of the day who gets to label you a sociopath? Seems pretty subjective to me.

I think the way to achieve your goal is different. Allow non-sociopaths a fighting chance to compete. If you are parent, and you love your family, it is impossible to put in the hours. Only the broken will rise to the top and work 12 hr days. One way to minimize this is cap working hours.

Who would run the companies, lol? A friend once pointed out that big corporations and governments reward sociopathic personalities and let them rise to the top. In a small group, we might spot those people and throw them out, but big orgs encourage them.

Would there be any successful companies at that point? You kind of have to have a machevallian/sociopathic take on achieving your and the companies goals to be successful I would think (I’m no CEO so maybe I’m wrong).

No.

yes.



Guidelines | FAQ | Support | API | Security | Lists | Bookmarklet | Legal | Apply to YC | Contact

Search: