Hacker News new | past | comments | ask | show | jobs | submit login
Morality, Compassion and the Sociopath (ribbonfarm.com)
51 points by ulf on Nov 21, 2009 | hide | past | web | favorite | 19 comments

I think it's sweet that he managed to include a Nietzsche title without (apparently) realizing that he's describing the ubermensch.

Yes, the series is inspired by Nietzsche's concepts to a large extent. Did not belabor the connection in the series since it would lose half the readers.

There are subtle differences between what I am describing and the ubermensch concept though. My categories, I'd say, are closer to being varieties of "men without backs"/last men (see Fukuyama's "End of History"... and no I am not a neocon :))


I don't think he should've used the word sociopath. It already has a popularly accepted definition, and the concept that he's trying to represent doesn't fit well with it. If you want to read about real sociopaths, go somewhere else.

You might be right, although author responds that concern with considerable detail here:

  But let’s step back here. I am using the word in its 
  everyday, loosely overloaded sense.  As in, you telling 
  your friend, “you are such a !@##$ sociopath.”  I want to 
  stick to the term for two good reasons. One: Hugh 
  Macleod’s original cartoon which inspired this series is 
  too good to give up. Second, distrust of communities and 
  groups, and a stubborn individualism, are the main 
  personality characteristics here (and this position is 
  not original to me; it is derived from William Whyte). 
  Words like “player” or “enlightened” (two suggested 
  alternatives) don’t cut it. 


What word do you think he should have used instead?

He could have made one up, or portmanteau-ed something. That's what language is supposed to do when it fails to describe a concept.

Player. Losers would be spectators, clueless pawns.

It's simply a bad take on Nietzsche's ubermensch. As someone pointed out he even uses the phrase 'will-to-power'.

My first impression is that the author is on treacherous philosophical ground. He seems distrustful of "group morality" (incidentally, I would argue that morality is inherently a function of groups) yet claims more sociopaths is a "good" thing. But in what sense does he mean "good"? As defined by the group morality he finds questionable elsewhere?

This sort of argument leads to a sort of self contradiction similar to "everything is relative" (in what frame do you evaluate "everything is relative"? Surely not a global, objective one.) If, more charitably, we assume it's not morality, per se, that he questions so much as a sheeplike adherence to it, that's fine, but it's also a bit of a false dichotomy (you're either slavish and unthinking, or a sociopath).

Further, the notion that sociopaths "take responsibility" for their subjective morality seems dubious. It seems just as likely to me that the moral thought of this group is mostly limited to post hoc rationalization.

My first impression is that the author is on treacherous philosophical ground. He seems distrustful of "group morality" (incidentally, I would argue that morality is inherently a function of groups) yet claims more sociopaths is a "good" thing. But in what sense does he mean "good"? As defined by the group morality he finds questionable elsewhere?

I'm unfamiliar with the author, but one possible way of resolving the apparent contradiction would be to distinguish between "good vs. evil" and "good vs. bad" - a solution originally, as far as I know, proposed by Nietzsche, where "good vs. evil" is a matter of group, "slave" morality, while "good vs. bad" is a matter of "master" morality. It actually maps quite cleanly to what the author is talking about, though I'm uncertain whether or not that is deliberate.

Edit: Also, statements like

(you're either slavish and unthinking, or a sociopath)

feel a bit like misreading the author to me; he's abusing the word "sociopath", which can be criticized, but here you appear to be using it in a non-value-neutral manner, which rather misses the point of the article.

he's taking the terminology from this cartoon:


so his choice of labels has a touch of irony and is a bit harsh. Basically, he's saying you can use more euphemistic labels -- self-actualizing; process-oriented; outward-focused/idealist, etc. -- but his labels represent the unvarnished truth, with a touch of bitchiness.

But there is research that indicates that people at the top in business organizations do rather frequently have some of the traits of sociopaths. Cartoons frequently use somewhat exaggerated language that would be deemed "inflammatory" in any other context, so I'm cool with that.

And thank you for the reference. That helps explain some of the article.

Unfortunately, I am not going to be able to read this whole thing right now. Some parts of it are looking rather good. I kind of wish he weren't using "losers" as one of his classifications, but perhaps if I knew more of the background, that would make more sense to me. We have to have words to sum up concepts and a lot of the meaning depends on how those words are used (kind of like some conversation I recall from elsewhere where someone asked "Is 'special' the new 'retard'?"). But, so far, I especially like this point:

So yes, this entire edifice I am constructing is a determinedly amoral one. Hitler would count as a sociopath in this sense, but so would Gandhi and Martin Luther King.

Along the same lines, I like:

Whether good or evil, the morality of a sociopath is something he or she takes responsibility for.

Then later:

More people taking individual moral responsibility is a good thing.

Sociopaths do not assume responsibility for anything they do. They absolve themselves of the consequences because one of the definitions of a sociopath is that he has no regard or compassion for other beings.

To a sociopath there is no other justice other than whichever favors him the most. The blogger in question has evidently read little to no literature on the subject.

It is interesting to note that over a fourth of all convicts display sociopathic characteristics, among them a complete lack of remorse for their actions.

You have to read the first article in the series to get his definitions, sociopath, loser and clueless have specific meanings in this context.

I agree that player, pawn and spectator would have been better.

Here is another excellent one and I think a big part of why he is defining "sociopath" in amoral terms (because no matter your traits, they can be used for good or evil):

If the clueless often go “evil” in the “we were only following orders” mode, losers often go “evil” in bystander mode,

Read it, and every essay Rao wrote before this. One of the few bloggers I know who are consistently interesting.

tldr; herd mentality will ebb and flow, but there will always be some sheep on the edges with their own moral compass. some good, some bad. but the herd perceives them all the same.

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