Unusually terrible advice from the Economist, on the merits of acting like a “sociopath.” It’s bad advice, I can assure you. We need to play to our strengths and our character, not try to emulate a segment of the population known for callous manipulation, selfishness, and unconcern with the pain of others.
The first paragraph defines the term. I should add here that the term itself is ill-defined and no longer used in psychology. The correct term, psychopath, is often shunned as well simply due to the massive number of people who misunderstand it. In context, we can assume that sociopath refers to someone with psychopathic characteristics, but who rates lower on impulsivity and violent tendencies (a “successful psychopath,” to use the pop term that has arisen recently). I’ll use the term “sociopath” and the aforementioned definition for purposes of this blog post. That being said, here is the “wisdom” from the article, bullet point style.
Rule #1: Disregard unspoken rules
Rule #2: Assess costs and benefits
Rule #3: The best lawyers are (probably) sociopaths
Rule #4: Be prepared
Rule #5: If you can’t beat them, confuse them.
At first blush, these “rules” don’t seem outlandish. After all, we’re talking about a “successful psychopath” here. If you’re not familiar with psychopathy or with anti-social personality disorder, I recommend familiarizing yourself with the terms. It’s fine to be cognizant of such disorders and that some people have them, but it’s bad advice to say we should emulate them.
Rule 1 in essence suggests anti-social behavior. Most people are hard-wired toward at least some degree of “pro-social” behavior that is crucial to our cohesion as a society. This includes unspoken rules, rules that sociopaths ignore, even if aware of them. Sociopaths will ignore these rules because they don’t care to obey them and don’t care who they harm as a result of not obeying them.
Rule 2 encourages the use of selfish logic to further one’s own pursuit of thrill-seeking pleasure, even at expense of others, including “loved ones.”
Rule 3 – I presume this means we should hire sociopaths. As researchers who have studied this subject can attest (Drs Babiak and Hare, of “Snakes in Suits” fame), hiring sociopaths is never in the interest of the company or any other employees at that company.
Rule 4 encourages preparation, lest you need to manipulate someone convincingly with a relevant anecdote.
Rule 5 encourages use of confusion as a manipulation tactic.
The anonymous author of “Confessions of a Sociopath” might take umbrage to this characterization, and that’s fine. If she really is a sociopath, then she can manipulate whoever she likes to believing whatever she wants. A large number of people will believe her, and the ones who don’t can be marginalized easily enough. That’s how sociopaths operate, and that is why I don’t trust them or their advice.
In regards to “acting like a sociopath,” it’s also terrible advice. There’s something to be said for both adaptability and for the slightly antithetical advice of being true to yourself. Those opposite ideas can be simultaneously achieved by striving for both in the proper balance. Trying to be someone else, and especially trying to be a selfish manipulator, will leave most people dejected and devoid of the very emotional benefits in not being a sociopath. It is not a personality worth having, a life worth living, or a goal worth considering. Shame on the Economist for printing this crap, and for buying into the “successful pscychopath/sociopath” garbage.