Tuesday, September 16, 2014

The Psychopath Fitness Test

A friend lent me the book "The Psychopath Test" by Jon Ronson and it's been a fascinating read thus far. It delves into the shadowy world of those living among us who are biologically incapable of feeling certain things, reacting certain ways, etc. It is one third of the Dark Triad traits, which when combined with Machiavellianism (aside: The Prince is next up on my ready list) and narcissism, form a very intriguing combination of personality traits forming what can only be described as a formidable personality in some.

I have other thoughts on the Dark Triad, but I digress; this post is meant to focus on psychopathy.

The reason I am focusing on that specific trait is that studies on psychopathy seem to link it to natural differences in one's amygdala and neuronal pathways, which would suggest a cause coming more from nature rather than nurture.

This presents us with a unique opportunity to think about psychopathy in terms of Darwinism. If the idea that many prominent members of society such as business or political leaders are psychopathic scares you, you're thinking too short term and too egocentrically. To be clear, my discussions of scientific viewpoints are always devoid of the idea of morality unless specifically stated as such.

In actuality, one may consider many neurological "disorders" as simply mutations in one's DNA. If you expand your mental timeline to consider millions of years, rather than your own meager lifetime, you will come to a different conclusion on psychopathy.

Considering an evolutionary time horizon, nature has decided to change some people's brain structure, and put it out into the world to determine its fitness. If a psychopathic personality allows one to secure more resources, successfully manipulate someone with whom to sire children, then over a very long timeline, these mutations will begin to seep further into the genetic gene pool.

If psychopathy allows one to amass a significantly disproportionate amount of wealth by becoming prominent in society, then that will also secure the genetic lineage over several generations through inheritances, thereby further increasing the probability that one's genes promulgate into the population.

You can consider every natural change in one's brain structure as nature simply "testing out" a specific behavior or personality trait. Essentially nature attempting to determine what set of traits are most fit for the species. I will expand upon this point in another post, because I want to do it justice. But suffice it to say that all of our unique personality traits can be thought of as simply determining which traits are best suited for the current environment, or to state it even more broadly, are able to most adapt to quick changes in the environment.

Again, I am not arguing for or against the morality of psychopathic traits, and what is "best" for society (another annoyingly ambiguous term; "optimal" given a metric would be more appropriate). Rather simply pointing out that most people only think about either the current society or even a few thousand years back to when societies began. To truly put things in perspective, it's important to consider nature's timeline, in which our modern societies are a blip. In that perspective, psychopathy and other neurological "disorders" are interesting to study in terms of evolution due to the fact that they are likely caused by changes in our genetic code.

It's a fitness test in the true Darwinian sense of the word, and society's desire to shame or lock up psychopaths out of fear may be sufficient to drive out that genetic lineage. One paragraph in the book actually considered whether we should lock up people who display these traits before they commit a crime, very much so in a Minority Report or Orwellian sense.

A final point to consider is that the more light we shine on psychopathy and other "shameful" or fearful traits, and the more we try to eradicate such traits, may actually backfire. Rationally it would benefit these people to use their natural ability to manipulate to slink back into the shadows and hide even more. It may actually have a detrimental effect, which we will only know after a long enough period of time.