Sociopaths within, sociopaths without

A few posts back, I made a comment to the effect that liberals tend to be “good people” (or at least well-intentioned people) who are concerned about sociopaths.

I feel like this comment deserves some explanation, because it comes across as harsher than intended toward conservatives.

Conservatives would kill themselves to save the people they love. My mother would literally give me her good kidney if I needed it; she has stated on many occasions that she would die for her grandchildren.

Conservatives are disproportionately employed in the riskiest fields that require risking their lives to save or protect others, like fire fighters, police, and military. They also take on shitty, dangerous jobs simply to feed their families, like crab fishing and coal mining.

The flipside to that extreme level of altruism is that you simply cannot extend it to everyone. You cannot die for just anyone.

Suicidal altruism can only exist if it makes the individual’s genes more likely to persist into the future.

If I die to save my childrens’ lives, then my genes will continue to exist, because they (each) carry half of my genes, and in their genes they carry some altruistic sentiment. Not sacrificing myself to save my children means that my genetic line ends with me, and with them dies my lack of altruism.

But if I die to save the life of a stranger, orphaning my own children, someone else’s genetic line is more likely to continue, while mine is more likely to end as my orphans starve. If a stranger cannot reciprocate my altruism, then being altruistic to them lessens the chance of altruistic genes in the future population.

The amount of charity (altruism, help,) people are willing to extend to each other therefore has a lot to do with how much they can afford to risk the other person not reciprocating. If you can guarantee that the other person will reciprocate (“cooperate”, in the Prisoner’s Dilemma,) your kindness, then you will be likely to be kind to them. If the other person can defect without consequences, then you would be a fool to help them.

Liberals and conservatives show different patterns of altruism, suggesting that they perceive different patterns of cooperation/defection and are possibly genetically distinct from each other.

Conservatives display very high levels of altruism toward their kin, friends, groups they identify with. They display comparatively low levels of altruism toward strangers, whom they will readily kill in order to save their loved ones.

Liberals display low levels of altruism to a much wider range of people. They are much less willing to risk their lives to save anyone (few liberal firefighters or marines,) but they are also less willing to kill random Iraqis on the off chance that one of them might be a potential terrorist.

The two groups perceive threat differently–conservatives see strangers as basically threatening, while liberals assume that strangers have no particular reason to cause them any harm. Conservatives would rather kill ’em all and let god sort ’em out, whereas liberals do not believe in god and would rather just make friends.

I recently posed a moral dilemma to several of my relatives: A man’s wife is dying of cancer. A doctor has invented a miracle drug that will cure the cancer, but he’s charging a million dollars a bottle and the man simply cannot afford it. Without the medicine, his wife will die.

Should he steal the medicine?

Now, my sample size is very small, (N=6), but the pattern has been amusingly consistent. The conservatives answer automatically–of course they would steal the medication. (One person launched into a discussion of the importance of properly casing the joint, so that you don’t get caught and go to jail, but I’m counting that as “would steal.” Another person objected that I must have the question wrong, because there was absolutely no way anyone would ever answer “no”.) The liberals, by contrast, equivocated. The question made them uncomfortable. I got responses like, “He should work/appeal to charities to save up/raise enough money,” and general refusals to fully answer the question.

To the liberal, conservative behavior toward the strangers looks sociopathic. To conservatives, liberal behavior toward their loved ones looks sociopathic. (Liberals see themselves as merely trying to be nice to everyone, of course, whereas conservatives see no real point in being nice to people who might try to kill them.)

Now, I feel I should stop for a moment and note that there are plenty of strangers toward whom conservatives are not openly hostile. Conservatives do a lot of charity work. There are many parts of the world where religious groups are pretty much the only people trying to help people and make their lives less desperately poor. They also adopt more kids than liberals. But the flipside of that greater willingness to cooperate is coming down much harder on defectors.

Liberal and conservative philosophical approaches to the world and political positions make a lot of sense in this light. Conservatives emphasize the importance of personal sacrifice and duty, that is, reciprocating to those who have shown you kindness in the past. For example, a conservative would argue that you should make personal sacrifices to help a parent in need, even if that parent is kind of an ass, because they are your parent and they used to wipe shit off your butt. For the conservative, group memberships and strong relationships with others are of prime importance, and trying to change all that is not tolerated.

Liberals tend toward anomie. They believe that relationships between people should be voluntary and mutually beneficial (fun, a virus-value,) and that you don’t “owe” people for past kindnesses that you didn’t necessarily want or even ask for, or that may have been delivered under some form of duress that made you unable to say no (being a child who can’t wipe their own behind counts as a form of duress.) Liberals believe that it is acceptable to sever relationships that do not benefit the individual, and are more likely to see others as individuals, rather than as members of some group.

To the conservative, a mother has a duty to her unborn child (and the child, a future duty to their mother.) To the liberal, there is no such duty.

I hope it is obvious that both views, if taken to extremes, cause problems. Society functions best when people have some flexibility to determine their duties and obligations, rather than having everything dictated to them at birth, and it also requires that people have some confidence that others will reciprocate altruism, otherwise everything falls apart.

One thought on “Sociopaths within, sociopaths without

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out /  Change )

Google photo

You are commenting using your Google account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s