Without conscience

I’ve started reading a book I’ve been interested in for a long time: “Without Conscience — The Disturbing World of the Psychopaths among Us.” It’s written by Dr. Robert Hare, generally considered to be the world expert on psychopaths. Sage readers might consider the book a bit exploitative — it revels in some of the grisly details — but that’s part of what makes it fun.

Some might ask, “what is a psychopath?” That’s a complex question (some details here) but we could certainly say they are amoralists — humans unburdened by conscience. If they want something, they take it, whether it be money, sex or another person’s life, and they are untroubled by the damage their actions cause.

I’m finding reading this ties in with much of my recent readings on the neuroscience of emotion. To some degree, the pathways of emotion in the brain (and the body) have been mapped out and are understood. If we see a snake out of the corner of our eye, our amygdala fires off a jolt of fear. If we contemplate the fact that our girlfriend might dump us, we start to feel the dull ache of impending loneliness. The thing to keep in mind here is that these “emotions” are physical sensations — ghostly cousins of actual pain. And these sensations help impose notions of morality on our life. If we do something bad, we feel guilt, which might mean a stomach ache, physical anxiety or whatnot. Since we wish to avoid such physical sensations, we avoid “immoral” actions. “Without Conscience” examines the moral life of the psychopath…

For most of us even the imagined threat of criticism functions to control our behavior. We are haunted to some degree by questions about our self-worth. As a consequence, we continually attempt to prove to ourselves and others that we are okay people, credible, trustworthy, and competent.

In sharp contrast, the psychopath carries out his evaluation of the situation — what he will get out of it and at what cost — without the usual anxieties, doubts, and concerns about being humiliated, causing pain, sabotaging future plans, in short, the infinite possibilities that people of conscience consider when deliberating possible actions.

My interpretation of this is that psychopaths don’t feel the “sting” of emotions (by sting, I mean the physical sensations.) Hare also backs this up.

For most of us, fear and apprehension are associated with a variety of unpleasant bodily sensations, such as sweating of the hands, a “pounding” hard, dry mouth, muscle tenseness or weakness, trembles, and “butterflies” in the stomach…
These bodily sensations do not form part of what psychopaths experience as fear. For them, fear — like most other emotions — is incomplete, shallow, largely cognitive and nature, and without the physiological turmoil or “coloring” that most of us find distinctly unpleasant and wish to avoid or reduce.

The obvious conclusion from all this is that if we wish to experience lives free from such unpleasant bodily sensations we should begin a program of desensitizing our bodies to these emotions by kidnapping, torturing and murdering teenage prostitutes.

1 Response to “Without conscience”


  1. Ted Bundy was a Buddhist at My So-Called Penis

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