Addicted To Being Good? The Psychopathology Of Heroism
    By Andrea Kuszewski | September 28th 2009 10:28 PM | 79 comments | Print | E-mail | Track Comments
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    Andrea is a Behavior Therapist and Consultant for children on the autism spectrum, residing in the state of FL; her background is in cognitive


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    We look at heroes and do-gooders as a special sort of breed; people who possess extraordinary traits of altruism, or self-less concern for the well-being of others, even at the expense of their own existence. On the other end, sociopaths also have an extraordinary set of traits, such as extreme selfishness, lack of impulse control, no respect for rules, and no conscience.

    As crazy as it sounds, there may be a closer link than than most people would think between the extreme-altruistic personality and sociopathic personality. Would it shock you to know that two people, one with the traits of extreme-altruism (X-altruism) and the other the traits of a sociopath, could be related? Even siblings? And that their personality traits are very similar, with only a few features to distinguish them? Research by Watson, Clark, and Chmielewki from the University of Iowa, "Structures of Personality and Their Relevance to Psychopathology", present a convincing argument in which they support the growing push for a trait dimensional scheme in the new DSM- V to replace the current categorical system.

    Personality has consistently shown to be extremely heritable. However, the same genetic material arranged and weighted in a slightly different way, may at times express as vastly different phenotypes: the "extremely good" and the "extremely bad" individual. How is this possible?

    At a first glance, one would be compelled to put the sociopath and the X-atruistic person on opposite ends of a personality scale. After all, the chances of a serial killer running into a burning building to save a child are pretty slim, right? And wouldn't a hero-type be one of the last people likely to break rules? WRONG!!!!

    Someone who goes out of their way to help others, even at the expense of their own welfare, is actually more likely to break rules than the average person. Think of Dr Ross from the early days of the TV show "ER". He was constantly pushing limits, breaking the rules, throwing caution to the wind, all for the sake of the child-patient, even when it ultimately meant getting fired. On 9/11, after it was apparent that the buildings were about to collapse, teams of firefighters were called back, yet they disobeyed orders and pushed on anyway, only to perish in the quest to possibly save even one more life. Those are the actions of a hero, or an X-altruistic personality type. But consider the type of rule-breaking that the X-altruist engages in- would you classify it as criminal, or even unlawful? How does motive factor in?

    People whom we consider to be heroes (or X-altruists, as I am referring to them here), while among some of the most admired individuals, they possess many of the same traits as the sociopath. However, there is a fundamental difference in the motivation behind their actions that distinguish them from their nasty cohorts. Incidentally, that one difference is vitally important in determining if someone turns out to be the comic book hero or more like his archenemy.

    X-altruists are compelled to good, even when doing so makes no sense and brings harm upon them. The cannot tolerate injustice, and go to extreme lengths to help those who have been wronged, regardless of their personal relationship to them. Now, I am not speaking of the guy who helps an old lady cross the street. I am speaking of the guy who throws himself in front of a speeding bus to push the old lady out of the way, killing himself in the process. The average, kind, thoughtful person does not take these kinds of extreme personal risks on a regular basis.

    If you asked someone with an X-altruistic personality why they take the actions they do (and I have personal knowledge of at least one person like this), they would tell you that they couldn't help themselves. When they are faced with that moment, they just act. Compulsively. Barely considering any other course. The lack the impulse control to stop themselves from doing "the right thing" when it comes to the welfare of others, yet ironically, it almost always results in some form of negative consequence for themselves. They have no problem breaking the rules when it means helping an innocent, yet they highly value the importance of obeying rules in other contexts. That's crazy, you say? Now you're getting the idea.

    The word "altruism" conveys images of people like Mother Teresa or Gandhi, passive, extremely self-less people. They are altruistic, sure. But the X-altruistic person is anything but passive or meek. They are often feisty, argumentative, independent, idealistic risk-takers and convention-breakers. Sound sort of like the sociopathic personality? Let's take a closer look at some similarities and differences between the two.

    • low impulse control
    • high novelty-seeking (desire to experience new things, take more risks, break convention
    • no remorse for their actions (lack of conscience)
    • inability to see beyond their own needs (lack of empathy
    • willing to break rules
    • always acts in the interest of himself
    • low impulse control
    • high novelty-seeking
    • little remorse for their actions (would "do it again in a heartbeat")
    • inability to see past the needs of others (very high empathy)
    • willing to break rules
    • acts in the best interest of others, or for the "common good" (because it is the "right thing to do")
    Both X-altruists and sociopaths have high impulsivity, need for novelty, and the tendency to break rules, but there is a fundamental difference in the motivation driving their behavior. Someone who is altruistic is always looking to the idealistic good situation, or the way things should be in a fair and just world. They are able to empathize- feel what the other person is feeling, or imagine themselves in another's shoes. This empathy is the force that moves them to engage in heroic behaviors. They have a need to live in "a fair and just world", and will go to great lengths to try and maintain that. They are driven by factors outside of themselves, externally motivated drives, such as aiding the plight of society or serving the "greater good".

    The sociopath, on the other hand, is motivated by internal factors; selfish desires and the advancement of their own cause, rather than the causes of others or society as a whole. They don't have the ability to empathize, so they see no logic in acting in any way other than selfishly, since they cannot imagine themselves in anyone else's position. Everything they do is driven by their quest to satisfy their own needs, rather than (and often at the expense of) the needs of another person.

    If an altruistic person is able to empathize, and thus is motivated to help others, the X-altruistic person has too much empathy for others, driving them to break rules and put themselves in harms way in order to alleviate the suffering of others or bring fairness to the world. That extreme empathy, combined with a lower impulse control, the need for novelty, and an intolerance for injustice, is the trait formula of the X-altruistic personality. Because this type of person often engages in such extreme behavior that results in harm to self on some level, he earns a spot on the dysfunctional end of the personality scale, nearing psychopathology.

    Interestingly, these two type of individuals, the sociopath and the X-altruist, may appear similar in their displays of behavior, and at times, even confused for the other type. If an X-altruistic person is compelled to break rules without remorse in order to help a disadvantaged person, is may seem as if he is acting rebelliously, especially if the motives behind his behavior are not known. On the other hand, a sociopath may donate a large sum of money to a charity, a seemingly altruistic behavior, but his actions may have been motivated by his selfish need to appear better than or more generous than a colleague. The defining characteristic that separates the two personality types is their ability to empathize, either not at all or too much, which then drives the extreme behavior of each.

    So while the X-altruistic person indeed acts for the good of the people, he often violates laws, breaks rules, or otherwise causes ripples in the order of society. To be a good citizen, we are required and expected to follow laws at all times. But we can all agree that the world needs extreme heroes; they are the ones who consistently go above and beyond the call of duty, for self-less reasons, even when it could mean losing their job, receiving hefty fines, or even serving time in jail.

    But are they really criminals? Or do we need to bend the rules at times in order to allow for these types of do-gooders to continue on their path, bringing righteousness and justice to an otherwise corrupt world? Where do we draw the line between criminality and heroism?

    Here's an even better question:

    How exactly do we support necessary rule-breaking for virtuous intent, yet punish malicious rule-breaking for ill-intent? Can it be done? Maybe someday we will be able to write public policy that actually serves the best intent of the people, even if it means that once in a while, some rules need to be broken in the process.

    I want to send a message out to all of those heroic, X-altruists out there, continually putting their butts on the line for our well-being: Thank you. The world is a better place because you dare to do good... even when it seems crazy to do so.

    *For more on the HEXACO Personality Inventory and how traits define psychopathology, look here. (this was added after posting the original article)


    Gerhard Adam
    But are they really criminals? Or do we need to bend the rules at times in order to allow for these types of do-gooders to continue on their path, bringing righteousness and justice to an otherwise corrupt world? Where do we draw the line between criminality and heroism?
    As long as no harm follows, then it's probably OK.  What you're describing is also the rationale for those that would shoot abortion doctors.  They are also the types that become terrorists/martyrs for religious causes.  None of them consider themselves behaving in a criminal fashion, but rather that they are performing above and beyond the call of their duty.  I'm sure Tim McVeigh didn't consider himself a sociopath as much as someone that was being altruistic/heroic for his cause.

    I don't disagree that sometimes the rules need to get bent, but it's still prudent to be sure that you aren't in the way when they do.

    Mundus vult decipi
    Andrea Kuszewski
    Gerhard: I'll comment more later; I am in a rush to leave for work in a moment or two, but I wanted to leave a quick response to your comment.

    I wondered how long it would take for someone to present your view...

    Terrorism and acts of violence do not qualify as altruistic acts, regardless of the motive, intent, self-sacrifice or empathy for any cause or person that was behind it. That is exactly my point about the types of personalities at a first glance appearing as one, but really is another. Psychopathological and delusional motives that are used to justify the killing of others is exactly the kind of thing that infuriates the extremely altruistic person. In no way do I advocate that sort of thing. Terrorists are motivated by their selfish pursuit to push their own ideology on the masses.... hardly a self-less mission to benefit others.
    Gerhard Adam
    Psychopathological and delusional motives that are used to justify the
    killing of others is exactly the kind of thing that infuriates the
    extremely altruistic person.
    That sounds like a biased perspective.  Justification for killing is used all the time for the military and we refer to them as heroes without qualification.  I think we have to be careful that we don't consider people we agree with as heroes, while those we disagree with as delusional.  That's precisely what creates the conflicts in the first place.

    Similarly, I don't want to get into the political dimension, but there are certainly many people that would interpret a desire to "bring democracy to the Middle East" as a delusional motive.

    You could argue that their behavior is different because they are killing without provocation and perhaps you might be right there, but I suspect that for many they consider that provocative acts have been committed.  Similarly, we have adopted a policy of pre-emptive strike which says that we feel justified in acting without provocation by the presence of what we consider to be a threat.

    What is interesting is that your statement suggests that the extremely altruistic person would be "infuriated" by such a comparison.  Perhaps infuriated enough to kill someone without provocation?
    Mundus vult decipi
    all human beings have a basic instinct to survive. Most people would kill to defend their own life. An x-alturist would pre-emtively perceive the immenant danger and intervene to prevent infuriating provocation, in a civilized manner, by lobbying, boycotting, picketing, petioning, protesting, moving, getting a divorce, taking a time-out, asking for help, calling 911 etc. If they live in a volitile situation or a sociopathic community, they maybe labelled a chronic complainer.

    "Psychopathological and delusional motives that are used to justify the killing of others is exactly the kind of thing that infuriates the extremely altruistic person." .... Being a diagnosed x-altruist I disagree with the word "infuriate". Irrate or aggrivate is more apt a term, as we tend to be pro-active and hyper-vigilante, intervening to curtail fury. I'd say the line between altruism and psychopathology is when someone would intentionally cause harm to themself, to save another.
    That's not rationale. What good can we be to anyone if we are dead? suicide boombers for instance, they aren't martyres or hero's, they are misguided impressionable people compelled to committ a criminal act to bring attention to a political and religious ideology. Their chosen behavior, to kill themselves, doesn't intervene to prevent harm to others....perhaps if someone had a fatally contagious disease with no cure, suicide could be concidered an act of altruism, otherwise, it's harmful altruistic person lives by the motto 'an it harm none, do what ye will".

    Andrea, first, I really enjoyed this article. I'm a university English teacher, and even as an undergraduate I became interested is the nature of heroism, in terms of how the hero fits into the larger society, how through the arts (especially any written forms), and the underlying psychology of the hero.

    Although I do fit the "good" profile, to considerable degree anyway, I've never been comfortable *thinking* of myself that way, because given my preferences, I don't like danger and I downright despise interpersonal conflict, even just verbal -- and those preferences sure don't sound "heroic" to me. Long, long ago (but still in this galaxy) I worked in police and security work. I also was a volunteer fireman. Not a *lot* of times, mind you, but a number of times I did rush into a burning house when I thought someone was inside. Or step between the bad guys and an innocent, especially if I was on a bodyguard assignment. (Of course I would in that case; I was paid to do so.)

    But I didn't like whomever I helped blubbering all over me -- I knew they meant no harm, only gratitude, but I just wanted to clear the scene and go to a coffee shop or some such.

    Lastly, I'm glad you wrote this. (Have you read Dr. Joseph Campell's "Hero of a Thousand Faces"? If not, I'd bet you'd love it; it's a brilliant tour de fource.)

    Almost forgot: glad you got right back with Gerhard; I reacted exactly the same as you did -- but I do understand where he was coming from. I assume he's neither studied this area, as you have and as I have, if not to the degree you have. I also dealt with evil every day for a decade, so the old cliche of "I learned the meaning of evil on the streets -- the "campus" of the School of Hard Knocks.

    Again -- thanks for this piece.

    Gerhard Adam
    I pulled this quote from a bit earlier in the posts because I don't think it's ever been clarified.  While I understand the point that everyone is making, I'm also suggesting that there is a fair amount of grey area that isn't being considered.
    Terrorists are motivated by their selfish pursuit to push their own ideology on the masses.... hardly a self-less mission to benefit others.
    So, after reading the quote let me ask again, whether an individual that shoots an abortion doctor is a terrorist or a altruist?  Let me also clarify that in my personal view the individual is a criminal/terrorist.

    However, if such an individual feels that they committed this act to save numerous unborn children that were being murdered in their view, then it would certainly qualify as being altruistic from their perspective.  Similarly it is also an attempt to push their ideology (in a manner of speaking) when viewed from their opponents point of view.

    Certainly if we extend this example such that we said there was an individual that was murdering school-age children and someone came along a killed the person responsible, there would be little doubt from everyone that the shooter was a hero.  So it appears that differentiating element is purely ideological; is abortion murder or not.

    I don't want to turn this into an abortion debate, but instead I wanted to point out that when ideological differences are the qualifying element, it may be quite difficult to distinguish between the altruist and the terrorist, since it will likely depend on the ideology the observer has.

    We like to think that we can automatically identify good or evil, but as we also know that such perspectives are often established by the writers of history and the perspectives of those making the judgement.
    Mundus vult decipi
    Hi Andrea,
    I'm not so sure we can be so open-and-shut, black-and-white about terrorism never being altruistic.
    Take the case of a Palestinian suicide bomber, radicalised to the extent thats/he believes the only way to strike at a seemingly impossibly overpowering enemy which is inflicting unrelenting cruelty upon his family, his mother, his children, his brothers.
    S/he truly believes that by sacrificing his/her life, s/he can make a difference that might one day free his people from the horrific situation in which they live.
    This is murder, yes.
    But it is also selfelss sacrifice.
    These suicide bombers, in their own eyes, are soldiers, willing to die for what they believe in.
    Forget the virgins who will minister to the martyr in heaven: that's a red herring.
    They give their lives in the desperate hope of improving their people's lives.
    A fine example of the fine line between heroism and sociopathy, in my view

    I am an x-altruist.
    Empathy is so extreme that actually feel other peoples pain, sometimes seeking medical care and being told there's nothing wrong with me.
    When I observe something that's likely to have a harmful consequence for others, even so far as future generations, I intervene and sometimes others who don't perceive the looming danger think my behavior is irrelevant or bizzare.
    I've been told when seeking therapy that I don't have an ego or a strong enough sence of self to have therapy.
    I've tried psychotropic medication a few times and found that it has the reverse effect, like Paxil actually made me suicidal.

    If you felt good, why would you need to take psychotropic medication. It's okay to be altruistic and should feel blessed, not cursed.

    There's a huge difference between being pro-life and being an anti-abortionist.
    A pro-lifer would give of themself with money or time inorder to eliviate the fears and suffering of a pregnant woman in distress. Anti-abortionists don't seem to care about woman unless they are financially secure and married. They preach right wing morality and condemn innocent women that don't fit into their delusion of a perfect world.

    A pro-lifer may simply consider a temporary situation not as bad as denying life to a baby who could be given up for adoption. A matter of the lessor of two evils.

    Obeying laws at all times is the sign of a dumb ,passive citizen. Lawyers consider the context and motivation of a persons law abiding or not.

    People who are over zealous in obeying laws and rules are not necessarily good citizens. Indeed in much of the world obeying the law leads to cowardly and callous acts.

    Morality is the realm of the good citizen more than any law. I regard society as sociopathic when it values following the law above any individuals needs , wants or distress. The DSM is the output of such a society.

    Folklore everywhere says genius and madness are closely related why not sociopathy and empathy. The human outcome is the key which is either creative and humanitarian or destructive. The presence of morality or not makes for a much saner society than one full of fickle man -made laws.

    I am a UK citizen and do not regard laws as guarantors of freedom but merely tools in a culture which values human beings for their intrinsic worth.

    Gerhard Adam
    Just to add a quick comment.  From a biological perspective, we expect social animals to have the possibility of altruism with those belonging to the same social group.  Therefore even the eusocial insects are capable of great cooperation and even altruism (even if it is hard-wired) and be vicious and hostile to members of the same species belonging to a different colony.

    Similarly with other social animals, one can never extend the concept of cooperation or altruism across the social group that one is examining.  This is where my comment was going on the previous post, because it is too easy to see heroes within the same social group that they operate in and it is too easy to find fault with those outside our own social group. 

    I would suggest that if there is a classification called altruistic and one called psychopathic, then the social groups that gave rise to these individuals would agree on how they should be classified, while the classification of someone outside the social group would introduce the potential for bias.
    Mundus vult decipi
    How about a study on sociopaths who are only do-gooders in order to cover up the fact that they are sociopaths?? I was close to one of them; he is the king of the animal rights community and a wonderful spokesperson, a very intelligent and engaging voice for the voiceless. But on a personal level, he is extrememly maladjusted, posesses very poor communication skills and he was quite cruel and abusive towards me, both mentally and physically. His public and private personas were two very distinct personalites. After deciding that he was the biggest phony I had ever met in my life, I left.

    Check out the Hare Psychopathy Checklist Revised (PCL-R). There's an entry on Wikipedia.

    It has two factors, the first represents a core selfishness and lack of empathy, whereas the second represents a chaotic lifestyle, due to a lack of fear and a failure to anticipate negative future consequences.

    People who lack fear can be heroic, but can also fail to anticipate future negative outcomes, hence acting impulsively and even antisocially. Bravery is different from fearlessness however, as this involves resisting ones fear, even though behaviourally it may look the same. Fearless people actually lack all sense of caution.

    It could be that some heroic people lack fear and so share traits with antisocial people. You make the point that heroes have empathy whereas psychopaths do not, which is a good distinction.

    So when do we get to see the sequel to the Dark Knight?

    Interesting article.

    Of consideration is the larger societal effect of each personality type. An evolutionary theory holds that psychopaths emerge by taking advantage of reciprocal altruism. That is, if society produced too many psychopaths (eg, you scratch my back, I won't scratch yours, but take your shirt), then everyone would be worried about other people screwing them over. But under a certain threshold, psychophaths can pray on society, moving from victim to victim with relative ease.

    That psychopathy relates to extreme altruism is fascinating in that this might have the opposite extreme pull on society. A possibility based on the genetic evidence is that a percent of people in society are overly predisposed to lean towards extreme psychopathy or altruism, with environmental factors holding sway over which side people are likely to go.

    From the psychopathy side, I've always thought this could make a neat theory (and sketched it out in a different comment on Gerhards post, providing a genetic mechanism (eg, % predisposed to be at risk for psychopath) for environmental conditions (% where environmental conditions signal psychopath) to hone overall society. Societies with negative underlying currents, may in this manner fail more quickly than otherwise by implicitly signaling to produce more psychopaths.

    The altruistic side may compliment this rather well, showing a directly analogous mechanism that may pull society up rather than down. There maybe other complimentary bits as well, as I suspect that extreme altruism runs more in females, while psychopathy I know runs more in males. If such is the case, we maybe the same trait manifested differently across gender.
    Gerhard Adam
    Kerr jac, 

    Something else to consider is the degree of anonymity afforded by modern society which allows psychopathic behaviors to more readily manifest themselves.  In small communities, it would be much harder to act in such a fashion, since the individual would be more easily identified.
    Mundus vult decipi
    I think people are confusing the traits of fear and empathy when they talk about psychopaths. It seems to work like this:

    Successful psychopath (e.g. Enron Executive) = Low Empathy only
    Criminal Psychopath (e.g. Kray Twins) = Low Fear AND Low Empathy
    Anti Social Personality Disorder (e.g. most people in prison for theft)
    = Low Fear alone, which can lead to the failure to anticipate negative consequences of ones actions

    Hero = High Bravery, i.e. the capacity to inhibit ones fear when in a life and death situation, or occasionally, low fear. BUT high empathy also

    Antihero = High Bravery (or low fear) but is only doing "heroic" acts to bring attention towards themselves

    Nurse = High Empathy, could have any level of fear or bravery

    The problem is that by using the term altruistic most people assume this is high empathy, which is exactly what psychopaths lack. The author is giving the impression (non deliberately) that we are comparing psychopaths and nurses when in fact we are comparing anti social personality disorder and acts of bravery. Its a very different comparison...

    Gerhard Adam
    The problem is that by using the term altruistic most people assume this is high empathy, which is exactly what psychopaths lack. The author is giving the impression (non deliberately) that we are comparing psychopaths and nurses when in fact we are comparing anti social personality disorder and acts of bravery.
    I would agree that terminology can be a problem.  However, it is equally important to not use altruism to describe motivation.  It is the act and not the individual that is altruistic.

    From  a biological perspective, most psychopaths would be considered "asocial" in that they have no sense of social connections and consequently no empathy towards others.  The terminology is also problematic in biology when "altruism" is used to explain the motivation of an animal to help another.  The point is that regardless of the motivation, whether it be manipulative, selfish, or completely genuine, it is the act that counts and not what drives the person.

    Similarly it makes little difference what motivates the hero, only that their action was heroic.

    Motivation should only be evaluated against individuals, but not against general classes of behavior.

    Mundus vult decipi
    Andrea Kuszewski
    In trying to think of how to answer to all of the comments in the most efficient way possible, a friend of mine sent me a link to this news story, about a woman in Kenya who fits the exact profile of the X-altruist. I was so moved by her story; she is amazing.

    Rather than spending a good chunk of the night responding to every point made in the comments, I thought I would just allow you to read her story, so you can get an idea of the type of selflessly driven, resilient, fearless, do-gooder in which I am referring (I can clarify any other questions if you still have any). These are good people- don't get me wrong. But their tendency to take revolutionary action to benefit the greater, higher moral purpose often results in a lifetime of struggle and hardship for themselves. However, they are quite resilient, which is a great topic for another day. (^_^)

    Thanks for all of the insightful comments!
    Gerhard Adam
    Perhaps I'm being too picky, but this article didn't seem like it reflected altruism.  Maybe it's my terminology, but the woman seemed more like someone I would consider an idealist.  In other words, someone that is motivated to pursue an idea (or ideal).  This would closely parallel the altruist/psychopath but from a completely different motivational perspective.

    The altruist is interested in devotion to others, while the psychopath is devoted to themselves.  The idealist is motivated by ideas (good or bad), so someone like Hitler, Lenin, and Jefferson would have been idealists.  In other words, people that (for good or bad) are motivated to effect the world to attempt to transform it. 

    Note, I'm not suggesting that Hitler was a good guy, but to call him a psychopath misses the point.  In all likelihood he would have been quite ordinary otherwise, but he was motivated by an ideal that he thought he could transform the world with.   Similarly, the idealist opposite would be someone like Ghandi, who was also motivated to transform the world from a completely different philosophical perspective.

    The altruist (IMO) isn't concerned about the world as much as they are concerned with their duty/responsibility to others.  Similarly, the psychopath operates with the same agenda, except with themselves as the recipient of the attention.

    As I said, maybe I'm being too particular about the terms, but it's something I thought should be considered.
    Mundus vult decipi
    I think it is indeed essential to make a difference between being motivated by ideas and the 'impulsive act' of an altruist.

    Maybe that altruist is also acting because of a certain idealistic view (making the world a better place or so) but key is that he is not forcing his ideas upon others. He is just doing the 'right thing at the right moment' because he could not help himself.

    Anyway, fantastic article.

    You should read Lila by Robert Pirsig. It talks about this subject but in some more depth.

    I would not consider that I possess the traits of extreme-altruism, but I've always been the good, honest guy, with nothing to hide, and a passion for the loves in my life. Currently mid-50s, single, three kids, two grandkids.

    I have three siblings, also in their 50s. All liars. Two are very malicious sociopaths. In 2003, when my oldest sister realized I knew of her deceptions, she quietly went on a 'textbook' assassination of my character, focussing on extended family and friends. I should have expected it, but I was a bit naive.

    The difficult part now is not knowing what she fabricated about me, since by the time I began to sense it, no one in my family would even respond to me anymore. Talk about shallow, gullible individuals.

    The story is much longer, which is why I recently began documenting the events on a Web site, in hopes to warn others of the dangers.

    Oh no, does creating that Web site make me a X-altruism?

    Larry -- I just returned to this page to continue reading after reading only a couple entries and making a comment a few hours ago, and now I've seen your entry about your own website. Intrigued, I went to it and poked around a few minutes, and bookmarked it so I can go back at my leisure. Though we don't know each other, your experience must be absolutely terrible. I've not had anything remotely similar in my own life, so it's hard for me to imagine being in your situation. I hope this works out for you -- whatever "works out" means in a case such as yours.

    Mekhong Kurt --

    I really don't know what else to say, except: thank you. It doesn't take much to raise my spirits anymore.

    I appreciate your time and kind words ... please do return.


    For a contrary view, read Robert Hare, one of the world's leading experts on psychopathy [aka sociopathy or anti-social personality]. In his book, "Without conscience" he asserts that those in the anti-social spectrum are highly unlikely to engage in any altruistic behavior.

    Andrea Kuszewski
    The "close link" I was referring to was genetically, not within the same person. They are definitely two very different phenotypes, the X-Altruist and the Sociopath, and neither one is likely to act like the other in that pathological fashion. The point I am making, is that similar personality traits exist in both manifestations, yet there is a crucial difference in empathy and self-perception which distinguishes the two on opposite ends of a "good" scale.
    TV characters are pretend people. They're not valid examples for illustrating a point, especially pertaining to human character.

    I think you're right about the fearlessness aspect Andrea. Fearless people can be heroes or monsters. But the primary trait of sociopaths/psychopaths is total callousness - they don't care about anyone other than themselves. Callous people are not going to do heroic or altruistic behaviour. Fearlessness describes people with antisocial personality disorder, which are distinct from the psychopaths Robert Hare describes.

    If you changed the title to Heroes or Anti Social Personality Disorder you'd be spot on :)

    Tom, I'm going to stick my neck out here and make a comment about your entry, even though I can offer nothing beyond anecdotal evidence to back it up.

    I've been a volunteer fireman, policeman, security officer, and ROTC cadet (though I never was on active duty). Logically enough, I've known and still know a great many people in each of those fields, including military vets who collectively served in every war the US (my home country) has fought going clear back to WWll. And I've known and know those same groups from a number of other countries -- Canada, Britain, Germany, France, Sweden, Russia, China, etc. etc. etc.

    All of us have one belief in common: if a person is really, truly, 100% fearless -- then we don't want to be anywhere near him, at least not when things get hot. We view such people as highly dangerous to everyone around them, not only themselves. This is especially true in combat settings, and I include police combat in that. I'm not sure of the formal term that describes the sort of person I mean, but I did just double-check the definitions or neurotic, psychopath, and sociopath; maybe "sociopath" comes closest. Or in a cop's or soldier's vernacular, "plumb nuts" or "downright crazy."

    And that leads to many discussions I've had in which the central question was "well, if fearlessness isn't the distinctive feature of a hero or bravery, then what is?" Well, there seemed to be three elements we all could agree on: (1.) the person works in a high-risk job, but meaning as a fireman, lawman/security, and military -- which excludes people who do things like wash windows on skyscrapers, (2.) the person both can't predict if he's going to confront danger in a minute or two -- not ever, and, (3.) when he does get into a dangerous situation, he's able to do his job *despite* his fear -- not because he doesn't even *comprehend* fear -- let alone feel it.

    So, why exclude window washers? Their job description doesn't include stuff such as "expect to be shot at or attacked with some other weapon at any moment." Yes, their job *is* high-risk. But no one wants them to be in harm's way, and it would take a true nut -- and yes, they're out there -- to shoot at a window washer, cut his platform ropes, etc. Then why firemen? Well, they *do* get shot, though not as often as combat soldiers and police officers. Further, even when they're not getting shot at (which is most of the time, of course) they routinely have to go into extraordinarily dangerous situations, in some important ways far more dangerous than "normal combat." (Now *there's a real oxymoron for you!) For instance, responding to a skyscraper fire that's too tall for the hook-and-ladder to get people trapped on, say, the 50th floor. Some firemen will be dispatched to try to get to the people and keep the fire away from them.

    I realize a psychologist or phychiatrist might read this and just roll his or her eyes back -- but on the street level, it worked for us. And sometimes, that's the best we can do.

    Gerhard Adam
    I think this is where the problem needs better definition.  While I understand the popular sentiment these days, I don't believe that merely being in danger is automatic qualification for hero status.  While it is certainly admirable, honorable, and altruistic, I also think we're getting a bit carried away when the only qualification to be a hero is often just to show up.

    Just for the record, I was a U.S. Marine, worked as an EMT, and as a rescue/recovery diver at various points in my life.  I was certainly in dangerous situations and would never think that any of it was heroic.  Specifically my beef with the current use of the term, is that it takes away from so many people that were/are true heroes.  It pains me when I see the media paint someone as being heroic for serving a tour of duty when I compare that to the citations of Medal of Honor winners. 

    This isn't to take anything away from those that do their duty with honor, but it also doesn't do them any service to label them in such a way so that they are uncomfortable, simply to assuage our own guilty feelings for possibly not treating them better under other circumstances.  After all, labeling someone as a hero is considerably cheaper than actually taking care of them.

    Sorry .... end of my rant

    Mundus vult decipi
    Actually Mekhong, thanks very much for your comment. Its always good to compare psychological theories to peoples common sense experiences of life, especially to other people's experiences who may be very different from our own. A rule of thumb that I use is that if a psychological theory totally disagrees with someones common sense experiences, its either a brilliant and revolutionary new explanation, or its very wrong in some way (normally its the latter!).

    I think that what you are saying is that in a dangerous job, you need to be brave (i.e. be able to control your fear) but that a person who is actually 100% fearless is a dangerous lunatic in such a job. Having said that, people are rarely ever 100% fearless or 100% fearful. Its a trait with a range like anything else. I'd imagine that having low trait neuroticism would be useful in a stressful job, but that having no neuroticism would make somebody quite antisocial.


    sounds like you watch a lot of "Dexter" to me and needed a way to justify buying the dvd's as a tax write-off.

    Andrea Kuszewski
    Actually, Lomax, I don't know who or what "Dexter" is, but I am intrigued if it relates to my article. I'll have to look it up.
    He must mean this Dexter.   That's a heck of a compliment really.   This guy is smart!
    And you have better hair.  Bonus!

    Dexter's Laboratory
    If "cartoon dexter" is not doing it for you, you might try this one:

    He seems to fit this conversation (to a degree).

    Have everyone forgotten about the teachings of all established past and latest profits of God? The latest (Bahai' Faith) will reveal the most acceptable answer to the above once and for all, so we can all start doing what needs to be done rather than talk about things to no end and no results.

    Andrea Kuszewski
    While I do appreciate you reading my article and leaving a comment, I have absolutely no idea where you were going with that. However, interesting.
    Becky Jungbauer
    Actually, Andrea, when I first started reading I thought you were writing this article about Dexter, as Lomax Lamat points out. I love the show because of the interesting premise and fabulous writing; he characterizes these seemingly paradoxical personalities in a way that you like him and sympathize with him. It's on Showtime, and you can probably check it out on Netflix. With your background and research interests, I think you'd really enjoy it.
    Andrea Kuszewski
    Ah, ok. I looked at the link. Now I see why everyone has been mentioning it. Heh. And I just wrote about the topic because it is one I have thought about for some time, and have some personal ties to the issues mentioned. I guess this just proves I am too far ahead of my time for even myself to realize. ;)
    Andrea Kuszewski
    And too bad I have no time to watch TV. In fact, I have been in Boston for over 2 months, and have yet to plug in my TV.
    Becky Jungbauer
    That's ok, you don't need a TV. You just need someone who has a subscription to Showtime and will send you Dexter CDs and chocolate chip cookies, and you can watch it on your computer! I love mother-in-laws. :)
    Andrea Kuszewski
    That's funny... mother-in-laws never love me.... must be the fact that I "wear too much make-up, my hair is 'too big', and I show too much cleavage". Good thing about divorce: you get to leave behind the crazy family also. ;)

    And with that said, I am off to bed. WAY too tired, and WAY too little sleep last night.  (^_^)
    My response to this article is, "so what?" The sociopath acts in his own interest; the x-altruist acts in the best interest of others. In my opinion, these are the only two choices in life.

    My older brother saved two children from a burning building many years ago in British Columbia. He was awarded the Medal of Honour, the third-highest honour given by the Governor-General (Canada's Head of State, the Queen's Representative). Therefore, I do know a hero personally! He's not the "X-altruist" you speak of, though. I'm not sure that person exists. We all make moment by moment decisions in times of crisis, even Mother Theresa. We count the cost , we weigh the balance. (Sociopaths don't do that.) You do not know what was in that little woman's heart, did she have times of doubt, of fears, of struggles, of frustration--hopelessness, times when she wanted to throw in the towel? You only see her final decision: to stand her ground, to eschew the pleasures of her own life so that others might live a little longer.

    "to eschew the pleasures of life so that others might live longer" is what alot of parents do, from rationing food and water to investing in educational savings plans...perhaps altruism is more of a verb then a noun describing a particular personality trait...maybe the majority of people are capable of being altruistic, hero's and even saints, if they are put into a position that calls for personal sacrifice in the best interest of others.
    Look at the massively impulsive and immediate action taken by Canadians after the 911 attack, millions upon millions of Canadians simultaniously "rising to the call" offering hope, encouragement, help and intervention, lining the border from the Atlantic to the Pacific with candles and nobody needed to ask or tell us too.

    Andrea, this article is fascinating.  I also wonder if you think that x-altruism might be "evolutionarily stable," or rather adaptive for groups as a whole.  For example, x-altruists might be more likely to engage in "altruistic punishment," which in the negative can be thought of as vigilante justice, but in the positive is absolutely necessary for staving off the dominance of so-called cheaters (as demonstrated by Fehr and others)... what do you think?  Could x-altruism be a pathology, but one that is necessary? 
    I keep thinking of objections, only to scroll down and find that Gerhard Adam is already there ahead of me; I'll hazard a couple of points anyway, from the comfort of my armchair.

    The implication that basic human 'drives' (leaving aside what those may be) manifest themselves in a huge variety of weird ways--some seemingly quite opposite in effect--makes sense. However, the New York firefighters acted in a group; I wonder if group dynamics don't trump the individual low impulse control/high novelty seeking characteristics that send one person out in front of a bus, or into a burning house. Fire and Police departments do the best they can to keep that sort of person from enlisting: while a hero like that may be lucky once, he/she won't be lucky twice, and those whose job it is to face danger on a daily basis are trained to quickly assess risk and then act--the exact opposite of impulsive thrill-seeking. The fact that these people know that even when the chances are 10 to 1 in their favour they still lose one time in ten is what makes them heroic in my mind.

    Similarly, Wangari Maathal, and Aung San Suu Kyi and Nelson Mandela, are 'heroes' who cannot be described as 'impulsive'; 'stubborn' is one sometimes negative word that comes to mind, and--to take as an example the campaign-loving mother of a school friend of mine several decades ago--'empathy' for an abstraction called 'the public' or 'the people' is not the same as empathy towards one's own family. You might find some parallels there with 'terrorists', or 'freedom fighters', depending on whose side they're on. (Although the 'group' plays a big part in that one, too.)

    One thing, though, that psychology seems inevitably to de-emphasize is the role of thought in human action, which is what inspired Karl Kraus' famous put-down of Freud as 'a disease masquerading as a cure'. While psychology undoubtedly influences thought, there is a point at which thought breaks free of psychology and leads the thinker--as any philosopher will tell you--into a universe of contradictions and weird conclusions. To those whose psychology gives them the tendency to think beyond that psychology, scores on impulse and empathy tests will never predict who will--given the right circumstances--be a hero, and who will not.

    I really don't like this article or the direction it takes us in.

    Headline : don’t respect people who do good things they are just doing it in response to pathological urges and should be considered on the same psychological typing scale as sociopaths.
    The formal science doesn't have the same impact as they use technical definitions not moral ones for terms like sociopath.
    Society at large however has a less nuanced view and it is in reporting the cut down version that we run into trouble.

    One person disregards societies rules for their own good (sociopath) the other disregards societies current rules for societies good.

    The compulsion argument advanced in the article is less than compelling and the categorisation of the so called x-altruist types is very weak and in some place inconsistent. To define altruistic behaviour as aberrant is abhorrent but it is also in this instance wrong.

    Most of the people listed such as Mother Theresa and Ghandi developed their philosophies of life over years. It was a moral choice not a psychological compulsion.

    You can say that their need to do good was a compulsion but reading about them it seems to me it was an agonising and sometimes painful series of choices made in their efforts to become more human.

    We look up to people like this not for following an urge but for doing the opposite, making the hard choice and taking a moral decision. This is not compulsion it is sacrifice, to ignore this is just plain wrong.
    If we set a definition of aberrant as different from the norm then I guess Mandela, Einstein, Mozart Feynman et al are all pathological too.

    To describle everyone who breaks societies rules as aberrant is not a smart move for mankind as its seems that our most productive creative and useful members will all fall outside the statistical bell curve of psychological typing normality.

    Hmmmmph sorry just had to get that out of my system.

    Having been diagnosed as altristic, this article did compell me to become defensive.
    The article has an antagonising muse about it.

    Urban Ascentic's statement :The formal science doesn't have the same impact as they use technical definitions not moral ones for terms like sociopath." leads my mind astray to a current massive human rights violation that is deminishing the quality of life and opportunities to achieve ones individual potential, being committed by the auto-insurance sector.

    My policy, and many others, has a clause that says "no unmarried male drivers under the age of 25 are allowed to operate this motor vehicle."
    I talked to my friendly and informative insurance agent about this and it was explained to me that the insurance companies have been gathering statistic for years, and those statistics show that identifiable sub-group are the most irresponsible, and therefor should pay the highest price for the priviledge of driving."
    I told him that I believe my sons who fall into that catagory are responsible and deserve the priviledge to drive
    inorder to increase their income potential and employability, but we are a poor family and can't afford the expense.

    I argue that if the insurance companies are going to gather and use statistics to interfer with an individuals rights and freedoms, based on a character trait such as responsible, then to be fair, they should include the identifiable sub-group of underpriviledged unlicensed unmarried males under 25.
    They would likely find that group to be the most responsible citizens of all.
    When they turn 25 they should give them a reduced rate of insurance.

    Andrea Kuszewski
    I will be live on-air for a radio interview tomorrow at 1:05 ET on the Rutherford Show to discuss this article, if anyone is interested in tuning in. You can live stream it online by going to this website.
    Maybe somebody already touched on this point, but I just thought I would give my 2 cents on this.

    On both sides of the spectrum, the X-altruist and the Sociopath, the biggest key to both that I can see is self-perception. Applying that to Gerhard's example of a terrorist, they very well see themselves as altruists. In their social circle or even religious circles, they are seen as martyrs, and that's how they see themselves. The X-altruist acts on how they perceive society, and their perception of right and wrong, just and injust, and so on. If someone is acquitted of being a rapist because of a lack of evidence, according to societal laws justice was served, and the innocent went free due to a lack of guilt. An X-altruist may go above this and act on his own sense of justice, even though it doesn't collaborate with the views of the rest of society.

    So here's my summary: Our perception of their actions are worthless. We're dealing with psychopathic people. Someone we see as a sociopath could see themselves as altruistic, based on the internal moral compass.

    Andrea Kuszewski
    Thanks for the insightful comments! I think you should listen to the audio broadcast of yesterday's on-air interview I had discussing this very point regarding the law and treatment of altruists. I think you will find I agree with you on many points.

    I don't believe altruists are anymore likely to be psychopaths then atheists, capitalists or anarchists.

    Thank you for posting the link to your audio broadcaste Andrea.
    Unfortunately, probably due to the fact that I've been outcaste from the workforce that's seemingly controlled by sociopaths, because I'm a whistleblowing x-altruist, I'm suffering from extreme financial hardship and cannot afford to purchase the CHEDAMaudioVault program, so there's no sound coming through the windows media player.

    Let me give you an example. I was employed for almost a quarter of a century as a playground supervisor at various elementary schools. My final assignment was at a small inner core area school that didn't have a schoolyard big enough for all the children to safely play at noon-hour, so each day I would take a grade level across the street to play in a city park. There is a pool house and the door of it was covered with obscene graffiti, including telephone numbers.
    The older children were complaining and the younger ones wanted to know what certain obscene words meant. The schools policy is to provide a safe nurturing enviroment. This most certainly wasn't nurturing, unless you want to nurture a bunch of sociopaths. I talked to the cityworks department and they said they were only mandated and had the budgeting to paint and clean graffiti once a year. I told the principal, and asked if the grade 8's could have permission to paint a mural over the graffiti...she said no because the city owned the park and if the school did anything to clean it up they'd assume responsibility and didn't have the I brought a can of spray paint and covered up the obscentities myself and got fired for gross misconduct, because I acted without permission, setting a precident.
    Initially they wanted to fire me for gross negligence, but I argued that they were negligent for exposing the children to the obsenities, including telephone numbers to call for explicit sexual they changed it to gross misconduct. They said I was a bad role model, teaching the children to be civilally disobediant and to ensure they didn't think they could get away with taking matters into their own hands they actually terminated the job position entirely and now none of the children get to go to the park.

    Gerhard, you do may some excellent points, particularly that regarding people who take violent action in protest against abortion.

    But it gets really, really hairy. If a person were willing to shoot abotion clinic employees AND to shoot ladies trying to enter to get an abortion -- I would classify that person as at least a murderer, and arguably a terrorist. But what if he's *not* willing to touch the lady herself, only the abortion clinic peersonnel? Hm; does that include the janitor and the secretary? If so, murderer/terrorist.

    But if the person seeks to take violent action against *only* medical personnel actually involved in performing abortions, then what?

    Though I'm mildly squeamish about abortions myself, I personally would still classify the attacker as a criminal. My reasoning is this: that person has self-righteously self-appointed himself to act in the name of God (or Allah or Buddha or whoever), and I have this question for the assailant -- "Oh? So how often does God call you up, or maybe send you an e-mail, or maybe even drop by for a cup of coffee or a drink?" And I emphatically do *not* buy this argument "God speaks to me in my heart personally." And even if I *did* buy that argument, I would *still* ask, "You mean to tell me an infinitely powerful God can't take care of this Himself???"

    I know there are people who disagree with me completely, and that's fine. But don't expect me to approve of one person self-appointing himself to be an executioner. Won't wash.

    Dang, but this is a fascinating thread! Sure glad I found it.

    Gerhard Adam
    I understand your argument, but extend it.  Suppose instead of killing the fetus, they were killing children.  Exact same scenario, exact same people.  There is little doubt that everyone would have a consensus opinion.  Killing any of the individuals involved in such a horrific act would hardly catch anyone's attention.

    My point is that if the individual doing the shooting is viewing the fetus as being on par with a living child, then how is their perspective, regarding justification, any different from ours which we also can justify?

    It comes down to acceptance of a particular ideology and that's the only difference.  I chose abortion for the example precisely because how seriously one takes the topic is directly related to the ideology they have about abortion being murder or not. 

    Mundus vult decipi
    Gerhard, you're right. You wrote, "It comes down to acceptance of a particular ideology and that's the only difference. I chose abortion for the example precisely because how seriously one takes the topic is directly related to the ideology they have about abortion being murder or not."

    There's another ideology that comes into play in the case of attacking an abortion clinic: in a great many countries, including the U.S., the right to use deadly force is restricted to those sanctioned by the State to do so -- the obvious being military and law enforcement personnel, and medical personnel who take part in executions. In my view, we can't pick and choose when to obey the law -- i.e.the underlying ideology, or social contract, that as a nation, we agree to be bound by the same laws. And a private citizen has no right to establish the definition of a law -- i.e., has no right, as an individual, to say "abortion = murder."

    I'm not saying that people who oppose abortion can't do *anything" -- of course they can. First and foremost, they can lobby their elected representatives, especially in Washington. They can write letters to the editor and guest columns, and ask to appear on talk radio and talk TV. They could ask a pro-abortion group to be allowed to come to one of that group's meetings to present their anti-abortion argument. They can urge their spiritual counselor to take all these actions as well. They can run ads in various media. And they can go to meetings of like-minded people, of course, but in action terms, that's preaching to the choir.

    But they can't go around killing people, not and to expect they are exempt from the wrath of the State. If that were the case, then the Army major who went on a murderous shooting spree at Fort Hood, Texas could reasonably argue he was but obeying his religious convictions and obeying the received wisdom he obtained when Allah spoke to his heart. And I don't think too many of us are going to buy that defense -- especially from a person who knowingly and wittingly and voluntarily took an oath of allegiance. NOTE: I am NOT -- repeat, NOT -- attacking Muslims or the Islamic faith. I consider that Major to be a lone actor, and not at all representative of mainstream American Islam, nor, for that matter, mainstream ANYwhere Islam. I hope anyone out there who's Muslim and reads this accepts that.

    I've sometimes ruminated about how much good, if any, it might be to have a blue-ribbon panel made of representatives of all the various religious faiths in our society, of the secular (i.e., no particular faith, agnostic, and aetheist), relevant scientists and medical personnel, philosophers, legal experts -- well, you get my point -- and have them try to reach an acceptable definition of just when a person becomes, well, a person: the moment of conception? after the "baby" has developed enough to be viable outside the womb? [I put "baby" in quotes because the very word is for a person, but I can't think of a neutral term right off.] But given the wide range of dead-set opinions, I sadly conclude such a commission would be an utter failure.

    Now, to try to connect the dots and turn to "what is a terrorist?" One statement that comes to mind is one of unknown origins but made famous, as I recall, by President Reagan: "One man's terrorist is another man's freedom fighter." This is a dangerous assertion, both philosophically and legally. An excellent an exhaustive resource on this and related concepts can be found here:

    (As for those who don't wish to plow through that material, I'll ask you to tentatively accept my statement above as reasonable.)

    This is a difficult issue even within the relatively well-defined concept of the "laws of war" as we presently define those laws.

    Are we to call bomber crews terrorists, given that the bombs they drop often kill civilians who have nothing to do with a war? (You know -- those victims military services around the world are pleased to call "collateral damage," a loathsome term in my ear. Call a spade a spade.)

    But those situations occur within the context of conventional state-to-state warfare. I believe the question here is how do we view members of Al Qaeda and the like -- stateless groups. While what I'm about to say indicates an ideological stance, I see no way out of admitting to it: I personally can see zero defense of blowing up a bunch of shoppers in a market and the like by "independent agents," shall we say? I believe that view is widely shared in the contemporary world. After all, in traditional wars between nations, how many foot soldiers from the losing side are rounded up and summarily executed? Yes, it happens; there were grotesque instances at least as recently as World War II. But even those instances were committed by rogue elements seeking revenge.

    I freely admit my human limitation on this question; I've never been able to become a completely dispassionate onlooker -- a robot.

    Perhaps discussions such as this one can help us grope our way through the fog and find some level of understanding. . . .

    Gerhard Adam
    I think you've made excellent points which speak directly to the problem.

    So regardless of our personal ideologies, we need to consider whether individuals committing such acts see themselves as "freedom fighters" (i.e. altruists), or "terrorists" (i.e. psychopaths).  I submit that they consider themselves in the altruistic category.

    It would seem that one of the essential ingredients in fighting a war on terror would be to ensure that we don't do things that unintentionally promote or support that view of themselves. 
    Mundus vult decipi
    Yes, Gerhard -- "It would seem that one of the essential ingredients in fighting a war on terror would be to ensure that we don't do things that unintentionally promote or support that view of themselves."

    However, I have one question: How in the h*ll do we do that?

    Actually, there is a possible way, but it isn't one we would tolerate today. (We would have in the past, however.) Let me use the pirates off the coast of Somalia as one example. [Disclaimer: I am NOT advocating what I'm about to write.]

    If the task force several nations have patrolling those waters were to do something when they capture a pirate, there's a decent chance it would work. That is to return to the maritime practices of the Age of Exploration, during which time when any ship capturing pirates simply hung them post haste. Even non-military ships' crews did this, and no one gave it a second thought. Yes, piracy continued, but no one had radios, airplanes, etc. back then, and the limitations worked both ways.

    However, as I said earlier, that's not acceptable to the majority of us today.

    I strongly believe that so long as terrorist groups have the services of skilled propagandists, through those propagandists they'll be able to present themselves as noble warriors of jihad -- and almost certainly believe it themselves, quite sincerely and genuinely.

    Let me mention an article I read in recent weeks -- sorry, can't point you to it -- that didn't address term and perception distinctions in this context, but which does have direct relevance.

    The most important point in the piece (written by a psychologist, though I don't recall which type) is that even people who make every effort to see the other person's side cannot achieve that completely -- ever. A further point was an argument that the more such people talk, the more firmly entrenched they become in their respective positions. Given that I have always tried to see myself as a man who works mightily to be open-minded and fair, that latter point *really* yanked my chain right up, and sharply.

    Does this imply it's fruitless even to try? Arguably, yes. But I hope to HELL I'm completely wrong. . . .

    Gerhard Adam
    I have one question: How in the h*ll do we do that
    The way these things are always done.  It must be more profitable to side with us than to oppose us.  This doesn't mean that the most militant individuals will ever change, but it can undermine and remove their base.

    Most governments are overthrown when they fail to learn that lesson and end up creating a whole population segment that feels that it has nothing to lose.  If you want cooperation you have to ensure they also have some "skin in the game".
    Mundus vult decipi
    Well, yes, Gerhard. That works much better with a petty street criminal than it does (I imagine) with even the foot soldiers in Al Qaeda et al.

    I've never served in the military nor in any intelligence agency, but consider the history in Afghanistan during the Soviet invasion. We were financing, among others, Osama & Co., but it sure as heck didn't take them long to dump us once the Soviets withdrew, and not only to dump us but to turn on us.

    When I worked as a security patgrol officer, I did this on the domestic street level. (My outfit had an extraordinarily close relatioonship with the police and sheriff's office, especially the police -- heck, I gave guest lectures at the police academy about the differences between cops and security guards!) But I never really trusted some miserable little street hook not to stab me right in the back, metaphorically at least, if in his view, his source of advantage shifted. It never was buddy-buddy anyway, but more a case of PD intel would ask us to help locate some more important bad guy (why do they always take those silly nicknames, like "Two Finger Jack"?). Maybe I'd spot One-Eyed Pete sneaking down some alley at 3:00 A.M. and knew he was buddies with Two Finger Jack. So, I'd pull up and tell him to get in and take him for a cup of coffee (which was my absolute limit on the money side). And I'd lean on him, and he'd object I couldn't haul him in just because he was walking down the alley in a wealthy residential neighborhood in the wee hours. So, I'd lean a little harder and promise him I'd radio in for whatever on-duty cop that he most feared to come join us. Then he'd try to say he didn't know. You get the picture.

    And that wzs with crummy street hooks, no ideology, not much intelligence, etc. Unlike a hard-core, trained (sometimes excellently so) terrorist.

    Sure, we can buy them off. I figure (I'm not being smart-mouth here, Gerhard) they'll love me exactly as long as that hooker the other night did: until the meter runs out.

    Listen to me -- as if I know more than the folks in intelligence, the military, and on the political-diplomatic side. Some of them are awfully smart, and *they've* been working at this for decades.

    From the outside looking in, I long ago (as in back in the Vietnam years) decided that even if we could round up every single baddie . . . what about the sleepers? Even organizationally decapitating them and cleaning out their piggy bank will only slow them down, probably. Ordinary folks might throw in the towel at that point (but, then, by definition those folks aren't exactly "ordinary"). But we're not consumed by a white-hot, rabid devotion to an extremist ideology. Sometimes, when I think about them in this context, I'm reminded of the Eastern Front in WWII once the Soviets were able to turn the tide at Stalingrad and started driving into Germany. I don't think the very finest Soviet officer could have stopped some of their men from the terrible atrocities they commited against the Germans. Stuff like tie two of them together tightly enough there's no escape with a grenade with a long delay crushed between them, a string tied to the pin. Then yank the pin and laugh at the "fun." Especially Soviets who had been POW's but survived to be liberated by their brothers and were well enough to rejoin their units. (I worked a couple months with a Russian who was an officer during that drive, and that's the sort of thing he told me. And I've heard it any number of other places.) Not exactly the same in the "why," but comparable in the *degree.*

    BTW, I'm enjoying this conversation, Sir.

    Gerhard Adam
    I agree, but I was considering more along the "winning hearts and minds" perspective.

    In other words, it isn't likely that hard core individuals would be swayed just by money, but if one change the environment in which they operate it changes the dynamic.

    For example, if a neighborhood is growing economically and people have jobs, possessions, etc.  It creates a stronger incentive for those neighbors to begin treating insurgents like criminals.  This becomes especially significant when infrastructure is being developed that makes people more comfortable.

    Each represents a step towards making the ordinary "man on the street" more likely to want to preserve the status quo than destroy it.  Under such circumstances the "terrorists" are forced underground without popular support which makes their job correspondingly more difficult.  Their only other choice is to exert more external force which may tend to make them viewed as the "bad guys" by locals.

    Basically there are no perfect solutions, but the dynamics need to change so that your opponent is forced to make the unpopular choices.

    In particular, terrorists need to be pursued as criminals rather than militarily.  In the first case, it's because the military is more heavy-handed and unqualified to operate in close quarters with civilians in a law-enforcement capacity.  Secondly, by pursuing it criminally, we can bring in international investigators and track/seize money and potential sources for laundering. 

    It isn't important that each of these actions work perfectly but only that they be disruptive enough to be a perpetual distraction.

    BTW, it is an interesting conversation, and I also enjoy it.
    Mundus vult decipi
    Gerhard Adam
    There really is no "we" in "selection;" just a bunch of co-habitating "me's."
    Not true.  If we just use the simple case of human beings, there is no survival value to an isolated human being.  Therefore, every successful human being must have other human beings to find a mating pair.  In addition, there is a long-term commitment to ensuring that the offspring survive, and that suitable mates can be found for them.

    In short, it is meaningless to talk about "me" when dealing with such social organisms since there is no ability for "me" to survive.

    As a result, natural selection operates on ensuring that those that are more cooperative will have a much higher fitness than those that don't.   Altruism is a necessary condition for cooperation to arise (see Game Theory - Axelrod).  This occurs because in game theory strategies someone must be willing to take the risk to be taken advantage of.

    However, altruism is also subject to probabilities, since it is preposterous to suggest that altruistic actions are taken under the presumption of failure.
    Mundus vult decipi
    Gerhard Adam
    Game theory is a model, right?
    ... and your point?
    So how does a solely "selfless" gene get passed on?
    Define a solely "selfless" gene.  If you're suggesting an "altruistic" gene then you're going to be looking for a long time.
    It helps the group and hurts me, but favors my reproduction?   Now if one says it helps me and the group, OK.   But that's not really altruistic.
    There are probabilities involved, so there is no absolute sense that one must be hurt before an act can be considered altruistic.  You'd be hard-pressed to argue that someone running into a burning building to save a child isn't behaving altruistically.  However, it isn't a foregone conclusion that they must die before the act can be considered as such.
    Clearly also, if a Me can't survive alone it is physically joined with a We to become a larger, usually more complex Me.
    I don't know what that means.  There is no requirement that organisms be "physically joined" in order to benefit from a social group. 
    I probably understand nothing about group selection, but all groups are collections of reproducing Me's.
    No.  In addition, group selection is an entirely different concept that individual selection that favors a group existence.  The dynamics of group behaviors are varied and not subject to singular interpretations (i.e. herd of caribou, wolf packs, elephants, lions). 

    Mundus vult decipi
    Gerhard Adam
    But are sociopaths motivated by selfish desires?
    But aren't x-altruist's also motivated by selfish desires?  While their objective may be vastly different, in the end it comes down to the fact that they both view their own interpretations of reality as the only thing they need to honor or pay attention to.  In other words, the law doesn't mean anything except for how they think it should be interpreted.  The sociopath may think it doesn't apply to him to control his behavior, while the x-altruist doesn't think it applies to him if it prevents him from achieving his sense of justice.

    Mundus vult decipi
    Andrea Kuszewski
    You are hitting on the crux of the issue, Gerhard.
    Oh, I get it! Evil is a myth. Good "luck" with that. Maybe a close, slow reading of The Road would help before mapping out the "conscience" and what it might mean.

    "One man's altruist is another man's sociopath"

    Sociopath or X-altruist; it's all a matter of perspective; in relationship to "the ends justify the means".

    The sociopath's ends are, what I want.
    The X-altruist's ends are, what I want.
    They both exhibit behaviours based on 'the world as I see it should be', and as such, both are outside of society's norms, or 'pool of normal behaviour' as per the behaviour of say ants or bees that live in a highly organized and controlled society.
    Tho I have observed the 'odd man out' in ant colonies, ones who are slackers and beyond the 'mind control' of the hive so to speak. Tho, maybe they were mentally deficient or something as to their different bodily behaviour observed.

    Then there is the problem of 'leaders'. Leaders are not of a median behaviour mentality, they are at the end of the bell-curve for characteristics. And I mean leaders, not puppets in office. The US Presidency is a 'puppet position' and has been for decades, the true 'leaders' are the 'power behind the throne', and btw, Tim McVie was a 'patsy', he was set-up by agents of the 'power behind the throne', for ulterior motives further down the road. Just like 9/11 was 'false flag operation' for the intent of ushering in a totalitarian one world order further down the road.

    So, are those who would 'protect us' from 'terrorists', but use terrorist tactics and take away our freedoms and god given rights X-altruists, or terrorists ?

    The problem of the law and the hero’s conflict with it seems to be a common theme in narrative studies (narratology – structuralism). Makes me think of Jack Bauer.

    A close friend of mine fits the x-altruist description in most but not all aspects. She is only impulsive when it comes to altruistic acts and I would not describe her an extreme novelty seeker. She is also reluctant to break rules but will do so if absolutely necessary . But otherwise the description fits very well.

    But what is interesting is what enabled this behaviour. She had a poor image of herself and saw herself as expendable. But she wasn't willing to sacrifice things for a gesture. In most respects she is a rather conservaytive type.

    I wonder how many x-altruists have this sort of self image problem.

    There is error in thinking that altruist is not also a sociopath.
    Let me give you a example.
    Oneday I see on the news about a girl being raped and killed in the most brutal way imaginable, in the bad parts of the neighborhood. I empathize with the suffering of her and her family and is disgusted by the lack of empathy the criminals showed to her. I empathize with such intensity I have to take action. So I dish out some vigilante justice on every shady looking person in that neighborhood. At this time, am I not showing lack of empathy for the criminals? If anyone says that they don't deserve to have their sufferings recognized then you are a sociopath who is acting on your own behalf not for the good of mankind.
    The possesed knowledge of the situation, personal wisdom and maturity of the hero also come into factor.
    If the above categorization about empathy is true about sociopaths and altruists, then I must be a altruistic villain who just renders the feelings of the ones I hurt as insignificant.
    It's illogical since it's mathmetically impossible to be a altruistic villain according to above definitions.
    I'd say the hero and the villain are cut from the same cloth. They are just exceptional people of action that are influenced by the environment and the experiences they have dealt with.

    Now compare those altruists and sociopaths who ignore the rules, against those who slavishly follow them. You know the type; cannot vary the holiday schedule regardless how how interesting something else turns out. Get out of bed now because that's what the schedule says, not because we have a plane to catch in two hours.

    Either way it is a lack of balance. The person who would go the wrong way down a one way street for convenience vs the one who would not even to avoid a crazed gunman. (Although some are totally addicted to balance even when not appropriate, sometimes one side is just wrong)

    Habits can be useful, they should not be our master.

    Again, very interesting. I had never considered the correlation between extreme altruism and sociopathy.

    Well, all I have to say is this. If I found myself in a situation where I were in trouble and needed someone I could depend on, I'd take the hero over the sociopath...every time. You can say they're two different variants on the same theme if you like, but as long as I can tell the difference, that's what matters to me :)
    Gerhard Adam
    ...but as long as I can tell the difference, that's what matters to me
    Unfortunately the difference is often simply whether you agree with each other.  The point being that you could well be in trouble because of someone that envisions themselves as the "hero" for a completely different cause.
    Mundus vult decipi
    Andrea Kuxewski has very lucidly analysed the difference between a socio-path and an X-altuist.
    And the sure incidence of a non-conformist and even rule-breaking factors are present in both.
    In this regard I feel that while the sociopath breaks and bends rules for selfish ends the X altruist would never like to do so.. perhaps even for others's sake u.... aX altruist perhaps would take ways of 'transcending' the rules meaning the x altruist would transcend the socio-legak conventions in order to 'free' a person or oneself from an social mutuality -like a conjugal relationship or even a parent-child or sibling relationship which is not functioning in terms of absolute mutuality but stands rather distorted and exploitative.

    As in god-devil context .......oth get rough and terrorizing but god's assertion and wratn is altruistic while the devils
    arrogance and terrorizings are purely selfish... and hence when they wear-out the person is depleted and stands comical while X altruist or god/godly person stands honourable triumphant.

    My thanks to Andrea again.

    social anthropologist
    Bangalore - India

    Ma'am, I want to formally thank you for writing not only this article but as well as the other article on the same subject (sorry the name escaped me). You've completely redefined my perspective on the subject. And I completely agree, empathy is a very valuable gift in a world that is filled with corrupt motives and heinous thought processes. Empathy trully is the most important human trai. It has the ability to change the world.

    But again I want to thank you, for the longest time I thought since people had sociopathic behavior even though they had a presence of attachment and ultimately empathy made them an all out sociopath, when indeed it makes them an extreme altruist.

    Although I am young I plan on changing the world someday, and you have helped me identify who I am as a person.

    -James Leonard Mills III (16 yrs old)