An irregular, irreverent, post-modern account of the surreal, the ordinary, and the bizarre happenings on and around the Felia lavender farm in Crete

Friday, January 13, 2006


It is universally the case that studies of psychopaths and sociopaths are undertaken by, and written up by, non-sociopaths. And here is our problem. That, and the fact that the types under investigation are notoriously reticent. Because the interviewers have empathy it is not possible for them to imagine what it would be like not to have empathy - they could project and imagine having very little empathy but they cannot imagine not having empathy. They likewise cannot understand that they are unable to empathise with people entirely without empathy. The reason that this is the key to our problem is because these people do not have an underactive empathy, which might be imaginable, but because they do not have the facility at all.

Empathy is one of the defining features of mankind as we who empathise define humankind. It is simply, intellectually, practically, impossible for a creature with a facility to imagine being without it. The thing itself is part of the apparatus required to reason about the feature. They might be able to be able to imagine losing the facility but that would not be the same thing at all as never having had that facility. It is not, for example possible for someone who has had sight to imagine what they would be had they never had that facility. Memory and experience of the feature (a concrete example of geometry, a knowledge of colour and light and shade for example) will have become immanent to the creature attempting to imagine itself without it.

Consider the following definitions culled from the built-in Apple computer dictionary:

empathy |ˈempəθē| noun the ability to understand and share the feelings of another.

psychopath |ˈsīkəˌpaθ| noun a person suffering from chronic mental disorder with abnormal or violent social behavior.

sociopath |ˈsōsēōˌpaθ| noun a person with a personality disorder manifesting itself in extreme antisocial attitudes and behavior and a lack of conscience.

And now try to think how those definitions would have been written by a creature that had no empathy.

The first, the definition of empathy, would not and could not have been written by a non-empathic human. It would not only mean nothing to them it would not even occur to them. Unless, of course, they had had it explained to them by an empathic human.

The second and third definitions would likewise be impossible for a human lacking empathy to arrive at because they both refer to social behaviour and that, of course, would make no sense to them. Social behaviour requires, in an empathic human, empathy to exist. If you like, social behaviour, as required to define sociopathy or psychopathy as we have above, that is, by reference to antisocial behaviour is only definable by and to empathic beings.

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