Don't read on if you are easily unnerved.
"Together, these pieces of the puzzle form an image of a self centered, callous, and remorseless person profoundly lacking in empathy and the ability to form warm emotional relationships with others, a person who functions without the restraints of conscience. If you think about it, you will realize that what is missing in this picture are the very qualities that allow human beings to live in social harmony." -- Dr. Robert Hare
Would you be surprised to find out psychopaths are about 5% of the population and evenly distributed between the sexes? What are they? They are mostly normal looking human beings, who's brains are physically wired in a way that they feel little emotion and no empathy. They vary widely in observable behavior. Some revealing little and succeeding as ruthless businessmen or politicians. Others acting out wildly as open thieves, liars, or the occasional mass murderer. Please research this on your own later, but simplicities sake you can think of them as self serving, self programming, emotionless robots.
Now think very carefully about this in economic terms. The most powerful social force known to man is economy of scale. where does economy of scale come from? Interhuman trust in the form of specialization and capital investment. What, in nature, gave rise to this trust? Trusting other creatures, including humans, to handle something as abstract as currency or a contract, seems to be an irrational non-beneficial behavior. Particularly in the first case (the dawn of civilization) where there was no successful precedent. I propose that it was a mutation first appearing not long before the first seedlings of civilization. The empathic gene.
It has been proposed that empathic humans are the older model and psychopaths the new breed. This is contradictory to that which is observed in nature. Most animals do not cooperate with others in their species. If they do, the cooperation involves little investment of time and energy and it temporary and transient in it's type. Some higher species like primates can form small societies, but only to the extent that it benefits their needs. Mates are easily left, loyalties changed, leaders killed and replaced. Occasionally mates do pair for life, but this investment does not extend beyond the base case of one other animal.
Brain mutations would not be out of place. So far at least 30 separate brain related genes have mutated in humans from our closest ape relatives. Compare this with a simple 3 or 4 brain mutations separating an ape from a chicken. Human brains have grown to three times the size compared to early man before our jaw muscles shrunk, relieving pressure on the skull, and opening this waterfall of change. So is it so far fetched that single or even a small group of mutations gave us our empathic civic mind?
Understanding this yet to be cataloged gene from an economic perspective makes the theory strong. I propose that all early humans were psychopaths. They worked alone or in small groups. They each built their own tools, clothes and fires. In the case of a family or small tribe a constant struggle for control of food and sexual rights was waged, usually between larger males. Groups were small since humans with a lesser status would have been spared no resources and given no assistance.
Then one day human with a mutant gene was born. Over several generations, that gene spread and humans in that tribe did something new. They began, to take risks for each other for the hope of a future reward. For example one empathic human with animal skin tanning skills made clothing for another empathic human in the tribe. They in turn shared the meat from their hunt. As empathic humans spread, barter, and economy of scale was born.
Naturally the psychopathic humans took the extra meat or unworn clothing at first, without any reward. But then something new happened. the empathic humans felt bad for each other and formed a bond not strictly in the interest of self preservation. One empath, who may have specialized in something that did not specifically enhance their fighting skill, physically blocked a psychopath from stealing his materials. The thief was most likely entirely self sufficient and utterly ruthless, and probably had superior fighting skill since he would have hunted for himself. Then a second empath, and a third, and then all the empaths in the tribe stood together to protect each other from the thief. The psychopaths were selfish and shortsighted and could not work together. One by one were ejected from the tribe.
Now the tribe was free to grow as large as land and technology could support it. A tool maker or a hunter could specialize further stockpiling massive wealth (stored labor) in ax heads or hides, and did so. We know economy of scale is non-linear to the work exerted, so the tribe was wildly successful. Others followed and became cities and even nations, creating vast stored wealth. Eventually, empathic society would have threatened to crowd the psychopaths out of a region. So the more intelligent psychopaths began to imitate the empaths to rejoin the society. Since they didn't have the burden of the irrational care for their fellow man (empathy), they could lie, cheat and steal at will, assuming they did not get caught. The intelligent successful psychopath, pretending to be empathic, would create a huge drain on the society to his own benefit.
Integrated psychopaths can also breed with impunity and do so. Their problem is this is unsustainable. Eventually they become so prevalent they they disrupt or completely overtake the benefits of the economy of scale. As the rewards for specialization are diminished by taxes, regulations, and theft, empaths invest less and less time specializing and less and less wealth investing in the future as the risks outweigh the benefits. Then one day the psychopathic influence and population outstrip the ability of the empathic society to support them and it collapses. Psychopaths are like a fatal virus for their host society and economy. They are self limiting.
The mechanism that psychopathic populations eventually collapse human societies with is easy to detect. Left to their own devices, empathic humans both compete and cooperate. Psychopathic humans will only compete. This eventually erodes the social contract, outlined by law but primarily comprised of trust. As trust degrades, that irrational compulsion to help other humans will eventually be overwhelmed by a sense of self preservation, and the empaths will differ all further investment in a society.
This is a scientific theory. And fortunately one that can be tested. Psychopaths constantly display easily identifiable differences in SPECT brain imaging tests when asked to identify words. This can be used to positively identify both empaths and psychopaths and genetic samples can be collected. Then the differences in DNA can be cataloged and any related gene or genes identified.
Good scientific theory can also make successful predictions. If I am correct, than the percentage of people in a population that are psychopaths will increase over the course of civilization. This can be tested by exhuming and testing wide samples of subjects from known dated graves. I also predict that psychopaths will peak at the end of a civilization and drop dramatically thereafter. As the economy of scale shrinks there will be less and less yield from the economy of scale to support them. Many of them will be unable to adjust to the rapidly shrinking barter systems and societies and will be identified and cast out.
Game theory, best known for it's successful cold war strategy of mutually assured destruction, is the social blueprint for modern society. In game theory's cynical view of humanity, humans always act in the most selfish way possible. All decisions are competitive, and cooperation must be an illusion because it is irrational. Game theory was a success against the Soviet Union because it's leader at the time, Stalin, was a psychopath. Game theory did not consider that humanity was comprised of both dependably rational and irrational(selfless) humans. In a word it's success against megadeath, was a fluke.
Behavioral economists have since disproved game theory as only reliably valid when used to test humans who fit two categories, people who have studied economics, and psychopaths. Unfortunately game theory is highly political and benefits those who are currently in power, primarily appearing as free market style incentive systems as solutions to civic problems. As a result, I would strongly advice against the use of small sample pilot studies or empirical studies based on literature. They are too easily tainted, distorted, and manipulated. In addition, psychopaths are prevalent in the top tiers of our society and will not want conclusive science to be established on this. It is strange, even suspect that such a simple, testable, and vital theory has not been proposed and tested before. Instead widespread independent studies should be conducted across time periods, continents, and jurisdictions and results should immediately be published to multiple sources on the Internet. Once that is done the results can be fed up the chain and submitted to selective scientific journals. Any conformation in the data at any site/period should be considered a success, at it is statistically unlikely that a pattern would be displayed over even a few generations, even with only dozens of samples. Please understand that this is not a path to short term profit. This will be a difficult endeavor, and attempts to 'own' it will only get your efforts buried and obscured.
If this theory is established as fact what should we do next? If left to their devices, the psychopaths will eventually return us to caves where they would rule with their elevated testosterone. They are destructive as independent members of a society, but can be useful to humanity as a whole. It has been proposed that they are a primary drivers of improvements in human intelligence which is likely controlled by separate genes than empathy. I find this plausible. The strong (intelligent) survive and persevere as the burdens of integration increase with the complexity of society. Likewise each economic collapse, eliminates the less intelligent psychopaths as they can not adapt quickly enough. They breed with empathic humans and result in more intelligent empathic children than the empathic parent.
I do not think the theory that they improve productivity of a society in any way is valid. Recently humanity has been riding a technologically driven wave, which disguises their drain on society. They are inherently selfish, and will exploit every profit, even to the point of their and our destruction. They can not resist an economic 'golden opportunity,' no matter what the consequences are for anyone other than themselves. I expect the impact of this opportunism to be highly measurable. Previous economic models segment humanity by income, sex, region, race, etc. The difficulty is many psychopaths are both highly invested in evading detection, and are effective at it, but it may be possible to work backward to calculate predictable losses based on population density and income stratification. Empirically, the costs undetected psychopaths incur on society can be several times their contribution, so the impact of such a model on prosperity would be enormous.
We need to educate the entire empathic population of earth on their nature. What they are, how to spot them and what their weaknesses are.
Also effective but more ethically controversial genetically identifying psychopaths and limiting their employment prospects may be necessary. Available jobs in tightly supervised roles of a purely technological nature with no interaction with other human beings should be effective. A true psychopath has never met a human they did not consider taking advantage of. Not someone an empath wants for coworker or a boss.
I do not support whichhunts or genocide. The people driving such past campaigns where likely psychopaths. It is in our empathic nature to tolerate and embrace diversity. In fact a wish for uniformity or homogeneity of sufficient scope is, by it's nature, a deranged homicidal thought. In other words, psychopathic.
I hope I have cleared up the myth of the superior or benevolent psychopath. They are inherently a drain on society, economic activity, ethical fortitude, prosperity, and the rule of law. They are human and morally must be treated as such, but to expect the same back is a fools errand. My theory is they will succeed and breed until society can no longer support them, at which point it will economically collapse as so many before it have. The prospect of this may be especially scary in the nuclear age, as society is in large part global. Like our ancestors, we can not fight them one on one, we must stand together and hold them to our standard of 'irrational' love. They need not participate, but they may not interfere.
Matthew A. Newhall
If this interests you, please share. I will be happy to answer questions and defend my theory.
You may be interested in my blog, The Civilization Gene
My other theories on the human mind.