..and now for something quite different, yet still relevant in understanding how the world works.
Presented in two parts, a paper by Oh
Sociopathy has surged to the forefront of political discussions recently. The symptoms of this disorder unmistakably manifest themselves in global affairs, particularly with the rise of the Neoconservative movement in the United States. The response of normal people to the phenomenon is shock and abhorrence, so we tend to blame the more obvious sociopaths involved and engage in a lot of hand wringing because they are in power and there is not a lot we can do about it. For example, we can write letters to Congressmen, urging them to show some understanding of common people's needs, but it has already become evident to them--and us--that they no longer need to consider our needs at all.
Drawing others' attention to the threat of further consolidation of their pathological power is crucial, and I take heart to see how much effort is going into that. What is really needed now, in addition to that, is some introspection, because we ourselves managed to let this bunch of deviants rise to positions of power over us, and our own activities and natural inclinations may exacerbate the situation if we are not careful.
I set out to write this article because I have seen the phenomenon from a completely different point of view living in Japan, where for a long time I did not realize how the many restrictive, burdensome societal rules actually protect that society from the more severe manifestations of sociopathic dominance. Martha Stout in the Sociopath Next Door says that sociopaths typically make up about 4% of people in society, but that some societies have established crude means of detecting and eliminating these defectives and that, furthermore, it appears that in Japan, the percentage of sociopaths is somewhat less than in other countries.
I set out to try to ascertain how Japanese society deals with sociopathy. I found immediate examples of sociopathic activity at hand, including two partially developed ponerogenic associations (see Andrew Lobaczewski's Political Ponerology, highly recommended to anyone with an interest in this subject), one primary and one secondary.* Over time I could see that the success of these associations had been limited due to awareness in society of the consequences of letting them advance. There were two factors fostering this awareness. One was a recent shocking example of a secondary ponerogenic association running amok: the religious group Aum Shinrikyo, whose members released sarin gas in the Tokyo subways, killing many people. This turned people's attention to the question of how such groups could get started. The other factor was widespread observance of a set of principles imported centuries ago from China that elucidate and condemn behavior typical of sociopathy and organize society in a way that impedes advancement of such deviants. This set of principles is called Confucianism, and it is worth noting that Lobaczewski also mentions Confucius and his distant contemporary Socrates, who both lived under sociopathic rule and devised principles for dealing with it.
I am too poorly acquainted with Socrates to discuss his possible contributions to getting us out of the quandary we are in. I invite others with more knowledge of this subject to contribute their thoughts.
Below I will describe Confucianism and in further installments I will describe how it, together with Buddhism and other Oriental philosophies, has impeded the progress of sociopathy in Japan. I will also discuss its notable failures to prevent pathocracy.
First, in the interests of improved objectivity, I must introduce myself and describe my sources. I have no formal background in psychology. I am a language specialist, teaching and translating in Japan. I am among the first foreigners to acquire qualifications of Shinto priesthood, which I undertook in order to help my community by saving a mountain from being bulldozed and carted away in an endless stream of dump trucks. The laws of Japan put priority on traditional religious/cultural property--the ancient shrine at the peak--but only if it was in active use. The other priests were old and in failing health, so I volunteered.
Through this experience, I gained access to a deeper understanding of Japan's culture than most foreigners ever acquire. It also forced me to consider what had happened to Japan prior to World War II that had allowed my adopted religion (I was raised a Buddhist) to play a role in the belligerent actions of the military elite. Indeed, as religion can be tremendously uplifting, including Shinto, I resolved to study how a person might enjoy its benefits without falling prey to its well-known dangers.
My husband, from a proud samurai family that he can trace back nearly 1300 years, has been instrumental in helping me understand traditional Japanese principles. He has also pointed out persons with psychological and character defects I would never have spotted, because my own psychological education was too poor. His psychological education was not formal, but of a much better, more practical kind. He was brought up by his widowed mother who ran their house as an inn for working men, so there was a constant stream of patrons bearing the wisdom of the laboring class and eager to talk to anyone in earshot. Many were former soldiers. My husband says he had to become sharp at recognizing possibly dangerous people among them. He was an attentive student.
Other sources I will not name out of respect for their privacy. Martha Stout's book, mentioned above, was among my first inspirations, followed by a variety of articles on the Internet. I am in the middle of reading Lobaczewski's work, writing copious notes in the margins. I also have Paul Babiak and Robert D. Hare's Snakes in Suits on hand. Given the urgency of the times, however, I do not want to wait until I've finished reading them, but would rather get my scattered thoughts on this matter organized and present them in the hopes this information can help people. Let me first describe Confucianism.
Confucius is the Latinized name of a Chinese political figure, educator and social philosopher who lived from 551 to 479 BC and whose thoughts, together with elaborations by Mencius and Xun Zi, were developed into a system of philosophy known as Confucianism. It is practiced as a religion in China, with temples and ceremonies, but elsewhere it was imported strictly as a philosophy. Summarizing the highlights in Wikipedia (http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Confucius ), the teachings and philosophy of Confucius have deeply influenced Chinese, Korean, Japanese, Taiwanese and Vietnamese thought and life, with an emphasis on governmental morality, proper social relationships, justice and sincerity. His thoughts were passed down as a collection of brief "aphoristic fragments" which were written down by others after his death.
He put the highest emphasis on study. He urged his followers to think deeply for themselves and keenly observe the outside world. He advocated studying the old scriptures and considering how past political events related to current moral problems. He lived during a time of warring feudalistic factions, and envisioned a unified royal state with ascension to the throne based on merit rather than heredity, and he also argued for limiting the power of rulers.
As sociopathy has been shown to have a genetic basis, we can understand this as an attempt to address the serious shortcomings of pathocratic rule in his time.
The meritorious rulers were to devote themselves to the people and strive for personal and social perfection. The ruler was to serve as a good example to the people rather than to impose proper behavior with laws and rules.
Confucius is said to have articulated an early version of the Golden Rule, in its inverse: "Do not do unto others what you would not have them do unto you." His ethics stressed "righteousness" (described as ethical best practices for each context, enhancing the greater good based upon reciprocity, as contrasted with self-interest) and "benevolence" based upon empathy and harmony, cultivating an identification of the interests of the self and others. He downplayed the rule of law, because he said that people would try to avoid punishment but have no shame. Within Confucian thought, "He who has no shame" has come to be considered the lowest sort of person. Confucius exposed thereby what was at the heart of sociopathy. He argued for honesty in facial expression (notably lacking in sociopaths).
He emphasized the need to respect ones superiors in the government or at home, but said that it also demanded advising the superior when he was thought to be taking a mistaken course of action. While advocating a hierarchy of "ethical sages," Confucius recognized failures in this regard, saying "A corrupt government official is to be feared more than a tiger." Corruption of government officials has been considered one of the worst sins under Confucian thought. Thus we see the ferocity with which exposed corrupt officials are punished in China, even though the Communist Party considered Confucianism reactionary and feudalistic and banned its observance for many years.
Righteous poverty was to be preferred to riches and honors acquired by dishonest means.
I note that the stability of the hierarchical "natural order" he advocated may deter sociopathic individuals, who lack the patience to deal with it and are quickly exposed.
Compared with Buddhism and other Oriental philosophies/religions, Confucianism is less mystical and more practical in its orientation toward developing a government and society favorable to the majority of honest, hard-working citizens. By contrast, Buddhism teaches that "Everyone has Buddha-nature," thus disavowing the presence of people who differ organically in their ability to feel empathy. Of course, one could construe "Buddha-nature" more loosely and claim that tigers, for example, also have it. Buddhism, fortunately, brings us the helpful concept of "thusness," promoting the acceptance of the fact that the tiger will kill and the sociopath will cheat, because that is their nature. Buddhism sidesteps the problem of sociopathy somewhat by advocating withdrawal from the material world, the existence of which in all its terror serves a useful reminder that Buddhism offers a choice far preferable to people with normal sensibilities. There is nothing in an austere Buddhist monastery that would attract a sociopath, but outside of that, there have been notable cases of sociopathic penetration in Buddhism, and the same can be said of Japan's other major religion, Shinto.
In my next article, I will describe a few cases of probable sociopathic individuals and ponerogenic associations I have observed in Japan and factors that either impeded or abetted them.
*A primary ponerogenic association is one that is clearly corrupt from the outset, like a gang; while a secondary one starts off with good intentions but becomes infiltrated by people who use the good reputation and image as a cover for deceitful activity.