The Societal Benefit of Balancing Emotional and Logical Reasoning

The spectrum between being an empath and a psychopath is vast, but the struggle to find the right balance in how we analyze events is complicated, and it’s what makes law such a difficult subject.

Whenever you witness an event, say a tragedy like a murder, or something more positive, like two very unlikely people getting married, you instinctively react it in your own way, both logically assessing, and instinctively feeling. It is part of our unusual animal heritage, something our great cousin, fungus, doesn’t share. It is part of what makes us human, and a variation that deeply divides us on a great many issues.

It may be obvious, but wouldn’t a homogeneous human race be rather dull?

The Empath

The very nature of a hypothetically “pure” empath is to immediately feel for others they encounter. There is no logic attached to it, it is like a sponge falling into water, they absorb and feel. The empathic person is therefore often the least in control of themselves, a side effect of their empathy. It can take years of deliberate self-training for even a strong empath to learn how to filter or squelch what they feel, enough to function when surrounded by distress or pain. Not everyone empathic recognizes the danger of being so exposed, or the importance of developing a thicker skin, and doesn’t make the effort to learn.

There is one critical point to make here, that is feelings are entirely personal. Thus what an empath is really doing, is simulating being the other, and recognizing what the other must be feeling based on how they would feel. It is a kind of reverse projection, they apply who they are to the scene they witness, and project those feelings back at themselves, stronger than their own feelings. An empath will often ignore their own feelings as less important, and as you might imagine, this can make a person quite gullible, or vulnerable to manipulation. They might empathize with an assailant more than they empathize with their own predicament as victim.

However, vulnerability aside, the empath is also immensely powerful. The very nature of being able to absorb and channel so much emotional energy, is not to be underestimated. Empaths are suckers for victims, but they are empowered by joy and group successes. Their combination of apparent selflessness, with their ability to harness everyone elses energy instead of relying on their own, can make them fantastic leaders in certain situations, or relentless fighters in another. Assuming they are strong and disciplined enough to hold those forces together.

In fact, I would argue the empath has the most potential, to be influential, or powerful, and yet is the weakest type of person externally, out of fear of embracing the pain. This is the paradox, the person most able to withstand suffering, the person most opposed to perceived wrongs, is the most afraid of it, and afraid of themselves. That said, there are also very militant empaths, who want to save anyone who feels bad, from whatever makes them feel bad, often bearing a misguided grudge against the source of those feelings, regardless of the justness of what caused it.

It can be a very hard for an empath to let something they feel go, to understand that hurt doesn’t equal injustice, and happy doesn’t equal righteous. Birth is a painful experience, and people can die painlessly. A feeling isn’t a self-evident truth.

The Psychopath

We all use the term psycho to describe what we judge to be ruthless or incomprehensible people, people that will do whatever it takes, regardless of who gets hurt. The legal definition boils down to being highly anti-social, usually aggressive, and remorseless. This is all only partly correct though, as psychopathy is basically the absence of empathy, and those definitions are really just symptoms. If you don’t feel for people, you won’t feel bad for hurting them later, right?

When a psychopath makes judgements, they make it thinking of themselves, with a kind of ultra-selfish logic. A psycho could therefore be causing harm to others indirectly, and even be aware of this fact, without the slightest intention of being malicious. It is a purely logical calculation, a cold, terrifyingly honest calculation, of their needs and wants, versus those of others.

What an ordinary person sees is normally heavily distorted by their relationships, by their loyalties, by their compassion, or even hatred, whereas the psychopath sees ordinary people doing predictable or unpredictable things. It is not devoid of logic, nor is it devoid of the ability to determine right from wrong, it is just a different set of parameters they use. To many people, they will seem alien, others will envy their ability to focus on what matters.

Because of this lack of empathy, a real psycho has a glaring problem in society, they don’t bask in anyone elses joy, nor do they sympathize with someone who suffers. They may fail to smile at the right time, and their smile won’t be entirely natural, as they are really just trying to mimic a real smile, without quite understanding it. They might fail to laugh in a situation where others would find the laughing contagious. They also may not flinch when something gruesome happens right in front of them, or show fear when things go horribly wrong, but the eyes always reveal the truth.

Collectively, psychopathy makes a human seem inhuman, and the empath who is used to absorbing what other people feel, will be frightened by them. This can make for some interesting dynamics, where the empath and psycho could find themselves enemies, over literally nothing happening. Most people would shrug it off as a clash of personalities, not knowing how fundamentally incompatible they are. It is also worth noting, that someone can be quite benign, even though they don’t care how others feel, because their actions are still by choice, and they are perfectly capable of factoring other people’s needs into their calculations.

This is why a judge will always take remorse into account when sentencing a criminal. It is a meaningful metric when assessing if someone can be reformed by punishment, or whether they will remain a serious threat to society. Implicitly, this discretionary detail revolves around a criminal’s ability to feel for those they have harmed, or wronged, without attributing it to a specific mental disorder, which would be legally problematic. It is also the judge’s duty to distinguish between any kind of remorse for a victim, and the pain of self-pity for being found guilty.

Some philosophers, and Darwinists will argue that psychopathy could be viewed as the last step to metaphysical freedom, and that the psycho should be revered as the greatest evolution of humanity. Much like how we view short necks and stubby legs to be throwbacks to our ape ancestry, some of these ideological thinkers see our emotional baggage as a vestige that should be left behind on the evolutionary tree as well. If you subscribe to the idea that survival is based on fitness for purpose, and not a complex arrangement of environmental factors, happy accidents, and possibly lack of competition, you might view emotions as a hindrance.

From a holistic view however, you might actually see that our emotions have evolved with us, and have served us very well from the time we domesticated the land, forming permanent settlements, and strong communal identities. We could also point out that insects aren’t compassionate, though I suspect a Darwinist wouldn’t like that comparison very much.

The Mundane

The people in the middle are what I call the mundanes, neither here or there. Most of them blissfully unaware of the spectrum, or where they fit into it. Most of these people have a little of everything, a little compassion and a little cruelty, a little cold logic and a little uncontrolled passion, but not clearly anything in particular.

Being one of the mundane is not the same as having no orientation, everyone between the two opposites has some varying level of empathy, and ascribes a varying amount of importance to what they feel. Some are excellent at focusing on a task, limiting the intrusion of feelings or compassion that might distract them from their duties. Others are absolutely terrible at tuning out, and will be thrown into turmoil just by the presence of someone highly emotional.

Still, as a species, the one consistency we have is inconsistency. We’re all based on the same stuff, and we’re all designed roughly the same way, but small differences have big impacts. We also have defense mechanisms, which we aren’t always aware of, that can change the equation drastically. Someone who is victimized could become a temporary psychopath, in a kind of mental shock, where the non-essential (emotional) parts of the brain are turned off or bypassed, allowing them to endure any horror to survive. Other times, someone usually cold and unfeeling, could suddenly experience an invigorating sense of happiness, from a child they just met.

There is also diversity in the range of the spectrum people can straddle, some people seem to be able to shift as the situation dictates, from one direction to the other, even show a duality about themselves. Conversely, some people are immovable like bedrock, they will be what they always were, no matter what happens around them. As annoying as people can seem, would it be so absurd to posit that there is no “right” way to be, since it depends on the situation?

The Sociopath

Then there’s the confusing bunch. The no-longer-called-sociopath condition, is generally regarded as psychopathy with a conscience. The general diagnosis revolves around the person’s ability and willingness to integrate into society. Someone who is anti-social for instance, despite the fact that they might feel a great deal of contempt for the mundanes, and merely avoid them to avoid feeling that way. Alternately, a sociopath could be the most effective manipulator, as they can feel what normal people feel, even empathize to some level. Being far more in-tune with the people they encounter, they are much more dangerous than a typical psychopath, as they can better understand peoples reactions.

Thus a sociopath with very little empathy, is not much different to a psycho, and one that’s very empathic, can be a heroic leader should the need arise. The question keeps coming back to the level of empathy, so maybe the correct way to view a sociopath, is kind of split-personality disorder, where they are able to think emotionally to some degree, as if they are two distinct people. So a sociopath may choose to hurt someone to teach them a lesson, and feel bad about it, just not bad enough to stop themselves.

A good example would be Saddam Hussein, when he consolidated his power as president of Iraq, he culled the political assembly of threats to his presidency. A politically expedient thing to do in a semi-tribal society. He had dozens of people arrested and later executed, including friends of his. He was even filmed crying a bit while giving the orders from his chair, and hearing their pleas as they were dragged away. Was he more or less justified in killing these people, having shown sympathy and possibly even regret? He certainly had the authority to do so, but this is where the the observer’s position on this spectrum of empathy matters, and there is no universal answer. Does authority make any decision right, or is justice (and morality) a universal constant that trumps legality?

The way you feel affects your view of right and wrong, and your entire sense of fairness. I think it’s important to remember that.

The Struggle

In any well functioning society, there’s inevitably going to be a small group of people who disagree with laws, or the basic moral tenets people are supposed to adhere to. It is like battle between socialism and libertarianism, or collectivism versus individualism. Neither way is inherently better or worse on the whole than the other, except when taken to the extreme. Like shooting a terrorist versus dropping a 500 pound bomb on the heavily occupied building he lives in, at some point it just becomes a bad thing.

When collectivism starts determining what people must do against their will, when majority decision is considered justice, or when the freedom to criticize is suppressed in the name of harmony, that’s when it turns bad. It can also fail when education and knowledge become too concentrated, and the larger group is unable to grasp the nuances of a challenge they face. A common result is that mob rule takes the place of cautious reasoning, the logical few are outvoted by the emotional many. Such an asymmetrical society inevitably leads to central planning as a way to “solve the problem”, and heads down the path of totalitarianism if unchecked.

When taken to the extreme, libertarian values are synonymous with anarchy, the belief that people will happily co-exist, for mutual benefit, without structure or artificial limits. As we know from our tribal past, that any form of anarchy will fail, or end in conflict. It only takes a few who would rather amass power starting to do so, and in the absence of collective structure, are free to become dominant, centralizing power once again. A group of anarchists would have great difficulty preventing the rise of a demagogue at a time of hardship, being primarily focused on themselves.

The struggle within any modern form of society, is how to balance the needs of the many, without favouring the few, to an extent that the few need to be afraid of angry mobs coming to kill them. This balance is complicated immensely by the fact that a small percentage are totally opposed to hurting anyone, and another small percentage will present rational arguments as to why hurting people is ok, for the greater good. This battle of societal righteousness, often resembles a bully fighting a pacifist. The mundanes who keep to themselves, the people who don’t dare pick a side, the voiceless downtrodden, all continually skew society whether they intend to or not, just by their ratio in the population. Just as the silent killers, the ruthlessly ambitious, the ones who feel no loyalty to the fragile mundanes around them do.

The one societal structure that we as a species hasn’t outgrown is the tribe, and is the most immune to personality demographics. Like in Afghanistan, where the eldest male in the family is usually the ruler of the clan, and then belongs to a council of elders of the community, which then have sporadic meetings with other councils to decide trade policies and settle feuds. This can be viewed as a tyrannical system, where at various levels there is no democracy, and no representation of disparate views. However, since the tyrants belong to the families they rule over, they have a much deeper loyalty to do what’s right, to help their children and grandchildren prosper.

The reason tribalism works so well, is that the leader is capable of banishing anyone dangerous to the group, and may have the wisdom to prevent someone untrustworthy from joining the tribe. The emotional whirlwind of an empath can be silenced, and the psychopath can be denied, at some small amount of personal risk. There is no option for a majority to gang up on a minority opinion, and there’s usually less question of allegiance. Everyone at the council level has great responsibility, and acts to ensure peace is maintained though the integrity of each family.

We could also look at what conditions a state of war between tribes produces. In a scenario where peace and harmony just can’t be achieved between tribal representatives, or where one tribe is violently expansionist, there could be a need to shift mentality. Those anti-social types might make really good soldiers, maybe even cunning military strategists. Certainly there are times when too much empathy can get you killed, but too little empathy will be inversely problematic at times of peace. There needs to be a level of dynamism in a society, and we might even consider war to be a consequence of too many of the wrong kind of people in the group.

Violence may in fact be a natural cleansing mechanism which resets a community to be more cooperative, by disproportionately killing off the psychos, along with the most aggressive people. It is indeed very likely that the number of psychos in a population were kept to a minimum, even in times of peace, as their kind was hard to tolerate in organized society, and many of them preferred to be alone. Unlike today, where psychos get to excel in antagonistic, amoral activities, like investment banking, and corporate raiding, which handsomely reward the most pathological specimens.

The Balance

When we really start to delve into what makes a political system work or fail, popular or unpopular, fair or unfair, it really comes down to people. The diversity of a community, specifically the way people think and feel, the traditions they hold onto, the ambitions they seek to achieve, all play a major role.

If a community of artists who all feel a common love of nature and anarchy come together, they can probably form a very successful cooperative based on the principles of individualism. It is also possible their libertarian utopia could succeed for a generation or two after them, but there will come a time when there are enough new members in the group, that want something different. When that time comes, the group will have an identity crisis, with the original founders having grown old or died off, the community will no longer have the ideal mix of personalities to maintain their free style of living. There is an inevitable rethink, which may be towards centralized authority, or even a cultural mutiny leading to an exodus of members.

What Americans are experiencing in the 2016 election cycle is similarly disruptive. Long have certain groups been lulled to sleep by the ineffectiveness of their vote in changing the policies of government. Others have been more recently lulled to sleep by promises of change by Barry Obama, until it turned out he couldn’t change the system, the system changed him. The political elites from the two main parties have spent the last several decades gerrymandering electoral boundaries, passing arcane electoral laws, fighting over voter registration (ie. suppression) methodologies, all to prevent their constituents exerting too much power over what the representatives can do. Then suddenly, two populist candidates arose simultaneously, demonstrating that the people in power really aren’t representative at all.

It would not be much of a stretch to suggest that the Democrat and Republican parties have been complacent, having coalesced around the idea of swapping power every election or two, giving voters a false choice, with an arbitrary enemy to vote against. Equally, it wouldn’t be much of a stretch to suggest the voters are sick of the games, sick of their voices not being heard, possibly even sick of the faux-republic. They see a Pentagon full of unaccountable psychos cheerleading wars they can’t win, they see Congress full of sociopaths acting out Shakespearean dramas about the size of government, and they see Wall St. laughing their heads off in Congressional hearings about how they fucked the economy. And it’s not just America, countries all over the world are suffering from globalism imposed by American might, ultimately causing the exact same problems.

Just like the politicians, police in America no longer work where they live, specifically so that they don’t grow attachments to the people they Beat and Harass. The last thing the elites they protect would want is police empathizing with their community, possibly resisting unjust orders from above, out of a sense of loyalty. Even though a neighbourhood isn’t a tribe per se, people will unconsciously apply a sense of family unity to their community, especially in residential pockets where people socialize a lot. A police force that can’t empathize with community they serve, will become a police force that oppresses that community instead, which then attracts people with the weakest consciences and least amount of empathy into the force, making it that much worse.

The entire western world is also setup on a centralized model of authority, allowing economic monopolies to flourish, and any notions of a de-centralized republic to be crushed under a mountain of bureaucratic nonsense, protected by a sprawling policing apparatus. Since the government representatives are encouraged to rid themselves of pesky things like morality, these days it takes organized phone campaigns and huge online petitions to remind them to fear their voters. Often the least moral people are given the most important positions too, like the terrorist loving John McCain being chair of the Committee on Armed Services, where he gets to approve mammoth military expenditures, to fight the terrorists he created. It would be a fair assessment to say the Pentagon is really a “protection racket” worthy of the mafia at this point, and the Senate is their spokesman.

The ability of voters to change the entire bench of representatives every few years also decreases the loyalty of many representatives. They don’t have to worry about the long term consequences of their actions, since they may not even be the figurehead of their community a decade later. Likewise, an unpopular representative doesn’t have to fear being overthrown in a popular coup d’etat when they least expect it, which might keep them honest, as a nice long election cycle gives plenty of warning. Imagine if voters could un-elect their politicians at any time, that would strike some fear into their greedy hearts.

It may start to become clear why the westernized world hates tribalism. Although the media have been trying to sell ordinary people the idea of it being backwards, unrepresentative, and stifling, it isn’t the citizens who are in charge of bombing campaigns against tribal nations. No it’s the established elites who are deathly afraid of the true de-centralization of power, far beyond what a republic can endure. Most importantly, the decision maker in a populous nation can’t be directly related to all the citizens, but they can in a tribal system. It is this divorce of people in power from people without power, that allows an elected representative to become more selfish, and less sympathetic. In effect, a republic creates conditions that shift politicians away from empathy, towards psychopathy.

Some people have rhetorically asked how things got this way. How has the western world failed it’s people so completely? How has the government become so unrepresentative? How have the courts become so skewed towards businesses with zero conscience? How has the policing become so violent and yet be supported by the justice system at every turn? The answer must come back to people; the way they think and feel in all aspects of government, and whether the way they are is anything like their voters.

So if we take a close look at the failure of government in America, or any number of westernized countries in Europe, rather than seeing bureaucracy or waste as the cause of its problems, rather than focusing on false issues like the sustainability of social programs, really digging into its essence, isn’t it just a lack of empathy? And if so, can a society function if all its functionaries are acting psychos, even if only by training and encouragement? From my perspective, that’s looking like a giant nope, and at a glance, it appears to have less to do with the type of political system, than it does the scale of the system.

Perhaps the lesson we can learn from today’s turmoil isn’t just that the societies have changed, and that government has failed to respond, that would be a flippant excuse. What it could be telling us, is that a society can’t easily survive if the leaders don’t genuinely care for the people they rule over. That maybe the only way to have justice also requires empathy, and that only some minimum level of compassion can prevent many of the abuses we have found. Even though it will cause some people pain either way, empathy is incompatible with imperialism, which is a damned good start.

We could even go farther and say, we have to embrace emotional reasoning, and logical reasoning at the same time. The more effectively we can see a situation from both halves of the spectrum, instead of embracing just one side, the more rational and humanist we will be. This may require lots of practice for people used to internalizing the opinions of famous people, and it may require a total overhaul of the educational systems to focus on philosophy as much as mathematics, but it is possible. Crucially we need to realize that the struggle will never end, we’ll have to keep fighting to return to that balance, or find some process to excise anyone who demonstrates too much psychopathy from a position of power, without resorting to guillotines preferably.

The one thing people have repeatedly proven, is they are always dissatisfied, even if when they get what they want, and will pressure their peers to move the line again.

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