#4: How to spot a sociopath at fifty yards

After a major cataclysm or catastrophe, human nature seems to be to look to a strong leader to help guide us. Many people are scared and feel weak. They want someone to reassure or guide them. If strength is the antidote to weakness and a person can’t find that strength internally, then they’ll look outside for it. Very often, people will give up their personal values and sense of self in order to follow a leader who seems strong and comforting.

Consider the kind of heroic media coverage Rudy Giuliani got after 9/11. Consider the pass Bush got from a wide swath of the American public for nearly six years. Consider the way so many New Orleaneans tried to justify outrageous police behavior in the aftermath of Hurricane Katrina. Consider the rise of Hitler after the economic collapse of the Weimer Republic.

sample ballotThe problem with looking to a strong leader is that many characteristics that appear to be “strengths” could in fact be symptoms of antisocial personality disorder. The man who can convince thousands to follow him into battle against overwhelming odds might be a great leader, or he might simply lack a conscience.

Sociopaths are like those over-bred Red Delicious apples that look bright and shiny on the outside, but when you bite into them they turn out to have a thick, bitter skin and mealy, flavorless flesh. I’m not saying that all strong leaders are sociopaths. I am saying that in a democracy it’s important for us to know how to tell good leadership skills from sociopathy. If we can’t tell the difference, we can make very bad choices.

I envision two possible scenarios for the global climate change cataclysm. First scenario: the damage is localized or slow-moving, and our political and social systems more or less hold up. But as we come to feel the effects personally, many of us will become shocked, dazed and fearful. Second scenario: the cataclysm is abrupt, sudden and irrevocable. Political, social and economic systems collapse overnight. We’re not just dazed, but terrified and on the run.

Either way, many of us will begin to look to strong leaders to make us feel better. Problem is, how do we tell the good, strong leaders from the sociopaths (or “Machiavellians” or “corporate psychopaths”) to make sure we don’t follow or empower them?

One solution: when looking for leadership, look for a good manager. That’s the person who gets things done without making a lot of fuss, blowing a lot of smoke or generating a lot of fanfare. Unfortunately, these people often fade into the background. Worse, you and many people around you may be distracted by the bright, shiny object of flashy leadership. If you can’t find the the managers, what else can you do?

I’ve devised this ten-question test you can use to identify sociopaths. It isn’t perfect, just a quick-and-easy tool you can use to weed out the really bad apples.

Go ahead, give this a try right now to get comfortable with it. Test the seemingly strong people in your life – your boss, your neighbor, your favorite presidential candidate. Nobody knows how many sociopaths are out there, but research suggests you probably know a few already. Hone your skill so by the time the cataclysm hits, you’ll be able to spot a sociopath at fifty yards.

Here’s the most important point: you can’t fix a sociopath. Because they don’t feel remorse they don’t learn lessons, so don’t even try to teach them any. The best thing you can do is, when you identify them for who they are, turn the other way. Don’t follow them. Don’t give them your allegiance. They don’t deserve it, and we’ll need something better if we’re going to survive the climate change cataclysm.


11 Responses to #4: How to spot a sociopath at fifty yards

  1. vbonnaire says:

    Are you ever right. Unforch, most sociopathy is found in the heads of corporations, always at the top. Usually they are charming and can “fool” people. Think corporate heads that abscond with $$$ packages and screw all the little guys. Ah well. Blog52, the great leveler “climate” is coming.
    Truly. That and Colony Collapse Disorder. This year there are so few bees about I can’t even believe it. Will check your Pasadena link to see homesteaders. I’m so glad I happened on your blog in here. Why aren’t we using solar for everything by now?

    These are some people you may want to know, I first read about them in the late 80’s:


    • mr happy says:

      not all sociopaths are bad apples. sociopathy is caused by brain damage, its not a chemical problem in the brain. its what that person does with their ability to not worry or care as this site puts it. besides think of it this way without those people willing to take control where would society be? I can tell you, those people who scam for a few dollars are not intelligent and a drain on society. those who lead do it because if the average person were to lead it would all be equal and not profitable. no one person is equal to the next. if i am wrong then there would not be titles and ranks in this equal world. there would be no financial status. e.g. tell a doctor he makes the same money as a custodian as in no matter what your job career everyone gets the same. how many doctors do you think will still keep practicing medicine? my point is all people are selfish to their own self interest. some people get off on helping others, thats called selflessness if you know someone like this deny them to help you 2 or 3 times and i guarantee you will see a different reaction besides pleasantry. if you get no reaction then they are faking their kindness.

  2. blog52 says:

    Oh, I hadn’t thought of the climate change cataclysm as “the great leveler.” Kinda good, but kinda scary too.

    I’m adding Seed Savers to my Alternatives list. Thanks for the link!

  3. Cheryl says:

    A couple of former co-workers scored in the 6-7 range. The dot com boom made room for everybody.

  4. […] The sounds of sociopathy Listen here for the podcast of this week’s tip: How to spot a sociopath at fifty yards: […]

  5. Nicola says:

    Ops, I tried to apply the test on what I know about my Prime Minister Silvio Berlusconi. I was just a little bit disappointed… now I’m terribly scared! 🙂
    I can win a green card with a lottery isn’t it? 😉

  6. blog52 says:

    Problem is, your green card only gets you to a country run by a different sociopath.

    If you can hold out until the November elections, I’m sure things are going to improve in the U.S.

  7. […] the old familiar governing infrastructure in place. At the same time, you can expect individuals to rise up and try to grab power. Their ideas of what the new political system should look like may be very different from […]

  8. […] you find yourself on the run from marauding bands of sociopaths and hungry animals, you’ll be on guard constantly and won’t get the solid hours of […]

  9. Peter Cook says:

    I am retired military. I assumed that many years into my military career when I was diagnosed as, what they called politely, “a borderline sociopath,” that my career was over. I couldn’t pass or fail a lie detector test and assumed that my security clearance would be yanked. None of this came to pass and I was given more responsibility and tasks that would be considered risky or dangerous to most people. Looking back, the situation nearly got me killed several times. To others I probably appeared to be a “cold-blooded gunslinger.” I looked at the whole thing as just “taking care of business.”

    Your premise that you could sort me out is absolutely 100% flawed except for one thing. If I thought you were trying to spot me I’d probably cooperate and let you. I’ve learned over the years that being a borderline sociopath (those shrinks are so kind) is no excuse for bad manners. Sociopaths do feel, just not in the normal sense. If I didn’t want you to, you wouldn’t spot me for years.

    • Phydeau says:

      @Peter Cook:

      You are 100% on the money. I’ve been borderline sociopath for what seems like “since birth”. Amazing how most the sheep of the world seem to think that it’s easy to be an armchair psychologist and diagnose people with absolutely no training.

      The only point I can’t bring myself to agree with in your commentary is “it’s no excuse for bad manners”. Since I honestly couldn’t give a crap what people think of me, “manners” is an arbitrary item in my mind, with the exception of using it as a method to “stay under the radar” because “good manners” is something I have to emulate to be able to function in society.

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