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Who's the Monster?

I've been reading a lot lately about psychopathy (or more properly, antisocial personality disorder) and its overlaps and connections with autism. It should be noted that "psychopathy" doesn't actually have a formal definition in the DSM or ICD, but I fail to see any major differences between ASPD and psychopathy as it is described in the literature.

Even the impartial articles I'm reading sound very damning in their wording as they describe the characteristics of ASPD/psychopathy. I feel a pang of some negative emotion I can't quite identify (thanks, Alexithymia) as I realize how many components are shared between autism and ASPD/psychopathy, particularly in regards to the issue of empathy and the lack thereof.

Now, I take no issue with the "what"s of the shared traits of autism and ASPD/psychopathy, but what gets to me is the tone with which it is spoken about. Here's some words of wisdom from my father that took away a lot of the anger I used to harbor towards people who were less than perfect: "Nobody chooses their own brain." He was right. None of us asked for autism (regardless of how we feel about it in the present), and nobody asked to have ASPD/psychopathy, just as nobody asks for cancer or diabetes. Yet, the issues of empathy, guilt, and remorse are leveled at us like they're some sort of moral failing, as if we're choosing not to feel those things (or more accurately, to feel them in a different way) just to be assholes.

We've got a long way to go as a society. We're still stuck on labels that we apply to people in order to define the entirety of that infinitely complex human being in a few words or less; it's so much more convenient that way. How useful it is to divide people into two camps - "good" people and "bad" people. Please, there is no such thing as a "good" person, only people who have never had to be otherwise, and I have some choice labels for those who would cast their judgment upon others with the arrogance to think that they understand that person in their totality.

Consider this: I don't think a single one of us has been spared suffering at the hands of these beings who ostensibly have a perfectly intact ability to feel empathy, remorse, and guilt. Being that the case, they actually have to rationalize their actions to overcome the obstacle that is empathy/remorse/guilt. This means that because of their saintly sense of empathy/remorse/guilt, they've had to create these twisted ways of thinking about the world via mental gymnastics in order to justify their actions. The effects of this way of processing thought make themselves apparent all around us: every act of genocide in history has been morally justified by its perpetrators using the very mechanism I just described. That's the extreme example, but the same holds true for even the most minor of infringements upon the human rights of others - it is all justified by that very mechanism, and in that way empathy, remorse, and guilt have actually spawned all of human suffering.

So who's the monster here? Not I.


The difference between autistic lack of empathy and psychopathic lack of empathy is that autistics have more difficulties perceiving other people's emotions and putting themselves in other's shoes, but once they understand and know about how a person feels, they care as much or more as the average person. A psychopath will not necessarily have trouble perceiving and understanding people's emotions, but won't feel empathy towards them even when they know how they feel.

A very interesting point you've made though. Having empathy doesn't prevent people to do terrible things (though it's an obstacle), and there are many psychopaths who are overall decent, law abiding people.

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