One of my most popular articles ever on Thought Distiller was called “Are Sociopaths Good for Society?” and I think the time has come to dig into another angle on the topic of sociopathy. Last time, I determined that sociopaths (at least the higher-functioning ones) are genuinely good for society. This time around, I’m thinking about whether we will need sociopaths in society as their evolutionary niche disappears.
In my previous post on this subject, I made some remarks about the evolutionary need for sociopathy:
In the general populace, sociopathy exhibits at a consistent rate of about 1%; in business settings, that rate can increase to about 4%. It seems that, as long as the overall incidence of sociopathy remains low, it proves evolutionarily advantageous.
Sociopaths can use their skills to secure resources for themselves, find willing mates, and thereby ensure their own survival and that of their genetic line. In previous eras when survival rates were lower, it seems probable that sociopathy was a boon because it enabled men to have lots of children (most sociopaths are men) and, in the rare case of a female sociopath, enabled her to secure resources to provide for herself and her children.
[According to Kevin Dutton] their “personality traits—charm, confidence, ruthlessness, coolness under pressure—can, in the right doses, be a good thing. Not all psychopaths are violent and some of them are just the sort of people society can count on in a crisis.”
If sociopaths are people who can use their “antisocial” traits to guide social groups through crises effectively, will we still need them in a world without crisis? Make no mistake, despite all of this year’s trials and tribulations, 2017 has been humanity’s best year yet. According to Nicholas Kristof of the NYT, “just since 1990, more than 100 million children’s lives have been saved through vaccinations and improved nutrition and medical care… For most of history, probably more than 90 percent of the world population lived in extreme poverty, plunging to fewer than 10 percent today.”
On a daily basis, 300k more people are getting electricity and a similar number are getting potable water. Now, over 85% of all adults can read. Family planning has increased investment per child and the number of global war deaths has declined dramatically from last century.
Though our crises seem far more pronounced due to the global media machine, the incidence and severity of crisis, broadly defined, is decreasing. What happens when no one needs to make tough calls any more?
To be clear, I’m not saying we’ll ever get to a utopian world of complete peace and happiness; I think it’s far more likely that cognitive robots learn how to make better-than-human decisions about war and peace. If those robots are around, and possess credibility and coolness under pressure, I think there’s no longer a need for sociopaths.
Thus, we can see the evolutionary niche of sociopathy eroding. Decreasing incidence of crisis plus robots that can handle the remaining crises show that the function of being a shrewd, calculating decision-maker in times of change can also be automated away, just like the majority of other human labor.