Friday, October 26, 2012

Society Is Becoming More Psychopathic

My backyard

"Psychopathic" - Relating to or affected with an antisocial personality disorder that is usually characterized by aggressive, perverted, criminal, or amoral behavior. (See here.)

Society is becoming more psychopathic, writes Cambridge University research psychologist Kevin Dutton in The Chronicle of Higher Education ("Psychopathy's Double Edge"). The bullets, with commentary, are:

  • "There's stuff going on nowadays that we wouldn't have seen 20, even 10 years ago. Kids are becoming anesthetized to normal sexual behavior by early exposure to pornography on the Internet. Rent-a-friend sites are getting more popular on the Web, because folks are either too busy or too techy to make real ones."
  • "The new millennium has seemingly ushered in a wave of corporate criminality like no other. Investment scams, conflicts of interest, lapses of judgment, and those evergreen entrepreneurial party tricks of good old fraud and embezzlement are now utterly unprecedented in magnitude."
  • Psychopaths exhibit the following callous behaviors, in this order: 1) kicks; 2) spur-of-the-moment impulses; 3) status; and 4) financial gain.
  • The University of Michigan's Institute for Social Research "has found that college students' self-reported empathy levels... have been in steady decline over the past three decades—since the inauguration of the scale, in fact, back in 1979. A particularly pronounced slump has been observed over the past 10 years. College kids today are about 40 percent lower in empathy than their counterparts of 20 or 30 years ago."
  • During the same period "students' self-reported narcissism levels have shot through the roof. "Many people see the current group of college students, sometimes called 'Generation Me,' " [University of Michigan's Sara] Konrath continues, "as one of the most self-centered, narcissistic, competitive, confident, and individualistic in recent history.""
  • Now watch this: "Precisely why this downturn in social values has come about is not entirely clear. A complex concatenation of environment, role models, and education is, as usual, under suspicion." A suggestion: relate the increase in narcissism levels to the decrease in Jesus-values such as compassion and love and (!!!) servanthood. See the ongoing work of Notre Dame's Christian Smith, especially his writing on the prevailing adolescent religion of non-choice - Moralistic Therapeutic Deism. (MTD)
  • Meanwhile, while Smith and I explore the connections of MTD with America's bloated psychopathic narcissism, others are conducting brain studies. Reading, for example, can help defeat psychopathic narcissism. "Reading a book carves brand-new neural pathways into the ancient cortical bedrock of our brains. It transforms the way we see the world—makes us, as Nicholas Carr puts it in his recent essay, "The Dreams of Readers," "more alert to the inner lives of others." We become vampires without being bitten—in other words, more empathic. Books make us see in a way that casual immersion in the Internet, and the quicksilver virtual world it offers, doesn't."
  • Ahhh... but there's a problem. No one reads books anymore. "Which is worrisome, to say the least, given the current slump in reading habits."
  • Dutton briefly notes that certain psychopathic traits can be constructive. And then he submits to a neural test using something called Transcranial Magnetic Stimulation (TMS) to simulate the experience of being psychopathic. I found this section interesting but not helpful. We just enter (maybe) into a psychopath's brain and experience. OK.
Dutton tells us how bad things are, compassion-wise. Then he tries to show us, internally, what that feels like. And leaves us with no answers except "read some books."