a babe, by intercourse of touch
I held mute dialogues with my mother’s heart
A human being is something that evokes feelings in another human being. This fact can serve as our most basic definition of what a human being is. Research in psychology is showing how the mute emotional dialogues with our mothers’ and fathers’ hearts, which Wordsworth describes in his epic poem Prelude, are the very process that moulds the tone and structure of our minds. From our earliest days, to perceive others’ feelings is to react with feelings of our own. Infants only a few weeks old react to joy in their mother’s face with increased joy of their own; they react to sadness in their mother’s face by becoming sad and subdued themselves; they react to anger with anger of their own. These emotional dialogues mean that, as infants, we quickly learn that the difference between people and things is that things do not engage with us in emotional communication.
However for some people the vital distinction between the world of people and the world of things fails to develop. Such people, those with psychopathic personalities, are not capable of reacting to other people’s feelings with feelings of their own. As a result, psychopaths have a terrifying ability to treat people without conscience. And what happens when human beings act towards others as if they were not people but things? The disturbing answer lies in the mindlessly violent behaviour of psychopaths.
My book Imperfect Design concerns itself with three types of personality disorder, each of which carries a higher propensity for violence and greed. The first of these is the psychopathic personality described above. Psychopaths differ from normal people in that they lack the ability to relate emotionally to others. As a consequence, they have a terrifying ability to treat others not as human beings but as things to be exploited, tortured or killed, as they see fit.
A second dangerous personality disorder is narcissistic personality disorder. People with this disorder are psychologically incapable of seeing others as their equal. Their personality structure is such that in every encounter they have to assert their self-perceived superiority.
A third dangerous personality disorder is paranoid personality disorder. Just as narcissists are only capable of perceiving others as inferior, people with paranoid personality disorder are only capable of seeing others as a threat. People with this disorder live in a constant state of hyper-attentiveness, searching for crises at every turn. And if such crises do not materialise, they are masters at creating them.
People with these disorders make up around five per cent of the population. Their ruthlessness, self-assurance, and often charm, mean that they more readily acquire positions of authority than people with normal psychologies. In abnormal conditions, such as social unrest and violence, their personalities become an asset that enables them to seize power over organisations, communities and nations.
Read excerpts from Chapter 2 here.