You don't have to be a sociopath: Is evil a matter of personality or a condition of society?

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Date: Mar. 5, 2021
From: TLS. Times Literary Supplement(Issue 6153)
Publisher: NI Syndication Limited
Document Type: Book review
Length: 2,831 words
Lexile Measure: 1310L

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Human rights crimes and the road to justice


224pp. Georgetown University Press.

22.50 [pounds sterling] (US $29.95).

PONEROLOGY, derived from the Greek poneros, is the study of evil. "Political ponerology" was coined by Andrew M. tobaczewski and extends the theory to the genesis of "evil" political structures. tobaczewski was born in Poland in 1921, and after the Nazi invasion he joined the resistance. Following the war, he conducted studies in psychiatry, collaborating with academics in Poland, Czechoslovakia and Hungary to compile a body of work on "political evil" that was suppressed by the very system it critiqued. The original manuscript collating this research was hurled into the furnace moments before the secret police arrived on a raid. A second edition was smuggled to the Vatican of Pope Paul VI but went "missing". By 1984 Lobaczewski was the last of the main contributors, and he compiled what he could into another manuscript which was again suppressed. Finally, in 2006, it was published as Political Ponerology--two years before Lobaczewski died.

Lobaczewski coined another term, "pathocracy", for a form of government in which individuals with personality disorders--particularly "Anti-Social Personality Disorder" (ASPD), or sociopathy--tend to occupy key positions. He suggested that these sociopathic individuals actively seek to create a totalitarian system by infiltrating the power structures, infusing a coded language of disdain into the mainstream, and gradually constructing a genus of morality (some might call it "anti-morality") to take the place of existing norms. "Inherited and acquired psychological disorders and ignorance of their existence and nature are the primal causes of evil", tobaczewski wrote. "The magic number of six percent seems to represent the number of humans who either carry the genes responsible for biological evil, or who acquire such disorders in the course of their lifetime." This small percentage, he claimed, was "responsible for the vast majority of human misery and crime, and for infecting others with their flawed view of the world".

This--and indeed the entire theory of evil--is clearly the stuff of nonsense. It is one thing to disdain a dreadful act; another to posit that there is an "evil gene". If there is a line that protects a progressive society from the totalitarianism that Lobaczewski despised, it is the refusal to vilify individuals and groups with the tag of "evil". And that principle must be applied to today's dictators and populists masquerading as democrats as much as to anybody else.

Nevertheless, ASPD is deemed by some to be a legitimate "diagnosis" and it forms the basis for a useful discussion. It is true, for example, that the failure to obey laws is one of many alternative diagnostic criteria of ASPD in the Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders (5th edition). However, the many alternatives include "lying, deception, and manipulation, for profit or self-amusement"; "impulsive behavior"; "blatantly disregarding the safety of self and others"; and a "pattern of irresponsibility". Overall, sociopathic individuals are said to be:

arrogant and self-centered, and feel privileged and entitled. They...

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Gale Document Number: GALE|A654778355