Psychopaths and Testosterone

This article on the neuroscience of trust raises some interesting questions regarding testosterone and psychopathic behaviour. One of the key characteristics of psychopaths is their lack of empathy which, as it turns out, is also a side-effect of high testosterone:

High testosterone convinces the brain that others find you desirable and socially powerful. It also inhibits the brain’s release of oxytocin, reducing empathy and the desire to collaborate. What’s more, testosterone’s aggression is contagious, inhibiting oxytocin and trust in team members. 

In my book “The Psychopath Economy”, I don’t get much into what makes people psychopaths, I just assume they do, and will always, exist. But this article made me do some further reading on the link between psychopaths and testosterone. At least one study in the last decade concluded that “psychopathy scores were associated with an increased ratio of testosterone (baseline) to cortisol responsivity to a stressor. Psychopathy was not associated with either of these measures independently, or with baseline cortisol levels. These findings suggest that these highly interconnected hormone systems may work in concert to predispose to psychopathy.”

Both testosterone and cortisol play a role in our appetites for risk, which tend to be high in psychopaths.

Another recent study looking at emotional control found that “people with psychopathy, and especially in patients with high endogenous testosterone levels” demonstrated “significantly less activity in the prefrontal brain regions and less communication between the prefrontal brain and the amygdala was observed”.

I wonder if, in addition to making organisation leaders sit the PCL-R (the standard psychiatric psychopathy test), we could also have them sit for testosterone and cortisol tests?

Psychopaths and Modern Slavery

Four Corners has a story about slavery in our supply chain. Do Western manufacturers know (or care) about the practices of their supply chain? Should Western governments do something about it? According to Four Corners the Australian government recently passed something called The Modern Slavery Act 2018, which “requires businesses of a certain size to report their efforts to keep their supply chains slavery-free”. Unfortunately, the government “has the power to publicly name those that fail to comply, but not to fine or penalise them in other ways. It is hoped fear of shaming will be enough incentive to avoid the reputational, financial and other risks that might arise from public scrutiny.” The problem with shaming is that psychopaths (and, by extension, the companies they run), are pretty impervious to shame. All they care about is winning. They don’t give a shit what you think about them.

Why would the government not put throw-the-book-at-them penalties in place for slavery in the supply chain?

According to “an estimated 25 million people around the world are in forced labour” and it generates US$150 billion in profits for the private economy every year.

That’s Capitalism in action, folks.

Boiling The Frog

I was just thinking this morning that Donald Trump has been POTUS for 2 years and 172 days (6 hours, 42 minutes and 40 seconds but who’s counting?). I remember when people said he would be impeached within his first year. Some said six months. I personally thought he would quit when he realised there was work involved. We were all wrong.

So roughly two-and-a-half years. I was wondering what Germany looked like two-and-a-half years into Hitler’s regime? Say, around 1936? The Nuremberg Laws had been passed in 1935 but weren’t implemented until after the the 1936 Summer Olympics were held in Berlin. While there was some debate around the world about boycotting it, the only countries not to attend were Spain and the Soviet Union.

It feels like Trump has slowly become normalised. I stopped paying much attention a long time ago. My wife, an American, stopped paying attention almost as soon as he was elected. She was just too disgusted to get sucked up into it.

Trump is probably a narcissistic psychopath. But are fascists psychopaths? Jon Ronson doesn’t seem to think so but I disagree. Ronson says psychopaths don’t tend to believe in anything except themselves, and I agree. But I think they also look for organisation and institutions that will help them to get access to the power they crave. They don’t truly believe in any creed or philosophy. But they are willing to commit acts of violence to get what they want – and fascism is inherently pro-violence, which makes it the perfect landing place for psychopaths.

As Stanley Payne writes in his history of fascism:

“The only unique feature of the fascist relationship to violence was the theoretical evaluation by many fascist movements that violence possessed a certain positive and therapeutic value in and of itself, that a certain amount of continuing violent struggle, along the lines of Sorelianism and extreme Social Darwinism, was necessary for the health of national society.”

There hasn’t yet been a dramatic rise of state-sanctioned violence in the US (and crime itself is at historic lows, as it is in most developed countries) but hate groups are on the rise and at an all-time high (although they were nearly as high a few years into Obama’s first term), according to some sources. There’s no official paramilitary support for his rule, although he does claim to have “the support of the police, the support of the military, the support of the Bikers for Trump – I have the tough people”. And over the last couple of years, a number of GOP organisations have invited white supremacist groups to provide “security” at their events, and of course there was the infamous Unite The Right rally. The combination of authoritarian leaders and armed militias has never been healthy for a democracy.

However, around the world, including here in Australia, we’ve been seeing the gradual normalisation of cruelty, usually focused on the poorest and weakest people, immigrants fleeing failed states, and usually carried out by people who claim to be Christian.

The increasing cruelty and violence should worry us, but like the old ‘boiling the frog’ story, we will probably just normalise it.

As Fintan O’Toole pointed out, fascism usually grows slowly over time, using “test marketing” to see how much they can get away with:

Fascism doesn’t arise suddenly in an existing democracy. It is not easy to get people to give up their ideas of freedom and civility. You have to do trial runs that, if they are done well, serve two purposes. They get people used to something they may initially recoil from; and they allow you to refine and calibrate. This is what is happening now and we would be fools not to see it.

Handling Difficult People the Three Illusions Way

How do you handle people in your life who are being a pain in the ass?

Well, for a start, we know that we have no free will. So we’re going to handle them however our current neural state handles them. Our neural state is the current structure of our brain, the way our memories, experiences and genetic pre-dispositions have been encoded in the synapses and chemicals of our brains.

However, something you read or hear today can change that neural state for tomorrow. The brain it plastic. It changes over time with every new experience or insight.

So – we know we have no free will. We also know that the other person has no free will. They are behaving exactly as they have to, based on their own neural state. They are an actor on a stage, forced to read certain lines, to play a certain part. And it’s hard to stay angry at someone who has no control over their actions. You can’t be angry at the sky for being covered in rain clouds. You can’t be angry at tree for shedding its leaves during winter. And you can’t be angry at a person for obeying their nature. It’s like the old story of the scorpion and the frog (Google it if you don’t know it, and try to find the version told by Orson Welles).

If someone is acting badly towards you, it often means they aren’t happy. Happy people, with healthy self-esteems, usually don’t treat others badly. They try to build the people around them up, make them feel good about themselves. They lift people up, they don’t knock them down. So if the person treating you badly is unhappy and doesn’t have any control over their behaviour, they are probably upsetting more people around them than just you, which, in turn, makes those people dislike them, which makes them feel worse about themselves – and the cycle continues.

So when someone is lashing out at me, I normally feel sorry for them.

On top of that, we also know that the concept of “identity” is problematic. We have realised that there isn’t a “me”, a distinct collection of atoms that is separate from the rest of the universe. So when someone is being mean to me, who, in fact, are they being mean to? They are being mean to the universe, to themselves. Now – do you think the universe cares? Does someone on the other side of the planet care what this person thinks, says or does? Does a tree care? Does a dog? No? Then why should I care?

They can’t be attacking “me”, because there is no “me” to attack. As Bob would say, there is no “reference point”. It’s like water off a duck’s back. Insults and attacks slide right off. The hardest problem I have when being insulted is to fight back a smile, which itself is unkind and can make the other person feel worse. But it’s actually quite amusing when someone exposes their pain and anger so openly by turning it on someone else. Not that the fact that they are hurting is at all funny, but just that their behaviour is so transparent and immature. It’s like when my five year old gets angry about something and tells me that he’s the boss of the house. His defiance is hilarious but if he sees me smiling, he gets even angrier. It’s the same with mean people. They can be unintentionally funny. So try not to smile. Even when it’s blaringly obvious that their anger towards you is an indication of their own issues.

So, once we understand that we shouldn’t take their insults and attacks personally, how should we handle the situation?

Usually I’ll try to think about what they need from me at that moment. My goal is to initially defuse the situation, then try to turn into something positive, where there are no winners or losers. But that’s hard to do, even with the Three Illusions, because our brains are designed with a “fight or flight” response to threatening situations. When we are being attacked, our subconscious defense mechanisms kick into gear – adrenaline courses through our veins, and our conditioning kicks in. Even after 30 years of completely accepting that I don’t exist as a “me”, my F/F system still kicks in from time to time. But it gets nipped in the bud pretty quickly as my post-Three Illusions wiring kicks in. After a few seconds to a few minutes, I’m usually thinking about how to defuse the situation so it doesn’t escalate. And I’m still not great at this part of it. My instinctive response is to think “I don’t exist, they don’t exist, this is all just a story going on in my head, it’s all just atoms” and to disengage. Which honestly probably isn’t the best way of handling these situations. So I’m trying to get better at it.

People’s egos usually want to be assuaged and they want to be heard. So it’s helpful to say something like “I see where you’re coming from, let me think about it some more and come back to you with a more thoughtful response. Can we park this issue for now and talk about it more later?”

Buying some time for both parties to calm down.

The important thing is that I’m not left with any anger, resentment or anxiety over the confrontation, because I know neither of us has any free will and I feel empathy for the person who is attacking me. This helps me think about what the other person needs from me and how to create a positive outcome for everyone.

The Voight-Kampff Test

On average, about one percent of the population rank highly on the psychopath test. But there are certain kinds of organisations that have a higher percentage, they seem to attract psychopaths like poop attracts flies – the military, the police, politics, religion, finance. It makes sense – they are all industries that provide ready access to power over others, one of the things psychopaths crave. Psychopathic cultures occur when a lack of institutional checks and balances allow psychopaths in power to hire other psychopaths.

It looks like this is another sector that might be thick with them.

Day to Day with the Three Illusions

What is the day to day experience of something who understands the Three Illusions? 

This is really what people often want to know. How would my life be different if I investing time and energy into understanding this? Is it a profound-enough difference to justify the investment? Or will it turn out to be a waste of time and energy because it’s either ultimately meaningless in terms of reducing my emotional pain, or it will be too difficult for me to absorb and I’ll quit it like I’ve quit other things before, without experiencing much of a return on my investment? 

I’ll attempt to answer the first question first. 

My day to day experience is much like yours in most ways. I wake up, have a coffee, greet my wife and youngest child, and eventually go about my day – work, play, phone calls, emails, writing, recording, research. Most of it is inherently enjoyable. Some is not. After work, I play with my youngest child, have dinner with the family, get the kid to bed, then go back to work, while my wife usually sits beside me, doing her own work, reading or watching a show. Then we retire to bed, go to sleep to start again. 
What may be different from you is that, in my life, there is no stress. No anxiety. No fear about the future. No guilt, no resentment, no anger lasting more than a moment. No feelings of self-hatred,  no emotional or psychological pain. 

I’m completely at peace with the world around me and my place in it. And that peace has lasted for 30 years. 

Why is there such peace? 

That’s what understanding the Three Illusions provides. 

Understanding the illusion of free will means I know that every single action that I have done, or will ever do, was/is 100% determined by forces beyond any control. This means I can’t feel guilt at my past actions because they had to happen exactly as they did. I can still feel regret that things happened that way – as in, if I could have designed the perfect universe, I would have made things happen differently, either because of the impact of my actions on myself or on others. However, I know that things had to happen as they did, because free will doens’t exist, never did exist, cannot possible exist, and so I fully accept all of my past, present and future actions, just as I fully accept the actions of those around me. This removes anger and resentment from my life, because how can I resent someone who did exactly what they had to do? 

Understanding the illusion of time means I don’t worry about the future because I know that everything that will happen in the future is already happening right now. I know that “time is relative” – as in our experience of time is relative to our position in space-time and that the prevaling view of physics is that all of time co-exists with the present moment. Everything that has ever happened or will ever happening co-exists with right now. Which means the future is set in stone. It’s already happened. We just have to catch up to it. And so I accept the future as a foregone conclusion, which prevents me from worrying about it. It’s like watching the first episode of a TV show after the series has already gone to air. I don’t worry about how the characters will end up, because there is absolutely nothing I can do about it. Worry is an activity that is tied to the idea of being able to change future events and the concept that there might be multiple ways things can turn out. Of course, if it’s already happened, there is only ONE way it can turn out and we can have zero impact on that – so worrying about it is meaningless. 

Finally, understanding the illusion of identity means I fully accept that “Cameron” is an illusion of the senses and that the reality is that “what I am” is merely the entire Universe – and that this is also true of everyone else, and every THING else. Things that appear to happen to “Cameron” has a little importance to me as things happening right now on the surface of Mars, or things that happened last week in my favourite television show. They are interesting to watch and I might laugh or cry along with them. Last night, for example, I teared up at an episode of 30 Rock. I’m not even kidding. But I know the characters and their situations aren’t real. They are a contrivance, manufactured, and they have exactly as much reality as I give them. I can laugh and cry at them in one moment, then turn the TV off and forget all about their trials and tribulations. 

All of this means that life is experience without any significant psychological or emotional pain. All events are greeted with the same level of anticipation and essential happiness. We accept everything that happens as being necessary to the story. Life becomes a breeze. 
As for the second question – this isn’t hard to understand. The only questions is whether or not you can accept it. Quite often people will say “I get it, it’s hard to argue with, but I just can’t seem to accept it.” 
But I can explain it in a few seconds:

Decisions are thoughts. Thoughts are properties of the brain. The brain is made of atoms. Atoms obey the laws of physics. Therefore all decisions are the result of atoms obeying the laws of physics. Therefore there can be no “free will”.  Einstein explained that time and space are dimensions of the same construct. That’s why we call it “space-time”. And, as all points in space co-exist, therefore all points in time must also co-exist. Therefore the future has already happened.  The atoms that make up your body are billions of years old. Most of the atoms that made up your body 10 years ago are today something else. The atoms that are you today, were something else 10 years ago. The atoms that will be you 10 years from now are currently something else. Which atoms are you? If we could put on magic glasses that allowed us to see at sub-atomic levels, we would notice (according to quantum mechanics) that atoms don’t have a hard shell. Their outer shell is made of electrons which, most of the time, exist either as a wave function and/or a probability cloud (in QM speak:  a wave function from which a probability distribution of the location of an electron upon measurement can be inferred). So the electron “shells” of your atoms cross over with the “shells” of other atoms – in the air around you, the furniture you are sitting on, the people around you. Therefore all things literally blend into one another, and all of these things are the “body” of the universe. We are the universe experiencing itself. 

That’s the essence of the Three Illusions. Grasp this and you will live a life free of psychological and emotional pain. It really is that simple. 

For more on The Three Illusions, check out the podcast or book.