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Raised by Wolves

Gaki: writing myself Real

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The Psychopathology of Heroism

Originally published at Chamber . You can comment here or there.

In honor of Dexter Season 4, here is an article by Andrea Kuszewski on the psychological similarities between heroes and sociopaths.

It’s a favorite theme of mine, when it comes to heroes and superheroes. What kind of person does it take to construct a secret identity, and sneak out at night to commit acts of vigilante justice?

We all have our heroes, we all have our gods, large and small. But each of us sees them in different ways, and in different places. But if we all perceive heroism differently — what, then, is a hero? Who are your heroes — and why?

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One Man's Hero is Another's Villain

It's a rather problematic conundrum. Even the article tried to gloss over the finer points of what defines "intention" and "empathy." Poor impulse control, by definition isn't a well-reasoned mechanism for action. Measuring then the intent or empathy involved in a given action becomes extremely subjective. In fact, you have to ask the person who performed the action. And since they are either--as this article proposed--the X-altruist or the sociopath, the source of these subjective givens is highly suspect.

The writer also did not address the consequences of actions as part of the means-to-an-end equation she had loosely established in her evaluations of the differences between the X-altruist's actions and the sociopath's actions. For example, she said the sociopath may donate large sums of money for good causes, but that due to doing it for selfish reasons of looking better, their behavior falls on the sociopathic side of the scale. First, I would argue that that is not a good example of an extreme action when compared to running into a burning building. Second, the establishing of intent as a means to measure empathy in that instance would be impossible.

I'm afraid I'm Grecian on this issue. Intent and empathy are moot. It is the action itself that marks the person.

What is the difference then between the sociopath and the X-altruist?

Less than we'd all like to believe.

It really entirely depends on what the impulse drives them to do at any given moment. And really, all you can do is just hope it ends up being for your own "greater good."

At the end of the day, this makes "heros" more fascinating to me, because they are still human and mutable. Nothing is more boring than to read about some inhuman "X-altruist"--for whom some well-intended author has prescribed a noble set of intentions and impossible levels of empathy--and by the same token the villain who is evil for evil's sake is just as uninteresting.

People do things. For a myriad of immeasurable reasons. Whether they are heros or villains depends on where I am in the story.

Which most days, I pretty much hope is out of their way.

Re: One Man's Hero is Another's Villain

Indeed; it's a massive fail to take the debate into realms of ethics, for as you say, measuring intent is a doomed enterprise. Ethically speaking, yes, I would say that we should judge based on actions, not words. Someone stuck in a burning building does not really give two shits about the moral imperatives of their rescuer.

But I'm loathe to say "it's all relative," lest I be trapped into saying that all sociopaths might as well be heroes, or some such. More interesting territory comes from figuring out "where you are in the story," i.e. - what IS a hero to you? What role do they fulfill, and why are they so important (or irrelevant)?

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