March 13, 2007
"Sociopath." Professional diagnosis or political insult?
Whenever two people I greatly respect disagree with each other, I tend to pay attention. And thus I am unable to ignore the ongoing debate between Dr. Helen and Ann Althouse over the correct definition and usage of the term "sociopath."
As I think both are honestly concerned with what the term means (and neither seems to be debating for the sake of winning a debate) this may shed some important light on the definition of "sociopath" -- and perhaps on the growing trend of turning political disagreements into psychiatric diagnoses.
Some of the Althouse commenters have launched ad hominem attacks against Dr. Helen, which I find at least as annoying as the casual use of the term "sociopath" to label people you disagree with.
Of course, there's a Catch-22 in this. (Um, maybe it's a Scylla versus Charybdis.) If someone calls you a sociopath, and you freak out, you run the risk of being labeled as neurotically insecure and unable to handle criticism. Which is why Dr. Helen advises learning how to get rejected -- over and over again!
Short of trying to shop a book around or engage in freelance political lobbying without any training or help, the best way to do that is to start a blog.
On the other hand, if you don't care about being called a sociopath, why, you might be a sociopath! That's because, according to the Althouse view, the toughening process could lead one to become a sociopath:
I think that maybe some people could come out well at the end of getting "rejected over and over and over" until the reach the stage where they don't "give a shit," but that this also sounds like a description of a sociopath!Naturally, I find this fascinating, and I don't know whether to take it personally or not.
I left the following comment:
After writing a post critical of her, I was "diagnosed" as a sociopath by a Pandagon's Amanda Marcotte (a woman I don't think is a licensed psychologist).The Marcotte diagnosis is here. Should I care more? Or should I care less? Am I supposed to care about whether I should care, or am I a sociopath for posing these questions?
I'm wondering about the "Althouse principle" (I'm using the term loosely) that the more you're insulted, the more sociopathic you become. Might we be confusing a personality that has developed hardened calluses with a personality that was uncaring to begin with?
I'm not a psychologist. All I can do is look at Wikipedia. I'm not qualified to psychoanalyze myself, but I don't think I have enough of the traits to fit the diagnosis. (For starters, I'm too much of a damned bleeding heart, and I really can't stand to hurt people. I hope that doesn't mean I should develop a thicker skin so I can run for president or something....)
Anyway, a lot of people are casually called sociopaths for political reasons. Last week I wrote about the attacks on Glenn Reynolds which called him exactly that. Use a word like that enough, and it will become overwrought like "racist" and it will not only lose its sting, but it will have no meaning. Then eventually everyone gets to be a sociopath for at least fifteen minutes -- to be added to their fifteen minutes of Hitlerdom. And what will the real sociopaths be called?
Who gets to diagnose? Well, psychologists and psychiatrists at least have some training in these matters. Certainly more than Glenn Greenwald, or Amanda Marcotte, or me, or Ann Althouse. Lawyers, by the nature of their training, are qualified to opine on matters such as whether someone has a valid cause of action for breach of contract, but (absent additional training) a law degree does not entitle them to any credibility in psychology or psychiatry.
I understand Ann Althouse's concerns, but I think her view of sociopathy might be based more on practical experience with ordinary manipulative assholes than clinical experience in diagnosing them. The term "sociopath" is becoming a lay descriptor for a host of unattractive personality types (if not a garden variety insult), and it shouldn't be.
While I've called plenty of people sociopaths too, and I'm hardly innocent, that doesn't mean this medicalized insulting is a good thing. I mean, if you're a sociopath for believing we need to tough it out in Iraq, then what does that make Charles Manson?
Until "sociopath" degenerates into being a plain old insult, I'm inclined to side with Dr. Helen on this one. I'd like the term to mean something.
posted by Eric on 03.13.07 at 06:36 PM
Search the Site
Classics To Go
See more archives here
Old (Blogspot) archives
A knee sock jihad might be premature at this time
People Are Not Rational
No Biorobots For Japan
The Thorium Solution
Radiation Detector From A Digital Camera
This war of attrition is driving me bananas!
Attacking Christianity is one thing, but must they butcher geometry?
Are there trashy distinctions in freedom of expression?
Please Don't Let Me Be Misunderstood