Are We Raising a Generation of Sociopaths?

Four young people tortured a special needs man and created a Facebook Live video of it in Chicago this week. They were charged with a hate crime, felony aggravated kidnaping, aggravated unlawful restraint and aggravated battery with a deadly weapon. This event, like the majority of all violence, was committed between acquaintances. The victim considered one of the assailants a friend, whom he knew from school. They had plans to spend New Year’s Eve together. The judge denied them bond and asked “I’m wondering – where was the sense of decency that each of you should have had?” The perpetrators were said to lack signs of remorse in court.

We don’t know why they tortured him, but there are clues. They asked for a ransom from the victim’s mother in exchange for getting her son back. The young woman who created the video wants attention. She repeatedly turns the camera back to herself and made a statement that indicates dismay at not getting more online attention. Social media provides opportunities to be “important.” And they made statements that denigrated Trump and white people. This is labeled a hate crime because the victim has impaired mental capacity. The victim suffers from schizophrenia and ADD. The victim is white; the suspects are African-American.

One therapist stated that she was very disturbed by the attack that was videotaped on Facebook. She asked “Are we raising a generation of sociopaths?” Unfortunately, the answer for many is yes. Many believe that American culture has become a breeding ground for sociopaths. Society can contribute to why a personal takes on antisocial tendencies.

Sociopaths don’t necessarily have a malicious intent to harm people. But they do have a shallow capacity to have feelings of warmth and connection with others therefore they can treat others as objects. The outcome may be malicious.

Are sociopaths born that way? Yes, 50% of the cause of sociopathy is inherited. The remaining percentage is a mix of environmental factors. Martha Stout, in her book The Sociopath Next Door, states that four percent of ordinary people are a sociopath. That’s one in twenty five people. What are the chances of four sociopaths gathering to commit this act of terror on a disabled man? I would doubt that all four can be clinically diagnosed as a sociopath. Or, perhaps the four of them fall along the spectrum of sociopathy to different degrees. They were influenced by their environment, and influenced each other on the date of the assault.

Here’s the thing about sociopaths and empathy – they don’t always lack empathy. Therefore, they are not easy to spot. Interestingly, they can turn it on and off, like a light switch. Research suggests that sociopaths can feel empathy when directed to put themselves in the shoes of someone else. There is disagreement on whether a sociopath can be trained to be empathic. Can a sociopath summon empathy more often than not, at the right time, and in the right situation so that they don’t harm another person?

Sociopaths have existed in all cultures throughout history but some cultures contain fewer sociopaths than others. It is relatively rare in Asian countries. It seems to be increasing in America because our society allows and encourages individualism and personal control as a central value. Other cultures may value interdependence and connectedness which may serve to keep sociopathic behavior in check. Some say that a North American family cannot by itself redeem a born sociopath. There are too many other cultural influences that support and reinforce sociopathic behavior.

Based upon their words and behavior, these four assailants value power, control and dominance. They have no regard for social rules of decency. Sociopaths thrive within a community that values these attitudes. I recommend that we, as Americans, examine our core values and call out our highest and best behavior and nurture this in our young people.

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