It seems reasonable to assert that, as society develops in more complex directions, we (or, ‘Selves’), as the individual components of a society, will also experience development. Ideally, over the course of the centuries, humans should progress in reflection of our developing societies; and we should also reflect those values that our societies hold dear. The 21st century man ought not to share identical values with his 10th century forebears; as our cultures gradually evolve, so, too, should the self-conceptions of the people that comprise and exist within those cultures. We can all witness this tendency first-hand simply by comparing our values to those of our parents, or grandparents, and seeing how subtle changes in value have arisen over the generations due to cultural shifts. This would mean, then, that the most highly developed selves are those which best reflect, and are most able to act, in a manner befitting the values of society. The values our society seems (on the surface) to champion are those of altruistic behaviour; I, however, will argue that in truth society values (by reward) those who seek, attain, and maintain power; that is the capacity to produce or prevent changes.
The question being addressed in this paper is whether we ought to consider certain individuals with strong antisocial behavioural traits and high-self control ‘well-developed selves’.
This question will naturally require some detailed definitions and descriptions of the terms being used; in particular, I will focus upon the criterion required in order to constitute a ‘well-developed self’. My criteria for a ‘well-developed self’ will differ substantially from popular opinion and reflect a more egoistic standard of self than we are typically used to. As can be surmised by a brief reflection on our conventional concepts of ‘self-development’, the separate terms ‘antisocial behavioural traits’ and ‘self-development’ do not typically correlate very positively. Many philosophers are of the opinion that ‘self-development’ is largely measured by moral development and the exhibition of virtuous behaviour; from this point of view the epitome of human development is to be altruistic. In arguing with this view I will incorporate the self-development criteria of my fellow immoralists, Friedrich Nietzsche and Niccolò Machiavelli, and thus make a case for egoism as the epitome of human development.
My group of interest in this argument is individuals that exhibit strong antisocial traits: such as—superficial charm, manipulation, being quick to boredom, impulsiveness, lack of both remorse and empathy, aggression and egotism, egocentrism, and hedonism; yet who also possess a high degree of self-control with which to rein in these otherwise detrimental characteristics. In order to avoid the complications of interpretation, I will be using the umbrella term ‘Antisocial Personality Disorder’(ASPD) in place of either ‘psychopath’ or ‘sociopath’; I believe that this more accurately captures the general behaviour patterns of the varied individuals that this paper will be discussing. Many psychiatrists, in fact, prefer to use this larger designation when studying criminal psychology since the overlapping characteristics between sociopaths and psychopaths often makes it difficult to decide to which group a particular individual belongs. In short, these are not the sorts of characters that we typically think of as ‘well developed’; yet, I will argue that, by combining strong self-control and the traits inherent to the individual with ASPD, we are left with people whose individual selves are much more complex, advanced, and highly developed than your average human being.
This is a very select and rare group of individuals; they are by no means typical of all people with ASPD and they are certainly not typical of the general population. These individuals are also very difficult to pick out from unaffected people because of the extreme measures they take to assure that others do not discover their true natures. In fact, for individuals with ASPD, the continued secrecy of their condition is tantamount to their success in social settings due to the negative connotations ascribed to ASPD. All of this, hence, makes it very tricky to spot or identify such a person; and, often, we go unaware of them until either they are found out by the law or they give themselves away…of course, those with the highest degrees of self-control may never be found out as they are always able to camouflage their self-interested intentions. Some examples of famous names that leap to mind are Ted Kaczynski (the Unabomber), Charles Manson (the cult leader), and Bernie Madoff (the Ponzi schemer); while all three were eventually caught, they provide a template for precisely the sorts of people in question: intelligent, ambitious, disciplined, and, most of all, careful enough to have almost gotten away. These are not, perhaps, the best examples (since the best examples usually go undetected and thus cannot be used as examples) but they are intended to portray general tendencies in the character of an individual with ASPD. All three of these men are widely known of, though, because they were not secretive enough; their crimes grew beyond their control until they were eventually discovered and brought to the justice of the courts.
Perhaps it will be more useful to mention a character that is typically seen as heroic to better explain my concept; Achilles, one of the best known heroes of Greek mythology, in fact portrays the traits of just the sort of person I have in mind. Brave, brilliant, and well loved by his countrymen, he also repeatedly exemplifies the ideal of the self-interested man by seeking power and glory at the expense of anyone that crosses his path. This tendency towards egoism is shown in The Iliad when he is offered the choice between a long peaceful life, or a short, brutal, and eternally glorious life, by the Gods; in the end, he chooses power and glory, yet his legacy of heroism continues to this day in spite of his less-than-wholesome persona. We can see an example of Achilles’ true nature in his treatment of Hector: as Hector begs for honour in death, Achilles tells him “my rage, my fury would drive me now to hack your flesh away and eat you raw – such agonies you have caused me”, again showing the prevalence of egoism over altruism in one of the most celebrated characters of all time. Indeed, the Greeks were well aware of the dark side of human nature, as can be seen by Theophastrus’ “unscrupulous man”:
“The Unscrupulous Man will go and borrow more money from a creditor he has never paid…When marketing he reminds the butcher of some service he has rendered him and, standing near the scales, throws in some meat, if he can, and a soup-bone. If he succeeds, so much the better; if not he will snatch a piece of tripe and go off laughing.”
This anecdote is reminiscent of the traits that occur in a small, yet very impactful, portion of society, estimated to naturally vary between about 3-5 percent of the general population, yet reaching as high as 50-75 percent for convicted and incarcerated criminals: individuals with ASPD. In this sense, the most successful individuals with ASPD are unknown—they are outwardly no different from any regular human being and their true identities are hidden from even those that know them best.
By no means am I making the argument that only individuals with ASPD fit my criteria for a ‘well-developed self’. Instead, I am making the argument that individuals with ASPD and high self-control are more naturally prone to fitting my criteria for a ‘well-developed self’ (and therefore are considered the most ‘well-developed selves’) because of their intensely selfish behaviour. The main focus of this paper will be upon the conditions required in order to consider a person a ‘well-developed self’. In attempting to differentiate this sort of development from the typical concept of self-development as virtue, I will designate the four main components of my concept of a ‘well-developed self’. These are:
–consciousness and self awareness,
–individuality and personal characteristics,
–autonomous decision making,
–and, finally, agency and intentionality.
I argue that a self is that which distinguishes us as individuals both from each other, and from our environment; these components come together to form the aggregate self and that self is considered ‘well developed’ if the four components are each an integral part of the individual’s identity. As can be seen, these components make no positive or negative allusions to moral behaviour; they merely create a loose description of what constitutes a self. A ‘well-developed self’ in this reading also makes no direct allusions to moral behaviour; it simply relies upon an individual’s concepts of self and a strong sense of possessing a self. The implications for morality, instead, come out of how possessing a ‘well-developed self’ permits us to act in self-interested ways in order to fully realize our selves’ innate potentials.
By focusing so much of their attentions back upon themselves, these sorts of people can be said to have a much greater ‘sense of self’ or ‘self-awareness’ and therefore there is a greater potential to fully realize their selves and their innate tendencies. When these innate tendencies are combined with strong abilities of self-control, the individual is able to develop those characteristics that will help them most in the world; these are traits such as charisma, risk-taking, lying, manipulation, promiscuity, and, most of all, a disregard for the emotions of others. By ignoring the conventional moral standards of society, a ‘well-developed self’ can actively carve out his own standards of morality. This new conception of self-derived value, in combination with the innate tendencies of self-controlling individuals with ASPD, is certainly better suited to a society that functions according to ‘power ethics’. It is of the utmost importance to realize that, in order to exert control over one’s surroundings, we must first of all be able to control ourselves; this, though, does not necessarily entail curbing our desires. Rather, we must be able to enact our desires in a controlled manner in order to not have them discovered by others.
Whether Nietzsche and Machiavelli would agree with my concept of a ‘well-developed self’ or not is uncertain; they do, however, both present their own ideas and arguments for why conventional ideas of virtue are not an adequate measure of a person’s self-development. In On The Genealogy of Morals, Nietzsche complains of an outdated emphasis on ‘good’ and ‘evil’ and sets about deconstructing our conventional views of morality. Nietzsche’s point of deliberation was meant to reflect what he saw as a ‘narrow sense’ of morality, and thus called ‘herd morality’ after the narrow view of the world available to cattle or sheep. Similar to the concept of ‘blind faith’ as accepting the teachings of others without question, this term is meant to show the heteronomous nature of conventional morality. This ‘herd morality’ claim holds that conventional morality is composed of several distinct aspects that can each be traced back to pre-moral sources. For Nietzsche, the three main strands of morality are the good (in the sense of virtue), the right (or duty), and a general understanding of value. On the surface these all seem to point towards altruism as the culmination of morality; yet, Nietzsche believed that by disseminating each strand into their pre-moral sources we would find that each strand of morality is actually derived from egoistic motivations.
The ‘good’ and ‘virtuous’, he claimed, were relics of the ancient aristocracies. These were the terms the upper classes used to describe themselves. ‘Bad’ and ‘common’, then, were the descriptions ascribed to the lower classes; though, this held no connotation of judgement or blameworthiness as to their characters—it was merely a method of differentiating the high and low born segments of society. In Nietzsche’s conception, these basic distinctions were corrupted by the priestly classes that became jealous of the power held by the aristocracy; the terms ‘good’ and ‘virtuous’ were re-evaluated and instead ascribed to the meek and subservient underclass. The ‘right’ (duty) is developed out of customs that slowly gain social status as rules when punishments are given to those that do not act according to this duty. The concept of value is, in Nietzsche’s view, formed from guilt out of a sense of debt and unworthiness. Nietzsche tells of how the priestly class teach that we have moral dues owed to a spiritual creditor simply for our existence; the priests then tell us that, in order to ‘pay off’ these moral dues, we must act according to their ‘narrow sense’ of morality (which has become synonymous with the value of self-denial and selflessness). Conventional morality, thus, became an ‘ascetic ideal’, virtually impossible for people to relate to because of our all-too-human desires and drives. This is Nietzsche’s general description of how conventional ‘herd morality’ has come into being and how the ancient value of power and egoism came to be replaced by a value of altruism.
Ayn Rand, in The Virtue of Selfishness, makes a similar argument to Nietzsche about why the conventional view of morality is flawed,
“It is not men’s immorality that is responsible for the collapse now threatening to destroy the civilized world, but the kind of moralities men have been asked to practice. The responsibility belongs to the philosophers of altruism. They have no cause to be shocked by the spectacle of their own success, and no right to damn human nature: men have obeyed them and have brought their moral ideals into full reality.”
Rand’s philosophy, while similar to that of Nietzsche’s, differs mainly on points concerning reason. While Rand championed the ideal of reason over power, Nietzsche cited numerous counter-examples in which we can plainly see that people (as do all natural entities) above all value power, risking even their own well-being and lives in order to gain and exercise more power.
“Physiologists should think before putting down the instinct of self-preservation as the cardinal instinct of an organic being. A living thing seeks above all to discharge its strength- life itself is will to power; self-preservation is only one of the indirect and most frequent results.”
This plainly shows that, while claiming to value reason above all, we actually (even if merely subconsciously) value the acquisition of power. Reason, on the other hand, would dictate that the principle of maintaining and progressing life supersedes that of maintaining and acquiring power. Nietzsche found it ironic that, while we commend the power struggles inherent to nature, we simultaneously use reason to demonize those same power struggles mirrored in the human sphere; from this sense of discrepancy arose his theory of the “will to power”. For Nietzsche, as an existentialist, true value was something that can, and must, be realized within one’s lifetime; value, as attached to supernatural entities and an ‘ascetic ideal’, is simply a distraction composed by the priestly class to deter us from realizing our true egoistic potentials in life.
Nietzsche’s main point of consternation regarding conventional “herd morality” was that, by accepting the heteronomous values of society, we fail to value our natural selves. Nietzsche believed that our natural inclinations are nothing to be ashamed of; rather, they are to be acknowledged and exercised in a controlled and disciplined manner. The “will to power” thesis teaches that self-fulfillment and self-realization are brought about through our individual wills; that is, we undergo a process of self-overcoming by giving outward expression to our true, ‘inner self’. This, essentially, makes the romantic claim that (by creating our own lives through action) we also, in the process, create (or discover) our own autonomous values. “Will to power” is not necessarily synonymous with ‘will to dominate others’ (though, this may be a by-product of the “will to power”, especially for individuals with ASPD); rather, the “will to power” should be seen as finding equilibrium between competing natural forces. For Nietzsche, the “will to power” theory explained all natural and social dynamics; he believed that, since everything in the world gravitates towards power, everything in the world thus exists according to the principle of the “will to power”: “This world is the will to power- and nothing besides.” Nietzsche fervently defended this thesis by arguing that the whole Universe is one power; and everything in it is simply dynamic functions of this singular power.
When seen in this light, it seems unreasonable to chastise predatory animals for their inherent natures; in Genealogy, Nietzsche defends the rights of birds of prey to hunt down lambs: for this is the natural progression of life. He argues that to deny this is to pervert the principle of life: that development arises through competition. If we accept this “will to power” theory, at least in principle, then we may also extrapolate it into a social context, whereby to speak of either ‘just’ or ‘unjust’ becomes senseless as long as everything occurs according to a power struggle between individuals.
“In our civilized world, we learn to know almost only the wretched criminal, crushed by the curse and the contempt of society, mistrustful of himself, often belittling and slandering his deed, a miscarried type of criminal; and we resist the idea that all great human beings have been criminals (only in the grand and not in a miserable style), that crime belongs to greatness…”
In this sense, Nietzsche’s mechanism of “will to power” nicely coincides with my criteria for a ‘well-developed self’. Through self-awareness, we become well acquainted with how we are differentiated from, yet continuously interact with, our external environments. Throughout these interactions we express our individuality and personal characteristics and, if we are considered ‘well-developed’, we make autonomous decisions displaying our true intentions. I argue that, if we may take Nietzsche’s formulation of power dynamics as true in principle (which I firmly believe I have evidenced that we can), then it stands to reason that individuals with ASPD and a high degree of self-control are those best suited to acquire, maintain, and exercise power.
Niccolò Machiavelli assesses the power struggles inherent to society in a much more straightforward and pragmatic manner than Nietzsche. Machiavelli, in writing The Prince, was far more concerned with the practical applications of his philosophy in the turbulence of politics. By making inductions from his first hand experience of Italian Renaissance politics, Machiavelli provides a number of excellent examples to argue for his concept of princely virtue, and why traditional morality is a perversion of the natural order of life. In The Prince, Machiavelli effectively lays out those qualities and actions necessary for a ruler to acquire, maintain, and exercise power; these are, essentially, the same characteristics exhibited by highly disciplined individuals with ASPD. This leads me to the conclusion that antisocial behaviour is favourable to the individual’s pursuit of power—at least if we take what Machiavelli has told us to be true. This book is especially pertinent because of how Machiavelli discusses the importance of maintaining a mask of conventional morality, all whilst acting according to egoistic motivations. By appearing (on the surface) to champion the values of altruism and beneficence, the individual with ASPD and high self-control is better equipped to receive the aid of peers they have deceived and, by doing so, they actually advance their own value of egoism. This importance hinges on the fact that, since the majority of society will heteronomously accept the teachings of conventional ‘herd morality’, it thus becomes exponentially easier for the self-interested man to excel in society. Written during an era strongly affiliated with religious morality, Machiavelli actively shows by example how those that discard religious morality are more predisposed to success than their more altruistic contemporaries.
In arguing for his inductive reasoning, Machiavelli examines various political climates from which he concludes that princely virtue is synonymous with strength. Insofar as a prince is one that rules, and rule is best brought about by the ruler’s consolidation of power, the value attributed to a prince is equated by his ability to control his subjects. To prove that strength is the ultimate princely virtue, Machiavelli shows how countless beloved leaders have succumbed to rebellion, whilst those that are least loved, yet accorded the most respect due to their strength, are able to quell even the most fractious societies.
“Upon this a question arises: whether it be better to be loved than feared or feared than loved? It may be answered that one should wish to be both, but, because it is difficult to unite them in one person, it is much safer to be feared than loved, when, of the two, either must be dispensed with.”
By way of example, Machiavelli cites the case of Hannibal, who, despite his ‘inhuman cruelty’, nevertheless successfully led his enormous army through many lands whilst Scipio, ‘that most excellent man’, experiences the rebellion of his soldiers because he has been too liberal with them. A prince, though, should never wish to find himself to be hated by those he depends upon for power; for the hatred people have for the prince may just overcome their fear of him, and thus lead them to rebellion. Machiavelli is also prudent enough to point out that, oftentimes, there are events that occur in which, in order to avoid the hatred of one’s subjects, a prince has need to be unscrupulous in order simply to retain his power.
“And here it should be noted that hatred is acquired as much by good works as by bad ones, therefore, as I said before, a prince wishing to keep his state is very often forced to do evil; for when that body is corrupt whom you think you have need of to maintain yourself…you have to submit to its humours and to gratify them, and then good works will do you harm.”
This can be seen in a modern light in instances of peer pressure or gang affiliation; there are many instances in society in which even people with innate tendencies towards altruism are forced to act egoistically in virtue of maintaining high social standing. One can only imagine, then, how much better equipped the individual with ASPD and high self-control is for high social standing!
Machiavelli also heavily addresses the issue of good and bad fortune (‘lady luck’, as it were) and provides evidences that further concrete my view of individuals with ASPD and high self-control as better prepared to tackle the power struggle that is life. Two particular traits are invaluable, in this sense, for individuals exhibiting antisocial behaviour: these are the personality characteristics of being impetuous and unable to experience true terror. While certainly exposing antisocial individuals to more risks, these traits can come in handy when the unusually intelligent and highly self-controlled individual with ASPD must thrive in an arena of competition (such as in politics or high risk business ventures). Machiavelli succinctly sums up his views on how to deal with the ever-changing tides of fortune:
“…it is better to be adventurous than cautious, because fortune is a woman, and if you wish to keep her under it is necessary to beat and ill-use her; and it is seen that she allows herself to be mastered by the adventurous rather than by those who go to work more coldly.”
Again, we can plainly see how smoothly the characteristics of an individual with ASPD overlaps with those traits most useful to the socially ambitious and power hungry. We can also plainly see how my four criteria for the ‘well-developed self’ (self-awareness, individuality, autonomy, and agency) are all strongly exhibited in those rare cases of disciplined individuals with ASPD.
The argument, to me at least (and, hopefully, the reader), seems to follow logically that, by examining the behaviour patterns of highly disciplined individuals with ASPD, and then comparing them with the criteria for success considered most important to both Niccolò Machiavelli and Friedrich Nietzsche, we may see a considerable degree of synchronicity. If we can also accept the proposition that society values by reward those who most effectively acquire and maintain power, and, further, the proposition that to be ‘well-developed’ is to reflect the qualities society most appreciates, then I deduce that we must consider individuals with ASPD and high degrees of self-control ‘well-developed selves’. I have attempted to clearly articulate my view that, while certainly not all individuals with ASPD can be ‘well-developed selves’, and nor do all ‘well-developed selves’ fit into this psychological classification, there is a significant advantage for those rare individuals with high self-control in qualifying for my criteria of the ‘well-developed self’. This is, of course, the case only if Nietzsche and Machiavelli’s claims that traditional ‘herd morality’ is merely superficially valued by society; I have argued that society, much like nature (and, indeed, as a part of nature), is governed purely by power struggles and fluctuations in the dynamics of control. ‘Herd morality’ is merely a ruse used by those in power to govern their subjects. As Karl Marx said, “Religion is the opiate of the masses.” He who recognizes this scheme is the most able to bend it to his whim.
Objectionable as this theory may seem on the surface, I believe it is evidenced in our lives daily in how we respect those individuals with power and fame, even if gotten by morally ambiguous means, and also by the fascination we as society display for these individuals at large. For evidence we need look only to the mass media! Ex-KGB oligarchs, fashion designers whose brands are made in sweatshops, oil barons, gangsters, James Bond, and corrupt politicians, to name just a few… How then, one might ask, do we still find that most people in the world seem (or, at least, claim) to value the virtues of altruism above all? My answer to this is simple: perhaps, for most people, this philosophical revelation is merely a source for ideological rumination, and not actual, practical application. Of course, if we, as society in general, were to realize and accept this thesis as true, then society as we know it would collapse. But, I argue that for the vast majority of the population, the behaviour exhibited by the individual with ASPD and high self-control is simply not possible…their psychological makeup will not allow for the sort of lifestyle led by this rare group. Perhaps some people are just better suited to heteronomous ‘herd morality’? If so, then it seems that individuals with ASPD and high-self control have a distinct biological advantage over typical human beings; and that is an interesting fact indeed—the implications of which we can only imagine. Perhaps Nietzsche phrased it best when he said that his writing was “for everyone and for no one”. We philosophers are simply making deductions from premises we have inferred from experience. I do hope, for the sake of society, that eventually evidence is found that negates my theory. Though, to date, I must say that the argument for egoism seems far more convincing.
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