Heart of Darkness … Psychopaths and the Odds of Evil

A claim made in Simon Baron-Cohen’s book The Science of Evil is that a lack of empathy directly leads to “evil”.  That is, if there is no empathic bond to the pain or joys of another being, then others are merely fleshbags to use and abuse.  For the purposes of this post, let us accept his claim as true and let’s accept the societally held definition of “evil”.  Let’s follow this through to the end and see what this has to say about the neurotypical and their selective empathy and whether the psychopath can truly be responsible for all the evils in the world.

I threw out the following question to my Tumblr followers:

Is the heart of darkness truly a lack of empathy? If so, are those that are selective with their empathy as guilty as those without?

To which I got the following answer from a presumably neurotypical reader:

If that’s true, then selective empathy is noticeably worse than a lack of empathy, because it’s a conscious decision.

This gets to the point that I want to make regarding a lack of empathy and bad behavior.  The psychopath has no choice in their lack of empathy – neurology has dictated all on that front.  Given Baron-Cohen’s claim, this implies that we must be harbingers of destruction.  However, what of those that consciously choose whether to target their empathy on a group or not?  What can we say of them?

I have written time and time again regarding the hypocrisy of those with empathy.  They claim to hold the moral high ground but then are, without fail, conditional with their empathy.  They disregard those not in their inner circle as well as those opposed to their own religion, race, or sexual orientation / gender identity – for example.  Going back to Cohen’s definition, it implies that these neurotypicals are also likely to commit evil; they merely remain blind to the reasons for doing such.

So then, can all evil be directly attributed to those whom are psychopathic?  Recall from an introductory statistics course that if two events are independent, then the probability of both those of those events executing are the product of the probabilities of each event.  So the probability that a die is rolled two times and comes up 1 on the first roll and even on the second is (1/6) * (1/2). What this also says is that if enough independent events are present with probability non-one, that the odds of a particular alignment gravitate toward zero.  So the probability of rolling a 3 on a die 30 times would be (1/6) ^ 30 which is approximately equal to zero.  But the probability of a die being rolled and getting some number 1-6 is 1 and if rolled 30 times would be (6/6)^30 = 1.

For all evil in the world to be attributable to psychopaths, this would imply that the probability that the neurotypical commits evil must be zero.  Otherwise we have the probability of a given evil being attributable to a psychopath being less than zero which would imply very quickly that the odds of all evil events being attributable to psychopaths is zero.  Thus the claim Baron-Cohen makes must be false.

The heart of darkness is not psychopathy, but man.

Heretic - Resolve and Psychopathic Criminality (Part 2)


  1. NT says

    “If that’s true, then selective empathy is noticeably worse than a lack of empathy, because it’s a conscious decision.”

    There is no free will.

    • FNP says

      If there’s no free will, then I’m forced to call you an idiot. If there is free will, then I can choose to call you an idiot, or I can choose to call you silly, or any number of other things.

      I choose to call you blind.

  2. Anonymous says

    Psychopathic splitting vs balanced and objective argument. Baron-Cohen’s arguments are not either/or…all/nothing.

    He does not suggest that those capable of empathy are incapable of evil, only that those incapable of experiencing empathy are predisposed to evil. From personal experience, I accept that as truth.

    Psychopaths are not only incapable of empathy, they are actively driven to harm others. Fact.

    They can choose to act on those impulses or not. Fact.

    Just as a person capable of empathy can choose to switch it off and carry out an objectively evil act, a person incapable of empathy can objectively recognise that society’s rules evolved to protect everyone and that those who choose to reject those rules must suffer appropriate consequences.

    The predisposition of anyone to evil is not carte blanche for everyone else to join in.

    • FNP says

      Actively driven to harm others? How many psychopaths have you actually met, since you seem to think we’re all Dexter. Hell, not even Frank Underwood harms others unless given no other option, and he’s the most power-hungry character on a TV show.

      • Anonymous says

        Just the one that I shared my life with. His will to harm me was relentless and unceasing, as he enjoyed harming anyone reckless enough to allow him access. Lived for it, actually.

      • Anonymous says

        ….and if I may ask, what do you think the effect of your behavior towards your former husband was? Or the friend who nursed you through post-operative pain, only to find himself painfully dumped in a moment of malice?

          • Anonymous says

            Sorry FNP – I had assumed that you were the author of this blog. The questions were directed towards her, assuming that she had made your comments. Disregard them.

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