The Tiger and the Zookeeper … Society’s Treatment of the Psychopath

The following reader question was sent to me by a Tumblr follower.  I touched on egalitarianism a bit in my previous post, but here we are going to examine the consequences a bit further, especially as it pertains to society’s approach toward identifying and punishing the psychopath.

My thanks. Simply for the sake of debate, I’ve a few questions I’d like to ask, if you wouldn’t mind. Firstly, do you believe that the formation of an egalitarian society (in which, as you said, there exists justice without prejudice) would introduce a level of pragmatism conducive the upholding of public safety? Generally, it seems to me that most humans (as well as other animals subject to the influence of conditioning) use predictions based upon retrospective examination in order to make decisions about which actions to take. The proverb, ‘those who cannot remember the past are doomed to repeat it’, comes to mind. Even deontological ethical systems, much like their teleological counterparts, require some knowledge of future consequences derived from an observation of the past. Now, I realize that the following analogy may not sit well with you, but I ask that you humour me. While I do not wish to conflate the image of the blood-stained, axe-wielding maniac with that of the psychopath who, despite meeting the established diagnostic criteria, manages to live between the boundaries of the law, I will personify the tiger as the diagnosed to demonstrate my point. The zookeeper keeps the tiger in a cage. Naturally (or unnaturally), all the animals are kept in cages to prevent escape and possible incidents. I’m not denying that giraffes can kill people; it’s just that the tiger seems to be the one most likely to do so for reasons which aren’t retaliative. Sure, (true or false) you can find a report detailing the consumption of a human by an elephant in 2005, but the matriarch, whose supposed provocation might have been the killing of her family, died shortly afterwards, unable to digest the meat she swallowed. In a way, her deed “killed her from the inside” – and dead elephants don’t reoffend. If I saw a tiger walking towards me on the street, I’d go and hug it; of course, I have no concern for my personal safety, providing my demise can be attributed to my own autonomy. Nonetheless, most others, having to choose between a tiger and a lamb, would probably prefer proximity to the latter. I’m not an advocate of thought-policing, in fact, I’m quite the anarchist at heart. I can understand your frustration with a legal system that assigns more severe punishments to certain individuals based on perceived proclivities/inclinations/tendencies/predispositions/whatever-you-want-to-call-its. But I ask you, what else is there to go by? When two men, from opposing factions, meet on the battlefield after war has been declared, do they both hesitate, holding their fire until the other makes a move and the danger is more imminent than before? Or do they fight through their reluctance and pull the trigger, realizing that the seconds spent trying to ascertain the motives of the other will likely precede those it will take for them to fall to the floor, bullet-wound in torso? Just so I won’t be accused of presenting an unbalanced and, indeed, biased argument, I will say: I do realize that the individual with ASPD is not like a tiger in all aspects – they certainly don’t come orange, black and striped with teeth like stalagmites…that could make career progression rather challenging. I don’t mean to speak as though I know you, and I am aware of the ambiguity you speak of in relation to your thoughts but, in my opinion, those such as yourself won’t necessarily offend more than the so-called “neurotypical”. The apathy, for example, which affects psychopathic individuals could mean that there are fewer stimuli to which they respond violently. Someone killed your cat? Heh, whaddaya know, more money to buy confectionary. You killed my mother? Great, one less present to buy for Christmas. Needless to say, on the other hand, the impulsivity which accompanies the condition, along with varying degrees of possessiveness, can lead to altercations. My point is that while being socio/psychopathic may not make you inherently wicked, is it not understandable that neurotypicals would want to protect themselves by taking preemptive, cautionary, albeit arguably discriminatory, measures against those they deem dangerous? After all, it’s considered wise to tranquilize the tiger that bares its teeth. To reiterate, I don’t necessarily support these views. I’m of a much more neutral and open-minded persuasion. Just interested in your response, is all. Apologies for my style of writing – I haven’t slept properly in the longest while.

The bold portions are added by me as a means of aiding the impatient reader.  Basically the question boils down to: can we accept egalitarianism for the psychopath since there are obvious advantages to removing the psychopath from the fold – in the eyes of the neurotypical, that is.

I can unequivocally and totally understand why the neurotypical would want to remove the psychopath from society.  In fact, I will even agree that such a move makes logical sense.  However, my tactic in addressing such wants by neurotypical society is, ironically, to play on emotions and empathy.  The gamesmanship that I employ dictates that there must be equal opportunity for all involved in the great game of life.  I, personally, do not wish to see anyone unjustly removed without at least the possibility of a fair fight should they wish to defend themselves.  I know that society, the zookeeper in the above question, wants to protect itself and will happily over-tranquilize rather than under-tranquilize.  However, is this is this the ethical stance to take and does this sit well with the empathy that neurotypical society supposedly prides itself on?

Ethically, it would seem that the punishment enacted for a crime would fit the “appropriate” level of retribution and no more.  So, in this case, the zookeeper would not be allowed to tranquilize the tiger unless the tiger had acted in a dangerous manner.  Likewise, the zookeeper could not euthanize the tiger without overwhelming evidence of further and imminent hostility.  What I see most often in dealing with neurotypical society, is that they wish to jump to their tranquilizer gun or lethal injection before any danger is realized.  They are afraid of potential more than actuality.  However, this should not sit well with the neurotypical that prides themselves on being “above” the psychopath.  This should seem hypocritical, because it is.

So then, if there is an ethical dilemma regarding how the psychopath is treated, then it should follow that the neurotypical’s empathy should kick in.  If the neurotypical is truly better than the psychopath and is able to maintain an unbiased point of view, then our struggles should qualify for the societal change that the neurotypical craves when combatted with injustice.  Of course, this will not happen due to group dynamics, but the point still stands.  Once again, we are left with the neurotypical being caught as hypocritical.

Yes, it makes perfect sense for the tiger to be kept at arms length from the zookeeper and for the psychopath to be isolated from neurotypical society.  However, just as the zookeeper has an ethical obligation to tend to his animals in a fair and just manner, so should society have the same responsibility when tending to the psychopath.  They should be devastated at the injustice we face, or else they are truly no different than we are on this level.  However, we see that ultimately society is hypocritical as we do not invoke their empathy.  We are running a zoo with a morgue full of dead tigers.

Stream of Consciousness: Bleeding or Rehabilitating the Criminal?
The Egalitarian Psychopath


  1. NT says

    I would like to propose a modern-day solution to the problem. It’s not exactly neat, but it’s the best I can think of.

    I agree that ethically we shouldn’t give unfair treatment to antisocials. It is, as you say, hypocritical. Take note, however, that I don’t FEEL that way. If I could get away with it, I would put a bullet through every antisocial’s head to remove them from the gene pool, as you suggest.

    Here’s my idea.

    The justice system needs to start leveraging the knowledge being gained by neuroscience. Firstly, a representative sample of neurological topology needs to be established. We are now at the point where we are on the verge of being able to map the interconnections of the brain at the neuron level.

    Second, a baseline neurological ontology is established which is agreed to represent a configuration separating prosocial from antisocial behaviour. Due to the network complexities involved, this would undoubtedly have to be “fuzzy”. How far an individual’s neural topology sits from this baseline would determine how pro or antisocial they are. This is not mathematically diffcult to accomplish and is actually fairly trivial in fields such as graph theory.

    Now to the ethical weeding out of practicing vs non-practicing antisocials.

    With this baseline established, all offenders are graded on a rehabilitative capacity system. The system is graded with the baseline as a reference. Every offender is sent for an fMRI scan and has his neural network mapped out. His neural network graph is compared to the baseline. If it falls outside a set range from the baseline, say 2 standard deviations, the antisocial is sterilised and removed from society forever. If not, the offender serves the normal sentence and released back into society.

    I would wager that with this strategy, antisocials will have been, for all practical purposes, removed from the population within about six generations.

    • M says

      Now, for you to see how inconsistent that would be with the norms (and punishments for the fail to conform) that we have nowadays, just consider that a researcher, by not reading/giving a stupid informed consent form before handing a questionnaire, can be prosecuted. Yet, sterilizing people (without their consent) would be fine. Great. Yes, ethics is a bitch sometimes (for scientists/researchers it sure is), but if we’re going to live ethically, at least we should be consistent.

      • M says

        Ok, about just a questionnaire, i’m not sure, but to do things that are indisputable less harmful, you need the informed consent form, or else…

      • NT says

        “Yes, ethics is a bitch sometimes (for scientists/researchers it sure is), but if we’re going to live ethically, at least we should be consistent.”

        And therein lies the bitch of it, don’t it? *Everyone* wants to be treated ethically, but ethics is really about prosocialism….which antisocials do not “want” to aspire to.

        • NT says

          I guess what I’m getting at is that they want the benefits of prosocialism without the cost that is involved in maintaining that prosocialism. So fuck ’em.

        • FNP says

          Being ethical is not the same as being prosocial. It is ethical to euthanize a dog to reduce the number of homeless dogs on the streets. It is not ethical to euthanize a homeless person to reduce the number of homeless people on the streets. Yet the prosocial choice is to euthanize neither. The antisocial choice is to do whatever you want and ignore the ethical or non-ethical side of things.

          • NT says

            “It is ethical to euthanize a dog to reduce the number of homeless dogs on the streets.”

            You think?

          • M says

            Dog eats raw meat from the trash, dog goes to the park, licks its own ass, kid comes and dog licks kid… Does that ring a bell for you?

    • FNP says

      And then 6 generations from now, the world is facing a situation where either half the planet dies or only 100 million do. But all the people capable of making the decision before time runs out to choose the lesser option have been wiped out. So you not only kill all antisocial people, but also half the planet because nobody is willing to choose to kill 100 million people for fear of sterilization.

      • NT says

        I’d rather that half the planet dies via the whims of the low-level consciousness that is Mother Nature, than the callous machinations of consciousness equals.

        • FNP says

          Murder is bad, so I support the deaths of billions that could easily be avoided by not eliminating psychopaths… what? Double standard much?

          • NT says

            I guess it’s about level of control….and that gets into a whole other debate but nevermind.

            I have a problem with entities of similar consciousness to me willfully trying to outfox me for their own better. It’s destructive in the sense that two consciousnesses are more than the sum of their parts.

            I personally do not believe your implication that the world would necessarily need to cull half of the planet for the other half to survive. It’s the antisocials who are primarily responsible for greed. I believe neurotypicals are now more than capable of living harmoniously and adjusting their requirements to match the resources Mother Nature has endowed us to sustain ourselves. It’s excess that’s the problem. And that is an antisocial problem.

          • FNP says

            The vast majority of people are selfish. This doesn’t mean they’re antisocial. There are very very few truly selfless people. You’re not one of them.

  2. Jessica Kelly says

    I know that some of you wait for me to chime in, but the comments have absolutely spoken for themselves today. Many are fine with a double standard, quite possibly resulting in dire consequences.

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