I’ve written several times on the nature of conscience and its absence in the psychopathic mind. While not a diagnostic criterion for confirming psychopathy, a lack of conscience is common in those whom are psychopathic. Whereas the neurotypical will feel some visceral and gut feeling regarding an ethical dilemma, the psychopath tends not to. This is certainly advantageous for the psychopath as she need not stand still while others are paralyzed by the command to satisfy their conscience. However, a lack of conscience should not imply automatic and consistent antisocial behavior. The reason for this is simple: the “good” choice need not be without reward.
I’ve written that the psychopath is merely amoral, but I do believe that the psychopath struggles with silencing compulsions of immorality. Although he may lack conscience, the psychopath is still subject to thoughts of good and evil; it may be that those thoughts are not visceral feelings but intellectual realizations, however. That said, the “fun” or “profitable” option is often the immoral one. Even though the neurotypical is subject to similar thoughts, these thoughts may be much more prevalent for the psychopath. What then is the psychopath to do with these desires? Should he feast or should he show restraint?
The fact that psychopaths lack empathy is cause of great concern to, and persecution by, many. Too many equate empathy with humanity, when in reality the human condition encompasses those with and without empathy. However, I believe the psychopath’s lack of conscience disturbs the neurotypical far more than any other trait the psychopath may possess. The neurotypical believes that they are guided by a gut feeling that dictates whether they should choose a prosocial or antisocial action when presented with a task at hand. The psychopath does not have this consideration and it allows him to break free and move forward while many neurotypicals are paralyzed.
I don’t understand why this distinction matters to the neurotypical. The congruence between a lack of conscience and evil is false. Neurotypicals often find ways to ignore their conscience anyway. For instance, all it takes is for NTs to break free of their moral compass is a larger cause to justify the act. Whether they commit great sin in the name of religion, racism, or any other name, they find ways to shut down the processes they believe keeps them on the straight and narrow. This hypocrisy is never noted when they point fingers at the psychopath.
I do not possess conscience. I have no value judgement toward such a fact. I think that it would be foolish to categorically state that the absence of a conscience is better than the presence of one. The naive might presume that the difference between presence and absence is merely a focus on whether society should be held first or the individual when an action must favor one to the detriment of another. Such an approach forgets that humans have free will and that conscience is merely a suggestion, not a decree.
I may not have the internal discussion that others find automatic when it comes to making choices regarding benefit at the expense of others or sacrifice at the expense of myself, but I am not required to always choose the former. The analogue is that those who possess conscience need not always pick actions that lead to a pro-social outcome. People can choose to act on their perspective or not.
After I was first diagnosed as psychopathic, I began to search more deeply as to which facets of the condition fit and which did not. As I’ve said before, I neither wanted to be psychopathic nor not psychopathic. I just wanted to understand better the way in which I function. One area I focused heavily on was the presence or absence of conscience. When the psychologist asked me to define conscience, I gave an answer that floored them. It was like a three year old was being asked the question:
Conscience is made up the thoughts that prevent me from doing some action, right?
I was confusing my internal calculus of determining what actions to take as a synonym for conscience. There was clearly something much deeper that I just did not understand.