Are we a chess game?
considering the perspective of a sociopath
In the book The Sociopath Next Door, psychologist Martha Stout describes a sociopath ‘Skip’ and his rise to power. He came from a wealth and well connected family, was handsome with a high IQ - he had a lot going for him. The only thing he lacked was a conscience. Conscience is that feeling part of us that moves us to compassion, moves us to ‘do the right thing’, to feel for others, to love, to have a sense of obligation based in an emotional attachment to other living creatures and humanity. The sociopath, however, does not choose to ignore such conscience, there simply is none.
But without a conscience Skip is unbridled to do whatever he wants without any internal pulling back from what might harm others. Along with a privileged upbringing in a well-to-do family, killer looks, and the natural capacity to charm, Skip was well pace for ‘success’. And succeed he did, quickly climbing the corporate ladder and finding himself, at a very young age, in the position of CEO of a major corporation.
The usual motivations that most of us derive from relationships was completing missing - what motivated Skip was the desire to win. The world resembled a gigantic chess game, with all manner of kings, knights and pawns. Consider the following excerpt from The Sociopath Next Door…
Skip does not spend any time searching for someone to love. He cannot love. He does not worry about friends or family members who may be sick or in trouble, because he cannot worry about other people. He cares nothing for others, and so he cannot enjoy telling his parents or his wife about his many successes in the business world. He can have dinner with whomever he pleases, but he cannot share the moment with anyone at all. And when his children were born, he was not scared, but neither was he excited. He can derive no real joy from being with them, or from watching them grow up.
But there is one thing Skip can do, and he does this one thing better than almost anyone else: Skip is brilliant at winning. He can dominate. He can bend others to his will. When he was a boy, the frogs died when he decided they should die, his sister screamed when he wanted her to, and now he has gone on to bigger and better games. In a world where people struggle just to make a living, Skip convinced others to make him rich before he was thirty. He can make fools of his well-educated employers and even his billionaire father-in-law. He can cause these otherwise-sophisticated people to jump, and then laugh at them behind their backs. He influences large financial decisions on an international playing field, can turn most such arrangements to his own advantage, and no one protests. Or if someone does complain, he can cut that person off at the knees with just a well-placed word or two. He can frighten people, assault them, break an arm, ruin a career, and his wealthy colleagues will fall all over themselves making sure he never pays the penalties any ordinary person would pay. He believes he can have any woman he wants, and manipulate any man he comes across, including, most recently, everyone at the Securities and Exchange Commission.
He is Super Skip. Strategies and payoffs are the only thrills he knows, and he has spent his entire life getting better at the game. For Skip, the game is everything, and though he is too shrewd to say so, he thinks the rest of us are naïve and stupid for not playing it his way. And this is exactly what happens to the human mind when emotional attachment and conscience are missing. Life is reduced to a contest, and other human beings seem to be nothing more than game pieces, to be moved about, used as shields, or ejected.
(The Sociopath Next Door - Martha Stout)
Skip isn’t the cold blooded serial killer you’d see profiled on a Netflix documentary, he’s ‘just’ a businessman. And here’s the really frightening thing - according to Stout, about one in twenty-five individuals are sociopathic. That’s astonishing - 4% of people don’t have a conscience! After checking a number of different references some say there are up to 5% of men and 1% women who have Antisocial Personality Disorder (the technical name for a sociopath1). The Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders, DSM-5, puts the prevalence down to 3.3% , and a more recent study saying 3.91%2 in younger adults (close to what Stout cites). However you look at it, that’s a lot of people. Admittedly most of them will be of average intelligence, from average circumstances, with a more limited capacity to impact the world than Skip.
If being without a conscience has distinct advantage in the world of business, and if 4% of well-to-do, well connected, intelligent and articulate people have the advantage to climb to the highest heights of the business/financial realms of influence to be just like Skip… No wonder we are in trouble!
For the majority of us who do have a conscience, it’s very difficult to imagine what it’s like for the sociopath. Probably even more frustrating to know that they don’t see that they do anything wrong, as moral judgments necessarily require a conscience - otherwise morality is nonsensical.
I guess you can see where I’m heading given the current state of the world and the technocrats who are ‘saving’ us from… I guess freedom and the democratic process (as they preach freedom and democracy). It’s a game, and one that is played best by those unhindered by conscience. You can guess who some of those players are, maybe. They are good at giving appearances that they are the same as us in their hearts: they say they are moved by a conscience that only wants peace and prosperity for all.
But these are just the moves of a knight that can dance around a pawn. We cannot turn them by appealing to their conscience, for there is just a void. We must understand them, the game they are playing, and the true intent of their scheming minds.
I suppose if we are the pawns and the technocrats are the bishops, the castles, the knights, etc, then a strategy could be to just upend the board and refuse to play (as I remember my sister would do at the point when she realised she had little chance of winning). After all, the world isn’t a game for the sociopath or the narcissist to play - there’s many threads of control we can say ‘no’ to, refuse to engage, walk away from, and essentially erode the platform of the sociopath.
My hope is that there are enough people in high places who do have a conscience (the statistics are on our side in this respect) and can call out the sociopaths, the psychopaths, the narcissists for who they really are and their true motivations. But each of us can do the same. It’s encouraging that Substack is full of people doing just that. If this were a game of chess, the pawns massively outnumber any other pieces on the board - there has to be some advantage there!
It seems that ‘sociopath’, ‘psychopath’, and ‘narcissist’ get a bit mixed up when defining such people. I see all these personality disorders as crossing over in various ways - we are complex - but you could lump sociopath (antisocial personality disorder) and psychopath into the same big bucket for the purposes of what I’m talking about here - and that’s the control and manipulation of the masses by mentally disordered individuals.
Holzer, K. J., Vaughn, M. G., Loux, T. M., Mancini, M. A., Fearn, N. E., & Wallace, C. L. (2022). Prevalence and correlates of antisocial personality disorder in older adults. Aging & mental health, 26(1), 169–178. https://doi.org/10.1080/13607863.2020.1839867