The Sociopath Next Door – By Martha Stout

The Sociopath Next Door, by Martha Stout enticed me to sign up for an account with last summer.  The audiobook is narrated by Shelly Frasier, and the audio quality is excellent.

I found this book to be an excellent introduction to a topic that I consider to be one of the keys to understanding the world we live in: psychopathy.  Dr. Stout explains early on that the difference between psychopaths and sociopaths is really just semantics, the essential characteristic that separates them from the rest of humanity is their complete lack of conscience.  As the Bard eloquently wrote: A rose by any other name would smell as sweet”.  In this case we might say “poison by any other name would be just as deadly”.  Dr Stout puts it better than I could:

The presence or absence of conscience is a deep human division, arguably more significant than intelligence, race, or even gender. What differentiates a sociopath who lives off the labors of others from one who occasionally robs convenience stores, or from one who is a contemporary robber baron-or what makes the difference between an ordinary bully and a sociopathic murderer-is nothing more than social status, drive, intellect, blood lust, or simple opportunity. What distinguishes all of these people from the rest of us is an utterly empty hole in the psyche, where there should be the most evolved of all humanizing functions.

For something like 96 percent of us, conscience is so fundamental that we seldom even think about it. For the most part, it acts like a reflex. Unless temptation is extremely great (which, thankfully, on a day-to-day basis it usually is not), we by no means reflect on each and every moral question that comes our way. We do not seriously ask ourselves, Shall I give my child lunch money today, or not? Shall I steal my coworker’s briefcase today, or not? Shall I walk out on my spouse today, or not? Conscience makes all of these decisions for us, so quietly, automatically, and continually that, in our most creative flights of imagination, we would not be able to conjure the image of an existence without conscience.

—Martha Stout, Ph.D.

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