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Some Thoughts on Anarchism & Psychopathy

September 25th, 2012 by Howard Ditkoff

In my last blog post, I offered my response to a debate between Adam Kokesh and The Amazing Atheist that revolved around the subject of anarchism vs. statism. I tried to focus the debate on what I think is the essential issue - the question of how a society can best deal with the inevitable presence and influence of psychopaths and others with empathy- and conscience-reducing disorders.

After writing and sharing this post, I did some more research and discovered a video in which Kokesh addresses this topic head-on in response to a viewer named Spencer Thiessen who has come to the conclusion that his stance on whether anarchism is feasible rests on “one simple question”:

“Is there a way that anarchy can sustainably survive the psychopathic tendencies present in human nature?”

The video is relatively short at just under 6 minutes long, so I encourage you to watch it first and then you can read my responses below.

My first response is that I’m very glad to see this subject discussed. I hope that those involved in debates about anarchism, statism and the proper role - if any - of government spend much more time focusing directly on this topic because I think it is what really lies at the center of most of the debates, as well as the discussion out of which the best solutions are likely to emerge.

Now, I want to address some specifics in Adam Kokesh’s response.

  1. Adam takes issue with the particular wording of the question. I agree that the question is not phrased ideally. And this provides an opportunity to better phrase the question in a form that can truly focus the debate in a constructive manner. I would articulate the question like this:

    “What is the social structure that can optimally sustain a balance of security and freedom despite the inevitable presence of psychopaths and others with biologically-reduced capacities for empathy and/or conscience?”

    In my blog post responding to the Kokesh/The Amazing Atheist debate, I mention Logocracy as one suggestion for a starting point on that discussion.

  2. Adam repeatedly - in this video and in other places - claims that we are evolving toward a stateless society simply because voluntary actions are “superior.” I think this is a somewhat flawed notion.

    To understand why, I highly recommend the book The Evolution of Cooperation by Robert Axelrod.

    Throughout the pages in my series on Biological Evil, I make the point that, in evolution, there is always some incentive for predators, cheats and deceivers to arise. This then generates an incentive for effective detection and response to such threatening organisms to arise among those who value peaceful cooperation. These strategies co-evolve in a feedback cycle.

    So it is not really accurate to say, as Adam does, that one approach is “superior” to the other. They occur evolutionarily in a sort of yin/yang relationship where sometimes one takes precedence, sometimes the other takes precedence and sometimes they are in more of a balance. (Andrew M. Lobaczewki’s notion of the “hysteroidal cycle” relates to some extent.) The question, for those of us who value peaceful freedom and security, is:

    “How can we best maintain a state where the yin side of this relationship - peaceful cooperation - takes precedence while acceding to the fact that those who value exploitation and dominance will always have some incentive to rise again?”

    I highly recommend The Evolution of Cooperation because it is a scientific study of exactly what has to happen for peace and cooperation to flourish and remain sustainable given the ever-present evolutionary potential for the development of forces that threaten them. And the answer is definitely more complicated than Adam’s claim that, once we evolve voluntary societies, they cannot devolve due to their “superiority.” They certainly can devolve and, in fact, will likely devolve unless certain incentives, strategies and tactics are put into place and enforced.

    This book explains how some ingenious methods have elucidated what these incentives, strategies and tactics are.

  3. Adam says that those who value peace, cooperation and non-violence will be more successful at reproducing. This is highly questionable.

    On my psychopathy page, I have included an entire section detailing, and describing some research on, the astounding degree to which psychopaths reproduce and spread their genes at a higher rate than others and why this is. Without a doubt, our extremely hierarchical social structures have greatly amplified this process. But it has its roots in the psychopaths’ frequent specific predilection for engaging in sexual manipulation and activity, often as a means of asserting power and domination. And psychopaths are legendary for the charisma and deceptiveness that they can bring to bear in pursuing this behavior. This combination of sexual dominance and manipulative talent is one of the major reasons that psychopaths are so dangerous.

    So it is not clear at all whether, even in a healthier system, psychopaths would not continue to exercise a distinct reproductive advantage.

  4. Adam makes the argument that voluntaryism is the best way to deal with psychopathic tendencies.

    In the process of doing so, he proclaims - just as he did in his debate with The Amazing Atheist - his belief that government is the concentration of evil.

    In my previous blog post, I mentioned that the key question in the anarchism vs. statism debate is:

    Is government the concentration of evil or a protector against evil?

    And, here, yet again, Adam exemplifies a believer in the first option.

    Now, let’s say that we accept his view that, if a government is present, it will simply draw the psychopaths and other empathy- and conscience-challenged individuals into its ranks, thus developing into a pathocracy. This is a worthwhile possibility to consider and one that I discuss at length in my Biological Evil series.

    The problem is that, even if we concede this, and thus determine that we should have no government, voluntaryism isn’t really, in and of itself, a way to deal with psychopathic tendencies. Even in the context of a voluntary society, what will determine the extent to which we are protected from the harmful influence of those with reduced empathy and conscience are the specific incentives, strategies and tactics that we put into place. There is nothing inherent in voluntaryism that guarantees a successful defense against the inevitable predators, cheats and deceivers.

    Voluntary society or not, it still comes back to the research described in The Evolution of Cooperation.

    Put the right specific incentives, strategies and tactics in place and perhaps that voluntary society can flourish and sustain itself. Fail to do so and, regardless of how fervently most members of the society value the non-aggression principle, self-ownership and property rights, peaceful cooperation is likely to erode.

So where does this leave us? It opens up a lot of debate but I hope it leads to at least one area of agreement:

We could do with a great deal more education about psychopathy and other conscience- and empathy-reducing disorders, ponerology, pathocracy and the dynamics discussed in The Evolution of Cooperation. Without such education, people, whatever their stance on anarchism, statism and the proper role - if any - of government, lack the factual foundation on which to effectively engage in and resolve such debates.

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    4 Responses to “Some Thoughts on Anarchism & Psychopathy”

    1. Adam Kokesh Says:

      THANKS FOR WATCHING … and THINKING! Thx for taking the ball another step forward on this topic.

      When you say, “a balance of security and freedom” are you not suggesting that freedom and security are opposed? Rephrasing “the question” is still important! Maybe instead: “maximizes both freedom and security.”

    2. SystemsThinker Says:


      Thanks for reading and taking the time to respond. I appreciate it.

      It seems to me that some measures taken to enhance security can infringe on freedom and vice-versa. Ideally, we can find solutions that enhance both at the same time. So when I say a balance, I mean the optimal balance, whatever that is. If the optimal balance is having a great deal of both, and we can make that happen, then that would be wonderful.

      If you want to phrase it as “maximizes both freedom and security” that may do the trick, as well.

      Either way, this is the kind of discussion I would love to see open up. Finding the essential question(s) and honing it (them) down just right to find the real leverage point in the dialogue that can allow some progress in discovering solutions.

    3. Mark Tokarski Says:

      I’ve been blogging for six years now, but get caught up in a narrow field having the same discussions with the same people ad nauseum. Your link to my blog this AM brought me here. it’s a treat, a new direction, new ideas, well-written and thoughtful

      Thanks for hooking up. I’ll be a regular.

    4. SystemsThinker Says:

      Thanks, Mark. We seem to have interest in some similar topics. Drop me a line if you want to talk more.

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