Some humans are born sociopaths. That is a no longer a technical term but it implies a lack of fellow-feeling some people have. It seems these people may be born normal in every other way, and perhaps they tend to have a higher intelligence than average people, but because of this lack their lives are frequently fouled because they violate other normal people rights and their laws. I was talking to an acquaintance the other day who said he knew a person who has those characteristics and just can’t seem to learn to obey the simplest of social conventions. That person is in constant trouble with other people and the law and will probably soon be imprisoned.
This blog has discussed several times how human beings evolved from non-symbolic Neanderthal-like people about one hundred thousand years ago. I named the process Eveish Selection and we modern humans have come into our current state of development because our forefathers and foremothers chose mates who had desirable qualities. Everything about our existing species that isn’t part of our immediate ancestral species came into being because of this form of Artificial Selection. People usually talk about Natural Selection, which is the marginal dying off of non-adapted individuals of an existing species, but this hasn’t had much effect on our current human condition. Natural Selection simply can not have created the abilities which permit speech, music, art, mathematics and a host of other things, but Eveish Selection easily accounts for these abilities.
Natural born sociopaths are more difficult to explain because they are so often detrimental to other people and the social group as a whole. However, these people, when they contain the worst of their natural inclinations, can perform some social functions better than normally morally-motivated people. It seems obvious that to be a great politician, general or financial wizard requires a hefty dose of callous emotional fiber. These sociopaths can make simple calculations of benefit versus loss, relative to human suffering, than most people could sleep with. Some of these sociopathic men have large numbers of children. To have a real impact on a society it requires the fecundity of a raunchy male. It is said that in large parts of Central Asia fifteen percent of the Y chromosome is traceable to Genghis Khan, and it’s claimed one quarter of Hungarians can be traced to this single man. I have no way of verifying these astounding claims except to trust the internet.
The point is that when the sociopaths are successful, as they sometimes are, they can breed large numbers of children, and if they are successful politically they can set their many sons into positions of great potential fecundity. Even on a lesser scale it seems the sociopathic male has a tendency to impregnate females and then to move on to others and leave the raising of the children to more morally responsible men called fathers. Through this process the sociopathic trait which normal people dislike manages to perpetuate itself. It may turn out that modern DNA analysis may locate a relatively few genes that are linked to sociopathy, or maybe not. This genetic trait will probably be discovered within twenty years, if it exists. If it exists this trait will probably prove to be a holdover from our pre-modern human ancestry.
[UPDATE: 2012/06/15 Thanks to Pat and Rob who suggested this TED lecture by Juan Enriquez on current human evolution.]