We are often told in writing that no one sees themselves as the villain. You should set your antagonist at cross-purposes with the protoganist to create conflict. Each sees themselves as good people, but they cannot both win. According to The Sociopath Next Door, by Martha Stout, there are people who just don’t think the way most of us do. Call them psychopaths, call them sociopaths, this book argues that they are people without conscience.
Conscience is the sense of obligation based on an emotional attachment (love) for another living being, human or animal. Conscience propels us outward to help others. Sociopaths are driven from within to use others. They see nothing wrong with themselves, but rather consider others to be stupid or naïve. At most they think other people are really just like themselves, but only pretending to have scuples. Thus the sociopath believes he is the honest man in a world of phonies.
Sociopaths are often charming, charismatic, manipulative, deceitful, chronically bored, addicted to risk. They can be flatterers, sexual predators, alcoholics or drug abusers. They rarely have the patience or dedication needed for true achievement. That’s what minions are for. The book offers thirteen rules for dealing with sociopaths, which are so vivid, you suspect that Stout has had some bitter experiences at the hands of one. The rules can be summarized as pay attention to your gut feelings, listen to your conscience, and don’t become a minion.
Good actors, sociopaths may pretend to be compassionate, to love animals, to have artistic ability. They masquerade as authority figures, thus hacking into most people’s natural tendency to submit to authority. When they run into trouble, they solicit pity and act extra nice to people that will cover for them. When caught, they blame others for making them act so bad. Many die badly (especially in fiction).
In short, the book goes a long way toward explaining why we are so fascinated by villains. Stout writes: “Someone who is unfettered by conscience can easily make us feel that our lives are tediously rule-bound and lackluster.” We are attracted to their sense of risk and spontaneity. It can be exciting to hear: What you waiting for? Let’s break all the rules. Live it up!
No sympathy for the devil.
Next week: Bonk