The power of the Net and its most recent technological spawn, “social media,” to bring disparate people together to interact closely (and often intimately) is now quite well-known. What is emerging only now is how this technology-enabled acceleration in the pace with which humans form social connections and apply these connections to their personal lives highlights the need for people to learn or acquire new forms of social defenses.
Because the Net now allows “friendships” to form at mouse click speed and the resulting network of “friendships” to spread in breadth and depth over vast scales, it is possible that our natural skills for evaluating social situations are ill-equipped to cope. These skills evolved over millions of years to take visual and sensory information from direct animated human contact. That is, we have at our disposal finely-tuned cognitive mechanisms for interpretting subtle body languages and other cues during direct within-sight contact with other human beings.
Yet even in the days before the advent of today’s massively-networked social life, these mechanisms have been known to fail. That they fail in the relative snail pace of the real world makes for a disturbing prospect of how massively they could fail in today’s digitally souped-up social networking world.
Indeed, take the condition known as psychopathy and the people who suffer (or, in most cases enjoy) this condition, psychopaths (or “psychos” as they are glibly called). Psycopathy has been known and studied for some time. The existence of documented and anecdotal evidence coming from victims of (including those who went through benign but unpleasant experiences with) psychopaths is a testament to a history of failure of our ability to accurately evaluate social situations that is at least as old as the field of psychology itself. For psychopaths are experts at stealthily penetrating the social defenses of their hapless victims while showing virtually no regard for the consequences of their actions. In fact, the condition of psychopathy is marked fundamentally by an absence of empathy.
Without empathy and, therefore, lacking any capability to form normal relationships with other people, psychopaths apparently develop a talent for internal rationalisation. That is, they are able to spin a story that fits their preferred view of the world and the relationships they maintain in it and then tell this story to themselves. This seems to account for the psychopath’s inability to take external input on board or properly interpret responses to their behaviour exhibited by the people around them.
Such is the machine-like people skills of a psychopath that by that time the true nature of their characters is discovered, they will already have made their way into and intricately enmeshed themselves within people’s lives or an organisation. In the article THE PSYCHOPATH – The Mask of Sanity, some specifics on the effect psychopaths have on their immediate social network are described…
Being very efficient machines, like a computer, they are able to execute very complex routines designed to elicit from others support for what they want. In this way, many psychopaths are able to reach very high positions in life. It is only over time that their associates become aware of the fact that their climb up the ladder of success is predicated on violating the rights of others.”Even when they are indifferent to the rights of their associates, they are often able to inspire feelings of trust and confidence.”
The psychopath recognizes no flaw in his psyche, no need for change.
As the title of the article implies, such people work under the cover of cleverly-engineered pleasantries and disarming gestures before they move in for the kill…
In short, the psychopath – and the narcissist to a lesser extent – is a predator. If we think about the interactions of predators with their prey in the animal kingdom, we can come to some idea of what is behind the “mask of sanity” of the psychopath. Just as an animal predator will adopt all kinds of stealthy functions in order to stalk their prey, cut them out of the herd, get close to them and reduce their resistance, so does the psychopath construct all kinds of elaborate camoflage composed of words and appearances – lies and manipulations – in order to “assimilate” their prey.
In short, psychopaths:
(1) Come across as charming on first impression;
(2) Use this initial charm to bend the views of the people they come into contact with towards their own; and,
(3) In many cases, isolate their victims from the communities they were originally part of.
Psychopaths are able to do these things efficiently because:
(a) They lack empathy;
(b) They possess no concept of future consequences in the short-term (and much less, if at all, over the long-term); and,
(c) They are marked by an absence of any notion of personal accountability.
This is our message then to those of us who engage in intense interaction with other people over the Net, specifically over social media applications such as Facebook and Twitter:
Step back and pause to undertake a deliberate, sober and conscious evaluation of the people who you have allowed into your digital life.
Doing this sooner — better yet, now — may spare you a heap of trouble and time-wasting complication later.
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