Books trying to explain evil scientifically, that is. In “I’m O.K., You’re a Psychopath,” he makes a good point:
People with autism and Asperger’s syndrome, Baron-Cohen argues, are also empathy-deficient, though he calls them “Zero-Positive.” They differ from psychopaths and the like because they possess a special gift for systemizing; they can “set aside the temporal dimension in order to see — in stark relief — the eternal repeating patterns in nature.” This capacity, he says, can lead to special abilities in domains like music, science and art. More controversially, he suggests, this systemizing impulse provides an alternative route for the development of a moral code — a strong desire to follow the rules and ensure they are applied fairly. Such individuals can thereby be moral without empathy, “through brute logic alone.”This is an intriguing proposal, but Baron-Cohen doesn’t fully elaborate on it, much less address certain obvious objections. For one thing, if people with autism can use logic to be good without empathy, why can’t smart psychopaths do the same? And what about the many low-functioning individuals on the autism spectrum who lack special savant gifts and don’t spontaneously create moral codes? On Baron-Cohen’s analysis, they would be Zero-Negative. But this doesn’t seem right. Such individuals might be awkward or insensitive, but they are not actively malicious; they are much more likely to be the targets of cruelty than the perpetrators. (New York Times, June 19, 2011)
It’s refreshing to see reason and common sense invoked to explain human nature, for a change, instead of fantasies about ancestors or studies of apes. More later.