Psychopaths, emotions, humor, and art

I am reading the psychopathcode by Pieter Hintjens and it is fascinating. The book proposes that we have developed altruism and social behaviour to mitigate risk and increase overall rewards. Psycopaths are evolutionary “cheaters” who parasitically feed off the energy and resources of the remaining population. Emotions’ complexity and diversity is proposed as an arms race of ever more complex defenses against cheaters and ever more elaborate hacks. Psychopaths have been co-evoling with us since the mists of time and we would not be who were are without them. They are the predators, we the prey.

A core characteristic of a psychopath is that they don’t feel empathy. This manifests in many ways. A psychopath does not show disgust, or melanchony or love. They have only a small fraction of the normal range of emotions. They also to not mirror our body language and facial expressions in conversation or any interaction. They are cut off from other people, in what they can feel, and what others can make them feel.

Humour works by constructing a narrative and leaving some information hidden. Normal people feel empathy with the character and this gives them the necessary information to “get it” They laugh, the teller of the joke laughes and they both validate their humanity to each other. The specific timing, duration and intensity of their laugher is also another complex signal. Psychopaths may try to fake laughter but as a result of their lack of empathy they get the timing and volume wrong. They “sound off”.

Psychopaths do not justly return value. Rather than reciprocating they attempt to drain their prey of all their resources and keep them trapped and helpless. With this perspective it makes a lot of sense why people tell jokes to feel happy and part of a group at social gatherings. When there is fear and uncertainty, humour helps lift the mood. After all, it validates that everybody is not a predator. When your are part of an group of people who look out for and help each other there is much less cause for alarm. You have a much better chance for survival in group.

Psychopaths are not creative. According to Hintjens, psychopaths do not create art for entertainment nor cook or garden. They can imitate art but do not create originals works. He gives me a whole new perspective on why “authenticity” is praised so highly in art. Apparently it is just another way to root out psychopaths.

What still intrigues me is how the genes for psychopathy move through the population. It’s not just parent to child, since not all family members of psychopaths are psychopaths themselves. The fact that psychopathy is a spectrum even further complicates the picture. Estimates range from 1% to 10 % of the general population is a psychopath. That means I must have met many of them during my lifetime (short as it is). They are masters at deception, because there is not one that I can single out as being obviously anti-social.

To happiness, and beyond!


2 thoughts on “Psychopaths, emotions, humor, and art

  1. Interesting. I have wondered about the relationship between psychopaths and creativity. They can be very ‘creative’ in their manipulative and deceptive tactics aimed at incriminating their targets and their ability to look good while destroying another person. But what would an artistic psychopath look like?


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