Author of Politics Is Bad, trying to find and spread good ideas for public discourse.


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There are bad people out there who can be prevented from doing bad things only when they are physically restrained with chains and metal bars. Unless we develop some revolutionary new technology or fundamentally modify the nature of man, this is the reality we’re stuck with.

The second sentence is basically my motivation, that society is missing a trillion-dollar-bill-on-the-ground, in the form of "looking closer at how society treats 'just being an asshole', and probably treating it more like a health issue than a morality issue".

For context, a lot of ACAB-type leftists endorse an idea along the lines of "there are evil sociopaths who inevitably rise to the top of capitalist society, and they should be killed by everyone else". This, of course:

  • ...often coexists with more grounded ideas about systemic-incentives-towards-bad-behavior.
  • ...sometimes coexists with wanting power structures anyway (!!), like Marxist-Leninist ("tankie") leftists who somehow imagine that sociopaths wouldn't gain power or pose a problem in an Authoritarian-Left society.
  • ...fails to even acknowledge the fact that doing this for a long time, or with children, would end up as a form of eugenics, which most leftists claim to hate.
  • ...fails to even acknowledge that "being just an asshole" might have some biological roots, and thus should maybe be treated as a normal illness deserving of medical research and new technologies and insurance coverage and public sympathy.

(The eugenics point deserves further remark: I don't know how often this idea has been laid out explicitly, but many leftists seem to have a kind of Anarcho-Primitivist mindset of "if someone misbehaves, we let the tribe / small group sort it out somehow". So if a 10-year-old seems like they are (or would grow up to be) a sociopath, the group would simply kill them.)

I've long meant to write a post series called "Cure, Don't Kill, Sociopaths", including a section "Cure, Don't Kill, The Rich", expanding on all this. It's also hard because, between motte-and-bailey and sanewashing and unstated assumptions and my own (inadequate) attempts at steelmanning, many of the things I argue against might not be written down anywhere.

(Also, on the "we should treat asshole-ness more like a normal illness" front, another post idea I have is "If We Treated Leprosy [or BPD or something] Like We Treat Sociopaths/Assholes", basically an intuition pump for a lot of this.)

Back on the main "curing sociopaths" idea, my We can easily imagine bad ways to do this (like genetically modifying all future newborns to be totally conformist/compliant, or classifying normal old disagreeableness as something that needs to be removed). I'm not saying there's a slam-dunk policy written down already that implements all this, or that there's no debate to be had about where to draw lines or how. I'm not even saying I'll agree with all the ideas I write in this comment, in a year.

I'm just saying that the policy "treat assholes as victims of their own scientifically-understandable condition" should be more people's default, and that it ought to be the main area people go into when trying to improve or replace the prison system. Especially when those people are already radical dreamers who believe in rehabilitation and drastic social change.