Acting ethically has many rewards, but one major disadvantage: ethical people have a hard time spotting smart unethical people. Why is that? I submit it is because ethical people look for the best in others, give others the benefit of the doubt, and judge others by their apparent sincerity.
Most people believe that they can detect sincerity in others. But it becomes a problem with the other is an expert at concealing insincerity. For example, President Bush said that he, “looked [Vladimir Putin, then Russia’s President] in the eye. I found him to be very straight forward and trustworthy and we had a very good dialogue” and “I was able to get a sense of his soul” (Wyatt, 2001, 11-12). Obviously Bush was misled; perhaps Mr. Putin learned how to appear sincere when he was a KGB officer during the Cold War (Hoffman, 2000).
Sociopaths are notorious for their ability to charm and dissemble. Stout says, “charm – though the link may seem counterintuitive – is a primary characteristic of sociopathy” (2005, p. 88). Because the sociopath has not superego, he or she can lie to your face without betraying any of the usual signs of guilt; this is where the term “pathological liar” originated. I don’t know that Putin is a sociopath, though I see much speculation on the Internet about both him and President Bush as suffering from Abnormal Personality Disorder or its allied mental disorders (borderline, narcissistic, and hedonistic personality disorders). As they now comprise about 4% of all Americans, you just never know who suffers from this lack of a superego or conscience (Id.).
You cannot look into the eyes of a someone who lacks a conscience and depend upon their promises or other cues. They don’t have them, except in simulation when they are conning you. Just because someone appears to conform to the rules of civilized behavior is not necessarily a true indication of a person’s willingness to cooperate in keeping rules and agreements.
Hoffman, D. (2000, January 30). Putin’s career rooted in Russia’s KGB. The Washington Post Online, p. A1. Retrieved February 21, 2009, from http://www.washingtonpost.com/wp-srv/inatl/longterm/russiagov/putin.htm
Stout, M. (2005). The Sociopath Next Door. NY: Broadway Books.
Wyatt, C. (2001, June 16). Bush and Putin: Best of friends. BBC News [electronic version]. Retrieved February 21, 2009 from http://news.bbc.co.uk/2/hi/europe/1392791.stm
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