Is Douglas Wilson a Psychopath?
This question has been raised many times by people who have had to deal with Wilson in face to face conflict like I have. Wikipedia defines and describes Psychopathy in the following way:
… These days, psychopathy is defined in psychiatry as a condition characterized by lack of empathy or conscience, poor impulse control and manipulative behaviors. Though in widespread use as a psychiatric term, psychopathy has no precise equivalent in either the DSM-IV-TR, where it is most strongly correlated with antisocial personality disorder, or the ICD-10, where it is correlated with dissocial personality disorder.
…Hare describes psychopaths as “intraspecies predators who use charm, manipulation, intimidation, and violence to control others and to satisfy their own selfish needs. Lacking in conscience and in feelings for others, they cold-bloodedly take what they want and do as they please, violating social norms and expectations without the slightest sense of guilt or regret.”
[Go to Wikipedia’s page for their many embedded links.]
I have been arguing that Wilson’s latest review of Sam Harris’ Letter to a Christian Nation has given almost conclusive evidence to the fact that this hypothesis is indeed true, as least with regard to “lacking in conscience and in feelings for others.” This was my primary argument in my last post about this. Wilson’s continued response to Harris’ appeal to human empathy is at best bizarre, at worst, revelation that Doug Wilson has never had normal human empathy for another person. This morning Wilson has another post up interacting with Harris’ book, and we see the same evidence all over again:
[quoting Harris:] “At this very moment, millions of sentient people are suffering unimaginable physical and mental afflictions, in circumstances where the compassion of God is nowhere to be seen, and the compassion of human beings is often hobbled by preposterous ideas about sin and salvation” (p. 37). Every time you speak this way, I want to bring you back to the fundamental question about suffering. Given your principles, what is wrong with it? If I am living here in North America, and my nervous system is not connected to those who are suffering in Africa, given your principles, why should I care. If ten people die in agony on the other side of the world, or if ten million do, if the word never gets to me, and the pain never registers in me, then why should I care?
Don’t get me wrong. I believe we should care … I am asking you why pain that never registers as pain in me has any obligation for me. In addition, if I am living here in the great jacuzzi of consumerism, enjoying the heck out of it, then why should I surrender all that in order to go suffer through what it takes to bring relief to others? Who cares? Before I cared, no pain in me. After I cared, lots of pain in me. Please explain to me why I should exchange pleasure for pain in the only place where pleasure and pain register, and if pleasure and absence of suffering are the highest good.
You are assuming a great solidarity of nervous systems, and I do not see how collective moral obligation arises out of this — particularly since the pain and pleasure calculus you use does not jump from one nervous system to another. On top of that, what gives pleasure to certain sub-groups of human nervous systems is pain in other sub-groups. How are we to sort this out? If pain and pleasure are the real things that count, it would seem that we have to side with the bigger tribe because they are carrying around more nerve endings. They would experience more pleasure and the defeated tribe would experience less pain. And after the genocide, the defeated tribe would experience no pain, and far as the atheist is concerned, that problem is permanently solved. I know that you are appalled by this kind of reasoning, and say that it does not represent your thinking, which I grant. But I want to know why it does not. Why do you assume a solidarity of all humankind as opposed to a tribal or racial solidarity?
One other brief comment. You point out that many abortions occur naturally, and draw a rather strange inference from it. “There is an obvious truth here that cries out for acknowledgment: if God exists, He is the most prolific abortionist of all” (p. 38). You do not appear to understand that God is the giver of life, and so, if He takes that life away, we bless the name of the Lord. We cannot take life away, apart from God’s clear scriptural authorization, precisely because we did not give it in the first place. God, “if He exists,” does not have to fill out a police report down at the station every time someone dies of a heart attack.
I really do not think Wilson realizes what he is admitting to us in this book review. All the elements are communicated once again. First, Wilson can only understand human suffering and happiness in terms of raw feels, and even theses feels are conceptualized as the mere physical workings of “nerve endings.” More importantly, he claims that the suffering of other people does not register in any way in him. Wilson is emphatic about this point. There is no natural, causal, social connection between the nerve endings of one person and the nerve endings of another. Wilson could be standing by watching the woman getting raped and her baby’s head decapitated, and there would be no natural formation of pain in him. Wilson could not be clearer. This is why he cannot understand the first thing about Harris’ very simple and common sense appeal to human empathy. We have no evidence elsewhere in the Wood for a different explanation of Wilson’s bizarre handling of Harris’ claims, and this is certainly not taking Wilson’s words out of context since Harris’ appeal to human empathy is precisely what Wilson is rejecting here.
Second, thus lacking the capacity for human empathy, Wilson thinks that Harris’ appeal to human suffering and happiness can only be construed in terms of an impersonal utilitarian calculus. Whereas Harris has clearly appealed to natural empathy between people, Wilson claims that the best way to understand Harris’ point as grounds for morality is to merely add up the total amount of raw feels of pleasure or pain for a given social group. According to Wilson’s way of feeling about things, the best way to apply Harris’ appeal to human empathy is to commit acts of genocide.
Third, because of his lack of natural empathy Wilson can only dismiss “the problem of evil” as a mere game of “authorization.” Harris points out that God causes or permits far more abortions than do people each year, which is an implicit reference to the traditional problem of evil argument. But Wilson claims there is nothing to this point since God gave the life in the first place. Obviously, this answer is vacuous; but Wilson cannot see this. Once again, since the issue can in no way be about emotion, horror, or empathy, it must rather be about moral maxim, of brute “obligation.” The only meaningful issue for Wilson is who is “authorized” to kill and who is not.
In at least four posts now on Harris’ book, Wilson has revealed little about Harris’ argument but much about Wilson’s own emotional capacities. I am reminded of the time when Wilson was on a definition trip about “love.” At the time, love was nothing more than obedience to God’s law as applied to other people. Wilson reasoned that one could love X not only while putting X to death, but by putting X to death, since putting X to death was simply the appropriate application of God’s law to X in that circumstance of justice. My friend was eating it up and I vigorously apposed this view, arguing that it was highly reductive to remove the idea of wanting good for X, seeking X’s own flourishing, from the very meaning of the phrase “to love X.” Perhaps I can love X while putting X to death, but I do not express my “love” for X by the very act of putting X to death. There might be certain exceptions, as when the condition of X or X’s crimes where so horrible that it is mercy to X to go ahead and end his life. But since we were talking about a redefinition of “love,” such exceptions where not the point; the point was understanding love as reference to nothing but obiedience to God’s law as applied to other people. My friend went to Wilson and explained my disagreement. Wilson told my friend that I was just a sentimentalist. I really think that much of Wilson’s attempt at social dominance and his working out of various theological themes is his way of trying to make sense of his incapacity to experience empathy.