See below for the essays about the Oklahoma Academy of Sciences field meeting last weekend.
There are some people—the exact number is hard to determine—who care nothing for their fellow world citizens. Some of them are psychopaths, whose brains make them incapable of empathy, but psychopaths are only part of the problem. There are many others who are anti-altruists even though they may not be clinically psychopathic. One example, and I’m sure you can think of many in your own experience, is the people who left beer bottles and cans on the beach and under the trees at the state park where the Oklahoma Academy of Sciences had its meeting last weekend. They left their litter—some of it dangerous broken glass—not by accident but deliberately. They were sending a message to the rest of us. They wanted to make it perfectly clear that they hate the rest of us and the planet that we share with them.
I’m not talking about careless litterers, of which Oklahoma has a large number. A lot of people put trash in their truck beds and seem totally unaware that this trash can blow out of the truck bed and onto the road. One time, as I drove at full speed down an interstate highway, a plastic door lifted up out of a truck bed and slammed against my car. I wonder if, sometimes, Oklahoma drivers lose furniture out of the backs of their trucks (maybe a couch with Granny still sitting on it). Just yesterday someone lost a truck wheel out of the back of their truck and left it on a busy street. Instead I refer to deliberate litterers. Deliberate litterers are on a par with chimpanzees flinging their shit at people. They are worse than if they were children who never grow up.
What do we do about such people? There is nothing we can do. Laws do not stop them. They will not listen to any appeals to reason much less empathy. All we can do is to tolerate them. All we can do is to clean up after them and hope they don’t shoot us. Empathy is one of the greatest capacities that has evolved in the human species, and we must simply accept that there is a margin of losers who do not possess this most important human trait. We are accustomed to thinking of mutations such as trisomy 21 as a deleterious mutation. But Down’s syndrome people are almost always cheerful and nice. The lack of empathy, socially and perhaps genetically influenced, is a truly bad part of human variation. You may have heard about the psychologist who discovered that he was genetically psychopathic but had grown up training himself to be empathetic. We can only hope that some of the kids who have received anti-altruism in their genes and upbringing may be able to similarly overcome this curse. We continue to offer messages and examples of altruism in the hope that this may, once in a while, occur.