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Sociopaths are essentially the human version of Always Chaotic Evil in media. Since we consider morality to be good, they are naturally depicted as amoral and selfish.
While it is somewhat Truth in Television, sociopaths are still human, and it's not unnatural that sociopaths have a sense of right and wrong, even though it is completely different from what other people consider that to be. Many diagnosed sociopaths are known to have moral codes, usually unique to them, but occasionally based on preexisting social codes as filtered through their particular perspective. Naturally, since these types of morality focus more on abstract concepts rather than the people themselves, expect some rather nasty extremism.
By definition, sociopaths are largely or totally incapable of guilt, compassion, empathy, or remorse -- thus, whenever they subscribe to a moral code, said code will either be reinterpreted or be amoral from the outset. They might feel "bad" about doing something they think is wrong, or that goes against their code, but they won't feel guilty and will shrug it off as just one of those things, or justify to themselves what they did as being the Needs of the Many, no matter how much Insane Troll Logic they have to employ to reach that conclusion. They can also like people without actually ''caring'' for them all that much.
The psychologist Andrzej M. Łobaczewski described something somewhat similar to this as a "schizoidal psychopath" -- who may have a conscience, but it's so heavily distorted that his/her moral codes end up demented; and whose attitude toward society becomes that of a Knight Templar.
See also Principles Zealot, when a villain is completely obsessed with his/her moral code; many moral sociopaths are these as well, as they care more about their moral code than people themselves. However, moral sociopaths need not to be always overwhelmed by extremism; some can be more Noble Demon types, which while lacking empathy, still have a moral code to restrict them in some ways. Also compare/contrast Black and White Insanity and Sociopathic Hero.
This is not to be confused with Ubermensch. Moral sociopaths can have their own unique moral codes, but they are just as likely to adhere to already-established things like Christianity and Communism.
Anime and Manga
- Baccano has two examples.
- Elmer C. Albatross -- despite his cheerful All-Loving Hero demeanor and selfless behavior, he is completely devoid of empathy and concern for others. He just does what he does because GoodFeelsGood.
- Vino from is the sort of person best summed up as "Ax Crazy Awesome." For someone who likes to grind people's faces off on train tracks, he gets very annoyed when someone attacks an uninvolved bystander.
- Black Butler: shows most 'supernaturals' having code, that by definition is immoral for humans.
- Ashe/Angela wants a world of purity and light. Burning cities, murdering children, screwing dogs, whatever it takes. Possibly a side-effect of being a Fallen Angel, since angels shouldn't be on earth in the first place.
- Ciel says that demons (including Sebastian, the Black Butler) do not have morality or attachments, but only aesthetics, that includes following orders. Which may be viewed as a sort of morality code. Even though Sebastian himself never shows any compassion or guilt, he does care about his assets, even if for only practical reasons (to get their loyalty).
- Lloyd Asplund of Code Geass, though more of a Mad Scientist, claims that he is a sociopath, caring only about science and engineering. An instance is when he decides to marry Milly Ashford, just so he could inherit the third generation Knightmare Frame in the family's possession. When Milly breaks off the engagement to live her own life later, he isn't overly concerned and lets her go without a fuss.
- Light Yagami, Villain Protagonist of Death Note, has a moral code based upon perfectionism. He gets perfect grades in school? That's good. He's athletic, intelligent and charismatic? That's good. He just murdered a man using an Artifact of Doom? That's... it's... It is good. It has to be good. He has to be good. He has to be perfect, and if the only way to ensure that he is perfect is to establish himself as God by forcing his brand of justice upon the world, in the process murdering everyone who is imperfect and bad according to him, then so be it. When one of his followers starts killing people for the "crime" of being unproductive to society, Light's reaction is that it is wrong. Why? Because there are are still criminals to take care of; it's still too early to to kill off people just for being unproductive.
- Zolf Kimblee from Fullmetal Alchemist is perhaps the most iconic example in anime. While he is an Ax Crazy Mad Bomber, it is well established that he does have a sense of honour, although a rather twisted one.
- Wolfgang Grimmer from Monster is a sociopath (at least according to himself) who is incapable of empathy and emotion. This has made his moral code, which is to fake being human as well as he possibly can at all times so that no-one can tell he's a sociopath, all the more important to him. He's so good at it that only people who really get to know him can tell that he lacks emotional affect. His wife only truly noticed it after their son died in an accident and Wolfgang was unable to fake mourning him.
- Fleet Admiral Sakazuki from One Piece, His code is of absolute justice untempered by mercy or restraint.
- Puella Magi Madoka Magica: Kyubey is debatably this. The character views emotions as a mental disorder, and simply does not understand human morality. At the same time, he's trying to prevent the heat death of the universe. What makes the character debatable is that it's not clear if he genuinely believes his actions are for the greater good, or if he is selfishly trying to preserve the lives of his race.
- Doctor Doom, subscribes to a personal code of honour that concerns always keeping his word, repaying any debt he owes to another, looking after the welfare of the people of Latveria, working to eradicate poverty, famine, disease, and war via World Domination, and ruthlessly avenging any and every insult to his character, real or imagined. Depending on his mood (and, thus, Depending on the Writer), he can abuse the hell out of all of these — Exact Words, Revenge Before Reason, Disproportionate Retribution, Evil Is Petty, Ungrateful Bastard, It's All About Me, and a serious Lack of Empathy are all characteristics of the man that his code doesn't get in the way of, and Latveria is sometimes depicted as a brutally efficient Police State. As his worst, Cold-Blooded Torture, Would Hurt a Child, and mass-murder are all fair game.
- Mindfuck from Empowered is an odd case, as she used her mental powers to prevent herself from being the sociopath she sensed she would become (and that her brother already was), leading to her becoming one of the most empathetic characters in the series. This also means that when she and Empowered are in a situation where only one of them can escape, she mind controls Empowered to force her to do so, reasoning that Empowered was more purely heroic than her given that she had to Mind Rape herself to not be a sociopath.
- Gepetto in Fables, combining the worse of an Evil Overlord and a Knight Templar, much to the detriment of everyone else.
- Green Lantern: The Guardians believe in upholding order in the galaxy, but they also suppress any form of emotion that they believe would hamper their own judgement. They even went as far as creating the Third Army to replace the Green Lanterns and wipe out all emotions in the universe to end future conflict.
- In Lucifer, the title character is an arrogant sociopath who does whatever it takes to get his way (and who, being nearly omnipotent in most circumstances, usually gets away with it). Nonetheless, he scrupulously observes a personal moral code of always keeping his word and always telling the unvarnished truth.
- Getaway from Transformers: More than Meets the Eye, enough so that his nature is a major spoiler. He does have a sense of morality, with a strong belief in loyalty to his cause and a desire to avoid unnecessary violence. Yet at the same time his moral code is odd and often seems more concerned with the overall concepts than with individual people. He leads a mutiny and makes a deal with the Big Bad to get rid of Megatron, yet speaks as if he's on the moral high-ground simply because he's doing so for the crew as a whole. When the DJD kill some people, Getaway expresses seemingly genuine sadness for their deaths, but doesn't really show any guilt over it, even though his scheme indirectly led to those deaths. Essentially he thinks less "it's all my fault" and more "shit happens."
"I'm not a bad person. I just have strong beliefs."
Films -- Animated
- The Hunchback of Notre Dame: Frollo is selfish in his lust for Esmeralda, but otherwise he sincerely believes half of the things he does genuinely are what God intended (albeit because he, Frollo, couldn't possibly do anything God didn't want him to do). A pretty big break from the literary version, who was a much nicer Anti-Villain and probably not a sociopath at all.
- According to the creator's commentary, in Kung Fu Panda 2, Lord Shen exhibits traits of this. He knows how utterly horrendous his actions were, but he refuses to admit how wrong he was about his parents because it's the only way he can justify the genocide of the pandas. As far as he is concerned, it's too late for his redemption and rendering everything as accidents is unthinkable.
Films -- Live-Action
- The Warden in Marmoulak wants to get all of his prisoners to heaven - even if he has to drag them there kicking and screaming.
- Mr. Blonde from Reservoir Dogs cuts a man's ear off for fun, has no sense of professionalism, indiscriminately guns down innocent bystanders, and clearly has no regard for his fellow robbers or their well-being. On the flip side, he appears to have a great deal of personal loyalty to his employer Joe and is shown (in a flashback) to have refused a plea bargain and instead serving a jail sentence when he could have walked by implicating Joe in a smuggling operation he was caught in.
- In Star Wars, the Jedi aspire to be this, as they value morality but their whole purpose is to forsake emotion. The EU occasionally explores this in greater detail, sometimes to horrific detail. This is implied to be the Fatal Flaw that led to the fall of the Order, and something that Luke Skywalker is careful not to repeat in the New Order.
- 1984: Perhaps the closest fit to describe the guiding philosophy of the Party and the mindset of the Inner Party members. The pursuit of power for it's own sake is seen as the highest good of humanity, and the surest path to more power is to unite and subsume one's own will into the will of the Party as a whole - and break the wills of those who don't quite get with the program.
- Subverted with Hrathen in Elantris, who seems like a religious fanatic at first, but turns out to be one of the more reasonable antagonists and goes through crippling guilt for his actions- he supports his theocratic religion because he believes it is too logical and well-organized to be wrong and turns against it when it stops behaving logically. Played utterly straight with Dilaf, who is such a fanatic and has such a serious case of Fantastic Racism for the Elantrians that he can justify just about any atrocity.
- Ambiguously, Peter Wiggin in Ender's Game, whose goal is to Take Over the World and unite it under a hegemony before the Russian-aligned Second Warsaw Pact creates a new conflict after the "buggers" are defeated.
- Hannibal Lecter's personal ethics are bizarre. Murder, torture, cannibalism and mutilation are fine, but sexual assault and rudeness are punishable by death. What Lecter considers to be rude behaviour is unclear as he himself insults, ignores and talks down to people. And murder could be seen as being pretty rude as well. Furthermore, his definition of evil is to defy the rules of society and he made the deliberate choice to be evil by rejecting societal norms.
- In Dan Wells' John Cleaver trilogy (I Am Not a Serial Killer, Mr. Monster, and I Don't Want to Kill You), the protagonist, diagnosed at 15 with conduct disorder (which he calls "just a nice way of telling parents their kids have antisocial personality disorder"), does not want to become a serial killer but recognizes his potential to become one, so he lives by a strict set of rules to prevent himself from Slowly Slipping Into Evil, "practicing normal life as if it were a private religion that could save him from damnation." His rules include: Not watching one person for too long (and ignoring them for a whole week if he does) to prevent stalking behaviour; not interacting with animals at all, period (animal cruelty); and giving someone a compliment if they make him so angry he wants to hurt them — he'll do this even to a boy at school who bullies him. John is so dependent on these rules, that in the wake of local serial killings, he wrestles for a week with the idea of breaking a rule to simply follow a suspicious drifter, purely because he's afraid of the slippery slope.
- In the Night Watch series, the worse members of the Light Ones are this.
- In David Drake's RCN series, Adele Mundy's personal bodyguard is said to be a Sociopathic Soldier who acts moral not because of any personal code, but because of the legal consequences of doing otherwise.
- A Song of Ice and Fire: Bronn. He makes no bones about it: He does his job to the best of his abilities, whatever it might currently entail as part of the agreed package. All while maintaining a professional and personable demeanour to all and sundry where suitable. But outside the job? He comes first. Always. He seems to find it somewhat disagreeable when people mistreat those he regards as having more worth (or just a load more bad luck) than society deems them to have. But, he won't actually step in to act on their behalf unless there is something for him to gain by it. There is very little he is unwilling to do for the right price, but the more distasteful (or dangerous) he finds the act, the more money or concessions you'll have to pony up. Oh, and don't try insulting him by suggesting he go against his underlying "keep it honest; keep in business" code for enough recompense: no dice.
Tyrion: "If someone asked you to kill someone's baby, would you do it, without question?"
Bronn: "Without question? No. [beat] I'd ask how much."
- Sweet Valley High: Elizabeth Wakefield can be like this. In her efforts to punish people for their wrongdoing, she can be as cruel as the person themselves was, but she's always completely oblivious to this.
- Timeline-191's Boris Lavochkin is a Sociopathic Soldier who will kill anybody who even looks at him funny. He still finds the CSA's Final Solution horrifying and deserving of punishment, meaning that for all his disregard of morality, he has a conception of it.
- This is the whole point of Dexter. The title character is a psychopathic serial killer who had a moral code instilled in him by his foster father. While his code prevents him from killing innocents, its main purpose is to prevent him from getting caught.
- House, being heavily modeled on Holmes, also falls into this trope. He doesn't particularly care about the patients, or people in general, but he loves the puzzle. If he has a suicidal patient, he refuses to let them die until he finds out what's wrong with them. If they're terminal, then they can die. On the rare occasions that they die despite his actions, he can be pretty shaken up about it, which can be either remorse for them or despair at failing the puzzle. He expresses empathy at times, but again, it's ambiguous which one it is.
- Patrick Jane on The Mentalist once pretended to have become an example of this trope. To trick a killer into a revealing admission, he pretended that an experimental device had switched off his conscience, and began threatening to shoot a group of suspects on the grounds that it was his job to identify criminals and they weren't cooperating.
- Sherlock: If we are to take him at his word, Sherlock Holmes is a more-or-less-heroic example of this trope. He solves difficult crimes for the intellectual challenge rather than any particular desire to right wrongs or help people.
Sherlock: "I'm not a psychopath. I'm a high-functioning sociopath."
- On the other hand, he feels a deep kinship with any of those who don't "fit" into society at large. That is, he tends to treat them like he does his brother Mycroft; constant needling in their day-to-day lives, mostly out of boredom. And he's an outright brutal bastard to anyone who preys upon them.
- Magic: The Gathering
- The phyrexians qualify big time -- they have a very well-structured religious system and many of them hang neurotically to their philosophy, but they have so little empathy that Complete Monster might as well be their hat. New Phyrexia indeed has two factions that fit this bill perfectly: the Machine Orthodoxy, composed of white aligned phyrexians that formed a nightmarish faith which they cling to obsessively, and the Progress Engine, composed of blue aligned phyrexians whose view of "progress" would make Josef Mengele proud.
- The Azorius Senate from Ravnica also count, being obsessed with order and making laws, while not caring for the population, and sometimes even acting fascistic. White and Blue really love this trope.
- Warhammer and Warhammer 40,000:
- The servants of Chaos, particularly Khorne and Slaanesh. Khorne is a War God who demands sacrifice and bloodshed, while Slaanesh is a Love God(dess) whose followers practice every form of hedonism and excess. So while Khornates will kill everyone including noncombatants (after killing those who can fight), they won't torture for eternity like the Slaaneshi (and often fight each other for those reasons).
- Likewise, Tzeentch and Nurgle can each claim moral superiority over each other. Tzeentch is the god of mutation, sorcerers and backstabbers, and his followers are prone to getting the wrong end of deals like being mutated into a gibbering Chaos Spawn, a mindless, gibbering creature who exists only to kill and suffer... or become superpowered wizards. Nurgle, on the other hand, wants nothing more than for the entirety of the universe to decay away, and so his followers are blessed with loathsome diseases and hideous cancers... but as a side effect, their nerves are rotten away so they can't feel pain. Yay!
- Bioshock: Sofia Lamb is a curious case in that she probably did not began as this, being originally driven by her altruistic goals (though arguably she was enamoured with the concept rather than the people themselves), but by the time of the game she became a Totalitarian Utilitarian obsessed with removing individuality and curing humanity's genetic fatalism.
- The Reapers of the Mass Effect series turn out to be this. Yes, they come in every 50,000 years and eradicate all the technologically advanced species and convert them into raw material for a new Reaper... but they do it so the galaxy won't descend into an endless war of organics vs. synthetics, and besides, the civilizations they harvest live on within the minds of the Reapers. Thus, they rationalize genocide as being part of the "greater good," and ultimately what's best for everyone.
The Rannoch Reaper: "YOU REPRESENT CHAOS, WE REPRESENT ORDER. EVERY ORGANIC CIVILIZATION MUST BE HARVESTED IN ORDER TO BRING ORDER TO CHAOS. IT IS INEVITABLE. WITHOUT OUR INTERVENTION, ORGANICS ARE DOOMED.. WE ARE YOUR SALVATION."
- Persona 4's resident Serial Killer, Adachi, evolves into this after his defeat. By Persona 4: Arena Ultimax he's still a sociopathic asshole, but he's decided that he's going to pay for his crimes, and if he were to be released from prison because somebody else started killing people in the same manner, it would violate the rules he's decided for himself. He also slightly cares for Yu and Doujima, but good luck getting him to admit that.
- Racter from Shadowrun Returns: Hong Kong is a clinical sociopath, but learned from a young age that it was in his rational self-interest to pretend to adhere to 'normal' human morality even if he feels no emotional connection to it. He understands things such as friendships on an intellectual level, and will consider the Player Character one if you continue to engage him in interesting talks without blowing him off. He also has a near-religious interest in Transhumanism and therefore feels moral outrage, or the closest he can get to it, about people who jeopardise the future of the human race's evolution for personal gain, like two of his former research companions did when they stole his experimental drone data and sold it to ARES in return for employment.
- Sid Meier’s Alpha Centauri's leader of the Human Hive, Chairman Yang. He disregards the individual, in pursuit of a totalitarian collectivism, because he believes that unfettered self-interest is ultimately harmful to the cause of human progress.
- Jade Curtiss in Tales of the Abyss is a heroic version. He has no empathy whatsoever, but is troubled by this, and always tries to do the right thing even though his concept of right and wrong can be a little skewed. Far, far less so in his backstory, where he was a Creepy Child.
- Big Bad Maximilian from Valkyria Chronicles is a classic sociopath in many ways (shallow effect, relating to others only in terms of their worth to him, It's All About Me mentality) but possesses a very strong code of ethics that often makes him very sympathetic. He abhors disloyalty, is one of the least racist people in a game where even the good guys display strong prejudice, executes his own men for war crimes, and rescued a young Selvaria from the laboratory where she had been imprisoned (mostly because he knew it would ensure her loyalty, but still).
- Priest Kirei Kotomine from Fate/stay night. His religious beliefs and personal circumstances make him state firmly that there's no sin in an unborn baby and everyone has the right to be born. He is willing to put his life on the line and sacrifice everything without blinking an eye to witness certain baby's birth. What makes it a case of Blue-and-Orange Morality is that he will literally sacrifice everything, including humanity, for "the baby" that is an omnicidal Sealed Evil in a Can. Of course, he turns out to be an actual sociopath trying desperately to ape normal morals, so it's a justified trope-he doesn't actually get why people would be a little more nuanced about this than he is.
- Kore from Goblins. He does sincerely believe he is doing the right thing by mercilessly slaughtering everyone that has been in contact with "evil races," even children of his own species that were with said "evil races." His utter conviction that he is doing good is probably what allows him to keep his paladin powers. This is either due to a houserule that lets paladins be this without falling, or just Herbert the Gamemaster being out of it or sadistic. Or both.
- Or not...considering Kore isn't even human (such as it is for dwarves)... or mortal, anymore.
- Batman: the Animated Series: Temple Fugate, aka the Clock King--he was a productive member of society with his own efficiency company, but was also a Bad Boss with No Social Skills and Lack of Empathy who ends up becoming a villain. Fugate doesn't seem to realize why his Lack of Empathy plays against him; in his introductory episode, he ''knows'' he will lose an important appeal for his company, but is sincerely unaware why nobody seems to ''like'' him.
- ↑ Not to be confused with schizoid personality disorder, which is a completely unrelated personality disorder