Monday, October 20, 2014

Evil is everywhere

A reader sent me this comic:


Sunday, October 19, 2014

TED Talk on Empathy

From a reader:

I recently viewed this Ted Talk about empathy, and as a person who has never truly experienced it, the presentation was rather interesting. What I found especially fascinating was the role of mirror neurons in the empathetic process. Could it be that sociopaths cannot utilize (or do not possess) mirror neurons, thus making us physiologically incapable of empathizing with others? 

Another point mentioned was the tie between empathy, religion, and the development of society. Rifkin states that empaths are able to relate to those of their own religion and nationality. As an atheist (and someone who exhibits most of the "sociopathic characteristics" that are generally recognized in psychology), I personally cannot see why religion might create stronger empathetic bonds between people. As a Mormon, have you ever noticed yourself favoring those who share your religious beliefs, and perhaps even relating to them to a higher degree?

The speaker brought up the earthquake in Haiti, which was actually the event that caused me to question if I was a sociopath. While I saw others crying about the event on social media and even in public, I didn't have any sympathy for those who experienced the earthquake, and my callousness made me look like an outsider in a crowd of extremely emotional people. 

In the presentation, there is also a constant theme of civilization only being possible with empathy. If so, why are there so many sociopaths taking the highest positions in society almost seamlessly? Why are empaths so proud of their ability to have others influence them so greatly?

I'd love to know your thoughts on the matter. 

M.E.: I have never really felt myself feeling closer to other Mormons, maybe because I'm not enough like them to feel like one of them. In fact I remember vividly one instance in which I visited a Temple open house and was surrounded by thousands of little redheaded Mormon children and almost had a panic attack because I got it in my head that I would stick out more there than usual -- that I would be outed. I remember (also vividly) the first time that I felt patriotism, in my early 20s. Not surprisingly, it was while playing a Sousa march accompanied by 250 blaring other musicians. (I say not surprisingly because I often feel like I can get in touch with emotions via music that are otherwise not as available to me.)

The fetish that empaths have with empathy is one of the great mysteries to me. Only a few psychologists and other researchers question it's presumed dominance and importance in society, culture, and human interrelations. I have often pointed out, to those who might be interested, what I find to be the limitations and or quirks of empathy. A favorite recent examples is the story of the Norwegian child bride. I don't want to ruin the effect for anybody, who should experience it for themselves, but you can read about it here.

Still I think it's interesting what an uproar it created. And you think of how many times a similar situation happens elsewhere and how little we care. But that's empathy for you.

Friday, October 17, 2014

Passion and compassion

I liked this comment from a while ago:

Anon. continued -- and it goes without saying, I love the hell out of her. I love her the way a normal guys loves his dearest possession. I love her in the sense that I want her to be happy (agape). And I love her waist-to-hip ratio (eros).

I also love her in the way that if she betrays me in a way that hurts (not all betrayal bugs me) and I can get away with retaliating in a cruel way, I'll do it. And she knows that. 

A test: in order to stop your country from getting taken over - and a good chunk of the country purposefully killed and tortured (think of the Bolsheviks taking over Ukraine and causing the Holodomor) and dominating the country "forever", you need to sacrifice your wife. You must personally torture her to death. If you do that, your country will keep its autonomy. If you don't millions will suffer.

Would you do it?

I asked my friends if they thought I'd to that to my wife; they all knew the answer - and they knew that I'd reached it in about a second, without my pulse going up.
I asked the wife (also a psychopath). Her answer, "sucks to be me."

About the viewing people like machines, but still liking some: imagine you are a kid and you have an army of toy soldiers. You get into a "battle" with another kid and you lose soldiers. You really like yours (say they are elves). You don't like the orcs (ugly). You really want the elves to win, and you'll do what it takes to make it happen. Until maybe some of the elves piss you off, and then you decide that pointy-eared elves are OK, but the elves with rounded ears are really irritating - and have to go - preferably melted down, cut up in to pieces or blown up.

That explains why the German people were really great, until Hitler decided that all the really good ones were already dead (having followed their orders), and the only remaining ones were so disgusting and selfish they didn't deserve to live.

It is a childish and misanthrophic way to view humanity. It leads to a lot of suffering for the person that views reality that way.

The compassionate thing would be to hope that such a person could come around and see how great humans are and treasure all of them - including the psychopaths, normal people, etc.
But this isn't how normal people are. Psychopaths scare them and hence merit as much compassion as a pissed off snake.

Thursday, October 16, 2014

Enlightenment

From a reader:

Hi, it's interesting to get a sociopath take on reality. I notice you try to 'justify' the sociopaths view of the world and this is often both thought-provoking and helpful.

However, is the socio take on the world false?

I'm interested in 'spirituality' and (as I think you've discussed before) many people who experience enlightenment believe the self to be an illusion. However, when they do experience enlightenment they all say they feel extremely high affinity for all life and inanimate objects. This is the polar opposite of a socio of course. If enlightenment reveals the truth, then the truth is we ought to have a very high degree of affinity for others. Since socio's have low or no affinity doesn't that suggest the way socios see the world is false? Possibly even somewhat animalistic and sub-human? (Btw I believe non-violent socio's ought to be tolerated and encouraged to be as open and honest as possible about themselves, as you do on your blog).

My response:

Yes, I think I sort of agree with you. The way that Buddhists seem to lose self in enlightenment is to realize the truth -- that they are just like everyone else, a meaningless spec that has fooled itself into believing that it controls its destiny. The way sociopaths seem to lose their sense of self is to be put in situations at a young age in which they see a sense of self (and accompanying emotions and loss of control) as a liability, and they are all too willing to abandon it. Sociopaths still have self, they just don't acknowledge it and give it meaning, the way they don't really acknowledge or give their emotions meaning. So yes, I would say that it is a false view of the world.

Wednesday, October 15, 2014

On responsibility and change

A reader asks, among other things:

I think I know why I wrote to you now. You seem very intelligent. I like engaging with intelligent people even though I don't see myself as exceptionally intelligent. I like asking intelligent people questions especially someone like you who has a gift for articulation. I think at this point I want to ask your opinion: do you think it is possible that your disorder doesn't exist? What I mean is that sociopathy has a distinct set of criteria. Do you think that maybe these criteria have merely served to elucidate your identity rather than actually describing the phenomenon of a so-called mental disorder? sorry if I not making sense and you do not understand my question. It just seems as if your sense of self became infinitely more clear when you were diagnosed. Is it possible that we are all by and large sociopaths (and by the same logic- depressives, anti-socialists, aspergers and attentionally deficient individuals. All "disorders" that don't have a definite and distinct biological origin). I think you said something to the effect of: not all sociopaths exhibit the same set of behaviours but they can still be considered sociopaths if they exhibit enough of these. Would you say that the label of sociopath has given you some, if not all, of your identity and has served as a basis for all your beliefs about the world and yourself? And following the above questions: Don't you think that applying the label of sociopath to a proportion of individuals who exhibit these traits could potentially lead to a situation whereby individuals need not take responsibility for their actions? I have seen this in people with depression. In a sense the label absolves them from any effort to change their mindset. 

In this regard I wish to question whether creating a forum for sociopaths could perhaps do more harm than good. Obviously you have found resolve in the label and it seems as if it has helped you in your life. But do you think that there will be many individuals who could apply this label "sociopath" to themselves so as to validate their bad behaviours and absolve themselves of social responsibility?

I hope you can shed some light on this issue which I feel does not apply in isolation to sociopathy but rather to psychology at large. Again thank you for the read Ms. Thomas. 

My reply:

You asked "Would you say that the label of sociopath has given you some, if not all, of your identity and has served as a basis for all your beliefs about the world and yourself?" If anything, I think it was the opposite. My beliefs about the world and myself led me to be sociopathic. I'll give a quick example. I have long known that I am manipulative. But even knowing that I could not stop because there was nothing to replace it with. How could I decide what to do and not to do without considering the effect that it would have on others? And if I was considering the effect, then I was being manipulative, sort of by definition, every single choice that I made and action that I took because it always done for the purposes of getting the best result for me -- getting people to choose the thing that benefited me most.

How did I learn to stop manipulating? I had to realize that I actually did have a self, that without considering anybody else in the world I had natural preferences. And as long as I ignored everyone else's existence and just acted on my natural preference, there was no way that I could be manipulating. And so I am now capable of not doing one of the classic behaviors that sociopaths are supposedly stuck with for life.

Your question about using the diagnosis as a cop out seems sort of right, but if anything sociopaths are punished for having the label as opposed to people without it or with other labels. So even if it is a cop out for certain disorders, I don't see it happening any time soon with sociopathy.
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