Sunday, November 17, 2019

Sociopath Poetry? For the Nefarious

For the Nefarious
BY MAI DER VANG

From a recessed hollow
Rumble, I unearth as a creature

Conceived to be relentless.
Depend on me to hunt you

Until you find yourself
Counting all the uncorked

Nightmares you digested.
I will let you know the burning

Endorsed by the effort of
Matches. And you will claw

Yourself inward, toward a
Conference of heat as the steam

Within you surrenders, caves
You into a cardboard scar.

Even what will wreck you
Are your mother’s chapped lips.

Even to drip your confession
Of empty rooms. I know about

Your recipe of rain, your apiary
Ways. Trust me to be painful.


Tuesday, November 5, 2019

A Week in Interior Alaska for $500

I had such a great, cheap trip to the Alaskan interior that I thought I would share some tips.

First of all, why so cheap? First, hotels in Alaska tend to be quite expensive for what they are. Second, I wanted to go on this polar bear tour that was almost $2000, just for one day. But on the other hand polar bears aren't going to be around forever maybe? Also I had learned some cheap travel tricks and wanted to challenge myself to use them. And I didn't want out time there to be limited by how much money we were spending on hotels.

I flew into Anchorage on a late Wednesday night and slept in the airport rather than leave or rent a car earlier. My new sociopath friend Arthur turned me on to this strategy -- save money by taking really early flights or really late flights and just sleep in the airport. There's even a website, sleepinginairports.net. The general rule is as much as possible be on the inside security side, because the sleeping and other opportunities usually exceed that of the public side of airports and with less harassment from cops, etc.

My goal was to not spend a single night in an actual lodging, and we actually did make it the whole week sleeping in the car, which was a lot of fun. Alaska is a great place to do what a lot of people call boondocking, or dry camping, or sleeping in cars. The only place that has any sort of limitations on it is in Anchorage, and there are plenty of places just outside Anchorage to stay. You can sleep at rest stops. You can sleep at pull outs. We slept at a Wal-Mart twice. I suggest picking a place that already has someone there for safety or if you need to jump the car or something in the morning. For showering, we showered at campsites at places that we were already going to, like Denali National Park, and we paid $15 each to go to the Chena Hot Springs Resort just outside of Fairbanks, which had showers. (At Denali the technical rule is showers are just for campers, but we had a reservation snafu with them and the showers were empty and $7 so I didn’t have qualms about it.)  I guess you can also often find showers at laundromats. Dry cabins or dry camping is an Alaskan phenomenon and it is well suited for it.

That morning I woke up, brushed my teeth, and picked up my rental car. I had booked a car originally for the week for something like $450, but I got free cancellation and just kept that browser tab open on my laptop to periodically check if prices went down. Every time they went down, I re-booked another car. I got supplier's choice because I figured I was probably going to book a small car anyway, so I had nowhere to go but up. Me and my traveling companion hit the jackpot when we got a minivan. We were really hoping for anything on the big side, SUV etc. But worst case scenario we had brought this off of Amazon:



The reviews suggest that it doesn't last long, and it started dying the last night of the trip. I never did get a chance to use it like it's mean, i.e. in the back seat of a car. But it was about the size of a twin bed plus 20%. Not a full size mattress, somewhere in between. You could probably sleep two people (and some reviewers suggested that they did), but they should be small-ish people who don't mind being all up on each other. In any case, we didn't end up using it this way, just as an inflatable mattress for sleeping in the back of the van.

We flew into Anchorage because it was cheaper than Fairbanks and gas is cheap in Alaska, plus we wanted a scenic drive. And we ended up going down to Kenai Fjords National Park on a very beautiful scenic drive on the Kenai Peninsula.

Being there at the very end of August was  little bit key because that's the beginning of Polar Bear Season, the end of National Park or boondocking season for Denali (unless you want cold and rainy), Grizzly Bears go into a nonstop eating pattern in preparation for hibernation, there were beautiful fall colors that were changing by the day, and there were Northern Lights.

I'd suggest doing the Tundra Wilderness tour in Denali and trying to sign up for a Ranger led hike (you can only sign up in person 1-2 days before the hike, so consider being there for 2.5 days to accommodate this schedule. Buy bear spray on your way up on a Fred Meyer. We also got sleeping bags for $10 on sale there after spending the first night shivering under the thin blankets we had packed and wearing nearly all of our clothes.

Chena Hot Springs just north of Fairbanks is a great place for seeing the Northern Lights. I would set an alarm for every hour and if you see anything, stay up because they can grow a lot brighter and disappear pretty fast. Fairbanks is supposed to be one of the best places in the world for Northern Lights do its latitude and number of clear, starry nights.

A good low key activity between Northern Lights viewing nights is Fairbanks' Pioneer Park and the salmon bake there: https://www.akvisit.com/dinner/

Fairbanks Ice Museum is cheap and surprisingly fun to play with the ice sculptures.

If you can swing the Polar Bear tour, I really recommend it. It's really expensive, but they call up ahead of time to see if there is any bear activity, so you're almost guaranteed to see them. Also you get to fly over Northern Alaska and get up to the Arctic Ocean. If you want to do it on the cheap, the place they go is called Kaktovik and Ravn Air flies there, but they're notorious for leaving passengers stranded, so give yourself an extra day. I believe there is only one inn there, that is also the only public eatery, so pack snacks or plan on eating that the whole time. I think a local tour company is Kaktoviktours.com, and they can help you arrange stuff. The nice thing about the package tour I took is that everything ran seamlessly.

I would pass on the Dalton Road. Looked totally boring from the air.





Saturday, October 5, 2019

Seeing wolves during Yellowstone Shoulder Season in Lamar Valley

In the third week of September, I was in Yellowstone and thought I would share some travel tips and thoughts.

Traveling to Yellowstone in late September is pretty far into shoulder season, but I had hoped the weather would hold up. The weather was good while we were there, but because it had snowed the weekend before we got there, many of the major campsites had been closed just the day before we arrived. I had been monitoring the supply of campsites online for several days prior to that, but hadn't checked the night before, so wasn't aware about the campsite closures until we arrived when we and dozens of others were all scrambling for the same few available sites. Campsites are pretty important in Yellowstone unless you want to stay in their lodges, which at least for our dates would have been several hundred dollars a night. So our first day in Yellowstone was us driving through the park with no phone reception and campsites not updating their availability on the few times we could log into the website. None of the camp hosts or rangers were helpful. No one seemed to know what was going on. We almost came up completely short when we got kicked out of a campsite that someone said they had reserved with a camp chair set up in the site, but another camper overheard our predicament and offered to share his campsite with him and his wife who were just planning on sleeping in their truck and had extra space. Thanks so much to the couple from Maine who so generously allowed us to share their site.

My first suggestion for Yellowstone then is that if you plan on getting campsites that are first come first serve, even during late shoulder season, book a reserved campsite for your first night and try to get to your campsite of choice definitely before 10:30 a.m. (and even sooner if you can swing it) to be sure you get a site. Because it takes at least an hour from anywhere outside in the park to get to any of these first come first serve campsites, everyone that's already in the park will have a competitive advantage. My second suggestion is that apparently some National Park Service campsites require a tent, so if you can make friends with an RV person and you have a tent, you could maybe arrange to share a space to your mutual benefit.



If you're interested in wildlife, I suggest asking rangers and even approachable tour guide operators or people who look like they've been here at least a few days early and often where the best places and times are to see wildlife. The last night we were camping there, a camp ranger told us that you can see wolves in Lamar Valley pretty predictably for the first few hours after sunrise (she said until about 9:00 a.m.) My understanding is that the wolf parents are coming back from an evening of hunting, reunite with the rest of the pack for some family fun, and then find some place to sleep. My ranger said that this is as much of a guarantee to see the wolves as you can ever make with wildlife. She said that if you don't see the wolves on the main road going through the valley, Highway 212, (if you're coming from most places in the park, you can make your destination Pebble Creek Campground and it will route you through Lamar Valley), you should drive up the little road associated with the Slough Campground. We had other places to be in the morning, so we never did go up to the valley in the morning to see the wolves, but I wanted to let other people know so they could plan better than we did.

Also in Lamar Valley are many herds of bison and people also report a lot of other wildlife sightings in this area. But get here early for wolves (or people suggest getting here in the late afternoon for other wildlife sightings).


Some thoughts on wolves, both here and in other national parks in the United States. If you haven't had a chance, maybe take a look at this video on how wolves can change the shape of a river.


I was in Alaska's Denali National Park this past August (beautiful, and I may do a quick follow up post with tips for traveling there) where the rangers dutifully told us that the National Park was established not for the highest mountain in North America (Denali aka Mt. McKinley) or for the Grizzly Bears or the moose or caribou or other myriad animals that we might be more familiar with, but rather to protect the Dall Sheep, which were being over-hunted in the early part of the last century. As such, the numbers of Dall Sheep were being carefully watched and in the early years of the park's history when there was a decline in the population, the common wisdom was that something needed to be done, and that something to be done was to start culling the wolf population -- the sheep's major predator. At the time the National Park Service thought of themselves as needing to be the caretaker for preserving nature. Since predators were considered destructive, no one really thought about preserving them. Instead, their elimination was favored. In fact, famously and as portrayed in the How Wolves Change Rivers video, they were eradicated completely from Yellowstone National Park for these and other reasons related to Yellowstone's rancher and farmer neighbors.

Young scientist Adolph Murie opposed any such wolf eradication measures in Denali. He did a decades long study of the Dall Sheep population and discovered that the wolves actually helped the sheep because the wolves would prey on the very young and the sick or injured, and as a result the strength of the herd as a whole was stronger and had access to greater resources per capita. This is pretty well-accepted science and even common knowledge, but at the time it was revolutionary and very counter-intuitive.

I hope that you have heard the Yellowstone wolves story before. If you haven't, the video is good on this point and I won't belabor it except to give you the TLDR: ecosystems are a lot more complicated and interdependent then we think and consequently to mess around with one part of it for the supposed benefit of another part of it is to play with fire. Despite this, while I was in Denali, a tour guide gave another example of people wanting to completely eradicate another animal -- mosquitos -- not realizing that they are major pollinators in the region for the flora as well as being a food source for larger animals.

The interrelatedness of everything is a great point and I think has a lot of really valid applications to the idea of a society with sociopaths versus without sociopaths. I think the benefits of sociopaths, like the mosquitoes role as pollinators, might be less obvious than some of the alleged harms, like the mosquitoes bites and disease carrying abilities. The outsized influence of the more obvious effects versus the ones that are less obvious to us may people to erroneously assume they'd obviously be better off without sociopaths and that there would be little harm to society from their removal.

This time listening to these stories at both parks, however, I was more struck with how absolutely certain people were about the wolf situation. Adolph Murie was ridiculed and maligned for much of his career. I learned in a fireside ranger talk that when wolves were re-introduced to Yellowstone in the 1970's, the U.S. government solicited public comments and got more participation in that debate than any other public comment program up to that point in U.S. history. My European friend who was with me was flabbergasted that American's seemed to care much more about this than any other political topic. To me it's just another illustration of the things we know and don't know, including there are : (1) things we think we know and do know, (2) things we think we know but don't know, (3) things we don't know and realize we don't know, and (4) things we don't know that we don't know.

I think our global society would vastly improve if everyone was just a little more open-minded and intellectually curious without constant appeals to authority or expertise to shutdown a conversation and stifle new ideas. And this applies as much to sociopaths who think and talk about sociopaths as it does normal people who think and talk about sociopaths. What we don't know vastly exceeds what we do know, and we would do well to show a little more intellectual honesty about that.

Thursday, September 26, 2019

Killing Eve, Mad Chat, and The Hidden Brain

I've written about Killing Eve before. Here's a clip a reader sent in which she discusses the boredom and emptiness she feels.


Killing Eve was also featured in a recent episode of the podcast Mad Chat here. In it they interview Sarah Kay, who had done the sociopath themed episode of Sincerely, X. I think you can sign up for a free trial to listen to it here because it's behind a paywall.

The Killing Eve podcast references a lot of the Sincerely, X concepts, including the ups and downs of empathy and what it makes to be human. For instance, one fictional psychologist in Killing Eve has a quote about how most people when they think of sociopaths think: add violence, add coldheartedness. But what people should really be doing is subtracting everything that makes a person human. The podcast host and guest on Mad Chat do a good job pushing back on some of the portrayals of sociopathy or other mental illness in the show.

The Killing Eve podcast has a transcription.

The Hidden Brain is a sometime favorite of mine. Another sociopath friend of mine likes it because it explains some of the things about humans and how they're influenced, etc. that she's intuited but gives her the science. She liked a recent episode on empathy, but I didn't like the guest that they had on. Nor did I like the supposed example they used of the dude getting shot by paintballs. I just think it's a lot more complicated and whenever people try to simplify and give the same tired platitudes about the importance of empathy, I start feeling a little like I'm getting conned. The guest is a Stanford professor, and I guess I didn't empathize with him because I thought almost all of his takes were tired and even disproven by researchers like Paul Bloom, author of Against Empathy.


Friday, August 9, 2019

Tourniquetting identity leads to weak sense of self

From a reader:

I was reading your blog, specifically the post titled “Seeing things as they really are”.

On the topic of weak sense of self. I’m really curious as to how that affects people and sociopaths in general. (I would love to read a post specifically on that topic.) I was listening a song by Charles Manson called “My World” which actually mentioned his weak sense of self or lack of ego. (I’m not necessarily sure what the difference between a sense of self and an ego is) Charles Manson was considered either a psychopath or sociopath.(they never really specified, constantly using the terms interchangeably) If you don’t know about him, in a very small nutshell he was claimed to have grown a following, a cult. And then was claimed to use that cult to kill some famous people. He has also been in and out of  penitentiary's his whole life. He himself claiming that the penitentiary was his father. You should really check out his interviews, many are available on YouTube.  

On a separate matter, if you ever get the chance head down to Kentucky. Me and my friend would love to sit down and talk. I suspect myself to be sociopathic, no idea of if i am or not. I’m not going to get a diagnosis mainly because of the negative effects that can occur. But basically before preschool in daycare i made my best friend that we’ll call Sam. We both had a very  similar up bringing and have always stayed friends. About a year ago we both started researching about sociopaths, for some reason we were both naturally drawn to this. And when I say we both started researching this i mean that we were doing this separately from each other, not know that the other person even knew about the subject. And one day it popped up in a conversation some how and we both confessed. But what’s really amazing about that is that we both started researching around the same time and came to the conclusion around the same time. 

You mentioned that you’re trying to learn more about other sociopaths. I can’t say for sure that i am one, but you can make an assumption off the info that i give you. I’d like to know if i am one. Not because of the thought that “oh I’m a sociopath and I’m callous and blah blah so I’m better” but rather that I’m just very curious. Referring to a weak sense of self, i believe that i have one. People always tell me that you gotta find yourself, i guess mainly because I’m the age of 18. But i am confused by that statement because why do you need to find it in the first place? Aren’t you already yourself? And can’t you just be whatever you want? One thing I’ve said before is that “you can’t be something you’re not if you don’t know what you are.” 

Who am i as of now? I’m 18 and male, and i see the whole world as an opportunity to exploit. I feel that you can do anything that you can do. I’m a very kind and popular person. I have many friends that i got to for if i need something. I have both meaningful and meaningless bonds with my friends and family. I’m nice for one because it’s beneficial in the long run and two because it gives me a challenge for something to do when I’m bored. Which I am a very very bored person. I drive fast, take hard turns and used to drift (until i had to buy new tires ) if i could i would get a motorcycle. I play with fire a lot (or so my friends say) although it’s a lot less than i used to. But i do a lot of thrill seeking activities. I love art, dancing, and science/engineering. I draw abstract concepts of my mood and thoughts. I used to dance a lot being in on a competitive dance team that’s been to Vegas. And i build things all the time, my latest project being an electric bike so i don’t have to walk at college (I’m lazy, or as i see it being efficient). I feel as though i have multiple personalities or masks. Wearing different ones for different people, although I’m pretty sure most people do that. Here are two different examples of times where I’ve acted different. 

Ex.1 i got a call from a friend. Her voice was almost inaudible. I could tell that she was crying. So i asked “where are you?” I then drove to her car which was in a parking lot. This i found odd, but thinking to myself I knew that she was a sensitive and emotional person so i just assumed that it was just on a whim of some sort. So i hopped in her car, she had just got in an argument with her boyfriend.  She had her head on her steering wheel, her hands were clinching the wheel with intensity. She was crying very loudly tears were just pouring out her eyes. I calmed her down and reassured her. Being very attentive and holding the best facial expressions that i could( crying is always hard to deal with, since i never know how to actually act. I always wish that i could just give someone a pat on the back say “there there” and then say “get over it, you’re fine”) she was actually on the verge of suicide so i was being extra attentive marking up lies and connections, just about anything that would give her enough reasons to hold onto life. She hasn’t killed herself yet. 

Ex.2 it was New Years. I went to a friends party. It was a smaller group of 15 people. But one girl one having too much to drink, on purpose it seemed like to me, i think she needed an excuse to act reckless. But she was very insecure and very unstable. Constantly letting people know that she loved them and that the world loved them as well, some how i guess that helped her feel like she was loved. But she was getting too drunk and dropped a glass that shattered onto the floor. She attempted to go clean it up and almost fell into the glass. As a reference from your book it seemed to me as she was flirting with death. So they stopped her and cleaned up the glass. We all moved out of the basement and to the upstairs cause there were still shards laying around. She stayed down there desperately Singing and moaning for attention. Annoying everyone at the party. I walk to the basement door and from the top of the steps i yell “SHUT THE FUCK UP” she then was quiet, i walked into the room where everyone was and they all were at awe. They slowly began to laugh quietly, because they knew it’s what they wanted to do but wouldn’t. She latter came upstairs, projectile vomited, got on her knees(which were now in the vomit) and proceeded to scoop up her vomit with her hands. It was disgusting, embarrassing, and enthralling to watch. Then she took a shower, went into the kitchen and grabbed a knife and was about to kill herself. I sat on the couch and watched, somebody stopped her. This is by no means extreme in anyway, simply the fastest experience i could think of. 

For as long as i can remember I’ve always felt apart from the crowd. I’ve never been a part of something. I never belonged to a group of friends or my school or even to my best friend Sam. I believe that i will always feel alone and isolated. How i act is also heavily affected by my mood. I mainly have three moods. One is where I’m irritable, aggressive, impulsive, blunt, callous(more than normal). Two is where I’m very calm, quiet, reflective, rational and calculating. Three is my neutral where I’m in the middle of the two. I have a little bit of high energy great for interacting with crowds and talking to people. The perfect twist of impulsivity and calculating. But perfect mood for doing anything i need done. One thing i find odd is how being nervous affects me. It affects me physically with increased heart rate and maybe a little bit of jitteriness, but i don’t feel that it actually gets to me, my mind is perfectly calm. A difference between me and you is that i don’t have a grandiose view of myself. However that seems to slowly be changing as I’ve become aware of how stupid other people are. It took me a lot longer than you to realize this. I figured this out around the age of 12 or something like that. I believe that’s because my mother tried to me make believe that i was worse than everyone else so i always felt stupider and didn’t judge other people. But i grew out of that perspective and am confident and smarter than most ect. 

My child hood.
In my child hood i was high in Conscientiousness. I remember being just tall enough to reach a door knob as i thought to myself “i wonder what happens to you when you die, does anything happen or are you just dust?” I always would enjoy them moment and try to be one with my surroundings. Or i would sit down and just think, walking around the hallways of my mind for what felt like hours. My cousin that we’ll call Nate introduced me to fire and other things. I remember one memory where me my sister Sabrina and my cousin Nate were all sitting around this green slide in the heat of the summer. The sun was very intense. We grabbed worms one at a time and put them at the top of the slide to watch them wiggle their way down as they turned into crisp. Me and my cousin did things like this a lot. Snails and salt, watching in awe as the snail would bubble and fizz. Me and Sam would go out at night killing fireflies with our hands, tennis rackets, swords, and a can of hair spray with a lighter. We also found a snake in his yard one time, we both grabbed sticks and started beating it to death. It was a fun game dodge the snakes bites, after it couldn’t move we then cut off its head and put it in a bowl of salt in his shed so that we could keep the skull. There were a bunch of other things too. One time me and my Sabrina (as toddlers) walked down the neighborhood to the river, grabbed some rocks and started throwing them at ducks. The police cars siren turned off and told us to stop. I’ve always wondered how different i would’ve been i had started the habit of abusing smaller animals(this event with the ducks happened years before the event with snakes and Sam), because up to then it was just bugs. I was emotionally and mentally abused throughout elementary school and possibly before that (can’t remember that far, all those years just blur together to me) i have a good family, i recognize that I’m very fortunate and that what i experienced is nothing compared to others. My mother was mainly the antagonizer. She’s bipolar and possibly has borderline personality disorder. She loved me when it was convenient, when she needed me to do something, and constantly lied to me. One moment i was the best child in the world and then next i was the worst. And I’m not exaggerating  that at all.  She was very emotional, she taught me that emotions were unreliable and so was love. I was only with my father when i was helping with one of his projects. When there was a complication or obstacle he would always get furious and yell and cuss. It was always so annoying and made me mad. I didn’t want to be like that so i taught myself how to hide my anger. I was never physically abused. However my mother would always yell at me calling me things like worthless and good for nothing. And her face was red and she was very loud stomping through the house making noises by slamming doors, drawers,pans, pots, everything. She always tried to make me feel bad about myself.  there was a time when i cried myself to sleep every night in a row for a month. One time i watched a movie where the person said “being yourself is enough” so i asked my mom one day. Isn’t being myself enough? She glared at me with anger and said no. The sadness she made me feel became anger and somewhere along the line i created a dissociation from my self. Life didn’t feel real and i was just like another one of my games.(life still doesn’t feel real) but as i grew up i realized that my mother only acted that way because she was just very unintelligent, insecure, and living a life she didn’t want. I used to hate her but after realizing that i forgave her. This doesn’t mean that she doesn’t  aggravate me, she does. But instead i feel indifferent towards her. I was unpopular in elementary school, mainly because i didn’t fit in or understand people. So when i went to middle school i mimicked the popular people and added bits and pieces to my arsenal of personas. Then i became popular and people loved me. I watched a plethora of psychology vids trying to understand people as much as i could. That’s mainly why i got into psychology and am now planning to major in it. 

Thank you so much if you read all that. I’d love to hear back from you. 

My response: 

I’ll try to write about sense of self again sometime, but I think you already understand how and why it happens to us — we take enough psychological hits to our identity that we just dissociate ourselves from it, like a tourniquet cutting off blood flow to a damaged limb. I think (through usually professional help) we can restore some function to that damaged limb, but it isn't super easy, it's not intuitive, it's hard for us to even have a vision of what it might look like to do something like that, and it's a bit like being lost in the woods trying to find our childhood home that we only remember faintly. And certain things will never be back the way they could have been. I still don't experience affective empathy and probably never will, despite finally graduating from therapy. 
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