Thursday, November 27, 2014

The Black Prince: Empathy and ego

I've been reading The Black Prince, by Iris Murdoch. I thought this was an interesting reflection from the protagonist on having helped out his sister, whom he does not like, but feels that he must “do what one has to do,” and how that is motivated ultimately by a self-love:
That human beings can acquire a small area of unquestioned obligations may be one of the few things that saves them: saves them from the bestiality and thoughtless night which lies only a millimeter away from the most civilized of our specimens. However if one examines closely some such case of ‘duty’, the petty achievement of some ordinary individual, it turns out to be no glorious thing, not the turning back by reason or godhead of the flood of natural evil, but simply a special operation of self-love, devised perhaps even by Nature herself who has, or she could not survive in her polycephalic creation, many different and even incompatible moods. We care absolutely about that which we can identify ourselves. A saint would identify himself with everything. Only there are, so my wise friend tells me, no saints.
And one more about ego, the nature of being "good," and the role of "morality" (or at least "duty" or "habit") in a functioning society:
The natural tendency of the human soul is towards the protection of the ego. The Niagara-force of this tendency can be readily recognized by introspection, and its results are everywhere on public show. We desire to be richer, handsomer, cleverer, stronger, more adored and more apparently good than anyone else. I say 'apparently' because the average man while he covets real wealth, normally covets only apparent good. The burden of genuine goodness is instinctively appreciated as intolerable, and a desire for it would put out of focus the other and ordinary wishes by which one lives. Of course very occasionally and for an instant even the worst of men may wish for goodness. Anyone who is an artist can feel its magnetism. I use the word 'good' here as a veil. What it veils can be known, but not further named. Most of us are saved from finding self-destruction in a chaos of brutal childish egoism, not by the magnetism of that mystery, but by what is called grandly 'duty' and more accurately 'habit'. Happy is the civilization which can breed men accustomed from infancy to regard certain at least of the ego's natural activities as unthinkable. This training, which in happy circumstances can be of life-long efficacy, is however seen to be superficial when horror breaks in: in war, in concentration camps, in the awful privacy of family and marriage.

Wednesday, November 26, 2014

Identifying as a sociopath

This is a thoughtful article about, inter alia, M.E. The most "relevant" portions below:
Nevertheless, it is an interesting topic so I went looking for a sociopath and found one. Sociopath World: Inside the Mind of a Sociopath is a blog written by an anonymous self-proclaimed sociopath. Though it’s possibly a work of fiction, I believe that the person writing it truly does identify with the sociopathic condition. The blog has been active since 2008 and there are hundreds of posts. I have only read a few articles but what I have read has been well written. I can’t really characterize the author but there is an uncanny intellectualism and rationality to his or her writing. I would definitely recommend the blog as the autoethnography of a sociopath.

The self-identified sociopath does raise a few questions.

First, I want to say that I do not believe in black or white conditions. If I were a psychiatrist, I would hand out labels very sparingly. Probably all people experience schizotypal symptoms in their life and many have schizotypal tendencies but it’s insufficient to label them schizophrenic. Likewise, I believe sociopathy must exist on a gradient spectrum. What shade of gray makes you a full-blown sociopath?

I am ultimately wondering what the consequences of self-identification are? Labels are a way of making sense of the world so I suppose self-identification helps one come to terms with their self. Interestingly the comments on Sociopath World sometimes read like a support group for sociopaths. The idea that sociopaths (feel as if they) suffer from their condition is somewhat counterintuitive.
Of course, one need not identify as a sociopath to be one. I am only curious as to what the benefits of self-identification are. That said, I believe many people possess varying degrees of innate potential to be a sociopath.

We see a remarkable ratio of people willing to commit atrocities in obedience to authority in both life and in experimentation. In accord with activity theory, I believe there is a threshold in doing where we internalize our actions. The Milgram experiment combined with the Stanford prison experiment only demonstrates that normal people can be pushed beyond that threshold. Social influence needs not be that dramatic. The author of Sociopath World makes an astute observation of his or her own condition, writing

“After spending time with my family recently, I am more convinced that nurture had a significant role to play in my development into a sociopath. When people ask me whether I had a bad childhood, I tell them that it was actually relatively unremarkable, however I can see how the antisocial behaviors and mental posturing that now define me were incentivized when I was growing up — how my independent emotional world was stifled and how understanding and respect for the emotional world of others died away. Still I don’t think I was “made” into a sociopath, nor was I born one. I feel like I was born with that predisposition, that I made a relatively conscious decision to rely on those skills instead of developing others, and that the decision was made in direct response to my environment and how I could best survive and even thrive in that environment.”

Tuesday, November 25, 2014

Worse than a psychopath?

From a reader:

I thought you'd appreciate this video.

The gist of it is that psychopaths are capable of more contribution to society because our self-centeredness is so efficient that "just for the sheer fucking hell of it, make other people's lives better."

Monday, November 24, 2014

Vive la difference

From a reader:

Two days ago I was looking for a book in the psychology section at the library when I noticed the tidy spine of Confessions of a Sociopath. I was struck by its whiteness, ingenuous font, and "ME", a combination of sensory impressions that piqued my curiosity. I checked the book out and literally devoured it in two sessions.

Your candid, at first horrifying, then thrilling and insightful memoir has literally overnight swept away all the doubt and consternation I've subjected myself to all throughout my life.    I'm 66 and that is just too long to suffer.  Where doubt recently held sway, confidence marches in.

I've recently been trying to rationalize some "inappropriate" mental states and ruthless actions, having learned as an only child that I should always feel guilty about my true nature and motives. It's so liberating to turn the corner and see myself from an entirely different angle. I am starting to understand and embrace my ability to manipulate, and now I can begin to appreciate many actions I berated myself for over the past  50 years!

My compliments to you, "Ms. Thomas", on your courage and most especially your spellbinding prose style that kept me turning pages all the while squirming in my seat. You wrote (p. 299) that you couldn't predict whether you had created the desired effect in your book. I can assure you that if your intent was to illuminate, educate, and garner acceptance for those of us who struggle to "fit into the norm" and keep failing, you have succeeded beyond what any writer might expect.

I am going to devote a fair share of the coming days to reading your blog -- and also buy a copy of your book.  Thank you so very much for your great service.. As the French say,  "vive la difference."  Sociopaths make the world a much more lively and fascinating place to live!

And I thought I should give an update post coming out, because I had a family get together recently and there were at least a few other family members that were considered to be more of a black sheep than I am and I had to laugh a little at that. I am not a pariah. Only one friend from before is no longer my friend. My family has been completely loving and supportive. Actually, for some of them, I now have the best relationship that I have ever had with them. And the crazy thing is that by living so openly, many if not most of my previous "temptations" are gone. I don't have a need to blow off steam or to let down my mask because I'm not really wearing a mask. I don't really live like a sociopath anymore. I may still think like one, that will probably always be my first language. But in therapy I'm learning to understand other languages as well. I can honestly say that I am much better off and much happier than I was before coming out, for what it's worth. I know that I've said before to others to never come out, never get diagnosed, because people aren't ready for it. But it turns out that plenty of people are ready. I'm sure I have limited myself in all sorts of ways because of it, but ultimately I feel like it has been worth it.

Sunday, November 23, 2014

An aspie's thoughts on sociopaths

A friendly Aspie named who knows actual sociopaths has been leaving interesting comments in old threads this week. On the post "Pretending to be Normal," Darien writes:

As an Aspie myself, I find this hilarious. (I cracked up at the "bla bla bla" bit.) It's so ironic that people pat us on the back all the time, and then talk about how sociopaths should all be thrown in the brig.

Aspies have empathy. It's just bit restricted. A) We often fail to realize when we need to be sensitive. B) Most of the time (thankfully) our empathy operates through a filter. (I suspect it's one of the reasons people come to me for help, even when I have no familiarity with the problem. I empathize, but I can detatch enough to look at the situation objectively, and help them to better contain/modify/utilize aspects of themselves and others, even those (such as jealousy) with which I am personally unable to relate.)
I like sociopaths. Not in an idealized way, but in the sense that I can relate to people who often can't relate. I know that it takes effort to learn those aspects of social interaction which seem silly or useless, and learn to mimic emotions and inflections and body language and the like. Learning to mimic empathy and normalcy can be fun. Testing out new techniques and tweaks, throwing in a new word here and there, to see how people internalize its connotations. Putting emphasis on this word instead of that one. I don't know quite how you guys do it, and of course everyone has their own system. But I like sociopaths because I understand the need to develop those systems, and study the things that don't come naturally. 

And it's true, people get creeped out when they hear how a sociopath operates. But they pat us Aspies on the back. There are a lot of differences, but we do a lot of the same things.

(As a side note, it is perfectly possible for someone to be both an Aspie and a sociopath. But it's very rare.)

So basically to sum it up, I love this post. It made my day.

From "Sociopaths: Pitiable?":

No one is worthy of pity. Pity is a ridiculous sentiment. It's not at all the same as caring. It's a way for people (obviously not socios because they don't need to do this) to make themselves feel better about not actually doing shit to help someone. People say "oh I'm so sorry," or hand a dollar to the homeless man, and say " I did good, I care," and then casually ignore the fact that they could be doing so much more, but aren't. I have no respect for pity and I've never experienced it. I care when I care, I empathize when I empathize; but if I don't, then I don't, and I'm not going to drop in a dollar just to make myself feel better.

That little rant over, I typically know when my socio is manipulating me, but he (usually, at least) is not untruthful even then, because he knows I know and I'm fine. Manipulation is in his nature, plus I'm sure it's mildly entertaining. I do feel badly for him sometimes, for instance, when he hasn't slept for days; but even when something's wrong I usually have to dig it out of him. 
That holds true for the other ones I know as well (for the most part.). So I'd say no, there's not much of a pity act, although our relationships are a bit atypical because I am aware of their personalities and how they function. 

Additionally, I don't find this blog to be manipulative. It's a place for people with a working understanding of one another to speak and discuss and be able to be open about nature and motives; and for non-sociopaths to maybe come and learn something. 

This is an old post and I'm no brilliant speaker. But I like to throw my opinion out there sometimes.


As a side note, as much as I have opposed the unadulterated Aspie promotion and villifying of sociopaths that frequently happens, I also frequently fall prey to aspie love. I find them to be frequently charming. Their insights are often priceless and although they are not generally known for having a good sense of humor, they are often hilarious. For what it's worth, I do feel a kinship with them and find them to be a welcome respite from the fake world in which we are both forced to pretend.
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