Thursday, June 11, 2009

Fearmongering called out

Reader D. Birdick shares a pretty charming book review of one of the more alarmist of pop sociopath "literature":
Hey, how goes it?

I came across this review of Martha Stout's book The Sociopath Next Door on Amazon that I thought you might find amusing and even a bit insightful:

Dark Mechanicus JSG "Black Ops Teep"
Welcome to my World!

Yep, many have called me a sociopath in my day. Only one of them, however, got to say something after that, and that was only because the gun jammed.

Ha! Ha! Kidding. Martha Stout has put together this slender little tome, packed with pop science and plenty of white desert-like margins, that sets out to let you know that:

1)Four percent of the population exhibits sociopathic qualities. For the mathematically challenged---that is, pretty much 96% of the population---that means 1 out of 25.

Think about that statistic for a minute.Take an office with 25 people, and chances are Herbie the Courier Guy or Roald (you know, Roald, the guy with glasses and the shaky sweaty hands, the Quiet One. Roald. Sheesh) has invested in some XP-142 Night Vision goggles and a serrated knife, and, um, a GPS device that might lead him to your front door.

At 2 in the morning. Just so we're clear.

2) These sociopath guys, like the Wu-Tang Clan, ain't nothing to mess with. No sir. They can't love. They don't feel emotion. They're Republican. They're corporate chieftains. They ride in the Lear, the Limo, the Maybach. They invented War. They smear cats with napalm, then duct tape them to the underside of your car, right by the rear exhaust, with a tricked-out bic lighter just waiting for ignition.

Sorry, I made that last one up. But you get the general gist of the book.

"Sociopath Next Door" is simply not scholarly, and verges on dangerous. Sociopath is a pop-term, like psycho, like axe-murderer, like boogeyman, El Diablo, or Janet Reno, with about the same level of erudition & exactness. It's jarring to see the term used so callously. Isn't it dangerous to fling terms and profiles, particularly ones as crudely formed and ill-defined as this, in what is essentially piece of pulp pop-science?

"Sociopath" even tries to put together a home-made psycho alarm for the Gentle Reader, the better to ferret out whether weird Mr. Fishbein, the crazy coot who lies next door, lies awake on his bed at nights dressed only in a giant plastic baggy whispering to his AK-47 and plotting your demise. Guess what should set off alarm bells & unleash the hounds?

That's right: someone who asks for pity. For mercy. For clemency. A pity-junky, according to this book, is a ravening sociopath probably plotting to get you fired, pour acid on your car, and eat your firstborn child with some fava beans and a fine chianti.

"Sociopath" also spends some time talking about the supposed human superstition against killing: according to her, people really kill only when supervised by (you guessed it!) a drooling sociopath. The irony here: the author indicates one means by which men make their subjects kill is by de-humanizing the Other: using language to demonize, to turn the Outsider, the Pariah, the Unclean (usually some target ethnic or religious group), into an "It".

It's a fair point.. But skim her book, and simply replace sociopath with any ethnic epithet and take a look at how it reads. Avoid the devilish sociopaths. They don't feel. They're not human. They have cold blood. They're killers. Four percent of the planet is responsible for all the rape, the killing, the torture, and the endless popularity of David Hasselhoff.

Hasn't this book demonized sociopaths as brutally, as unfairly, as unjustly, as anything any Monster of History did with their fave victim class? Where's the Love for the American Psycho? Are we not also Human? Cut* us, do we not bleed? Cut us twice, do we not make you bleed more?

But what "Sociopath" edges away from is the really interesting question here: what if sociopathy is not a malady? What if it's evolution? What if the guy who doesn't get all weepy over "Beaches" is really Humanity New New Thing, the silver-suited astropath who will transcend this miserable mortal coil and help us defeat the Ichthyoid Nasties from Betelgeuse 14?

In the meantime, using the book's 'method' for spotting psychos is about as useful as playing spin the bottle. Intuition, instinct, and your own experience probably cuts the mustard, and you don't have to waste your money on this one-way ticket to Paranoia. Granted, instinct isn't perfect.

But it sure beats fretting over whether your trip next door to borrow the lawnmower should include a can of mace, a sawed-off 12 gauge, and kevlar body armor.



  1. Do people actually take the time to read that sociopath next door shit! People are so fickle...its due to their own stupidity half the time as to why they get into such disasterous situations. Iv done plenty of "not so clever" things in my young life and i will probably continue to do so. When it comes to "relationships", people only treat you the way you allow them to. Im in such a bad mood today!!!! Can anybody tell??? ha

  2. But Tinkerbelle, what you are saying sounds suspiciously like common sense. Haven’t you heard? Common sense is so yesterday. Everybody who’s anybody plays the victim card these days!

  3. Oh and one more thing. Books like the one Martha Stout wrote are the reason I didn’t recognize the utility of the sociopath descriptor for myself until much later. Normals tend to draw caricatures of sociopaths. They make them out to be either James Bond villains or Hannibal Lecter type serial killers. I didn’t see myself in either of those extremes. (At least, not completely.) Since I haven’t plotted to take over the world since 8th grade and since I’ve never skinned any cats alive, I figured the label sociopath was not in any way applicable to me, until I learned to look beyond the normals delusional fear mongering.

  4. Let them chase ghosts.

  5. (req)

    Grab some popcorn and let them think the ghosts are chasing them!

  6. Sociopaths are not "new" humans. This is because:
    (i) Evolution works so slowly that only when almost all the weaker individuals have died does it become clear that the gene pool has been modified. Think about the only survivors in a population ridden with an infectious disease.
    (ii) Sociopathy is a large change if it is to be thought of as "new". Mutations in the genetic code that survive through natural selection are generally small, for large changes are almost always detrimental (there are more ways of something being unadapted than something being adapted).
    (iii) Most people show socipathic traits in times of need, implying that it is a natural mechanism. Sociopaths only differ in that they are constantly using it, showing that it is either a small genetic change, or due to the environment a child is raised in.
    (iv) Evolutionary game theory can be used to show why sociopaths are not prevalent in society, but are not non-existent. This is because in a society of altruists, sociopaths have much to gain, but in a society of their own, they have much less to gain. This means the levels of sociopaths should not increase or decrease unless external influence is applied. Sociopathy is only a malady when there are too many sociopaths, but otherwise, I agree, could be quite beneficial.

    Moving on, I find labels like these quite useful. It makes it even more unlikely that someone will discover a REAL sociopath; if anything sociopaths appear almost too nice or too normal.

  7. " Normals tend to draw caricatures of sociopaths."

    From some of my little games, it seems as though few people really even know the term 'sociopath'.

  8. Life said: “From some of my little games, it seems as though few people really even know the term 'sociopath'.”

    True enough. A majority of those who are familiar with the label tend to stereotype sociopaths as evil, hence the caricaturing and fear mongering. Normals on average consider anyone who is free of the emotional constraints that they are bound by as different and thus “wicked”. Tis a pity. Now if you’ll excuse me, I have a baby baking in the oven that’s just about done. There’s nothing quite as tasty as rack of human infant.

  9. "Now if you’ll excuse me, I have a baby baking in the oven that’s just about done. There’s nothing quite as tasty as rack of human infant."

    Those are best with ketchup. Miss's Dash also works quite well on the eyes if you're into that.

  10. Looks like we like to eat ourselves more then babies.

    I was just looking up why I bite my nails so much... and lookie what I found. Bored, thought I would share.

    The incidence of nailbiting in 62 sociopath subjects was compared with that in 62 nonsociopath matched controls utilizing the Cornell Medical Index Health Questionnaire. Results indicated that the incidence of nailbiting in primary sociopaths (48 per cent) was significantly greater (p less than .01) than the incidence of nailbiting in the control group (24 per cent). Implications of these findings are discussed in terms of the significance of nailbiting in sociopaths, particularly the relationship of nailbiting and anxiety in primary sociopathy.

  11. Thank you, anonymous. That's very interesting and useful information.

  12. Hmm. How many of you aside from the reviewer actually read the book?
    I did. When the author presents her statistics on the prevalence of sociopathy, she includes everyday behaviors of conscience defects like manipulation and using people for small things as we tend to do.
    Also, there is a longer list of signs of a sociopath apart from "pity-mongering" that she presents (though I tend to think that narcissists are more prone to manipulate with pity than sociopaths).
    You might recognize some things on that list. I did. It's worth reading for yourself, and being glad much of the public isn't reading it because while she is kind of piecing together a logic she doesn't operate on, she still gets a few things right.

  13. maybe you have a point there Jane...i must admit that i have never read any books at all on sociopathy. Im familiar with the term, but iv never felt the need to read up on it. I actually found this blog by complete accident during a bout of insomnia one night. The word "sociopathworld" showed up on a list from a serch engine and i was intrigued by it. So i guess im ignorant to all the scientific research on it. What has sort of surprised me is that i expected sociopaths to be cold blooded serial killer types, yet i don't think its that cut and dried anymore. Im not going to try and sound like im an expert on this disorder by writing indepth intellectual comments...i'l mleave that to the actual experts...besides i only read this blog for the entertainment value it gives me..i know thats shallow.

  14. I read the Martha Stout book while in the beginning stages of trying to figure out what the hell was going on with the guy I was seeing. The book sucked and was not insightful at all. Actually reading this sight has been far more helpful to me in trying to understand the sociopath. The perspective is so foreign, I can't really help but enjoy it.

  15. "What has sort of surprised me is that i expected sociopaths to be cold blooded serial killer types, yet i don't think its that cut and dried anymore."

    Well, Tink, I'm not going to say I'm a saint. However, sociopaths aren't nearly as serial-killer-esque as media makes them out to be.

    Although I do enjoy Dexter's soundtracks quite well. Haha.

  16. After coming across the notion that the biggest dividing line between sociopaths and normals was the absence of a conscience and remembering that this was where Martha Stout also drew the line, I decided to reread the book. I have a different take on it now. Although I’m still aware of the fear mongering aspect, I do now agree with Jane on it. I recognize several of the characteristics Stout lists in myself, with consciencelessness being the biggest one of all. Ignore the tone of moral superiority and read the book. It is illuminating. To a degree.

  17. Actually, the thing it appears you most missed about Stout's book is that "sociopaths" (or people who would be diagnosed with ASPD, in reality)are most often NOT killers, rapists etc. Most of the folk in prison are there for crimes, and most of them are NOT sociopaths. Most "sociopaths" don't go to prison because they don't commit a tangible crime, which is why they are so dangerous to people who aren't aware of who is/is not a sociopath--which is most of the population, until any given person has been affected by one in a negative way.

    Your post was off base enough that I'm guessing you were making a joke and I'm just missing it?

  18. The only correct information from the Sociopath next door was how frog killing is an indicator of ASPD. Meaning that George W. Bush is probably one.

  19. I wish someone would do a Narcisist World we need sympathy too!


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