Monday, December 28, 2009

Economic disaster = sociopaths' fault?

So says the good Doctor Robert Hare:
Robert Hare, from the University of British Columbia, Canada, said in a seminar on psychopathy that people with a certain degree of psychopathy sometimes have their own place in a society.

"They tend to be important to society sometimes," he said.

"These are people who take risks, tend to not be afraid."

He pointed out the example of a white-collar psychopath, viewed as "a good leader, good person and charismatic", but who secretly did harm to their surroundings.

Hare added such psychopaths were behind last year's global economic downturn.

"They engage in all sorts of illegal behavior. Half of the financial crisis we had throughout the world in the last few years, who's behind it all? Warm, loving people? No, people who want all they can get, they don't care about millions of people who lost their life savings," he said.
I'd like to think that sociopaths collectively have the power to send the world spinning out of control, but I wonder if that could possibly be accurate. Sociopaths take risks, and with risk comes higher return. But risk is still risk and there certainly aren't enough greedy sociopaths to have tipped the scales of excessive risk without empath help, no? Let's hope his comment made more sense in context.

Sociopaths: pitiable?

I confess to never having had the patience to read The Sociopath Next Door all the way through, but I did find this psychologist's review of it interesting because it gets at the core of what many have accused this blog of trying to accomplish -- manipulating people to pity us:
"The most reliable sign, the most universal behavior of unscrupulous people is not directed, as one might imagine, at our fearfulness. It is, perversely, an appeal to our sympathy."

The pity play or attempt to appeal to the sympathy of others was also addressed in research conducted by the Minnesota Department of Corrections and The Hazelden Foundation (2002). There, researchers concluded that criminal thinkers most often attempt to control others by portraying themselves as a victim, turning to fear tactics only when the victim stance fails to get them what they want.

The act of eliciting pity from another unequivocally makes the elicitor something to be pitied, a victim, per se. It is human nature to aid the pitied. Hence, the pity play, or victim stance, stands to get the Sociopath what he or she wants easily and without being found out as a bad guy. This is manipulation. Manipulation is the tool of choice for smart criminal thinkers and, according to Dr. Stout, the Sociopaths amongst us. She says, "Sociopaths have no regard whatsoever for the social contract, but they do know how to use it to their advantage. And all in all, I am sure that if the devil existed, he would want us to feel very sorry for him."
I sort of don't understand this argument, perhaps not surprisingly. Does the devil not deserve pity because he doesn't meet the criteria (i.e. not pitiable enough)? Or does he not deserve it because it wouldn't mean the same thing to him (i.e. wasted on him)? Or is it because, as the author suggests, there is something wrong with your pity being used for a purpose (i.e. getting you to think about something from another's point of view) rather than just functioning as one of the empath's favorite self-indulgent pastimes? I really want to understand, and I know some of our readers are very smart with strong feelings about this subject, so let's have at it. For once and for all, let's discuss all the reasons why this blog is manipulative and sociopaths aren't worthy of pity, etc. etc. And just for fun, let's try to use arguments that wouldn't apply equally to some other more "acceptable" variants of humanity.

Sunday, December 27, 2009

A proposition

A reader offers:
I recently became aware of sociopathy and found your blog, which I have enjoyed reading today. It's difficult to find anywhere else online anything written from the point of view of a sociopath, and I've learned some valuable info from the posts and comments.

I have been studying astrology for twenty years and enjoy studying birth charts. If there are any blog followers here who believe they are sociopaths who'd be willing to provide thier birth data, I would like to study their charts to see if there are correlating aspects and placements that form a pattern. I don't think anyone's done this sort of astrological research yet, at least I haven't found any. Would you or your readers be game? If so, what I would need is the date of birth, the exact birth time, and the city in which one was born. Once I have a few charts, I can post the results on your site if you'd like.
One of the reasons that I am religious is that I refuse to accept truth only from state sanctioned sources, so to speak. I think that it is too limiting and that there is a certain amount of hubris in looking for truth only from those sources that you have pre-screened as being legitimate. So I replied:
Ah, very interesting proposition. I would be game, and I wonder if some of my readers would also be interested, in the name of science. I actually don't know exactly what I believe about astrology, though I tend to think it is interesting, accurate, and predictive, but of whether or not stars have any impact on our lives I am less sure. I've often wondered whether certain signs lead more to sociopathy, or whether certain signs lead to higher functioning sociopathy. (For instance, I am Cancer, supposedly a feeler. Does that make me a "softer" sociopath than most?)
Sensitive information like birth dates, times, and locations should not be posted to the internet. So I suggest that you email me if you would like to participate. Feel free to come up with a "fake" email address just for this purpose. I'll pass them along, and we'll make sure that birthdates and locations never get published.

Saturday, December 26, 2009

He knows if you've been bad or good

Am I the only one who has ever been creeped out by the specter of Santa Claus? An all-knowing, one man judge and jury revanchist who allegedly knows everything that goes on, doling out what he thinks people deserve? As a mild-to-moderate dystopian, I am paranoid about things like that, and if Santa gets his way, he is going to be even more efficiently big-brother-ish than before, according to the byline of this article sent to me by a reader:
By using technology to detect guilty expressions, of course. CSIRO is using automated expression recognition technology to tell whether someone is in pain and, according to computer scientist, CSIRO’s Dr Simon Lucey, there’s no reason why Santa couldn’t train the system to find out who’s been naughty or nice.
We've talked about microexpressions before. And apparently "they" have had some success programming computers to read them:
While a guilty person might fool a human with their look of pure innocence, it’s very hard to fool Dr Lucey’s computer.

“There are always some micro expressions that we are unable to control and some of these are associated with deception. It is these tiny facial expression components that the computer can spot.”

The system uses a technique called machine learning. After being programmed with what to look for and what it means, each observation taken or analysis performed is used to refine the computer’s technique so it gets better at its assigned task over time.

“When it comes to finding out who’s been naughty or nice, we show the computer what expressions are associated with good behaviour and it watches for a departure from that” Dr Simon Lucey

One of the applications for Dr Lucey’s research is in detecting whether someone who cannot communicate is in pain and how intense that pain is.
Yeah, that's *one* application for it. Another, perhaps more obvious application also springs to mind.

Sunday, December 20, 2009

Best of 2009

In an effort to make the material on the blog more accessible to new readers and avoid having to repeat myself too much, I have been trying to think of ways to link to important or favorite posts. Taking a cue from every single media outlet in the world, I decided to do a 2009 retrospective. In no particular order, I like this post on mimicry, Bach, sociopath rights, any of the sociopaths in literature, but particularly Byron's Lara, Ruining People Iago style, Sexuality, Flexible sense of self, being "found out," religion, mob mentality, and different moral universes. Have I forgotten any good ones?

Saturday, December 19, 2009

Sociopaths in fiction

Sociopaths portrayed in fiction = mixed bag. Some would-be authors/filmakers have asked me which fictional sociopaths I consider accurate. I, of course, love Dexter, but I don't think I have mentioned before that a favorite sociopath author of mine is Patricia Highsmith. I was enjoying this review in the New York Times of a new biography of Highsmith. I even enjoyed the headline, "Hiding in plain sight." I have a theory that only real sociopaths are able to write from the sociopath point of view in a way that really rings true (to other sociopaths at least), and i have long suspected Ms. Highsmith to be a member of the tribe. The new biography seems to point in that direction.

To truly appreciate good sociopath portrayals, though, I feel like you need to experience bad sociopath portrayals. A reader flagged for me this blog entry, featuring a short story written from the perspective of a murderous sociopath out to teach women a lesson in manners. A warning sign of a bad sociopath portrayal is the author's need to justify the accuracy of his character by referencing the consulting of an expert. I understand the urge. From what I know of popular culture, critics are always questioning the "motivations" of a fictional character. But the mind of a sociopath works so differently than an empath's. There is almost an unspeakable beauty to it, like a work of art. Either the protrayal rings true or it doesn't. It's almost impossible to fake. If you find yourself faking it, though, do like this author did and name drop:
I wouldn’t want to be a psychopath, but I thought it would be a good mental exercise to write a short story from a psychopath’s perspective. After doing the appropriate research, and getting a helping hand from Dr. Robert Hare, the world’s leading expert on psychopathic behavior and mental processes, I composed a bit of romantic psychopathic fiction entitled “Giving Shelter.”
To hear these authors/filmakers/actors talk, you'd think that all Dr. Hare does is consult. He's a smart guy, but he readily acknowledges that many elements of psychopathy remain a mystery even to him. I appreciate the attempts to positively portray sociopathy, but I feel that the accounts that ring most true to life are the accounts that come from the cold black hearts of people like Ms. Highsmith and whoever it is who writes Dexter's internal monologue. It's a blessing and a curse.

Friday, December 11, 2009

An outside perspective

A letter from a reader:
I was just reviewing recent media articles about psychopathy on-line and stumbled across your blog.

I am a doctoral intern in clinical psychology at a forensic state hospital in California. Psychopathy is fascinating to me. Aside from its unique neurological, interpersonal, and even existential attributes; the legal and social implications of psychopathy's marginalization in society is huge. It seems your blog clearly and convincingly (not surprising) addresses the injustices psychopaths face- injustices I find again and again in the forensic setting where I work.

As health care providers, psychologists are trained to uphold equal client rights and ensure every individual's dignified treatment. This is regardless of diagnosis, crime, history, or personality. However, when it comes to psychopathy, it's incredible how quickly clinical providers are able to abandon these previously held ethics, not realizing that they are adopting the unempathic tendencies they explicitly persecute in the psychopath. I am further amazed at the legal and hospital standards set for psychopathic admits, standards that practically necessitate the psychopath to contrive and manipulate their evaluators to believe they are no longer contriving or manipulating, lest they spend the rest of their lives in corrections.

So, while I go up against hospital administration on my end, I want to also convey my admiration of your well-informed and thoughtful blog in the hope that what is better understood may be less feared. Based on history, psychology, and statistical likelihood of danger; I'll take one psychopath with their wits about them over 99 "normals" driven by fear, any day.

Thanks for sharing your experience and for encouraging an interesting and important discussion.

Tuesday, December 8, 2009

Sociopaths in the news: fratricide

Kids these days... tsk tsk.
An Indiana teen who has allegedly admitted strangling his little brother likened the murder to satisfying a craving for a hamburger and told authorities he was inspired by the television series "Dexter."

Anthony Conley, 17, is charged with murdering his 10-year-old brother Conner on Saturday night, allegedly strangling the boy and then stuffing his head in a plastic bag so that blood wouldn't "get everywhere," according to Dearborn-Ohio County Prosecutor Aaron Negangard.

"It's disturbing that a 17-year-old would want to kill under any circumstances, let alone his own brother," said Negangard. He described Conley as "emotionless" when he was interviewed by police.

Negangard said that when Conley was asked to explain his behavior by investigators the teen said he identified with Dexter Morgan, the main character in Showtime's "Dexter," which chronicles the life of an undercover Miami blood spatter expert who doubles as a serial killer.

"Conley said that he just 'felt like him,'" said Negangard.

In interviews with investigators, Conley also allegedly likened his desire to kill to a craving a person gets when they want a particular food.

"He analogized the murder to when someone wants a hamburger," said Negangard. "He said that when someone wants a hamburger they've just got to have it."

Monday, December 7, 2009

New Study Reveals Most Children Unrepentant Sociopaths

So reads the headline of a hilarious article from the Onion, sent by a reader. Selections are below, but read the entire article here.
A study published Monday in The Journal Of Child Psychology And Psychiatry has concluded that an estimated 98 percent of children under the age of 10 are remorseless sociopaths with little regard for anything other than their own egocentric interests and pleasures.

According to Dr. Leonard Mateo, a developmental psychologist at the University of Minnesota and lead author of the study, most adults are completely unaware that they could be living among callous monsters who would remorselessly exploit them to obtain something as insignificant as an ice cream cone or a new toy.

"The most disturbing facet of this ubiquitous childhood disorder is an utter lack of empathy," Mateo said. "These people—if you can even call them that—deliberately violate every social norm without ever pausing to consider how their selfish behavior might affect others. It's as if they have no concept of anyone but themselves."

"The depths of depravity that these tiny psychopaths are capable of reaching are really quite chilling," Mateo added.

According to the Hare Psychopathy Checklist, a clinical diagnostic tool, sociopaths often display superficial charm, pathological lying, manipulative behaviors, and a grandiose sense of self-importance. After observing 700 children engaged in everyday activities, Mateo and his colleagues found that 684 exhibited these behaviors at a severe or profound level.

The children studied also displayed many secondary hallmarks of antisocial personality disorder, most notably poor impulse control, an inability to plan ahead, and a proclivity for violence—often in the form of extended tantrums—when their needs were not immediately met.

"Children will use any tool at their disposal to secure gratification," Mateo said. "And as soon as the desire is fulfilled, be it some material want or simply an insatiable and narcissistic desire for validation, they quickly become bored and lose interest in their victims, all the while thinking only of satisfying whatever their next hedonistic craving might be."

Mateo added that even when subjects were directly confronted with the consequences of their inexplicable behavior, they had little or no capacity for expressing guilt, other than insincere utterances of "sorry" that were usually coerced.

Because children are so skilled at mimicking normal human emotions and will say anything without consideration for accuracy or truth, Mateo said that people often don't realize that they've been exploited until it is too late. Though he maintained that anyone can fall victim to a child's egocentric behavior, Mateo warned that grandmothers were especially susceptible to the self- serving machinations of tiny little sociopaths.
According to renowned child psychologist Dr. Pritha Singh, author of Born Without Souls, diagnosing preadolecents as sociopaths is primarily a theoretical interest, as the disorder is considered untreatable.

"We've tried behavior modification therapies, but children actually learn from our techniques and become even more adept at manipulating others while concealing their shameless misanthropy," Singh said. "Sadly, experience has taught us there is little hope for rehabilitation."

Thursday, December 3, 2009

Conversation with a friend

This is a very early, pre-blog conversation I had with a friend.
M.E.: The other night I met these strangers and within hours we had all outted ourselves as sociopaths and started collaborating on internet startup ideas. There was one non-socio there who was asking all these questions.

Friend: Do you really feel no guilt?

M.E.: No, I feel guilt

Friend: Well, that's not very sociopath of you.

M.E.: Well, I am not full sociopath then maybe. But I mean, it's a different kind of guilt.

Friend: Are those people full?

M.E.: I don't know. The other guy was funny, he was like "good sociopaths" do this. I think it is true that there are good sociopaths. I don't know if I feel guilt. I feel regret.

Friend: How many of the symptoms do you think you have? It seems like a lot, I guess.

M.E.: I dunno, like everyone has different symptoms because they deal with the lack of empathy in different ways. Some people see it as a lack and try to make up for it, others don't see it as a lack at all and sort of exploit it. So the symptoms are very varied.

Friend: It seems that there are plenty of consistent things.

M.E.: Ha, yeah, well everyone is manipulative, everyone is trying to avoid detection, everyone is a little reckless. Anyway, I told the empath that it is probably harder for socipaths to become an empath than for empaths to become a sociopath.

Friend: Hah, funny that you call him an empath.

M.E.: Because there is low road and high road mental processes going on. High road is conscious thought, low road is unconscious instinct type thought. So I tried to explain to him that sociopaths are essentially just shifting way more of their decisions into high road thought than the typical empath. Empaths can practice that and get good at making conscious decisions about everything (socio). But how can socios conscious force decisions into the unconscious? I think it could happen but it would have to be through the influences of someone else training you, something that you could remain unaware of.

Friend: It's not really like that

M.E.: Like what?

Friend: high/low

M.E.: Yeah, it is kind of

Friend: Well, we disagree

M.E.: Or I mean, pop science stuff I have read has said that the brain works that way. Are you saying that that isn't the distinction between socios and empaths? Or just that the mind doesn't work that way? Or not all high roaders are socios?

Friend: It's not that you're more conscious. It's that all your conscious thoughts are focused on the single-minded goal of achieving your interests. To the destruction of others. Everything is a war game to you and the fact that you are more conscious than most just means that there are lots of dumb people.

M.E.: Yeah, good point. You hate that I am a sociopath?

Friend: That's like saying I hate you because of your gender or ethnicity. Doesn't mean anything, really.

M.E.: You hate the sociopath in me, though? You hate the tendencies?

Friend: Well, obviously I don't like that you are manipulative and megalomaniacal and reckless abt your life and others. But I mean, that's just a given, isn't it?

M.E.: Given meaning that's just who I am and always have been?

Friend: And I mean, who knows what else arises from you believing you're a sociopath. That's just who you are. Alright sociopath, I'm going to maybe try to take a nap.

Tuesday, December 1, 2009

It's alarming how charming I feel (part II)

I could go either way on this letter (link here). It might have been written by a sociopath, or it may have not. But I always think it's an entertaining exercise to look at other people's communication in a critical way, trying to strip it of all your prejudices and preconceptions.

I think the letter is definitely manipulative. There is a certain lilt to it, a certain charm. There is a relatively good cadence, it is interesting to read. There's not really one point made, and though there is an apology, it's not for nothing specific. The apology, to the reader, could be interpreted as an apology for everything and anything that the reader believes the writer did wrong. This was clever, because the writer may truly be sorry for only one thing ("not behaving better") or may not even know what to be sorry for, so instead keeps things vague and lets the reader fill in the blanks. (Or perhaps doesn't feel any real guilt at all.)

I obviously don't know anything about the target of the letter, but I know it was effective because the reader has reunited with the writer. The letter seems clearly designed for one purpose, and that it accomplished that purpose leads me to believe that despite certain prejudices of mine about what I think people want or do not want to hear, this was obviously what the reader wanted to hear. The most interesting thing about it, though, is that although it is what the reader wanted to hear, the writer doesn't actually say much. Instead, the writer relies on the order, the structure, the format, the very cadence and rhythm of the words to lead to what were probably almost unavoidable logical inferences for the reader.

The writer hits hard with phrases like "I loved you" -- phrases that are sure to stand out in the reader's mind much more than the follow-up qualifiers of the love being selfish or narcissistic. The letter seems like an illusion, relying primarily on misdirection rather than outright deceit. The writer knows that he has to be honest, and has to come clean (so to speak) by actually including the various qualifiers and self-effacing statements he includes. That the reader wants to think he/she is reading honest responses is also apparent by the included phrase, "It's funny that after telling you virtually nothing, now I just want you to know the truth." We have talked before about how good lies typically contain a good deal of the truth, and the writer seems very careful about keeping the letter realistic (e.g., it sounds like these two did not know each other well enough for the reader to believe that the writer genuinely loved him/her, which is why the writer says "of course it was, I barely knew you"). The writer seems to be trying to reestablish a shared reality between the two of them, but a reality based primarily on rewritten history.

Going back to the phrase "I loved you," the past tense of the word loved is curious, but it seems purposeful, perhaps wanting to instill a sense of fear of loss or actual loss in the reader. Also it suggests that the writer is harmless, impotent -- because he/she no longer loves, he/she no longer has an incentive to "behave [poorly]". This seems designed to assuage any fears or misgivings the reader has about letting the writer back into his/her life, all while piquing the reader's interest --wanting the reader to not just think it is harmless to allow the writer back into his/her life, but actively wanting the writer back in his/her life.

The letter is also a Trojan horse, however. It promises love and eternal devotion, but those very promises are designed to guilt the reader into some sort of a response -- the writer's desired goal. The writer says, "It feels like you never really gave me a chance," followed by "I loved you." There are also the recriminations: "I feel like you have given me abandonment issues that I never really had before. I've gained a touch of paranoia. I second guess myself, even second guess the world." This is not only a plea for sympathy but a pointed finger of look-what-you-have-done-to-me-what-did-I-ever-do-to-deserve-this accusation. If the reader sees his or herself as a good, open-minded individual, he/she may have misgivings about his/her actions after reading this.

There is a suggestion that if they start over things will be different ("I guess I just wish that I had known it was coming"), but no direct promises or even a direct suggestion that it would have made any difference to the writer to know that the reader was leaving him/her. Finally, there is a plea to vanity: "I know I'll get over you, but I don't want to." I feel like that must work like a charm with empaths, if only because it sounds like a sappy movie line to me.

Our reader who sent this letter is right to be suspicious, I think. Even if the writer is not a sociopath, I am sure the friend has a very different understanding of the contours of their proposed renewed relationship than does the writer of this letter. Not only that, I believe that was the writer's exact intention.
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