Friday, December 31, 2010

Risky business

I was never really conscious of being a big risk taker when I was younger, although I ended up in urgent care facilities more than average, have woken up to medics and oxygen masks, etc. All growing up my parents made me take extra safety precautions that even my siblings did not have to do take -- helmets while skiing, mouthguards for sports, elaborate buddy systems, and emergency contact information on my person at all times. All my instructors and guides would laugh when my parents warned them to keep an eye out for me. I was a bit of a daredevil, but it was more than that -- I would often take risks that people wouldn't even have considered to be an option, wouldn't have predicted the need to warn me about.

It makes me wonder, are sociopaths risk-seeking or risky? Risk-seeking would mean that they are willing to take bigger risks for bigger payouts. For instance, between two choices of a 100% chance of winning $10,000 or a 1% chance of winning a million, a risk-averse individual is more likely to choose the former and a risk-seeking individual is more likely to choose the latter. The difference between the two becomes more stark when losses are involved, for instance a 1% chance of losing a limb vs. a 100% of breaking a limb. Which would you choose? A risk-seeking individual is more likely to choose the small chance of losing a limb and a risk-averse individual is more likely to choose the certainty of breaking a limb.

In contrast, a risky person takes illogical risks just for the sake of risk. For instance, a risky person might choose a 1% chance of winning only $500,000 rather than a 100% of winning $10,000. Likewise, a risky person might accept a 3% chance of losing a limb rather than the certainty of breaking a limb. A risky person may behave this way because (1) they are incorrectly assessing the risks and payouts involved, (2) they are correctly assessing the risks, but get some other benefit from the risk itself (i.e. psychic benefit from the risk itself), or (3) a mixture of 1 and 2.

Of course most choices we make are not as simple as 100% of $10,000. Even for a choice where you are certain you will either lose a limb or break it, everyone will value their own limbs differently and in different situations. Assuming two people are similar in every way but one is a sociopath and the other normal, I wonder what exactly would make them different when it comes to risk.

Tuesday, December 28, 2010

The good son

Excerpts from a reader's email:

I've never exposed myself in this manner before, but some of your readers' words struck a chord with me. So here I am.

I've known what I was ever since I was around 4. That is the first time I molested a female friend. Growing up, I've molested several of my childhood friends. I am much older now, and just recently molested and anally raped a woman whom I seduced at a bar. She took me to her place and passed out. The next morning, it was as if nothing happened. I am a sexual sadist at heart.

My knowledge of my inner being advanced after I realized I would nail mice to wooden planks, grind kittens' heads into cement with my foot, and brutally beat my dog's face with my fists until they bled. I was around 7 when I started, I believe. The feeling would be hard to describe: a rush mixed with uncontrolled rage and ultimate satisfaction. I torture and kill animals to this day, whenever there is a chance.

Everyone perceived me as a very well adjusted, loving, compassionate, intelligent child. But for the most part, it was an ingrained response to veil my pleasures. I was raised by an extremely loving, responsible, and intelligent mother, and more than willing relatives that thought I was simply a joy. I knew my "good side" rendered positive feedback, which in turn lessened culpability. I was never caught, or even suspected of anything. I was a good kid. Today, I am still capable of goodness, however that can be taken.

My motto is "Self-preservation, above all else." I've never been in a physical altercation, and rarely, if ever, have been provoked. Being known as a fighter leads to suspicion. Also, being in a fight could cause permanent injury and even death, if your opponent is more skilled. This infringes on the very framework of self-preservation.

I am a very good-looking, very intelligent, and very capable young man who takes care of his ailing mother and volunteers helping the sick. I publicly advocate the rights of women and am sensitive to every woman's needs. Quick to forgive, slow to fight. I am...perfect. Too perfect. At least for a while.

I am the most dangerous of monsters. I can't be stopped. I won't be stopped. I am in plain sight. If you're not extremely vigilant, subconsciously on the watch…I will tear you to pieces, if it is to my liking. I can also be your saving grace, your best friend, if it is to my liking. It's all about control, which is a bit ironic because I never seemed to be able to control my own impulses to harm others.

No one has ever known about me and my little secrets, and no one ever will. They will be kept locked away forever; away from counselors, parents, friends, and strangers alike. No one will ever know what I truly am...and that is the beauty of it all. Pure anonymity and elusiveness. I truly resent your labels and terms. Like attention-seeking whores, you gossip, solicit yourselves, and indulge your own fantasies of being a monster, a "sociopath". I understand myself completely, but what makes me dangerous is my complete understanding of those unlike me. I understand I will never stop raping; will never stop torturing; will never stop destroying.

Monday, December 27, 2010

Sociopaths in media: Cyndi Kristoffer from Penny and Aggie

From a reader:
I wondered if you'd heard anything about a webcomic called Penny & Aggie. One of its characters, Cyndi Kristoffer, has pretty much been defined as a sociopath. In the latest arc she goes missing, presumably abducted.

Here's the start of the arc.

The middle part, which might fill in a bit more about the other characters.

The conversation between abductor and abducted

To me Cyndi is a really good portrait of a young evolving sociopath, who has decided that she enjoys playing social and verbal games with people, and she is going to continue to do so until it gets boring. She’s developed as a character over the last couple years of this webcomic. Before the most recent storyline, there aren’t more than ten or twelve strips that blatantly flaunt her sociopathic behavior, because the writers have taken time to build her. They’ll show her giggling in the corner of one panel at someone else’s pain. Or they’ll have her engaged in a genuine conversation, without making it obvious that she’s just pulling strings. The comic has been patiently working towards the current arc.
This is how Cyndi's part of the kidnapping arc ended.

My first instinct was to smile in relief when I saw the last panel. But I wondered what you would think. I imagine that if a sociopath facing psychiatric evaluation and confinement felt anything, they would feel a sinking sensation, or the sudden feeling of being trapped.

And I wonder if Cyndi will learn how to fake being normal, and come back more dangerous than ever.
My response: I think Cyndi would feel trapped. It's actually hard to pretend to be normal, particularly in a sterile situation where people are not giving you the benefit of the doubt, e.g. a mental institution. Cyndi can get out of there through three primary means (in order of attempt): (1) charming or forming an emotional/manipulative bond with her doctors, (2) getting her parents or doctors to doubt themselves just enough to feel like they are monsters for keeping a poor defenseless girl locked up, or (3) provoking some sort of public scandal with her doctors, parents, or the institution such that she will have to be let out to appease the masses. Sociopaths view their victims a little like etch-a-sketches -- victims just need to be shaken up a little to erase whatever lingering impression they may have had of the sociopath.

I hope Cyndi makes a reappearance in the comic eventually, though. There aren't that many fun socio characters.

Thursday, December 23, 2010

Falling in love with a sociopath

From a reader:

I'm about 99% sure my dear friend is a sociopath. He's the most charming, funny, and well-loved person in our community. Yet, he has zero work ethic and is basically a leech entirely when it comes to work. Nothing wrong is ever his fault. He lied countless times to me when he pursued a relationship, and never seemed genuinely sorry (regardless of the many "I'm Sorry's" and "I understand's.") And he has this weird thing with eye contact. He also has lots of tricks I've picked up on, so I know he's very attentive to me when we're "on-again" and likes to protect himself. He knows how to get to me, using humor, my dreams, and sympathy play. I just wanted to write about how loving a sociopath happens, regardless of knowing so clearly what went wrong (many people don't understand -- I get that) and about why I wanted him back.

I forget it's bad because I'm having so much fun. He's funny, sweet even. He brings up old jokes, memories, and conversations that almost make me forget why I hated him so much in the first place. Somewhere in my mind I know he's not safe, or solid as a foundation, but I feel at home with him anyway. I can see the tricks he's reusing and I can say out loud the things he did to me, the terrible games he played with me. But between my head and my heart there is literally a break in the connection, because I love him.

I also want to point out that going back to him went something like this; it's easier to join forces and be friends than to be on the opposing side. Though we didn't actually fight (verbally or physically) ever really, because he only admitted he lied once, we were in a war. He made himself known, but we weren't speaking. He was everywhere I needed to be, and eventually even crept into my dreams and haunted me in my sleep. It was impossible to go without him. So, regardless of the hours of counseling and catharsis conversations with friends, he's back.

I have a strange compassion and love for him and sociopaths in general, I think. I don't know why they "tick" and work as they do, but they're just different than me. They're still sane, yes, but something inside drives their actions to be so different. They are like little power monsters at times, but they need love too...or so it feels. Is the beating I get worth it?
So far, I guess it has been (though, not to outsiders).


Still, he's my friend, and I believe that he needs love even if he can't feel it quite the same. That's weird, I know. Ha, this is going to sound stupid, but I was thinking about that while I was petting my cat today. She was purring because she liked it, but another way of her getting more petting was clawing at me. So I had to only pet her from a certain angle, so I could still show her I loved her, but not get scratched. Cheesy analogy? Completely. But I think it kind of makes sense for a lot of us that love sociopaths.

Wednesday, December 22, 2010

Femme fatale

From a reader:
I was watching one of Andy Warhols movies with Edie Sedgwick. When Andy was told Edie had died, he responded Edie who? Do you think Edie was a sociopath? She was so charming, and had everyone feeling sorry for her.. still.

I lived with a girl I suspect was a sociopath and my grandma as well. I think it is their mystery that is so seductive. I've seen my grandmother transform into a starry eyed seductress charming a doctor while laying in her hospital bed. She was beautifully monovisual in all photographs taken of her. Yet her very last words to my grandfather were "Don't touch me, I hate you" Edie's charm reminds me of their charm. The way she evokes pity yet seems so strong yet charmingly fragile...? "poor little rich girl"

Do you know any femme fatales? And if so, were you attracted to her?

"Andy said I should write a song about Edie Sedgwick. I said 'Like what?' and he said 'Oh, don't you think she's a femme fatale, Lou?' So I wrote 'Femme Fatale' and we gave it to Nico. (Lou Reed)"
My response: Interesting what you say about the poor little rich girl, faux victim effect that femme fatales seem to have. I just wrote to a female sociopath reader about whether she thinks that her victims are attracted to her because they want to be predated upon (i.e. want to be exploited)? Or because there is something vulnerable about her that they can't help but want to exploit? If the latter, I think femme fatales sometimes attract targets who would never otherwise be in that type of situation, like an open cash register sitting unattended in front of someone who doesn't consider themself a thief.

I have known some femme fatales and I always find them to be very attractive. I look at them and I think, this person could ruin me. It's all very exciting, this feeling of wanting to be destroyed just for the pleasure of that moment when they turn their complete attention to you, even if it is just to destroy you. But I'll have to check out some of Edie's films.

Tuesday, December 21, 2010

The switch

From a reader:
I think I may be a hybrid sociopath. I am very similar to my father in the way that I am comfortably able to adopt and change my personality with ease. I have the characteristic sociopath ability to identify and exploit vulnerabilities in people.

But I am also able to feel sympathetic emotions such as empathy and love, however I can also choose to not feel them. It's a strange sort of mental switch I have. When I was little the switch would turn on and off randomly, and in only 5th grade I thought I was madly in love with this girl. I would follow her around, but never talk to her (I basically stalked her). This was during the time when I was still learning how to interact with people in socially acceptable ways that would not reveal what I was. Anyway, I loved this girl for almost a year and then overnight I simply stopped loving her. I never felt that emotion towards another person ever again. Another case of my odd emotional switch was in 7th grade when my classmates and I found a dead opossum the size of a large cat. My classmates screamed, and some began to cry. All I could do was stare at it and wonder how a motionless piece of fur and flesh could be valuable or meaningful to anyone. But a week later, something reminded me of the lifeless critter and I suddenly felt a pang of sickening remorse for the creature. Of course now, I could care less about it.

It wasn't until High School that I mastered my control over the emotional switch in my mind. I could turn on my emotions and get all touchy-feely with girls when I wanted to seduce them, or I could turn them off and do anything I pleased and feel no guilt. I was not simulating emotions, I actually felt them. I find this talent to be very useful, the only side effect is a rare sudden outburst of emotion immediately after turning on my emotions after long periods of numbing them.

I spend a lot of time trying to discipline my mind, so that I can mold it into what I want it to be. Creating one personality is easy. The hard part is developing two different personalities that you can interchange quickly and easily. There are actually two mental switches that you need to develop, one to go from your sociopath side to your emotional side, and another to go from your emotional side to your sociopath side. Usually I use an incredibly poignant memory to trigger my emotional side, and a very unnerving, desensitizing thought to trigger my sociopath side.
I responded: Have you seen this post? It sounds like what you are saying. Recently I've been starting to believe more and more that sociopathy is either an attentional defect myself or that attention plays a large part in how sociopathy manifests itself. This fits with your switch imagery -- if one's attention is directed at a particular emotion, sociopaths can feel the same sorts of things that normal people can. The difference is that it is not automatic, we have to make the conscious effort to focus our attention that way.

Monday, December 20, 2010

Small towns

There is incredible diversity amongst the sociopathic population. Although we share some physical/genetic/environmental characteristics, there are also many things that vary widely such as intelligence, ethnicity, race, age, socioeconomic status, gender, education, etc. These factors all affect the way our sociopathic traits manifest themselves making each one of us a special snowflake. In fact, when you consider the breadth and depth of influence that these factors have in a typical person, it's amazing that sociopaths are as similar as they are. One important environmental factor that I hadn't really considered before is the role of growing up in a small town vs. a larger city, and the stifling effect the former would have on sociopathic behaviors. From a reader:
I think focusing on impression management is key to the high-functioning part of "high-functioning psychopath". Nearly all of us mimic to give the impression that we are just like everyone else. Those of us who recognize that we can get more out of people if they want to give it to us just focus on our overall reputation a little more. Those of us who recognize that we can't control our baser urges every single time and may need some benefit-of-the-doubt cover, make a point to emanate safety and innocence.

I think the lack of understanding about the importance of impression management among others is probably due to one of three issues: One, the individual isn't a psychopath or anything like it. Two, the individual is not a high-functioning psychopath, and thus can't see the big-picture benefit. Three, the individual is a high-functioning psychopath, but has never lived in a small town or been part of some small sub-community within their city. I currently live in a decent-size city, and can see how easily anonymity is attained here. In a small town, most people know where most other people are most of the time, and what they are doing, so from a psychopath's perspective, it is a different world.

Being a child adds another complication. How you are viewed is inextricably linked to how your parent is viewed. Your power in the community derives from theirs. It was vital in playing my town--getting what I wanted when I wanted it--that my mother was viewed favorably. Now I'm doing the same thing for my spouse, who is in a career where image and reputation are very important.

Friday, December 17, 2010

Sociopaths in media: Lie to me, Apt Pupil, Lolita

The episode "Beat the Devil" from season two of "Lie to Me" features a homicidal sociopath. Apart from the usual Hollywood sociopath stereotypes, there were some interesting insights into how a sociopath might react differently to emotional stimuli. Apart from this murderer of the week, the main character Cal Lightman is also sociopathic (at least enough for the other characters/viewers to sometimes wonder).

A reader had me watch the film Apt Pupil, which is based on a novella by Stephen King. The thing I liked about the film is that at any given time it is not clear who the sociopath(s) is/are or who is playing whom.

Speaking of which, I also just watched the Kubrick version of Lolita. I love the book. There is something so sensual about Nabokov's word choices, as if there were nothing more pleasurable than reading/writing the English language. The film was a bit of a disappointment, apparently because of censorship. The newer 90's version is allegedly more true to the book (and therefore presumably better). The best part about the film is that it has more of an omniscient narrator feel, so (I think) you get a better idea of the extent of Lolita's scheming. In the book Lolita is seems more of a victim.

Wednesday, December 15, 2010

Understanding very little

A reader writes:
I am wondering, do you watch "Lie To Me"? The latest episode of Lie To Me which I watched had an interesting ending, where Tim Roth's character (one "Dr. Lightman") wrote that he understood very little, least of all those close to him.

I understand very little. I see people and I know what they feel, happy, sad, angry, annoyed, aroused, excited. but all in all I understand very little. I know they are experiencing something, but I do not understand the "humanity" that occurs around me. I know I am required to do certain things at certain times, and I will do those things, but do I understand why. I know I must, or I will be viewed in a negative light that makes my life difficult.

Indeed, it seems as if almost everybody I meet was handed a blue-print to behaviours, a list of requirements, of responses and of reactions. And it seems I missed that handing out, missed the instructions, missed that which is needed to be...well, human. This is how I viewed the world when I was younger, and how I have adapted.

As I said, I know but I do not understand. Human life occurs all around me, and I can not help but watch.

Tuesday, December 14, 2010

Tell me lies

I've been amazed at the sheer amount of lying I've had to do recently with holiday parties, family functions, and work. I haven't had to be around people as much this past year, so my lying skills are rusty. Also I've been a little sloppy and unlucky, which means I keep getting caught doing compromising things, necessitating more frequent lying. For example, I have an odd habit of rifling through people's bathroom drawers. I did this recently at a party, certain that the sound of the music would muffle any excessive noise. Unfortunately my host was waiting right outside the door to use the toilet after me. Most people would avoid confrontation, but not her. She asked if I was looking for something. I immediately said no, uncertain of how much she had heard. When she gave me a certain look and I realized I was caught, I did a quick mental brainstorm for plausible lies and said, "You were out of handsoap." Luckily this was at least sort of true, true enough for her not to get angry at me.

Lying is a risky life strategy. The worst thing that could happen is to get caught in a compromising situation, lie about it, and then get caught in the lie. People get very angry at you when that happens, although everyone has been in that situation at least once in their lives.

Everyone has a unique relationship with lies/truth. I was emailing one of my exes recently about lying, an ex who happens to currently be in a volatile relationship with another ex. I said:
Maybe the biggest difference between you two is that sometimes you lie or give sugarcoated truths but other times you will just bluntly say important things that you think need to be said. In contrast, X will either be honest or refuse to say anything at all. This is a bad combination because you like and expect to be lied to for some things but want the truth for really important things (how you treat people) and X basically wants the truth all the time or silence, even if it means taking a break from the other person (how X treats people). Because X sometimes tells you the truth when you want to be lied to and you sometimes lie to X instead of being upfront, you both get upset.
I am not sure what my relationship with lying is. Lying can be very fun and exciting, particularly when lying to get out of a scrape, but it can quickly turn into a chore. The character Tom Sawyer learns through his fence painting scheme that "Work consists of whatever a body is obliged to do, and that Play consists of whatever a body is not obliged to do.”

Sometimes I daydream about what my life would be like if I didn't have to lie all the time, where people didn't expect to have their ego massaged, or to hear a rosy take on reality, or they were just generally more tolerant of the diversity of human behavior. It would be nice to be able to tell the truth more frequently. I would love to be able to tell certain people certain truths with zero repercussions. I guess I could always drop the mask(s) and eliminate the need to lie that way, but I doubt I will ever take that step. As much as lying can be a chore, I think the pros outweigh the cons for now.

Saturday, December 11, 2010

Criminally sociopathic (part 2)

Cont.:
I ended up selling meth for a few years after all this. Amusingly the reason was I wanted to meet more people who were willing to commit real crimes like robbing armored cars or finding someone who would pay me to kill people and it's not like you can post wanted ads so I figured the easiest way to meet new criminals who weren't a bunch of stupid kids was to start selling drugs. I had been nonplussed by the kids I met in community service. Most of them were there for vandalism charges and none of them showed any real initiative.

So my criminal career after that mostly consisted of me selling meth starting from $20 sacks on the street to pushing pounds for a Mexican cartel family to cooking it myself interspersed with things like armed robbery of other dealers who had disrespected me (great excuse to go take what you want from someone and have some fun).

If you go to the court house and look at my record I have literally pages of charges that have been brought against me and a total of two convictions, one felony possession of meth and one misdemeanor 'being under the influence.' One of your posts mentioned this phenomenon. We might commit the crimes but compared to the poor saps who aren't sociopaths we don't do the time - we get off too often and leave early more often than not.

My first arrest on drug charges was stupid. I didn't know my rights well enough (though amusingly I'd taken a criminal law class at the local community college since my momma always said, "you have to know the rules so you can break them right"). After that first arrest I was on probation which meant I no longer had those protective rights that coulda saved me the first time which meant luck eventually got me a couple more arrests and on the last one the DA had actually realized I was someone he should pay attention to.

So I left it all behind (leaving a certain minor cartel family with thousands of dollars in unpaid debt that I didn't feel like dealing with). I had decided that I had a problem. I didn't have the drug problem I played to everyone else to excuse my behavior - I had a legal problem. Doing the work I had been doing with search and seizure terms is illogical. It's not a winning game so I figured I'd drop it for 3 years and come back when I had my rights back armed with the knowledge I'd picked up on how to work the legal system. My one close friend (the same one I got in trouble with when I was 16) moved back to town and told me to get my shit together and actually really did a lot of work toward re-socializing me. She also helped me decided not to go right back to work when my probation fell off (since of course, I had been a model of good behavior).

So here I am. In the last couple quarters of a 4 year degree in an extremely technical engineering major. And I feel dead. Because nothing else carries any feeling with it. It isn't that I can't avoid getting locked up or that I can't make money legally it's that when I weigh the price of risking prison against the price of living out a life of dead affect and absolute boredom the choice doesn't seem difficult. Survival isn't worth anything when you aren't doing anything with it. If I'm a criminal it's only because some things I enjoy are illegal and I don't particularly fear the consequences.

Friday, December 10, 2010

Criminally sociopathic (part 1)

From a reader:
One common theme in comments on your site seems to be "only the stupid sociopaths get locked up, they give us a bad name, if they were better at being rational/smart they wouldn't be ending up in prison." Of course as someone who has a handful of arrests I can't help but take this a little personally so I'll do my best to explain why I disagree with the position.

I was a criminal sociopath. I was the kind of criminal who was there for fun. To this day I haven't yet found anything that compares to the fun I had then. Any crimes before I was 16 were boring - I'd get in fights but mostly I had to actively convince another kid to fight with me under the pretense it was just a game (to me it was.. I couldn't get why they didn't enjoy it) and then when they were injured I had to work to convince them not to tell anyone what had happened to them so I wouldn't get in trouble.

When I was 16 I decided with a friend to burglarize a business. Basically I got off work, went to where she was working and while chatting with her mentioned I'd figured out how to get into a local store and into their safe. She said "So lets do it" so when she got off work we went back to my house, got together what we'd wear (there were cameras so heavy jackets and ski-masks), we went to sleep, woke up at 4am and walked downtown to do it. I should add here that I didn't do it for the money, I had several thousand dollars in my bank account and still lived at home having graduated high school before turning 16 and working.

Long story short we got away with it beautifully - for about 7 days. Then the only other person in the world who knew ratted on us. This was my first lesson in how weak most people are and one of many cases where I've been surprised someone did something that seemed completely illogical to me. In the meantime though my friend and I rented expensive motel rooms and bought new cloths instead of going home or washing what we had. Experiences that made the whole thing worth it include sitting with my friend on the hotel bed counting thousands of dollars in cash in our robes, finding a crazy alcoholic homeless woman and her 12yo daughter and having them follow us around buying us alcohol, and walking out of the store we had robbed pulling our skimasks up into hats so the cameras never got a shot of our faces, and then casually walking down a major street downtown to go change clothes at the bus station.

Having no priors and being a minor I never even went to Juvi - after all, I was the nice white kid from the middle class family who had made a horrible mistake and was oh so repentant.
(cont.)

Thursday, December 9, 2010

Life is a game

A reader sent this as a follow-up to the last post, a NY Times piece on gaming:
“Gamers are engaged, focused, and happy,” says Edward Castronova, a professor of telecommunications at Indiana University who has studied and designed online games. “How many employers wish they could say that about even a tenth of their work force?
***
In the past, puzzles and games were sometimes considered useful instructional tools. The emperor Charlemagne hired a scholar to compile “Problems to Sharpen the Young,” a collection of puzzles like the old one about ferrying animals across a river (without leaving the hungry fox on the same bank as the defenseless goat). The British credited their victory over Napoleon to the games played on the fields of Eton.

But once puzzles and gaming went digital, once the industry’s revenues rivaled Hollywood’s, once children and adults became so absorbed that they forsook even television, then the activity was routinely denounced as “escapism” and an “addiction.” Meanwhile, a few researchers were more interested in understanding why players were becoming so absorbed and focused. They seemed to be achieving the state of “flow” that psychologists had used to describe master musicians and champion athletes, but the gamers were getting there right away instead of having to train for years.

One game-design consultant, Nicole Lazzaro, the president of XEODesign, recorded the facial expressions of players and interviewed them along with their friends and relatives to identify the crucial ingredients of a good game. One ingredient is “hard fun,” which Ms. Lazzaro defines as overcoming obstacles in pursuit of a goal. That’s the same appeal of old-fashioned puzzles, but the video games provide something new: instantaneous feedback and continual encouragement, both from the computer and from the other players.

Players get steady rewards for little achievements as they amass points and progress to higher levels, with the challenges becoming harder as their skill increases.

Even though they fail over and over, they remain motivated to keep going until they succeed and experience what game researchers call “fiero.” The term (Italian for “proud”) describes the feeling that makes a gamer lift both arms above the head in triumph.
The article makes a strange argument, essentially that if hardcore gamers saw real life more as a game, they might be more interested in real life. If that is the prescribed therapy for ennui or a persistent sense of the meaningless of life, then sociopaths have been self-medicating for millennia.

Monday, December 6, 2010

Friday, December 3, 2010

Sociopath test: How to spot them before they target you

Everyone wants to know how to identify a sociopath, it's one of the most frequently asked questions I get. The problem is that no one has discovered a definitive means of identifying them, even in a clinical setting with trained psychologists, even with a brain scanner. For the average layperson, the advice for spotting a sociopath is as varied and unreliable as "evil eyes," social parasite/criminal, and (my favorite for being both too specific and overbroad) Martha's Stout's "pity play" litmus test. I had hoped that there would be physical manifestations of sociopathy, but the results, while suggestive of potential promising areas of follow-up (why don't sociopaths take cold medicine?), were far from scientific or conclusive. Still, from my own personal experience with sociopaths, I believe that there are some easily observable behaviors or traits that correlate relatively well with sociopathy. I came up with 12.
1. Sociopaths typically don't smalltalk about themselves as much as normal people do. They will direct the conversation back to the new acquaintance as much as they can.

2. A sociopath will reveal "personal" details about himself strategically, i.e. for the purposes of misdirection or a false sense of intimacy/trust. Revelations of actual truths are very rare and may be perceived as a small slip of the mask.

3. Sociopaths frequently hesitate before responding. It will be unclear to you whether they are bored, annoyed, lying, or all three.

4. No strong reactions to illogical hotbed political/social topics (e.g. Octomom or Catholic priest child molestation).

5. Monotone voice (I am told).

6. A tendency to take things too literally or otherwise not respond appropriately to small emotional cues.

7. Cold indifference to one or more family members.

8. Seemingly a different person when "distracted."

9. Disconnect between what the sociopath says and does, e.g. seems charitable but does not give money to homeless or vice versa.

10. Never shows signs of embarrassment. Easily wins over large crowds with confidence. "Poise" in this case = lack of nerves.

11. Does not fit stereotypes for gender, race, ethnicity, religion, age, sexual orientation, or career. Could seem foreign, bisexual, older or younger, pious, wealthy or poor, but may also just seem unplaceable.
12. Can flip flop between keeping a very low profile (the observer) to being the life of the party (the actor).
I don't think all of these would apply to all sociopaths, and certainly many of them apply to people who aren't sociopaths, however they all have the advantage of being directly observable by a layperson, at least without the aid of a brain scan or 10 page questionnaire. Also, because they're seemingly inconsequential and not directly related to the classic sociopath/antisocial traits, a sociopath would have less reason to mask them.

Do some of these seem particularly predictive or not? Any other suggestions?

Thursday, December 2, 2010

Survey results

I copied the results below. I tried not to have duplicates, but I may also have inadvertently left some out. Some of the questions didn't really get enough responses to include. Some of the answer categories I grouped together, e.g. "eating to survive" included pretty much everyone who said that they typical just eat for the nutrients, although they may sometimes find pleasure in eating. Next time I'll make an actual survey form for ease of calculation. Of course this was far from reliable, but it was still interesting. I was surprised by some of the results, was not surprised by some. I'll let you speculate without tainting you with my own conclusions/theories.

1. Do you have normal average blood temperature, run hot, or run cold?
12 Cold 4 normal 2 hot

2. Do you have normal blood pressure, run high, or run low?
13 Low 2 normal 6 high

3. What is your relationship to food?
5 love 1 like 17 eat to survive

4. Do you have corrected vision, i.e. glasses, contact lenses?
9 corrected 12 none

5. What is your tolerance to pain? Low, high, or normal?
17 high 5 normal 1 low

6. Have you ever had stitches or surgery that could have been otherwise been preventable based on lifestyle choices?
10 no 12 yes

7. Would you say you look about your age, younger, or older than your age?
11 younger 8 same 3 older

8. Do you take cold medication? How soon after a cold do you start taking medication?
17 no 4 some/sometimes 1 yes

9. Do you have trouble sleeping?
8 yes 12 some/sometimes 2 no

10. Which do you crave more, salty or sweet foods?
8 salty 3 both 7 sweet 3 neither

11. Do you wake up in the morning drenched in sweat?
4 no 5 sometimes

12. Do you abuse drugs like alcohol?
3 no 7 yes

13. Do you have great admiration for the aspergers people?
5 yes 3 no

14. Creepy stare:
6 yes

15. People oriented job:
2 no

16. Do you like sun and brightness?
8 no

17. Do you eat red/bloody meat?
5 yes 1 no

18. Are you involved in or have you been involved in extreme hobbies and activities?
3 yes 3 no

19. Do you like trying new things, or are you averse to change?
6 change

Wednesday, December 1, 2010

Narcissists in the media: Jimmy Wales


I'll tabulate the results of the survey and post them soon, but in the meantime has anyone been to Wikipedia lately? There are a bunch of vanity shots of alleged "founder" Jimmy Wales (who once got caught editing his own Wikipedia entry for vanity reasons) begging people to fund his multi-billion dollar monument to himself, something that has traditionally been the province of only televangelists and politicians. It's so full of asshattery, I decided to post the entire plea:

I got a lot of funny looks ten years ago when I started talking to people about Wikipedia.
Let’s just say some people were skeptical of the notion that volunteers from all across the world could come together to create a remarkable pool of human knowledge – all for the simple purpose of sharing.
No ads. No agenda. No strings attached.
A decade after its founding, nearly 400 million people use Wikipedia and its sister sites every month - almost a third of the Internet-connected world.
It is the 5th most popular website in the world - but Wikipedia isn’t anything like a commercial website. It is a community creation, written by volunteers making one entry at a time. You are part of our community. And I’m writing today to ask you to protect and sustain Wikipedia.
Together, we can keep it free of charge and free of advertising. We can keep it open – you can use the information in Wikipedia any way you want. We can keep it growing – spreading knowledge everywhere, and inviting participation from everyone.
Each year at this time, we reach out to ask you and others all across the Wikimedia community to help sustain our joint enterprise with a modest donation of $20, $35, $50 or more.
If you value Wikipedia as a source of information – and a source of inspiration – I hope you’ll choose to act right now.
All the best,
Jimmy Wales
Founder, Wikipedia

P.S. Wikipedia is about the power of people like us to do extraordinary things. People like us write Wikipedia, one word at a time. People like us fund it, one donation at a time. It's proof of our collective potential to change the world.
This reads like the word vomit of a completely out of touch celebrity who is famous for doing nothing and can't stop talking about himself in the broadest terms possible. Where is his publicist? Can I donate some money to a public relations person? I feel like that would do Wikipedia the greatest good.

Other fun tidbits form his wikipedia article include: he loves the "philosopher" Ayn Rand, he has hotly disputed any claims from alleged Wikipedia "co-founders", and "[a]lthough his formal designation is that of mere board member and chairman emeritus of the Wikimedia Foundation, Wales' social capital within the Wikipedia community has accorded him a status that has been characterized as benevolent dictator, constitutional monarch and spiritual leader."

Tuesday, November 30, 2010

Cold-blooded

I have some quick survey questions for the sociopaths, mainly just curiosity as to objective physical manifestations of sociopathy. Answer as many as you wish. Feel free to email me answers if you want to get into more details that you would rather not be public. Some of the questions are red herrings (at least I think they are).

1. Do you have normal average blood temperature, run hot, or run cold?

2. Do you have normal blood pressure, run high, or run low?

3. What is your relationship to food?

4. Do you have corrected vision, i.e. glasses, contact lenses?

5. What is your tolerance to pain? Low, high, or normal?

6. Have you ever had stitches or surgery that could have been otherwise been preventable based on lifestyle choices?

7. Would you say you look about your age, younger, or older than your age?

8. Do you take cold medication? How soon after a cold do you start taking medication?

9. Do you have trouble sleeping

10. Which do you crave more, salty or sweet foods?

Any other suggestions?

Monday, November 29, 2010

Sociopaths in the news: DecorMyEyes

I love this story of cyber bullying between the owner of online retailer "DecorMyEyes" and his complaining customers. It reminds me of the stories empaths sometimes tell of trying to get even with their oppressors. It's a long article, worth reading, but here are the excerpts that lead me to think sociopath:


Dozens of people over the last three years, she found, had nearly identical tales about DecorMyEyes: a purchase gone wrong, followed by phone calls, e-mails and threats, sometimes lasting for months or years.

“Hello, My name is Stanley with DecorMyEyes.com,” the post began. “I just wanted to let you guys know that the more replies you people post, the more business and the more hits and sales I get. My goal is NEGATIVE advertisement.”

It’s all part of a sales strategy, he said. Online chatter about DecorMyEyes, even furious online chatter, pushed the site higher in Google search results, which led to greater sales. He closed with a sardonic expression of gratitude: “I never had the amount of traffic I have now since my 1st complaint. I am in heaven.”

“I’ve exploited this opportunity because it works. No matter where they post their negative comments, it helps my return on investment. So I decided, why not use that negativity to my advantage?”

“When I fly to Las Vegas I look down and see all these houses,” he starts. “If someone in one of those houses buys from DecorMyEyes and ends up hating the company, it doesn’t matter. All those other houses are filled with people, too, and they will come knocking.”

Selling on the Internet, Mr. Borker says, attracts a new horde of potential customers every day. For the most part, they don’t know anything about DecorMyEyes, and the ones who bother to research the company — well, he doesn’t want their money. If you’re the type of person who reads consumer reviews, Mr. Borker would rather you shop elsewhere.

It’s almost painful to say, but Mr. Borker is amusing company. He is sharp and entertaining, although much of the entertainment comes from the way he flouts the conventions of courtesy, which he does with such a perverse flair that it can seem like a kind of performance art.

Despite the fear he has inspired, Mr. Borker doesn’t regard himself as a terror. He prefers to think of himself as the Howard Stern of online commerce — an outsize character prone to shocking utterances.

Except that Howard Stern doesn’t issue threats, I say.

“People overreact,” he pshaws, often because they’re unaccustomed to plain speaking, New York-style. Anyway, he adds, if somebody messes with you, and you mess back, “how is that a threat?”
And the victim's failed attempt of a comeuppance:

Ms. Rodriguez [a victim] has a meticulous record of all things Russo. Sitting at a table with a laptop, she reads some of his e-mails and plays several saved messages left by him on her phone. It is unmistakably Mr. Borker.

“I’m stubborn,” she says when asked about her persistence in the last few months. “I wasn’t going to let this guy push me around.”

I contacted T-Mobile to let them know I was being harassed,” she says, “but they said there was nothing they could do because it was coming from a blocked number.”

FOR months, Mr. Borker and Ms. Rodriguez were essentially working opposite sides of the Internet. He operated in the seams and cracks of the Web’s underbelly, while she was pleading for help with what is supposed to be the Web’s protective layer: a variety of corporations and law enforcement entities that could have intervened.

None did.
Moral of the story is don't bother trying to get back at them. Even I don't mess with people like this if I can avoid it. If they get you, learn a lesson and be more careful next time. Trying to get even is like throwing good money after bad. But I understand that for some people it is difficult to make coldly rational decisions, even for what is essentially a business transaction.

Sunday, November 28, 2010

Rape and sexual abuse

This post is not about sociopaths committing rape or sexual abuse (this time), but rather about sociopaths being the victim of rape or sexual abuse.Sociopaths who have these experiences are typically female.

Female sociopaths have particularly complicated existences. They need power, like all sociopaths, but there are certain situations in which they will always be more vulnerable than a man, if for not other reason than women are far more likely to be victims of sexual assaults than men. I would imagine that there would be a certain indignant detachment for the female sociopath that an empath wouldn't feel. Here is one female sociopath's experience with rape:
Saturday evening.
He spiked my Jack and Coke.
My body has never responded well to drugs, so it didn't take full effect like it ought to have: I was blinded and paralysed but had every other sense and was conscious. Not alert, but awake. He took himself for a joyride on my body for a couple of hours. Don't quote me on that, haha, my perception of time was warped. As I was kinesthetic for the whole event, I believe it was like this: missionary, spooning, doggy, missionary. Intermittent oral sex. I blindly (literally, not figuratively) fought to stay awake. When I awoke, my sight had returned, blurry but enough for me to drive myself home. Before I left, I gave him a kiss. We dated for a couple more weeks, then I called him and more or less told him thanks.
I wonder how normal people would react to this situation. I imagine the typical sociopath victim of rape would not report the incident, unless she thought the news would come out anyway. Otherwise I think the sociopath would only report it if there was a very good chance of the perpetrator getting caught, e.g. good description of who it was, DNA. The sociopath would wonder how the rape had changed them, question whether they "feel" anything about the rape, wonder what they were expected to feel. If the sociopath victim felt anything, I think it would be something like a feeling of loss, perhaps powerlessness, and isolation. I think all rape victims feel those last three to some extent, but the sociopath's strange relationship to self, power, and society would give them a unique flavor of nihilistic-void-"traumatized".

I think the example from "Girl with the Dragon Tattoo" is a good fictional depiction of what a female sociopath might do in response to that experience. Here is another sociopath experience of sexual abuse and domestic violence:
I know that between the ages of 3 and 5, another little girl and I were molested by some guy and our reactions were quite different. She became withdrawn and cried easily. From what I remember, I thought it was boring and annoying, but I recall being so confused as to why she'd cry and get weird when it happened. Dude gave me candy (the good stuff), so I think it was a fair trade. Eventually I told the guy that he'd better give me more candy or he'd be in trouble. Score. I know that this was at my babysitter's, but I don't know exactly what year/age I'm remembering. Even if it was at 5, that is pretty young to be so different from that other girl, the control in this experiment.

Additionally, as far back as I can remember, my mom always had us sleep with weapons in case the "bad people" would come. She meant my father, and I knew that, but I never felt afraid. Just prepared. Sometimes my 7-year-old self would lay awake planning how I could best bring him down if he were to show up. Again, I wasn't scared, but I loved to picture beating some guy's knees, and then back, and then head with the ball bat I kept by my bed. I was basically fantasizing about beating this man who I had never met (and harbored no negative feelings about) to a broken heap.
My first recurring dream that I remembered involved one of my childhood "bad people." Every time I had the dream, he would kill me. Each time I dreamt it I could remember what happened last time and plan ahead to avoid the same mistakes, but I would always die finally. The last time I had this dream, it ended with me bashing his head in repeatedly, then running as I heard the gurgling of air and blood pass through his mangled face while he suffered to death. This was my first violent fantasy hat I can remember. So I guess I feel like I can relate to the victim who is a sociopath.

Saturday, November 27, 2010

Sociopath girl and gaslighting: Mini's First Time

One of my readers recommended Mini's First Time as a portrait of a young, teenage, sociopath girl. It's not the best film, but relatively accurate (for Hollywood) and also an excellent portrayal of gaslighting someone.

Wednesday, November 24, 2010

Sociopath quote: concerned face

From television show "Dead Like Me"

George: Do you really care how it's going with me?
Rube: Sure, I make my face look like this and the concerned words come out.

Monday, November 22, 2010

Corruption

Sociopaths can be toxic, and not always in the good Britney Spears way.  From a reader:
The problem with living a life like mine is I can't have friends at all. Not what other people call friends. My girlfriend accused me of being a virus. She says everyone around me becomes corrupted. I thought about it. I look back on the relationships I have with people and they root back to a time when they were just flirting with the darkness. People get caught up in me sometimes. They start hanging out with me all the time. Soon they are wrapped into what I was doing. The longer I'm around them the more they accept that what I'm doing isn't really that bad. Soon I start taking things even further. Ill do things way over the line and act like toning it down is a favor. Really its making further steps into my purposes seem like a compromise. Around this point they come to me with a dependency. Its not hard for me to get them to now do what they originally thought was 'bad', as they now see it as not being a big deal. After all its business as usual.


I realize what she says is reality. I don't even do the manipulation on purpose it is second nature to me. I don't associate with people who are not useful for me. I see them as liabilities. Why would I open up to somebody with no lot in my life? Instead I associate with people who fit in my goals. Everytime I do, I find that I don't even need to ask them to do anything. They are only to eager to offer themselves.


Ironically, the greatest strength I have is peoples empathy. It is their empathy that allows them to see things from my point view. It allows them to label me into a grey area where normally they would have seen black and white. I do this by acting like its perfectly normal for me to do what I'm doing. Its another day at work. Busniness as usual. People don't question things when it becomes a daily ritual. It becomes normal.


Some call me a parasite. I wouldn't call what I do parasitical. I find peoples needs and I provide for them. In return I only ask for them.
My reply:

I'm interested in the corruptive effect you have on your associates. It's fine to use people (we all do), but I think sociopaths struggle with not letting that toxicity creep into all aspects of our lives, infecting all of our associates, family, and friends.

I think some of your associates may have what I want to refer to as "Tinman syndrome." In the original Frank Baum Wonderful Wizard of Oz series, Tinman used to be normal, human woodsman but was stripped of everything that once made him human and had it replaced with his current tin parts -- stronger in some ways, but more vulnerable in others (rust). Read about his origins here.

If you believe this analogy, then you are like Ku-Klip, the tinsmith that replaced his human parts with tin. Like Ku-Klip, you made them stronger but you forgot to give them hearts. They need to realize that although you believe that the world is terrible and most people in it, you still believe that things you do in this life make a difference. If you make it clear to your associates that you think what you do in this world has consequences, I think that could be a way to stem the spread of corruption.

Sunday, November 21, 2010

Love and other drugs

Watching these types of movies is the gateway drug to dating a sociopath because once this becomes something you want, reality will never again be good enough.

Friday, November 19, 2010

Controlling violent urges

A reader talks about "change" from a violent child, to a relatively in-control adult:
When I was young (Up until about Twelve years old) I had very little self-control with violent outbursts. I almost murdered a few of my peers, and was so alienated from this that no amount of charm or good deeds could win favor back into the affected parties. This greatly bothered me. I had been in fights all my life, yet I had never been in a situation where I was beyond social redemption. I noted this, and although I would still get angry, and still Want to maim them, I would not let myself cross the line of letting my instincts take over. The risk was just too great, and I was thankful that I had moved to another area where my slate was clean as far as the locals were concerned. This conscious choice to repress my violence evolved when I reached High School. The specific High School I went to would arrest all parties involved in violent activities (fights, usually) regardless of who the initiator was, and this could lead to time spent in a correctional facility and a juvenile criminal record. At this point, I had no desire to be seen off in a patrol car, as I had seen some of my peers arrested. Being a known criminal is crippling for your reputation, which is something I would kill for if needed to maintain. I made a conscious effort to alleviate tension before it could start, and managed to avoid physical altercations in High School almost completely, save one incident which thankfully was not brought to the attention of the authorities. I spread myself throughout the school, thanks to the segregation of various quads, and had a large network of 'friends' in multiple cliques. From years of experience, I had no problem quickly befriending dozens of classmates and was able to keep my list of so called enemies to an almost non-existent figure. If you will, I embraced the philosophy of 'Burn No Bridges', but not out of a notion of good, but practicality. Is this sort of behavior common? This, evolution from a violent sociopath to a non-violent one? It is easy to enrage me if done properly to this day, but I leave little opportunity for someone to even entertain the notion of it, and my intimidating physical features also discourage people from angering me.
I responded: One of my friends thinks socios can only go one way -- bad to worse. The idea is that once corrupted, we will always have that particular weakness or penchant for corruption. For instance, I talked recently about the potential for training myself to enjoy bloodlust. I wouldn't do that, though, because I'd be worried that it would become an addiction. But your transition from violence to peacefulness suggests otherwise, unless you just have a great deal of self-control or the violence never had a strong pull for you. What do you think?
In regards to your comment on violence, I find the explanation simple and sobering (for me). I am not an addict, I do not have an addictive personality, and never have. I have an extremely indulgent and obsessive one, though. Violence to me is not an involuntary reaction. I don't think it ever has been. I like it. I enjoy inflicting pain and seeing the terror, pain and or anger in the eyes of my enemy. It gets me off. But so does smoking, drinking, and seduction. It's different, of course, but it is one of several ways for me to derive pleasure. It never had its own little pedestal all to itself.
A simple example, minus the human element is this. Bugs, I really, really dislike them. If they get in my house, it annoys me. I don't always kill them. It's not that I don't respect them, I just don't need to kill them. There's no irrational fear behind an act of violence. If they're crawling on me, sure I'll probably squish them out of reflex, but virtually every person I've met seems to consider them Kill On Sight targets, even outdoors. If the spider is in a corner near my overhead light, he'll probably kill the moths that sneak their way in. If a silverfish crawled up the drain, I'll pour him back down with water (and maybe a little soap for shenanigans sake). If an ant finds his way in and I'm not busy, I'll watch his path and sees where he goes, in hopes of blocking their entry point, preventing my annoyance and their genocide.
I apply similar logic to People. If there is no need to be violent, then why be so? A broken reputation, trust, or image is is far more devastating than my fists will ever be. I don't really consider it channeling, so much as diverting my anger from the emotional dam. It either goes away soon, or has to be dealt with depending on the severity of the situation. I might plot someone's downfall, or blow steam killing people in a videogame. Thankfully, it rarely comes to that being a necessity.
I understand the lust for blood all too well. Hunting human prey is intoxicating, and I found sports such as Paintball and Airsoft to be extremely satisfying. Quick reflexes, stealth, and wit combine to let you hunt the most dangerous game, with virtually none of the consequences.
In terms of being peaceful, in an abstract way I am. All the anger is still there, but I know how to manipulate it before it gets out of hand. With childlike naivety gone, a sociopath can accomplish a great many things, especially in regards to our own so-called downfalls. Violence is but one of them.

Thursday, November 18, 2010

"Put on more weight"

I've always been really interested in torture methods. I heard a passing reference to the practice of "pressing," googled it, and found this:
Pressing, also known as peine forte et dure, was both a death sentence and a means of drawing out confessions. Adopted as a judicial measure during the 14th century, pressing reached its peak during the reign of Henry IV. In Britain, pressing was not abolished until 1772. Giles Corey, an elderly farmer in Salem, Massachusetts, was the only recorded incident of pressing to death in the United States. After eighty years in the settlement, most of them spend in hard work on his farm, he was still hale and healthy when the madness of 1692 started. He was subject to superstitions, as were most people in his day, and mentioned that he had observed his wife, his third, reading books. That was enough to bring her to the attention of the witch-hunters. His efforts to stop the insane persecution landed him in front of the judges. Giles was a crafty sort; he knew that his property might be confiscated by the state if he was condemned as a wizard. To avoid this and to ensure that his sons would inherit his land, he refused to plead. When asked whether he was guilty or not guilty, he stood mute. Under English law, he could be thrice asked to plead. After standing mute, he could not then be tried, but he could be, and was, subjected to the old punishment of peine forte et dure.... When the law was used against Giles Corey, he behaved with dignity. His last words were: "Put on more weight" (Engel 180-181).
I don't know why I find this passage so compelling.  I guess it's because even though Corey clearly recognized the lunacy of the witch trials (such a pristine example of mob mentality), when he was "caught" and tried he didn't seem to complain that the game of life was unfair, or that the people killing him were evil, or whine or preach.  He realized that you can't reason with irrational people, you just have to play the hand that you were dealt.  And he played his hand masterfully until the end.  He is basically a new personal hero of mine when it comes to focusing only on playing the game well and not stressing about the end results.

Wednesday, November 17, 2010

Self-gratification

From "Psychopathy: antisocial, criminal, and violent behavior," chapter 24 by Otto Kernberg:
The passive type of psychopath has been able to learn to deal with the powerful through pseudosubmission and through out-smarting them -- a passive, parasitic exploitiveness that at least implies the capacity to control immediate anger and rage, and to transform it into the slow-motion aggression of a "wolf in sheep's clothing." In the case of these patients, their own aggression can be denied, and the division of the world into wolves and sheep is complemented by the adapative function of the wolf disguised among the sheep.
Whether psychopaths are predominantly aggressive or passive, the gratification they seek is exlusively linked to bodily functions -- to eating, drinking, drugs, and alcohol, and to a sexuality divested of its object relations implications and thus devoid of love and tenderness. In the most severe cases of aggressive psychopathy, sexual sadism may become an invitation to murder, making these individuals extremely dangerous. Or else early aggression may dominate their emotional lives to the extent that even the sensuality of bodily contact and skin eroticism is eliminated. In this case, there is global extinction of all capacity for sexual gratification, which is replaced by senseless physical destrictiveness, self-mutiliation, and murder. 
I agree with about 60% of this. Does anyone completely relate?

Monday, November 15, 2010

Dealing with irrational people

Courtesy of a reader:

"Your father is being irrational and irrational behavior doesn't respond to rational arguments. It responds to fear." -Jack Donaghy, 30 Rock

Saturday, November 13, 2010

Sociopaths in the news: James Frey

The old saying "you can't keep a good man down," does not apply to the author of the faux memoir "Million Little Pieces" James Frey because he is not a good man, but it is true that he can't be kept down. Apart from the obvious lying to a national audience to trump up his street cred for being a Criminal (always capital "C") in his Oprah book club autobiograpy that has been since dubbed "A Million Little Lies," he is making a sociopath name for himself by instituting the first ever (?) literary sweatshop. As reported by the Wall Street Journal:
For Mr. Frey's new venture, Full Fathom Five, the author oversees lesser-known writers as they develop fictional ideas into books that he then markets to publishers and film studios. Its first offering, "I Am Number Four," is a young-adult science-fiction thriller about an alien who comes to Earth as an Ohio teenager. It was published in August and hit the best-seller list. Michael Bay brought the project to DreamWorks Studios, where partners Stacey Snider and Steven Spielberg acquired the film rights after reading the book, with Mr. Bay as producer. Starring Alex Pettyfer, Dianna Agron and Timothy Olyphant, the film will be released in February, DreamWorks' first offering since it severed ties from Paramount and became independent, with its movies distributed by Disney.

Full Fathom Five is already wrapped in real-life drama. One writer hired attorneys to represent him when dealings with Mr. Frey grew contentious (the dispute was settled late last month). Mr. Frey says that a disgruntled writer is working on a magazine story about him. The writer declined comment. "I go to work and try to do cool things. I can't control what people write about me," says Mr. Frey.

'Unless James is an alien, this book is not a memoir,' says DreamWorks' Stacey Snider.

Some publishers and producers are happy to look beyond his troubled past. Ms. Snider of DreamWorks is unconcerned. "Unless James is an alien," she says, "this book is not a memoir."

Mr. Frey began contemplating the operation that has become Full Fathom Five around the time he finished reading the last installment of the Harry Potter series in 2007. "Someone is going to replace Harry Potter," he recalls thinking. "Maybe it'll be me." A co-owner of an art gallery in New York, Mr. Frey imagined a literary version of an artist's workshop, where one person with a vision employs others to execute it. "I have too many ideas," he says.

To find writers, Mr. Frey trolls writing classes and other writers' gathering places. Writers contracted with Full Fathom Five earn no salary and make almost no money up front (they get $250 upon signing and another $250 upon completion of a book—"Chinese-food money," one author called it). They are promised 30% to 49% of all revenue whether it comes from videogames or publications rights.
This idea is genius. I also have "too many ideas." In fact, I also am looking for slave labor to shoulder all of the work that I will then take credit for, Jeff Koons style (also a sociopath). All interested applicants, please send a c.v. and a sample of your work to -- me at sociopathworld dot com. I'm not even close to kidding. First priority is making a spoof on the trailer for the movie "Love Actually" called "Sociopaths Actually," playing on its tagline "Love actually is all around us."

Friday, November 12, 2010

Sociopaths in the news: Albert Gonzalez

This is an interesting (but long) profile in the New York Times of a hacker, turned government informant/consultant, who managed to continue his criminal activities under their noses. I'll include the excerpts that scream sociopath (or autism, really):
“He could be very disarming, if you let your guard down. I was well aware that I was dealing with a master of social engineering and deception. But I never got the impression he was trying to deceive us.”

Gonzalez’s gift for deception, however, is precisely what made him one of the most valuable cybercrime informants the government has ever had. After his help enabled officials to indict more than a dozen members of Shadowcrew, Gonzalez’s minders at the Secret Service urged him to move back to his hometown, Miami, for his own safety. (It was not hard for Shadowcrew users to figure out that the one significant figure among their ranks who hadn’t been arrested was probably the unnamed informant in court documents.) After aiding another investigation, he became a paid informant in the Secret Service field office in Miami in early 2006. Agent Michael was transferred to Miami, and he worked with Gonzalez on a series of investigations on which Gonzalez did such a good job that the agency asked him to speak at seminars and conferences. “I shook the hand of the head of the Secret Service,” Gonzalez told me. “I gave a presentation to him.” As far as the agency knew, that’s all he was doing. “It seemed he was trying to do the right thing,” Agent Michael said.

At his sentencing hearing in March, where he received two concurrent 20-year terms, the longest sentence ever handed down to an American for computer crimes, the judge said, “What I found most devastating was the fact that you two-timed the government agency that you were cooperating with, and you were essentially like a double agent.”

Gonzalez’s closest friend, Stephen Watt, who is now serving a two-year prison sentence for coding a software program that helped Gonzalez steal card data, describes Gonzalez as having “a Sherlock Holmes quality to him that is bounded only by his formal education.” Like the other hackers who would go on to form the inner circle of Gonzalez’s criminal organization, Watt met Gonzalez when both were teenagers, on EFnet, an Internet relay chat network frequented by black hats. Watt and Gonzalez interacted strictly online for a year, though each lived in South Florida. Once they began spending time together, in Florida and New York, Watt, who is 27, noticed that Gonzalez’s talents as an online criminal carried over into his life away from the computer. “He could spot wedding rings at 50 yards. He could spot a Patek Philippe at 50 yards. He would have been a world-class interrogator. He was very good at figuring out when people were lying.”

Like many hackers, Gonzalez moved easily between the licit and illicit sides of computer security. Before his first arrest, in the A.T.M. lobby, Gonzalez made his way from Miami to the Northeast after he hacked into a New Jersey-based Internet company and then persuaded it to hire him to its security team. The transition from fraudster to informant was not too different.

“I did find the investigation exciting,” Gonzalez told me of turning against Shadowcrew. “The intellectual element. Unmasking them, figuring out their identities. Looking back, it was kind of easy, though. When someone trusts you, they let their guard down.”

Indeed, no one I spoke with compared him to a gangster or a mercenary — preferred honorifics among hackers — but several likened him to a brilliant executive. “In the U.S., we have two kinds of powerful, successful business leaders. We have people like Bill Gates and Steve Jobs, who are the most sophisticated of electronic technicians and programmers,” says Steve Heymann, the Massachusetts assistant U.S. attorney who, in the spring of 2010, secured a combined 38 years of prison time for Gonzalez and his co-conspirators for their corporate breaches. “Then we have others, like the C.E.O.’s of AT&T or General Electric, who are extremely good in their area but also know when to go to others for expertise and how to build powerful organizations by using those others. Gonzalez fits into that second category.”

Gonzalez relished the intellectual challenges of cybercrime too. He is not a gifted programmer — according to Watt and Toey, in fact, he can barely write simple code — but by all accounts he can understand systems and fillet them with singular grace. I often got the impression that this was computer crime’s main appeal for Gonzalez.

But he also liked stealing. “Whatever morality I should have been feeling was trumped by the thrill,” he told me.

It seems clear now that Gonzalez didn’t mind betraying people.

When they pieced together how Gonzalez organized these heists later, federal prosecutors had to admire his ingenuity. “It’s like driving to the building next to the bank to tunnel into the bank,” Seth Kosto, an assistant U.S. attorney in New Jersey who worked on the case, told me. When I asked how Gonzalez rated among criminal hackers, he replied: “As a leader? Unparalleled. Unparalleled in his ability to coordinate contacts and continents and expertise. Unparalleled in that he didn’t just get a hack done — he got a hack done, he got the exfiltration of the data done, he got the laundering of the funds done. He was a five-tool player.”

[When sentenced] Gonzalez just leaned forward and peered straight ahead at the judge, as though — the set of his head was unmistakable — staring intensely at a computer.

Thursday, November 11, 2010

The Pedophile’s Guide to Love and Pleasure

The title of the new self-published book available from Amazon that has apparently successfully triggered a boycott. As reported here:
An author named Phillip R Greaves 2nd stirred up fury on Amazon today, self-publishing an eBook entitled The Pedophile’s Guide to Love and Pleasure.

As of this 4:20 p.m. writing, more than 300 people had given the book a one-star rating and angry reviews. The book has also received the “boycott amazon” tag, a category urging boycott over 30 controversial books about topics ranging from dog fighting to Scientology. UPDATE: Amazon has sent a statement to TechCrunch that says, in part: “Amazon believes it is censorship not to sell certain books simply because we or others believe their message is objectionable.”

Greaves also published of A Government of Service to All, Our Gardens of Flesh, and The Grand Delusion.

We downloaded a free sample of the eBook, exploring the first few pages–a section called “Facts and Fallacies.” If you wish to read an excerpt, we’ve included a brief passage below.

“While it is not my intention to promote or excuse this practice, I would rather see pedosexuals conquer the world than hear of even one more child being killed because another pedosexual-pedophile is driven into a state of pedocidal-psychosis, or a paranoid-panic-attack, due to the constant hate-mongering which can be heard from every corner of the Earth, demonizing every juvephile regardless of the quality or character of their sexual relations with minors.”
Even though the book itself is down, the forums discussing it are still up. They're pretty entertaining, especially this one. Poor pedophiles.

Tuesday, November 9, 2010

Dispassionate juror

A friend of mine was particularly disturbed by this gruesome murder that happened near New Haven, Connecticut:
The men put him and his family through an ordeal of beatings and sexual abuse that ended as flames tore through the house where the girls, still alive, had been strapped to their beds. Their mother had already been strangled.

Only the father — Dr. William A. Petit Jr., dazed and bloodied after being beaten with a baseball bat in his sleep — managed to escape.
The jury just voted for the death penalty for one of the murderers.

When I was reading the article, I was looking for signs of sociopathy, which I didn't see. Instead I read this sentence, "For nearly two months, jurors learned every searing detail of the night and morning in July 2007," and started thinking about how much counseling these jurors are going to need.

The concept of having lay jurors as part of a legal system is an interesting one. They are supposed to be dispassionate -- coldly and rationally interpreting the facts that are presented to them. Eventually they must come to a decision, perhaps about whether someone lives or dies, and be able to live with that decision themselves.

I started thinking, sociopaths would be great at this. Sociopaths would be so good at this, in fact, that I wonder why no one has thought of an all sociopath jury before. It's like getting someone who has lost their sense of smell to take out the trash, am I right? Someone has to do the enforcing, why not have it be someone who is naturally good at it, and even likes it? I'm going to add "jury duty" to the list of reasons why societies with sociopaths have an advantage over those without.

Sunday, October 31, 2010

Sociopathic monsters?

I thought about doing a special Halloween post about sociopathic Halloween monsters, but couldn't really think of any. Maybe Predator? Jason? Freddy? Dracula? Frankenstein (either the Dr. or the Creation)? The closest might be Hannibal Lecter or that guy from the Saw movie franchise, and of course Dexter, but I don't know how you could dress up as an immediately recognizable Dexter. Maybe I don't read/watch enough monster literature/film. Or maybe we're not so monstrous after all...

Am I missing some?

Saturday, October 30, 2010

Midnight in the garden of good and evil

From TheNotablePath:
I'm a fellow empathy challenged sadist, and have found your blog to be both entertaining, and informative. I'm not sure what my proper label is, but I don't think that matters so much as something else, getting rid of this damn stigma.

I guess that although we share similarities in that which we crave and indulge upon at the cost of others, I think I might be some weird off-beat do-gooder. I do mean do-gooder, too, not good.

In some strange sense, I think that we as emotionally challenged individuals have the rare gift of emotional detachment to the social themes of Good and Evil, and in this, when we commit an act of Good, we're in fact doing something more profound than say, someone compelled into being good through morals, social norms or emotions. There's no guilt or shame factored into our actions, in general, so when we decide to not be a self-centered bastard for a moment, and help someone or something out, it should mean something more, especially since we tend to gravitate towards the easier choices that best serve us.

We get a bad rap for only doing good things that benefit us somehow. So what? If an empath's claim to fame in the society-perpetuated Holy War raging between Good and Evil is that they feel that they need to be good, then who is being the bigger hypocrite? Are our actions not in some twisted way more genuine than theirs? At least ours are our own, not affected and forced upon us by some strange, emotional pull or man-made moral code.

A lot of people don't seem to realize that there's more empathy challenged people on the other side of the prison bars than what the media and probably a fair amount of self-righteous crusaders would like the masses to believe.

So, because of this, I've taken it upon myself to help add to our community with my own blog, to erect a banner that proudly displays that yeah, we might be inter-species predators, but we're not all a bunch of loony criminals that eat people and kill dogs for kicks. This is who we are, love it or hate it, you silly, irrational empaths. We're everywhere, and although you're easy prey, you're not all on the menu, and even if you were, it doesn't mean we're interested in specifically you.
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