Saturday, June 30, 2012

Nothing to lose

I was reading a NY Post feature on comedian Adam Carolla.  Some may have heard of it because he controversially alleged that women are not funny.  What I found more interesting (and relevant) was his discussion of his carefree early life of chaos, and how that has changed for him now that he has gotten successful:

Q: While working construction in LA, you once had to talk down a guy with a gun. What went through your mind?

A: If you don’t have that much to lose, you don’t really worry about that. Now that I have a nice house and some cars and a family, the notion of being in a situation like that is horrifying. But if you’re heading downtown to get some free government cheese, then going back to watch your black-and-white TV, and you’re an alcoholic, you don’t wanna get shot, but it’s almost a lateral move.

This idea of the inherent freedom in having nothing to lose reminded me of something that Hervey Cleckley said in his book Mask of Sanity:

By some incomprehensible and untempting piece of folly or buffoonery, he eventually cuts short any activity in which he is succeeding, no matter whether it is crime or honest endeavor. At the behest of trivial impulses he repeatedly addresses himself directly to folly. In the more seriously affected examples, it is impossible for wealthy, influential, and devoted relatives to place the psychopath in any position, however ingeniously it may be chosen,where he will not succeed eventually in failing with spectacular and bizarre splendor. Considering a longitudinal section of his life, his behavior gives such an impression of gratuitous folly and nonsensical activity in such massive accumulation that it is hard to avoid the conclusion that here is the product of true madness - of madness in a sense quite as real as that conveyed to the imaginative layman by the terrible word lunatic.With the further consideration that all this skein of apparent madness has been wovenby a person of (technically) unimpaired and superior intellectual powers and universally regarded as sane, the surmise intrudes that we are confronted by a serious and unusual type of genuine abnormality.

I started thinking, maybe this nothing-to-lose principle is one of the reasons that sociopaths traditionally self destruct after a certain degree of success, in addition to other more obvious things like need for stimulation. Maybe they don't like success because it means they have more to lose, and so less freedom in a way.  Interestingly, Harvard Business School professor Clayton Christensen has suggested that companies who have made it big on innovative technology typically fall behind because they are unwilling to take the same sorts of risks that characterized their initial successes.

Friday, June 29, 2012

Sociopaths in literature: Our lady of pain

This is quoted in Hervey Cleckley's "Mask of Sanity" (available in full here), in reference to a woman who manages to cause pain and destruction wherever she goes without ever seeming touched by it herself:

She hath wasted with fire thine high places,
She hath hidden and marred and made sad
The fair limbs of the Loves, the fair faces
Of gods that were goodly and glad.
She slays, and her hands are not bloody;
She moves as a moon in the wane,
White-robed, and thy raiment is ruddy,
Our Lady of Pain.

A. C. Swinburne

Thursday, June 28, 2012

Modeling the success of cheaters

It was hilarious to me reading some of the responses to the just world fallacy post.  A lot of people really struggled with the gross inaccuracy of the phrase "cheaters never win." I stumbled upon this Forbes article which concisely explains with mathematical modeling how it is that cheaters win:

I want to make sure I say that there is a more elemental reason why meritocracy produces a corrupt ruling class and it is this:

Cheaters may almost never win but, given equal opportunity and a large enough competition, the winners are almost always cheaters.


Well, no one cheats because they think if that even if they get away with it they will be worse off. No, they cheat because if they get away with it they will be better off. Cheaters are taking a gamble.

Even if the system is pretty good and the odds are stacked against the cheaters, if there are enough players then some of the cheaters will get away with it, nonetheless.

When they do they will gain an advantage. Now, imagine that life is a series of such competitions played over and over again. Each time some people will cheat and some will get away with it. Each time some will gain an advantage.

If the competition is immense, say it encompasses a country of 300 Million or a global population of 7 Billion, then by the Law of Large numbers some cheaters will be lucky enough to get away with it every single time. This means every single round they gain an advantage and slip ahead of the pack.

After enough rounds the front of the pack is completely dominated by cheaters.

That doesn't necessarily mean that cheating will always mean cheating will always pay off.  As the Forbes article concludes, "Lottery players almost always lose, but society’s biggest winners will almost always have made their money in the lottery."

Wednesday, June 27, 2012

Knowing the limits of our answers

I thought this was a very interesting Wired article about the limitations of the PCL-R.  The author begins with the anecdote of Alan Turing's attempt to answer the question of whether computers could think.  Realizing that the question framed that way was impossible to answer (what does it mean to think?), he reframed the question to be whether computers could pass as humans.  He set up an experiment where test subjects were asked to determine whether responses from an unidentified source came from another human or a computer.

Turing constructed the test in transparently trivial terms. If a computer could fool someone for five minutes 70 percent of the time, it was as good as intelligent. This is powerful not because of its implications for intelligence, but because of its insight into asking tough questions. When we don’t understand the underlying causes of a phenomenon, what scientists call its mechanism, we must resort to studying its effects. But it is crucial that we be aware of the limitations of this approach and remain humble in our inquiry.

He then goes on to compare the difficult misalignment between what we can test and what we hope to learn in terms of the PCL-R and other diagnostic tools for psychopathy:

In the next year, the American Psychological Association will put the finishing touches on the latest version of the Diagnostic Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders, its compendium of psychiatric illnesses. Psychiatry is up against a problem similar to the one Turing faced. The illnesses are complex and their causes hard to discern. Without a clear mechanism, psychiatrists must rely on their patients’ subjective symptoms. It’s a process that’s always fraught, but it works when psychiatrists are realistic about the constraints of their tests.

Things become more troubling when the stakes are high and the diagnoses are tough to change. This is the case in prisons throughout the Western world, where inmates are subjected to the revised Psychopathy Checklist, or PCL-R.

Like the Turing Test, the PCL-R is about effects and symptoms, not causes.

The problems with the PCL-R:

The PCL-R, unlike the Turing Test, is inflexible by design. The Turing Test merely relies on the ability of the machine to be convincing in the present. It doesn’t take into account the machine’s past track record. It leaves open the possibility for change and improvement. The PCL-R is not so forgiving. If a person with a history of psychopathic behaviour were to get better, testers would likely interpret this as deception. After all, deception is a key feature of psychopathy. The PCL-R tries to have it both ways. It relies on observing a set of behaviors, but it resists assigning significance to a change in those behaviors.

Leaving open the possibility of change isn’t about setting serial killers free. But for crimes on the margin, the batteries and assaults and armed robberies, we have to decide whether to deny people who score high on the PCL-R the same opportunities we would give those who score low.

The take away:

The checklist demands that we confront our values. For the possibility of a little more security, are we willing to risk denying a person a second chance? We have to understand the tradeoff and the uncertainty of the reward.

With the Turing Test, it’s pretty straightforward. Five minutes and 70 percent can only tell us so much. How much can the PCL-R tell us?

Alan Turing taught us that when the question is hard, we must know the limits of our answers. At stake here is redemption, the possibility that the wretched can make good. It is an aspiration worth more than a guess. It deserves our humility.

I like this issue about knowing the limits of our answers.  I have recently dipped more into the empirical side of my profession and it has been fascinating and eye-opening to see some of the common mistakes people make in terms of believing that they are "proving" things or that some things are capable of being "known."  There really is a great deal of hubris, and particularly when these pieces of "knowledge" leave the academic area of origin and are used by other people who are unaware of the inherent uncertainty (courts, parole boards, trolls, etc.).  I can understand why people would want to believe things are knowable, particularly when it comes to something as scary as psychopaths, but they just aren't -- at least not currently.

Tuesday, June 26, 2012

Mask of Sanity: Anna

I was trying to look up something remembered in Hervey Cleckley's "Mask of Sanity" the other day and stumbled upon the hilarious account of the woman Anna.  I especially like his description of his first impressions of her:

There was nothing spectacular about her, but when she came into the office you felt that she merited the attention she at once obtained. She was, you could say without straining a point, rather good-looking, but she was not nearly so good-looking as most women would have to be to make a comparable impression. She spoke in the crisp, fluttery cadence of the British, consistently sounding her "r's" and "ing's" and regularly saying "been" as they do in London. For a girl born and raised in Georgia, such speaking could suggest affectation. Yet it was the very opposite of this quality that contributed a great deal to the pleasing effect she invariably produced on those who met her. Naive has so many inapplicable connotations it is hardly the word to use in reference to this urbane and gracious presence, yet it is difficult to think of our first meeting without that very word coming to mind, with its overtones of freshness, artlessness, and candor.

She had passed her fortieth birthday some months before. Neither her face nor her figure had lost anything worth mentioning. Despite her composure, she gave a distinct impression of energy and playful spontaneity, an impression of vivid youth. In response to ordinary questions about her activities and interests she spoke of tennis, riding, and reading. More specific inquiry brought out opinions on Hamlet's essential conflict, comparison between the music of Brahms and the music of Shostakovitch, an impressive criticism of Schopenhauer's views on women, and several pertinent references to The Brothers Karamazov. She expressed opinions on current affairs that seemed to make excellent sense and talked with wit about the cyclic changes in feminine clothes and the implications of atomic physics for the future. What she had to say was particularly interesting and she said it in just the opposite of all those many ways of talking that people call "making conversation."

As discussion progressed, the picture of a rather remarkable woman became more and more distinct. Here was evidence of high intelligence and of considerable learning without discernible bookishness or consciousness of being "an intellectual." Her manner suggested wide interest, fresh and contagious enthusiasms, and a taste for living that reached out toward all healthy experience. Having a cup of coffee with her or weeding a garden would somehow take on a special quality of fun and delightfulness. Something about her over and beyond her looks prompted the estimate that she would be very likely to elicit romantic impulses, strong sensual inclinations, from most men who encountered her. Here, it seemed, was natural taste without a shadow of posed estheticism, urbanity without blunting of response to the simplest of joys, integrity and good ethical sense with the very opposite of everything that could be called priggish or smug. She showed nothing to suggest she meant to give such an impression or that she had any thought as to how she seemed.

I've never read Mask of Sanity all the way through, only read snippets, but I have actually been enjoying it more recently.  I probably like it best out of all of the books about sociopath.  It is glaringly anecdotal, biased, and suffers from a pretty clear lack of objective, systematic research, but so is this blog, and there is something about his writing style that I enjoy. I like the Anna story because you can tell that he was taken in by her, and I think it is sometimes much better to see source material of people who are taken in rather than hear the same old "superficially charming."  I like the description of her idiosyncrasies: the accent, her artlessness, her eternal youthfulness, her attractiveness that seems to be something more than mere beauty, her intelligence, her charm, even a reference to the Brothers Karamazov (interestingly, later it discusses how she does not have the high brow tastes or prejudices of the typical "intellectual" of her education and breeding, but treats gossip magazines with the same interest as the music of Russian composers).  Later in the chapter on Anna, Cleckley tells how she quite sincerely taught Sunday Schoolvolunteered for the Red Cross, and engaged in haphazard same sex liaisons, one time with a nurse after being universally adored during a hospital stay ("Once while hospitalized for a week or ten days, she left the almost universal impression of being a delightful patient. Courteous, composed, undemanding, and cheerful, she took discomforts and minor pains in a way that elicited admiration.").  It reminded me of my own nearly identical experience charming all hospital staff without meaning to  while stuck there for a week after an appendectomy -- I was a crowd favorite, was called very "brave" and had random nurses ask me to keep in touch.

About this season every year I have a period of introspection and self doubt.  Sometimes I wonder if I believing I am a sociopath is a self-fulfilling prophecy, or distorts the way I see me in the world.  Recently I've been questioning again what I am doing writing this blog or believing that I am a sociopath, whatever that means.  I watch myself interact with others and think, is this what a sociopath would do?  Have I been living a lie these past few years?  It just seems like such a bizarre thing to believe this about oneself, bizarre even to believe that sociopaths exist and aren't just some random assortment of personality traits that occur together solely by chance.  I am sure I never will stop asking myself these questions, but when I read stories like Anna's and see all of the incredible parallels to my own life, including small details or other things I couldn't have known or whose existence in my life predate any awareness of what the term "sociopath" meant, I am just floored.  It's not necessarily the life I would have chosen for myself given an infinite number of options and I sometimes wonder at the improbability of who I am, who I turned out to be, but I really am ok with it.  More than ok, I'm happy.

Monday, June 25, 2012

Young at heart

I came upon this quote from Charles Baudelaire that “Genius is nothing more nor less than childhood recovered at will.”  It made me think of the many ways in which I am inherently childish.  Sometimes I'm childlike in a way that gives me a competitive advantage, e.g. the creative, outside the box thinking to which Baudelaire alludes.  Sometimes I'm childish in less advantageous ways, like being overly reckless and self centered.

They say that sociopaths mellow with age.  The other day I was remembering some of my more stupid escapades, realizing that it has been at least a few years since I have done something whose stupidity is almost wholly due to stunted emotional growth.  I read recently in the New Yorker that even Tucker Max, one of the founding authors of the genre "fratire" and widely known and loved for his immense immaturity, has given up his former partying life, takes yoga classes, and is seeing a psychotherapist in the hopes of finding balance. [Is Tucker Max also a sociopath?  According to his website: I get excessively drunk at inappropriate times, disregard social norms, indulge every whim, ignore the consequences of my actions, mock idiots and posers, sleep with more women than is safe or reasonable, and just generally act like a raging dickhead.] 

Interestingly, the people who have fallen in love with me (as opposed to obsession) have essentially fallen in love with the child in me.  People associate childlike qualities with a certain innocence.  And there is something charming about a grown person, brilliant and successful, ruthless and hard, also showing the sometimes naïveté and guilelessness of a child.  There was something about that contrast between the unyielding me that the rest of the world sees versus the soft me that most were blind to that appealed to my lovers' protector/nurturing instincts.

In the book The Little Prince, a pilot, long at odds with the seriousness of the adult world, gets stranded in the desert and meets a boy prince who is able to see past the unimportant details of life that cloud grown up eyes and see what is most essential about the pilot.  In a Scientific American blog post entitled, "The Big Lesson of a Little Prince: (Re)capture the Creativity of Childhood":

Saint-Exupéry’s larger point about creativity and thought is difficult to overstate: as we age, how we see the world changes. It is the rare person who is able to hold on to the sense of wonderment, of presence, of sheer enjoyment of life and its possibilities that is so apparent in our younger selves. As we age, we gain experience. We become better able to exercise self-control. We become more in command of our faculties, our thoughts, our desires. But somehow, we lose sight of the effortless ability to take in the world in full. The very experience that helps us become successful threatens to limit our imagination and our sense of the possible. When did experience ever limit the fantasy of a child?

The article goes on to describe an experiment in which the control group was asked to respond to the writing prompt, "imagine school is cancelled for the day", while the experimental group was asked to respond to the same prompt while pretending they are 7 years old.  Those writing as a 7 year old showed significantly more originality of thought: "Imagining yourself a child, it seems, can quite literally make your mind more flexible, more original, more open to creative input and more capable of generating creative output."

Interestingly the full Baudelaire quote suggests that the ideal is a childlike state of mind with all of the experience and knowledge we have gained as adults: "Genius is no more than childhood recaptured at will, childhood equipped now with man’s physical means to express itself, and with the analytical mind that enables it to bring order into the sum of experience, involuntarily amassed."  I hope this is what is meant by sociopaths "mellowing" as they age.

Sunday, June 24, 2012

Quote: Learning

“Always try to associate yourself with and learn as much as you can from those who know more than you do, who do better than you, who see more clearly than you.”

Dwight Eisenhower

Saturday, June 23, 2012

Modernity and self

A reader sent some of her thoughts and selections from her dissertation on modernity that I found to be interesting, particularly with regard to the modern conception of self.  I edited them, so I apologize if they have lost something in the process:

About the writer Katherine Mansfield: "She was like a lantern with many windows - not octagonal, but centagonal. Each friend had his or her window and Katherine gave generously, gave all to each one, of her light, through that window. That was why so many people thought they were, not just one of her friends, but her only friend. She did not give the lantern (Me, the writer of this post, as Katherine herself, believe there was no such unifying lantern) and no one could touch the flame - and if anything came too close she would withdraw or close the leaves".

Extract from the modernist Katherine Mansfield's "The Dove's House": The main character, about his little son: "a queer thing is I can´t connect him with my wife and myself - I've never accepted him as ours. Each time when I come into the hall and see the preambulator I catch myself thinking: H'm, someone has brought a baby!" And later on: "if the impermanent selves of my wife and me are happy - tant mieux pour nous (...) But I don´t know, I don´t know. And it may be that it's something entirely individual in me -this sensation (yes, it is even a sensation) of how extraordinarily shell-like we are as we are - little creatures, peering out of the sentry-box at the gate, ogling through our glass case at the entry, wan little servants, who never can say for certain, even, if the master is out or in (...)".

Katherine Mansfield herself: "Coleridge on Hamlet. "He plays that subtle trick of pretending to act when he is very near being what he acts"... So do we all begin by acting and the nearer we are to what we would be the more perfect our desguise. Finally here comes the moment when we are no longer acting; it may even catch us by surprise. We may look in amazement at our no longer borrowed plumage. The two have merged; that which we put on has joined that which was; acting has become action. The soul has accepted this livery for its own after a time of trying on and approving (...) And the Hamlet is lonely. The solitary person always acts". 

And then you've got the anthropologist René Girard, who bases his whole theory on the idea that Humanity desperately NEEDS identity, and has an innate fear of indiferentiation (aka lack of a well differenced personal identity), giving totally crazy examples like the fear of twins in many cultures. People saw them as a subconscious menace to DIFFERENCE, and so a personification of chaos (they apparently used to sacrifice them). Chaos leading to violence. So lack of identity, or indifference, leads to  violence in human societies. A socio with no identity is a potential danger. A normal person with no identity is a potential danger. The problem is that we do find trouble in defending the SELF nowadays. Hard work if you really have some sincere insight. Tell it to Nietzche and all the others forerunners of the unexisting reliable self. 

Simone Weil also said: "I see the world as if I were not in it." this type of distance supreme and contemplation, which is in the antipodes of indifference, perhaps looking at the infinite and original world and man's purity and of which we have grown wary? This is an effort to free the world from the opaqueness of our presence, of that barrier between the object and a clean, truthful eye.

And then you've got that in modern writers:
From Katherine Mansfield:

"... a self which is continuous and permanent; which... thrusts a scaled bud through years of darkness until, one day, the light discovers it and shakes the flower free and - we are alive-  we are flowering for our moment upon the earth. This is the moment which, after all, we live for - the moment of direct feeling when we are most ourself and least personal". 

I could go on and on... We are playing on the league of the great thinkers of last century as well as our own. I'm sick of it. I wish I had been born an uber-empath in some hidden village of France five hundred years ago. A cow to milk, a husband to love and an early dead. 

Or I wish I was a little less pretty: less power, less thrill for life, a boring, early, happy marriage, and (fingers crossed) and EARLY DEAD. 

Friday, June 22, 2012

The modern psychiatric diagnosis: DSM

This was an interesting NY Times op-ed about the DSM, its origins, and questioning its continuing role in society, written by a former contributor to the DSM.

I was heavily involved in the third and fourth editions of the manual but have reluctantly concluded that the association should lose its nearly century-old monopoly on defining mental illness. Times have changed, the role of psychiatric diagnosis has changed, and the association has changed. It is no longer capable of being sole fiduciary of a task that has become so consequential to public health and public policy.

Psychiatric diagnosis was a professional embarrassment and cultural backwater until D.S.M.-3 was published in 1980. Before that, it was heavily influenced by psychoanalysis, psychiatrists could rarely agree on diagnoses and nobody much cared anyway.

D.S.M.-3 stirred great professional and public excitement by providing specific criteria for each disorder. Having everyone work from the same playbook facilitated treatment planning and revolutionized research in psychiatry and neuroscience.

Surprisingly, D.S.M.-3 also caught on with the general public and became a runaway best seller, with more than a million copies sold, many more than were needed for professional use. Psychiatric diagnosis crossed over from the consulting room to the cocktail party. People who previously chatted about the meaning of their latest dreams began to ponder where they best fit among D.S.M.’s intriguing categories.

The fourth edition of the manual, released in 1994, tried to contain the diagnostic inflation that followed earlier editions. It succeeded on the adult side, but failed to anticipate or control the faddish over-diagnosis of autism, attention deficit disorders and bipolar disorder in children that has since occurred.

Indeed, the D.S.M. is the victim of its own success and is accorded the authority of a bible in areas well beyond its competence. It has become the arbiter of who is ill and who is not — and often the primary determinant of treatment decisions, insurance eligibility, disability payments and who gets special school services. D.S.M. drives the direction of research and the approval of new drugs. It is widely used (and misused) in the courts.

Until now, the American Psychiatric Association seemed the entity best equipped to monitor the diagnostic system. Unfortunately, this is no longer true. D.S.M.-5 promises to be a disaster — even after the changes approved this week, it will introduce many new and unproven diagnoses that will medicalize normality and result in a glut of unnecessary and harmful drug prescription. The association has been largely deaf to the widespread criticism of D.S.M.-5, stubbornly refusing to subject the proposals to independent scientific review.

Many critics assume unfairly that D.S.M.-5 is shilling for drug companies. This is not true. The mistakes are rather the result of an intellectual conflict of interest; experts always overvalue their pet area and want to expand its purview, until the point that everyday problems come to be mislabeled as mental disorders. Arrogance, secretiveness, passive governance and administrative disorganization have also played a role.

There were a couple things I thought this this piece did a good job of illustrating.  First, that the history of the DSM wasn't Allah speaking directly to his prophet who then immortally inscribed these truths into the first issue of the DSM, but that it was largely just an attempt to assemble what most people thought about things out of the primordial ooze that was mainstream psychology as recently as a few decades ago.  Second, that despite these somewhat inauspicious origins, most people believe the word of the DSM like it is the bible, including decisionmakers like courts and legislatures.  Third, that there will never be a perfect DSM because of fundamental disagreements and the accompanying political machinations amongst the experts that write it.  So, in a word, the DSM is not the most reliable system in the world.

The conclusion:

Consumers should play an important role in the review process, and field testing should occur in real life settings, not just academic centers.Psychiatric diagnosis is simply too important to be left exclusively in the hands of psychiatrists. They will always be an essential part of the mix but should no longer be permitted to call all the shots.

Thursday, June 21, 2012

Sociopaths in literature: Interview with the Vampire

I was given Interview with the Vampire by a friend and have been reading it over the past year on airplanes.  I was not surprised to see many parallels between the vampire protagonist and sociopaths.  I thought before I finished the book and discarded it in the seat of my next plane, I might share some passages that I thought were particularly relevant, like this one:

"Babette, the way you speak of her," said the boy. "As if your feeling was special."
"Did I give you the impression I could not feel?" asked the vampire.
"No, not at all. Obviously you felt for the old man. You stayed to comfort him when you were in danger. And what you felt for young Freniere when Lestat wanted to kill him . . . all this you explained. But I was wondering . . . did you have a special feeling for Babette? Was it feeling for Babette all along that caused you to protect Freniere?"

"You mean love," said the vampire. "Why do you hesitate to say it?"
"Because you spoke of detachment," said the boy.
"Do you think that angels are detached?" asked the vampire.
The boy thought for a moment. "Yes," he said.
"But aren't angels capable of love?" asked the vampire. "Don't angels gaze upon the face of God with complete love?"
The boy thought for a moment. "Love or adoration," he said.
"What is the difference?" asked the vampire thoughtfully. "What is the difference?" It was clearly not a riddle for the boy. He was asking himself. "Angels feel love, and pride . . . the pride of The Fall . . . and hatred. The strong overpowering emotions of detached persons in whom emotion and will are one," he said finally. He stared at the table now, as though he were thinking this over, was not entirely satisfied with it. "I had for Babette . . . a strong feeling. It is not the strongest I've ever known for a human being." He looked up at the boy. "But it was very strong. Babette was to me in her own way an ideal human being. "

Wednesday, June 20, 2012

Living in the moment

I read this NY Times column and thought it was an interesting and hopefully relatable example of how (I believe) sociopaths think most of the time, in terms of compartmentalizing fear and living in the moment.  The author is describing how liberating it feels to ride a bike in busy, traffic-ridden New York because he is plagued by a vague sense of anxiety, but is rather focused and in the moment:

Natural selection has made us hypervigilant, obsessively replaying our mistakes and imagining worst-case scenarios. And the fact that we’ve eliminated almost all of the immediate threats from our environment, like leopards and Hittites, has only made us even more jittery, because we’re now constantly anticipating disasters that are never going to happen: the prowler/rapist/serial killer lurking in the closet, a pandemic of Ebola/Bird Flu/Hantavirus, the imminent fascist/socialist/zombie takeover. The disasters that do befall us are mostly slow, incremental ones that seem abstract and faraway until they suddenly blindside us, like heart disease and foreclosure. So we go about our days safer and more comfortable than human beings have been in five million years, constantly hunched and growling with a low level of fight-or-flight chemicals in our bloodstreams. My doctor assures me that this is the cause of most of our chronic back and neck problems; my dentist says nocturnal tooth-grinding became so endemic in New York after 9/11 it actually changed the shapes of people’s faces by enlarging their masseter muscles. He sells a lot of night guards.

Which is why it’s such a relief, an exhilarating joy, to break the clammy paralysis of worry and place yourself at last in real physical danger. Even though it’s the time when I am at most immediate risk, riding my bike in Manhattan traffic is also one of the only times when I am never anxious or afraid — not even when a cab door swings open right in front of me, some bluetoothed doofus strides into my path, or a dump truck’s fender drifts within an inch of my leg. At those moments fear is a low neurological priority that would only interfere with my reaction time, like a panicky manager shoved aside by competent, grim-faced engineers in a crisis. I doubt that the victims of sudden violent accidents die terrified; they’re probably extremely alert, brains gone pretty much blank while their galvanized bodies try to figure out what to do. I don’t think our minds are designed to accept that there’s no way out. Based on my own close calls, I suspect that if I am killed while biking, the state of mind in which I am likeliest to die is extreme annoyance. And at least it won’t be by drowning.
When I’m balanced on two thin wheels at 30 miles an hour, gauging distance, adjusting course, making hundreds of unconscious calculations every second, that idiot chatterbox in my head is kept too busy to get a word in. I’ve heard people say the same thing about rock-climbing: how it shrinks your universe to the half-inch of rock surface immediately in front of you, this crevice, that toehold. Biking is split-second fast and rock-climbing painstakingly slow, but both practices silence the noise of the mind and render self-consciousness blissfully impossible. You become the anonymous hero of that old story, Man versus the Universe. Your brain’s glad to finally have a real job to do, instead of all that trivial busywork. You are all action, no deliberation. You are forced, under pain of death, to quit all that silly ideation and pay attention. It’s meditation at gunpoint.

I’m convinced these are the conditions in which we evolved to thrive: under moderate threat of death at all times, brain and body fully integrated, senses on high alert, completely engaged with our environment. It is, if not how we’re happiest — we’re probably happiest in a hot tub with a martini and a very good naked friend — how we are most fully and electrically alive. Of course we can’t sustain this state of mind for too long. People who go through their whole lives operating on impulse tend to end up in jail. We are no longer purely animals, living only in the moment; we are the creatures who live in time, as salamanders live in fire, prisoners of memory and imagination, tortured with dread and regret. That other, extra-temporal perspective is not the whole reality of our condition. It’s more like the view from the top of the Empire State Building, of people as infinitesimal dots circulating ceaselessly through a grid. Eventually we have to descend back to street level, rejoin the milling mass and take up our lives; you lock up your bike and become hostage to the hours again. But it’s at those moments that I become briefly conscious of what I actually am — a fleeting entity stripped of ego and history in an evanescent present, like a man running in frames of celluloid, his consciousness flickering from one instant to the next.

How does the sociopath accomplish this in daily life?  I believe through extreme compartmentalizing, that actually allows him to quiet all of the mental buzz clogging up most people's neural pathways and hyperfocusing on the moment.

Tuesday, June 19, 2012

Buddhism = healing from a sociopath

More on Buddhism, this time a reader recommends Buddhism as a way to come to terms with a broken relationship with a sociopath:

Well, ME, two and half years post end of sociopathic relationship, I am finally coming to terms with it all.

I'm writing to you because maybe you'll post this and give some guidance to those recovering from a relationship with a sociopath.

Really, Buddhism is the way to go post-recovery.  You need to get control of your thoughts and yourself.  There is no other way.

Buddhism will teach you to let go of all of the anger, resentment, shock, and surprise at their treatment of you.  Meditation will teach you to stop the negative thought spirals implanted by them (and carried on by you, of course).  You must do this with focused effort.  

Buddhism will teach you to view the sociopath as a teacher, and to be grateful for them.  If this relationship is used correctly, it will make you a wiser, more compassionate, and give you a greater sense of your own agency.  It will make you take care of yourself like you never have before.

So, yes, sociopaths do a service, ME.  They are true predators - they cull the weak from the herd, and make those who escape grow stronger.  In recovery you have to ask - which one do you want to be?

Monday, June 18, 2012

Just world hypothesis

I have been reading "Power: Why Some People Have It and Others Don't," by Stanford Business School professor Jeffrey Pfeffer.  I may highlight other aspects of the book, but I was struck by his description of the just world hypothesis (or just world fallacy) and how it limits the way people learn and (more importantly for this book) acquire power:

The belief in a just world has two big negative effects on the ability to acquire power. First, it hinders people’s ability to learn from all situations and all people, even those whom they don’t like or respect. I see this all the time in my teaching and work with leaders. One of the first reactions people have to situations or cases about power is whether or not the individual “likes” the person being studied or can identify with the object of study. Who cares? It is important to be able to learn from all sorts of situations and people, not just those you like and approve of, and certainly not just from people you see as similar to yourself. In fact, if you are in a position of modest power and want to attain a position of great power, you need to pay particular attention to those holding the positions you aspire to.

Second, this belief that the world is a just place anesthetizes people to the need to be proactive in building a power base. Believing that the world is fair, people fail to note the various land mines in the environment that can undermine their careers.
The pervasiveness of the belief in a just world, called in social psychology the “just-world hypothesis,” was first described by Melvin Lerner decades ago. Lerner argued that people wanted to think that the world was predictable and comprehensible and, therefore, potentially controllable. Or, as another psychologist described it, from early childhood “we learn to be ‘good and in control’ people.” How else could we navigate a world that is random and can’t be controlled without feeling thwarted and frustrated much of the time? The desire for control and predictability results in a tendency to see the world as a just place because a just world is one that is also understandable and predictable. Behave by the rules and you will be all right; fail to follow the rules and bad things will happen.

The just-world hypothesis holds that most people believe that “people get what they deserve; that is, that the good people are likely to be rewarded and the bad to be punished.

I really like the point about trying to learn from any and all sources, regardless of whether we respect or like that source.  I think when I was a small child I had a very acute sense of fairness.  It was only after I (at a very young age) realized that the world was not fair that I attempted to do my own version of gaming it.  Sometimes I wish that the world was more meritocratic, but if I'm honest with myself, I like the element of chance and excitement that this world provides.  It's hard work, and I often find myself on the losing end of a power struggle, but I bet I would be immediately bored if it were any other way.

A final thought from the book about the just world hypothesis and how good a judge of character most people are:

Most important, the phenomenon works in reverse: if someone is seen to prosper, there is a social psychological tendency for observers to decide that the lucky person must have done something to deserve his good fortune. He or she becomes a better person . . . simply by virtue of the observed rewards.

Sunday, June 17, 2012

Song: You've really got a hold on me

I like this song, particularly since my friend has described sociopaths as "people you like but wish you didn't."

I don't like you but I love you
See that I'm always thinking of you
Oh, oh, oh, you treat me badly
I love you madly

You've really got a hold on me
You've really got a hold on me, baby

I don't want you but I need you
Don't want to kiss you but I need you
Oh, oh, oh, you do me wrong now
My love is strong now

You've really got a hold on me
You've really got a hold on me, baby

I love you and all I want you to do
Is just hold me, hold me, hold me, hold me

I want to leave you, don't want to stay here
Don't want to spend another day here
Oh, oh, oh, I want to split now
I just can quit now

You've really got a hold on me
You've really got a hold on me, baby

I love you and all I want you to do
Is just hold me, hold me, hold me, hold me

You've really got a hold on me
You've really got a hold on me

Saturday, June 16, 2012


This was an interesting article about how people who have a harder time imaging what others are thinking are less likely to believe in God.  More interesting than this (at least to me) was the distinction that the article made between empathy and "mentalizing," which was the first time I had actually heard this term, at least used with this particular meaning:

The ability to infer the thoughts and feelings of other people is called "mentalizing" and it appears to play an important role in religious belief, according to researcher Ara Norenzayan.

Interestingly it was this mentalizing, or ability to imagine what others are thinking, that was more likely to lead to a belief in God and those without it showed less inclination to be religious:

"When adults form inferences about God's mind, they show the same mentalizing biases that are typically found when reasoning about other peoples' minds," the study authors wrote. Religious believers have an idea of God as an intentional being who responds to human beliefs and desires.

The researchers found that people who rate highest on the autistic spectrum — those with an inability to respond accurately to the mental states of other people — are least likely to believe in God.

Men typically are not as good as women at reasoning about other people's states of mind and are more likely than women to score high on the autism spectrum, which may help explain why men are less likely to believe in God than women.

Maybe I'm just late to the party about this distinction between mentalizing (apparently the psychological  version of philosophy's theory of mind).  Interestingly mentalization based treatment has been used with success for borderline personality disorder, although after reading the wikipedia article, I'm still not clear how and why.

How is mentalizing related to empathy?

"The empathy quotient measures the degree to which an individual thinks about and is concerned with the mental states of other people, their beliefs, wishes and emotions," Norenzayan wrote.

So it's still not clear to me.  I guess it's that there is a difference between mentalizing (imagining the internal world of others) and empathizing, this vicarious feeling of emotions that others are feeling. Sociopaths clearly do the former, but do not do the latter.  But I don't know.  Every time I explore the concept of empathy, I feel like I'm talking about something like Santa Claus.  I always half wonder if empathy is real, or maybe the product of fantasy or self-deception?

Friday, June 15, 2012

Selectively caring more

I thought this was a very interesting comment left on this post about empathy and becoming sensitized to certain things, among others:

I used be able to watch videos/view images of the goriest and most explicit nature: brain avulsions, total dismemberment, horrific murders. In fact, I craved viewing them. There was something in there that was fascinating to me. This was when I was much younger. As I got older, these pictures began to bother me. Not because I felt guilt or empathy, but because I had suffered accidents/injuries of my own, and they served to remind me of them. Now I avoid them, for the most part, because in each body I see the inevitability of my own mortality, and I always end up relating them to my own situation. 

The same holds true for emotional pain: just yesterday a girl related a story about a woman who's mother was killed by a distracted drive. I laughed when I heard the specifics; it sounded like such a glorious explosion of metal. Everyone else was horrified, and some were holding back tears, but I couldn't stop grinning--I had such fun recreating the scene in my mind. I couldn't empathize. But if another person's emotional pain reminds me of the few, and I mean 2-3, things left from childhood that are still painful to me, I am distracted and lost in my own pain. This gives the appearance of empathizing; it's not. I don't cry for the other person; I cry for myself. 

That erroneous conclusion ("They're crying while I'm crying; they must understand me!") is what, I think, leads empaths, especially those with emotional ties to the sociopath, to insist that they're "not that bad" or that "there's really deep feelings in there." Perhaps. But those deep feelings will always be self-centered. If a sociopath cries because you're breaking up with them, it's not because they've suddenly grown a heart to pine after you with. It's because they've lost control, because their plans have been ruined, and they're thinking about how the break-up will fuck things over. 

I realize they are interesting, and perhaps very fine distinctions to make, but I think that they are actually legitimate distinctions to make between a sensitivity (or lack of sensitivity to things) and the general skill of empathy.  A good example, perhaps, is the one of the typical empath who becomes desensitized to things like violence in times of war.  According to wikipedia, horses, who have a natural fear of unpredictable movement, become desensitized to accept the fluttering skirt of a lady's riding habit.  We sensitize guide dogs to certain human concerns like automobile traffic. 

Everyone can learn to care more or less about a particular thing. It's not that sociopaths are just constantly choosing not to care.  I believe that they are partly incapable of caring, and even more simply unaware of what and when they should be caring.  Once you direct their attention to it or something else happens to make them aware of the seriousness of something (e.g. growing older and having more a sense of one's own mortality), it gets easier to understand why everyone else is upset.  But this does not mean that the sociopath will ever vicariously feel what the other person is feeling.  

Thursday, June 14, 2012

The gendered sociopath

A reader writes about how sociopathic men understand women differently than normal men:

It seems to be common among a good majority of men that, men just "can't understand" women. Like they can't understand why women act certain ways about certain things, or why they feel certain ways of certain things that the men can't seem to understand.

Do you think this applies to sociopathic men? Me, I've always considered myself an abstract thinker, I don't see any big mystery behind women. I understand women are psychologically different and therefore emotionally value certain things in a different manner. Yet, somehow, 'normal' men do not understand this?

Are "normal" men just so involved in their own emotional impulses that it blinds them from understanding the emotional impulses of women? Perhaps sociopaths are not blinded because they are not heavily involved in their emotions, and as a result they can better understand the emotional impulses of others, namely, members of the opposite sex.

I thought it was an interesting theory, and probably accurate. I believe that sociopaths don't project their own mental states on people as often as empaths do (or even other non empaths because narcissists and autism spectrum types also project all the time, with autism spectrum people not having hardly any theory of mind at all).

For the sociopath, it's not any big mystery that men and women think differently and it's as easy to understand the one as the other. It could also have something to do with the fact that sociopaths don't identify as much with their gender, so do not have the same gender specific blindspots as most people do.

Wednesday, June 13, 2012

Creativity = immorality

File this under "how to become more like a sociopath," this Scientific American article discusses how being creative (and even thinking more creatively) makes you more likely to cross moral boundaries:

In a recent paper published in the Journal of Personality and Social Psychology, researchers at Harvard and Duke Universities demonstrate that creativity can lead people to behave unethically. In five studies, the authors show that creative individuals are more likely to be dishonest, and that individuals induced to think creatively were more likely to be dishonest. Importantly, they showed that this effect is not explained by any tendency for creative people to be more intelligent, but rather that creativity leads people to more easily come up with justifications for their unscrupulous actions.
The authors hypothesized that it is creativity which causes unethical behavior by allowing people the means to justify their misdeeds, but it is hard to say for certain whether this is correct given the correlational nature of the study. It could just as easily be true, after all, that unethical behavior leads people to be more creative, or that there is something else which causes both creativity and dishonesty, such as intelligence. To explore this, the authors set up an experiment in which participants were induced into a creative mindset and then given the opportunity to cheat.  [It did.]
In addition, the researchers had guessed that creativity would lead to unethical behavior because it enabled people to more easily come up with justifications for their actions. Research has previously shown that whenever people do something which might be perceived as bad, they tend to reduce the ‘badness’ of this behavior by finding some justification for their corrupt behavior. As an example, if you find yourself being less than honest on your taxes, you may justify this by telling yourself that this is something everyone does, or that it doesn’t really hurt anyone.

The craziest part about this is the final experiment, that basically shows that one of the primary reasons why people don't cheat is that they can't come up with their own justifications for their behavior and that once you provide a readymade justification for them, they are much more likely to cheat:

So, if creativity leads to dishonesty primarily by assisting in coming up with justifications for dishonest behavior a creative mindset should not influence people’s likelihood of cheating if they already have some justification in mind. To test this idea, the researchers provided ‘justifications’ for some participants by allowing them to roll the die multiple times, but telling them that only the first roll counted. It turns out that one way of increasing the ease with which people can come up with justifications is by allowing them to observe something which almost happened, but didn’t. In this case, rolling a six on the second roll after rolling a lower number on the first, critical roll should give people a leg up on justifying their dishonest behavior.

It was found that when asked to roll the die once, people not primed with creativity were relatively honest. Individuals primed with creativity, on the other hand, behaved much more dishonestly, reporting much higher die rolls on average. Further, this effect disappeared when people rolled the die multiple times. That is, when people were provided with help to think up justifications, creativity had no effect on cheating. This pattern of results seems to confirm that creativity helps people to think up justifications for dishonest behavior.

These studies demonstrate that there is indeed a dark side to creativity. Perhaps, given this information, it should come as no surprise that the best and brightest in many fields are frequently caught in all manner of immoral transgressions.

Now empaths who want to acquire the skills of a sociopath have yet another avenue to pursue in cultivating an ability to be morally blind -- creativity.  According to the article, all sorts of activities can get you in that cheating frame of mind, even something as simple as arranging the words sky, is, why, blue, and the, into the sentence, “the sky is blue”.  This may also be why showbusiness is so cutthroat.

Tuesday, June 12, 2012

Thank you, sociopaths! (?)

I was having a conversation with a sociopath who is currently in the military about the relatively higher proportion of sociopaths in the military versus the general population.  The reader asked "What part do sociopaths play in the world? What's our niche?" and suggested: "In times of catastrophe, it's the socios that step up and lead until stability is restored, because at that point, we're the only ones who -can- do it, 9 times out of 10."

There are quite a few documented instances of sociopaths being exceptional in socially positive ways.  There is professor Jim Fallon his ideas about psychopaths doing the "dirty work" and the "good work" that others can't or won't do as well.   Joseph Newman believes that psychopaths are perhaps more inclined to be impulsively helpful than empaths. Also this post comparing heroes with sociopaths.

The reader continued about why sociopaths may be doing pro-social things, even when it doesn't involve the occasional "heroic" act:

In my experience, both personal and talking to others, sociopaths and psychopaths do seemingly random nice things for people more often than those seen as empathetic. If you walk the Path, you naturally want a leg up on those around you. You want to know what's going on, how to react, and you want people to defend you when someone tries to ruin your day. The best way to get that leverage is for people to like you and think you have their best interests at heart. Eventually, doing those small (but often meaningful) kindnesses becomes something the Path cares about, even if for no other reason than a flexible personality and unwillingness to change to suit others make it a routine.

Monday, June 11, 2012

Sociopath quotes: Mob mentality

Man has much more to fear from the passions of his fellow creatures than from the convulsions of the elements.

--Edward Gibbon

Sunday, June 10, 2012

Shame and Justification (part 3)

Under the title "The Moral Diet," NY Times op-ed columnist David Brooks reviews Dan Ariely’s new book “The (Honest) Truth About Dishonesty” (Ariely is also the author of the recent Conscience+, the app).  Ariely told the story of how the gift shop at the Kennedy Center for the Performing Arts was the victim of rampant embezzlement, mainly by elderly volunteers manning an unsecured cash drawer.  Interestingly, there wasn't one person who was stealing tons, but many stealing just a little.  The conclusion: "Nearly everybody cheats, but usually only a little."  The reason being that "most of us think we are pretty wonderful. We can cheat a little and still keep that 'good person' identity. Most people won’t cheat so much that it makes it harder to feel good about themselves."  In an experiment, Ariely found that cab drivers were more likely to cheat their standard fare than someone who is blind, because of what David Brooks calls "the good person construct."

Ariely points out that we are driven by morality much more than standard economic models allow. But I was struck by what you might call the Good Person Construct and the moral calculus it implies. For the past several centuries, most Westerners would have identified themselves fundamentally as Depraved Sinners. In this construct, sin is something you fight like a recurring cancer — part of a daily battle against evil.

But these days, people are more likely to believe in their essential goodness. People who live by the Good Person Construct try to balance their virtuous self-image with their selfish desires. They try to manage the moral plusses and minuses and keep their overall record in positive territory. In this construct, moral life is more like dieting: I give myself permission to have a few cookies because I had salads for lunch and dinner. I give myself permission to cheat a little because, when I look at my overall life, I see that I’m still a good person.

The Good Person isn’t shooting for perfection any more than most dieters are following their diet 100 percent. It’s enough to be workably suboptimal, a tolerant, harmless sinner and a generally good guy.

Obviously, though, there’s a measurement problem. You can buy a weight scale to get an objective measure of your diet. But you can’t buy a scale of virtues to put on the bathroom floor. And given our awesome capacities for rationalization and self-deception, most of us are going to measure ourselves leniently: I was honest with that blind passenger because I’m a wonderful person. I cheated the sighted one because she probably has too much money anyway.

I think this is actually an insightful and accurate observation.  I have noticed this a lot recently, more in discussions I see on the blog than in real life, but probably only because the topic of morality comes up a lot more here than it does in real life and people tend to feel the need to take some kind of moral high ground when advocating something horrible like killing all sociopaths (or even just the simple art of accusing anyone of anything), so there is a lot of self-justification going on here.  The weird thing is that many people will unashamedly admit that they're not perfect, but then go on to assert something categorically negative about sociopaths.  I guess the price of admission to the moral high ground is not what it used to be.    

Saturday, June 9, 2012

Shame and justification (part 2)

For the sociopath's part, I don't think we're motivated by feelings of shame or embarrassment, although I hesitate to make a completely categorical statement.

This is not to say that sociopaths do not come up with stories to explain their behavior, sometimes seemingly outrageous stories like "I killed him because he looked at me funny."  They can and they do.  But everyone wants to explain their behavior. It helps give them a sense of purpose, of self-knowledge, and more importantly of control. If you don't know why you do things, then how do you know that it is even you who is choosing to do them?

The sociopath killer who says he killed someone because of a funny look is not attempting to justify his behavior so much as explain it to himself.  And it is an explanation.  Maybe the killing was an impulsive act, but it was prompted by something, in this case the look the victim gave him.  Perhaps a sociopath might take it one or two steps further and add "I don't allow people to disrespect me," or some general opinion about the small value of human life, but the sociopath is just reflecting on the "why" of the action, not the "what does the fact that I have performed this action say about me and my own concept of self?"  So unlike narcissists, sociopaths don't need to justify their behavior, but they'll still seek to explain it.

Another question the narcissist had was how sociopaths view the bad things we do to other people.  He gave this example of how narcissists view this sort of situation:

E.g. take lions that eat wildebeests. The narcissist lion has to convince himself that the wildebeest has it coming to it, or that the lion is doing the wildebeest a favor by eating it. I'm wondering if the sociopath lion has to engage in that sort of self-deception, or if it can just eat the wildebeest and not give a shit.

I don't think sociopaths really blame people so much as attribute their failings back to them. Using the lion example, the lion doesn't think the wildebeest is a bad person "so it had it coming."  For the sociopath, life is a survival of the fittest.  It's enough for the lion that the wildebeest is unable to defend itself. Why did the wildebeest die? In the sociopath's mind the answer is not "because the lion killed it," but "because the wildebeest couldn't run away or defend itself adequately." That's what is really happening when it seems like a sociopath is blaming someone else for the sociopath's own actions. It's more an assigning of responsibility on the victim for not being more vigilant than it is a justification of self according to some rigid construct of being a "good person," like narcissists do

Sociopaths do not view the entire world through the lens of self as much as narcissists do (not surprisingly).  Narcissists tend to think that everything that happens in their world is some sort of direct reflection of them (good person, bad person, whatever).  Sociopaths understand that they are just a cog in a machine.  While they don't completely give up on that idea of cause/effect and personal accountability, sociopaths are much more inclined to believe that what they do is perhaps meaningless.  As arms dealer Viktor Bout said, “If I didn’t do it, someone else would.”

Friday, June 8, 2012

Shame and justification (part 1)

A narcissist reader and I have been discussing the role of shame and justification as a motivator for narcissists and sociopaths.  Here's his perspective on shame (next post mine):

I think it all comes down to shame and putting up appearances.

If I don't feel shame, and if I don't feel the need to put up appearances so that I can feel good about myself, I'm left just trying to do the things that I want to do, for my own reasons.

As soon as I realized how driven by shame and putting up appearances I've been, it hit me that if I stopped doing that, I would have a tremendous amount of time on my hands. And I'd have a lot of flexibility, because there just isn't that much stuff I genuinely want.

However, when pursuing my own interests, I'm liable to act selfishly and immorally. That's just what comes naturally.

One thing: I'm not a good liar. When I've lied well in the past, it required deceiving myself. The less I delude myself, the harder it is to lie.

I think the key is to become comfortable with shame and with perceiving of myself as a "bad" person.  To the extent I can do that, I seem to just act selfishly and without conscience.

Thursday, June 7, 2012

Neurodiversity = handicap

A reader sent me this comment posted on this Jezebel article about autistic people having a difficult time finding a job.  She said that it was a good reminder of the sort of "methodically-necessary thinking involved in trying to get through everyday things that many folks take for granted."  I thought it was a good example of how so many things in our society are geared towards the majority.  People will sometimes complain about special accommodations being made for those outside the norm.  Once I heard a blind person say, "special accommodations, like street lamps at night?"  Hilarious.  The comment is really long and boring, but I think it sort of has to be to make the point it's trying to make:

It is so much more than just social issues. Let me go through a day from when I worked at a retail location.

1) Get dressed for work. 
The cheap khakis itch all over, the waistband makes your torso hurt, and you are constantly thinking about sweat stains and panty lines. The polo is itchy, full of static electricity, is either too short so your abdomen might become exposed, or too large so you look huge. The shirt lets too much air through and is so thin that it hugs the lines of your bra, making you ever conscious of it. It is YELLOW so you can't even wear a shirt under it because you do not own white shirts because they are usually sold out of your size. You have to wear closed toed shoes which don't work well with your strange walking style, they're too tight and make your feet hot, and you have to wear socks or your feet smell HORRIBLE. Your sense of smell is strong that if any part of you sweats or is unclean, from feet to armpit, you can smell it while standing upright with your arms at your sides, so you slather yourself in deodorant and keep a bottle of body spray in your purse. You have to debate bringing in your purse, which is very much a comfort item, because your boss will have to search it when you leave, and it's internal organization is precarious at best.

2) Drive to work. 
You have to get in your car which is extremely hot or cold depending on the season. You have to pay attention to everything on the road as you try to remember where your workplace is based on carefully memorized landmarks. Do not speed. Do not run red lights. Do not cut people off. Do not switch lanes when a car is in your blind spot. Ignore the sounds and flashing lights of the other cars. Do not cry when you make a mistake and get honked at. Hope there are no closed roads on the way, because you cannot "make up" a new route on the fly without first going back home.

Leave with enough time to make it to work on time. 
(Should I be early? How early? How bad is it to be late? What is the difference in my watch, my phone, my car clock, and my work place's clocks? Do I have to just be at the building when my shift starts, or is that when I have to be clocked in and at my station?)

Park. Stay between the yellow lines and do not go too fast. Watch out for pedestrians and other cars in the parking lot. 
(Should I park close to the door or far? Do I need to hide my GPS? Can I leave my purse in the car?)

3)Start Work 
Put packed lunch in employee room. If you run into a coworker, smile and say hey. Try to notice them so they do not think they are being purposefully ignored. Try not to smile like a frightened chimp. Try to ignore how hot the entire building is. Clock in, then stand at your register. Say hello to coworkers who come by. Do not tell them what your pets did last night. Do not tell them about cool things in nature or otherwise you have seen lately. (No one cares that you saw a bunny at school or that you had to manually install a new fan for your Wii last night.) Try to respond appropriately to their comments. (Do not say "Oh gosh I'm sorry" when they tell you their wife is pregnant.) Keep your vocabulary simple. (Celerity, facetious, and psyche are not as common as you think.)

4) Work 
Smile like a human at customers. Do not talk through your math at the customers. Do not set money down on the counter before a bank drop. Do not try to warn customers about their purchases. Do not reference obscure British pop culture with the customers. Maintain simple vocabulary to avoid offending the customers. Learn to respond to mispronunciations of your name. Learn to respond to mispronunciations of most words. Learn to cope with improper grammar and speaking patterns. Do not talk to the children. Do not ignore the children. Do ignore the screaming children and their screaming parents. DO NOT say anything about parenting methods. Do not cry when customers yell at you, and do not get upset when they are mistaken but stay mad at you. If customers start conversation, try to respond appropriately. You don't have to go along with jokes you find offensive, but at least humor the bad ones. Do not freak out when customers linger to chat. Do not mention any of your own interests or tastes outside of acceptable mainstream, with customers or co-workers. Do not ask your boss for any schedule accommodations. Learn to yell loud enough to summon a manger when you need one. Do not get upset over what the customers have to purchase for their weekly groceries. Do not offer to pick up remainders if they cannot afford their food.

Do not stim when handed damp or otherwise gross money. Do not stim when a customer's hand accidentally touches yours. Do not attempt passive aggression on rude customers. Notice when a customer is flirting, and politely shut it down. Do not freak out when acquaintances come to the store and want to chat during their transaction. Do not obsess over the sweat under your arms, on your chest, on your feet, around your thighs or behind your knees. Do not obsess over the slight BO smell. Do not obsess over slight dandruff.

Do not gag or obviously rub germ-x on your upper lip when a customer smells bad. Do use Germ-x. Buy multiple good scented varieties and keep two on your person at all times.

Do not get frustrated at slow or quiet speakers. Remember that just because you are not being smiled at, does not mean that the customer hates you. Try to talk like a human.

5) Co-Worker Rules 
Do not talk about pets. Do not talk about fandoms. do not talk about zombie survival plans. Do not talk about grades. Do not talk about TV shows. Do not talk about science. DO NOT TALK ABOUT RELIGION. Refuse to give straight answers on affiliation, political or religious. Pretend to agree with their views using silence. Do not talk about money. Do not talk about children. Do not ask them the questions that pop into your head. Do not offer to share your lunch. Do compliment accessories. Do not be overly friendly with male co-workers, they will assume you are flirting. Never talk about your boss with the co-workers. Do not get upset when co-workers seem not care about helping customers, or about ignorance of food borne illness causes. Do not get frustrated at slow or quiet speakers.

6) Lunch 
Bring your own, it is cheaper and better tasting. Bring your own soda, but do not leave more than one in the fridge. Do not worry that your co-workers think that you eat "too healthy" and nag you about eating "normal" food. Do not offer to let them taste your lunch. Try to keep from appearing as if you are "showing off" your intellect. Do exaggerate a southern twang for sympathy. Do not talk about school. Do not talk about grades. NEVER talk about "bad" grades. Do not clock in from lunch early. Do not clock in from lunch late.

7) Clock out 
Make sure you know for sure when you are leaving. Do not pester the manager for the official end of your shift. Do count your drawer. Do not clock out late. Do not clock out early. Try to work extra hours if your boss asks. Try not to cry before the end of the shift. Do not hate yourself for being so "weak." Do not leave too quickly in case your boss needs to say something to you. Do not help customers after you have clocked out.

8) Closing Shifts 
Clean what your co-worker tells you. Ignore pain in arms and legs. Do not gag at company cleaning supplies. Do help move heavy outdoor displays inside. Do not get upset when closing takes over an hour.

9) Misc 
Do not expect a weekend off. Do not expect an afternoon shift right after classes. Do not ask for these things. Your boss will call during class. Do not expect sick days. Do not go to work and thro up. 
Try to stay employed.

Wednesday, June 6, 2012

Famous sociopaths: Viktor Bout

Legendary arms dealer Viktor Bout may not be famous in the same way that A-list Hollywood actors are famous (although the Nicholas Cage film "Lord of War" is basically based on him).  If anything, Bout is most famous to Interpol or other government organizations.  It's not surprising.  I bet most sociopaths are more likely to be infamous than famous.  Here are the selections from a New Yorker profile on Bout that make me think he is a sociopath:
  • Although he had arrived in the Emirates not knowing much about Arab culture, he had a cosmopolitan ability to adapt to new circumstances. 
  • Bout, who had the brash confidence of the autodidact, didn’t have a source of weapons, but he knew that he could find one. 
  • “Viktor is a fast learner and he is very easy with the contacts,” Mirchev told me. “He could reach the right people at any time.” 
  • Schneidman, who once termed Bout “the personification of evil,” told me that Bout was “directly undermining our efforts to bring peace.” At the same time that Bout was delivering weapons to Savimbi’s forces, Schneidman said, he was also flying arms to the Angolan government. I asked Bout whether Savimbi knew about his mixed allegiance. Of course, Bout said. Didn’t Savimbi mind? “If I didn’t do it, someone else would,” Bout said. 
  • Officials in Washington began to see Bout as the quintessential figure of transnational crime. He was distinguished not by cruelty or ruthlessness but by cunning amorality. “If he wasn’t doing arms and all the vile stuff, he would be a damn good businessman,” Andreas Morgner, a sanctions expert at the Treasury Department, said. 
  • Bout told me, “My job was to bring shipments from Bulgaria to Zaire, and then to Togo. . . . I did it. I understood my limits.” He added, “How, after that, someone else wants to squeeze it? That’s not my business.” In this view, he and Mirchev were not doing anything wrong; they were simply filling gaps in the global economy.
  • “Why should I be afraid?” he said. “In my life, I did not do anything that I should be concerned about.” Bout began leaving a trail of inconsistent statements. He either refused to address difficult matters—“It’s not a question to discuss what we transported”—or lied outright. 
There are plenty of other small indications.  It's a pretty interesting article, particularly reading people's reactions about how Bout would both ship in weapons to revolutionaries and peacekeepers, for instance:
  • Soon after the raid, [U.S.] Department of Defense officials entered the names of the companies under sanctions into their databases. They made a surprising discovery: some of Bout’s companies were now delivering tents and frozen food to troops in Iraq. His planes had flown dozens of times in and out of Baghdad, according to flight records, and Bout was profiting from it. The Pentagon eventually voided the relevant contracts, but, by then, the war in Iraq had helped Viktor Bout get back on his feet.
I guess not everyone fits into nice, neat bad/good boxes.  

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