Tuesday, July 31, 2012

Anders Breivik, Aspergers and NPD

A reader writes:

Hello. I am a recent reader to Sociopath World. I came across a story fitting into one of your ongoing narratives that I don’t foresee getting much circulation in the English-speaking press: One of the psychiatrists observing Norwegian terrorist Anders Bering Breivik has diagnosed him with Asperger syndrome (and also Tourette’s and possibly narcissistic personality disorder, a combination I had never heard of before and raise an eyebrow at).

Here’s an original report in Norwegian (though Google’s translation is surprisingly readable). The CS Monitor buries the claim a few paragraphs down. Wrong Planet’s thread is maybe 60 percent denials and revisionism. Numerous commenters make the point that the diagnosis isn’t “official,” and this might actually be a fair point. Most professional therapists probably can recognize Asperger syndrome “on sight” in an unstructured interview, but for most clinical purposes, a diagnosis based on quantitative and qualitative testing is required. I know when I got tested, I underwent something like six or seven hour-long sessions, and my parents were also interviewed.

As an Aspie, I applaud your efforts to keep up a conversation about ASD and violence. Mainstream neurodiversity advocates’ ignoring or suppression of research on the topic ultimately does a disservice to those they’re trying to help, especially parents of ASD kids. So long as the very real possibility of autistic violence is suppressed, it can only come as a horrific surprise to parents totally unprepared to address it.

I’m also appreciative of your “big tent” conception of neurodiversity. If there are conversations to be had between ASD people and psycho/sociopaths, I wish we were having them.
Keep up the good blog.

I get emails all the time from people on the autism spectrum telling me that I'm absolutely wrong about any connection between autism and violence or sociopathy.  I mean, everyone is entitled to their opinions, but I think theirs are a little suspect than mine.

Monday, July 30, 2012

Sociopath or INTJ?

I have mentioned this before, but I sometimes wonder if INTJs aren't all sociopaths.  Or mostly sociopaths.  Or maybe I'm not a sociopath, I'm just an INTJ.  This article (from a reader) discusses some of the differences (allegedly) between the two:

Although INTJs (Myers-Briggs personality Type profile) share some of the same characteristics as the psychopath, the appearance of shallow emotions and an idiosyncratic value system, especially as it applies to sexuality, they are not normally psychopaths. 

Whereas, psychopaths have very sallow emotions, INTJs appear to be unemotional. Actually, they can be hypersensitive on some levels, especially with the few people about whom they care. They are not as responsive to praise or criticism as some of the other personality types. They show the world a veneer of calm self-confidence, which can be mistaken for arrogance (I am being generous here). 

INTJs tend to be introspective, more at home with theories and principles than human relationships. They have an endearing tendency to look at one over their glasses or raise one eyebrow to show disapproval. They make up about one percent of the population. INTJs are quite often highly educated, successful individuals, because they can be unusually intelligent. Though, they are not particularly interested in accumulating wealth. 

She then gives a list that actually makes INTJs seem a lot like sociopaths.  Of course this doesn't mean that sociopaths can't be INTJs...  But that doesn't mean INTJs are sociopaths.  INTJs apparently only seem cold, but really are just cold on the exterior.  Other differences include:

The psychopath will come into contact with the criminal justice system because he or she is impulsive, amoral, opportunistic and irresponsible. INTJs are impulsive under stress. However, they are more likely to shoot themselves in the foot (figuratively speaking, folks) than shoot their maiden aunt to acquire her fortune. Remember, most INTJs are not dazzled by material possessions. Though, I have seen a few who liked their toys. They may quit their job when their feathers are ruffled, without wondering how they will pay the bills. INTJs can also be highly insulted if someone dares question their ideas or principles, because they are convinced of the "rightness" of their beliefs. Yawn. Nonetheless, they probably will not bury their Nemesis in the backyard. It is much more likely that crimes will be committed by psychopaths.

Of course it's possible that INTJs are sociopaths or vice versa:

There is no law that says a psychopath cannot be an INTJ. However, I would be surprised if that were the case. INTJs are normally boringly responsible individuals. Consequently, if you have someone with a spotty employment record, he is probably not an INTJ...start wondering about psychopath. Be cautious, one trait does not a psychopath make. 

Hmm, spotty employment record...

But can you imagine good old Myers and Briggs envisioning this sort of use for their personality distinctions when they made them?  Or Jung, for that matter?  It's become the seemingly legitimate astrology of the masses.

[Like that graph I used for the picture?  Can you imagine working at a place with that many INTJs?  Talk about society of sociopaths, right?  It actually comes from a group of intelligence analysts.]

Sunday, July 29, 2012

Feeling machines

A reader sent me this interesting article about the function of emotion and how people need to appeal to emotion first in order to persuasively or effectively communicate.  It first gives a quick overview of how our brain processes emotions, particularly the role of the amygdala:

When faced with a stimulus, the amygdala turns our emotions on. It does so instantaneously, without our having to think about it. We find ourselves responding to a threat even before we’re consciously aware of it. Think of jumping back when we see a sudden movement in front of us, or being startled by the sound of a loud bang. We also respond instantaneously to positive stimulus without thinking about it: Note how we tend to smile back when someone smiles at us; how we are immediately distracted when something we consider beautiful enters our line of sight.

Why should we care about the amygdala?  According to the author, it is the key to gaining someone's attention:

The amygdala is the key to understanding an audience’s emotional response, and to connecting with an audience. It plays an important role in salience, what grabs and keeps our attention. In other words, attention is an emotion-driven phenomenon. If we want to get and hold an audience’s attention, we need to trigger the amygdala to our advantage. Only when we have an audience’s attention can we then move them to rational argument.

I thought this was interesting.  One of my work colleagues was lamenting that her competitor gets ahead by saying such inane platitudes as "change or die" that appeal to people's fear and make him sound like a strong leader.  The reader wondered whether the connection between emotions and attention "could be a potential explanation for the sociopath's famed attention deficit."

Why it is so easy to manipulate empaths:

The default to emotion is part of the human condition. The amygdala governs the fight-or-flight impulse, the triggering of powerful emotions, and the release of chemicals that put humans in a heightened state of arousal. Humans are not thinking machines. We’re feeling machines who also think. We feel first, and then we think. As a result, leaders need to meet emotion with emotion before they can move audiences with reason.

Saturday, July 28, 2012

Should a sociopath have children?

A reader writes:

I just happened on this website a few days ago and have been devouring it over the past few days. I have come to realize that I am a "sociopath". I don't like the terminology and its scary the way people seem to think about this term. nevertheless, i have learned from reading the various posts to finally understand what I know was going on with myself for years. language was always intentional to me. I have always felt like the social sphere is work for me. work that I can be good at, mind you, but work nonetheless. i am very promiscuous and have a difficult time being faithful to my partners. etc. etc. My question though is: can i have children? Or the better question: should I have children as a sociopath? One the one hand, I feel as though my strength is that I am very deliberate and intentional in my interaction with anyone and I would be a very deliberate "loving" parent. I worry that the stress of juggling my life along with children will make me vulnerable to some bad behaviors as a parent. I have noticed that impulse control can be a problem but have learned over the years to take time to act on fear and anger or get out of the situation. I usually need lots of time to talk to myself to come down from an angry situation. I don't think a young child would necessarily bring these out in me since I am pretty good at redirecting these feelings. Nevertheless, that is the big question that I have for the group. I am not worried about being a criminal because I am not a violent person and I see the risks of that way of life pretty clearly. I have made moral mistakes at my job in the past and I have learned to lead in the open and with consensus at my job. My relationship, thankfully, is going ok despite the fact that I can't be faithful sexually.  

Anyway, that is my question: should a sociopath have children?

I've also thought about whether I would be a good or a bad parent.  I think the answer is just that I would be a different parent.  I would want any children I have to be around other people who are more emotional, more loving, so they get used to that.  I would still want them to be like me, but bilingual.  Basically, I would want them to be able to turn my way of thinking off and on.

Friday, July 27, 2012

Famous sociopaths: Ayn Rand?

A reader sent me this selection from Ayn Rand, which he thinks seems to indicate a lack of human emotion:

Just as the pleasure-pain mechanism of man’s body is an automatic indicator of his body’s welfare or injury, a barometer of its basic alternative, life or death—so the emotional mechanism of man’s consciousness is geared to perform the same function, as a barometer that registers the same alternative by means of two basic emotions: joy or suffering. Emotions are the automatic results of man’s value judgments integrated by his subconscious; emotions are estimates of that which furthers man’s values or threatens them, that which is for him or against him—lightning calculators giving him the sum of his profit or loss.

But while the standard of value operating the physical pleasure-pain mechanism of man’s body is automatic and innate, determined by the nature of his body—the standard of value operating his emotional mechanism, is not. Since man has no automatic knowledge, he can have no automatic values; since he has no innate ideas, he can have no innate value judgments.

Man is born with an emotional mechanism, just as he is born with a cognitive mechanism; but, at birth,both are “tabula rasa.” It is man’s cognitive faculty, his mind, that determines the content of both. Man’s emotional mechanism is like an electronic computer, which his mind has to program—and the programming consists of the values his mind chooses.

But since the work of man’s mind is not automatic, his values, like all his premises, are the product either of his thinking or of his evasions: man chooses his values by a conscious process of thought—or accepts them by default, by subconscious associations, on faith, on someone’s authority, by some form of social osmosis or blind imitation. Emotions are produced by man’s premises, held consciously or subconsciously, explicitly or implicitly.

Thursday, July 26, 2012

Roadkill -- accident or murder?

This Gizmodo article describes a recent experiment in which test subjects drove automobiles.  The experimenter placed small rubber animals (turtle, snake, and spider) on the side of the road.  Six percent of drivers went out of their way to run over the animal.

To the experimenters, this seemed sadistically cruel -- particularly in the case of the turtle and the snake.  (Presumably it is understandable that some people would want to run over a tarantula, and when you factored out the people running over the tarantula, the numbers went down to 2.8%.)  From the article:

It is still quite a surprisingly high number. At least compared to a 2008 study using the Psychopathy Checklist, which discovered that 1.2 percent of the US population were potential psychopaths. 1.2 vs 2.8 is a huge difference.

Now, I'm not going to pull a PETA—I actually hate PETA—and say that the six (or 2.8) percent are all potential psychopaths, but clearly these people have some kind of mental problem. At the very least, their empathy circuits must be pretty broken. Personally, I wouldn't like to be friends with any of them.

And I really don't care which kind of animal they ran over because all of them were locatedoutside of the lane and posed absolutely no danger to the drivers. Needless to say, if a turtle or a snake is on the middle of your lane, never risk your life to save it. Your safety must come first, but this was not the case. This was all the contrary. And it's quite disgusting.

Is it really a surprising number?  And does it make any sense to suggest that all animal killers are sociopaths and all sociopaths are animal killers?  Maybe some of them are just really bad drivers.  I probably wouldn't go out of my way to kill the animal.  In fact most of the time I go out of my way to avoid the animal.  Why?  I don't know, getting blood and guts all over the automobile, the possibility of losing control by swerving to hit it, or any other reason.  I'm curious why they didn't do follow up interviews with the people asking them why they did or did not run them over.  Some of them might lie and said that they didn't realize they did, but I bet you would get honest answers from at least some of the people.

Wednesday, July 25, 2012

Nothing more than feelings

I've been really busy recently and my jaw has started to ache. I grind my teeth. I have ever since I was young, but it got noticeably bad in a particularly stressful year of graduate school. The funny thing was, I didn't realize that I was particularly stressed until I felt my teeth ache. I am anal about my teeth, so of course I made an appointment with the dentist as soon as possible, who told me that it was my jaw hurting, not my teeth.  [Bruxism, of course is quite common. A dentist has suggested that 9/11 changed the face shape of the average New Yorker -- the increased grinding built up the masseter muscle, giving everyone a more square jaw appearance].  Ever since then I've used mouthguards, which shield my teeth but my muscles still get a work out when I'm stressed, like now.

Stress to me is only expressed in physical symptoms.  Without a sore jaw or finicky stomach, I wouldn't realize that I was actually experiencing stress.  Instead of thinking stressful thoughts first then having those thoughts cause the physical symptoms, I feel the physical symptoms which then indicate to me that I am stressed.  My theory is that although I am mentally fine with risky, high stakes situations, my lizard brain still responds with additional adrenaline and cortisol that takes its own toll on my body.

I was reading a Scientific American blog about anxiety and how it was not acknowledged by the Greeks as an actual disorder, then only became a purely physical illness starting with the Romans, then only recently has been seen as a primary mental affliction.  I understand that there are people who suffer from anxiety disorders, but for garden variety anxiety felt as a result of simple stress, is anxiety primarily a physical phenomenon?  A natural, but largely physical reaction, perhaps?  A poignant reminder from the part of our brain that is primarily (or only) concerned with our survival that we need to get out of harm's way sooner rather than later?

I'm interested in this topic because I have grown increasingly susceptible to the effects of anxiety over the years.  The shift is particularly dramatic given my previously almost non-existent levels of anxiety.  My friends wonder what happened to me.  And sociopaths are not supposed to be anxious.  But actually, sometimes they are.

Tuesday, July 24, 2012

Sociopath quote: different viewpoints

It is told that Buddha, going out to look on life, was greatly daunted by death. "They all eat one another!" he cried, and called it evil. This process I examined, changed the verb, said, "They all feed one another," and called it good.
Charlotte Perkins Gilman

Monday, July 23, 2012


Almost immediately upon arriving in a foreign place I try to imitate the natives as much as possible. Every day I pick up a new item of clothing, a new phrase, a new mannerism that will help me blend in. It must seem a little ridiculous or pointless now because I'm obviously not one of the natives, but I try anyway. I realize this doesn't make me a sociopath -- I could be a hippie backpacker, a travel writer, or a spy. But I think being a sociopath makes me this type of traveler.

Another thing I like about traveling is the chance to see how arbitrary your own culture's traditions are. Everyone makes a big deal about conforming to social norms and ostracizing those who don't quite fit, but that is just a tool of oppression. The social norm is not the important feature to society, the conforming is.

I don't think it's a coincidence that nonconformist Gypsies are sometimes called "travelers."

Sunday, July 22, 2012

Sociopath quotes: prisons

A human being is part of the whole, called by us 'universe,' a part limited in time and space. He experiences himself, his thoughts and feelings, as something separate from the rest -- a kind of optical delusion of consciousness. This delusion is a kind of prison for us, restricting us to our personal desires and to affection for a few persons nearest to us. Our task must be to free ourselves from this prison by widening our circle of compassion to embrace all living creatures and the whole of nature in its beauty.

--Albert Einstein

Saturday, July 21, 2012

Artistic imperatives

The other day I took a tour of a prison.  I was interested in the security measures and the very idea of having an institution like a prison, the thought of which seems common enough but the reality of which we rarely get to experience firsthand.  I was even more interested in hearing about some of the more famous inmates and what got them there.

Later that afternoon I was visiting a modern art museum, the type that has a few key pieces to bring in the gray haired and the tourists but prides itself on also presenting a lot of fresh talent.  The diversity of the types and style reminded me that anything can be looked at from an aesthetic perspective.  The context of seeing these works in the museum made me look at the art, even the unfamiliar and nonuser friendly art, in a way that invited me to appreciate the small aesthetic choices that the artist made, whereas the context of the prison invited me to distance myself from the actions that led the prisoners to their sojourn there.

I had this odd epiphany in the museum that, particularly for some of the more gruesome and "senseless" crimes (like serial killing) that may seem to unfathomable to most people, there is a certain aestheticism and set of choices that is not unlike the art.  It reminded me of some of my own fantasies about slitting someone's throat, and how if I were a killer, I could imagine myself really enjoying exploring the nuances of this particular way to kill, in all of its infinite variations.  I could see how someone could devote their entire life to this exploration and feel quite fulfilled -- how some might actually feel compelled, either by the beauty of the art form or by the need for self expression in a particular way, to continually seek out this cathartic release of truth in concrete form.

Is the imperative that a killer often feels to kill in a particular way and a particular type of person any different than the artists' need to express himself in a very different, but similarly particular way?

I had never thought of killing that way, but now that I have it makes complete sense that serial killers will get apprentices, or imitators, or plain fans, just like artists.  It suddenly became clear to me that many people kill not because it is bad or good, deviant or heroic, but just because it is beautiful.  Even the way that formal justice has historically been enacted in the form of torture and capital punishment suggests a certain flair for creativity and desire for expression.  It's a shame that formal justice has become more sterile recently, for the punishers and the punished, at least in western society.  It is becoming a lost art.  

Friday, July 20, 2012

Fun seduction idea?

One of my work acquaintances has apparently been ostracized by a mutual friend of ours because the fiancée thought that she dressed like a whore at a Halloween party and was worried that her man would stray because of it?  (My impressionable self has picked up inappropriately placed question marks from reading Twitter feeds).

I want to mess with her, but mainly just because she has revealed a weakness (relationship insecurity) that seems too delicious to pass up.

My plan is to "confess" to her in a simulated drunken overshare.  I'll tell her that I have often wondered if I could "also" seduce her fiancé.  Depending on how much she has had to drink and her current level of paranoia, I may have to wait just a bit to let that thought have its full effect on her (which given his varied and prodigious sexual history should be a pretty easy sell).   After she has let that marinate for a while, I will then try to seduce her myself while she is (hopefully) vulnerable from the thought that her fiancé is cheating on her with all of his smarter-than-she-is-work-friends.


I think chances of it succeeding are pretty low, but chances of it increasing her insecurity are pretty good if she's so thrown off by a Halloween party "sexy third world slave" outfit, that's she's basically prohibited him from ever seeing this woman again.  (I wasn't there and there apparently isn't any photographic proof of whether or not a third world slave costume could be considered "sexy" without seeming really grossly imperialistic and in poor taste -- this is just what I've been told).

Thursday, July 19, 2012

Sociopath poetry

This Is Just to Say

I have eaten
the plums
that were in
the icebox

and which
you were probably
for breakfast

Forgive me
they were delicious
so sweet
and so cold

-- William Carlos Williams

Wednesday, July 18, 2012

Bully's bully

I've always considered myself a bully's bully. Bullies are particularly attractive targets to me because they are very adept at swaying the beliefs and behavior of mobs. As I have said before, mob mentality freaks me out. I feel like attacking the bully is like cutting off the head of the mythical mob beast, or to mix a metaphor, a mob is nothing without its ringleader.

Recently I have been exposed to a bully in a work setting. I never had much interaction with this person before, and then only in positive ways, which was why I was so surprised when a coworker of mine confided that this person makes his work life hell. This particular bully doesn't have any real authority. If anything, my coworker friend is the bully's superior, so the bully is always careful to cover any suspicious activity with passive aggressive behavior. The bully also preemptively attacks my friend's character and credibility so when/if my friend ever complains, he's not going to seem credible. This is a classic manipulative tool, making it seem like your target has a personal vendetta against you so when he reacts (seemingly unprovoked), he = crazy and you = victim. (I feel like this is the plot of many a cat/dog fighting antique cartoon. I also feel like sociopath may have been the inventor of the popular myth -- the completely unjustified personal vendetta.)

Before my friend warned me, I was lulled by the bully's seeming good-nature and charms. I disclosed valuable information, like what projects I was involved with, how things were working out, etc. The bully lulled me into a false sense of security by talking about his own personal details -- disappointing children, bumps in the road of life, etc. The bully did not seem like a threat at all, and I started to question my friend's assessment. But the bully quickly showed his true colors -- yelling, screaming, picking on his legitimate inferiors. I suddenly saw so clearly how the bully was targeting me indirectly -- asking me about my current projects because he wanted to help me fail.

As the bully was saying goodnight to everyone, I pulled him aside, put my hand on his shoulder and said, "You know, I have to apologize to you.Ii made a joke this morning that was in poor taste. You asked how everything was going with my new project and I said 'So far so good.' I didn't mean to imply that i wasn't giving the project my full attention and skill. On the contrary, I am 100% dedicated to the success of this project. I think I was just trying to be self-deprecating, but I realize now that the joke fell flat." Such a non sequitor, uncomfortably sincere apology where no apology was expected will always catch the receiving party off-guard. Granted, the apology was really for nothing, it was really more of a brag. All the better. It confuses the receiving party and makes him feel as if you are very sensitive/weak/vulnerable (even though you aren't), and therefore not at all a threat. They suddenly feel as if they too should be apologizing about things, or explaining, or something -- ANYTHING -- just to fill the oppressively awkward silence while you keep staring into their eyes with your hand meaningfully on their shoulder. I stood there and listened to the bully spill. "Well, it's true that the last few people in charge of that project got fired, and I was just thinking, maybe... but maybe you'll be different..." See what has happened here? I have forced my opponent to show his hand. He has acknowledged that he is aware of what my project is (even though he pretended to have no clue the day before), its history, its importance, his obvious interest in it, etc. It doesn't really matter if his cards are aces or deuces, in a world where bluffing and image mean everything (or almost everything), I immediately gain the upper hand. And he knows it.

The next day I was all deflection. He asked me a question, and I gave him a non-answer and asked him questions back, even for the most meaningless of things. "What did you get for lunch?" "Oh you know, same old. What did you get for lunch?" "What are you working on now?" "Little this, little that. What are you working on?" The terser the answer, the more offputting it is, like someone returning your baseline hits from the net. You pin him there. You want him to know that for every worthless piece of information he may get from you, you are getting twice the value and 10X the number. The bully, now desperate and sensing the shift in power, quickly progressed from "chummy" sideways questions to direct inquiries. "So how did that project turn out yesterday? Did it get approved?" Wouldn't you like to know.

Moral of this story: empaths who complain about sociopaths, who do you think will fight the bullies among you if we're not around? Empaths can be just as horrible (if not more so) than sociopaths, and some of them don't even realize it. If we are all locked up in your dream sociopath gulag, who will protect you from yourselves? We may not be the only ones who can beat you at your own little bully games, but we are certainly the most ruthlessly efficient about it.

Tuesday, July 17, 2012

Sociopaths by definition criminal?

Some have suggested that sociopaths are by definition criminal. Even if that were clinically true, I think it is false practically speaking. The whole study of sociopathy is junk science at worst and misguided at best. Almost all studies of sociopaths have been done with the prison population, if not all. You study the prison population, and criminality will obviously end up as one of the defining characteristics of a sociopath. This is irresponsible. It would be like studying black people only amongst the prison population and listing criminality as a defining characteristic of being black. What if we studied homosexuality only amongst the prison population and extrapolated to the entire gay community? Would we think that homosexual sex was always antagonistic, a nonconsensual way of exerting social dominance? As one sociopath reader puts it:
Having respect for property doesn't mean it's not property. People keep their yards clean, and I prefer to keep my life, and those in it, clean. I don't think a person has to be essentially malicious to be a sociopath. As a sociopath, your perceived mal-intent boils down to how you'd treat your environment. It's unfortunate there's no broader diagnosis that doesn't require a preoccupation with cruel or criminal behavior. It doesn't seem so different from using a specific diagnoses for obsessive people who have a thing for cars, without having one for obsessive people in general. If you remove the specific interest, you still have an obsessive person; though, if you were to remove the obsessive traits, you would have a normal person with a hobby. If you remove the destructive tendencies from a textbook sociopath, you still have a man without a conscience--what I believe is the foundation of the disorder; however, if you give that same man a conscience instead, what's the essential difference between him and the rest of humanity?
The diagnosis of sociopathy now is just like any medical diagnosis ending in -itis: doctors generally don't care why whatever you have is swollen, they're fine using that one symptom to "diagnose" the disorder. Similarly equating us with criminal behavior, although not entirely inaccurate, is not very useful. Sure, we may sometimes commit crimes, but so do a lot of the otherwise law-abiding seeming people who haven't gotten caught and the other 80%-ish of the prison population who aren't sociopaths. And how is it that the rest of the sociopath population is not in prison? Are we all just very good at not getting caught? What a scary world that would be if all of us sociopaths were out committing heinous crimes all the time and walking amongst you. No wonder there are so many people deathly terrified of sociopaths.

Monday, July 16, 2012


I'm obsessed with it. I have poor impulse control and no moral compass. After I got sick of making crap decisions and dealing with the fallout, I started making decision-making a personal religion.

I have talked before about how economic efficiency is a serviceable prosthetic moral compass. I have also suggested that sociopaths study aspects of decision-making, particularly game theory, to learn how to better harness their sociopathic skills for their benefit.

Of course, decision-making is only as good as the information on which it is based. Luckily sociopaths can display amazing amounts of insight into how the world works.Llike the color blindness of many predators, our inability to see the distractions of the full emotional spectrum and subtleties of social norms can actually improve our ability to stalk our prey at night, or flaws or patterns in the social construct. I have such an uncannily accurate ability to gauge probabilities, to discover patterns in everything (including human behavior), that I sometimes appear psychic. I empathize with people like Cassandra, actually, because although my predictions are frequently accurate, I mostly end up keeping them to myself -- No one even wants to believe them. Sigh.

Sunday, July 15, 2012

More on fear

We've sometimes talked about litmus tests for who is or is not a sociopath. I think I suggested once that you can present the suspected sociopath with a moral Gordian knot and watch how insensitively he responds to the situation. My recent experiences have led me to believe that low fear response can also be a very good way to determine whether someone is a sociopath or not.

Bungee jumping seems to be an adrenaline rush for a lot of people. It wasn't so for me. I guess you can credit my unnaturally low fear response for that. As people got up to jump before me, I was awed at how fearful they looked. I found myself studying the signs of their fear, like trembling hands or a catatonic gaze. I should have known that I was expected to act the same way and that there would be awkwardness if I didn't. There is apparently nothing creepier to a group of friends or strangers than for them to get absolutely panicked about jumping, only to have you look positively gleeful taking the plunge. Well, gleeful and at least a little anxious about the expected discomfort of being slung up and down by my ankles. But fear? Not so much. Word of advice to sociopaths: if you ever go bungee jumping, do not get the video recording. For some reason your lack of fear is more apparent in a video seen by disinterested parties than it is in real life. You don't want to have to answer awkward questions. And for the future, I am going to practice my fake fear reactions. I apparently need a lot of work.

Saturday, July 14, 2012

Sidetalking sociopath

The thing I like most about the existence of Dexter as a television show is that it is so widely-liked. This makes talking about sociopath issues without outing yourself very easy. I understand that some sociopaths are incognito, even amongst their friends and family. I myself am pretty out, and am always looking for others to bring into my inner-circle, which is why I am so happy about Dexter. It makes the perfect feel-someone-out-about-how-they-would-feel-knowing-that-their-friend/significant-other/family-member-is-a-sociopath conversation starter. After someone has told you they like it, you can query relatively harmlessly why they do. They may say that they love Dexter the character, or have respect for him, and you can follow up with what exactly it is about Dexter that makes him so likeable. Obviously he does bad things and at the very least has bad tendencies that he has to deal with. Does the way he deals with those tendencies somehow make up for his deficiencies? You can ask if they think he is an accurate portrayal of everyday sociopaths. Does this person believe that sociopaths like Dexter live in real life? Why or why not? If they are doing well so far, maybe ask, do they think that they have ever met a sociopath and not known that the person was a sociopath? If they start getting suspicious, back off. If they start asking you why you like Dexter, say, "Oh, just the same reasons you said." There is a lot of information to be gleaned by sidetalking about sociopathy this way. I'm trying to think of what would be a good analogy in a non-sociopath realm... being in the mafia and talking to people about the Sopranos? Being a spy and talking about Burn Notice? Being gay and talking about Queer as Folk? Being an ex-African warlord and talking about Hotel Rwanda?

Friday, July 13, 2012

Starting over

I have been doing the same thing for around 3 years now.  That's my typical expiration date before I let things fall apart.  And that's really what it is for the most part.  I was talking to a friend about this.  I don't think it's self-destruction for the sake of self-destruction.  It's just abandoning my current life for something different, letting my life raft sink.

I thought of the analogy of an etch a sketch toy.  Let's say that you've spent about 3 years working on an etch a sketch drawing (it took you so long because you have a very flat learning curve).  Finally you get to the end, or maybe just as far as you would like to go on this particular design.  What do you do now?  You shake it up and start over.

You could keep it, maybe frame it and hang it up on the wall.  One time when I was in East Germany I actually visited someone's house where that's what they had done, essentially -- assembled puzzles, then varnished the top, put them in a frame, and hung them on the wall.  Not really the point of a puzzle, I thought.  The point is not to have a pretty picture of something to look at.  The point is the process of the puzzle, the enjoyment you get from cutting your teeth on some new game.  Same with the etch a sketch.  Same with life.  To me the point isn't to get to a certain point in my career or relationships or social circle or geography and just stick with it.  To me the point is the process: the planning, the initial steps, the reassessment, the further plotting, the execution, the tenacity, the fulcrum.  Often I don't even stick around to see the final product.  Sometimes I leave the puzzle half finished.  Once I am bored of sufficiently assured of my success (at least in my own mind), I am ready to move on and start over on something else.  

I know there is something coming up that could change my life drastically in about a year.  Otherwise I might be busy shaking things up right now.  But it's kind of weird timing, both close enough in my two year plan that it makes sense to keep doing what I am doing until then, and long enough away that I'm itching to get on with it.

Thursday, July 12, 2012

Wednesday, July 11, 2012

Famous sociopaths: Julie D'Aubigny

Via this Badass of the Week, I present the historical figure Julie D'Aubigny.  Some selections, but the entire article is pretty entertaining:

Julie D'Aubigny was a 17th-century bisexual French opera singer and fencing master who killed or wounded at least ten men in life-or-death duels, performed nightly shows on the biggest and most highly-respected opera stage in the world, and once took the Holy Orders just so that she could sneak into a convent and bang a nun. If nothing in that sentence at least marginally interests you, I have no idea why you're visiting this website.

One of the most badass human beings ever produced by France was born in 1670 into a life of wealth, privilege, and one-percenter opulence that meant she could have just spent her entire life chilling out Real Housewives style without ever so much as having to shank a single human being in the eye in a hellacious fit of rage, but, as we shall soon see, that sort of malaise really wasn't this chick's bag. 

Julie D'Aubigny moved to Marseille and started hooking up with a badass fencing master who just so happened to be on the run for murder after he stabbed some dude to death in an alley outside Paris. The homicidal fugitive swordsman trained D'Aubigny in the finer arts of fencing for a while, but as soon as she realized the student was now the master she ditched his broke ass and started giving sword exhibitions across Marseille to hone her skills and make a little extra dough. Basically it worked like this – she'd pull out her sword, sing a song or two, and challenge anyone in the audience to battle her in a duel. If someone stepped up, she'd sing a humiliating song about them, then make them look like assholes who couldn't tell the difference between a sword and a limp piece of linguine. Her skills were so lights-out gonzo that one time some jerkwad in the crowd called out that she wasn't really a woman, but was some badass cross-dressing cavalier musketeer motherfucker who was ripping everyone off. She responded by ripping open her blouse and telling the audience to "judge for themselves".

Oddly enough, kicking peoples' asses for money eventually led to a completely unrelated job prospect – a career as the star attraction of the Paris Opera. Apparently, while this chick was singing songs to humiliate her enemies in the dueling circle, some powerful record execs were in the audience, and they were so impressed by her melodious contralto voice that they decided she should be doing better shit than stabbing people in the balls for spare change. In the span of a few months, the woman known in Marseilles only as "La Maupin" (meaning "The Mapuin") went from a completely untrained street performer to the lead actress in the world's most respected Opera, playing roles of badass Classical chicks like Pallas Athena, Medea, and Dido. In addition to her flair for the dramatic and innate musical talent, it also helped that La Maupin had a near-photographic memory and rarely needed to read her lines more than once before committing them to memory.

Of course, her fiery temperament in love and combat meant that she slept with or swordfought with most of the men and women in the opera at various points during her career. Like, one time some jackass doucheface pretty-boy actor was being overly-aggressive while talking to one of Julie's actress friends, so La Maupin told that asshole to take a chill pill and show the lady some respect. He told her to fuck off and mind her own bitch business. Later that night, as he was walking home, he found La Maupin standing in the street, weapon drawn, challenging him to a duel for honor. When the guy refused to pull his sword, she fucking beat his ass with a wooden cane, stole his pocketwatch, and left his dumb ass in an alley. The next day, the dude came to work with a couple black eyes, and when people were like, "WTF is up with your face," he told them he got jumped by three big black dudes armed with hammers and baseball bats. As soon as he said this, La Maupin pulled out the dude's pocketwatch and called him out a lying liar from Douchebagville. Then, to make matters more humiliating, she then forced the dude to kneel and beg forgiveness in front of all his co-workers before he could get his shit back.

La Maupin was also kind of a hardcore bisexual, and some of her tales of badass awesomeness dueling over female lovers and seducing chambermaids read like they were perpetrated by musketeers or pirates or some other ultra-daring swashbuckling male heroes of eighteenth-century literature. Of course, being a woman, Julie D'Aubigny could pull off some feats of romantic badassitude that most men could only dream of. The most notable example of this was the time that she became a nun just so she could hook up with one of the sisters in the convent. The story goes like this: One time the Mademoiselle D'Aubigny got some super-hot lusty blonde to fall in love with her. When the blonde's parents found out their daughter was a lesbo, they had their "ravished" daughter put into a convent, totally unaware that this wasn't going to be nearly enough to deter La Maupin – D'Aubigny took the holy orders, entered the convent as an initiate, created a diversion by setting the fucking convent on fire, and then kidnapped the blonde nun, snuck her out of there, and shacked up with her for like a month. Are you kidding me with this?

I don't know, maybe she had borderline personality disorder?  If the contemporary portraits are any indication of what she looked like, her many conquests might have something more to do with her skill at seduction and confidence than her beauty.

Tuesday, July 10, 2012


People say they want to hear more about me, but very little of my life is interesting, and not everything I do is straight out of the pages of a sociopath handbook. So it's hard to know sometimes what to write about myself. I have some people who say that I am not even a sociopath at all. This may be true. Certainly not everything I do is sociopathic. And I find it interesting that so many of my readers who are wondering if they are sociopaths will bring up little examples of normalcy, like crying at a sad movie, as proof that they are normal. I have moments like these too. Back when I was self-deceived, I would fixate on these moments and ignore any seemingly contradictory moments, e.g. moments of unfeeling rage. I would say to myself, how could I be a sociopath? I love my family. I am a helpful friend. My heart has been broken (how could my heart break if there was no heart to break?). Consequently, I am not a sociopath.

When I started embracing my true identity a little more, I wanted to be as honest with myself as possible. I knew that through unflinching honesty about reality and hard work, I could inch myself to happiness or whatever else it was I wanted in life, like a prisoner carving his way out of a concrete wall with a makeshift pick. Honesty is the key here, because without knowing what the world truly looks like, without knowing who I really am, anything I do, any project I undertake would be nothing more than a gamble -- a guess. I didn't want to be playing roulette with my life and my happiness -- I at least wanted to be playing poker. One result of this dedication to honesty was that I tended to more readily accept the explanation that painted me as an inhuman sociopath, a cold-calculating monster. I just wanted to make sure I wasn't trying to fool myself in thinking I am better than I am, more in control than I am. But that presumption can be just as damaging. Let's say I am very disappointed by a change in plans, a shift in a relationship, someone's rejection of me. Instead of acknowledging and really feeling my disappointment, my brain tries to come up with a nefarious reason that I might feel this way -- maybe it is because they have disrupted one of my schemes, maybe it is because now my future predictions will be wrong or there is wasted effort, maybe I'm just selfish. It is very difficult for me to acknowledge that i am just disappointed, that I have had an emotional reaction to something that has happened in my life. Acknowledging emotions can be scary for me (I don't really understand them and i think they cloud my judgment), but worse is to not acknowledge them and just assume I am being rational all the time.

So self-awareness is hard. There's not really an option of erring on the side of safety when making assumptions about who we are and what our motives are. We just have to be constantly vigilant about what information, from both external and internal sources, we accept as truth and choose to rely upon in our decision-making. Because if knowledge is power, then what is misinformation?

Monday, July 9, 2012


I'm still learning a lot about myself. For instance, I was prompted recently to think about "guilt." A reader writes:
Sometimes I feel what I think may be guilt, but there's always a metaphorical voice in the back of my head telling me, "No, you only feel that way because your image was tarnished." That "voice" is incredibly difficult to pay attention to, by the way. I feel a horrible feeling whenever I do something that hurts someone and it can be linked back to me. If there is no link to me, I don't feel anything. It's very hard for me to differentiate between this and guilt, and I've frequently used it to justify my own humanity. But why don't I feel such things if nobody knows who caused it? It can't be guilt. I only care when there are consequences for me.
I reply:
That is interesting how you feel bad only when you are caught, essentially. I mean, it's a trite phrase -- "he's only sorry he got caught" -- but it is so true for me. I can actually feel really really badly about things that I got caught for, for whatever reason. But the phrase doesn't fit exactly. It's not like I feel disappointed that I couldn't get away with it. I just feel ... out of sorts. I feel like the world is an ugly place where I don't belong. That is what makes me feel bad. Definitely not, "oh, poor person I hurt." It's more like, "poor me for having to live in this ugly world and deal with this." This happened to me very recently when I stole/borrowed something from my neighbor, hoping she would never find out before I returned it. She did find out, though, and confronted me about it. Or she at least asked me about it and I didn't know what she knew so I just came clean, but spun a story of emergency, etc., figuring that would be better for me than to be caught in a lie. But she wouldn't have it. She threatened to call the authorities. Now that seemed like an overreaction by anyone's standards, but for some reason it deeply disturbed me. I think I realized how vulnerable I am, how hated I am just by virtue of what I am. I didn't really think about it at the time, but what you wrote really made sense to me. I wouldn't have felt the least tinge of guilt if I had never been caught, but being caught made me feel all sorts of guilt, or what felt like guilt at least. Maybe it was just regret.

Sunday, July 8, 2012

How to read people like a sociopath

A reader writes:
I'm sure you've heard your empath male friends talk about "psycho chicks" or "crazy chicks", and your female friends have probably complained about the opposite.

Do sociopaths have a knack for spotting imbalanced people, and know to avoid them, or if you're so inclined, are they just a fun game to kill time with?

Also, I've heard that sociopathic people are natural-born people readers. If this is true in your case, have you ever thought about writing a book on the subject? "How To Read People Like A Sociopath" would probably be a runaway hit, and if paying the bills is a part of the game.... lol

My response:
Interesting question. I've been giving it some thought. I have been told I am unusually insightful, and I feel like I do have a knack for spotting imbalanced people, but I wonder whether I'm any better at it than any normal person. I may be spotting some imbalanced people that you aren't and vice versa. For example, I have a hard time dealing with homeless people. I always start out treating them like any other person and then I am always sort of surprised when they start yelling obscenities at me or making inappropriate hand gestures. Even though I realize in my mind that homeless frequently = crazy, for some reason every time I see a homeless person, I always treat him like I would anyone else. It's almost as if I don't recognize these people as being in the category "homeless," and consequently a little mentally unbalanced. Instead my brain just thinks "stranger."

But there are a lot of seemingly normal bad guys that I can clearly see are egomaniacs or control freaks or extra-manipulative, or whatever else is their M.O. Sometimes I think it frustrates my friends -- I can be summarily disapproving of their other friends or the people they date. It's like I am a dog that just happens to hate a seemingly innocent guy, always barking and growling when he is around. Even I sometimes don't understand what it is about a person that is triggering my spidey sense, but almost always there is a lack of genuineness about the person -- inconsistencies in a person's actions vs. their alleged motivations.

I'll try to think more about how it is exactly that I spot these people. My first thought is that I am just so used to wearing masks myself that it is easy to see myself in other mask wearers. I wonder if that is a skill that can be taught. But if there is enough money in it, I certainly can try to fake it. 

Saturday, July 7, 2012

Quotes: Emotional irrationality

“I can calculate the motion of heavenly bodies but not the madness of people.”

Isaac Newton

Friday, July 6, 2012

I feel you

This Scientific American article discusses the link between mirror neurons, which allow us to vicarious experience particular sensations like feeling pain while watching someone hit their finger with a hammer, and empathy -- the ability to vicariously experience someone's emotional state.

First the sensory part:

When a friend hits her thumb with a hammer, you don't have to put much effort into imagining how this feels. You know it immediately. You will probably tense up, your "Ouch!" may arise even quicker than your friend's, and chances are that you will feel a little pain yourself. Of course, you will then thoughtfully offer consolation and bandages, but your initial reaction seems just about automatic. Why?

Neuroscience now offers you an answer: A recent line of research has demonstrated that seeing other people being touched activates primary sensory areas of your brain, much like experiencing the same touch yourself would do. What these findings suggest is beautiful in its simplicity—that you literally "feel with" others.

The comparison with the emotions part:

Despite the lack of a universally agreed-upon definition of empathy, the mechanisms of sharing and understanding another’s experience have always been of scientific and public interest—and particularly so since the introduction of “mirror neurons.” This important discovery was made two decades ago by  Giacomo Rizzolatti and his co-workers at the University of Parma, who were studying motor neuron properties in macaque monkeys. To compensate for the tedious electrophysiological recordings required, the monkey was occasionally given food rewards. During these incidental actions something unexpected happened: When the monkey, remaining perfectly still, saw the food being grasped by an experimenter in a specific way, some of its motor neurons discharged. Remarkably, these neurons normally fired when the monkey itself grasped the food in this way. It was as if the monkey’s brain was directly mirroring the actions it observed. This “neural resonance,” which was later also demonstrated in humans, suggested the existence of a special type of "mirror" neurons that help us understand other people’s actions.

The interesting part is that they seem to be related in that people who self report high empathy also show stronger mirror neuron activity:

Michael Schaefer and his colleagues also scanned their participants’ brains while they were watching movie clips of touches applied to human hands. Consistent with earlier results, participants’ primary somatosensory cortex (the brain’s representation of the body surface) responded vicariously to the observation of touch. However, participants also completed the Interpersonal Reactivity Index (IRI), a paper-and-pencil test measuring four specific dimensions of our ability to empathize with others. And guess what? The higher participants scored on the “Perspective taking” subscale of the IRI, the stronger their primary somatosensory cortex reacted to observed touch. These data suggest that the brain’s mirroring responses are in fact associated with personal empathic ability. How much you empathize with other people seems to reflect how strongly your brain—your primary somatosensory cortex—“feels with” them when you see them being touched.

It's interesting how little we understand the concept of empathy, including what role our physical sensations have in the process (and perhaps in feeling our own emotions?).  The whole thing sort of reminds me of studying music and honing my skill of audiation, which is the process of imagining (or basically hearing) pitches in one's head.  You can try it too -- sing a song to yourself without making a sound and you are audiating.  What I noticed about myself is that there is a physical connection with my audiating.  Specifically, when I audiate, my vocal chords, throat, and some muscles in my mouth and face adjust as if I were about to sing or hum the pitch I'm imagining.  When I think of a high pitch, my eyebrows and soft palate go up.  For a low note, my throat expands.

I know that I do other small physical manipulations like this to affect my mental state, for instance purposefully yawning to make myself more tired or making my face slack like I am already asleep to fall asleep more quickly.  I also do this with emotions, like smiling to be happy.  Sometimes I try them in response to a curiosity of other people's emotions.  But just like how I can't seem to imagine a pitch without being able to sing it (e.g. if it is out of my singing range), I can't seem to imagine an emotion without having experienced it once myself.  Do all forms of empathy have this limitation?   

Thursday, July 5, 2012

Ramzan Kadyrov

A reader discusses this photo of Chechen leader Ramzan Kadyrov:

In regards to your recent post "Say it loud I'm S and I'm proud" I couldn't help remembering a picture I found of current Chechen leader Ramzan Kadyrov who is widely known to be a sadistic and dangeous s.o.b., many also say he is extremely charming, fits the profile of a sociopath. I attached a picture of him that needs no further description. Look at it carefully, notice the smirk and the t-shirt. Made me laugh, thinking he is proud of his reputation, and how you put it "I'm S and I'm proud!".

If you're going to write about Kadyrov, do a quick search on him, you'll find plenty of very interesting information. I remembered the charming part from an interview with him that I read somewhere, can't remember which magazine I read it in though, but the reporter specifically used the word charming when describing him, it stuck in my head. The reporter was questioning how could such a well mannered and charming man be considered such a ruthless dictator. He also likes paying celebrities to party with him, he enjoys being seen with famous or important people, it gives a boost to his fragile ego I guess. Also plenty of info on the torture he applies to his political enemies including the now infamous boiling alive of some of his opponents and some rather interesting speculation of him having a prison in which he enjoys making his prisoners watch him while he has sex. Interesting paralel between him and Saddam Hussein, which is why I got interested in Kadyrov in the first place. While both privately more or less neutral towards religion, in public they made efforts to appear devout muslims. Saddam especially in the later part of his rule, shaped his image after Salah ad Din (popularly known as Saladin), which was a brilliant military commander, devout muslim and national hero of Iraq and the arab world. Even statues or artistic representations pertaining to Saddam's cult of personality were modeled after ancient representations of Saladin. I was wondering if it was just simple politics or the power they held made them see themselves as divine or under divine protection. After the first Gulf war, even though the coalition defeated Saddam and drove him out of Kuweit, he interpreted it as a divine victory, added God is Great to the Iraqi flag, and started presenting himself as a very devout man.

This sort of reminds of me of a NY Times article I read recently of a Russian man who was barred from attending the memorial service of a 2002 airplane crash because he killed the air traffic controller whom he blamed for the murder of his family:

“The German authorities apparently do not want to let me attend the mourning ceremony,” Mr. Kaloyev told the Interfax news agency in a telephone interview. “They think for some reason that my presence there is unnecessary, although all my family perished in the plane crash.”

In the nighttime accident on July 2, 2002, a Bashkirian Airlines Tupolev passenger jet filled with children headed for a vacation collided with a DHL Boeing 757 cargo airplane, killing 71 people, including 52 children.
The only controller on duty at the time, Peter Nielsen, a Danish citizen, had instructed the Russian jet to descend, after noticing that the planes were on a collision course.

Partly because radar data was delayed, owing to technical repairs taking place at the time, and because a colleague was sleeping, Mr. Nielsen was slow in delivering the instruction to descend to the Russian pilots.

But the onboard collision-avoidance systems on the planes issued contradictory instructions, telling the Russian pilots of the passenger plane to ascend, while instructing the DHL jet to descend. The Russian pilots followed the air traffic controller’s advice and the two descending planes collided.

The Boeing’s tail fin severed the Russian fuselage, and both aircraft crashed, scattering debris and bodies over the surrounding countryside.

A German investigation partly blamed Skyguide for the collision.

After learning this, Mr. Kaloyev, an architect said to be overwhelmed with grief, flew to Switzerland in 2004, found Mr. Nielsen’s house and stabbed him to death in a garden. Mr. Nielsen’s wife and three children were home at the time. Mr. Nielsen was 36.

After the killing, Swiss police detained Mr. Kaloyev at a nearby hotel. A court sentenced him to the eight years in prison for murder in 2005, but the authorities released him after he had served two years of the sentence.

To the annoyance of the Swiss, he was welcomed back to his native region of North Ossetia as a hero; the region has a deep tradition of tolerating vendettas.

The story reminded me of this post about how certain societies really are more sociopathic seeming than others.

Wednesday, July 4, 2012


A follow up from yesterday's posts, another piece of power behavior we can learn from our friend Oliver North -- interruption.

One source of power in every interaction is interruption. Those with power interrupt, those with less power get interrupted. In conversation, interrupting others, although not polite, can indicate power and be an effective power move, something noted by scholars in a field called conversation analysis. Men interrupt others more frequently than women, and doctors seldom listen to their patients for very long without interrupting. In each instance, patterns of conversation reinforce differences in power and status derived from other sources such as general social expectations and expert authority.

Watching the Oliver North and Donald Kennedy hearings illustrates this phenomenon. North on one occasion stops an interrogator’s anticipated interruption by holding up his finger and saying, “Let me finish.” He refuses to be interrupted and in several other instances talks over the lawyers and legislators questioning him. By contrast, at one point Donald Kennedy requests permission to continue speaking, asking, “Can I continue?” and thanks the congressman when permission is granted.

I can't stand it when people ask "can I continue?"  They are trying to shame the other person out of interrupting them.  Like most attempts to take the moral high ground, though, I find that it just comes off as whiny and ineffectual.  It's victim behavior.  Its message, at its core, is "I have been wronged, you have wronged me."  But it's very difficult to make victimization work for you as a power move.  I think most people look at victims and don't think "powerful" but "weak." Especially over something so small as interrupting and especially for a proceeding in which the ostensible aim is the truth, the overall effect of this type of behavior is to make the person seem overly defensive and like they are trying to hide something.  

I've actually seen a lot of people be taken down in the comments section via this weakness, trying to enforce false rules of engagement on others like good sportsmanship or good grammar or however it is that they think this gentleman's game of warfare should be played.  Courts use a certain degree of formality and adherence to rules, but in the court of public opinion I have found that being overly rigid in following any sort of "rules" just makes you look like you are trying and failing to play a game of smoke and mirrors.  There's a reason why everyone hates lawyers.  

Tuesday, July 3, 2012

Oliver North

I have always thought that Oliver North was an interesting character in history, so I was pleased to see him featured in the book "Power" as a positive example:

In November 1986, U.S. Marine Corps Lt. Colonel Oliver North was fired by President Ronald Reagan from his position at the National Security Council for his involvement in the Iran-contra scandal. Iran-contra involved selling weapons, via intermediaries, to Iran and using the funds from these sales to finance the Nicaraguan resistance then trying to overthrow a left-leaning government. After testifying before Congress in the summer of 1987, North was indicted the following year on 16 felony counts, including accepting illegal gratuities, aiding and abetting the obstruction of a congressional inquiry, and destroying documents and evidence. Although he was convicted on three counts, his conviction was overturned on appeal on the basis that jurors had been influenced by the congressional hearings, during which he had been granted immunity for his testimony. During the nationally televised hearings, North admitted that he had shredded documents, lied to Congress, and violated, or at least come exceedingly close to violating, a law prohibiting giving aid to the Nicaraguan resistance.

But Oliver North knew how to act and speak with power. These abilities would produce an amazing effect on his reputation and his subsequent career. North defended himself and his actions by appealing to a higher purpose—protecting American interests, saving American lives, protecting important U.S. intelligence secrets, following the orders of his superiors, and doing what he was told to do as a good Marine lieutenant colonel—in short, being a good soldier. North wore his ribbon-decorated uniform to the hearings, even though he was seldom if ever in uniform at his job at the NSC. He took responsibility for what he did, saying that he was “not embarrassed” about his actions or about appearing to explain them. And he asserted that he had controlled what had occurred, frequently using phrases such as “I told” and “I caused.” This phrasing demonstrated that he was not running away from what he had done. Observers watching people who don’t deny or run away from their actions naturally presume that the perpetrators don’t feel guilty or ashamed, so maybe no one should be too upset. This phrasing also communicated power, that North was in charge rather than a “victim” of circumstance.

Only seven years after this incident, using the celebrity and sympathy that his testimony created, Oliver North ran for the U.S. Senate from Virginia and lost by just 3 percent of the vote to the incumbent, Charles Robb. During that campaign, North raised some $16 million through direct-mail solicitations, making him the top recipient of direct-mail political funds in the United States that year. Today, North, author of several books, is a television commentator on Fox News and a well-paid speaker at both public and private organizations. And even at the time of the hearings, he enjoyed a positive image. The Wall Street Journal asked dozens of senior U.S. executives if they would hire Oliver North. “The majority said they would…. A poll of the general public reflected the bullishness on Col. North…56 percent of those surveyed said they would hire Col. North; 35 percent said they wouldn’t hire him and 9 percent weren’t sure.”1

Donald Kennedy, a biology professor and former commissioner of the Food and Drug Administration, served as president of Stanford University. Kennedy got caught up in a scandal over indirect costs in the early 1990s. Because it is impossible to associate all the costs of running any organization, for instance, the water and power, police and fire protection, and infrastructure such as libraries, with specific research projects, research grants have an overhead rate that reflects these costs. That rate is then charged to the government for all contracts. In the case of Stanford and other research universities, the claim was that unallowable charges, for instance, for lobbying, liquor, a yacht used by the sailing club, silverware and furniture for the president’s house, and other items, had been included in the cost pools used for calculating the overhead rate.2 After several years of investigation, litigation, and audits, the government found no basis for its claim. Stanford agreed to pay just $1.2 million to the government for overcharges for over 18,000 research grants covering the fiscal years from 1981 to 1992 that involved hundreds of millions of dollars in total funds.3

After the brouhaha broke, Kennedy, like North, appeared before a congressional investigating committee. Donald Kennedy’s performance could not have been more different from North’s. North appeared at the witness stand with just his attorney. Kennedy came with a team that included the head of government contracts from the accounting firm Arthur Andersen, the controller and assistant controller from the university, and the chairman of the board of trustees, James Gaither. This coterie of colleagues conveyed the image that Kennedy could not answer the questions on his own. Using long, convoluted sentences full of subordinate clauses, answering questions indirectly, admitting that he was “embarrassed,” and looking extremely uncomfortable, Kennedy made a weak impression—he looked guilty. He left his position as Stanford president soon thereafter.

The differences between Oliver North’s and Donald Kennedy’s presentations may have had little to do with personality or individual style. Kennedy was not only a distinguished scientist but a successful and effective teacher; he had testified in front of Congress numerous times before, and many people watching his testimony who knew him say he seemed like a different person. He came to the hearings prepared, as did North. What differed was how they chose to present themselves, how they decided to act, and the impression they made. Kennedy wanted to express contrition; North chose to convey incredulity—how could he be questioned?—and some righteous anger. As we will see later in this chapter, expressing anger is usually much more effective than expressing sadness, guilt, or remorse in being seen as powerful.

We choose how we will act and talk, and those decisions are consequential for acquiring and holding on to power.

I think the sociopath has a natural advantage in acting without shame, because we don't react the same way to other people's sense of moral outrage.  Not that sociopaths have the monopoly on shamelessness, but I do think it is one of our more potent weapons in getting away with things and getting what we want.

Monday, July 2, 2012

Literature: Interview with the Vampire (part 2)

The other selections from Interview with the Vampire that I thought were interesting included this one about apparent inconsistencies, particularly with regard to being able to feel but also being detached:

You ask me about feeling and detachment. One of its aspects, detachment with feeling, I should say, is that you can think of two things at the same time. You can think that you are not safe and may die, and you can think of something very abstract and remote. And this was definitely so with me.

I think this accurately describes sociopaths as well.  Sociopaths are notorious for holding two inconsistent views at the same time.  I believe this is due to their exceptional ability to compartmentalize.  This ability to compartmentalize also manifests itself in the way sociopaths feel and express feelings -- sometimes there, sometimes not really there at all, sometimes an inappropriate emotion.

I realize that normal people are also quite capable of being grossly inconsistent, but for some reason I feel like there is a difference there.  I believe that people who do that successfully are employing extensive amounts of self-deception, whereas a sociopath is more likely to see every distinction collapsing in on itself at a certain level of abstraction and so there is no such thing as "inconsistent."

Another quote was from a vampire about his choice not to exercise the influence he naturally would have had being the eldest among them:

If I exercise such power, then I must protect it. I will make enemies. And I would have forever to deal with my enemies when all I want here as a certain space, a certain peace. Or not to be here at all. I accept the scepter of sorts they've given me,but not to rule over them, only to keep them at a distance.

This was also brought up in the book "Power", this issue of whether and when people choose to cultivate power.  Sometimes I would read things in "Power" and think, yes, I guess that is a form of power to take over the planning and production of a charity event, but for what purpose?  Maybe some people (control freaks) would choose to take on thankless, go nowhere jobs for the sake of power, but I don't tend to be one of them.  It's the same reason why I don't really think most high profile politicians are sociopaths but more likely narcissists.  I believe there is too much thankless work required to achieve power as an elected public official.  Unelected political officials (shadow players, as one of my friends used to call them) are an entirely different story.

Sunday, July 1, 2012


I had to get fingerprinted recently. The technician told me that although it is true that everyone's fingerprints are unique, making them a prime identification tool for law enforcement and otherwise keeping tabs on the general populace, a few people in the world have no fingerprints. These fingerprint-less people have a little bit of a rough time passing background checks for employment, etc., but other than that society leaves them alone -- this despite the fact that fingerprint-less people have every reason to exploit the weaknesses of the fingerprinted majority. Fingerprint-less people walk among us unnoticed, doing who knows what untold horrors. They are evil and they prey on the weak. They can't help themselves, it's just too tempting for them to wreak havoc when they have little to no incentive not to. If you ever are able to identify one of them, beware! Yhey will tell you whatever lies they think you want to hear. they pull the persecution card -- "different doesn't necessarily mean bad, bla bla bla." Don't listen to them! They can't be trusted! The fingerprint-less are god's mistake. Our only hope is to smoke these people out and lock them up, or better yet drown them at birth. Nothing else is keeping all those fingerprint-less babies from growing up and going on a stealth, murderous crime spree.
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