Sunday, September 30, 2012

Boredom: the three year itch

Someone sent me a link to a blog that is apparently written by a sociopath. I haven't read anything else but this post about sociopath's boredom, but I thought it addressed some interesting issues:

I’m suffering from a very specific sociopathic malady just at the moment: boredom. You may think that doesn’t sound so bad, but to a sociopath it’s a huge problem, something we can’t shake off or ignore or alleviate except by extreme measures.
So divorce or a breakup followed by serial dating and a new seduction; being promoted or headhunted OR fired – all these provide excitement, chaos to be skillfully negotiated, new people to be charmed and controlled and moulded. You’ll notice that the negative experiences carry the same value as the positive. It shouldn’t make sense, but to us it does. Change is good, and because of our tendency to grandiosity we think we’re equal to anything. We can do anything, deal with anything, overcome anything. We’re not afraid. Sadly when we charge off for our shiny new adventure we can forget that not everybody finds it quite so wonderful, and that it impacts on others in ways we hadn’t considered or felt responsible for.
The interesting thing I’ve found, in discussing with other people like me, is that for all of us it happens on a regular cycle. The length of the cycle varies from one to another, but for me it appears roughly every three years. It hasn’t been obvious up until now because with that timescale, naturally-occurring events in my life have often provided change at just the right time. Job changes, pregnancy, college etc all synchronised with my cycle and I haven’t often found myself feeling this way. I’ve also been lucky that the changes I’ve made have fit with the needs of my partner and family, and we’ve never found ourselves materially or emotionally worse off.
The interesting thing I’ve found, in discussing with other people like me, is that for all of us it happens on a regular cycle. The length of the cycle varies from one to another, but for me it appears roughly every three years. It hasn’t been obvious up until now because with that timescale, naturally-occurring events in my life have often provided change at just the right time. Job changes, pregnancy, college etc all synchronised with my cycle and I haven’t often found myself feeling this way. I’ve also been lucky that the changes I’ve made have fit with the needs of my partner and family, and we’ve never found ourselves materially or emotionally worse off.

Saturday, September 29, 2012

Society of sociopaths

People are always asking what a society of sociopaths would look like. As i have suggested before, there already is a society of sociopaths. It is the Dutch. And I'm not the only one who has suggested that the Dutch are as cold and calculating as they come. A libertarian blogger posting about the proposed universal health care in the United States writes:
If the public sector atrophies, the scope for manipulation broadens, because the information about what's available outside the public sector shrinks. Nor is this just crazy speculation. I actually think it's pretty reasonable when conservatives worry that the Dutch attitudes towards euthanasia are influenced by the burden old people and severely disabled children put on the public purse. I don't see how they could fail to be.
What then does a society of sociopaths look like? The Dutch are very efficient, utilitarian, and all of them ride bikes. They invented several of the world's evils including things like slave trade, diamond trade, and imperialism. They're also very tolerant, traditionally a haven for religious minorities like the soon-to-be American pilgrims. Once you're too old to be functional to society, you kill yourself, always with one eye on the bottom line, e.g. gay okay but old decrepit, not so much. And they're firm believers in the free market. Not so bad, is it? I mean there are tradeoffs in everything, right?

Friday, September 28, 2012

Experts on sociopathy

The following were taken from an article on Dr. Robert Hare, psychopathy expert.

History of the term psychopath:
The condition itself has been recognized for centuries, wearing evocative labels such as "madness without delirium" and "moral insanity" until the late 1800s, when "psychopath" was coined by a German clinician. But the term (and its 1930s synonym, sociopath) had always been a sort of catch-all, widely and loosely applied to criminals who seemed violent and unstable.
Why we should care about psychopaths:
Psychopathy may prove to be as important a construct in this century as IQ was in the last (and just as susceptible to abuse), because, thanks to Hare, we now understand that the great majority of psychopaths are not violent criminals and never will be. Hundreds of thousands of psychopaths live and work and prey among us.
On their inability to respond to punishment or learn from negative experiences:
For his first paper, now a classic, Hare had his subjects watch a countdown timer. When it reached zero, they got a "harmless but painful" electric shock while an electrode taped to their fingers measured perspiration. Normal people would start sweating as the countdown proceeded, nervously anticipating the shock. Psychopaths didn't sweat. They didn't fear punishment--which, presumably, also holds true outside the laboratory.
On the sociopaths' lack of familiarity with emotional language:
Hare made another intriguing discovery by observing the hand gestures (called beats) people make while speaking. Research has shown that such gestures do more than add visual emphasis to our words (many people gesture while they're on the telephone, for example); it seems they actually help our brains find words. That's why the frequency of beats increases when someone is having trouble finding words, or is speaking a second language instead of his or her mother tongue. In a 1991 paper, Hare and his colleagues reported that psychopaths, especially when talking about things they should find emotional, such as their families, produce a higher frequency of beats than normal people. It's as if emotional language is a second language--a foreign language, in effect--to the psychopath.
On the potential for abuse:
"We'll let people out [of prison] on the basis of scores on this, and we'll put them in. And we'll take children who do badly on some version of this and segregate them or something. It wasn't designed to do any of these things. The problems that politicians are trying to solve are fundamentally more complicated than the one that Bob has solved."
On using the diagnosis to argue in favor of the death penalty:
"A psychological instrument and diagnosis should not be a determinant of whether someone gets the death sentence. That's more of an ethical and political decision."
On the sociopath's level of humanity:
Are these people qualitatively different from us? "I would think yes," says Hare. "Do they form a discrete taxon or category? I would say probably--the evidence is suggesting that. But does this mean that's because they have a broken motor? I don't know. It could be a natural variation." True saints, completely selfless individuals, are rare and unnatural too, he points out, but we don't talk about their being diseased.
On the possibility of a cure:
Asked if he thinks there will ever be a cure for psychopathy--a drug, an operation--Hare steps back and examines the question. "The psychopath will say 'A cure for what?' I don't feel comfortable calling it a disease. Much of their behaviour, even the neurobiological patterns we observe, could be because they're using different strategies to get around the world. These strategies don't have to involve faulty wiring, just different wiring."

Wednesday, September 26, 2012


I recently watched Fight Night Round 4. This had inspired me to go back and watch some classic fights. One of the fights I watched was the George Forman vs. Muhammed Ali.

Ali has always amazed me. Not just by the fact that he was a amazing boxer, or how he was socially conscious. It's the fact that he won his fights by getting in his opponents' heads. Before fights he would taunt and insult the other fighters that were big hitters. This way he could play against their strengths turning them into weaknesses.

In his fight against Foreman it was no different. Almost all of Foreman's fight were won by knocking out the opponent by the fourth round. Ali, however, can take it the distance round after round. His goal would have to be to tire his opponent out, and survive till then. Ali was also older and came out of retirement, and Foreman was in his prime as the World Champion.

Before the fight it was found out that the ropes were too long for the ring. The fighters agreed to fight anyway since everyone was already there. Now here's where things get interesting. Ali found himself getting hit hard and against the ropes. Only he found out he could lean against the rope steadily and Foreman's hits wouldn't hit as hard, and then he realized he could fire shots off of it. His corner screamed at him for spending round after round against the ropes. However, Ali continued. Meanwhile (Ref's account), Ali was tautning Foremen, calling him names, laughing at him, and telling him "Is that all you got?" This caused Foremen to hit even harder, much to the dismay of Ali's trainer.

Ali was able to expend all of Foremen's energy to the point where he was not even throwing punches anymore--he was just pawing slowly at him. They called his movement "Sleepwalking" because he was so slow and unfocused. Ali played with him for one more round and ended up knocking him out.

Now I'm sure you're wondering why I'm giving you a play-by-play on boxing. It reminded me of a strategy that I've always used in my life against others who try to bring me down. I portray my strengths as weakness and weaknesses as strengths. People take you for what you portray to be more times than not. You don't have to be a sociopath to get people to take you for face value (though it's easier for us since we do it constantly). People are keen on boasting their strengths only to brag. It's natural. Your key lies in playing your strengths off as a weaknesses, luring you opponent into a false sense of security where they fall into a trap of playing your game. In the same way you play your weaknesses off as strengths, deterring them from attacking you where you have no game. Know yourself and know your enemy.

Participation time: I want to know from the readers if you've used this strategy? How successful was it for you? How did you pull it off and when did you decide to strike?

Tuesday, September 25, 2012

Famous narcissist? Mary Roach

A friend sent me this. Obviously it's hilarious, but it's also a really good example of what if feels like watching a narcissist at work (to all of your narcissist readers that this blog apparently attracts?). There's something so blatantly ridiculous about the way they act and how disconnected they are from reality.

Mary is absolutely immune to criticism and when confronted with the truth about her singing, she immediately assumes that her critic has a personal issue with her that is driving the criticism as opposed to merely stating the obvious truth. One of the more obvious narcissist qualities is that when the judges start playing with her, she doesn't fight it or immediately defend herself but plays along. She wants it to seem like she is in on any joke that they might be having and even if the joke is at her expense she would rather have the attention (even negative) than cede the spotlight. When they give her the goodbye, she keeps the conversation going, although it means rehashing their worst criticism of her. She also feels compelled to turn the tables and judge them for their appearances, as being smaller, thinner, prettier, and "hot." She doesn't need to criticize them necessarily -- it is enough that they seem interested in her assessment of them. Of course they did not ask her for her opinions on them, but she manages to misunderstand a direct question and act as if she has some unique vision that warrants sharing.

It's so funny to watch this because I know someone who acts exactly this way, even down to the little awkward mannerisms, especially the shrug at 4:50. The world is just not ready enough to appreciate their talents, but ain't no thing. These people can't be kept down for long by haters.

Monday, September 24, 2012

Why I Am M.E.

I search articles on sociopaths all the time. Not just for this blog, but to try to examine the dangers lurking beneath my surface. Sometimes I can't even see them. Up to a few years ago I wasn't even aware they existed. I don't expect normal people to understand. Nor do I expect anything but loathing on their part for who I am. This is M.E.

I used to be self destructive. A daily ritual of thrill seeking. My parents would blame everything around me for it. My teachers. My environment. The police. My friends. How much more easier it was for me to continue the blame. I never fooled myself beyond what I need to in order to keep deceit believable. Like burying the truth deep inside. Just on the edge of self deceit. Only to pull the truth out when I just about believed my own bullshit. I reached a boundary.

This is how I've been able to function. Right on the edge. I've almost killed myself several times. Not by my own hand of course. I love myself far too much for that. Just by the consequences of my actions. The funny thing is I hate gambling, but I love risking everything and finding my way out of it. However I've never destroyed myself. Just when I was on the edge I caught myself and got out of it. I reached a boundary.

Through surviving it all I've learned to how to live in my own kind of balance. As cliche as it sounds, I live two lives. One normal. One not so normal. Almost two people. Sociopaths on this site understand this. The comments reflect what would happen if you don't keep the charade going. Sometimes I feel like telling people how I really feel about them and their petty morals. Throwing the mask into the water. I reached a boundary.

The only way I've made it is by recently developing my own boundaries. It isn't moral like a code of ethics, but more of something to survive my own tendencies. Keeping me alive and free. I think this is essential for sociopaths in their development and this blog can help sociopaths achieve that. It's not hard to see where others have failed and why. The horror stories you read of out-of-control sociopaths running amok. It's what has led normals to develop the term, and has led some (maybe hurt by our peers) to come on this site and criticize us. To justify who you are is pointless. They don't understand. They serve their purpose on knowing what they will view you as when you lose yourself. They don't know you. You know yourself. That is your boundary.

If you are to make it it will be because you learn how to keep the mask on. If you are to make it, it will be because you learned from your mistakes and others. If you are to make it, it is because you understand. Understanding is understanding your boundaries.The problem for sociopaths in the past has always been they can't learn from others mistakes because others are not like them. I had the luxury of living among people who are sociopaths. In the environment I lived it was about yourself. About me. And I can always relate to a narcissist.

I wont go into details about my own boundaries because I know better than to expect a sociopath to live by anyone elses boundaries but their own. I know the fact that most of you have no boundaries because I didn't. Some of you are successful. Some of you aren't. Some of you live among society. Some of you are criminals. All of you are trying with everything you can not to have the mask drop for everyone to see what they think is uglyness and you view as the only true beauty. Your boundaries are the mask. Those boundaries is what makes me M.E.

Sunday, September 23, 2012

Sociopathic pig

Unless this pig experiences emotions and used empathy or altruism to decide to save this goat?

Saturday, September 22, 2012

Halo effect

As a partial continuation of yesterday's post, I found this description of how child molesters target their victims and get away with it to be pretty interesting and relevant to all victims and victimizers. From Malcolm Gladwell via the New Yorker:

The successful pedophile does not select his targets arbitrarily. He culls them from a larger pool, testing and probing until he finds the most vulnerable. Clay, for example, first put himself in a place with easy access to children—an elementary school. Then he worked his way through his class. He began by simply asking boys if they wanted to stay after school. “Those who could not do so without parental permission were screened out,” van Dam writes. Children with vigilant parents are too risky. Those who remained were then caressed on the back, first over the shirt and then, if there was no objection from the child, under the shirt. “The child’s response was evaluated by waiting to see what was reported to the parents,” she goes on. “Parents inquiring about this behavior were told by Mr. Clay that he had simply been checking their child for signs of chicken pox. Those children were not targeted further.” The rest were “selected for more contact,” gradually moving below the belt and then to the genitals.

The child molester’s key strategy is one of escalation, desensitizing the target with an ever-expanding touch. In interviews and autobiographies, pedophiles describe their escalation techniques like fly fishermen comparing lures. Consider the child molester van Dam calls Cook:

Some of the little tricks that always work with younger boys are things like always sitting in a sofa, or a chair with big, soft arms if possible. I would sit with my legs well out and my feet flat on the floor. My arms would always be in an “open” position. The younger kids have not developed a “personal space” yet, and when talking with me, will move in very close. If they are showing me something, particularly on paper, it is easy to hold the object in such a way that the child will move in between my legs or even perch on my knee very early on. If the boy sat on my lap, or very close in, leaning against me, I would put my arm around him loosely. As this became a part of our relationship, I would advance to two arms around him, and hold him closer and tighter. . . . Goodbyes would progress from waves, to brief hugs, to kisses on the cheek, to kisses on the mouth in very short order.
Even when confronted, child molesters frequently get away with it because they seem so charming and likable and molestation is such a horrible thing to believe about someone, much less accuse someone of participating in:

The pedophile is often imagined as the dishevelled old man baldly offering candy to preschoolers. But the truth is that most of the time we have no clue what we are dealing with. A fellow-teacher at Mr. Clay’s school, whose son was one of those who complained of being fondled, went directly to Clay after she heard the allegations. “I didn’t do anything to those little boys,” Clay responded. “I’m innocent. . . . Would you and your husband stand beside me if it goes to court?” Of course, they said. People didn’t believe that Clay was a pedophile because people liked Clay—without realizing that Clay was in the business of being likable.

I thought this was an interesting example of the halo effect, the residual goodwill that accompanies one good trait like physical attractiveness or likability and unduly impacts the viewers ability to accurately assess other aspects of the person. The overall impression of the person as likeable blinds the viewer to evidence that the person does bad things. Take as an example Jerry Sandusky -- so successful and relatively powerful in his own slice of the world that he is able to get away with one of the most unthinkable crimes for decades.

What I don't understand is, how did humans evolve to be this way in the first place? Shortcut thinking? First impressions are actually more accurate than they are inaccurate? Not like I'm complaining. Obviously I have benefited from being able to fly "under the halo" myself.

Friday, September 21, 2012

Human garbage

I found out recently that one of my old school friends has recently been convicted of possession of child pornography. We were pretty good friends, would travel together for work frequently, but we fell out of touch a year or so after I moved jobs. He was very conservative and straight-laced. I think a part of him envied my insouciance regarding all things formal, social, and work. Because he seemed receptive to, even charmed by the cavalier way that I lived my life, I let him see more and more of my real thoughts about things. And he was an interesting guy. I genuinely enjoyed his friendship.

Of course I don't judge him for the sexual objectification of children. If you're sexually attracted to children, there's little that you can do about it. And there is no evidence he ever acted on it. In fact, it's odd that we criminalize possession of child pornography -- seemingly the only outlet for this inclination that doesn't directly harm children (assuming there is a sufficient amount of child pornography in the world such that we do not need to continue making it anymore). Overall, I am pretty empathetic, which is why I haven't been able to stop thinking about the parallels between me and him. I've been talking nonstop with a mutual friend trying to suss out what exactly happened, looking for but hoping there are not further parallels between us and this idea of living separate public vs. private lives and eventually being outted and ostracized.

It's a raw deal, being a convicted sex offender, and his judge doesn't sound like he's sympathetic. Once he gets out of prison, he is basically human garbage, as far as everyone else is concerned. The Woodsman is a really good film that deals with some of these issues. Also this article:

I would like to point out one other thing: our natural resistance to believing the worst of someone.  And "child molester" is the worst.  It is literally the most horrible thing you can do in our society; morally, the child molester sits above only the child molester/serial killer who rapes and kills children.  That makes an accusation of child molesting an extraordinary claim.  And as the saying goes, extraordinary claims require extraordinary evidence.

Imagine that your best friend was accused of stealing office supplies from his company.  Now imagine that he was accused of molesting a neighbor's child.  The first one isn't very hard to believe; almost everyone takes a pen or two home occasionally, and most companies go through printer paper much faster than they produce actual documents.

[Y]ou wouldn't need much evidence to believe [your friend] steals office supplies.  Nor would you care much if he did. . . . 

Now if a kid said that your best friend touched their genitals . . . well, if it's true, and he did it deliberately, you're pretty much going to have to end the friendship.  His life will, of course, be completely destroyed.  And you face knowing that this person you thought was your best friend did something indescribably evil.  You're going to want quite a bit of proof.  And if the action is ambiguous--like maybe his hand accidentally grazed the area in question while doing something quite innocent--you're probably going to err on the side of believing your friend (although you might also supervise your kids more closely when they're around him.)

The problem with this sort of wholesale rejection of a person based on one characteristic is that if you really did have a best friend who was a pedophile, there's really no one that he can talk to about it. My friend thinks that, consequently, my pedophile work friend must have been living a completely double life. Whereas my life, he says, is just "complicated:

"I think you have a lot of confliciting issues, a lot of things pushing and pulling you but a double life involves total deception. Like maybe you could have become something like him if you didn't find people who love and accept you as you are because you would've felt a need to hide it and secret indulgence is the most cancerous."

Because I do have friends like this that know pretty much everything about me, because my family is relatively accepting of how I think and what I choose to get up to, because I have found relatively pro-social ways to indulge and incorporate my predilections into a pretty normal life, am I immune to having my life absolutely collapse and being labeled human garbage? I hope so.

Thursday, September 20, 2012

The sociopath's 'due north'

It is often said that sociopaths have no moral compass. But what if there is no such thing as a moral compass? What if instead, there are multiple ‘due norths’?

That seems to be the unspoken implication of an article i read recently about morality. The article features Jonathan Haidt’s ‘Moral Foundations’ theory, which purports to explain why morality varies among different cultures on the one hand while still showing some striking similarities on the other hand. The theory suggests that there are five universal foundations. Each culture in turn 'selects' a few of those foundations and builds traditions, norms and rituals upon them to construct a commonly shared morality. The five foundations in brief are:

1) Harm/care, related to our long evolution as mammals with attachment systems and an ability to feel (and dislike) the pain of others. This foundation underlies virtues of kindness, gentleness, and nurturing.

2) Fairness/reciprocity, related to the evolutionary process of reciprocal altruism. This foundation generates ideas of justice, rights, and autonomy.

3) Ingroup/loyalty, related to our long history as tribal creatures able to form shifting coalitions. This foundation underlies virtues of patriotism and self-sacrifice for the group. It is active anytime people feel that it's "one for all, and all for one."

4) Authority/respect, shaped by our long primate history of hierarchical social interactions. This foundation underlies virtues of leadership and followership, including deference to legitimate authority and respect for traditions.

5) Purity/sanctity, shaped by the psychology of disgust and contamination. This foundation underlies religious notions of striving to live in an elevated, less carnal, more noble way. It underlies the widespread idea that the body is a temple which can be desecrated by immoral activities and contaminants (an idea not unique to religious traditions).
Using the American political spectrum as a kind of case study, Haidt suggests that liberals tend to value harm/care and fairness above all else, while conservatives emphasize ingroup loyalty, authority and purity. He takes pains to suggest neither value grouping is objectively better than the other, merely different. I agree with him since there's no good evidence to suggest otherwise. What’s more, not only are values and moral biases at least in part, genetically heritable, the particular society a person is born into very often also plays an decisive role. What those two facts make clear is that conscious choice is not a relevant factor when it comes to generating most people’s sense of ‘right’ and ‘wrong.’ As one author puts it, since most people cannot see what comes before (genetics, history and culture), they assume what comes after (their beliefs, biases and morality) are freely chosen. It’s obvious they are not. Moreover, not only are the moral biases that many empaths swear, live and die by not freely chosen, they are not even rational. The evidence coming in from research on morality indicates that emotions, gut reactions, play a leading role in moral judgments and that rationalization of those judgments follow. The human brain is a belief factory, and part of its job is to rationally justify moral feelings.Iif people want to reach a conclusion, they usually find a way to do so that has little to do with anything resembling sound theory or evidence; in short, it has little to do with reality. This partly explains why sociopaths can see the hypocrisy and absurdity that often passes for moral debate.

Which brings us back to the subject. The sociopath is born with much less in the way of moral biases. We don’t need to justify our actions to ourselves, although we may go through the motions of justification with others because we know that’s what they expect and doing so is sometimes useful. More importantly, it’s clear to us in a way that it might not be for most empaths that when it comes to morality, there are as many ‘due norths’ as there are people. Until convincing evidence to the contrary comes in, there’s no reason to fix our so called broken moral compasses. We don’t need no stinkin' moral compass. Reality based thinking works just fine.

Wednesday, September 19, 2012

Sociopaths in fiction: Phantastes

But tell me how it is that she could be so beautiful without any heart at all — without any place even for a heart to live in." "I cannot quite tell. . . But the chief thing that makes her beautiful is this: that, although she loves no man, she loves the love of any man; and when she finds one in her power, her desire to bewitch him and gain his love (not for the sake of his love either, but that she may be conscious anew of her own beauty, through the admiration he manifests), makes her very lovely — with a self-destructive beauty, though; for it is that which is constantly wearing her away within, till, at least, the decay will reach her face, and her whole front, when all the lovely mask of nothing will fall to pieces, and she be vanished forever"

--George MacDonald

Tuesday, September 18, 2012


When I first started learning about statistics, I learned that surveys often reflect a selection bias in that the middle class will gladly sit there and answer questions when asked politely, but for whatever reason the upper and lower classes will not. So what you get with a survey is the opinions of the middle class, and none of the opinions of the upper and lower classes.

I saw a film about the middle class recently while visiting a friend who thought that I would love it. It's called Compliance. It's a fictionalized version of true events. A prankster calls up a fast food establishment (McDonald's in the original story), pretending to be a police officer, and gets the manager of the restaurant to require one of her employees to submit to a strip search, among other things.

I was so glad that I watched this film in the theatre. People were upset. A few groups got up and left. Several times people yelled at the screen, "Stupid!" or "What an idiot!" It was too funny hearing people's reactions. For some reason the audience members seemed to think they were immune to similar acts of stupidity. I think this NY Times article does a good job of describing the phenomenon: 

“It’s the kind of story that’s a blip, a headline you read and go, ‘Wow, that’s crazy,’ ” Mr. Zobel said. “Then you say, ‘That would never happen to me’ and move on. But I was thinking more and more about it, and it seemed to encompass a lot of things about people’s relationship with authority.”

To write the ingratiating, threatening lines of the caller — whose appearance and location are revealed about halfway through the film and who’s played by Pat Healy — Mr. Zobel immersed himself in the reality show “Cops.” “I was trying to pick up on the way that cops talk, the way they alternately comfort and assume authority in a situation and also manipulate in certain ways,” he said. “If you watch any one episode of ‘Cops’ you’re like, ‘Wow, they talked that person into doing that crazy thing.’ ”
Mr. Zobel has noticed that a common criticism of the film is to write off the characters as implausibly gullible fools. “Everyone plays the part of the hero in their mind and says that they wouldn’t do it,” he said. “But clearly that statistically is not accurate.”

As played by Ms. Dowd, a stage veteran with a long résumé of character roles on screen, Sandra is not simply an idiot nor a clear-cut villain. “When I read it, I knew on a gut level that you could play it in a truthful way,” she said. “I don’t think people want to actually see that part of themselves, it’s too uncomfortable. But for actors, we’re not looking to avoid the feeling, we’re looking to own it.”
“Compliance” can certainly be read as an allegory on blind allegiance to authority and the diffusion of responsibility. But Mr. Zobel stressed that the film does not advance a thesis; nor does his cool, controlled approach preclude empathy for his characters. “It all has to be rooted in real people and things,” he said.
“It’s been disappointing when I hear that people have problems with the film but don’t want to challenge me,” he said. “It’s intentionally complicated. I’m happy for any sort of conversation.”

After I watched it, I was sort of thrilled -- it was such a good example of the sort of herd mentality that I find so distasteful in most people. Sheeple! A link to this film should be next to the dictionary definition of the word sheeple, because it basically encapsulated everything there is to know or think about what it means to be a sheeple. It reminded me of a comment I saw once on this blog. I wish I could remember it. I feel like I included it in the twitter. It said something like -- "you always say we deserve what we get? how do we deserve it? for trusting people? for expecting the best from people and not expecting to get taken by everyone we meet?"

Of course while I was watching, I was just as disturbed as everyone else, probably more disturbed because I understood all of the horrible implications sooner than they did. I knew what would happen and I knew that the audience members would decry this as being an isolated incident of preying upon idiots, but I knew better. I know how fragile the social status quo is and how desperate people are to maintain that status quo, particularly those that think they benefit the most from it. The middle class! 

They think that they are being unselfish. They are working hard while the poor people don't and the rich people don't and it's upon their shoulders that society is run. And it's also the middle class that will die (or kill) to defend the status quo. Martyrdom in the guise of patriotism or some other nonsense virtue. But they're not behaving unselfishly. Their behavior is motivated by fear and greed. People cling to the facade of predictability that the status quo provides them, distracting them from the possibility that life is meaningless or that they really aren't as good as they had hoped. This represents en masse what sociopaths are always targeting in individuals -- self deception and self justification. I don't mind them being martyrs. It's more this "kill" element that I'm worried about. The "let's all take up arms to defend this oppressive status quo for the good of humanity" mentality is what scares me. This is the fragility in the human mind and the social order that allows for mob mentality

But to answer the person, why do you deserve what you get? When you get taken by a sociopath? Or pranked? If you can't see it, I don't know if I can really explain it to you. But watch the movie and realize that the only people that the prank caller is able to control are the people who are invested in the status quo enough to be afraid what would happen if the status quo was disturbed. It is this fear that the prankster preyed on, and anyone who wasn't similarly invested in maintaining the status quo was magically immune.

By the way, my friend who saw the movie with me says he hates the word "sheeple." He says only stupid people use it. I guess the implication was that I am stupid for having used it. I don't like it that much either because I think it is often misused, like "nonplussed" or certain swear words. But if there was ever an application of that word, it applies to anyone who blindly struggles to maintain the status quo at all costs.    

Monday, September 17, 2012

The outsider

I’ve always known I was an outsider. It started from my very first days in school. I wasn’t able to articulate that then of course, but I knew it in my bones. I alternated between being an observer and playing the role of insider. In the years when I played observer, I’d watch with disgust as the kids who weren’t popular fawned all over the kids who were. I’d see them for the weaklings they were and wonder why they thought belonging mattered so much that they were willing to debase themselves. I couldn’t even conceive of the idea that anyone or any group was important enough for me to humiliate myself for. So I’d watch and I’d observe. I was never bullied or treated like a reject. I watched other outsiders be picked on with interest, but I was invisible until I was ready to change that. After I had observed long enough, I easily became one of the popular kids. But even when I was schmoozing with the jocks and the cheerleaders and the class clowns who everybody loved, even when kids from lower grades wanted my attention, I knew I was not one of them. I’d known that I would never really belong no matter how many people claimed to love hanging out with me. I did however enjoy playing my games with them and with teachers from time to time. From the outside, I made myself an expert on the staff in charge, always with the understanding that my friendly overtures and “good kid” image would be useful in the event any of my games were exposed. That never happened though. I was never caught, never exposed, and never held accountable -- all because I’d taken the time to watch, to take careful note of environment from top to bottom, and then acted accordingly.

I’ve never thought of myself as a predator because I’ve never raped or killed anyone. But looking back, I wonder if the internal understanding of my outsider status combined with the instinctive sense that I had to carefully observe other people in order to both survive and thrive is how the human predator thinks. I’ve always known that I wasn’t one of them, them being most of humanity. This wasn’t a choice; it was a realization. I didn’t know terms like "sociopath" or "psychopath." But I did know that since I wasn’t an “insider,” I had to figure out what to say and how to behave in ways that would guarantee a place among them as their leader. In other words, as a child I knew I had to wear a mask, one that would grant me power. Again, as a child, I could not articulate any of this and did not have the psychological sophistication to comprehend what I was. I just knew this is how the world worked, and how I had to work within it.

If you’re new to this blog and you’re wondering if you are a sociopath or have sociopathic tendencies, ask yourself if this story describes your experience. That’s not to say that thinking or behaving this way as a child and a teenager proves beyond any doubt that you are a sociopath. It could, however, serve as a starting place for further investigation and a validation of how you experienced your childhood.

If you were always on the outside looking in, separated from the other kids and maybe even from your family by a wall of emotions that they seemed to feel effortlessly while you did not; if you could instinctively get a sense of how power flowed between various cliques, between the students and the staff and within your family; if belonging never meant anything to you yet you found you could easily enter and then manipulate any group at will; then maybe, just maybe, you were a tiny wolf in lamb’s wool, a young sociopath without knowing it.

Sunday, September 16, 2012

Sociopath quote: the lie as romance

A lie is an allurement, a fabrication that can be embellished into a fantasy. It can be clothed in the raiment of a mystic conception. Truth is cold, sober fact, not so comfortable to absorb. A lie is more palatable. The most detested person in the world is the one who always tells the truth, who never romances… I found it far more interesting and profitable to romance than to tell the truth.

-- Joseph Weil, aka ‘The Yellow Kid’

Saturday, September 15, 2012

Moral judgment without emotions

A recent experiment about the impact of emotions in decisionmaking with some lofty aspirations:

The study's answer will inform a classic philosophical debate on whether humans make moral judgments based on norms and societal rules, or based on their emotions.

The test basically required people to perform different versions of the trolley problem, asking them to hurt/kill one person in order to save multiple people. Most people have trouble pulling the trigger. The people with damage to a part of the frontal lobe that makes them less emotional "make a less personal calculation." "The logical choice, they say, is to sacrifice one life to save many." Most people are torn between the two choices, but the emotionless people "seem to lack that conflict." Instead, they behave perfectly rationally:

"What is absolutely astonishing about our results is how selective the deficit is," he said. "Damage to the frontal lobe leaves intact a suite of moral problem solving abilities, but damages judgments in which an aversive action is put into direct conflict with a strong utilitarian outcome."

It is the feeling of aversion that normally blocks humans from harming each other. Damasio described it as "a combination of rejection of the act, but combined with the social emotion of compassion for that particular person."

Surprise! This time the sociopaths is not the bad guy.

The study holds another implication for philosophy.By showing that humans are neurologically unfit for strict utilitarian thinking, the study suggests that neuroscience may be able to test different philosophies for compatibility with human nature.

It turns out that utilitarian judgments are sometimes valuable and important and that it's the normal people who have the deficit in making them and the sociopaths who excel.

Friday, September 14, 2012

Take the Test

From TNP, describing the test:

It essentially breaks down all known psychopathic behavior into individual clusters that branch off of a base psychopathic tree. It's an evaluation, which a person can take themselves, to see just where they fall, and what characteristics and predominant in their personality. It takes away the arbitrary binary designation Yes/No to psychopathy, and instead focuses on the type of psychopathic features a person displays.

My academic sources are rooted in the works of Hare, Millon, and the DSM, though I do avoid complete redundancy, and nixed a few aspects that seemed obsolete, or unrelated to psychopathy.

The test itself:

Psychopathic Trait Tendency Assessment (PTTA)

This evaluation measures an individual's potentially psychopathic personality traits. It measures four different clusters of acknowledged psychopathic traits, and has a scoring system to measure if an individual meets enough of the criteria to acknowledge how much their personality is affected by each cluster of psychopathy. The evaluation also makes the distinction between each cluster being a primary personality tendency or a secondary one if indeed an individual displays enough traits for a cluster on a consistent basis.

This test does not evaluate whether an individual is a psychopath or not. It simply measure how their personality measures up to researched psychopathic features. The criteria, thresholds, and clusters are derived from the works and research of Hare, Millon, and the DSM IV.

Scoring System

Each trait has a max score of 4. There is no "3" in the scoring system, due to the severity of difference of a pathological trait, and a learned and utilized trait due to environmental adaptation necessities.*

0 - manifests rarely if at all
1 - manifests occasionally
2 - manifests frequently
4 - is an ever-present pathological manifestation in the personality of the person and is rarely if ever not utilized
*Examples of this would be when a person lives in a life-situation where classically psychopathic traits are needed to survive and thrive. This usually applies to hostile or high-stress work-environments for the likes of soldiers, career criminals, police, emergency responders, doctors/nurses, et cetera.

PTTA Evaluation

Assign a score to each trait based on the scoring system above. Add up the total for each cluster.

Core Base Psychopathic Personality Traits

-Superficial usage of charm
-Drastically lower levels of fear and anxiety
-Lack of empathy
-Lack of remorse
-Underdeveloped emotions
-Lack of respect or understanding of social norms and morals
-Impersonal relationships with family, friends and lovers
-Shallow to nonexistent affect
-High levels of cunning, deception and manipulation

Primary Psychopath threshold 28+/36
Secondary Psychopath threshold 20-27/36

Core Antisocial Personality Traits

-High levels of apathy and lack of life goals
-Disregard and violation of the boundaries of others
-Recidivist criminality
-Low levels of impulse control
-Low tolerance for frustration
-Prone to violent outbursts
-Prone to parasitic relationships with friends, family, and lovers
-Prone to indulgence of narcotics, alcohol, and other habit forming chemicals
-Sexual promiscuity

Primary Antisocial threshold: 28+/36
Secondary Antisocial threshold: 20-27/36

Core Narcissistic Personality Traits

-Highly susceptible to criticism or praise
-Grandiose self-image
-Sense of entitlement
-Delusional and unrealistic goals
-Obsession with self
-Requires constant attention and prefers to be the center of it
-Easily and often jealous and angry
-Wants and feels they deserve "the best" of whatever they want or need
-Indulges in fantasy of wealth, power and fame

Primary Narcissist threshold: 28+/36
Secondary Narcissist threshold: 20-27/36

Core Sadistic Personality Traits

-Prone to use physical or psychological harm to achieve their goals
-Humiliates or demeans others
-Utilizes unusually harsh punishments and lessons
-Takes pleasure or is amused by viewing or participating in the harming of animals and or humans
-Usage of intimidation
-Restricts the autonomy of those closest to the person
-Highly interested weapons, violence and torture
-Views others as toys to be played with and discarded when bored
-Takes pleasure in terrorizing and inducing fear and panic in others

Primary Sadist threshold: 28+/36
Secondary Sadist threshold: 20-27/36

Each core personality type represents a cluster of traits typically associated with Psychopaths and their behavior. As these are personality clusters, some are usually represented more than others, but it is possible that an individual would score very high on all clusters, or possibly only high on one if they were somewhere in the psychopathic spectrum.

Each cluster has nine traits, and the thresholds are kept at levels that require a majority of points being pooled into each cluster.

Secondary represents that an individual not only represents most traits to a moderate degree, but has at least one that falls into the realm of pathological.

Primary represents that not only does an individual have most traits to a moderate degree, but that they have most to a pathological degree.

Thresholds are not meant to include or exclude the possibility that someone encompasses a personality cluster. For example, an individual with only three or four traits in a cluster to a pathological degree would probably be represented by the personality cluster, even if the other traits did not appear present or that noticeable. It is rare (but not impossible) than an individual would only have a few traits in a cluster at pathological levels, and not the rest, to at least achieve the Secondary status for that cluster.

Thursday, September 13, 2012

The ugly duckling

I liked this recent comment for how well it expressed the difference between self-knowledge and self-diagnosing:

A few months ago what seemed to be a perfect storm of stress moved through my life. As the storm began to dissipate, I noticed trends of how I have conducted myself in order to get to where I am in life. I haven’t been the nicest of people (to put it mildly). I have lied, cheated, stole, manipulated, and worse to some of the people who were supposed to be the closest to me; all without guilt or shame.

Now, if my whole life I wore Amish clothes, conducted myself like Amish, and though like an Amish but had never really known what an Amish was; you can image my surprise to wake up one day and see someone dressed as I do, acts as I do, and thinks along the lines I do. Does it mean I’m Amish? I don’t know.

I woke up and saw that I indeed have sociopathic tendencies, traits, and actions. I don’t know if I’m Amish… but here in my 40s I now KNOW what I do and how I do it, and how do or don’t feel. Looks like a duck, walks like a duck, quacks like a duck… what is it? 

Of course how can we reconcile this with the recent post about wannabe sociopaths? Hard to say.

Wednesday, September 12, 2012

Guest post: The Next Generation

I've long been struck by the idea of childhood diagnosis of sociopaths--of exactly how early and easily we can be spotted.  I, myself, was pretty aware of my own differences at an early age.  Couldn't describe it back then, but I always saw the difference, that desire to compete fiercely, and even humiliate, break, and if possible, injure the competition in a way that never led back to me, all while playing adults like fiddles.  Because of this history, I recently recognized another small sociopath with absolute clarity.

Recently, my wife and I were on vacation visiting friends of ours from grad school. They have a five-year-old boy.  It was like looking at a little version of myself.  Seeing this kid take joy in first playing with his puppy, and slowly but surely escalating the play and contact to the level of inflicting intentional pain.  I recognized on his part that he knew precisely when he was crossing a line--looking up, causing the pain when he thought no adult was looking, and the false regret in his voice but clearly not his eyes when caught.  It was like looking back in time into a mirror.  He didn't reserve his violence and force for his pet, either, but also targeted both his parents and my wife and I.   When his parents tried to use the old parenting canard of "you're hurting mommy and daddy" which usually reduces kids to crying, mewling shame-balls, their son only grinned.

If seeing his joy at this weren't a recognition of my own childhood feelings when I caused physical or emotional pain, the cinch was seeing his uncanny understanding of social dynamics, and the privileged role that most kids occupy in society which saves them from adult wrath.  In other words, this child was manipulative beyond his years.  Again, something familiar to myself.

By looking at him, you wouldn't think he's growing up in a nurturing, progressive, yuppie household where both parents hold doctorate degrees (or on second thought, maybe you would).  His parents were oblivious to their little 'angel' and the intentionality of his aggression.  Or at least have developed a practiced obliviousness.

But what surprised me most was how quickly a weekend around a small version of myself stirred up territorial feelings.  Those feelings made me think of the practices of male lions direct towards a competitor's cubs.  Good thing I live half a country away.

Tuesday, September 11, 2012

Scientology: L. Ron Hubbard

From Medusa (a reader):

Not sure if you have ever covered Scientology, but now's a good time as any.

I found this 1983 Penthouse interview with L. Ron Hubbard's son to be extremely fitting to the blog.

Here's a little taste:

"Hubbard: Well, he didn't really want people killed, because how could you really destroy them if you just killed them? What he wanted to do was to destroy their lives, their families, their reputations, their jobs, their money, everything. My father was the type of person who, when it came to destruction, wanted to keep you alive for as long as possible, to torture you, punish you. If he chose to destroy you, he would love to see you lying in the gutter, strung out on booze and drugs, rolling in your own vomit, with your wife and children gone forever: no job, no money. He'd enjoy walking by and kicking you and saying to other people, "Look what I did to this man!" He's the kind of man who would pull the wings off flies and watch them stumble around. You see, this fits in with his Scientology beliefs, also. He felt that if you just died, your spirit would go out and get another body to live in. By destroying an enemy that way, you'd be doing him a favor. You were letting him out from under the thumb of L. Ron. Hubbard, you see?"

Many other quotes just as good, worth the read.

Monday, September 10, 2012

Wannabe sociopaths

I'm not talking about the people that sometimes frequent the comments section and forum of this site, but those who have adopted sociopathic traits due to their environment -- maybe a rough childhood leading to finding respite in gang and adopting the heartlessness of that life, or someone on wall street?  I was sort of charmed by this comment to a recent post:

Corporations are absolutely sociopathic because of their bottom line. However, like sociopaths, they can choose to act in a benevolent manner out of their own best interest- and often do. Corporations are amoral. Corporations reside in the world of power and winning first. I could do on, but there is nothing empathetic about a corporation in our present "free" market system. A benevolent sociopath could not survive intact in the corporate world unless they were lying to themselves all day every day. You want to talk about wannabe sociopaths? Talk to an empath on wall street. 

I have a friend who I am starting to believe is an empath on Wall Street. He worked for many years in his country's version of the CIA or MI-6. He is one of the most cold, calculating people I know -- the type that would never hesitate to pull the trigger on something. Now he is an investment banker, his attempt to cash out on his connections and background. Still he hates it because of the crushing workload, and every time he talks to me about it he has another exit plan fantasy. One of his escape hatches involved taking over an ammunitions company from an ailing client of his. He was talking to me about it, how the company is strong but not much room for expansion (the company primarily sells directly to militaries). I suggested that even if he just stuck with his government contracts, he would be doing well with the company at least for the rest of his lifetime because there would always be war. To his discredit he argued back, "yeah, but how long are we going to be shooting bullets?" Maybe I am wrong on this point, but I thought there were several treaties, including the Hague Conventions, that have basically insured that not only will we be using bullets in war, we will basically be using the same type and kind of bullets as we have always have (as opposed to hollow point bullets in conjunction with chemical warfare, etc.). Undeterred, I mentioned the possibility of expanding out of government contracts into the private market, which he also balked at, saying that he didn't want to be the equivalent of an arms dealer in a very "bullets kill people" sort of way. I was disappointed to hear him say that. How could he have done what he did as a spy, then become a ruthless banker, then take a moral stance on selling bullets that might end up in the brain of some thug?

This goes along a little with my post from yesterday. Sometimes I get a vibe from someone that indicates to me that they are a sociopath and I get all excited. Then they say something that makes it clear that although we may see eye to eye on some issues, there's an ocean of disagreement separating us. It's sort of what it feels like to be libertarian.

Sunday, September 9, 2012


I was at a conference this weekend where the buzzword was exceptionalism.

I met this man who is well respected in my field.  It turns out that he had heard of my own work and had been promoting me to some of his colleagues.  We quickly became friends, spending much of one day and evening together, the activities gradually escalating in terms of personal intimacies shared and substances consumed.  As I saw his professional mask begin to drop around me I was suddenly struck with the thought, this man is like me.  I almost wanted to talk to him about it, at least feel him out about it.  But then I was struck with another thought -- this man does not believe he is like me.  If I started asking him about it, he would vehemently deny it.  He would be horrified to hear me describe my own thoughts on the matter.  I might be outted and shunned.

This second train of thoughts was triggered by one realization -- this man thinks that the concept of exceptionalism aptly applies to him.  The Wikipedia definition of exceptionalism is the perception that something is exceptional in some way and "thus does not need to conform to normal rules or general principles."  In the context of my conference, people would refer to things as being part of a particular group, but despite that inclusion, they warranted special treatment from other members of the group.  A quick and dirty example is a baby.  Let's say the general rule is that citizens of a country should carry their own weight.  Let's also say that babies are unable to carry their own weight because they're by their nature relatively helpless.  Exceptionalism would apply to that baby to excuse it from complying with that particular rule.

This guy's version of exceptionalism was more like the classic ubermensch mentality that (I have found) is still quite popular amongst people who consider themselves to be intellectuals.  Morality is for the bourgeoisie.  They do not need to actually adhere to those moral standards because they are exceptional.

When this man that I met was evidencing his clear lack of moral standards about things that I think are pretty clear, societally speaking, I got excited, thinking that I had met another someone like me.  On second thought, I realized that although he doesn't believe morals apply to him, he believes they apply to everyone else.

Saturday, September 8, 2012

Sociopaths make friends

“We turned over the book together, and I endeavored to explain to him the purpose of the printing, and the meaning of a few pictures that were in it. Thus I soon engaged his interest; and from that we went to jabbering the best we could about the various outer sights to be seen in this famous town. Soon I proposed a social smoke; and producing his pouch and tomahawk, he quietly offered me a puff. And then we sat exchanging puffs from that wild pipe of his and keeping it regularly passing between us.

“If there yet lurked any ice of indifference towards me in the Pagan’s breast, this pleasant, genial smoke we had, soon thawed it out, and left us cronies. He seemed to take to me quite as naturally and unbiddenly as I to him; and when our smoke was over, he pressed his forehead against mine, clasped me around the waist, and said that henceforth we were married; meaning in the country’s phrase, that we were bosom friends; he would gladly die for me, if need should be. In a countryman, this sudden flame of friendship would have seemed far too premature, a thing to be much distrusted; but in the simple savage those old rules would not apply.”

-- from Melville's Moby Dick

I meet people every day who trust me from our first conversation forward. In the city, I meet three people a night on average who subject themselves to my whims with an enthusiasm unimaginable to me. This naivete and silliness, for obvious reasons, boosts my ego and sense of superiority. Not only does these people’s trust allow me complete control over them, but it destroys my respect for them and ironically makes it so that I would never really consider these people "friends." They have no idea what they might possibly subject themselves to when they hand a sociopath that kind of power over them. When empaths beg so hard to be used, how can anyone really resist?

And honestly, I will admit that I do resist. Not all of these people are useful anyways, so naturally you don’t always use them, but it isn’t because it’d be a difficult thing to do, I assure you. And when usefulness presents itself, I take it. Imagine salesmen put into this position. How many salesman have you put in this position of absolute trust because of a feeling you have that you can trust them? How many things have you easily been swayed and guided to buy because you felt a certain trust toward someone whose intention is to somehow gain a commission from you? Even in shopping malls, you’ve upgraded to certain cell phones because of the notable advantages of the more expensive model.

The cultural difference between savage and sophisticated in the passage from Moby Dick above can easily be used as a metaphor for the comparison of acting rationally versus acting emotionally, so for the sake of argument we’ll utilize such an advantageous comparison. Quequeg, the savage, illustrates a naivete to “the system” caused by his emotional dictation of his actions. He acts on a “gut feeling” when he accepts the author so willingly, having only known him for a day. The author’s thoughts preceding this are known, and show an indifference toward the savage, but also a civility, which was mistranslated by Quequeg’s emotions. Quequeg, following this new bond, proceeds to give the author half of his money and an embalmed head (one of his treasured possessions). The author even tries not to accept the gifts, but Quequeg forces them on him. Another beautiful illustration of empathic emotions making people do dumb things by refusing to consider logic. And again the idea of superiority is obviously pushed upon the functioning logical person because he's the one able to see such detrimental behavior for what it is.

If empaths could see their actions as being to their detriment, the idea of superiority would not come into play. But the sociopath seems isolated in his comprehension. In the above example, the characters struggle with language barriers and cultural differences, so the savage obviously hardly understands the man’s minute efforts to help him, and he translates them to friendship automatically. What sociopath has been offered such unconditional friendship to a smaller degree? And when having such opportunities consistently thrust upon you by people you do not respect, how do you continue to deny the uses these people present? The sociopath can hardly help who they are when people are so willing to subject themselves to their whims.

Friday, September 7, 2012

Sociopaths in Shakespeare: Richard III

Richard III, our crafty anti-hero, reveals in the play's opening lines below that boredom is at least one of the motivating factors behind all of his subsequent actions:
“Now is the winter of our discontent
Made glorious summer by this son of York;
And all the clouds that lowered upon our house
In the deep bosom of the ocean buried.
Now are our brows bound with victorious wreaths,
Our stern alarums changed to merry meetings,
Our dreadful marches to delightful measures.
Grim-visaged war hath smoothed his wrinkled front…

He capers nimbly in a lady’s chamber
To the lascivious pleasing of a lute.
But I, that am not shaped for sportive tricks
Nor made to court an amorous looking-glass…

Why, I in this weak piping time of peace
Have no delight to pass away the time,
Unless to spy my shadow in the sun
And descant on mine own deformity.
And therefore since I cannot prove a lover
To entertain these fair well-spoken days,
I am determined to prove a villain
And hate the idle pleasures of these days.”
All is well in the kingdom. Too well. Richard doesn’t have much to distract him, so he decides to while away the days with a little ‘game of villainy’ designed to ease his brother off and himself on, to the throne. Why not? At the very least, the game will be amusing.

Thursday, September 6, 2012

Are sociopaths psychologically dumb and blind?

It has been said repeatedly that by definition it is impossible for a sociopath to be introspective and insightful. Why is that so impossible? Very few people bother to answer that question, so I thought I’d share my own ideas about it.

First let’s look at the definitions. The operational definition of introspect is to examine and comprehend one’s own thoughts, emotions and actions. I’m broadly defining sociopaths as people who have little to no conscience, who have flexible personality structures and who are emotionally indifferent to social norms. And I’m defining insight as clear and deep perception. I think these definitions, taken separately, would be generally agreed upon by most people. What I don’t see is why any of them, taken together, must also mean that people without conscience have to, by definition, be incapable of introspection and insight. The very people who say that immediately contradict themselves when they go on to say, for instance, that sociopaths disdain those with consciences and are themselves master manipulators. How would a sociopath know that she doesn’t have a conscience without examining her own thoughts and emotions? And how else would a sociopath be able to so effortlessly manipulate people around him unless he had clear and in-depth perception of other people’s psyches? Also, if one needs to be an empath to be introspective and insightful, how do we explain the prevalence of denial, delusional thinking, neuroticism and self destructive behavior in the ‘normal’ population? It doesn’t take a scientific study to see that knowing one’s self isn’t on most empaths' to-do list.

There’s something rotten in the state of Denmark and it isn’t the herring. It’s the stereotype of the psychologically dumb and blind sociopath. It's spread by professionals and laymen alike and it is based on what they think a 'typical' sociopath says and does and not on how a sociopath sees and feels. The uninformed empath believes this stereotype because they can’t imagine that a sociopath could possibly examine his own thoughts and emotions, with depth and clarity, and not condemn himself. It is quite literally unthinkable for them.

Wednesday, September 5, 2012

Are corporations sociopathic?

Is the corporation a sociopath writ large? The makers of the documentary The Corporation certainly think so. Let's make a quick diagnosis. Does the corporation have a flexible identity? Yes, corporations spend untold millions on P.R. alone, crafting whatever image is required to dupe the public into thinking they’re ‘nice.’ Does the corporation love to play games? Yes, corporations exist to play the game of ‘let’s make as much money as we can.’ Ruthlessness is very often another name of for that same game. Does the corporation sometimes behave irresponsibly? Yup, when it pollutes to cut costs without regard for any potential harm it might bring, for instance. Does the corporation respect social and moral norms? Nope, the corporation can and many times does do whatever is necessary to make a profit, and paying hefty fines is often seen as just the price of doing business. Most importantly, does the corporation lack a conscience? Yes, corporations not only lack conscience, but often never admit to any ‘wrong doing’ whatsoever, even when they are found guilty by a court of law.

Okay, so maybe the corporation is sociopathic in nature. BUT… as always things are more complicated than moralistic anti-corporate anti-globalization anti-western westerners believe. The corporation provides jobs for billions of people all over the world who only want to take care of their families and themselves in peace. Even sweatshops provide employment in impoverished locales where there would otherwise be none. The corporation has played a pivotal role in creating a dominant western economy, one that has been an engine for prosperity for the middle as well as the upper classes and the envy of the world. And the corporation has been a leveler of the playing field, allowing some from historically disadvantaged backgrounds to rise through the ranks to become leaders. The corporation has spread invention, spurred innovation and expanded industry all over the globe, for worse yes, but also for better.

Are corporations evil? Are sociopaths? Or does the question itself arise from a naïve and simplistic mindset to begin with?

Tuesday, September 4, 2012

Guest quote: expanding consciousness

"If you have a golf-ball-sized consciousness, when you read a book, you'll have a golf-ball-sized understanding; when you look out a window, a golf-ball-sized awareness, when you wake up in the morning, a golf-ball-sized wakefulness; and as you go about your day, a golf-ball-sized inner happiness.

But if you can expand that consciousness, make it grow, then when you read about that book, you'll have more understanding; when you look out, more awareness; when you wake up, more wakefulness; as you go about your day, more inner happiness."

David Lynch

Monday, September 3, 2012

Who wants to be a sociopath?

I had the distinct displeasure of coming across this email from a guy named James who calls himself a sociopath. As bad as the email is, it does provide me with the opportunity to address the strange and curious phenomena of the sociopath wannabe.

After much blather, James says,
'There's something you should know about me… whenever I feel emotions, I never know if they are real because I don't stop thinking. I'm way too analytical for my own good, to the point where it's borderline sociopathic. Yes, I'm a sociopath. Not in the sense that I'd steal an old lady's life savings and think nothing of it, or torture little animals, but in the sense that I don't experience emotion like other people... 100% mind, 0% heart, the definition of a sociopath...'

Is that the definition of sociopath? Really? James has taken one sociopathic characteristic, the lack of in depth emotion, and turned it into the whole enchilada. Any reasonable definition of sociopathy would also at minimum include a flexible sense of self, the ability to charm when needed, the love of a well played mind game of one kind or another, a disregard for social norms on an emotional level, a greater than normal desire for stimulation, and of course a lack of conscience. These characteristics would then have to be demonstrated in a consistent manner across almost all aspects of one’s personal and professional lives before you could reasonably call that person a sociopath. James, out of ignorance or sheer psychological blindness, disregards all of this and calls himself a sociopath anyway.

This is a phenomenon I’ve observed coming from several types or groups of people saying they are sociopaths. One group of wannabes who might very well have other 'personality disorders' confuse their 'symptoms' for sociopathy. I call them the confused. For instance, a narcissist might confuse her grandiosity for the sociopath's calculated and laser like focus on self interest. Someone with Asperger's might confuse his lack of desire to interact with others for the sociopath's indifference to societal norms. A schizoid might confuse his social aloofness for the sociopath's lack of instinctive empathy. Another group of wannabes, especially those on the young side of 25 who are still trying to figure themselves out, might want to latch on to the sociopath label as a way of seeing themselves as hard or tough or whatever it is they think all sociopaths are. I call them the seekers. Some seekers might even believe that calling themselves sociopaths makes them 'cool' somehow. Seekers tend to have an unrealistic view of what the day to day life of an actual sociopath is like thanks to modern media. Another group of wannabes strap themselves with this label because they’re tired of feeling. I call them the desperate. They believe sociopaths feel absolutely nothing. The desperate wish to feel this nothingness as a means of escaping depression or anxiety or a creeping sense of failure perhaps.

That doesn’t exhaust the list, but I think I’ve made my point. If I had to guess, I’d say James falls into the seeker category. The tone of the rest of his email is maudlin, self pitying and overly dramatic to the point of tedium. What it does do is demonstrate how easy it is misapply the sociopath label.

Being a sociopath isn’t romantic or glamorous. I don’t have a conscience, so to speak. I can charm and be anything to anyone when necessary, I enjoy playing the occasional mind game with people, I've never cared about social norms, etc. So what? None of that means I go around acting like a movie villain. I’ve got friends, family, a job, a life. In many ways, I appear quite normal on the surface. I’m not plotting to take over the world or running an international crime syndicate or making lamp shades from human skin, and I don't make it a habit to eat the livers of census takers with fava beans and a nice Chianti. I make no effort to live up to any kind of sociopathic stereotype. I do what I must to enjoy the life I lead, plain and simple.

Put your thinking caps on boys and girls. Being a sociopath is more and less than you think. You don’t choose it, you are it. Why bother trying to be anything other than who you are?

Sunday, September 2, 2012

Sociopaths = flexible sense of self, redux

Finally someone in the psychological community explicitly writes about the sociopath's elastic sense of self:
“In fact, most sociopathy involves an individual’s not having significantly developed, across the board, a general capacity to identify with things in the world. It is not just that he is lacking a strongly identified moral identity, he is likely lacking a strongly identified self identity almost altogether… His life is largely about a narcissistic satisfaction of desires, not an expression of autonomous valuated personal projects. It should be no surprise that the sociopath typically feels no qualms of lost integrity when he violates some generally accepted moral dictum. The issue here for him isn’t really specifically about a lack of internal response to some failed morality on his part. Rather, it’s about general self identity integrity just not being a question for him. If a person has no strong sense of self in general, then of course he will probably have no strong sense of lost integrity when he violates life projects which for the rest of us would be central parts of our self identities. In a nutshell, it’s not that the sociopath lacks moral integrity specifically; he lacks general self identity integrity, of which moral identity integrity is only a possible part. So a lack of, say, a moral conscience, isn’t really the central problem for the sociopath. What’s more at the heart of things is his lack of moral identification, along with the lack of any other significant life identifications.”
As I said before, many psychologists understand the “what” but not the “how.” The psychologist who wrote this, however, gets it just about right.

Saturday, September 1, 2012

Guest song: Talking Heads

Making Flippy Floppy

Nothing can come between us
Nothin gets you down
Nothing strikes your fancy
Nothing turns you on
Somebody is waiting in the hallway
Somebody is falling down the stairs
Set someone free, break someone's heart
Stand up help us out

Ev'rything is divided
Nothing is complete
Ev'rything looks impressive
Do not be deceived
You don't have to wait for more instructions
No one makes a monkey out of me
We lie on our backs, feet in the air
Rest and relaxation, rocket to my brain

Snap into position
Bounce till you ache
Step out of line
And you end up in jail
Bring me a doctor
I have a hole in my head
But they are just people
And I'm not afraid
Doctor doctor
We have nothing in our pockets
We continue
But we have nothing left to offer
Faces pressed against the window
Hey! they are just my friends
Check this out don't be slick
Break our backs it goes like this . . .

We are born without eyesight
We are born without sin
And our mama protects us
From the cold and the rain
We're in no hurry
Sugar and spice
We sing in the darkness
We poen our eyes (open up)

I can't believe it
And people are strange
Our president's crazy
Did you hear what he said
Business and pleasure
Lie right to your face
Divide it in sections
And then give it away

There are no big secrets
Don't believe what you read
We have great big bodies
We got great big heads
Run-a-run-a-run it all together
Check it out - still don't make no sense
Makin' flippy floppy
Tryin to do my best
Lock the door
We kill the beast
Kill it!
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