Wednesday, October 31, 2012

Sociopath fish: bluestriped fangblenny

Does any of this sound familiar? From a science blog:

Nature is rife with charlatans. Hundreds of animals have evolved to look like other species in order to fool predators into thinking they’re more of a threat, or to sneak up on unsuspecting prey. In the Indo-Pacific lives a fish that does both and has the rare ability to switch between different disguises – the bluestriped fangblenny.
Its model is the bluestreak cleaner wrasse Labroides dimidiatus, an industrious species that provides a cleaning service for other reef visitors by picking off parasites and mucus from hard-to-reach places. The fangblenny’s intentions are less welcome. Its resemblance to the helpful wrasse allows it to get close enough to mount quick attacks on larger fish, biting off scales and skin (see image below for why it got it’s name).
Now, Cheney has provided further evidence for the opportunistic colour changes of this con artist. She captured 34 fangblennies of various colours and after 60 minutes alone, all the mimics had switched to non-mimic colours – it seems that there’s no point putting on a disguise if there’s no one around to see it.

When she added another fish, nothing happened unless it was a juvenile bluestreak cleaner wrasse. At that point, a third of the fangblennies swapped back to their black-and-blue coats. Cheney noticed that only the smaller individuals changed colours. She believes that as fangblennies grow larger, the rewards of looking like the smaller wrasse are reduced, so they don’t bother.
A disguise may look right to us, but our colour vision is very different to that of most animals, including those whose reaction actually matters. To get a more objective view of the fangblenny’s disguise, Cheney analysed the light reflecting off its scales when it went through its different colour phases. Sure enough, its black-and-blue form reflected light in almost exactly the same way as a real cleaner wrasse would.
The bluestripe fangblenny’s many faces gives it great versatility. By matching the colours of a variety of different fish, it greatly expands the area of reef where it can safely hide from both predators and potential victims. Unlike the mimic octopus, it makes no effort to change its body shape and some of its models, like the chromis, are very different. But in a shoal, that hardly matters. A superficial resemblance to the surrounding throng may be advantage enough.

I love everything about this fish: pretends not just to be a neutral fish, but to be a helpful fish, careful to project an image suitable to its audience, but of course only superficial changes because that's often advantage enough.

Tuesday, October 30, 2012

Pigeonhole diagnosis

Some people wonder why I want to be out at all -- if I am successfully passing and living a fulfilling life, why not just keep doing that? Part of me likes the fun and intrigue involved in my attempts to pass and the ability to hide in plain sight. Part of me is also resentful of the mental energy required for that task. I wonder what my life and brain would look like if I didn't feel compelled to mask certain things and constantly be putting on a show. If I've managed a certain level of success from without the system, what might I be able to accomplish within?

I was reading this Wired article by David Dobbs, author of the well-known article in the Atlantic comparing children to either Orchids or Dandelions (which are sociopath children? the answer may surprise you). In this article he discusses how our society treats those with mental illnesses, specifically schizophrenia:

A large  World Health Organization study, for instance, found that “Whereas 40 percent of schizophrenics in industrialized nations were judged over time to be ‘severely impaired,’ only 24 percent of patients in the poorer countries ended up similarly disabled.’ Their symptoms also differed, in the texture, intensity, and subject matter to their hallucinations or paranoia, for instance. And most crucially, in many cases their mental states did not disrupt their connections to family and society.

Watters, curious about all this, went to Zanzibar to see how all this worked. He learned that there, schizophrenia was seen partly as an especially intense inhabitation of spirits — bad mojo of the sort everyone had, as it were. This led people to see psychotic episodes  less as complete breaks from reality than a passing phenomena, somewhat as we might view, say, a friend or coworker’s intermittent memory lapses.

For instance, in one household Watters came to know well, a woman with schizophrenia, Kimwana,

was allowed to drift back and forth from illness to relative health without much monitoring or comment by the rest of the family. Periods of troubled behavior were not greeted with expressions of concern or alarm, and neither were times of wellness celebrated. As such, Kimwana felt little pressure to self-identify as someone with a permanent mental illness.

This was rooted partly in the idea of spirit possession already mentioned, and partly to an accepting fatalism in the brand of Sunni that the family practiced. Allah, they believed, would not burden any one person with more than she could carry. So they carried on, in acceptance rather than panic. As a result, this delusional, hallucinating, sometimes disoriented young woman passed into and out of her more disoriented mental states while still keeping her basic place in family, village, and work life, rather than being cast aside. Almost certainly as a result, she did not feel alienated, and her hallucinations did not include the sort of out-to-get-me kind that mark paranoid schizophrenics in the West.

This, writes Watters in enormous understatement, “stood in contrast with the diagnosis of schizophrenia as [used] in the West. There the diagnosis carries the assumption of a chronic condition, one that often comes to define a person.”

Of course I'm not stupid about wanting to out myself completely and without proper care. Dobbs goes on to describe the complete ostracizing of a Western schizophrenic from her friends and academic community upon her diagnosis. But I do wonder what effects struggling to conform to a particular societal standard of superficial normality has had on me. Perhaps I wonder so much because my family actually is really supportive, like the family of the woman Kimwana. I often credit their support for how I turned out, particularly their religious beliefs that I would not be burdened with more than I could carry. And so my sociopathy does not define me. I wonder if society were equally supportive, what a difference that might make?

Monday, October 29, 2012

Stress vs. arousal

I sometimes feel anxiety, the word I use for when I am on edge because I know I am about to do something important, as defined by having a potentially disproportionate or lasting effect on my life. It's not that I feel afraid, per se, or even stressed by things, but the stress of feeling on edge can take its toll on my body -- like too many late nights and too much caffeine will do. But I found this interesting article that not only describes the difference between interpreting your body's reactions to important performance situations as either stress or arousal, it also provides hope that everyone could train themselves and their bodies to have a reaction of arousal instead of stress. From Wray Herbert, author of On Second Though (and potential sociopath?).

Imagine that you are at the top of a ski slope, about to make a run. It’s a challenging slope, black diamond—steep and narrow, lots of trees. Plus it’s windy, and there’s that treacherous drop-off on the right. You’re an inexperienced skier, not a novice but not at all confident that you belong in such extreme terrain. Your heart is pounding and your gut is tight.

Now imagine that you’re on top of the very same slope, but you are a skilled downhill racer, an Olympic contender. You’re sure you know how to attack this slope—you’ve done it many times before—but even so, your heart is pounding and butterflies are fluttering in your gut.

Both of these hypothetical skiers are under stress, and feeling the arousal that comes with stress. But one is experiencing good stress, the other bad stress. They are both looking at the same slope, but one sees it as a threat, the other as a challenge. The expert knows that his skills are more than sufficient for the situation. The nervous learner has no such confidence.
Is it possible that stress is not all that bad, that in fact it may be tonic at times?

The key is how we think about stress and arousal. Those two skiers are in fact experiencing different bodily changes. Though both are feeling activation of the sympathetic nervous system, the fearful skier is feeling constriction of the vessels, which makes the heart work harder. The expert is actually experiencing more sympathetic arousal as he contemplates the challenge ahead, but the blood vessels are dilating, increasing cardiac efficiency. But they don’t know or care what’s going on inside them. They both simply feel edgy and aroused.

How to do it yourself?

Just prior to this event, some were instructed about the value of human stress response in high-level performance. They were encouraged to interpret any signs of arousal as a positive thing, a tool that would aid them in making a confident speech. The others were told to ignore their stress arousal, or they were told nothing at all.

The findings were clear. During the speech, those instructed in reappraisal were much more like the Olympian skier, showing what Jamieson calls “physiological toughness”: They experienced less blood vessel constriction and more cardiac output, as if they were attacking the slope. What’s more, immediately after the speech, these volunteers were less vigilant. In other words, they felt confident, not threatened.

Sunday, October 28, 2012

Saturday, October 27, 2012

Sociopaths in poetry

On the nature of understanding
Say you hoped to
tame something
wild and stayed
calm and inched up
day by day. Or even
not tame it but
meet it halfway.
Things went along.
You made progress,
it would be a
lengthy process,
sensing changes
in your hair and nails. So it’s
strange when it
attacks: you thought
you had a deal.

Kay Ryan, The New Yorker July 25, 2011

Friday, October 26, 2012

Famous sociopaths: Louise Nevelson

American sculptress Louise Nevelson (1899-1988): "I knew I was going to become somebody very special. No . . . that I was somebody very special." The article notes that the actress who was playing Nevelson was able to "suggest Nevelson's chilliness as much as her charm, her dead heart as well as the life of her mind."

Thursday, October 25, 2012

Sociopaths the conspiracy theory

From a reader:

It's been a long time. There's a lot going on in my life right now, and I realized that I kind of missed your blog.

I was looking through some articles on the Tikkun Magazine website, and I was surprised to see no less than two articles about the psychopathic percent of the population on the front page. I'm not sure what your perspective would be, so I suggest you take a look for yourself:

It was an interesting experience to read them for me. While the second article, at least, is less alarmist than most such narratives, the mention of 'containing' psychopathic behavior, as opposed, presumably, to working with it, coming up over and over again is rather telling. It seems that in both articles antisocial thinking is something not attributed to people the reader may know, but to some mysterious class of demi-human way out there in the economic wilderness. Apparently, both the article-writers seem to be thinking that while possibly 1% of the population has antisocial tendencies, those tendencies couldn't possibly be attributed to the reader or anyone the reader knows personally and has contact with on a regular basis. It's subtle, but I found it intriguing.

I think this sort of thing has become a kind of elephant in the room in society at large. There's a lot of talk about sociopaths, but not really much examination of them as ordinary citizens. Do you get an impression like that?

Both articles are interesting in different ways. The first one seems to equate sociopathy with a list of social ills, without much proof. The second is more thoughtful but is also alarmingly alarmist. But I agree that sociopathic traits are not exclusive to sociopaths.

Wednesday, October 24, 2012

Sociopath quotes: zombies

Do you ever feel as if the world is full of zombies? Mindless people who merely obey the dictates of society and their own emotions, showing no sign of rationality, letting others decide who and what they’re going to be in this life, regurgitating moral nostrums as if they were pearls of the highest wisdom, attacking those who are not like them and wanting desperately to turn all outsiders into exact replicas of themselves... ?

“...The purpose of man's to become an abject zombie who serves a purpose he does not know, for reasons he is not to question.”

-- Ayn Rand

Tuesday, October 23, 2012

Famous sociopaths: Mitt Romney?

I was reading a profile about Mitt Romney in the New Yorker. One of the themes was how he doesn't seem to have principles or emotions but how he defines himself as being just an efficiency machine? Or that's sort of what I got from it:

  • Private equity is business on steroids: seek efficiency and economic return, not large social goals (unless you think those are large social goals). 
  • “Most religions come to believe in the Zeus model of God. He was outside the universe and created everything. Latter-Day Saints believe that God is in the universe and his power comes from understanding the rules of the universe perfectly. Everything we learn makes us more like God. The impetus to learn is so strong because it helps us to become more like God.”
  • Kim Clark says that Romney was “very smart, but also great with senior executives, really capable of developing relationships with them. You have to be really good on your feet, good at understanding what people’s concerns are and how they think.”
  • "Mitt is so persuasive. He could get rich selling used bubble gum.
  • Romney has done a lot of meeting and a lot of selling during his rise in business and politics, but mainly indoors, in small groups of peers. He’s as adept in that setting as he is unnatural talking to a big crowd. Unlike most candidates, he did not communicate a sense either of being too restless to give you his full attention or of having to establish that he is the alpha and you the beta. He was direct and pleasant and engaged. His voice sounded husky, rather than flat. His gestures seemed spontaneous, not staged.
  • “Value, in the way I’ve defined it, is the score that shows up on the scoreboard,” he said. “It’s not the objective. It’s not the strategy. 

If that doesn't convince you, this New Yorker article titled "Romney Sets New Personal Best for Faking Empathy"?

“Mitt Romney has the facial expressions of someone who cares about me.”

Moments after the debate, Mr. Romney pronounced himself “thoroughly drained” by the forced display of humanity.

“This empathy stuff is exhausting,” he told reporters. “On Day One, it’s going to stop.”

I actually don't think that Romney is a sociopath, although it's possible. I do think it's funny that people seem to value people who have empathy -- would rather have those people in stressful situations making emotional decisions rather than a sociopath? Or maybe people are actually aware and ok with the fact that politicians tend to be more sociopathic than non?

Monday, October 22, 2012


I love power. I'm fascinated by it. The power over self. The power over others. I think the power over self definitely should preceed the power over others. I've learned this over time of studying and practicing it.

It is interesting to read about world leaders in history who have started powerless and who had been thrust into a position of power without being prepared for it. They start off idealists, wanting only the best for mankind, only to be thrown on a downward spiral committing atrocities for what they perceived as the betterment of mankind or their country. I truly understand them.

I can't tell you that I'm partisan to any particular brand of ideology. I have studied all of them deeply. Communism and fascism are the most interesting when it comes to power, because it thrusts absolute power into the hands of a few people. Indeed capitalism does still keep power in the hands of a few, but not as little as you can count on two hands.

We don't have a lot of fascist leaders to compare, as the idea never gained enough popularity worldwide to have any long standing leaders. I have always found fascism to be power given to the impatent. It's guided by insecurity. As usual the theory actually makes a little sense to anyone who can look at it objectively: It's a structure of government that believes that people don't want freedom. It believes the strong should survive and the weak should perish. Individualism should be sacrificed for the state. Quoting Mussolini, "Anti-individualistic, the Fascist conception of life stresses the importance of the State and accepts the individual only in so far as his interests coincide with those of the State...." Absolute power indeed. The fascists' insecurity, however, is written in their ideology from the gate. They reject liberalism and communism for the fact that they blame these ideologies for their losses in the first world war. This was the platform to which Mussolini and Hitler rose to power. It was the insecurity of the masses in these countries that propelled two insecure people into power.

The claim of supremacy of the Aryan race and throwbacks to a ancient civilization of glory were examples of this. The point the finger attitude of hating Jews, liberals, communists, France, etc. were yet another. I wouldn't claim Hitler a sociopath purely for the fact that his entire campaign and life rested on his insecurity and over-emotionalism. I won't delve deep into his life, as I'm not trying to write a biography on him, however those who have should throw a comment up on your opinion.

Communism is a doctrine that thrusts power into the hands of the powerless. I do believe the intentions of a majority of the leaders of communist revolutions to be genuine. Notice I said majority. People like Pol Pot I believe had no intention of furthering anything, but his lust for power and blood. Why do I think so? The foundation of communism is to create a egalitarian society. One where the workers who produce the products are in control. That's why they call it a dictatorship of the proletariat. For the sociopath at the top, this is a terrible idea. How then would they exploit the workers? For the powerless sociopath, this was a wonderful idea. What better way to gain popular support but to say that you would be giving everyone equality, and control over their own labor? I will use Stalin for a example.

If Stalin wasn't a sociopath I will hand over my control to this website to Love Fraud. Hands down. Stalin's rap sheet as a young revolutionary is long: Armed robbery, kidnapping, assassination, counterfeiting, extortion, racketeering, inciting riots, and finally insurrection. Stalin manipulated his way into power. Such as his alliance with Kamenev and Zinoviev, which he used to make sure that Lenin's testament (Which had orders not to let Stalin in power) would never be revealed. After Stalin's death he shifted his alliance to another party member and had them both ejected from the party. Stalin's path while in power was one of a heroin addict with a unlimited supply of junk. He started executing anyone who opposed him. Even to go as far as having a assassin stab Trotsky (Former party member in exile) to death with a ice pick. He had his armies throw themselves into the enemies' guns in WWII resulting in the largest amount of casualties in a country during the world war. He changed history books to the point of erasing people out of pictures who he deemed counter revolutionary. This would mean erasing people's entire existence for going against him. His own son tried to commit suicide after Stalin told him he was a failure. Upon receiving the news he said, "He can't even shoot straight." After being captured by the Germans Stalin refused to trade for him saying that if he did it would be special treatment and not fair to the rest of the "Sons of Russia." Stalin's son then succeeded in running himself into a electric fence in the concentration camp. I believe Stalin was a sociopath given a cause and as he grew more powerful he lost vision of what exactly that cause was. In the end his cause was staying in power. The funny thing is he died with his only possession being his uniform. His power.

Power is raw and uncut. Its lure is subtle, but its taste is explosive. You have a little and you keep wanting more. The more you have it, the more you will excuse using it vicariously. You'll justify your every callous action with vigour. Soon you are nothing but a embodiment of fear and manipulation. You still think you are fighting for what you were in the beginning, but you're only fighting to maintain your position. As all the threats real and perceived mount, you become more awful in your preservation of it. In the end it's easy to lose sight, or is the real intention deep down inside everyone of us power itself? Sometimes it's hard to know. Even for the person fighting it.


Someone once remarked that I rarely discuss any negative emotions I experience -- joy, elation, success, but rarely sadness. Maybe it's because I frequently forget my negative emotions soon after I've experienced them. Because apart from feelings of disappointment, most of my negative feelings seem to be without context or meaning. If anything, the dominant sensation of them is a sense of meaningless, typically brought on by a lack of sleep or mental exhaustion. I call it feeling "raw." It is a feeling of introspection but without any real thing to introspect upon. The result is a loop of thinking about nothing, which gives me a sensation of nothingness.

Today I feel raw. I knew I would. I have had a murderous travel schedule recently. I've moved and am alone in a new city. Instead of going outside, I spent most of the day watching trite television dramas. I like to watch bad television with unrealistic interpersonal situations in which it feels like the writers are forcing the characters to endure awkward and unnecessary drama as if the writer were an ancient god playing humans like puppets. (For this reason, I have also become a surprising fan of fanfiction.) It reminds me of my own desire to play god and to pit people against each other just to see what sort of effect I might have upon the unsuspecting. This was fine, but one of the main characters died. I had just had a conversation with one of my friends about a mutual friend dying. The death was expected but came unexpectedly soon. We had both planned to visit her before she died, but she slipped away without saying goodbye to anyone, like she did in "real life" at parties, I had joked with my friend. I like to do that at parties too, I thought privately to myself. Maybe I wouldn't mind doing that in "real life" as well. I kept watching the television drama, to see how and why the story arc needed this particular character death, and apparently it was just to throw all of the other characters completely off-kilter and into a spiral of self-destructive depression.

I got up and walked to the (dog) park in my new neighborhood. I have been there often enough to know the perfect place to escape the encroaching shadows of the trees as the seasons change in the northern hemisphere. I listened to music until I just listened to one piece over and over again, from one of my favorite works to play. A small dog came and snuggled up next to me for several minutes. I didn't shoo him away. I took a photo of a crescent moon in blue sky surrounded by streaks of clouds and made it the "wallpaper" for my phone. Maybe seeing it tomorrow (this time) I will remember how it feels to be sad.

Sunday, October 21, 2012


I realized something about myself the other day. It was how I look at people. I have a tendency to break down someone's humanity one step at a time when I talk to them. Not to them of course. They are blabbering on, talking about their lives, while I sit there and smile. I like to ask people questions. They like to talk about themselves. I'm a networker of sorts.

I have one friend who I'm honest with. This person understands me, and doesn't judge me. So, recently I've been thinking out loud to this person, and it's been helping me understand myself a lot better. After I'm done talking to several people I'll go home and talk to my friend about them. Yesterday I came to a realization of the way I break all the negatives about each person down till I get to the point in the conversation of calling them something. I talk about how weak they are. I hate people who are victims. I talk about their addictive past on drugs. I hate addicts. I talk about their boyfriends or girlfriends controlling them. I hate pushovers. They talk about their meaningless boring lives, unfunny jokes, silly ideas, and their watered down opinions that can be changed at the drop of a hat. The most funny part about all of this is the fact that everybody thinks I'm the nicest and most honest person they've met, and as they are telling me that I'm smiling. Thinking. Scheming.

Next I'll go into how they will be useful for me. What they have that I want, or who they know (who I can get to through them) who has something I want. This is how I work. People are tools. They are sheep looking for a shepherd. Sometimes I dabble with the idea that some people were put on this earth to do me a favor. Everything before and after is just their pitiful meaningless life. It's my inside joke. It's actually what I tell people when they do me a favor and I'm done with them.

"You have now served your purpose."

They laugh. Nobody can tell when I'm serious, or whether I'm joking. Mostly because I think they are a joke and I'm laughing at them most of the time. People can't tell when they are the punchline.

I realize what this is. The disgust I have for most people makes me dehumanize them. When I dehumanize someone, their feelings, emotions, and lives are worthless to me. I have no respect for them at all. And they'll never know. They are nothing more than a tool to be used and thrown away. I know it sounds harsh, but that's how it goes. A lot of people want to be used. They seek us out. They find us and throw themselves on our railway track. I can't stop the train.

This is why sometimes I laugh at the comments page on this blog. It tickles me to see anti-sociopaths. Especially ones that are so scared of sociopaths that they comment anonymously. I meet people exactly like them off this blog all the time in my life day to day. I hear them talk about sociopaths sometimes. How they would never fall for their ploys. How they aren't human. Maybe we have more in common than I thought. I've dehumanized them too, only they don't know that yet.

I don't apologize for who I am, or how I feel about people in general. I never will. I think it's pitiful when people apologize for who they are when it can't be changed. Yes, I despise most of you. No, you will not know it. Yes, you will say you never get manipulated. No, it's not true. You are day to day. Hour to hour. You just justify it to yourselves just like we justify our manipulating you.

Friday, October 19, 2012

Sociopaths in literature: Washington Square

“Do you think it is better to be clever than to be good?”

“Good for what?” asked the Doctor. “You are good for nothing unless you are clever.”

Thursday, October 18, 2012

Outrageous behavior

I can lose my temper sometimes. When I do, it can flip me from normal, even easy going, into someone possessed by a murderous rage. It's not hotheaded, it's coldhearted. It's also predictable, to an extent. Like everyone, it happens more when I am tired, frustrated, or distracted. Through the use of sleeping medications, I force myself to sleep more than my body naturally wants to, partly to keep a more level head when I am actually awake. I also try to avoid situations in which someone may unpredictably provoke me, typically strangers who don't know me or my triggers, and I am careful to schedule in a lot of downtime and alone time in which to decompress. I've gotten so good at this, it's been a while since my last rage attack. And all of the recent ones have been while I am traveling, when I am most likely to be forced to deal with strangers.

The most predictable aspect of these rages, though, is when someone "calls" me on something that I have done "wrong" when I feel like I have done nothing that would warrant their disapproval. I get angry at the flight attendant who tells me to turn off my electronic device, the metro worker who tells me to not use a particular set of stairs, etc. I know why, I feel like it is underhanded, that they are trying to force me to follow a particular set of rules that I think don't acknowledge, for whatever reason.

The particular set of rules, I realized, are called "social exchange rules." From a Wall Street Journal article about why folks throw temper tantrums when these rules are broken (try Googling the title "Big Explosions, Small Reasons" to get past the subscriber only):

Researchers at Duke University, in a yet-to-be-published study, looked for explanations of why people melt down over small things. Their findings suggest we are reacting to a perceived violation of an unwritten yet fundamental rule. It's the old, childhood wail: "It's not fair!"

Researchers call these unwritten laws of behavior "social exchange rules." We're not supposed to be rude or inconsiderate; we are supposed to be polite, fair, honest and caring. Don't cut in line. Drive safely. Clean up after yourself.

"We can't have successful interactions in relationships, mutually beneficial to both people involved, if one person violates these rules," says Mark Leary, professor of psychology and neuroscience at Duke and lead author of the study. "And we can't have a beneficial society if we can't trust each other not to lie, not to be unethical, not to watch out for our general well-being."

What makes my losses of temper different, I wondered. Am I the same as these people? I behave civilized, even charmingly. I say please and thank you, wait my turn in line, etc., but largely because this is the best way to get what I want. These are some of the most obvious social rules, whether kept or broken, so I am sure to be seen as a rule follower particularly for these little niceties.

No, when I lose my temper, it's not because I feel like someone has not held up their end of a social bargain, it is because I have been reminded about how powerless I am. The flight attendant has power over me. I try to pretend that we are equals and I could ruin her if I wanted to, but ultimately she could get me kicked off a flight and I would have no recourse. The metro worker looked like God's mistake, but he also has a certain sort of power over me, power to tell me where I can walk and where I can't or else he'll call security. I hate feeling like someone has power over me, hate it so much that I will almost always try to flip the power dynamic in whatever way I can. And apparently get really angry about it when I'm reminded how many people have control over me in countless ways in my daily life. I don't know, it was interesting seeing how the reasons I lose my temper are both similar and different from the way that other people lose their temper. And now I know better how to provoke people (or not) when I choose.

Wednesday, October 17, 2012

Know Thyself

Sometimes you can be your own worst enemy. I'm sure you've heard that before. As a sociopath we are met with a choice: Being aware of who we are or ignoring it and becoming a destructive force. Destruction is fun, but in the end we end up destroying ourselves along with anyone else who makes the mistake of helping us.

Many people out there have the opinion that sociopaths have no hope. Therapy doesn't work. Drugs don't work. Why is that? The fact is only you can help yourself. Throughout your life you have relied on yourself, so why would that change when it comes to personal growth.

I'm not here to tell people that they need to be 'good' sociopaths. What is good anyway? Rules and laws are meant to protect people too foolish to see why they are there. Sheep flock to obey them no matter what the cost. We have to develop our own individual principles that we hold ourselves accountable to. This is how you take yourself to a new level.

Several traits of a sociopath can be turned around and used for you or used against you. Ultimately it's up to you.

The fact that you are emotionally shallow can be used to excel you in taking emotions out of the equation and attacking problems at hand with logic. The fact that you are a narcissist can help you stay positive and never accept anything less than number one in any competitive environment. You can use the fact that you are impulsive to take action while others can't pull the trigger. I'm sure you can take this idea from here.

The doors are open for sociopaths. We either succeed highly or we fail dismally. It's up to you to decide where you want to be.

Tuesday, October 16, 2012

Presidential psychopath

This is an ok Time Magazine article about a study looking at psychopathic traits in U.S. presidents, paritcularly fearless dominance, which, not surprisingly, can either be seen as courage or folly depending on the situation:

“An easy way to think about it is as a combination of physical and social fearlessness,” says Scott Lilienfeld, lead author of the study and professor of psychology at Emory University. “People high in boldness don’t have a lot of apprehension about either physical or social things that would scare the rest of us.”

He adds, “It’s often a kind of resilience because you don’t show lot of anxiety or frustration in the face of everyday life challenges.” While that sounds like a necessity for dealing with the daily crises that face the White House, from hurricanes to threats from rogue nuclear nations, the same trait in psychopaths is also associated with callousness, indifference to negative consequences and impulsive antisocial behavior.

It talks a lot about how presidents are not actually likely to be psychopaths because they have to delay gratification so much. But perhaps the most interesting part of the article was this:

“My mentor, David Lykken, argued that psychopaths and heroes are ‘twigs off of the same branch.’ It may be that the fearless dominance or boldness that sometimes gives rise to psychopathy might also sometimes give rise to heroism,” says Lilienfeld.

Monday, October 15, 2012

Educating children sociopaths

This was an interesting article about the delicacy between not wanting to diagnose sociopathy in children because it can be such a damning prognosis, but also wanting to do it to possibly put at-risk children in some sort of early intervention program. As researcher put it:

To me it seems a no-brainer,” says Essi Viding, professor of psychology at University College London. “Nobody’s going to get psychopathy as a present when they turn 18. Of course you’re going to see some precursors."

What might early intervention look like?

“If you’re labelling someone a psychopath, it does seem to assume that there’s nothing we can do for them, that they’re going to grow up to be a criminal, and that you might as well just lock them up,” Frick says. “But you can teach a child to recognise the effects of their behaviour.”

The lack of success in educating children sociopaths to recognise the effects of their behaviour may have more to do with using the wrong methods than it does a sociopath child's inability or unwillingness to learn:

“What [people who use social shaming as a method of punishment] assume is that children have the motivation to shift their behaviour. That their primary social motivator is the relationship,” says Warren.

She interviewed more than 1,000 children with behavioural problems, aged eight to 18. “I was beginning to see children who weren’t responsive to these interventions, who weren’t interested in what adults, parents, educators, think,” she says.

“If a child or group of children isn’t interested in pleasing someone, doesn’t care about sanctions, what they’re driven by is pleasure or reward. They will take the pain of the consequences but won’t change their behaviour.”

What does work?

The programme, called Let’s Get Smart, replaces sanctions with rewards. Some teachers were uneasy. “Some teachers felt that punishment happens in the real world; if they misbehave in the real world they will still go to prison. Why are we setting them up for unrealistic expectations?” says Jones. “Our point is that it doesn’t work.”

By offering regular rewards, perhaps three times a day, controlled by the adult in authority, it aims to provide a rational, self-interested motivation for pleasing adults where that motive is emotionally absent. “The adult becomes the clear intermediary between the child and what the child wants,” Warren says. The rewards are tailored to each child’s interests.

These children often have a strong desire for control and teachers have to resist attempts to negotiate, because any concession just leads to more demands. “I teach parents and teachers to say, ‘It’s not open for discussion, go away.’ Adults don’t like to dismiss children,” Warren says.

All this is backed by role play and other exercises that are intended to build children’s capacity to pay attention to and respond appropriately to others’ emotions. Video playback helps the children to see their behaviour as others do, often to their surprise. (“I do swear a lot,” one girl told Warren.)

What sort of results can you expect?

“These kids are still having quite significant problems: they are not cured. But they are improving. Some have gone back to mainstream school, which is incredible,” she says.

Whether children ever really learn greater empathy or just learn to manage their behaviour is not clear. “My personal gut feeling is that you can modify behaviour perhaps more readily than you can improve the empathy response,” Viding says.

There are a couple of other interesting tidbits, like this one about "circle time" type emotional sharing activities:

“(In circle time) children say what makes them scared and children who have callous-unemotional traits think, ‘This is a useful piece of information to have’,” she says.


Sunday, October 14, 2012

Quote: Temptation

The only way to get rid of a temptation is to yield to it. Resist it, and your soul grows sick with longing for the things it has forbidden to itself.

Oscar Wilde

Saturday, October 13, 2012

Taming artificial intelligence

This was an interesting article by David Deutsch in Aeon Magazine about artificial general intelligence (AGI). There were a lot of things he touched upon that would seem relevant to this audience, like how little we know about how our brains work, the nature of self-awareness, our sense of self and sense of purpose and the origins of both, etc. One of the most interesting parts, though, was when he addresses some of the "scary" things about creating a machine with artificial general intelligence, particularly regarding some peoples' concerns about the AGI being more powerful than we are and how it would choose to use that power. He addressed it in a very open-minded and enlightened way:

Some people are wondering whether we should welcome our new robot overlords. Some hope to learn how we can rig their programming to make them constitutionally unable to harm humans (as in Isaac Asimov’s ‘laws of robotics’), or to prevent them from acquiring the theory that the universe should be converted into paper clips (as imagined by Nick Bostrom). None of these are the real problem. It has always been the case that a single exceptionally creative person can be thousands of times as productive — economically, intellectually or whatever — as most people; and that such a person could do enormous harm were he to turn his powers to evil instead of good.

These phenomena have nothing to do with AGIs. The battle between good and evil ideas is as old as our species and will continue regardless of the hardware on which it is running. The issue is: we want the intelligences with (morally) good ideas always to defeat the evil intelligences, biological and artificial; but we are fallible, and our own conception of ‘good’ needs continual improvement. How should society be organised so as to promote that improvement? ‘Enslave all intelligence’ would be a catastrophically wrong answer, and ‘enslave all intelligence that doesn’t look like us’ would not be much better.

The parallel is not exact between AGIs and sociopaths, and of course his solution is a non-solution. He doesn't even manage to really define what he means by evil, except with a quick parenthetical allusion to morality. Maybe the machines would have a more workable form of "morality"? But it's an interesting question: Is there anything so special about our morality that we would try to indoctrinate AGIs to it? Is there enough logic to human morality that they would accept it? If so, then we don't really need to use the word "morality," do we? We could just appeal to their logic. Same with sociopaths. If morality is really such a universal "good" (pardon all of the quotes), then can't we also appeal to a sociopath's logic? Or sense of self preservation? Or even the sociopaths self-interest regarding living in a relatively stable society in which most people are engaged in societal profitable endeavours that also benefit the sociopath in indirect ways? Civilization is vulnerable, but in a lot of ways it is robust. I behave in a civilized way because it works, it reaps rewards. (Not that AGIs would necessarily experience those side-effects as "rewards," which is I guess why people are so concerned.)

By the way, I have a friend who is an exceptionally creative person who is capable of being a thousand times more productive as most people. And that is a scary thought to me, that she had so much power, so I can empathize with people who fear sociopaths.

Friday, October 12, 2012

Guest post: The Psychopath Test review

“The Psychopath Test” by Jon Ronson (reviewed by Mindless Pleasures)

“The Psychopath Test” is a non-fiction whirligig of a book from the sometime Guardian journalist/documentary filmmaker and author of “The Men Who Stare at Goats”.

Not unlike the aforementioned book, which was about men who stare at goats, ‘The Psychopath Test’ is about psychopaths and a test that can determine how to identify them. If anything, you couldn’t accuse Ronson of ambiguous or misleading book titles.

Disturbingly however, Ronson’s book claims that psychopaths – or to use the more subtle yet interchangeable terminology – sociopaths – are more prevalent amongst us than we may think, and invariably most of us would have had some experience with them in our lives whether we realised it or not.

Certainly, having read the book and cross-referenced the, ‘now-famous twenty-point [Dr. Bob] Hare PCL-R Checklist’ [Psychopathy Checklist – Revised], I can attest that I have experienced knowing one – and I’m not talking facetiously about an ex-girlfriend either.

But perhaps what is more disconcerting, and possibly the most salient point in the book, is that many of these sociopathic attributes are almost indistinguishable from what characterises a successful business person.

Or to paraphrase the devilishly eldritch line from Bret Easton Ellis’ fictional protagonist Patrick Bateman in “American Psycho” when asked in a crowded restaurant what he does for a living replies glibly, “murders and assassinations” upon which the person evidently mishearing the response acknowledges, “Oh, mergers and acquisitions”.

The prerequisite characteristics to ‘excel’ (for want of a better word) in said activities are apparently not dissimilar.

Of course, the book is not implying that all successful business persons are potential sociopaths. However, the major thesis of “The Psychopath Test” could be distilled down to the premise that the actions and consequences of a minority of these extremely dangerous and formidable individuals affect the lives of the majority. Whether they be calculating serial killers, cold-hearted mercenaries or ruthless captains of industry.

In fact, I would argue that the book provides a significant psychological piece of the puzzle, if not a corner piece, of what is inherently wrong with so much of modern society today. However, incongruous to its serious subject matter “The Psychopath Test” is written in Jon Ronson’s customary witty, dry as gin, self-deprecating style – perhaps for the one reason that if you didn’t laugh, you’d cry.

Unless of course you’re a psychopath, in which case you’re probably emotionally incapable of doing either.

Thursday, October 11, 2012

Finding joy beyond self

One of my readers suggested that the exchange between Tinkerbelle and Daniel Birdick here should get its own post. I agree. The thing I particularly like about this exchange is Birdick's description of finding joy and meaning. It's in particular conceptions of self as "good" or even "bad" or anything in particular. It's in other, external things. Sometimes the source happens to be oneself, but it's not for the sake of "being" something, but the sake of having done or experienced something -- having made someone laugh so hard they choke, as opposed to "being hilarious." Maybe it's not quite "selfless," but for being so self-involved, the sociopath happens to enjoy a lot of things that have nothing to do with him or how he feels about himself.

Here it is, starting with Daniel Birdick:

This post stayed with me because I believe it encapsulates one of the “sociopath’s” defining characteristics: the inability to believe in self. “Normal’s” have a more or less static sense of self. This sense of self includes but is not limited to beliefs about morality, politics, religion, and of course sexuality and gender. “Sociopaths”, not so much. My theory is that “sociopaths” are unable to believe the story the left hemisphere of the brain constantly spins about who and what the self is the way “normals” do. The aware “sociopath” knows he/she is wearing a mask. The “normals” believe the mask they wear is who they really are. The aware “sociopath” has a better chance of understanding humanity’s true nature as a result of his/her inability to believe while “normals” live and die by the cobweb of illusion their brains ceaselessly spin about the self. Metaphorically speaking, the aware and intelligent “socio/psychopath” is the last of mankind’s prophets. Their very existence serves as a living testimony to the nihilistic truth of the universe. 

Mark Twain said it well, (if a little melodramatically): “you are but a thought -- a vagrant thought, a useless thought, a homeless thought, wandering forlorn among the empty eternities!"


Mr Birdick....what make's you happy? If sociopaths believe in nothingness and have no sense of self....what do you actually enjoy in life except "ruining" those around you. I did think that your post had a point, i understood your perspective, i really did, however what is there to look forward to in life if the left side of the brains hemisphere doesn't constantly spin a sense of self? Is life pointless?, You have me thinking now.

Daniel Birdick:

Hello Tinkerbelle.

What makes me happy? Jamaica Delights. Watching the sun rise over the ocean. The rich green color of freshly cut grass. Good music. A well delivered punch line. Cheesecake. Brilliant acting. A perfectly cooked T-bone steak. An expertly crafted movie, one where all the elements that go into great filmmaking are there on the screen. Watching my little niece run happily toward me. Devising effective stratagems to deal with the ceaseless power game that passes for “human adulthood”. I could go on and on, but you get the point. I enjoy many of the kinds of things I suspect you enjoy. I just don’t need to indulge in just so stories, like “Daniel is a republican, democrat, straight, gay, bi, would never kill, hates lying, and so on” to experience that enjoyment.

Is life pointless? Yeah, it is. Meaning and purpose are nothing more than products of the human consciousness, which is itself prone to self deception and delusion. (Witness the spectacle of billions of people all over the globe prostrating themselves before their invisible friends for instance.) Fortunately, it isn’t necessary to believe in meaning, purpose, morality or “selfhood” to enjoy the exchange of ideas or take delight in the taste of ice cream on a hot summer day or have great sex.

This may very well be one of the main things that bother “normals” about “sociopaths”. We at least have the potential to enjoy many of the things they enjoy without the baggage of having to negotiate with an inborn conscience. This fact may gall them because it makes a mockery of all their precious beliefs about morality and meaning.


If life really is pointless we all may as well lay down and die this very second. Why waste one's time? I've often pondered the "point". Sociopaths don't offend me with their views, people are who they are. Besides the topic is a damn good juicy debate!
I just think to myself that its ashame sometimes thats all (not in a condescending manner)...I can only imagine sociopathy to be like only ever watching black and white film's. Beautiful no doubt, yet two tone, empathy is like experiencing a film in burts of technicolour. Creativity stems from emotion. 

Maybe sociopathy misses the "point". Then again maybe not?...who truely knows?

Daniel Birdick:

Hi Tinkerbelle. You're right. These kinds of discussions are fascinating. It gives me an opportunity to exercise my mental muscles. Thanks for being my "spotter", so to speak. ;-) 

Now to address your comments-

Tinkerbelle said: “If life really is pointless we all may as well lay down and die this very second.” 

Is that true? Are you certain that this must be the inevitable outcome of discovering that life is meaningless? That would be akin to a 12 year old deciding that she’s never going to celebrate Christmas again after finding out that Santa Claus doesn’t exist. That would be a valid option, like any other, but not a necessary one. 

“Why waste one's time?” 

Why not? Besides, it’s only a waste if you define it as such. You have far greater power to define your personal experience of life than you know.

“I can only imagine sociopathy to be like only ever watching black and white film's. Beautiful no doubt, yet two tone, empathy is like experiencing a film in burts of technicolour. Creativity stems from emotion.”

You could be right. Even if you are right, even if “normals” greater facility for empathy is makes their experience of life richer, that doesn’t make it any truer and that’s my “point”. Emotions are no more an indicator of truth than speaking in tongues is an indicator that god exists. Being honest with myself is my highest value. Truth is what matters to me, not pretty lies. Even if I wanted to believe the fairytales others guide their lives by, I’ve discovered that I am incapable of it. Take empathy for example. Empathy literally means to vicariously experience the feelings of others. Your brain calculates what it might be like to feel what someone else is feeling and creates that experience within you. The literal experience of empathy is an evolutionary adaptation which I believe stems from the human drive to bond with other humans. But here’s the rub. You can’t really experience another person’s subjective state. You can only ever experience yourself and your own projections. So in a sense, empathy is as deceptive as morality is. Which again, is my point. The aware “sociopath” doesn’t miss the point because there isn’t one to miss.

Wednesday, October 10, 2012

Sociopath -- the eternal optimist?

I recently parked my automobile on the street while visiting a friend. The next day I walked out and one of the little back windows was shattered. I called a couple of auto glass places, but no one had it in stock. I figured I would just get it fixed when I went home, so I left it out on the street one more night. My friend figured it would be ok, in a lightning never strikes twice sort of way. Maybe that was really stupid to do or maybe it was reasonable to assume that nothing would happen to it now that it had clearly already had been messed with.

I woke up in the middle of the night to my friend calling me out of bed. One of his neighbors had heard the sound of breaking glass and called the police, who for some reason decided to go knocking on the doors in the middle of the night? It was my auto again, with the interior a little torn apart looking for something else valuable. I was really annoyed, particularly at my friend who should have known his neighborhood better than to suggest I leave it outside again as some sort of test of the broken windows theory. I don't know though. Once I finally got back to sleep (I'm a terrible sleeper), I woke up the next morning and was fine about it. I took it to a repair shop that morning to get the one window repaired and they taped some containerboard over the other window. The good thing is that glass place knew a guy who could fix the glass for cheap in my own town when I was just going to take it to the dealer (my auto is hard to find parts for). So I was happy, because the two broken windows turned out to be cheaper than just getting the one fixed at the dealer. I told my friend how happy I was and he just rolled his eyes, "there's always a silver lining for you." And there is. I can never stay upset or down for longer than 24 hours or so. Ultimately I find myself grateful that things ended up working out how they did.

It reminds me of the old song, "Rose-Colored Glasses". Selected lyrics:

I've said goodbye to Mr. Sorrow
How do you do Mr. Joy?
No need to worry about tomorrow
Look at me and you'll see I'm always happy as can be!

Because I'm looking at this world through rose colored glasses
Everything is rosy now
Looking at this world and everything that's happened
Seems of rosy hue somehow

Others may cry, but I'll keep smiling
No cause for worry or fret.
While there are some who’ll wonder why I keep smiling?

Here is why
We’ll have fun
After all is said and done

Tell me why you or I aught to complain
Now there am I then you’ll find rainbows after everything
Now who’s the boy that said “life’s just what you make it”
He was surely right I vow
So keep looking at this world with rose colored glasses
And everything is rosy now!

Tuesday, October 9, 2012

Wired for risk

This was an interesting article sent to me courtesy of a reader, "Economic decision-making in psychopathy": A comparison with ventromedial prefrontal lesion patients," featuring our good friend Newman as one of the authors. The gist of the article is that "born" sociopaths share certain risking taking and economic decision-making patterns in common with people who have an impaired ventromedial prefrontal cortex, the part of the brain that is associated with risk, fear, and decision-making.

First, the researchers make a distinction between classes of sociopaths:

“primary” (low-anxious) psychopathy is viewed as a direct consequence of some core intrinsic deficit, whereas “secondary” (high-anxious) psychopathy is viewed as an indirect consequence of environmental factors or other psychopathology. 

Next, the sociopaths were given two classic decision-making tasks, the Ultimatum Game and the Dictator Game. Regarding the Ultimatum Game:

In the Ultimatum Game, two players are given an opportunity to split a sum of money. One player (the proposer) offers a portion of the money to the second player (the responder), and keeps the remainder for himself. The responder can either accept the offer (in which case both players split the money as proposed) or reject the offer (in which case both players get nothing). “Rational actor” models predict that the responder would accept any offer, no matter how low. However, relatively small offers (less than 20–30% of the total) are rejected about half the time (Bolton and Zwick, 1995; Guth et al., 1982). The “irrational” rejection of unfair offers has been correlated with feelings of anger (Pillutla and Murnighan, 1996), suggesting that the responder’s ability to regulate anger and frustration plays a critical role in task performance. Patients with vmPFC lesions, who are known to exhibit irritability and poor frustration tolerance despite an otherwise generally blunted affect (Anderson et al., 2006; Barrash et al., 2000), reject an abnormally high proportion of unfair offers (Koenigs and Tranel, 2007). Thus the first aim of this study is to determine whether either of the psychopathic subtypes (primary or secondary) also rejects an abnormally high proportion of unfair offers.

And the Dictator Game:

In the Dictator Game, there are again two players with an opportunity to split a sum of money. However, in this case the responder has no choice but to accept whatever split the proposer offers. Thus, the amount offered by the proposer in the Dictator Game is presumed to reflect a prosocial sentiment, such as empathy or guilt. Patients with vmPFC lesions, who are known to exhibit deficits in empathy and guilt (Anderson et al., 2006; Barrash et al., 2000), offer abnormally low amounts in the Dictator Game (Krajbich et al., 2009). Thus the second aim of this study is whether either of the psychopathic subtypes (primary or secondary) also offers abnormally low amounts in the Dictator Game.

I'm not surprised at all by the results. The only thing I find somewhat puzzling is that the primary and secondary sociopaths differ. I would think that both types would try to shortsell their partners in the games. Unless the secondary sociopaths are a little bit more aware or paranoid that this may be a situation that would leave them vulnerable to the unpredictable social judgment of others?

Monday, October 8, 2012

Good cocktail conversation tidbits

For that social function you have coming up soon at which it might be fun to subtly suggest that sociopaths are not as bad as people think they are, Wisdom of Psychopathy author Kevin Dutton shares
Some Surprising Things You Never Knew About Psychopaths:
  • Psychopaths can sometimes be more empathic than the rest of us. This is especially the case in sadistic serial killers. As one senior FBI profiler told Dutton: “Sadistic serial killers feel their victims’ pain in exactly the same way that you or I might feel it. They feel it cognitively and objectively, and emotionally and subjectively too. But the difference between them and us is that they commute that pain to their own subjective pleasure.” Studies have also shown that some psychopaths have more ‘mirror neurons’ (empathy brain cells) than normal people.
  • They can be more altruistic than the rest of us. Studies have shown that psychopaths are quicker to offer help to people in need than everyday folk.
  • They don’t take things as personally as the rest of us. Research in the field of neuroeconomics has shown that psychopaths make more money than the rest of us in negotiation games because they are more willing to accept unfair offers.
  • As well as taking lives, they can also be better at saving lives than the rest of us—especially in knife-edge situations when the chips are down. 
  • Psychopaths make really good customs officers. In one experiment Dutton ran, psychopaths were better at picking out people with contraband concealed about their person than were non-psychopaths.
  • James Bond is a psychopath. A recent study shows that James Bond epitomizes the profile of the successful psychopath: ruthless, fearless, charming, persuasive, non-conformist, extraverted, thrill-seeking, philandering, and decidedly lacking in the conscience department.

Sunday, October 7, 2012

The right way to do wrong

This book sounds intriguing, a collection of writings from Harry Houdini under the title "The Right Way to Do Wrong":

Originally published in 1906, The Right Way to Do Wrong was a masterclass in subversion conducted by the world’s greatest illusionist. It collected Hou­dini’s findings, from interviews with criminals and police officers, on the most surefire ways to commit crime and get away with it.

This volume presents the best of those writings alongside little-known articles by Houdini on his own brand of deception: magic. Revealing the secrets of his signature tricks, including handcuff and rope escapes, and debunking the methods of his rivals, he proves 
himself to be just as clever and nimble a writer as he was a magician—and surprisingly free with trade secrets! All of which makes this unique selection of works both the ultimate anti-etiquette guide and proof that things are not always as they seem.

Saturday, October 6, 2012

Guest song: You're gonna go far kid

I personally love this song. How can I describe it? Like a theme song for sociopaths. It inspires something inside me. Almost an emotional response, but also something more. A sort of intensity, a powerful urge to give into my darker instincts and manipulate and take from others without even the slightest consideration of consequences, moral or otherwise. Any idea what I mean?

Show me how to lie
You're getting better all the time
And turning all against one
Is an art that's hard to teach

Another clever word
Sets off an unsuspecting herd
And as you step back in the line
A mob jumps to their feet

Now dance fucker, dance
Man, you never had a chance
And no one even knew
It was really only you

And now you steal away
Take him out today
Nice work you did
You're gonna go far kid

With a thousand lies and a good disguise
Hit 'em right between the eyes
Hit 'em right between the eyes
When you walk away, nothing more to say
See the lightning in your eyes
See 'em running for their lives

Slowly out of line
And drifting closer in your sight
So play it out, I'm wide awake
It's a scene about me

There's someone in your way
And now someone is gonna pay
If you can't get what you want
Well it's all because of me

Now dance fucker, dance
Man, I never had a chance
And no one even knew
It was really only you

Now you lead the way
Show the lie today
Nice work you did
You're gonna go far kid
Trust and see

With a thousand lies and a good disguise
Hit 'em right between the eyes
Hit 'em right between the eyes
When you walk away, nothing more to say
See the lightning in your eyes
See 'em running for their lives

Now dance fucker dance
He never had a chance
And no one even knew
It was really only you

Sp dance fucker dance
I never had a chance
It was really only you

With a thousand lies and a good disguise
Hit 'em right between the eyes
Hit 'em right between the eyes
When you walk away
Nothing more to say
See the lightning in your eyes
See 'em running for their lives

No more alibis, mow them down like flies
Hit 'em right between the eyes
Hit 'em right between the eyes
When you walk away
Nothing more to say
See the lightning in your eyes
See 'em running for their lives

Friday, October 5, 2012

Cognitive diversity: the right to one's mind

This article discusses the ethical implications of treating those on the "diversity" side of neuro-diversity as if they have a sickness to be cured:
Our society has a rather poor track record when it comes to respecting the validity of certain "mind-types." We once tried to “cure” homosexuality with conversion therapy. Today there’s an effort to cure autism and Asperger’s syndrome—a development the autistic rights people have railed against. And in the future we may consider curing criminals of their anti-social or deviant behavior—a potentially thorny issue to be sure.


As this example shows, the process of altering a certain mind-type, whether it be homosexuality or autism, can be suppressive and harsh. But does the end justify the means? If we could “cure” autistics in a safe and ethical way and introduce them to the world of neurotypicality, should we do it? Many individuals in the autistic/Asperger’s camp would say no, but there’s clearly a large segment of the population who feel that these conditions are quite debilitating. Not an easy question to answer.

This is an issue of extreme complexity and sensitivity, particularly when considering other implications of neurological modification. Looking to the future, there will be opportunities to alter the minds of pedophiles and other criminals guilty of anti-social and harmful behaviors. Chemical castration may eventually make way to a nootropic or genetic procedure that removes tendencies deemed inappropriate or harmful by the state.

Is this an infringement of a person’s cognitive liberty?
This guy seems to be on the side of neurodiversity except (as always) for sociopaths:
So, if one applies a strict interpretation of cognitive liberty, a case can be made that a sociopath deserves the right to refuse a treatment that would for all intents-and-purposes replace their old self with a new one. On the other hand, a case can also be made that a sociopathic criminal has forgone their right to cognitive liberty (in essence the same argument that allows us to imprison criminals and strip them of their rights) and cannot refuse a treatment which is intended to be rehabilitative.

I am admittedly on the fence with this one. My instinct tells me that we should never alter a person’s mind against their will; my common sense tells me that removing sociopathic tendencies is a good thing and ultimately beneficial to that individual. I’m going to have to ruminate over this one a bit further…
He seems to be suggesting that pedophiles should be left alone, but sociopaths have given up the right to their mind by all being criminals at heart. Does that mean if I get caught shoplifting, I get my brain tweaked? What about if you just sort of "know" that since I am a sociopath I will eventually commit some horrific crime?

The author of this article "currently serves on the Board of Directors for the Institute for Ethics and Emerging Technologies and Humanity." Please feel free to email him your thoughts at: Maybe you can inform his "ruminations" on the subject of denying us the right to our minds.

Thursday, October 4, 2012

Telling it like it is

Empaths sometimes email me regarding relationships they have with sociopaths. This is one of the most enlightened, self-aware accounts from an empath that I've ever received in one of these exchanges:
Thank you for taking the time to answer my questions. They were helpful.

As much as it hurt me to go through this situation with my ex, it was fascinating, too.

My ex takes pleasure in becoming what his "victim" wants him to be, then systematically breaking them down, showing them their own hypocricy, and punishing them by mastering their value system, twisting it, and using it as a weapon.

I have to admit, that is pretty damn cool (even though it felt horrible).

In my mind, I just sort of hope he crosses more deserving individuals, because, hindsight, I like to see him as part of a balanced system of karma. haha.

You mentioned in your response how it angers you when someone starts crying during an argument. And, after my relationship, I'm really able to see how socios view emotions as tools for manipulation; changing the playing field, like you said. I never saw it that way – but, I get it, and I don't think I'll ever view emotions the same way again, haha.

I guess, as much as my ex destroyed me, he kind of enlightened me, as well.

I am no longer with him. And, you implied that it probably wasn't worth the hassle. But, the strange part was really, it was worth the hassle. That's why I returned to him so many times. He made me feel so alive, so stirred emotionally, and so mentally alert, trying to anticipate his next move, that I think I regained a lot of passion. I was constantly re-evaluating his actions and my own, trying to make sense of things, that I left having a stronger grasp on my concepts of love, empathy, morals, and fears. I saw them all in a new light, and left making new decisions regarding them.

Ultimately, staying with him wasn't worth the long-term, high risk investment. He took up too much of my time. He was much too possessive, too dangerous, and too capable of brilliant manipulation. I was too reactive, unable to buffer the effect he had on me of emotional highs and lows, with objective practicality and understanding of his nature.

I couldn't focus on being ME, anymore. I had become his host; the provider of durability, consistency and foundation. And, the entire world that I was once a fully participating member of was collapsing under his weight and manipulation. The life that we had together was diametrically opposed to the life and loved ones I was leaving behind. There were no rules there and no guidelines. He wouldn't allow it.

Staying with him would've been the most selfish decision I'd ever made. And, although he subliminally encouraged me towards giving over to being with him, I knew I would lose everything... as well as my identity.

I was more in love with him than I've ever been with anyone. And, I know I will not likely feel that intense love again, adding much to both my despair and relief. He is really a beautiful destroyer..

But, to wrap things up: I knew that once it suited him, once he found a better, stronger, more beautiful host, he could and would toss me aside, unprepared and unable to recover.

I would've been left alone, a stranger to my family and friends, and the betrayer of everything I ever worked towards, loved, and believed in.

Wednesday, October 3, 2012

Big Brother Sociopath: Janelle Pierzina

From a reader's (by now somewhat dated) email:

One of your posts reminded me of a possible sociopath on reality television right now: Janelle Pierzina, who will probably be evicted from Big Brother tomorrow. A few episodes ago, she admitted she didn't cry during labor and doesn't at funerals. I didn't watch her previous seasons religiously (she got 3rd place twice), but she is a ruthless physical competitor and never shows empathy for her enemies in the house. Her competitors have finally figured her out, though--one had a confessional in a recent episode about Janelle's not having feelings being an advantage in the game--sounds like sociopathy to me!

Some good stuff is from 11:00-12:00 in this video.

Tuesday, October 2, 2012


Very few things bother me, but sometimes I am bothered when there is an unexpected reaction or consequence to something I've done. My friend says that I'm never so mad as when I think I have been doing things on the up and up, but someone still chastises me.

The other day I was traveling and had to rent an automobile. I parked in a particular location that turned out to be in front of somebody's garage. They left a note for me saying that they needed to get their car our of their garage and were going to tow my car, etc. I grabbed the note and hurried away, I was late for something, but the note continued to bother me. How could I have not seen the garage, I wondered? What would I have done if they had towed it, let the rental agency deal with it? How had I let this almost happen? My mind wouldn't let it go.

I read a good description of this type of reaction in this comment:

Any time a kink happens in my social interactions, whether it's a slip of my tongue or an unexpectedly aggressive reply, I dwell on it. It replays in my mind, and I dissect it to find out what I could have done differently. Did I misread the person's intentions? Was I not forthcoming enough? It's not that I truly care how people perceive me; I don't hunger for their acceptance or praise. But I very carefully cultivate my outward persona: it is charming, it is witty, and it is benign. So when it fails to work as planned, it's a serious problem. It throws into question all of the hard work I've put into it. 

If I make someone cry, I'm not disturbed because I've caused them pain. I'm disturbed because I don't mean to be seen as a negative source--now I have to apologize or feign sincerity, or all my effort to appear as a sympathetic and trustworthy person, and the emotional power it gives me over that person, vanishes. 

I'm disturbed because I control everything, all the time, and for me to not do that, or stumble--it's unacceptable. 

With regard to my parking incident, I drove back the next day to that same neighborhood to investigate. There was no cutaway from the curb. The "garage" was covered in ivy and not clearly either a garage or functional. It was as hidden from sight as the Batcave. I was at glad to see that my mind hadn't slipped as much as I thought. And I started to wonder at how often people park in front of their garage. Do they deal with this every day? Could they put up a sign? Or perhaps paint the curb a different colour? I was angry at them, for setting me up for failure--for trapping me and acting like they had some sort of moral or legal high ground. I left them the note they wrote, secured in their door. I don't know why, but I thought it was vaguely threatening, like letting them know that I knew where they lived. And they shouldn't leave notes on my automobile. Or something...

Monday, October 1, 2012

Sociopath fraud

A reader wrote me:

I ended up stumbling across Sociopathworld amongst other websites, all claiming to have the true definition of what a psychopath/sociopath is and how they differ / do not differ. Naturally I was surprised after reading some of your posts how much in common I have with yourself, and a few others who posted, and yet frustrated at the same time. This is caused by the, as far as I can tell, mini war between a) those who claim the vast majority of people on your site aren't socio's, and b) those that retaliate with sarcasm or angst. The frustration is born out of the fact that, as much as these opinions are seemingly coming from sociopaths, there is also the matter of objectivity, in that, there is very little. How to tell the sociopaths from the frauds, then added to that, individualism whereby every sociopath is slightly different in certain aspects, thus resulting in what I deem to be, sadly, a possibly subjective/biased source of information. It is my suspicion that the majority of sociopaths will not comment on this site, possibly because of apathy, the fact that they may gain some amusement from merely reading the bitchy, petty comments, or that there is futility in making a comment, whereby the majority would ideally, be understanding.

I must press upon the fact that I do not claim to be a sociopath, only that I share several characteristics which have aroused my attention. However whether these are due to being a sociopath, or merely born from experience resulting in a highly misanthropic, manipulative and moral nihilistic personality type. I have always been slightly different since a child in terms of recklessness and disregard for social norms, however it has only been in the last 4/5 years or so, I have changed more and more (I'm 20 yrs/o). Needing an objective view and with luck, an end to this horrible itch that cannot be scratched as a result of my morbid curiosity, I have started to see a psychiatrist, not for therapy but merely to see if I may be different, if my suspicions are true. I am who I am, and if I am truly different from your typical empath, an amusing and appropriate term, then fair enough.

I replied:
What is a diagnosis? Psychological diagnoses seem to serve several purposes. If the condition or the symptoms are treatable and are causing the individual discomfort, then they serve as a plan of action for how to combat the symptoms. If the condition is not treatable, what then? Specifically for something like sociopathy, is the point of the diagnosis? Keeping people in prisons is one purpose, probably the most practical purpose right now with most of the diagnoses being made on people int he prison population. Warning others? Only if others know your particular diagnosis. What else? Self discovery? Possibly. Or is it to identify some concrete scientific phenomenon that is happening in the human race. I guess if you're a scientist/researcher you would say the latter so you would be concerned with issues of validity, etc., and reject anything or anyone that might hurt that sense of validity (and your funding). Since I'm not a scientist (at least not this type of scientist), I don't care about validity, so it doesn't really bother me to have the diagnosis bastardized a bit. I figure that people who have firsthand experience with sociopathy will be able to recognize themselves in the posts on the site. If they don't, maybe we are something different from each other, although I wouldn't know whether to call me a sociopath and them something else or vice versa.

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