Tuesday, January 31, 2012

Morality pill

My friend sent me a link to this NY Times op-ed titled "Are we ready for a morality pill?" with the instruction "let your followers discuss their impending extermination through pills."  Apart from the obvious Clockwork Orange implications, I thought this was the most controversial part

Why are some people prepared to risk their lives to help a stranger when others won’t even stop to dial an emergency number?

Scientists have been exploring questions like this for decades. In the 1960s and early ’70s, famous experiments by Stanley Milgram and Philip Zimbardo suggested that most of us would, under specific circumstances, voluntarily do great harm to innocent people. During the same period, John Darley and C. Daniel Batson showed that even some seminary students on their way to give a lecture about the parable of the Good Samaritan would, if told that they were running late, walk past a stranger lying moaning beside the path. More recent research has told us a lot about what happens in the brain when people make moral decisions. But are we getting any closer to understanding what drives our moral behavior?

Researchers there took two rats who shared a cage and trapped one of them in a tube that could be opened only from the outside. The free rat usually tried to open the door, eventually succeeding. Even when the free rats could eat up all of a quantity of chocolate before freeing the trapped rat, they mostly preferred to free their cage-mate. The experimenters interpret their findings as demonstrating empathy in rats. But if that is the case, they have also demonstrated that individual rats vary, for only 23 of 30 rats freed their trapped companions.

The causes of the difference in their behavior must lie in the rats themselves. It seems plausible that humans, like rats, are spread along a continuum of readiness to help others. There has been considerable research on abnormal people, like psychopaths, but we need to know more about relatively stable differences (perhaps rooted in our genes) in the great majority of people as well.

Must it?  This may just be an issue of semantics, but I don't think that this is necessarily a question of morality (big surprise).  I think that the fact that there are some very moral people who sometimes do bad things (i.e. Milgram subjects or the Good Samaritan preachers) suggests that it is not really an issue of morality at all, but perhaps of attention.  Sometimes our attention is directed at a "good" behavior and we have an impulse to act. Sometimes we are distracted or our attention is never caught or there is not the impulse. Under my theory, generally moral people are on the lookout for moral things and are willing to act (unless they get distracted or get conflicting cues, like in an experimental setting trying to make them look amoral).  Is this too behavioralist?  Has that all been refuted since I took psychology at university?

And what about mental state?  One thing that most criminal laws and religions have in common is a distinction between a good/bad act and a good/bad mental state.  For instance, many religious people believe that if you do good things and don't have good intentions that is not moral and vice versa.  Similarly, many crimes require a particular bad intent or are mitigated by the lack of a bad intent.

I understand the rationale behind wanting to test morality by observing people's objective actions rather than subjective mental state (not just a "walk the talk" argument but an ease, consistency, and accuracy of measurement motivation), but I think (if my understanding of morality is at all accurate) that a person's level of morality is not merely a sum of a person's actions.  I hope that's not true, at least.

Monday, January 30, 2012


This is going to date me (and possibly make me sound like I have terrible taste in movies), but I remember watching City of Angels when it came out.  (Actually I had seen the sequel to the original first, and was very confused.  Film depictions of fallen angels always remind me of sociopaths, a la the Meet Joe Black angel of death -- to complete the bad 90s romantic comedies references.)  But in the City of Angels version, the fallen angel asks the Meg Ryan character about crying:

Seth: Why do people cry? 
Maggie: What do you mean? 
Seth: I mean, what happens physically? 
Maggie: Well... umm... tear ducts operate on a normal basis to lubricate and protect the eye and when you have an emotion they overact and create tears. 
Seth: Why? Why do they overact? 
Maggie: [pause] I don't know. 
Seth: Maybe... maybe emotion becomes so intense your body just can't contain it. Your mind and your feelings become too powerful, and your body weeps.  

Here's what a sociopath reader wrote about it:

I think I can recognize it, but I do honestly get confused when a person cries. My sister is always crying during a movie called animal farm. I assume she is sad because I personally know she loves animals, and in that movie a lot of animals are tortured, killed. If I was not aware of her liking animals, I would be a little confused to her crying, because people cry when they laugh, and when they are angry. I always figured she was pissed at the movie, and thus cried. If she did not love animals as obsessively as she did (as in I didn't know her on a personal level), that would be my first conclusion. That makes more sense to me, to be so frustrated or angry, that she would cry. I've seen people so pissed that they cry. I was so frustrated once that I cried, part of it was forced, but I cried nonetheless. Vanessa cried all the time, but I'm not exactly sure why now that I think about it. It may have been anger. People cry due to pain right? Sadness is a form of pain? I think that's what you were saying.

When I watched Passion of the Christ (hilarious movie, also tedious and somewhat redundant), I chuckled, and smiled, and wanted to laugh. Those around me were crying. I heard the sniffles, saw the wiping at their eyes, and naturally I knew they were upset. It did confuse me, I didn't know specifically why they were crying, but they were. It grew annoying very quickly. One time in church when I was visiting family in the east coast the preacher was preaching his bull, and people around me started to convulse, and cry. This confused me more than any other experience of people crying (I was a child btw when this happened). I still can't come to a rational explanation of their crying other than it was fake, and these people didn't want to be the out casts. That's why I did it. I did cry that day, but only after everyone else was at it for a while. I watched my mother, who was crying, I watched those fainting around me, I watched my sister, who was crying. Then I studied her, hard, and tried to think of something that could make me cry. I tried to think of a time that I cried, and all I was able to come up with was when I was in physical pain. So I hurt myself. When no one was paying attention I used the bottom of my palm and pushed harshly upward right underneath my nose, which caused me to tear up. Then I thought of how my sister looks when she cries, looked at everyone else's expression when they were crying, and did that, mixed with the tears I produced because I hit myself. Once everyone stopped, and settled down, I put off the act, and once we left, I was confused, disturbed. I just, in general, don't like church scenarios. The fact that a mass of people can use mob mentality and conform to emotions that I don't think any are actually feeling is beyond me. I remember asking my mother why everyone was crying, and she told me they were feeling the spirit. How? How can you feel something that isn't there? A spirit meant nothing to me because it was not a solid physicality, existing (as in I can see it) thing, so how can you feel for something that isn't there?

Sunday, January 29, 2012

Lady Gaga again

I was talking to one of my musician friends about what makes someone a very interesting artist, and she mentioned how Tony Bennett's most recent duet album is of note because even though his voice is shot, he collaborates with such interesting people that they're still worth listening to.  She told me that she was watching an interview with Tony Bennett and Lady Gaga about the album and is now convinced that she is in fact a sociopath.  According to her:
  • "Sociopaths are like a narcissist in so many ways, but they still manage to make you feel good too.  That's how I can tell someone's a sociopath."
  • "Lady Gaga was swooning over Tony Bennett and Tony Bennett was eating it up, yet everything remained about Lady Gaga and Tony Bennett seemed fine about it."
  • "She was kissing his cheek and talking about him, yet somehow it was all about her."  
I tried to find the interview, but could not manage to get a full clip.  This is the best I could do:

Even in this short clip there is a reference to how she is spontaneous (impulsive) and how she changes from day to day, more than anyone he has ever met in the entertainment industry.  I'm not saying that these small things make a sociopath.  I'm just saying that she is a good example of someone famous who could be a sociopath that you wouldn't necessarily think of as being a sociopath.

(Completely off topic for you music lovers) I have a new theory that Beethoven 7 is the orchestral version of a woman's little black dress -- it is universally flattering and appropriate for any occasion.  Feel free to quote me liberally at your next cocktail party.

Saturday, January 28, 2012

Sociopaths = narcissistic, not narcissists

Question from reader "R" re sociopaths vs. narcissists (edited):
Dear Sociopath:

I hope you don't mind but if you have chance I have some questions for you. I've never knowingly dealt or spoken with a sociopath before (as far as I know) and this is my first time reaching out. I've become interested in sociopaths because I recently realized through a very melodramatic relationship that I was searching out a sociopath under the guise of trying to seek a highly romanticized romantic relationship. It turned out I think that all I got was narcissist... and after he fired me (he was my boss) I realized part of my bitter disappointment was that he was only a narcissist.

I don't think a narcissist is much like a sociopath... they just operate on a lower emotional level that rules them entirely where as it seems sociopaths function without the entanglements of the regular fears and ambitions that the rest of us have? What do you think?
my response:
I think that sociopaths and narcissists are very different, although they both demonstrate a certain amount of "narcissism," which is confusing terminology for some people. There is clinical "narcissism," the disorder, and narcissism in the traits of self love, overconfidence, delusions of grandeur, etc. "Narcissism" the disorder is just a term for a bundle of traits that happens to include narcissism the trait. Narcissism isn't necessarily the dominant trait of the narcissist, although it is certainly a prominent one. Sociopaths also frequently manifest the narcissistic trait, but the sociopath would believe he has more justification for his narcissism, and with good reason. The sociopath is exceptional -- his brain is hardwired differently to think rationally all the time, to exploit, to be a predator/scavenger. I don't think this is true of narcissists. I believe narcissism is deeply based in self-deception. as Fyodor Dostoevsky said in The Brothers Karamazov:

"A man who lies to himself, and believes his own lies, becomes unable to recognize truth, either in himself or in anyone else, and he ends up losing respect for himself and for others. When he has no respect for anyone, he can no longer love, and in him, he yields to his impulses, indulges in the lowest form of pleasure, and behaves in the end like an animal in satisfying his vices. And it all comes from lying--to others and to yourself."

Empaths may think that all of this is a distinction without a difference because interactions with narcissists may seem very similar to interactions with sociopaths. Both may seem uncaring, but with the sociopath it is more because he is incapable of caring about you the same way you care about yourself, whereas with the narcissist it is more because he is too self-involved to notice you. But there is arguably more hope of a stable relationship with a sociopath because sociopaths are self-aware and manifest greater control over their behavior (i.e. ability to adapt to individual needs and preferences). That said, a relationship with a narcissist could be more stable because they are more constant (albeit constantly selfish) and have more genuine (albeit histrionic and self-involved) emotions. And narcissists too can change their behavior if they think that the change is more consistent with their deluded self-image of themselves -- a-friend-to-man, a superhero, a-good-guy, or whatever it is they are telling themselves that particular day. If you don't mind everything always being about him in a relationship, a narcissist should be fine. If you don't mind everything always being about you in a relationship, a sociopath should be fine. but I like your description, too -- that narcissists operate on a lower emotional level that rules them whereas sociopaths function without the entanglements of the regular fears and ambitions that empaths have. To the extent that means that sociopaths have much greater control over their behavior/destiny, I think that is true.

Friday, January 27, 2012

SNL Dateline

A reader sent me this very funny portrayal of creepy SNL Dateline parody Keith Morrison: "When I was four years old I saw a birthday clown drown in a pool."

"Tell me, did killing him get your rocks off?"

"No.  You know, I'm not weird like that."

"Not even a little?"

"Ah, what the heck, it got me off a little."


In the same episode, gaslighting, or a copy of the teleplay here for those that cannot watch.

Thursday, January 26, 2012


I have recently gotten into Weegee.  I have also always enjoyed gazing (Weegee-like) at human suffering. Studying?  The real phrase I want to use is "watching at," because it suggests a certain detachment and dehumanization of the subject, but I don't think that is proper English.

There has always been something very compelling to me, seeing people laid naked, bare for all the world to see them at their most piteous moments.  I like the violent Weegee photographs the best, or the ones that imply violence or display the results of violence.  I also like the apathy of some of the onlookers.  There is something so self-congratulatory about the faces of some of these bystanders -- as if it was a credit to their skill, determination, and faithful church-going that they had avoided a similar fate.

Don't you love the word akimbo?  I know that the word akimbo must have derived to describe the curious angle of the limbs of a dead corpse (among other things), but there is something of certainty about the word that suggests the contrary -- that dead corpses exist to give purpose to the word.

Weegee himself is not a sociopath, of course.  He's quoted in a recent Slate article as saying: "I’m very sensitive and artistic and hate the sight of blood, but I’m spellbound by the mystery of murder."  Too bad.

For collections, see here, here, here, and here, among others.

Wednesday, January 25, 2012

Managing expectations

For several years I was in a very corporate environment (until I got fired for shirking almost all work assignments).  My bosses would always admonish us to manage our clients' expectations.  By that they meant that we should under-promise so we would look like the hero when we exceeded expectations, or at the very least always meet their expectations.  This was an ok strategy most of the time, particularly when there was some information asymmetry between you and the client that made it difficult for the client to assess for itself the likely outcomes from your type of services.  In situations where the client is not clueless and can actually make an educated guess itself about what you should and shouldn't be able to accomplish, this can be a self-defeating strategy.  If they know from their own experiences that they can expect x quality at y price, when they come into your office and you tell them that you can only provide (x-10) at (y+1000) price, they'll just look elsewhere for services.

As part of my current job, I often give training presentations or workshops, either in-house or for other organizations or conferences.  I just started one in-house presentation yesterday -- a multi-week affair that most people have to attend because it looks good for promotion.  I have done this particular series before and found that most people's complaints revolved around it being too much work.  It also was too much work for me.  This time around I've revamped it to be the sort of thing that people (including me) can just show up to and have an interesting discussion.  But there is always the worry that people will not take it seriously at all, and then things will truly fall apart before the end of the series with possible damage to my reputation from people thinking that I am a "joke" or can otherwise be taken advantage of.  My plan of action (a risky plan of action) is to have the class be easy but to maintain appearances is to be seen as an authority such that they are afraid of my judgment, and also highlight the accomplishments and good ideas of their colleagues to foment peer pressure.  This way they will feel both vertical and horizontal pressure to put forth their better efforts, despite the casual structure of the class.

To establish myself as an authority, I told them that I chose this particular topic because it is something that I didn't know much about but wanted to learn.  I then told a story about someone famous in my field who happens to be in his 80s, and how he does a similar series with an emphasis on technology because that's the only way he can keep up with the latest and still remain relevant.  Still, I really played up my ignorance, turning to particular articles written by experts and saying I don't even know what they're talking about, and could someone get more esoteric?  I then proceeded to lead the discussion by asking insightful questions that I knew would be some people's specialities or at least a handful of people would know because of current events.  I stirred up this almost feeding frenzy of bragging, everyone eager to try to show off their own knowledge and expertise lest they be thought the lone idiot in the seminar, but I never let anyone get too comfortable either.  Finally at the end I take them along a particular polished thought experiment that blew their minds.  The truth is that although I am not an authority in this general subject area, I am in the particular subject matter we discussed this week and will discuss next week.  So now I've basically told them I'm an ignorant dilettante... who can also blow their minds.  If my plan has worked correctly, the thing they should be asking themselves today is -- if I think I'm an idiot at something in which I am so far above them, how good am I at the things that I would actually admit expertise?

Tuesday, January 24, 2012

Psycho-path to success

A reader sent me a CNN feature about psychopaths, which has been sort of a theme recently but this one has an interactive quizz! And clever headline! "Bad Bosses: The Psycho-path to Success." And quotable quotes:

  • "Most of us have an image of psychopathy that's inaccurate -- we think of the killer, a crazy person ... the fact is, psychopathy is a personality disorder that may or may not result in criminal behavior." 
  • "Squint at the symptoms of psychopathy, and in a different light they can appear as simple office politics or entrepreneurial prowess." 
  • "They can't get any one thing done because they're prone to boredom, but that can be easily called 'multitasking.'" 
  • "Risk-taking can be beneficial. A lack of empathy can be beneficial, if you need to make a rational-based decision."
From the reader:

I saw this today and immediately thought of you.  Especially funny is the interactive flash quiz at the top, where it you can answer questions about your boss to find out if he/she is a psychopath. It comes replete with scary pictures, including Christian Bale's "American Psycho" dvd cover. On a more serious note, I find that knowledge of psychopathy, and all it entails, is slowly creeping into society's collective conscience. The word is used conversationally, with increasing accuracy, by the general public, and mentioned increasingly often in movies / on tv. Perhaps you can write a post regarding this phenomenon? Personally, I am dismayed by this pattern, and hope it is just my imagination playing tricks on me, because I have always relished the complete ignorance of psychopathy's very EXISTENCE most people display.

There does seem to be something of a trend, doesn't there? There's the "Occupy Wall Street guy, the remake of American Psycho starring (possibly? please be true, rumor mill) someone famous for acting like a psychopath. Next up should be a book, of course by me. Then a scripted television show, about my life. Then a reality television show, which I will produce. And then cashing out and becoming a life coach. At least that is my five year plan.  Maybe the extra publicity will be bad for the average psychopath, but it's sort of a prisoner's dilemma situation, is it not?

But realistically, will being aware of the existence of psychopaths really change the way people live their lives?  Just because I'm aware of the dangers of automobile travel, does that mean that I do not travel in a car?  At a certain point, all of the information about the baddies (terrorists, murderers, rapists, white collar criminals) and the health risks (cancer, AIDS, accidental death, mental disease) in the world just becomes background noise.  Adding one more thing to worry about will not affect the way most people go about their lives.  I don't think about cancer daily.  Then again, I might if I actually got diagnosed with cancer.

Monday, January 23, 2012

Sociopaths in the news: Megaupload

From a reader:

I was wondering if you followed the arrest of the megaupload.com crew in New Zealand. Kim Schmitz also known as Kim Dotcom, the founder had some pretty interesting reactions, and I think he might be sociopath as well. In addition to having a history of scamming and shady deals of which he was also convicted of in Europe, I personally have dealt with him and was almost scammed by the guy. I dealt with him once many years ago when he tried to organize an exotic car rally, the entry was supposed to be 50,000$ and the pot 1 million. Of course the race never happened and all those who paid didn't get their money back. He managed to collect quite a few deposits and made off with them. The very first time I spoke to him I had my spidey sense tingling me and decided against any further dealings with him. He does exhibit a lot of ASPD traits as observed by myself and as you can probably deduce from the following article, if you please to read it.

So first after the police descended on his mansion with helicopters he hid behind electronic defenses installed in his house, after those were breached by the police he hid inside a "panic room" and the police had to cut through it to get to him. Sounds almost like a caricature.  After that debacle, he goes on to say he has nothing to hide, and was happy to pose for pictures to the press. All of his past dealings and convictions related to him  are scams, accusations of insider trading, stock manipulation, and more scams.

What cemented my opinion about him having ASPD was also the fact that in between him trying to convince me to sign up for his rally, the next subject of conversation was how awesome and rich he was, and every few phrases or so he made a reference to his wealth. He talked about how much money he was making to the point I felt that he was either a very very insecure man, or a complete fool. Now I know better, and I'm pretty sure he is a bona fide sociopath. I've met a lot of people with fragile egos that need to boast and such but this guy... Nothing like him. He was definitely wealthy back then too, no doubt about it, but he was acting like we should be grateful to him for giving us the "amazing opportunity" to participate in his event.

One more thing to note, in spite of his flaws and quirks, he struck me as a very very intelligent man.

Editor's note: I was also persuaded by the aforementioned article's reference to his ties to two germans and one dutchie, who apparently were also megaupload.com leaders.  Central Europeans do not have a good track record for morality, and if they were attracted to Kim Dotcom (also German) enough to want to work under him, that is further proof to me that Dotcom was a charismatic and amoral leader.  Or it could be the shared language and culture.  Also from the article:

Possessions taken from Dotcom's Coatesville mansion provided a hint of the accused men's extravagant lifestyles. Eighteen luxury cars worth a combined $6m were taken from the site, including a 2008 Rolls-Royce Phantom Drop Head Coupe, with the licence plate GOD, and a 1959 pink Cadillac. Others including Mercedes Benz, a Maserati and a Harley Davidson motorbike with licence plates including POLICE, STONED, GUILTY and MAFIA.
Dotcom maintained an extraordinary public profile, funding a huge New Year's Eve fireworks display over Waitemata Harbour in 2010 and commenting publicly on his charitable giving, including to the victims of the Christchurch earthquake and the Starship Foundation in Auckland.

In a recent online missive Dotcom wrote about his life in New Zealand, saying how he heard local singer Gin Wigmore on the radio and wanted her to record the "Mega Song".

With a casual mention of how he was "chilling in the studio" with the Black Eyed Peas, he said Wigmore took the offer, came to the studio in Auckland, and nailed the song in three takes.
Other material found uploaded [on megaupload.com]
included child pornography and terrorism propaganda videos, according to the indictment. 

Sunday, January 22, 2012

Occupy Wall Street and Psychopaths

A reader sent me this video clip of an OWS crusader who specializes in spreading the good word against psychopaths:

I always feel a little badly for these people. For some reason, whenever people start preaching against the wicked sociopaths that have "probably been with us since humanity evolved," and is "probably where our idea of vampires come from," I feel like they have about the same credibility as the foil hat gang. He actually makes some interesting points about sociopaths taking an ideal and twisting it, whether a religious, economic, or other ideology, to "take in large groups of people," because most people are identified with some sort of ideology.  Interestingly, I don't know if he ever acknowledges that the OWS movement itself was susceptible to this sort of mass manipulation.

Saturday, January 21, 2012

Oxytocin and morality

A reader recommended this TED talk about the role of oxytocin and morality. The talk description:

What drives our desire to behave morally? Neuroeconomist Paul Zak shows why he believes oxytocin (he calls it “the moral molecule”) is responsible for trust, empathy, and other feelings that help build a stable society. 

 Here's what the reader said about it:

It seems relavant that he says about 5% of people do not release oxytocin upon the usual stimuli, and I usually see a predicted psychopathy incidence at around 4% of the population. Also, the background for individuals with this lack of release is similar to that often found of p/s types.

Could the distinction between empaths and sociopaths really as simple as that? Even if it is not, it's interesting to see how much of people's humanity is based on something as simple as a hormone.  

Friday, January 20, 2012


A lot of readers have been telling me that I should read the book Blindsight, by Peter Watts--that it is very topical.  I just started reading it.  It's available for free here.  Here is one reader's review:

Author and biologist Peter Watts contributed Blindsight to the body of hard sci-fi fiction in 2006, with the intention of simultaneously exploring and criticising themes of consciousness and the perception of the sociopath as monsterous inhuman. The reason why Watts and Blindsight are of interest here, are the most memorable creations in Blindsight, the flesh-and-blood hominid vampires Homo sapiens vampirensis. Drawing his inspiration from the modern Gothic image of the vampire as a pallid sociopathic human, Watts has created an alternative evolutionary timeline in which modern humans formerly co-existed and interbred with a previously extinct subspecies of ancient hominid predators possessing the biological traits that inspired the folktales about vampires around the world.

Within the Rifters universe, the existence of sociopathy among humans is explained as the re-emergence of this ancient phenotype in exceptional human individuals, and paleogeneticists working with the 'blood of sociopaths' have been able to recreate this ancient, super-powered species that takes on and exaggerates the characteristics of clinical psychopathy. 

Although the vampire Jukka Sarasti is on the one hand presented as a predatory beast, Watts also stresses not the human nature of the vampire, but the vampiric nature of the human crew that makes humns uneasy about vampire – in the Rifters universe, nobody travels past Jupiter without having vampire subroutines inserted into their human DNA in order to allow the 'undead' state. 

"Empathy for sociopaths isn't common," I remarked

"Maybe it should be. We, at least" he waved an arm; some remote-linked sensor cluster across the simulator whirred and torqued reflexively "chose the add-ons. Vampires had to be sociopaths. They're too much like their own prey  a lot of taxonomists don't even consider them a subspecies, you know that? Never diverged far enough for complete reproductive isolation. So maybe they're more syndrome than race. Just a bunch of obligate cannibals with a consistent set of deformities." 

"And how does that make" 

"If the only thing you can eat is your own kind, empathy is gonna be the first thing that goes. Psychopathy's no disorder in those shoes, eh? Just a survival strategy. But they still make our skin crawl, so wechain 'em up." 

Although Jukka Sarasti remains a brooding presence on board the Theseus, throughout Blindsight the author uses his human characters to describe Jukka's behaiour and thoughts in an atypically sympathetic way for fiction. 

"Anyway, I just think he'scut off." A nervous tic tugged at the corner of Szpindel's mouth. "Lone wolf, nothing but sheep for company. Wouldn't you feel lonely?" 

"They don't like company," I reminded him. You didn't put vampires of the same sex together, not unless you were taking bets on a bloodbath. They were solitary hunters and very territorial. With a minimum viable pred-prey ratio of one to ten  and human prey spread so sparsely across the Pleistocene landscape  the biggest threat to their survival had been competition from their own kind. Natural selection had never taught them to play nicely together. 

That didn't cut any ice with Szpindel, though. "Doesn't mean he can't be lonely," he insisted. "Just means he can't fix it."

[...] "You asked about Sarasti. Smart man. Strong Leader. Maybe could spend a little more time with the troops." 

  Vampire doesn't respect his command. Doesn't listen to advice. 

  Hides away half the time. 

  I remembered transient killer whales. "Maybe he's being considerate." He knows he makes us nervous. 

  "I'm sure that's it," Bates said. 

  "Vampire doesn't trust himself."

And finally, Watts dares to shatter what is a taboo nowadays – to question the value of empathy. For anyone interested in unusual fictional portrayals of psychopathic characters, or interesting psychological themes in general, I'm sure you'll find that Blindsight is well worth a look.

"That, too, had slipped out before I could stop itand after that came the flood: "You put so much fucking stock in that. You and your empathy. And maybe I am just some kind of imposter but most people would swear I'd worn their very souls. I don't need that shit, you don't have to feel motives to deduce them, it's better if you can't, it keeps you" 

  "Dispassionate?" Cunningham smiled faintly. "Maybe your empathy's just a comforting lie, you ever think of that? 

Maybe you think you know how the other person feels but you're only feeling yourself, maybe you're even worse than me. Or maybe we're all just guessing. Maybe the only difference is that I don't lie to myself about it."

Thursday, January 19, 2012

Sociopaths on facebook

These are pretty funny, courtesy of a reader, "The 50 most brilliant, obnoxious, or delightfully sociopathic Facebook posts of 2011."  Obviously only some of them are "sociopathic."  For those of you too lazy or unable to click on the link, highlights include crass reactions to announcements of imminent suicide, careless death announcements, revenge, betrayal, emotional outbursts, and pedophilia.  I think the Germans have a word for  the sort of enjoyment of others' pain that Facebook has wrought.  Facebook: by sociopaths for sociopaths?

In other random news, I completely forgot that I recently spent a month being stalked until I was reminded of it today by the person cutting my hair (sideways glance, "you're always so nonchalant about things...").  This hair person is one of those oddly insightful savants of human nature that makes me squirm in my chair.  The only solution is to get her to relate to me the entire plot behind a recent television show.  Today it was "Homeland"--plot points interspersed with the ubiquitous, "I don't want to give it away, but...."  Is it time for a new hairstyle?

Wednesday, January 18, 2012

Elderly sociopath

A reader relates a funny story about a family member that she suspects is a sociopath -- her elderly grandmother:

I showed your site to my sister (who also has tendencies more than your average person as well), and we both agree that our grandmother was/is definitely a sociopath. It's interesting to see her now, since just recently she was put into an assisted living home. She's in the early stages of dementia, but sometimes when something isn't going her way, I see her mask drop from her face and it takes her just a tad bit longer than usual to recover it. I was tempted over the holidays to whisper something to her about it when her mask fell away, but decided against it. 

I'm sure she has no idea we know her true nature. I'm not even sure she's self-aware enough that she would even know the label (which I think labels are stupid anyway). 

She was definitely high-functioning because as far as I know she was never a criminal. Though I do think there are family secrets about tax evasion. 

A side note though, I recently discovered through a scrapbook of newspaper clippings that she had had a hit out on her in the 80s. Apparently, that was an open family secret and I asked her about it (this was before the dementia) and she didn't have much to say about it. I'd even say she was very nonchalant about it. I'm pretty sure most people wouldn't keep a scrapbook about someone trying to have them killed and when asked about be so blase about it. I have so many stories from my childhood that point to her sociopathy it's not even funny. So yeah, the genetic component is there. 

Tuesday, January 17, 2012

Contextualizing emotions

I was trying to describe to someone the other day what emotions feel like for me. It's not like I don't feel them.  I feel a lot of different emotions, but some of them I don't recognize or understand. By that I mean that sometimes (actually a lot of the time) it feels like my emotions lack context. They're not completely without context. It is sort of like I am watching a movie, but backwards. Not completely backwards--like I am watching 30-60 second increments, and then skipping back in time to the next increment. Or when you read an email chain, but start at the most recent email and read back in time. You can get an idea of what is happening, but because the conversation is not really linear -- does not progress organically (at least to your eyes) -- there will always be holes to your understanding. It's sort of like the character in the movie Memento trying to make sense of his surroundings when every seven minutes or so, he forgets what came before.

When I was younger I frequently gave into emotional impulses. I felt like if I was mad there must be a reason that I was mad so I was justified in lashing out in whatever manner I felt proper. In order to rid myself of that behavior I learned to second guess any emotions. I would ask myself: could I identify the type of emotion I was feeling? What was the source? What had prompted the emotion? If I didn't have the answer to these basic questions I would ignore the emotion, writing it off as being (at least probably) an emotional hallucination.

I'm sure that many emotions are "hallucinations" and I'm sure that everyone must experience this to a certain extent. But by ignoring any emotion that I could not explain to myself, I am sure I was also being over-inclusive, thereby excluding legitimate emotions from which I simply lack the ability to contextualize and extract any real meaning. I am unable to separate the wheat from the chaff. Consequently, I am forced to throw the baby out with the bathwater (pardon the mixed metaphor).

Sometimes I wonder if this is the core of what I generally perceive as being self-aware or not amongst the sociopathic population, i.e. the self-aware ones in my eyes are the ones who have realized that their emotions deceive them and vice versa.  It's also why I generally consider narcissists to be unaware, because in my eyes they are constantly acting on bastard emotions that they believe justify reprehensible behavior.

Monday, January 16, 2012

Portrait of a sociopath

I stumbled across this "self portrait" of a sociopath here, and thought it was one of the most accurate depictions of an everyday sociopath I've seen, and by that I mean it is the description of a sociopath that is the most similar to how I view myself:
I've often suspected I have sociopathic tendencies, but I don't fit all the criteria on your list.

I've lied and stolen from a very young age despite being brought up in a normal, loving, two-parent home. I had never been particularly loving until I learned consciously what the display of this behavior could do for me. In arguments with my sibling I was always labeled cold and unfeeling because I would turn off the outward expression of emotion to the point that I'm not sure I felt anything at all.

Despite this, I have forged some stable long-term relationships, married, and now have a daughter. I have learned to blend in with the status quo so much that I highly doubt if anyone suspects my inward nature. Once I learned consequence I stopped stealing and now only lie when it benefits me in some tangible manner and the risk of being outed is low. Despite this outward appearance of normalcy, I lack any sort of depth or substance. Emotions are often faked, and I have to work at performing regular friendship and relationship maintenance to keep these relationships going when there is no emotion behind the act whatsoever-(for instance, buying and providing a nice birthday card and gift for a long time friend with loving sentiments).

I struggle often with behaving appropriately and in a manner acceptable to society. I am still tempted to steal and have to slowly walk myself through the consequences of doing so. I don't avoid stealing by arguing the morality of it, but rather what would happen to me if I was caught. In my teen years I was promiscuous and to this day still struggle with my urges, though I have never cheated on my husband for fear of being caught. Sex and lust for me is more of a function of manipulation that it is a physical urge, though I can and have enjoyed sex.

I often fantasize about soulful, deep, searing love relationships but don't think I could ever truly experience this. I've used my looks and sexuality in the past to draw men in and after they fell I was through. I finally married after pressure from family, and conceived after 10 years due to pressure from my husband. I love my husband to the extent of what he can provide for me, financially and sexually, but I don't know what it means to have an aching heart for anybody real.

Nearly everything I do, even today, is calculated for personal gain. I am constantly weighing energy output VS gain VS acceptable behavior.

The only unfettered love I've experienced so far is for my daughter. She is the only one who I have *ever* given more to that I expected to receive in return, without calculating what my contribution will get for me.

I wish I wasn't like this, that I could feel a normal depth and range of emotion and not constantly be tempted by my urges. I really don't think anybody could help me, I think that my constant self-checking and chameleon lifestyle is really the best I can ever expect, I don't think a head shrink could provide me with any better "therapy". I some ways I think my disorder is a gift, because I am a consummate logician, being unfettered by normal depth of emotion.

I think there are probably many *many* people out there just like me, who live in a cloak of normalcy. I could be your neighbor, or even your wife. I firmly believe I was born this way and it is just how I am wired. I don't expect anyone to feel sorry for me but I wanted to give my own perspective on my APD.

I think I am more normal that anyone would care to admit, even to themselves.

Sunday, January 15, 2012

Cluster B

A reader gives a theory on the interactions between the DSM-IV's cluster B disorders:

My take on BPD is that it is a fake label, made up by "reformed" BPD's in the field. It's the lowest on the totem pole for the cluster B's, which succeed as follows; BPD, HPD, and AsPD...As for NPD, it does not belong here (although the new DSM is removing this and referring to Cluster B as the "Dramatic Cluster", which in a way it is. But in my opinion, it greatly differs from any type of sociopathy (AsPD). If you think about it, narcissists aim to make you dependent on them through deception and manipulation, while sociopaths seek outright control over someone. Also, Narcissists can empathize but only for themselves, while sociopaths have no ability to empathize at all. They pretty much just follow instinct and thus are “selfish” in their pursuits....A “survival of the fittest” mechanism.

But I feel that with the exception of codeps, all narcissists are horrid people, whereas all sociopaths are not.

Now here is the twist in my theory; AsPD can be comorbid with narcissism…and these are the most despicable/evil humans to walk the Earth (think Hitler…better yet, the embodiment of The Devil himself). Their aim is to have absolute control by any means without regard to any boundaries...societal or personal. But thisnarcissistic comorbidity  can run hand-in-hand with any of the remaining cluster B’s. I.e. Add Narcissism to BPD and that would give you Histrionic.

I am implying is that there are degrees of sociopathy, which can be exhibited in virtually anyone and narcissism is not a high form of it but separate…and when comingled, narcissism multiples the nastiness of sociopaths by a significant degree. BPD's have little narcissism, HPD's much more. AsPD's are higher on the sociopathic spectrum but this does not mean they have a degree of narcissism...add Narcissism to 
AsPD and you have Hitler/ Satan.

Saturday, January 14, 2012

Is your company run by psychopaths?

This blogger asks the question of whether psychopaths are running your corporation.  I actually have wondered how a sociopath would be that much better at climbing the corporate ladder than an empath.  First of all, sociopaths can wear a mask for only so long before there is some sort of slip-up.  Second, some people actually are pretty able to sniff out the machinations and fake charm of a sociopath -- eventually someone might start believing them.  Third, I don't want to say necessarily that sociopaths are inherently lazy, because they are actually capable of a single minded focus that most people are not.  However, sociopaths tend to want to get away with doing as little as possible.  I myself have been fired for that particular character traits, which can become increasingly more obvious the longer you stay at a job.  Finally, there is the boredom.  What sociopath is able to stay at one job for long enough to climb the corporate ladder?  I have never had a job longer than 2-3 years.  I have not even had a profession for longer than 2-3 years, although thankfully for my c.v., I have managed to stay within my general field.  What promise of trappings of wealth or prestige could overome this congenital wanderlust?

The blogger proposes a theory that actually strikes me as being somewhat plausible:

Researchers suggest that these folks are able to rise to the top of companies without being found out because of the chaotic nature of modern corporate structures - especially rapid position-hopping - which makes their behavior almost invisible. They are not in one job long enough for co-workers and superiors to see their problems. In addition, their charm, charisma, and extroverted behavior not only appears normal but ideally suited for today’s global, competitive world.

Boddy also notes that in modern companies it’s relatively easier than in past years to claim success for a project even if you had little to do with it because of all the movement and team participation. “Success could thus be claimed by those with the loudest voice, the most influence and the best political skills. Corporate psychopaths have these skills in abundance and use them with ruthless and calculated efficiency,” he writes.

Friday, January 13, 2012

Atheists = amoral?

I thought this was an interesting op ed from the NY Times about atheists and morality.  Essentially the op ed is complaining about how religious people presume that if you don't believe in God, your morality must somehow be lacking (just because religious people derive their morality from their religion and can't imagine there being any alternative source to their own):

I gather that many people believe that atheism implies nihilism — that rejecting God means rejecting morality.  A person who denies God, they reason, must be, if not actively evil, at least indifferent to considerations of right and wrong.  After all, doesn’t the dictionary list “wicked” as a synonym for “godless?”  And isn’t it true, as Dostoevsky said, that “if God is dead, everything is permitted”?

Well, actually — no, it’s not.  (And for the record, Dostoevsky never said it was.)   Atheism does not entail that anything goes.

Admittedly, some atheists are nihilists.  (Unfortunately, they’re the ones who get the most press.)  But such atheists’ repudiation of morality stems more from an antecedent cynicism about ethics than from any philosophical view about the divine.  According to these nihilistic atheists, “morality” is just part of a fairy tale we tell each other in order to keep our innate, bestial selfishness (mostly) under control.  Belief in objective “oughts” and “ought nots,” they say, must fall away once we realize that there is no universal enforcer to dish out rewards and punishments in the afterlife.  We’re left with pure self-interest, more or less enlightened.

This is a Hobbesian view: in the state of nature “[t]he notions of right and wrong, justice and injustice have no place.  Where there is no common power, there is no law: where no law, no injustice.”  But no atheist has to agree with this account of morality, and lots of us do not.  We “moralistic atheists” do not see right and wrong as artifacts of a divine protection racket.  Rather, we find moral value to be immanent in the natural world, arising from the vulnerabilities of sentient beings and from the capacities of rational beings to recognize and to respond to those vulnerabilities and capacities in others.

I think I have talked about this before, but I can't find the link, so sorry if I am repeating myself.  But I frequently use this analogy to explain how being a sociopath doesn't necessarily equate to maliciousness.  Imagine that you are religious and that your religion compels you to eschew killing--"thou shalt not kill."  You believe in your religion, so you do not kill.  One day, you lose faith and stop believing.  You start thinking to yourself, "I really hate how my neighbor mows his lawn early Sunday morning and wakes me up."  You go to your neighbor's house and put a couple bullets in his head.

No, right?  You wouldn't do that.  Just because your religion was a dominant (if not primary) reason constraining your murderous impulses before does not mean that there aren't other reasons that would still keep you from killing, even if your faith failed you.  Similarly, although moral compasses typically lead people to behave like a "good person," there might be other reasons that people would do "good" things besides a firm sense of morality.

Thursday, January 12, 2012


A reader asks:

What do you think the differences are between male and female sociopaths?

Females are known to be more hormonal and emotional than men, especially during a certain time of the month. How do you think this effects sociopathic women?

Also, oral contraceptives, or "the pill", increase women's estrogen and/or progesterone hormonal levels, which may, in return, cause them to be more emotional and can increase their sense of empathy. If a female sociopath is given such hormones, do you think that she could become more emotional and even feel a little empathetic towards others?

My response:

I think gender must have a big role in making us different.  Gender is a big deal for society.  There are a lot of gender roles that sociopaths of both genders who have to confront and adapt to.  Those adaptations would certainly give a unique flavor to the sociopathic style of the individual. Perhaps an even bigger deal is the different brain chemistry that each gender would have.  I know myself that even when I am sick or tired, I am a much different person than when I am not.   Transgender people frequently experience a personality modification as a result of taking different gender hormones.

To get more specifically to your question, though, what do you experience when you have a surge of female hormones?  Are you more emotional?  If you are more emotional, are those emotions legitimate responses?  Or are they something more akin to an emotional hallucination?


I, too, agree that gender plays a big role in regards to behavior. As a woman, I feel that there is a certain level of femininity I must present to others. It appears that we, as women, are expected to be emotional, submissive, and cautious beings. I, however, am not, and have noticed that a lot of times both men and women seem to not know how to respond to this. Thus, I feel forced to act “sweeter” and more “girly” than I actually am in order to blend in.

When I experience a surge of hormones, I feel as though my thinking process becomes very foggy. I normally prefer to handle situations with logic and efficiency, but when I am hormonal, I can’t think straight and believe I’m losing my mind.

Wednesday, January 11, 2012

Bergen Conference on the Treatment of Psychopathy

Copies of the talks presented at last November's Second Bergen Conference on the Treatment of Psychopathy are available here, for those who are interested in the latest research or theories.  All of the talks include links to powerpoint or other supporting documents and Vimeo videos that hopefully should be accessible, wherever you happen to be watching geographically.

Some interesting topics include "Psychopathy: Capturing an elusive concept,"What do we think about when we think about psychopathy: Prototypicality research," "Untreatable? There might be exceptions!" "Motivating people with personality disorder to engage in treatment using a goal-based approach," "Working therapeutically with young people at risk of developing psychopathy," "Working therapeutically with women with psychopathy," and "Conceptualizing psychopathy in terms of boldness, meanness and disinhibition: Implications for prevention and treatment."

If nothing else, I think these talks give insight into how much researchers disagree about even the most basic concepts, and what drives those disagreements.

Tuesday, January 10, 2012

Game theory

A reader writes about game theory:

I find that I approach life through classic game theory (even before I learned what game theory was). Everything in life is a series of pro's and con's; a constant evaluation of the better outcome. "Love" is the same way, regardless of limerence. I see the pro's and con's of being with a particular person over another person, or over being alone and choose accordingly; approaching marriage in the same fashion, of course. I am engaged, actually; she loves me, and I see no outright "con's" to being with her, I know her (by the same measure of being able to "peer into her soul" as from the blog), and I am generally happy with her presence. While I am not aware that she knows of my sociopathy (although, she is quite familiar with with my agitation towards people, preference to solitude, quiet and observant nature, etc.), I am also sure that should she label me as such, she would not cause me undue stress. That, finally, is one of the major things (a keystone "pro," if you will), is that whatever event I am weighing, I will most always choose the event likely to cause me less hassle and stress.

For me, not only is Game Theory one fashion of handling life, but the concept of compartmentalization.  As many people have commented, trying to keep everything in order (in regards to the lies, half-truths, manipulations, "games," etc.) would be exceedingly difficult.  And it would be, if the sociopath's mind operated as a normal person's.  Everything in my mind is organized sort of like folders and folder groups that you might find in, say, Windows Explorer; everything has its place.  When a situation presents itself, or I am with a certain friend(s), I simply "open" up that folder and behave accordingly.  When one's mind is organized in such a way that no thought co-mingles with others, you don't have the problem of "remembering all of the lies," because you have everything you need neatly stored away, waiting to be accessed at the right time.  This same concept of compartmentalization applies in all walks of life, whether it be love, friendships, work, etc.  Another quality of this is enabling oneself to keep track of friend circles and ensuring that none of these circles cross in any way; this can allow for you to more easily adapt to any number of given situations per friend circle: a different personality, find another lover (in addition to, or instead of, one you may already have).  I find that I am in many different circles, but almost as a ghost; I can walk in and out of these circles almost unnoticed and not missed.  I was once described by a teacher as, "a loner who is never alone." 

Monday, January 9, 2012

Guest song: Turn that Heartbeat Over Again

It's doubtful a sociopath would care whether his victim lived or died; the victim's survival would mean only a reduced sentence.  It's also doubtful whether a sociopath could ever transform himself into an empathetic person, which fits perfectly with the concept of prayer for me since I believe God is imaginary.  Saying you'll change if God makes his presence known to you is like saying "when Hell freezes over" or "when pigs fly" or "tomorrow"--because it ain't gonna happen.

With stocking face I bought a gun
The plan was set the plan was done
Looked at my watch and started for the door
Now the food here ain't so good no more
And they closed the package store

Love your mama, love your brother
Love 'em till they run for cover
Turn the light off, keep your shirt on
Cry a jag on me

Oh Michael Oh Jesus you know I'm not to blame
You know my reputation for playing a good clean game
Oh Michael Oh Jesus I'll keep my promise when
You turn that heartbeat over again

My poison's named you know my brand
So please make mine a double, Sam
Stir it up nice I'll eat it right here
This highway runs from Paraguay
And I've just come all the way


We warned the corpse of William Wright
Not to cuss and drink all night
Ticket in hand *WE* saw him laid to rest
But zombie see and zombie do
He's here with me and you


Sunday, January 8, 2012

Perfect prey (part 2)


From the beginning of high school she was extremely charming to the people that she wanted to be; she quickly made friends in the highest places, and this continued until she was eventually elected school captain. She is currently in a relationship with the school dux, and her scores were not much lower. Everyone knew her, and they either loved or hated her. Her relationships with teachers were generally not negative (they deemed her to be a 'know-it-all' and too combative for the classroom, later moving on to describe her as "manipulative, sitting in the back of the classroom orchestrating dramas..."), and the only teacher that she has ever really hit it off with was one that I consider to be dangerously needy, unprofessional and interfering in student lives. <-  Not that I consider that to be terribly relevant, but it does link with something else quite apparent in a number of her relationships over the years: 

She often became very close with students and teachers in vulnerable positions. It began by building a rapport of trust, having them confide in her, and her making them feel that she could 'carry' them. She is seen as fiercely protective by most, and she seemed to be magnetically drawn to people in this position - I myself went through an eating disorder, clinical depression, substance abuse and residential treatment during my friendship with her, in which our dynamics would completely mimic the ones that I am about to describe to you... After building the vulnerable's dependence on her she tends to pull back, and leave them with a little less of what they would like from her. Depending on the circumstances, there can be a bit of an effort on the vulnerable's behalf (in which they can become possibly more emotionally fragile - they wouldn't blame her though, they'd 'realise' that the solution lies with her and therefore want her back even more) until she finally gets sick of them and moves on to someone else. This has happened countless times. Similarly, while I also don't blame her for the problems I had, from the eating disorder onwards (when she and I first became close), the ups and downs in my situation were always, in some way, related to her.

Until now, I think, I seem to be either the weakest or the 'strangest' of all of her playthings. Either she has not completely abandoned me until this point because I have engaged in the cat and mouse for so long, or she still finds me interesting. She has described me as 'addictive' and a giant 'contradiction' (in contrast to the pill-popping and self harm, I tend to be regarded as the grounded, well groomed, 'pretty' drama captain - and drama is cool in Australia, hah), which is, of course, exactly as I would describe her.

M.E.: Ah, this is interesting.  I think a lot of people could relate to what you said of a sociopath being attracted to the vulnerability in you.  I don't know what it is about that.  I have experienced that before.  I like to say that I am attracted to people who have a certain susceptibility to my charms, which generally means people who are damaged.  I guess it's because I can become so important to them so quickly?  Also I tend not to worry as much about them outting me--because they are already so messed up, people tend to not credit much of what they say.  It's interesting that your socio friend is female.  I wonder if female sociopaths tend to be even more "nurturing" in the way they seek out their targets/intimates.

Saturday, January 7, 2012

Perfect prey (part 1)

From a reader:

Do you believe that there are empaths who are perfectly suitable partners for sociopaths?

I have been playing cat and mouse with a certain sociopath for four years now. We have gone back and forth between 'love', hate, jealousy, possession and everything in between, and I can't imagine anyone more intellectually or emotionally stimulating. I consider myself to be in love with this person, and know from their inability to get away from me, they reciprocate this to some degree.

I have had others boyfriends (all who I believe are empaths), and I couldn't stand them. I am inextricably proud of 'my sociopath' when they are exerting power over others, and I find it hilarious and thrilling when I know that they are trying to manipulate me also. 

M.E.: It makes sense that there would be certain empaths who value sociopathic traits more than others, such that they would be willing to put up with a lot more of the "negative" traits (or not even see them as negative) than most would.  And it is odd to read some of the comments and see that some people have had multiple interactions with sociopaths over their lifetime--almost like they are a magnet for sociopaths.

But I feel like I should give you some unsolicited advice, just because I just got done emailing someone who pushed her sociopath too far and had him abandon her.  The tricky thing about sociopaths in relationships is that nothing is certain.  You are probably right that your sociopath is intrigued with you, maybe even infatuated.  There is no such thing as "can't live without" in the sociopath's world, though.  They are extremely adaptable and changeable and if you are gone, they really will hardly notice (if notice at all).  That is not to say that they couldn't be a lifelong companion.  But, you would have to be like a plate spinner--constantly going from plate to plate, tending to this need here, being ever so slightly difficult and playful there--to keep things going.  It's a lot of work, and if you're not naturally interested in those sorts of interpersonal machinations, it might wear on you.

Friday, January 6, 2012


From a sociopath reader:
I've been thinking about this for a long time. There's a dichotomy that almost seems to be a contradiction in the way I feel. These are like two sides of a coin, opposite, but neither could exist without the other. These are my views of the world, and how I fit into it. 
The first is the macro-view, where I see everything from so far away that people turn into little specs barely visible to the eye. Humanity as a whole becomes completely insignificant. Even the infinite, God, the universe, and everything, shrink into irrelevance. I float in a void. An empty vacuous abyss. There's nothing around me. I have no body, there are no sounds, no feeling - I'm neither hot nor cold, because I don't feel. I'm purely an entity, observing from the beyond, and the only thing to observe are the little people, their god, their society, their universe, off in the distance, like a child watching ants in their colony. 
When I'm in the void, I'm separated from humanity, and I look down from the outside. I'm no longer part of this, but an outsider. The world shifts from first person to third person. 
The second view is micro-view, where I penetrate so deeply into the world that I see everything in extreme detail. Like in the movies when Peter Parker first wakes up the day after being bitten, or when somebody becomes a werewolf. All of my senses become hyper-acute. I no longer focus directly at anything, and instead let my vision widen. I see things with my subconscious, and anticipate actions before their required - as if I've shifted backwards a brief glimpse in time. When I feel like this, the world becomes very organic and material. I reach out and touch things, and absorb the sensations. I feel the power in my body. I sense people's emotions and reactions. I feel the intense pleasures and pains in my own body. 
I think I'm a dichotomy of emotions and this physical body. I feel no traditional empathy for these people, and I don't feel like I'm in the same sphere emotionally or spiritually. I have a deep intellectual understanding of these ideas, maybe more so than most people, but for me, they're mere philosophical concepts. I've attempted to seek spirituality, but all I've come up with are formulas. Possible algorithms, like solutions to a problem in programming to explain it all. Open mindedness is the greatest of all forms of disbelief, and I'm non-committal to the point of exasperation. 
Despite this, I am here and now in the flesh. Despite the philosophical constructs I build up to entertain myself, the present feels very real and very - present. Despite the emotional crevice between me and others, I'm not unaware of their emotions, and I soak them up like a thirsty sponge. Part of my mind is infinitely distant, while the other part is infinitely close. I crave her flesh. I crave the pain, and the orgasmic rush of wrath. 
I feel like this dichotomy, although opposite, is at it's core, one in the same. Just like a buddhist monk, who experiences the infinite beauty of world through utterly forgoing human desire, I feel much the same. This isn't simple emotional distance, but a glimpse of how the infinitely far is also infinitely near. At the exact same time, at any one time in all of eternity, I'm both completely outside of everything, and deep inside of her soul. I'm both the darkness in the beyond, and a flesh eating virus consuming her from within.

Thursday, January 5, 2012


I was searching for a particular old email recently and stumbled across an interesting discussion between me and a friend.  To give you some insight into my friend's view of humanity, this friend had one time suggested that it was easy for me to be so happy-go-lucky about humanity because I had more "faith" in love than she did.  It is weird for me to read things like this because I don't feel this way anymore--I am not as enamored with humanity as I was even a few years ago.  Then I saw this email (again, from several years ago) to the same friend about how I had been helping out with the political cause of a mutual acquaintance--a political view that this particular friend abhorred.
I'm very impressionable it is true. And yes, I did pick a conclusion first and then come up with ways to justify it to myself. I didn't realize that I had done such a poor job that you could see through me so easily.  
Anyway, this is how I have always been. I don't really think things are morally abhorrent. I usually don't think about stuff that way. I really am pretty much a blank slate. I just like people, I don't mind adopting their values on things and fighting for those values. It's like the Naomi character in the bible saying, "where you go I will go, and where you stay I will stay. your people shall be my people, and your god my god." People are my beliefs and alliances, you included. If the other side had gotten to me first, maybe it would be a different story and a different set of justifications. I can understand people not respecting that or not thinking it is a legitimate way of living, but I don't know. It seems alright to me. But I am not entirely surprised that my justifications didn't make sense to you. Don't be sad, though. I'm ok. I'm not about to join a cult or anything.
It's weird for me to read something like this. It's odd to see certain very familiar things about myself (i.e. weak sense of self, impressionable, people pleasing), but I also realize that I used to like people much more than I do now. It's as if my love and interest in humanity was a passing phase--a bit of a personal fad, like the careers or other exploits that I have picked up and dropped just as suddenly over the years. I think I exhausted the potential upside with people and then it became (and still is) just maintenance. There's no longer the same thrill that I used to get in interacting with people.

My current relationships take so much more effort than my previous relationships did.  When I was younger, I would just burn through relationships.  I confessed to one that I was using him like a paper napkin, to be disposed after I was done with him.  After a while I got a little tired of the drama and upheaval that went along with these aborted relationships.

Now I have a general rule that I don't mess with my intimates, only with people to whom I do not have many ties.  It's basically a policy of not defecating where I intend to eat.  There are real benefits in living my life this way, but there are also definite costs.  Now if I am fed up with someone, I don't blow up or try to hurt them, I distance myself from them and spend some recovery time alone.  Sometimes I have to spend the equivalent of several hours alone in order to be one hour of my well-behaved, solicitous self around certain people. It's odd, but the nicer I have become to my intimates, the less goodwill I have for the rest of humanity.

Wednesday, January 4, 2012

Psycho Stapleton

I stumbled upon this today and didn't know what to think.  From The BBC News:
Kiaran Stapleton, 20, of Salford, was remanded in custody by Manchester magistrates over the death of the 23-year-old in Ordsall Lane, Salford.
Mr Bidve, from India, was studying at Lancaster University and was visiting Greater Manchester over Christmas.
He was shot in the head at close range at 01:30 GMT. 
When asked his name in court, Mr Stapleton replied: "Psycho. Psycho Stapleton."
On the one hand, it's possible that he means "psycho" as in "psychotic." On the other hand, if he means "psycho" as in "psychopath," then I wonder, is this some wannabe kid? It's another reason why I think it's dangerous to insist that psychopaths are blood thirsty murderers. To the extent that it is true (as some have suggested here) that psychopaths are somehow considered "cool" to young people nowadays, the last thing we want is for them to think that all it takes is to kill someone in cold blood to belong to the cool crowd. I thought we got away from that with the seeming cessation in school shootings.  But apart from his odd James Bond recitation of his adopted name and the crime he was accused of, I have no idea whether or not he is a psychopath or a wannabe psychopath (or psychotic or wannabe psychotic).

Tuesday, January 3, 2012


From a reader:
Here's yet another thing I ran across that you may find interesting. It's apparently a new documentary about corporate psychopaths.
I wasn't too fond of it. I started watching it but got bored half way through, so I stopped. Been
there, done that. No new information was presented. Except for the pen thing. That was amusing.

I also ran across this one article as well, although it's old hat as far as people who have ingested a lot of material about this subject before:

I suppose it's interesting to the degree that it's, in a sense, about the "frontiers" of psychopathy research.

Monday, January 2, 2012

Petty tyrant

From a reader:

When I heard this story on This American Life this past Sunday, I thought of you.  It’s the story of a "petty tyrant" named Steve Raucci. This guy routinely used bombs to keep people in his orbit in line, among many other tactics. He never got around to actually killing anyone though. Small acts of terror, combined with schmoozing the right people in authority was his mo. And it worked too. For decades. Until of course, like all stupid villains, he had to go and spill the beans with a “friend” who was wearing a wire. You may not have time to listen to the entire program (it’s I believe 40 minutes or more). But if you do, you may want to give it a gander. Is this guy a sociopath or just a very motivated manager?

Sunday, January 1, 2012

Why I hate narcissists

Here is a good illustration of the differences between narcissists and sociopaths that I found here:

Narcissist wolf says to everyone:
"I'm a sheep, I'm a sheep, I'm in the sheep club. The sheep are the best. Those wolves are terrible. You have to be a special sheep to be in the high-wool club like me. If you don't believe I'm a sheep then you are calling me a liar. I was only eating meat because my boss made me do it. I was howling at the moon because you made me angry. I have always been a sheep. You are paranoid, I don't have canine teeth. You are imagining it. I'm a sheep. I won best sheep of the year award. We have to be on the look out for SueTarget. She's a wolf in sheeps' clothing. I am the one that did all the work. SueTarget messed it all up. SueTargets's fur looks fake. I'm the biggest sheep so I should be the boss. I have every right to punish SueTarget and eat her. It will be good for her, and teach her a lesson. I'm not doing it for me, I'm doing it for the team. I have to be the enforcer here and eat bad sheeps to help keep society clean. I used to be a vegetarian but because all these lazy sheep won't do anything, I am forced into keeping order and forced into being the bad guy and have to do all the eating of sheep."

Sociopath wolf says:
"Become the sheep. Believe you are the sheep. Keep the wolf hidden. Don't act like a narcissist and don't try to "talk your way". Become the sheep. Do sheep things. Behave like sheep. No one will see the wolf. Baa baa baa. Eat grass for a while. Give up meat for a while. Tell the sheep things that will make them feel good about themselves. Gain their trust. Be humble. Make them the center of attention. Get them to lower their defenses. Tell them you lost your teeth in a car accident and your parents could only afford wolf-teeth replacements. Keep past a secret so they don't research. Let them do all the talking. Then when the time is right, devour! It is worth the sacrifice and the wait. Then on a polygraph when they ask if I am a sheep, I will have all the sheep memories because I became a sheep. I have memories of eating grass and living like a sheep. I'm telling the truth."
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