Sunday, March 31, 2013

How to seduce a sociopath

I've address this topic before, but never to my satisfaction. I've never had a good answer, always thinking that people were incapable of doing it -- that if they had it in them to do it, they would have just done it. But one of my friends wanted to seduce someone they believe is sociopathic. And because I know her a little better and the nature of her strengths and weaknesses, I thought that maybe I had a better chance of coming up with something than I have before. And here's what I told her:

I've been thinking about the best tactic for you to seduce your maybe sociopath boss. I was thinking that sociopaths are intrigued when people they know change, like not just an off day sort of temporary change, but start acting differently pretty consistently. That should renew their interest in you, because they thought they had you pegged but you turn out to be more dynamic than they had considered. And I think they are also intrigued when people share their same traits, because they are, after all, narcissists. So I was thinking that maybe you could work on one particular trait that is similar to a sociopath and really make it a daily focus for the next few weeks and see how that works.

The thing that I think will be most helpful for you, and in a Karate Kid paint the fence sort of way improve your manipulation skills, is to focus on exploring every aspect of yourself. You know how sometimes they tell golfers to focus on what their pinky toe feels like in the moment that they start their swing? Always be thinking of yourself. When you talk to people, think of what your upper right prefrontal cortex must feel like. When you are eating, be aware of the size and shape of your tongue. Think about things you have not thought about yourself in years, if ever. Feel the bottom of your lungs, the roots in your teeth. Become aware of your eyes in their socket. When you shower, truly regard yourself in a frank fashion. You are a marvel, a wonder of engineering. You are a god. Your body is amazing and your brain is unfathomable.  Explore the spectrum of your feelings. Can you think yourself to tears? To bliss? Explore every single inch of your physical, emotional, and mental self with the sort of curiosity that a walking miracle such as yourself deserves. And you control this thing. Let yourself become heady with the thought of your power over this awesome thing that is you. 

This is the sort of self regard that sociopaths have about themselves. If you do this you will act differently, and he will notice. He will also recognize, and admire, that you two now share this trait.

I think this will at least renew his interest in you. Once that happens, maybe we think about you trying some more advanced things to get him to understand the nature of your desire.

Saturday, March 30, 2013

Spotting a sociopath quiz

The "quiz" I made on spotting the sociopath and a chance to win a free book. Thanks again for your help.

Friday, March 29, 2013

Sociopaths in the news: Euthanasia

Euthanasia, I am guessing, is a morally fraught issue. "Mercy killings"? "Murder"? You could see how a sociopath might get confused about what is the correct response for this. Someone posted this CNN video link yesterday and I thought it was hilarious:

A Brazilian doctor appeared in court for allegedly killing seven patients to free up hospital beds in the southeast city of Curitiba.

Virginia Helena Soares de Souza recruited a group of doctors to help administer lethal doses of anesthetics, sedatives and painkillers, according to authorities.

In addition, the group allegedly altered oxygen levels for patients, leading to deaths by asphyxiation, police said.

Seven other health care professionals have been charged in the case.

Prosecutors allege de Souza pulled the plug on victims against the wishes of patients and their families, and in so doing broke the law. She did that to free up beds in the ICU and clear up the "clutter" the patients were causing, according to police.

People are outraged by this but not outraged with the Dutch practice of killing of all of their oldies?

Thursday, March 28, 2013

Double standard for empathy

Some of my readers have wondered how it can be possible to hurt a sociopath's feelings. In other worlds, given that sociopaths seem so calloused and unemotional, how can their sudden bouts of moodiness and hurt feelings be reconciled with their general icy, insensitive demeanor?

Sociopaths tend to have a double standard for lack of empathy, manipulation, bluntness, lack of manners, and generally people's inability to conform to social norms to avoid becoming a boorish leech. I am known for being very frank and upfront with people, calling things as I see them with little to no attempt to use tact, but I can get very offended when normal people do the same thing back to me. They don't do it right (without the same charm, insight, timing, or finesse), and to me it means something different than when I do it -- typically I don't do it with an intention to hurt. Maybe a good analogy is when a small child hits you or lashes out at you emotionally and you retaliate in kind. The child cannot really control himself -- you can. The child does not really know better -- you do.

If you're in a seemingly loving relationship with a sociopath and he reacts with a lack of empathy at something you have said, it is probably because he is unaware of the need for empathy, or he is trying his hardest but is still coming up short, or he would try but he is too tired, or at the worst, he simply cannot be bothered to summon up the emotional reaction you seek. He is like the child, unable to raise his behavior to that particular standard. When people react that way to him, he correctly recognizes that there is latent hostility in the behavior -- an intentional attempt to slight. He knows how normal people treat each other. If you don't treat him that way, he will wonder why (and probably assume the worst).

I don't cry myself to sleep about people hurting my feelings or otherwise being insensitive to me. I'm sure I deserve it most of the time. But if people are wondering how or why sociopaths could be offended by behavior that the sociopaths themselves seem to engage in almost daily, I think it is a little more complicated than a case of being able to dish it out, but not take it.

Wednesday, March 27, 2013

Living multiple lives

This was an interesting recent comment:

There are ways to help people that still allow the rush of power, said power is simply less benevolent. People who've been helped tend to rely upon those who helped them, respecting their advice and guidance once the results come piling in. Knowing the game can allow you to work around the usual resistances people put up against advice, and can make for faster changes in the individual for the better, making the world ever so slightly a less monotonous place, while still practicing the talent for control in ways that still show results. People in such cases are sort of like rescued pets from an animal shelter; hurt, damaged, needing the help of others because they are too blinded to help themselves, and then there I am, willing to take them in, psychologically nurse them back to health, and turn such a person back upon society who suddenly carries views that partially reflect my own, spreading it. 

I've tried to be a good person, but at certain points of trust, it becomes tempting to see how blindly they'll follow obviously bad advice, much like leading an animal around with a laser pointer. Helping someone become a better person is like watching a plant grow, slow and gently rewarding, where using a lighter to ignite the plant is exciting, but immediate gratification that is as quick as it came. There's pride in one's achievements, but achievements in the realm of life-crushing are seldom as nostalgic as an unburnt bridge you just helped reinforce. Plus, the typical need for reciprocity can have yields for keeping such people around until it's no longer desirable, which, with life-helping prospects as a prior context, can leave you the 55 in a 45/55 split perception of power; the perception of being one step ahead. 

The main part that sucks the most is when good advice has a bad outcome. For myself, it makes me feel as if I failed them in some way, which is damaging to my sense of pride, and I cannot tolerate failure from myself quite as easily as I can from others with reduced senses of awareness, who really can't help but make mistakes as they feel around life blindly in the dark, relishing what few things they can see (could easily have this argument reflected back at me, for in some ways I am blind too). 

I thought this was an interesting comment, the idea that helping someone become a better person is like watching a plant grow. In some ways for me helping people allows me to live multiple lives, alternative realities. It's like a chessmaster who is playing multiple games at once. A blackjack player playing multiple hands at once. It is not enough for my brain to want to maximize my own success, but also to imagine what it would be like to live another life, and succeed in that one as well.

I don't do it for the other person. In fact, a lot of times the people I "help" would rather I had not. A lot of my friends ask me for stock advice. I gave one friend some advice right before the market crash in 2008. They followed my advice, but only in broad strokes and lost a significant sum of money. Interestingly, I used an even more risky strategy with my own money and managed to come out ok. But that is just the nature of probability and risk. Maybe I understand probabilities better than most people because I have a larger pool of observations from which to draw. One major benefit of living these multiple lives -- I understand that there are very few "sure things" in life.

Tuesday, March 26, 2013

On love

I've been in love before. It's been a while, though. I recently watched a film that got me thinking about it -- all about young romantic love and the heartache and the emptiness, and the relentless longing that accompanies it. I was watching it with a good friend, and we both agreed that although film was supposed to glorify love, it made love seem horrible, completely unpalatable -- like a disease. I felt for the characters. I have always been able to identify better with characters in a film than with most of the characters in my real life -- I guess filmmakers deserve the awards and accolades we give them. But more than that, I recognized the characters. I saw in their behavior things I had seen before in people who had been in love with me.

I recognized the facial expressions and the behavior of the people in the film. I'd seen them before: the unrestrained attachment, the devotion, the loss of self, the anxiety, the jealousies, the fear -- above all I recognized the fear. Love really is horrible that way. Even if you love someone and they love you back and you can spend time together, and there are no hindrances or obstacles keeping you from being together, there is always the worry that the person will leave you, or change, or both. I have wondered before how empaths could commit such violent crimes of passion -- I caught a glimpse of how while watching this film.

I could see how the crime of passion starts much earlier than coming home to find your cheating spouse in bed with another. It starts when you have substituted everything else in your world for this person in the sense that this is the one person whose life or death could mean your own. I know that love is helplessness. I feel helplessness when in love, and I can only imagine that to an empath it feels like there is no choice, no volition, that you are no longer the master of your own destiny. You are a prisoner, a slave. I think some people begin to resent that loss of control. I could see how for some love could quickly turn to hate. And why not? Is not the object of your love also the source of your torture? Of an unbearable pain? A heaviness in your life that can only be relieved when in the beloved's presence? You could weep a thousand tears and there would still be no relief.

I wonder about these people who loved me. I'm curious about how they felt about me, and how they feel about me now. Was I faithless in their eyes? Uncontrollable? Was I their life's sorrow? Was i quickly forgotten? Did they always know what or why they were feeling? Did they hate me for it? I've actually stayed in touch with one of them -- we've managed to stay very good friends, trusted confidantes, and I know I'm not the only one who asks these questions. Why love? Why you? Why not anymore? Was there any purpose? Any gain? Apart from months and even years of their affliction, what was it all for?

And yet I yearn to be in contact with all my other loves: those who have moved on, and (to a lesser extent?) those who have not. I don't know what i want from them -- maybe just to have them acknowledge it, just to see behind the curtain into their minds eye. It's a symptom of this new age of media that we have little patience for unknowns. We're so used to having our questions answered, near instantly. I would give anything to watch those times together from their point of view, to be inside my lover's minds when it was all happening. More than anything, I want to feel the depth of their ache for me. I want to know that it was/is real just like I am real. Somehow I feel that it is their ache that defines me, that that is who I am. But their ache, their nauseousness, their fear, their void seem to say so little about who they are as people, and so much about who I am as a person. I created that ache. I caused that pain. Is that why people want to be in love? So they can hurt someone in a way so completely original and unique to them? So they can feel real?

Monday, March 25, 2013

The Unburdened Mind

This is one of the most balanced, accurate depictions of sociopathy/psychopathy I have seen written by a non sociopath, and the comments are hilarious. Highlights from the article:
Many potential psychopaths might not even realize they have the condition, nor has there traditionally been any easy way for others to recognize them.
* * *
The psychopath does not merely repress feelings of anxiety and guilt or fail to experience them appropriately; instead, he or she lacks a fundamental understanding of what these things are.
* * *
Arriving at a disaster scene, a psychopath would most likely gather to watch with the rest of the crowd. He might even lend assistance if he perceived no threat to his own safety. But he would feel none of the panic, shock, or horror of the other onlookers—his interest would fall more on the reactions of the victims and of the crowd.
* * *
Despite this emotional deficiency, most psychopaths learn to mimic the appearance of normal emotion well enough to fit into ordinary society, not unlike the way that the hearing impaired or illiterate learn to use other cues to compensate for their disabilities. As Hare describes it, psychopaths “know the words but not the music.” One might imagine that such a false and superficial front would be easily penetrated, but such is rarely the case, probably because of the assumption we all tend to make that others think and feel essentially the same way as ourselves. Differences in culture, gender, personality, and social status all create empathy gaps that can seem almost unfathomable, but none of these is as fundamental a divide as the one that exists between an individual with a conscience and one without. The psychopath’s psychology is so profoundly alien to most people that we are unable to comprehend their motives, or recognize one when we see one. Naturally, the industrious psychopath will find this to his advantage.

Some psychologists go so far as to label the psychopath “a different kind of human” altogether. Psychopathy has an environmental component like nearly all aspects of personal psychology, but its source is rooted firmly in biology. This has caused some researchers to suspect that the condition isn’t a “disorder” at all, but an adaptive trait. In a civilization made up primarily of law-abiding citizenry, the theory goes, an evolutionary niche opens up for a minority who would exploit the trusting masses.

This hypothesis is supported by the apparent success many psychopaths find within society. The majority of these individuals are not violent criminals; indeed, those that turn to crime are generally considered “unsuccessful psychopaths” due to their failure to blend into society. Those who do succeed can do so spectacularly. For instance, while it may sound like a cynical joke, it’s a fact that psychopaths have a clear advantage in fields such as law, business, and politics. They have higher IQs on average than the general population. They take risks and aren’t fazed by failures. They know how to charm and manipulate. They’re ruthless. It could even be argued that the criteria used by corporations to find effective managers actually select specifically for psychopathic traits: characteristics such as charisma, self-centeredness, confidence, and dominance are highly correlated with the psychopathic personality, yet also highly sought after in potential leaders.
* * *
A lack of empathy does not necessarily imply a desire to do harm—that comes from sadism and tendencies toward violence, traits which have only a small correlation with psychopathy. When all three come together in one individual, of course, the result is catastrophic. Ted Bundy and Paul Bernardo are extreme examples of such a combination.
* * *
The reasons we look up to these conscience impaired people are unclear. Most likely it has something to do with the confidence they exude, the ease they seem to feel in any situation—a trait that comes easily in someone essentially incapable of fear or anxiety. Maybe we’re easily suckered in by their natural glibness and charm. Or maybe on some level we envy the freedom they have, with no burden of conscience or emotion.

Sunday, March 24, 2013

Schizoid (part 2)

From a reader (cont):

Anyway, along the same line, I think sociopaths who operate this way are the intelligent ones, and the ones who act immorally are simply irrational or less intelligent people, regardless of their sociopathy. If this is accurate, I think this is what creates a problem with normal peoples' perceptions of sociopaths. They only hear stories about ones who act irrationally, because these are the only ones who appear abnormal. Then it is attributed to sociopathy, even though I really doubt this is the reason for how they act. It's more the same for "empaths" than it might appear. Let's say someone gets really jealous because they're in love and their romantic partner cheats on them. Someone with very vivid feelings that affect their actions could decide to kill the third partner. They might really want to kill that person because of their strong feelings, and this would probably be seen as normal. But most of the time they won't, because it's irrational and overall it would not benefit them. But there are some instances where stuff like this happens. If normal people were to be consistent, they would say: "Empaths are evil, look at what their emotions make them do" and point to those exceptional cases. Unfortunately people are really inconsistent and also probably don't want to relate to themselves, and simply want to fit into a group and try to make that group seem superior. I could go on longer, but this is getting kind of long.

I don't think I am a sociopath but I'm really not normal at all. I think I'm schizoid. I wanted to mention some things about it. It sometimes seems in a way like an inverse of the sociopath. I feel things that "empaths" feel but I can't display them. I also rarely ever derive motivation from feelings. My emotions almost never drive me to do anything. And especially things relating to relationships. I rarely derive motivation from anything really, but when I do it is usually from rationality, not how I'm feeling. And also by not being able to "display" how I'm feeling, I mean that I might go to someone's funeral and not cry and not want to stay and not understand why people even have funerals. That doesn't mean I wouldn't feel sad about it, but I just don't have the physical reactions that normal people have. It seems like somehow, we have some strange similarity? But still, it sounds like an inverse is because it seems as though sociopaths are often lacking in inner feeling but have more ability to mimic normal physical  responses, yet schizoids have a lot of inner feeling, but lack any ability to mimic normal physical responses. It seems like if normal people have two halves of full emotions, we are each missing the opposite half. I don't know.

Lastly,  even though I said I am probably schizoid, I would prefer not to work with categories. I was somewhat interested in your opinion on this. You wrote one post about "sociopathic spectrum", and really I feel like everything is a spectrum. Categories don't make sense when each person is slightly different.

Well, my writing is really disorganized. Sorry. Maybe it will at least interest you in some way.

My response:

This was was very interesting and I wasn't surprised to read at the end that you identify as schizoid. I agree with almost everything you said. The one thing that I sort of disagree with is your characterization of antisocial behavior as being something that less intelligent sociopaths engage in. I used to believe this as well, now I think it's really more a matter of preference. I live in an over-priced, crowded, noisy, and often inconvenient city. There are studies that suggest that being raised in a city predisposes you to mental illness. Am I an idiot? I think it's just a matter of trade offs and knowing what you are willing to accept in exchange for what. For me, I have a great and supportive family so I would never defraud them. It would me like cutting down a lucrative fruit orchard to farm marijuana illegally. But if my family was not great and supportive, the economics of it would be different.

Saturday, March 23, 2013

Schizoid (part 1)

From a reader:

I just found your blog today and while I probably won't come back, I read a lot of what you wrote for several hours and found it really interesting. I just wanted to send you a message of appreciation or something? I don't know, I just found that you seem really intelligent and what you write seems really logical.

I find human interaction to typically be pretty weird and bad. And I can relate in a small way to a lot of things you wrote. Anyway, I really think people misunderstand sociopaths. And actually really misunderstand many things about humans and life, but I'll try not to talk about something irrelevant.

I mean for example, I see tons of people talking about how sociopaths are automatically acting purely in self-interest, and that self-interest is intrinsically evil, and that because one is acting in self-interest without appealing to emotion, that they are always inclined to being evil. I think this is a huge misunderstanding of motivation, what is right/wrong, and how people in general operate.

Everyone acts in their self-interest. "Neurotypicals" do it all the time. They do things that hurt other people all the time. Their emotions drive them to do irrational things. They try to control others all the time. Look at how normal romantic relationships end up, each person is so high from their emotions that they viciously require the other person to do what they want (i.e. don't have sex with other people! don't go out with friends more than me! tell me you love me every day!). They also appeal to emotion for what is "right" to do. And objectively, this is unjustified. Anyone who has learned about philosophy knows this.

I have an intuitive approach to what is right/wrong to do and what to do. Obviously what is right to do is what seems like it will produce the best outcome. It doesn't take empathy to understand what the best outcome is. I'm sure most people who have high empathy don't even consider the outcome when they do something they think is "right". Isn't that equally selfish to not feeling any? They do what they think is right because it makes them feel good. How is that a good thing?

It seems somewhat coincidental that some of the things that people empathize about are the logical things to do. This makes sense I guess, because what is logical to do is to work for a "better" state of affairs overall, and I'm sure people don't think being dead / suffering is a better state of affairs. Although, in addition to being coincidental, it's probably also because what is simply better for people aligns with them having the ability to reproduce (unfortunately), and so... this is a favored trait.

I sort of wanted to ask if I'm correct in a particular perception of sociopaths which I think most people are way off about: Is it really more beneficial for someone to act in a way that does "good" things for others, and do most sociopaths understand this? I currently believe that to be the case. I mean, it's obviously not an absolute rule, it's just a general rule that even when acting in total self-interest, it's better overall to do what is also optimal for everyone else, because one has to live with them anyway, and each person's reactions to action of someone else affects (can affect?) their life. I.e. if someone decides that they want to steal from their family, this is, overall, probably bad for them because eventually the results of this will be worse for them than if they had not done so. I think the only reason it wouldn't work is for people who are essentially "co-dependent", for lack of better words? But for example if I keep allowing someone to do something to me that I really don't want them to do (like living in my house without paying), and then I blame them for taking advantage of me, is it really their fault? I don't think so, I think I would be providing them with the ability to do this behavior.

So what I am trying to say is that effectively, I think sociopaths should be able to operate fine in a society where there is freedom, because of how the interests of all agents would interact with each other. And I think that typically people "defend themselves" enough that it's not optimal for oneself to take advantage of others. I mean it's the same kind of thing that should allow capitalism to work in theory. A company -can- take advantage of its customers if it wants to, but this is not optimal for the company, because the customers (if they aren't stupid) will stop coming back and the company won't have any money/ability to do anything more.

Friday, March 22, 2013

Family ties

This was an interesting article about how people are more resilient when they feel like they are part of a larger extended family, know some stories and the origins of their ancestors, etc.

The single most important thing you can do for your family may be the simplest of all: develop a strong family narrative.

“The ones who know a lot about their families tend to do better when they face challenges,” she said.

Her husband was intrigued, and along with a colleague, Robyn Fivush, set out to test her hypothesis. They developed a measure called the “Do You Know?” scale that asked children to answer 20 questions.

Examples included: Do you know where your grandparents grew up? Do you know where your mom and dad went to high school? Do you know where your parents met? Do you know an illness or something really terrible that happened in your family? Do you know the story of your birth?

Dr. Duke and Dr. Fivush asked those questions of four dozen families in the summer of 2001, and taped several of their dinner table conversations. They then compared the children’s results to a battery of psychological tests the children had taken, and reached an overwhelming conclusion. The more children knew about their family’s history, the stronger their sense of control over their lives, the higher their self-esteem and the more successfully they believed their families functioned. The “Do You Know?” scale turned out to be the best single predictor of children’s emotional health and happiness.

“We were blown away,” Dr. Duke said.

Why does knowing where your grandmother went to school help a child overcome something as minor as a skinned knee or as major as a terrorist attack?

“The answers have to do with a child’s sense of being part of a larger family,” Dr. Duke said.
Dr. Duke said that children who have the most self-confidence have what he and Dr. Fivush call a strong “intergenerational self.” They know they belong to something bigger than themselves.

I come from a big family and for some reason I learned to see most of them as extensions of myself, so I looked out for them. And they looked out for me. I felt like we were like twigs -- weak apart, strong together. I don't know why I thought that and other children sociopaths see their family as threats. Maybe it's because we were all so smart we spoke a sort of shorthand/twinspeak with each other.  Maybe it was because we had a common enemy in our narcissist father. For whatever reason, I always felt like I was part of something bigger, almost like I had grown up in a mafia family. And it's true, I think it did make me a better person

Thursday, March 21, 2013

Getting better (part 2)

From reader (cont.):

I've seen you say that no sociopaths have reported being helped by your advice and that surprises me, but since you don't think that's what I am, I'm not sure how valuable my feedback will be. None the less, I've appreciated being able to read your experiences and pull what I can from them. 

For example, your observations on emotional hallucinations was kind of revelatory. So, in the past few months I feel like I've had a major shift in perspective, in part thanks to you. I was raised with a very rigid view of myself that was preventing me from examining my own actions and it's such a relief to be able to put that aside. A lot of things are falling into place as a consequence. So, thank you.

I'm sorry to hear your friend isn't coming around. I thought while reading the post that he should get a life coach, maybe for social skills, but it sounds like that's what you're trying to do for him. Maybe you can't teach people who aren't ready to learn, but people who are willing and just haven't had information presented in a way that they can understand might be better bets? I don't know. My projects are generally people who are failing spectacularly and they're easy to motivate once I get them pointed in the right direction. All I have to do is remind them how much pain they're in. (I know, I shouldn't say that, but it's true.) Your projects sound more subtle than I can manage. 

I don't think you can teach someone to be a sociopath, if that's what you meant. It would be about as effective as wishing someone had self-respect, which I would hand out if I could. I'm more concerned with fitting in better and being more likable. What you said today about hitting the wall rang very true. But I don't have an issue compromising, not if it will make the difference between winning and losing. It's not a matter of trust for me, just willingness to take a calculated risk, if that makes sense. 

I doubt I'll take up another instrument and I've been steadily killing every plant I bring home. I've been cooking more but I don't think it has the same effect. I'm planning to go to church regularly because I think it will help me be more likable. Other than that I don't really have a plan. 

May I ask what your friend told you to do? I'd love to hear your adaptations too, if you ever have time to write about it. I'm sorry, I'm asking very personal questions. You know I totally admire that you were able to identify / accept what you are and then figure out what to do. 

For me, I've realized I was seeing people around me as either possessions or enemies. I should stop doing that, of course, but I don't know if that's the primary thing I should be paying attention to. I'm trying to be responsive but I'm concerned about myopia, you know. Maybe finding out the steps you took could help me trace a similar path, if we're talking about the same things. 

My response:

Good question. She's staying with me now for the weekend and I just asked her what she made me do:

"Stop hurting people. That's a good start, if you had to start somewhere."

"But I still hurt people."

"Yeah, but you're more selective now. You don't just do it for everyday pleasure on people you love. Like you're not addicted anymore. You're just channeling better."

"What else?"

"If you can tap into the ways that empaths love and understand what love means to them, you can be contented with your offers. Even if they're not satisfying to you, you can recognize them as something that has value. Tell her that there is no cure. You just have to learn other people's languages so you know what they're talking about, you can understand and appreciate that there are valid perspectives other than yours. Everyone wants to be heard, you know? That's why you have this blog."

She helped me to be able to accept arbitrary frameworks, like religious codes, and just try them out and see if I liked my life better with them rather than just immediately dismissing them as something that could never work for me (like my friend who is struggling with is life right now does). So oddly, she made me have a more open-mind about things. I remember she made me see that even small behaviors had longterm consequences. She made me always be polite to strangers, which thing I had done only off and on before. And I liked it better, things seemed to go smoother. And to not play games with those closest to me, to not say or do whatever I felt like doing. I think she largely just helped me to broaden my perspective, you know? Another friend was telling me today that her stepson said that he can't imagine ever being truly happy unless he had a T-Rex to ride. I thought, I can see how this is a legitimate opinion for him to have, but really it's because he has incomplete information about himself and life, so he is likely to be wrong. And I guess that's how I used to be too -- it wasn't like I was wrong in my opinions or they were irrational, but they were just very ill-informed in a juvenile sort of way -- like all I could see was myself and everything else in terms of how it directly affected me. I didn't understand that people were so different from me and in particular and interesting ways. I didn't realize how much they hated certain things I did. I didn't realize how much richer my life could be if I sometimes looked beyond myself. And when I finally tried it, it was obvious and revelatory at the same time. Maybe like the first time I realized that I could float, after having understandably believed that I would just sink.

I wonder if this helps (again).

Wednesday, March 20, 2013

Getting better (part 1)

A reader writes:

I hope you don't mind me saying this, but you sound 180* away from the guy writing a couple years ago. Specifically this, "Do you think it might be better to just believe that people can be lovely and so it is no great shame that you are just the same as everyone else?" That's a really healthy and benevolent view of humanity. I'm not there yet, but it sounds like a good place to be. 

I have to ask; you garden, you blog, music and I think you mentioned a relationship that's pretty healthy, it sounds like these things are helping you. Do you have other suggestions / protips / caveats? I'm asking because in people I've observed almost nothing helps them overcome their personality disorders. Falling in love with a healthier person seems to help and life threatening illness can also have some effect, but who wants to wait for a cancer scare or get to the end of their life to figure things out? Maybe that's where choosing the better part comes in. 

I hope you write about things getting better, if in fact they are. I hope you write about what's changing and what's staying the same. I know your blog is about sociopathy, not recovering from sociopathy, but that would be my special request. 

My response:

Yeah, I have actually thought about maybe making my next book about this topic. The thing is, what works for me, I'm not sure will work for anyone else, and probably not most. I do think the gardening helps. Playing a musical instrument helps. There are a lot of things that I can identify in my own life that help, but I am just not sure anymore. I'm a little pessimistic lately maybe because a friend (not quite neurotypical, but mostly) has been stuck in a rut, and as sort of a project I decided to try to help him out of it. But I haven't managed to make any sort of discernible difference. And another time I was coaching someone to take a graduate school exam and I thought, I should for sure be able to help her get out of the lower quartile by teaching her how to game the test, but I couldn't. So now I think maybe I do things in a particular way and it's impossible to teach someone? I thought of this when reading Daniel Birdick's recent comment:

I’d only add that this analysis becomes almost instinctual by the time you reach adulthood. To use PP’s car analogy, it’s like learning how to drive. All of your movements as a new driver are conscious and therefore awkward. But after a while, everything that goes into becoming a decent driver becomes instinctive and automatic. That’s how it eventually is with reading people and social situations. Only, I suspect you have to learn how to read people using “bloodless rationality” as your default mode in childhood, so that by the time you’re in your late adolescence, it becomes second nature.

Maybe each person has to figure out their own selves, what it is that is holding them back. Also this quote I recently featured on twitter that I really love: "I will stay an addict until my last excuse." For me, I think that is what is really holding my friend back from getting out of his rut. He cannot, or will not give up the possibility that maybe he doesn't need to change at all -- maybe he just needs a new job or needs to move to a different city or find someone to love him. I know how this feels, this hesitation to change. It's hard enough to embrace change, you know? But I think it's even worse when the solution is coming from someone else. I'm not saying it never happens, because the person who finally got me to change was a person and I did have to trust her and do things her way, at least for a while until I could figure out what was absolutely necessary to live the life I wanted versus what I could sort of tailor to my own needs/wants/tastes. But I don't think most sociopaths are this open to submitting themselves like this to someone else. They don't understand trust and they are right to think that most people don't understand them enough to give them good advice. I don't know, it's a problem. I'd love to hear from sociopaths who have ever been helped by any of my advice, but I haven't so far.

Tuesday, March 19, 2013


From a reader regarding Jennifer Skeem's most recent article debunking sociopath myths:

I think she's much closer to the mark, ironically by not really trying too hard to pin down exactly what psychopathy is. As I recall her main line of attack is focused on the current conception, the Hare model. The two areas that I think are weakest with the current model are where she focuses, namely the idea that psychopathy is totally untreatable, as well as including criminality as central to the disorder. Both of these assumptions are based on faulty data. For a laugh, check out the methodology of the first study that concluded psychopaths weren't helped by therapy. They put a bunch of violent convicts together naked in a room and gave them a ton of LSD. What a shocker that didn't turn out well.

Skeem's revised model is more like the lack of a model. Rather than claiming to have an objective definition she argues that psychopathy should be understood as a nebulous constellation of personality traits. I think this is a much more realistic approach because people are always going to be more complicated than a checklist. The more I read about the subject the more I question if psychopathy truly exists. "Psychopath" is something that you call an other person. Anyone who claims that title for themselves without any reservations probably wants to see themselves that way, for whatever reason.

There's another really interesting section you may want to check out that probably would be better as another post than an addendum to the first. The section is called "Does Secondary Psychopathy Exist?" and I think poses an important question. I don't think that high anxiety, highly emotionally reactive people are psychopaths, even if they may exhibit similar behavior.

For what it is worth, I completely agree with that last part. These people who feel overwhelmed by their emotions -- their emotions are the root of their impulsivity -- that just sounds like something too different to include in our general conception of what is a psychopath, even if the outward manifestations of it are similar.

Monday, March 18, 2013

Diagnose me

From a reader:

Hey, I'm 17 and I took lots of the psychology tests online and the results are that apparently I'm a psychopath. But I would like an opinion from somebody who is one (takes one to know one?). Anyways, I've been called cold and inconsiderate of feelings by my friends all the time. I really don't care what happens to anybody, and I don't remember what it feels like to feel bad for somebody, or maybe I don't know. I've killed a few animals just because I can, for example I was walking in a forest with my friend during a camping trip and saw a baby squirrel that fell out of its nest and was trying to clumsily clamber up the tree, I quickly grabbed a thick stick and rammed it into the squirrel impaling it right through the chest, just because I wanted to, because I COULD. 

Anyways later my friend told people what I did and I twisted it so that it seemed he was a bigger part of it. I never feel bad for anything, and at school when it doesn't benefit me, I enjoy degrading people but when confronted I always seem to talk people into the ground. I also enjoy using people and its surprising how easy it is to convince people that I'm not mean to them when I need to use them. I also don't have much patience for things and get bored much too easily, I've went out to go look for some stray cats or somebody's that might be outside to kill (I did it once by snapping its neck) some animals but never find them. Also here's a big part, I ENJOY making people angry, either get them angry at me or at somebody else. The madder I make somebody, the better I feel, a sense of satisfaction overcomes. But this could come with making people frustrated with things or others. Can you explain that part to me and if it has anything to do with psychopathy/sociopath. 

Also I never feel nervous or afraid, we would have a big test and everybody was nervous except me. I've watched videos on the internet of people being decapitated and in one video the decapitee started screaming and I didn't give a shit. I think I'm pretty smart and constantly challenge myself by taking the hardest classes possible, and I see things way differently than other people do, in the sense that how easy it is to exploit and manipulate people, how feelings never inhibit me and they're pretty shallow I think. Anyways can you get back to me with your conclusion ?

Sunday, March 17, 2013

Hitting a wall

I thought this was an interesting recent comment on an older post that deserved to be read:

I've reached the point where I'd like to get some help for my impulsive traits. I'm' saying "impulsive" rather than "psychopathic" because I'd like to focus on what I see as the problem.

You could say that I'm a high-functioning psychopath. I'm Machiavellian, narcissistic and psychopathic. 

I've apparently got enough impulse control (and intelligence) to get me what I need. But I sense that there's a gap. I'm missing something.

In the past, I wouldn't have done this because I was too proud. I wasn't able to admit that I was behaving "badly" or had a problem. And I was young enough that I was substantially getting what I wanted. 

Now that I'm middle aged, that isn't happening. Perhaps because I'm not getting what I want, I can see I've behaved anti-socially, and it has cost me. E.g. I'm heading into old age, and no matter how optimistic I'd like to be, it is clear that it is going to get harder and harder to have sex with women in their twenties. And eventually I will die, no matter how much I fight it.

Have any commenters, motivated by the same sense of "oh shit I'm screwed" sought help? How'd it go? 

Like many life situations, I can sort of tell how old someone is by their attitude about things -- even younger and older sociopaths. I think that a lot of sociopaths eventually hit a wall of ceasing to be functional in whatever life they've set up for themselves. Some react by just riding it out until it's gory conclusion, to be taken out in a blaze of glory without ever having to have compromised whatever it is that they didn't want to compromise about themselves or their lifestyle. Others adapt. I hit mine really early, I think, my very early twenties. I think that makes my experiences a little different than most -- more like Magic Johnson's HIV and less like orphans' in Africa -- i.e., my symptoms have never had much of a chance to flare up and allow me to flame out. I am not an obvious sociopath to strangers, the way that maybe my grandfather was with his scarred face and philandering and scamming ways. You probably wouldn't even notice something was wrong with me, unless you are one of the ~2% of the population that does. But it is interesting to think what would have happened if I hadn't encountered such early opposition and had to change. Would I be hitting my wall right about now?

Saturday, March 16, 2013

Fraudster tips

Pretty entertaining and educational -- "People don't want to appear silly, that's why they don't want to ask questions."

Thursday, March 14, 2013

Fake it till you make it

From a reader:

recently, with xmas on it's way i've started to ponder a little on this subject. i rarely buy gifts for my family, i never saw the point, even with those who gave to me i'd just claim to be broke and it's not like i care about what my family thinks because i don't really want a relationship with any of them, at least, i don't really care whether they are part of my life in the future when i move out ect... (i'm a teenager). i thought a couple of your recent posts were of some relevance, like when you used to go shoplifting, i'm curious about your thought process behind stopping. do you get narcissistic satisfaction from doing things in a legit, socially acceptable manner? were you afraid of getting caught? and did you see something to be gained from changing (like the incentive to go out and earn more money)? personally i thought incentive, gain and even the fear of getting caught would work best but maybe it's a good form of self-control for sociopaths to indulge in a little narcissism, even if i didn't care about something beforehand i'd actually start to feel for it if i simply just started acting in that way, maybe that's why your past seems to emotionally contradict your current self? but it begs the question, where can you draw the line between self-help and self-delusion?

My response:

This -- "even if i didn't care about something beforehand i'd actually start to feel for it if i simply just started acting in that way" is so true. Biologically we know it is true, for whatever reason when we smile we actually get happier. I sometimes coach friends on how to become better speakers and get them to speak in front of me to the point where they seem relaxed. I then take note of the things that they do or say, how they position their body, etc., while they are relaxed. I tell them -- do these things when you speak in public and the very act of doing them will signal to your brain to relax. It is starting to become apparent that our brain is more plastic than scientists have traditionally believed. Every day, every thing that we do is wiring and re-wiring our brain and (I think) for people like us it is even a bigger deal because we don't have the same sorts of mental rigidities and concrete self-concepts that other people seem to have.

With that said, it is very difficult to fight the tide, so to speak. If your current incentives encourage being a jerk to your family (for whatever reason), you probably don't have the willpower to treat them nicely. If you really want to change a behavior and it is impossible to change your physical incentive structures (whatever would be the equivalent of taking antabuse in your situation), you might still be able to change your perspective. Our brains only process a small fraction of what we encounter. The way we see the world will always be distorted, but it is not a static sort of distortion. We can nudge ourself to see the world in a different sort of distorted way that benefits us. People do it all of the time to become more happy and optimistic with things like gratitude journals, or they become depressed and suicidal by doing the opposite. You can easily learn to love or hate something because, as you say "even if i didn't care about something beforehand i'd actually start to feel for it if i simply just started acting in that way".

Wednesday, March 13, 2013

Sociopath quote of the day: onlookers

“Conscience is the inner voice that warns us somebody may be looking.”

-- Henry Louis Mencken

Tuesday, March 12, 2013


Pardon the interruption to your daily programming, I'll probably take this down in a bit so don't start chatting here. I am making a "Can you spot the sociopath" quiz for the book promotion. I wanted to give short examples of something and have someone guess whether it's a sociopath, or something else, the something else probably being either: autism spectrum, borderline personality disorder, schizoid, narcissist, asshole, machiavellian, etc.


Here's a sociopath example:
Q. Pat's co-worker confesses that she has been on the kidney donor transplant list for the past three years and undergoes weekly dialysis. Pay immediately offers his own kidney. Her doctors don't even consider him because obvious differences in race and size make him not a suitable candidate. 
A. This could be altruism (for obvious reasons) or it could be a sociopathic. According to the sociopath "I’m not 100% sure why I made that offer. I was ready to be tested if it came to that, but of course I assumed it wouldn't -- I assumed correctly. But just making the gesture sealed her to me. I’d be lying if I said I planned it all that way. I knew there would be some advantage of course, but not the extent of it or how useful she would actually end up being to me years later."   
I'd really like examples from all of the socio related characterizations as well (as well as additional socio stories). Hopefully this example illustrates what I am looking for -- very short (1-3 sentences) explanation of the situation followed by another short explanation of why you might have done it (if you were normal, or a sociopath), but why you actually did it. The examples can either be very obvious, quintessential traits of who you are, or surprising traits like the example above. Strong preference for personal stories by people who have either been diagnosed or self-identify as the particular disorder. Please follow the format above.

Soul searching

A reader asks: "How is it that sociopaths can 'see' someone's soul or see people as they truly are? How come the rest of society doesn't see the person for who they really are?" My response:
That is such a good question. I feel that you probably only notice the sociopath's ability to see because it is such an unusual perspective, everybody else's perceptive abilities are so familiar to you that they have become emotional background noise (Von Restorff effect?). As a thought experiment, stop and listen to all of the noise around you. Try to identify the source of all the noise you hear, whether street noise, other people, television, radio, automobile noises, wind, etc. You never pay attention to this noise, never even notice it is there most of the time because you are so used to it. You only notice things that are out of the ordinary.

I think a similar thing happens with empaths reading people. You are probably very used to other empaths seeing things about you that you never told them, e.g. when people see your face and realize that you are sad, when people don't stand too close to you because they realize you need your personal space, when people don't either scream at you or whisper at you. With all these behaviors, other empaths are seeing parts of who you truly are and acting accordingly.

Sociopaths see things that you never told them too, just not always the same things a typical empath would see. First, sociopaths have a very different focus, different expectations about the world and the people in it. While you and everyone else are doing emotional sleight of hand meant to distract the average observer from certain harsh truths, e.g. you no longer love your spouse, or hate your boss, or are having an affair, or can't stand your children, the sociopath remains undistracted. It's like telling a joke to a kid with autism -- your attempts at subterfuge will simply not always have the same effects on a sociopath as they have on empaths. Second, sociopaths are students of human interactions, closely studying others so they can pick up on the right social cues to blend in, imitate normal behavior, etc. The truth is that the more you pay attention to something, the more aware you will be. I am a musician, and I can listen to a recording and tell exactly what is going on, who is playing what, even the way the music was mixed in the studio. You could learn that too, if you practiced as much as a musician does.

I think this is what you are referring to when you say that sociopaths seem to be able to see a person's soul or see people as they truly are. Or maybe it is more of an extraordinary bias in which you honestly don't expect a sociopath to understand anything, so when they do they seem very clever? I don't actually know, these are just my guesses.

Monday, March 11, 2013

Narcissists in the news: Paul Frampton

In the NY Times Magazine, headlined "The Professor, the Bikini Model and the Suitcase Full of Trouble," a hilarious profile of a raging narcissist getting "catfished" into being a drug mule and stuck in an Argentinian prison. It is one of the best pieces of journalism I have read in the past year or two, maybe. Great pacing! Worth reading in its entirety! But just in case you're lazy, here are the selections that scream narcissist to me:

  • Well, you’re going to be killed, Paul, so whom should I contact when you disappear?’ And he said, ‘You can contact my brother and my former wife.’ ” Frampton later told me that he shrugged off Dixon’s warnings about drugs as melodramatic, adding that he rarely pays attention to the opinions of others.
  • Soon he heard his name called over the loudspeaker. He thought it must be for an upgrade to first class, but when he arrived at the airline counter, he was greeted by several policemen. Asked to identify his luggage — “That’s my bag,” he said, “the other one’s not my bag, but I checked it in” — he waited while the police tested the contents of a package found in the “Milani” suitcase. Within hours, he was under arrest.
  • “I’m a bit of a celebrity in here,” Frampton said.
  • Frampton closed our interview half-seriously, half-impishly, with another kind of calculation: “I’ve co-authored with three Nobel laureates. Only 11 theoretical physicists have done that. Six out of those 11 have won Nobel Prizes themselves. Following this logic, I have a 55 percent chance of getting the Nobel.”
  • Shortly after his divorce, Frampton, then 64, expressed concern about finding a wife between the ages of 18 and 35, which Frampton understood to be the period when women are most fertile. . . . “He told me to look her up on the Internet,” Dixon recalled. “I thought he was out of his mind, and I told him that. ‘You’re not talking to the real girl. Why would a young woman like that be interested in an old guy like you?’ But he really believed that he had a pretty young woman who wanted to marry him.” When I later asked Frampton what made him think that Milani was interested, he replied, “Well, I have been accused of having a huge ego.”
  • “There could be retribution. I could be assassinated.”
  • Frampton is prone to seeing himself as the center of the action whatever the milieu. When he was growing up in Worcestershire, England, in what he describes as a “lower-middle-class family,” his mother encouraged him to report his stellar grades to all the neighbors, a practice that may have led the young Frampton to confuse worldly laurels with love. 
  • In what a fellow physicist described as a “very vain, very inappropriate” talk delivered on the 80th birthday of Murray Gell-Mann, a Nobel laureate in physics, Frampton veered into autobiography, recounting how his ability to multiply numbers in his head at 4 led him to see himself as “cleverer than Newton.” This line became a refrain throughout the talk. Interspersed with the calculations and hypotheses were his Oxford grades, which, he said, showed that he, like Newton, was in the top 1 percentile for intelligence. Frampton insists that he was merely joking and that his sense of humor was misinterpreted as self-regard. Yet in many of my conversations with him, he seemed to cling to the idea of his own exceptionalism. During our first meeting, when I asked him what attracted him to Milani, he said, “Not to offend present company,” referring to me and the representative from the penitentiary service, “but, to start with, she’s in the top 1 percentile of how women look.”
  • When I asked Frampton if he had slept in, he said he spent half the night on the Internet, reading through all the latest discoveries in his field, checking to see what his “competitors” had been working on, and beginning to answer the thousands of e-mails he received. He reported that he had more citations than ever.
  • "This sounds a bit egomaniacal, but to understand dark energy, I think we have to be open-minded about Einstein’s general relativity."

Sunday, March 10, 2013

Deconstructing performances

Photo by Gavin Whitner.

I grew up in a family of musicians and we would regularly go see all sorts of musical and dramatic performances. Always on the trips back home we would deconstruct whatever it was that we had just seen or heard, a particularly powerful performance or a flubbed line. We had been trained to see things with a critical eye and this was our opportunity to participate ourselves in the performance and show off for each other. I used to love giving some insight that would elicit praise and agreement from my parents and siblings. I was proud to have discriminating taste. But I also enjoyed hearing others' opinions. They were teaching me to look for things I wouldn't have otherwise seen, listen for things I wouldn't otherwise have heard. Once I became a performer myself, these sessions were doubly interesting to me because they would validate my own performance choices, or point out areas for improvement -- pricking my pride and feeding the flame of my ambition. And that's what made any of these performances interesting to me -- my own engagement with them during, but especially being able to savor them after.

It's funny, I have always had the impulse to "dish" with people after things. That's one of the few truly worthwhile things about having at least a few friends who are gossipy fishwives.

In my relationships I always have this moment of "big reveal," where I feel like it is suddenly ok to rehash all initial encounters, at the time fraught with uncertainty and intrigue, and give the backstories and internal monologues that were hidden at the time ("I was so worried when you found out about X, but luckily I had the idea to play it off as Y"). I love to brag about things -- how I seduced them, or marked them as a target long before I was even on their radar. The actual dance steps of a relationship are an ok distraction for me, but the true pleasure is getting to deconstruct it all with the person months or years later.

Last night, coming home from a performance with someone I am currently engaged with, I realized the parallel between my childhood performance critiques and my adult relationship rehashings -- I am performing in relationships. I guess everybody does, but my main interest is not just to acquire the other person, but to perform the process beautifully. Without the promise of having an audience (even of only one or two), I don't think I would care to engage.

Saturday, March 9, 2013

Conversation with a friend

Friend: You think much of yourself.

: I think about myself a lot, if that's what you mean...

Friday, March 8, 2013

Imagining the future

I was reading an article about how humans are different because we have ability to imagine possible futures, allowing us to plan.

I liked this. I love to imagine futures. I like feeling like I am living one of an infinite number of parallel universes, diverging at each point in time. I also like it because it helps me to understand some of the ramifications of the things I am doing in the present that I otherwise might not understand. Deciding what to wear, I imagine in my head what the future me would look like in a few minutes if I put particular clothes on. Deciding whether I should or should not eat something, I imagine my future self in 10 minutes and if my stomach would be upset or not. Those are the main practical ones.

The eating one is interesting because I had to learn it, and really only relatively recently. The foods that make me sick don't taste bad to me. They don't taste rotten. (That's why rotten things taste bad to us, right? Evolutionarily evolved to not want to eat things like human feces because they're so bad for us?) So I would keep eating them and get sick. That happened enough times (thousands) that eventually I had enough. Now before I eat something I first try to imagine my future self, would my future self get sick? And it's weird, when I in my imagination my future self gets nauseated, my present self also feels nauseated. (Side note, this is also how I managed to fully fund my retirement -- I imagine my future self enjoying the money and my present self feels the pleasure.)

I also sometimes do this with morally implicated choices. I was raised religious, so I was taught to judge things by a particular standard, even nuanced things -- same as learning to be able to judge musical things by a certain standard. But it's hard to perform and judge yourself at the same time. That's why my music teachers always had me record myself and then listen to it later. And I've never quite learned to judge moral things in the moment either. But I can later realize, maybe days, weeks, or years later that I have done something "wrong". Now if it's something or someone I care about, I will imagine my future self looking back at what my present self is doing and judging things as wrong or right. Not often, though. Not nearly as often as I do the eating thing. Maybe thousands of moral "mistakes" later, I will get pretty good at doing that too?

Thursday, March 7, 2013


I just watched a film about a young Jewish woman who "passes" in occupied France during the Second World War. It reminded me of a time that I was helping two elderly Holocaust survivors fill out forms for restitution funds. I had been instructed that the Germans are great record keepers and very wary of fraud. I had been warned of people being denied their benefits because of very small inconsistencies in documentation, e.g. spring 1941 vs. March 1941. With that in mind, I tried to be as precise as I could with dates. The man's papers seemed to be more or less in order, and he had the identifying tattoo to match. The woman's papers were more confusing. She had dates from a previous claim, but they didn't really make sense with the story she told me. She was in and out of camps, according to her paperwork, and there were other documents that contradicted both what she told me and what her previous forms said. I didn't really know what to do, so I told her I would ask for help. She panicked, grabbed my arm, sat me back down. Pointing to the form with the dates, she said "this isn't me." She told me in her stilted English about how with her blonde hair and blue eyes, no one suspected her of being Jewish. She was able to "pass" for the duration of the war, working as a seamstress. The documents corroborating her time spent in camps she had gotten from another young woman who had died shortly after liberation.

Of course I felt no moral compunction about filling out the forms as necessary for her benefits (i.e. lying). I did wonder, though, was she lucky to have come to me rather than most any other member of the general populace? I'd like to think that anybody else would have done the same as me, but it's hard to know. Arguing in her favor, she must have suffered during the war, if not in the same ways, for the same reasons as those the restitution was meant to help. She probably lived in constant fear of being discovered. Who knows who she had to bribe or befriend to maintain her freedom -- being able to "pass" is not really a passive endeavor. Arguing against her, we don't want to help people who seem to be able to help themselves. We are disgusted with those who seem to game the system, accepting government help rather than seeking employment, being opportunistic about social safety nets, etc. We may even consider her less noble for taking her God given gifts of aryan beauty and making the most of them. But luckily for her, "we" only despise those things when we are unavoidably confronted with them, when we have our faces rubbed in the ugliness of reality, taking away with us the scent of our hypocrisy. As long as she continues to "pass," we may forget she and her kind ever existed, which is all anyone can ever really ask for from society.

Wednesday, March 6, 2013

Empath vs. sociopath morality

A reader sent me this link to a forum as an explanation of the differences between how empaths and sociopaths see morality.
And, well, the thing about human history and nature is that a split morality is *natural* for us. Empathy within the family/tribe, sociopathic-like behavior to oursiders. Like, every tribe calls themselves "the People". What does that make outsiders? Not-people... And then there's the Milgram and Zimbardo experiments, showing how apparently normal people, socialized in modern societies to have unnaturally large "tribes", can still do atrocious things with a bit of social pressure.

The sociopath doesn't care what he does to other people, or just doesn't respond to them as people. Normal people convince themselves other people aren't people, or deserve it, then do their atrocities.
Another participant responds:
Ah! Someone who truly understands basic human nature!

There is a descending scale of human empathy involved. Stronger loyalty to immediate kin, somewhat less so to clan, somewhat less than that to local social clique, and so on. Building large scale societies requires the creation of an abstract cultural structure (morality, religion, hierarchy, mythology), that gives humans some reason to act towards the success of the larger group instead of the smaller. When two abstract cultural structures compete without violent conflict, we call that peace. When they interact with violence and destruction, we call that war. An abstract cultural structure that can longer bind its members to its own survival is said to be corrupt and decadent.

Assigning members of different human groups a lesser moral status is as natural to humans as breathing. Complete extermination of a group happens less often than other kinds of conflict resolution only because it is rarely cost effective. Too much work, or destructive to your own cultural tropes, or because oppression and enslavement is more profitable than extermination.

Whatever we think of GENOCIDE!, it isn't crazy or even irrational to most people who practice it.

Hitler may have had serious emotional issues, but he was not an original thinker. All the terrible things he did were not the product of his imagination. He only collated ideas that had been floating around Germany for generations. He happened to have the imagination and political skill to weld those ideas into a popular governing philosophy, and didn't become clinically insane until he started losing the war and, along with it, his emotional stability and his grip on reality.

Tuesday, March 5, 2013

Pit stops

I was stuck on a very long flight recently without any reading material, so I ended up reading the inflight magazine cover to cover. One of the articles was about Danica Patrick, former Formula One racer, current NASCAR driver. In an interview she was talking about how the racing styles are very different because stock cars are not race cars:

A NASCAR RACE CAR IS NOT really a race car at all, which is what makes the sport so tough. It has almost no downforce to keep it on the pavement; with 850 horses under the hood, it’s way overpowered; and the rest of the 43-car field is always bearing down on you.

I thought -- this is like me. Over the years, I have fine tuned my brain to be super efficient and as powerful as it can be. But the rest of me still has the same limitations -- fancy race car engine under the hood of a normal stock car. I have been thinking recently that for the first time I have more time than I have mental energy. Little errands that used to bother me like shopping are now welcome mindless tasks (as long as I can keep them mindless). This realization might even induce me to have a committed relationship and family?

Another analogy to NASCAR -- pit stops. I will just do nothing for weeks at a time. I used to think this indicated that I was a lazy person, to just take off to some exotic location every six months or so. Now with this NASCAR analogy, I realize that these might be necessary pit stops. It seems odd that it is actually faster to race like mad, then come to a complete stop for several minutes, then repeat. Wouldn't it be faster to just go slower and be easier on tires? Conserve gasoline? I guess not, not at least for NASCAR and it seems plausible that not for me either.

I think my NASCAR life has less to do with me being a sociopath and more to do with me doing high level brain tasks all of the time for my profession. But maybe the sociopath plays into fact that I have never felt guilty shirking work in some tropical location, which has actually been a boon to my productivity over the years -- a personality quirk that has actually given me a competitive advantage amongst my colleagues who are also regularly running their brains at over-capacity to the point of exhaustion. (Or maybe they're not also running their minds to exhaustion but are just smarter than me. If true, maybe my laziness has allowed me to be one of the stupidest people in my career field while still remaining competitive).

Monday, March 4, 2013

Negative emotions

A reader asks me what sorts of negative emotions I feel: "You've written of loyalty, gratitude, exhilaration (when winning or achieving something), a desire to be in control, etc. I'd like to know more about the other end of the spectrum." My response:
I haven't really thought about this much. One thing that I like about the way my brain works is that it is very easy for me to compartmentalize, so usually I am an optimist, not prone to depression etc. Plus I am very sensitive to pleasure, like I must have too much serotonin or something, but I do sometimes feel down. Some sociopaths are particularly susceptible to depression, or I have a few readers at least who feel debilitating depression.

I was talking with a friend about this and asked what it looks/sounds/feels like when I am allegedly depressed. She said that it just seems like I am frustrated with my inability to think, which I think is accurate. I think when I feel "down," it is usually because my mind has lost some of its functionality, either because I am sick, tired stressed, or the brain is overtaxed. My friend also described her own depression, as a comparator. She said that she puts so much of her identity in how she feels, that when she is feeling poorly, she has a bit of a crisis of identity. I believe that is true for me too. I believe that I put so much of my identity in how I think ("I am how I think") that when my brain is sluggish and not performing up to par, I also have a crisis of identity. Being a sociopath already feels really empty, which I am fine with because I have never experienced anything different (and question whether anything different even exists). So emptiness is something you just have to learn to deal with day to day, like any other chronic illness, but sometimes it flares up or something irritates it, like a sluggish mind. And sometimes it gets really bad, like a crisis of identity, inflamed, and probably the only solution at that point is to (self) medicate it, dull it, quiet the deafening silence of the void, and maybe even that won't help. When it gets really bad, there's a hopelessness in wondering whether I'll ever go back to feeling like myself again. If I never go back to feeling normal, will I still be me? That's a really disturbing concern. I have never, ever have thoughts of suicide, but I do think there are worse things than dying.