Wednesday, November 6, 2013

Mob mentality: Halloween costume version

Apparently someone dressed up as a Boston Marathon bombing victim for Halloween so deserves to die or at the very least be cast from the warm arms of humanity, is the latest story. Here's one person's (saner?) reaction to the torch and pitchfork approach:

Alicia Lynch received death threats almost immediately. She had people circulating her home address and promising to send her a “special delivery”; digging up compromising pictures of her; threatening her parents. She of course had her job contacted and within 48 hours was fired, despite the fact that she’d worn the costume to her office. She apologized over and over again on Twitter and begged for the abuse to stop, but it didn’t. Some tweeted about the need to keep “bullying” her, others to “make sure she fries”. It was unimaginable venom, unforgivable hatred, and unconscionable vengeance all directed at somebody who wore a stupid fucking Halloween costume. It happened quickly and mercilessly. This poor, dumb girl never knew what hit her.

Jesus Christ.
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There are those among us who believe they’re owed satisfaction at the slightest hint of an offense — even if that offense is only taken on behalf of others — and that see no irony in responding with disproportionately despicable actions to actions they see as despicable. The ferocious mob, confident in its moral authority and secure in its numbers and relative anonymity, will not be denied and cannot be stopped. Its wrath is meant not only as punishment for this insult but as a warning to others who might consider one day making a joke it doesn’t approve of; wearing an outfit it doesn’t like; doing a supposedly hurtful thing that can only be dealt with through hurt administered on a vast and crushing scale.

Maybe the most telling and singularly unsettling reaction fired in Alicia Lynch’s direction came toward the end of the feeding frenzy and was offered as a show of “mercy.”


“As a Bostonian, I forgive you. I am glad that you have not killed yourself, and I seriously hope you learned your lesson.” — @TheTwidster

Oh, I’m sure she has learned her lesson. As have we all. But here’s the thing, pal: It wasn’t your lesson to teach. And it was never your forgiveness to offer. You’re not special. You’re just one more asshole who jumped on the outrage bandwagon rather than shrugging off the behavior of a nobody you’ve never met and never will and getting on with your fucking life.

I wonder, why is it that sociopaths are immune to moral outrage? Perhaps because we don't believe that our emotional reactions equate to TRUTH/GOD'S CALL TO VENGEANCE (remember when people were so worked up at the idea of miscegenation or desegregation? Is it because we think way fewer things are moral issues than most people (Tasteless Halloween costumes? Is this a breach of morality, or just thoughtless? Even if it was a moral issue, do we call up your average murderer and threaten to kill them? What makes her the special target of people's vigilanteism and public shaming?) Certainly sociopaths have much less invested in social norms than the average person. And isn't this what this boils down to? Someone has violated a social norm, so they no longer deserve to live? Empaths -- you are scary mothers when you get all emotionally riled up about something. But I guess they had it coming, right? 

34 comments:

  1. The joys of online communities.

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  2. It is probably distasteful, however halloween is like that. Many costumes are far worse.
    Some costumes are mythological, but they still suppose to frighten people.

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  3. I am the type of person who, If U were her friend, would have tried to talk her out of it.

    She made a very stupid and immature decision.

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  4. I've definitely done a bunch of psychopathic things.

    If you wanted to label me, I've been a secondary psychopath: high-anxiety, at war with the world, generally fitting this pattern in terms of genes, early childhood neglect abuse and loss, and later behavior typical of psychopaths - but not the sort to get me put in the penitentiary.

    Here's my reaction to the story. From reading this, you can see how people like me often seem a bit "off" and misunderstand things.

    When I first looked at the photo, I was mostly trying to figure out her sexual orientation, if she'd be easy, etc. That is, I was looking at her as a sexual object.

    It took me a long time to get into the post to realize that people were really bothered at her costume. Ridiculous. Other than it not showing enough skin, what's not OK?

    Oh lord, people are feeling morally superior. Well excuse me, but it isn't like she blew up a bunch of innocents watching a marathon, or helped hijack planes and fly them into buildings full of people.

    That is, as soon as I think about the issue of the Boston Marathon, my mind goes to who actually did the bad thing - namely the terrorists that blew it up, killing & maiming innocents.

    My inclination, as a ruthless utilitarian, has been that we as a society ought to just hunt down all potential threats (e.g. Muslims) and deport/kill them. That is, we ought to do whatever works for us, completely disregarding whatever they'd feel about it it. Because our goal should be to make us safe. It isn't that I don't recognize the humanity of the Muslims; I just don't care about them at all, and I do care about white people that live in America. In this way, my mind is like that of Heinrich Himmler (see his Posen speech).

    So if our government could make our society better of by torturing Muslims to death, and broadcasting it on the internet, we should pass a law to make it legal and then get to work. And we should be proud of ourselves for doing the messy & unpleasant work, because we are humans, and it is hard to do this stuff.

    So when I see this girl with this uniform, I think of it as a good thing: she's reminding us that Americans are getting killed by terrorists, and that we haven't done what we ought to do to protect ourselves. She is doing us a service.

    I don't feel there's a good taste issue. There's a very real issue that terrorists are killing our citizens - that completely trumps taste.

    That's how my brain views things. It isn't a matter of volition; the thoughts just unfold in my brain.

    I'm quite aware that normal people consider my thoughts and feelings to be extreme, ugly, etc. I recognize that my inclinations and impulses are of the sort that aren't appropriate or popular now. So I mostly keep them under wraps. I'm mentioning them here because I figure this crowd might find it interesting.

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    1. "Utilitarian" ??

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    2. Utilitarianism is the doctrine that what is morally good is what produces the most amount of happiness, i.e. an action is moral if it results in more pleasure than pain. Have a read here http://plato.stanford.edu/entries/utilitarianism-history/

      This particular individual seems to be more driven by racist tendencies than anything relating to utility.

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    3. I read that, thanks.

      I am laughing at his label.

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    4. If you are utilitarian but distinguish between in-group and out-group, you'll think about ways to maximize the happiness of the in-group, potentially at the expense of the out-group.

      A lot of people have a hard time understanding this line of thinking - so perhaps this will help.

      When bugs eat crops, people have an easy time deciding, "kill all the bugs, so we get the crops, not them." Human needs get 100% of the concern, bug needs/desires get 0%.

      When monkeys eat crops, people have an easy (but harder time) deciding, "kill all the monkeys, so we can eat the crops instead of them." Human needs get 100% of our concern, monkey needs get 0%.

      When thieves steal crops, people have a harder time killing them. Don't get me wrong - some people think, "kill the thieves to stop theft," but many will think, "chop the hands off thieves, which stops theft more humanely than killing." Human needs 90%, Thief needs 10%.

      It is the real psychopaths who think, "well, these guys commit crimes more than those guys, and we can't tell which commit crimes and which don't - but we can identify them all, so if we just kill all of them, we can deal with the problem." That's a case of "our needs" 100%, "needs of others 0%".

      That last bit is utilitarian moral cognition: "However, only the low-anxious psychopaths were significantly more likely to endorse the personal harms when commission of the harm would maximize aggregate welfare—the ‘utilitarian’ choice."

      Consider the "friendly fire" experience: a soldier sees enemy soldiers. He calls in an airstrike and has the shit bombed out of them. Hooray! Then a call comes over the radio - it was actually his own troops. He sinks into despair and depression. So in the first case, it was "our needs 100%, enemy needs 0%" - so kill. That's utilitarian thinking. But when he realizes he's killed his own guys, he's horrified, because their needs and desires matter - again, utilitarian thinking.

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    5. Nonononono, it's *not* utilitarian thinking. Granted, the trading off of costs vs benefits is very utilitarian and also reminiscent of how a psychopath makes judgements BUT the 'us vs them' idea is rooted in something else entirely. Fear or devaluing of 'the other' is born out of prejudice and ignorance rather than any cost/benefit analysis.

      A utilitarian should consider the pleasure and pain of everyone in a given situation, not just a group which arbitrarily he happens to prefer. Nothing should matter beyond the utility outcome. So, if the thieves in your first example form a much bigger group than do the property owners, or they actually only steal a very small amount of stuff from a very wealthy property owner who can easily afford to lose it (but which to the thieves is the difference between eating or not), if in other words the pleasure the thieves receive is greater than the pain suffered by the landowner, then a utilitarian is obliged to say that stealing in this circumstance is morally right and good.

      I understand this is a rather late post and so I'm probably talking to thin air as everybody's moved on by now, but if you or anybody else happens to see this and fancies writing a response to challenge me I will gladly come back and defend my argument. Come one come all, don't be shy :)

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    6. To be utilitarian, you have to have a metric.

      It sounds like your metric is "all human happiness matters the same." A psychopath can easily compartmentalize, because he doesn't have the same attachment system.

      E.g. a psychopath might say, "I care about my wife and kids, but noone else." Or I care about my tribe. And I'm a sadist, so I like killing off the other tribe.

      That behavior "works" evolutionarily. People with that way of thinking pass on their genes. Watch that video for more information.

      I not only have those genes and disposition, but I'm bothered when my fellow citizens don't respond to threats the effective, ruthless and brutal way I think they ought to be responded to. I'm sick of being labeled an outcast; I've been rejected my whole life for scaring "my" people, when I really only want what's best for them. This is, by the way, how guys like Himmler felt.

      E.g. suppose you take the USA. A psychopath might say, "we value the happiness of citizens at 100%, the happiness of legal residents at 10% and the happiness of illegal aliens at 0%."

      If you did that, you'd do things like put anti-personnel mines on the border, to stop illegals from coming in - because it works and is cheap.

      Obviously the choice of a metric is arbitrary. I can see how you'd argue that it ought to be 100% for every group - that is, the happiness of everyone ought to matter equally.

      But here's something for you - imagine the world is filled with people like me. We are only happy when we do ruthless, evil, cruel things. In that world, would you say, "OK, the people in this world want it to be cruel and discriminatory - so doing it that way maximizes happiness?"

      I would argue that Israel is like that: the Jews in Israel discriminate against the Arabs in a cruel way. Apparently that's the will of the people - it is done in a democracy. They are getting what they want. If they had other policies, there'd be a less happy majority. So it seems that having discriminatory but utilitarian policies is the optimal way to make people happy.

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    7. Misformatted that video link: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=bs1Re2-NAD4

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    8. Wonderful, a reply, which I wasn't expecting so thank you! I shall have to watch the video another time as I don't have 20 minutes to spare right now, which is ironic considering the length of my response to your written answer:

      I'm not convinced a psychopath would have the reaction you're describing. Yes, they might propose such a 'minefield' scheme (which prudishness aside would be hilariously efficient) as a solution to mass immigration and they may even volunteer to do all the dirty work of rigging the mines, making sure they hit their target and manually gunning down anyone fortunate enough to get through the minefield. But, I would argue that this would not be due to some utilitarian 'moral' persuasion but because they reaped some benefit from it (e.g. a good wage, or the fact that they simply enjoy watching people get killed).

      It would strike me that the only time a psychopath was ‘utilitarian’ is when he or she weighs up what he or she stands to lose or gain from a particular course of action. This is a sort of egocentric ‘utilitarianism’ that would be better described as hedonism.

      On the other hand, I don't see why a psychopath would bother with utilitarianism on a larger scale. Would they really have any overarching tribal / pack instincts (such as your examples of loving your family or having nationalist views) when they are ultimately detached and unempathic individuals? Why would a psychopath identify with any particular group over another for non-material reasons (again such as a monetary reward)? I would contest that they wouldn’t and that is why I am doubtful about your self-label of psychopath. Maybe you are a sadist, certainly you’re ruthlessly pragmatic, but you also seem to be quite patriotic, which doesn’t fit the picture.

      Regarding your thought-experiment challenge to me, a utilitarian would have to bite the bullet and accept that cruelty and discrimination are indeed morally right for the people of planet Sadist. In order to be a pure utilitarian, you have to discard sentimentality and other empathic responses but that perhaps shows utilitarianism’s limitations. If you are utilitarian but you don’t wish to sacrifice your ‘morals’ or your ‘humanity’ (or whatever it is people care about so much) you have to be somewhat cautious with the implementation of utilitarian values. You’d need to have a critical and skeptical approach to carrying out the utilitarian rules with an ear to other points of view and moral inclinations. If you’re right about Israel, then maybe utilitarianism is flawed. Yes, in many respects they are a beacon of economic prosperity and democracy in a region of violent despots and poverty but the way they treat their neighbours and ethnic minorities is more than a bit fucked up. Consequently they are hated by practically every Muslim country, something which could turn out very badly indeed for them should Iran or someone else decide to send a few nuclear missiles in their direction.

      You want to know my opinion? Sure you do! If not, you’re getting it anyway. Personally, I’d be happy to be wholly utilitarian in the vast majority of situations (I’d support ‘kill the few to save the many’ any day of the week) – so let the people of planet Sadist have their fun! – but I recognise that the majority of people don’t see things that way.

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    9. "But, I would argue that this would not be due to some utilitarian 'moral' persuasion but because ."

      I don't need convincing; it is how I think. Psychopaths have an easy time viewing humans as if they are machines made of meat.

      "It would strike me that the only time a psychopath was ‘utilitarian’ is when he or she weighs up what he or she stands to lose or gain from a particular course of action..."

      I wish I had the impulse control to be that rational. I'd cause myself a lot less problems.

      When imagining pushing a fat guy off a bridge to save thirty kids, normal people spontaneously imagine the subjective experience of others, and, for instance, think, "it would suck to be the falling/dying fat guy" and "if I get caught having solved this problem this utilitarian way, people will think worse of me." At that point the normal guy gets nervous and backs off.

      A psychopath, experiencing discomfort ("Uh oh. A bunch of kids are about to die prematurely") and seeing a way out ("push Fatty off the bridge") isn't likely to think/feel the same way. He may think, "shit, I might get in trouble if I push Fatty, so fuck it, might as well enjoy the show" and do nothing but watch or take photos (to make the most of the moment).

      "Would they really have any overarching tribal / pack instincts (such as your examples of loving your family or having nationalist views) when they are ultimately detached and unempathic individuals? Why would a psychopath identify with any particular group over another for non-material reasons (again such as a monetary reward)?"

      Watch the video and get your answers. Hypercompetitiveness explains a lot of it; if there's any group sentiment at all, that gets you exterminationistic thinking.

      Hitler and Goebbels loved their German people the way little kids love their dolls or favorite toys. Mess with their toys and they'd kill you if they could.

      "...I am doubtful about your self-label of psychopath. Maybe you are a sadist, certainly you’re ruthlessly pragmatic, but you also seem to be quite patriotic, which doesn’t fit the picture. "

      If you watch the video with an open mind, you may believe differently.

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    10. About the viewing people like machines, but still liking some: imagine you are a kid and you have an army of toy soldiers. You get into a "battle" with another kid and you lose soldiers. You really like yours (say they are elves). You don't like the orcs (ugly). You really want the elves to win, and you'll do what it takes to make it happen. Until maybe some of the elves piss you off, and then you decide that pointy-eared elves are OK, but the elves with rounded ears are really irritating - and have to go - preferably melted down, cut up in to pieces or blown up.

      That explains why the German people were really great, until Hitler decided that all the really good ones were already dead (having followed their orders), and the only remaining ones were so disgusting and selfish they didn't deserve to live.

      It is a childish and misanthrophic way to view humanity. It leads to a lot of suffering for the person that views reality that way.

      The compassionate thing would be to hope that such a person could come around and see how great humans are and treasure all of them - including the psychopaths, normal people, etc.

      But this isn't how normal people are. Psychopaths scare them and hence merit as much compassion as a pissed off snake.

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  5. A bunch of jealous, raging land-wales no doubt.

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  6. We in the West pay our taxes which pays for bombs to be dropped on women and children in poorer countries.
    Do these same moral vigilantes send threats to Air Force personnel or ordnance factory workers? Mostly not.
    This seems to be because when Bostonians get blown up it's a threat to the rest of us, but when Third Worlders get blown up for the sake of maintaining our economic and political superiority that's ok because they're "them" not "us".
    I suppose the definition of a mob is that individuals have set aside their norms and become a kind of temporary macro-organism to allay individual culpability or guilt.

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    1. I agree completely. The ethnocentricity of "Americans vs. the rest of the World" is astounding.

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  7. I found the costume amusing, would have been more better if the number was 911 . Here we are back to square one where people take it upon themselves to feel included in something they feel is a personal attack to their pointless beliefs. The featured comment has it spot on in relation to this feeble act of moral righteousness.

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    1. I giggled at the 911. I agree. I found it amusing. Though can understand why others would find it in poor taste, it doesn't bother me.

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  8. Massachuetts "liberals" have been known to be the most intolorant
    of the bunch. Those of us who are old enough to remember the
    desegration bru ha ha of the 1970's can attest to that.
    But isn't a celebration of "evil" suppost to be what Halloween is about?
    The demand for Casey Anthony Halloween masks far exceeds the
    supply.
    It comes back to the old addage "You've got to be taught to hate and
    fear, (From the play "South Pacific."
    People are machcanical, reactive beings; slaves to popular opinion
    and "social proof." The internet only enforces it.
    How is the mad, howling Islamic mob that burns down bulidings
    just on the roumor that someone insulted the Prophet or flushed
    a Koran down the toilet any different from the Bostonian who responds with moral indignation because his sacred memories are
    trampled on?

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    1. Um, I'll make it real simple, just for you. Islamic people who destroy property and kill people for insulting Islam merely by speaking the truth about it are um, overreacting. A Bostonian who sees this bimbo trying way too hard to be cute and ironic by mocking victims of extremist Islamic boys and reacts with mere indignation and nothing more is having a normal reaction any reasonable, fair-minded person could comprehend. You should try.

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  9. I agree...empaths are so irrational and react so quickly. I am surrounded by such and constantly asked why I don't get passionate about these "moral issues?" I can't respond, "Oh, because I'm a sociopath and I don't give a rip." So I just tell them that getting all worked up doesn't change anything, blah, blah, blah. I love Halloween so I can wear my scream mask and be who I really am.

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  10. This woman set herself up to be a scapegoat. The rage free for all was an act of group catharsis, so society could reinforce that it is made up of "good people" who know better.
    The "teach someone a lesson" dynamic is very telling. There's no teaching involved when a mob smells blood. There is utter annihilation. My biggest clue that someone is capable of asshole behavior is when they try to "teach people a lesson". The arrogance of assuming it's your job to "put people in their place" is such a marker for entitled arrogance.

    If I hear the phrase "teach someone a lesson" come out of the mouth of a man I am dating it makes him undateable in a way no other quirky phrase can. It's such a behavioral indicator.

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    1. @Machavellianempath - What you are saying here resonates with me.

      When I think of the person who has to "teach people a lesson", I think of a hateful person who is weakened by their inability (unwillingness?) to understand themselves and perceive the world through another person's perspective.

      On the other hand. I do not believe in "turning the other cheek" either. Recently someone was causing pain to someone I care for. I countered with certain aggressive moves that weakened his ability to cause this person more pain by damaing his career.

      The child in me wants to feel "justified" in my actions and "teach him a lesson". The wiser part of myself has compassion for him, knowing that he is a damaged person who lives a life of pain due to his poor choices in relating to people.

      The part of me that I like most is indifferent to "justification", feels compassion for him, and took him down like a hunter takes down prey.

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  11. For starters, how do you know that the individuals who made up this mob were not psychopaths? You don't. You're presuming that's the case.

    Secondly, do you really think *most* empaths found her costume outrageous? Nope, just a certain amount of vocal ones. I though 'what an idiot', nothing more than a passing reaction. On the other hand, if I lived in Boston and my neighbour's child had been killed at the marathon, I'd probably have thought, who let that cretin out dress like that. She's just dizzy, it's not a crime.

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    1. psykopath-I-logicalNovember 6, 2013 at 6:34 AM

      The outraging of received wisdom or social mores is what Halloween is about is it not? Offence is in the eye of the offended-may I recommend the BRASS EYE Pedophile special comedy show as evidence of the value of satire and offence to keep our critical faculties healthy. To me sociopathy makes me a critic of the human concept- others engage and lose themselves in the mob or some cause-sociopaths do not, we are always leery, cynical and bemused. But rarely outraged, that would require an emotional investment we are just not able to make.

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    2. RE: to original anonymous: "For starters, how do you know that the individuals who made up this mob were not psychopaths?"

      Because psychopaths don't act as part of angry mobs; they're the proverbial lone wolf. And if a psychopath is to be found in a mob, then they'll be the person at the front manipulating the crowd, whipping the masses up into a frenzy for whatever benefit they (the psychopath) gets from it.

      With regards to your second point, which I happen to agree with, may I refer you to that old adage "those who know the least shout the loudest".

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  12. another great post M.E. ive lived under a scrupples thumb my whole life (also called scrupilosity), i think that's why i'm drawn to this blog. it makes me think reasoned, logical. Im one of those borderline, super-empath that got me into a whole lot of trouble for having fuckin deep emotions. I really like to understand peoples makeup. Empaths can be nasty mother fuckers. Why would I want to think logical, and resaoned like a sociopath? because I feel things at a great intensity. It sucks living with borderline (bpd traits), and being at the other side of the spectrum of feelings. This blog evens me out, and makes me think with a balance approach. Ive come far to level out in my thinking, but nonetheless i feel things.

    Totally off topic, but this song makes me horney. rush. haha, I think its time to role play with SO tonight. yum. my everything bagal man.

    http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=sxmBqF24-OA&list=PL73A5AEE4E146E019

    this channel is awesome!!

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  13. Next year I want to dress me up as Adolf Hitler for halloween, maybe I get also some death threats and lots of attention. Its illegal to do that in my home country, but no risk no fun :-)

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  14. "I wonder, why is it that sociopaths are immune to moral outrage?"

    i dont get mad at you unless you hurt me.

    "Perhaps because we don't believe that our emotional reactions equate to TRUTH/GOD'S CALL TO VENGEANCE

    but you get mad at me and then you hurt me.

    "(remember when people were so worked up at the idea of miscegenation or desegregation?"

    you've always been this way.

    "Is it because we think way fewer things are moral issues than most people"

    you get mad about things that would not bother me.

    "(Tasteless Halloween costumes? Is this a breach of morality, or just thoughtless?"

    things i dont understand.

    "Even if it was a moral issue, do we call up your average murderer and threaten to kill them?"

    i wouldnt hurt you just for making me mad.

    "What makes her the special target of people's vigilanteism?)"

    i dont want to make you mad.

    "Certainly sociopaths have much less invested in social norms than the average person."

    because i dont care what you do

    "And isn't this what this boils down to? Someone has violated a social norm, so they no longer deserve to live?"

    so stop getting mad at what i do

    "Empaths -- you are scary mothers when you get all emotionally riled up about something. But I guess they had it coming, right?"

    because you hurt me when you get mad.

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