Friday, January 31, 2014

Sherlock: TV's favorite sociopath

BBC's Sherlock has started up again in the U.S. featuring many people's favorite fictional depiction of a high-functioning sociopath. Although Sherlock outted himself as a high-functioning sociopath in the first episode, not everyone was happy with Sherlock's apparent self-diagnosis. One of the more entertaining things has been to read people's explanations of how he cannot possibly be a sociopath, despite their hero worship of his brain and ability to analyze human behavior,

I can understand people's reluctance to acknowledge that he is a sociopath. After all, sociopath is a very dirty word and many people struggle with the idea that Sherlock is morally neutral, and that he just happens to be on the side of good. And so his fans tried to explain away his first reference to being a high-functioning sociopath, despite there being ample evidence to support his claim. And for a while there was nary a mention of the "s" word... tntil season 3, where he reminds people of his diagnosis almost every episode (search for the term "sociopath" in this wikiquotes article, but caution spoiler alerts). He chides his friend Molly for always falling in love with sociopaths, his best friend Watson for basically being attracted to sociopaths as well ("Your best friend is a sociopath who solves crimes as an alternative to getting high. That's me, by thy way."), and scares other people with it:



Perhaps Arthur Conan Doyle's Sherlock was not a high functioning sociopath (careful the link includes many inaccuracies about what a sociopath actually is), but BBC's Sherlock certainly seems to be one. And not just in the most obvious ways or overplayed ways like the video clip above. One of the more interesting ways he manifests sociopathic traits for me is how he interacts with his close friends.

For instance (spoiler alert), in one episode the three people he cares most about have their lives threatened by the villain (also a psychopath, but do psychopaths have a death wish?) Jim Moriarty. Missing from that threesome is the girl who has a very one-sided crush on Sherlock, Molly. And because Molly wasn't one of the three who was targeted, she was able to help Sherlock out of his bind. For her help, Sherlock rewards her with this statement: "Moriarty slipped up, he made a mistake. Because the one person he thought didn't matter to me was the one person who mattered the most. You made it all possible." How sweet, but how very sociopathic. When most people see things like "you matter to me," they mean that they feel a strong emotional connection. Here, Sherlock seems to imply something similar, but what he really means is that Molly mattered in his scheme in the very literal sense that she made it possible. In other words, his assessment of whether someone matters to him or not is what they are able to do for him. And for some people, that acknowledgement is enough. My closest friend is that way. She prides herself on being a very valuable friend to know, so that fact that I constantly seek her company is just an confirmation that I actually do find her to be very valuable. And that is what is valuable to her.



58 comments:

  1. Whatever, it's a shitty show.

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  2. With few exceptions "fictional" T.V. shows are of no interest to me.
    It is real life individuals who are worthy of our time.
    A lot of time and energy was used to post today's missive.
    I think whenever M.E. departs from acidemic disscussions about
    sociopaths, she should actually turn the spotlight on herself.
    How is it for example, that M.E. could probably get any man (and many
    women) that she wants? Is it because "men only need a place, and
    women need a reason?" Or, is it because of her sociopathic persuasive
    skills?
    M.E. happens to be very beautiful. But, could a "plain Jane" M.E. also
    have the same magnetic powers?
    We've all heard of the "Halo Effect." Many attractive criminals use it.
    Up in Massachuetts the teacher murderer is no doubt going to accuse
    the teacher he raped and murdered of seducing HIM. A combination
    of Aspergers and racism is likely to be the defense there.
    I suppose I answered my own question. Plain women ARE at a
    disadvantage. Beauty is a double edged soward.

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    1. She is turning the spotlight on herself. She's talking about the dynamic between herself and her closest friend.

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    2. @ 247-Plain women are at a disadvantage because they struggle with being perceived as invisible. But a well groomed, fit plain woman often has certain advantages over the beautiful one. Not being perceived as a sexual threat to other women can be very protective. It also means less static from predatory men. But if the plain woman is also sloppy/obese then she simply receives contempt (not fait but true).

      I suspect certain plain women who keep themselves at a healthy weight and dress respectably might have an advantage in that they could drift under the radar where an obviously beautiful woman will attract attention wherever she goes.

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    3. How could you face so many days of your lifetime in utter chaos or isolation and not believe in demons. Many days there were no explanation or answer to many, many situations; other than the fact of evil entities that do not come from within.

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    4. ^ above comment intended below

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  3. "In other words, his assessment of whether someone matters to him. . . is what they are able to do for him."

    This is true. But over time the psychopath ceases to value this. He starts to take it for granted. Constantly on the take, he loses objectivity where the selfless giver is concerned. The giver then tries to give even more or leaves. Either way it's f*cked up and serves only one person, the psychopath.

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  4. What's in it for your best friend ME?

    Do any of you believe in Satanic/Demonic possession? Psychopathic ex used to wake up in a sweat having had a terrifying dream where he was being chased by a demon spirit. This happened quite a lot, so much so that he dreaded going to sleep at times. He wondered if he was possessed.

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    1. I grew up an evangelical Christian and heard about this stuff all of the time. Most of my religious beliefs have fallen by the wayside. Given that this is one of the "kookier" things I was taught to believe it seems like this would've been on of the first to get the cut.

      It actually embarrasses me to admit this, but my gut tells me on some level there is something to this. I've heard quite a few stories of individuals fighting entities on a psychological level. Now, this could simply be a manifestation of paranoid schizophrenia or dissociative disorder, but what seems to be a common thread in these stories is the malevolence and persistent seductiveness of the invading spirit.

      Malachi Martins "Hostage to the Devil" and M scott Peck's "Glimpses of the Devil" both address this in great detail. They are interesting reads, if nothing else.

      For me, the jury is still out on this. I lean towards skepticism. The mind is a tricky thing, and internal psychological battles are often resolved by projection of undesirable traits onto someone else. An invading demon spirit seems like a natural choice for projection.

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    2. Yes, it could be projection although if you talk to anyone who has attended an exorcism, they swear blind they witnesses the presence of a demon. It might explain why psycho ex was so tortured - always searching for answers - unlike most of the psychopaths on this forum who seem quite happy with their condition.

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    3. I use the concept of DEMON as shorthand for the buried rage inside me which likes to play abroad, but also in the ancient Greek version where a DEMON is also a genius or spirit. It appeals to my POE-tical side-but when we see MAGICK and spirirtual concepts as short hand for a primitive psychology it isn't much of a jump-we are all made up of fractured selves, just in those on the spectrum are more dark, wayward and devilishly playful...(OH BRING ME AN EARTHQUAKE- A TOWERING INFERNO, A disaster to mirror my insides!).

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    4. this website might be of interest:

      http://diabolicalconfusions.wordpress.com/about/

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    5. @Mach
      Scott Peck wrote of his experience at an exorcism of how the face changed into a reptile of the possessed. I' m sure he saw many clients in his lifetime that did not change their facial features under duress or socially. And I have never heard of these changes in mental institutions.

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    6. Psychological research has addressed this ad nauseam:

      1) Dreams are figments generated by the brain as it processes and organizes information.
      2) Hallucinations.
      3) Delusions.
      4) Confirmation bias.
      5) Wish and/or mission fulfillment.

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    7. A flaw in my way of approaching reality is my over reliance on what can be objectively proved and/or measured. As a small child, when other people talked about bible heroes mine was the Apostle Thomas (doubting Thomas- the one who had to put his fingers through nail holes to believe)

      Partly because it is my nature and partly because I was subjected to church ladies praying over me and anointing me with oil at my mothers request (she read my diary and judged me to be evil because I liked rock'n'roll) I have a real aversion to saying someone is demonically influenced (it's like the Christian version of saying someone has cooties)

      Despite my strong biases against using this classification I firmly believe that there is something to it. Because I'm not good at integrating esoteric thinking into my reasoning process I'll simply say that I believe there are both actively good and actively evil entities that exist all around us and possibly inside of us. But because I don't have the discernment to locate the exact mechanism to locate these entities in my experience, I'm extremely wary of talking about my hunches here. It would be a fascinating post topic for ME to explore bc she also has a religious background. There's all sorts of interesting mythology around human/angel hybrids.


      A separate note: Everyone I know who has talked about actively experiencing a demon trying to possess them has severe trauma in their background. I don't know if that's simply a coincidence or if a specific causal agent at work. The overly rational side of me dismisses it as the brains search for a metaphor to locate the impact/meaning of the shattering traumatic influence.

      Still, there are those who talk of making a deal with some sort of devil- to them it is very real- not a metaphor. So I can't conclusively affirm or dismiss the possibility of demonic activity- I wish I could but perhaps a post on this might bring stories out of the woodwork that will bring this topic into clearer focus.

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    8. How is relying on objectivity considered flawed?

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    9. Because even when we try to believe we're objective, we're not. The science of today will seem as smart as putting leeches on sick people down the road. But my brain is a fan of analytical reasoning that is based in measurable fact, so I am drawn to the scientific method. What tends to confound everything is that we don't know what we don't know. So our data is by definition incomplete and our hypotheses rest on shaky foundations.

      The thing about religion is that it contains some pretty profound insights alongside the emotion fueled superstition. But because I have been badly burned there I'm not eager to sift through it all. But if I was I think integrating religion with sound analytical reason is our best bet towards becoming more evolved.

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    10. The thing to remember about the scientific method is its basis in falsifiability. That it provides a "best education guess" at the moment, until it is supplanted by something better. It allows itself to be tested, to not just be proven right, but to be able to try and prove it wrong. Nothing is set in stone. That isn't to say that until Newton wrote about gravity that it didn't exist, only that until then it wasn't recognized sufficiently in an objective manner. That also isn't to say that when Einstein supplanted Newton regarding gravity that gravity actually changed. Only our understanding of it did.

      It is natural for people to fill in the blanks with religion. The problem though is that there is an inherent incompatibility with science and religion - religion does not support falsifiability. In proper science, its very foundation requires that it be subject to it - to allow for the replacement a current "species" of theory with a more evolved one. Religion does not allow for that.

      Now remember, as a quintessential example, it isn't to say that God does not exist. Perhaps it is like gravity, in that God always has been and that we just haven't written a theory that can be tested yet. Or maybe God never has. With science we don't know. Yet.

      Does relying on this method provide a flawed way of approaching reality? No. It is however less convenient than religion. With religion, the insight comes far more easily. You have to work at science to a significant and very inconvenient degree. That doesn't make it wrong.

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  5. What I find most interesting about the BBC Sherlock's sociopathy is how frequently one of the show's creators, Steven Moffat, denies it. There are numerous quotes in which Moffat denies Sherlock is a sociopath and most recently said that the consulting detective only "wishes he was [because it would be] so much easier, but he so is not".

    The complexity of his shows' story lines - both on Dr Who and Sherlock - prove Moffat is a pretty smart guy, so it seems unlikely he'd be so blind to his own characters as to claim one isn't a sociopath when there's clear evidence to the contrary. This leaves me to wonder if it's a form of self-deception on Moffat's part. That he doesn't see the sociopathic behavior because he feels it's acceptable - Sherlock does what he has to do, that's all.

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  6. I think the problem with BBC's Sherlock is that he wasn't written as a sociopath. He does have sociopathic traits but every now and again we get to know things about him that hint more at autism if you ask me.
    I always thought his relationship with Watson was the number one reason him being a sociopath seems implausible. I mean, I can only speak for myself here, but I don't think a sociopath would be as attached to someone as Sherlock is to John. In a sort of possessive way maybe, but he is also very obviously emotionally attached to him.
    While he does gain something from their friendship (emotional stability maybe?) there's not really that much use to Watson in this series, so why would a sociopathic Sherlock be so attached to him?
    I'd have to rewatch some episodes to even remember my arguments here since, quite honestly, I always thought the show was rather stupid and didn't care for it that much.
    But I am certain, the inconsistent writing in this show makes Sherlock into an aspie more than a sociopath.

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    Replies
    1. Watson is of utility to Sherlock. Not only that, but Watson actually tolerates him, which for Sherlock is an added bonus.

      Also the better question is, how does Moffat see sociopaths? What is his definition? When asked the question, he may be thinking of the public stereotype (which Sherlock is not).

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    2. They are friends. He is attached to Watson as his only friend.Sociopaths can form some attachment to a few people.

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    3. You can be both to a sociopath. That may seem ridiculous, but it is not.

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  7. I love fictional depictions of sociopaths/psychopaths that are completely inaccurate. They have to make them more palatable for the public so they give the characters all kinds of emotions.

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  8. So we have two iconic sociopathic characters drawn from Doyle's character Dr HOUSE (Holmes-homes-house House-geddit), and the BBC Sherlock. The original character (Check out the Jeremy Brett TV version for the original stories) was a drug user who had no tolerance for the quotidian aspects of existence, and where ever would delegate so he could focus on the more mythic and metaphorical area of criminology (and lets be honest offender profiling is all about metaphor.). He had no patience with emotional out bursts or emotive pleas or digressions which wavered from his almost mechanically vice like focus.Though I have doubts about the benefit of the show once again drawing attention to the enigmatic allure of sociopathy as a concept, it is well done diversion, but my personal preference is the Rathbone, not quite cannon, but a brisk ripping yarn none the less!

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  9. There are 10 lanes between “caring” deeply for someone and “loving” that same person. I’ve seen people take someone’s friendly words all the way to whatever lane they want to, conveniently interpreting/driving it to wherever they want.

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  10. The cost/benefit of long term friendship with a sociopath does not add up.(for the non- socio) Unless your a complete doormat of wallflower with no substance, backbone, or character, you will eventually tire of this lop-sided relationship. The few bones and scraps that get thrown at you won't give you the genuine friendship you desire. A friendship based on honesty, mutual caring, mutual respect, and trust.

    Not to say you can't attempt a casual acquintance type working relationship. I'll let you know how that works out.

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  11. Best sociopath is one who uses crime to solve crime? Homeopathy? Uses sickness to cure sickness?

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    1. It's so funny you say that because I have often thought that a modern day Jesus very well might be labeled a sociopath.

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    2. Well he's not gonna come out and say "I'm Jesus" now is he.

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    3. unless he pronounces it "Hay- zoos" and stays off the radar of the civilized world by doing so. (That is not a statement about how I feel about Mexican Americans. It's just an acknowledgment of a cultural stereotype)

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  12. When I do drugs its because I'm basically taking orders. Yes I enjoy the weed. No I do not know why I'm smoking it. I just do it.

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    Replies
    1. Do you know how much driving under influence would cost you? ???

      It really doesn’t matter if you are "intentionally" driving obliviously, or oblivious by “nature”. Fine is the same. But, if you are a repeat offender who does the same thing “over and over and over”, then you may get a higher fine.
      Just, my job to warn you!

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    2. Actually it is not your job to warn me. But I appreciate it. You think I don't see the errors of my ways? Yes I err all the time (its human) but do I care? No.

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    3. I get warnings all the time. People telling me what and what not to do "avoid this, its dangerous." You're just programming me like you've been programmed there is no virtue in that.

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    4. It's not programming, just an advisory due to the risk of harm against yourself or others. That's all.

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    5. @ Anonymous

      It is both.

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  13. I don't think this character was ever diagnosed as a sociopath, he just started referring to himself as one. The author of the show, Steven Moffat, said Sherlock isn't really a sociopath, he just thinks he is.

    “He always is [bullshitting]. He doesn’t think that at all. He doesn’t think any of those things, but he wants to think that he does, just as he wants to think he’s a high-functioning sociopath. He’s not a sociopath, nor is he high-functioning. He’d really like to be a sociopath. But he’s so fucking not. The wonderful drama of Sherlock Holmes is that he’s aspiring to this extraordinary standard. He is at root an absolutely ordinary man with a very, very big brain. He’s repressed his emotions, his passions, his desires, in order to make his brain work better — in itself, a very emotional decision, and it does suggest that he must be very emotional if he thinks emotions get in the way. I just think Sherlock Holmes must be bursting!”

    So, I guess he is one of those wannabe sociopaths that we see on the internet all the time, except unlike those people, Sherlock is actually intelligent.

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    Replies
    1. ...Or, perhaps, either Moffat is lying - as he's known to do with press/fans constantly - or doesn't realize due to ignorance about the disorder or some form of self-deception that he has, in fact, written a sociopathic hero in Sherlock?

      I confess I'd rather one of those options given how pathetic Moffat makes his own character sound in basically declaring him just a "wannabe".

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    2. I admit I haven't seen this show at all, but I read the books and the character from the books definitely is not sociopathic.

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    3. From what I've read of the books I agree that version doesn't come across as terribly sociopathic (and M.E. suggests as much in this article), but I doubt very much the book version would ever claim to be either.

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    4. The new series is a different take on the Sherlock ethos.

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    5. Hopefully there will someday be a topic about the "passive psycho", hollow folks not interested in mayhem, people just longing for a quiet diner with a newspaper and some coffee afterwards. It seems to be the most human model, so to speak. It probably wants naughty things like munching on apple-pies which it did not bake itself, but does not seem to be a likely candidate to evolve into a serial killer. How do we understand them? Do they come in peace? Can they "do good" for the sake of keeping their quiet life just as they like it ( that is: quiet)?

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    6. There are plenty of sociopaths (myself included) who are disinterested in mayhem or other societal malfeasance. There is plenty of low-hanging fruit when it comes to being a "productive member of society". It's actually one of the myths about sociopaths that ME has tried with her blog and book to dispel - not all sociopaths are violent and/or criminal.

      For example, I may be interested in watching violent movies, but I am disinterested in personal violence in real life. For some, it is stimulating. For me, it isn't. I'm not wired for that. There is a reason why in many ways sociopaths are defined as apathetic - while there are no negative emotions associated to stop an act, there are also no positive emotions associated to start it. If I witness violence on the streets, I will out of social obligation (a choice) call the cops, but otherwise I'll stay back and not get involved (to prevent personal injury).

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    7. So the "passive psycho" & the tired worker coming home from work and just wanna "chill" is basically the same item? The difference is just that the still psycho does not feel guilty when consuming aunt Martha´s blueberry-pie that was intended for Little Bert´s birthday, perhaps feeling great that he was able to demonstrate his power in the fridge, and later will blame his uncle for the dirty deed done & quietly giggle when accusations start flying?

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    8. In this case, the socio wants the pie because they're hungry and like its taste. There is no desire to demonstrate power with the fridge.

      Also, you would never blame the uncle. You would suggest it, and let them create their own conclusion.

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  14. If any of you actually believe in Demonic activity, decide you want any unclean spirits out of you and ring a Pentecostal/ UPC church see if you suddenly have violent agrressive reactions to their prayers, ect.When I was baptized, my body may have felt like it was convulsing. Of course, be baptized in the name of Jesus Christ, there is no power in the titles

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  15. Question: How do I know that I'm healthy? Do I just like assume that everything is peachy keen?

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  16. I was never trying to harass anyone. The data gets mixed up. X

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  17. I see myself as a very greedy person and I am ashamed.

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  18. Like I can only be mean. I cannot be nice. My eyes hurt all the time.

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  19. Thick Black TheoryFebruary 1, 2014 at 6:11 AM

    I think Steven Moffat is trying to be a bit of a shock jock jumping on the sociopath bandwagon with Sherlock.

    The fictional character which everyone is projecting their opinions on to lacks affective empathy not cognitive empathy. Add systemising into the mix and I’d put him on the autistic spectrum for my 10 cents.

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