Saturday, May 31, 2014

Guest post: Ayn Rand

I wrote because I've read you've an interest in Ayn Rand; I found this quote from her early private journals, which I thought might interest you:

"Some day I’ll find out whether I’m an unusual specimen of humanity in that my instincts and reason are so inseparably one, with the reason ruling the instincts. Am I unusual or merely normal and healthy? Am I trying to impose my own peculiarities as a philosophical system? Am I unusually intelligent or merely unusually honest? I think this last. Unless—honesty is also a form of superior intelligence."

This was written in 1934, prior to the publication of her novels, and representative of her less respectable "Nietzschean period" characterized by an overt sense of superiority over the human majority. I'm currently reading Anne C. Heller's biography Ayn Rand and the World She Made with a desire to understand Rand's psychology in light of neurodiversity. Rand is clearly a narcissist, and while too affective and inflexible for a perfect psychopath herself, she shows more than a few sociopathic tendencies as well as a consistent admiration for selective psychopathic qualities.

In relation to the above quote, I'm not at all sure that her mature universalism correctly resolved the question of her relation to the rest of her species. I wonder if her intelligence, low empathy, ambitious drive, social distance, public charisma, manipulative dominance, and purely intellectual conscience place her somewhere towards the extremes of the antisocial spectrum. This is certainly not a new idea for her detractors. I can't help but calculate that if 1% (or 4%) or Americans qualify as sociopaths, then Ayn Rand must surely have been more sociopathic by degree than 99% of any population.

Friday, May 30, 2014

Thursday, May 29, 2014

Phenomenal Woman

Pretty women wonder where my secret lies.
I’m not cute or built to suit a fashion model’s size  
But when I start to tell them,
They think I’m telling lies.
I say,
It’s in the reach of my arms,
The span of my hips,  
The stride of my step,  
The curl of my lips.  
I’m a woman
Phenomenally.
Phenomenal woman,  
That’s me.

I walk into a room
Just as cool as you please,  
And to a man,
The fellows stand or
Fall down on their knees.  
Then they swarm around me,
A hive of honey bees.  
I say,
It’s the fire in my eyes,  
And the flash of my teeth,  
The swing in my waist,  
And the joy in my feet.  
I’m a woman
Phenomenally.

Phenomenal woman,
That’s me.

Men themselves have wondered  
What they see in me.
They try so much
But they can’t touch
My inner mystery.
When I try to show them,  
They say they still can’t see.  
I say,
It’s in the arch of my back,  
The sun of my smile,
The ride of my breasts,
The grace of my style.
I’m a woman
Phenomenally.
Phenomenal woman,
That’s me.

Now you understand
Just why my head’s not bowed.  
I don’t shout or jump about
Or have to talk real loud.  
When you see me passing,
It ought to make you proud.
I say,
It’s in the click of my heels,  
The bend of my hair,  
the palm of my hand,  
The need for my care.  
’Cause I’m a woman
Phenomenally.
Phenomenal woman,
That’s me.

--Maya Angelou

Wednesday, May 28, 2014

Sociopath quote: Calculating machine

"Bear in mind that my brain works like a calculating machine. Each person who makes a presesntation to me introduces into this calculating machine a small wheel of information. There forms a certain picture, or a number on each wheel. I press a button and there flashes into my mind the sum of all this information."

--Adolf Hitler

Monday, May 26, 2014

Self-deception

From a reader:
I’m not a sociopath, but I’m sure the sentiments expressed here can be appreciated by those who are. Somewhat recently, I came to a point of reflection in my life, and what I saw in the mirror wasn't at all what I'd thought it to be when I was younger. I'd always believed myself to be a good person--honest to a fault, and happily willing to help others in need. But after a few years of struggle, I came to realize that I was lying to myself so I could lie to others without feeling guilty. I helped others to help myself maintain my own sense of self worth through the false image I'd created.

This realization was sparked by a significant breakup that left me feeling betrayed and vulnerable, which caused my true colors to surface. I sabotaged my ex's new relationship with half-truths spoken in a heart-felt manner to her boyfriend, and I worked tirelessly to position myself in a spot where he couldn't be rid of me without coming off as an unreasonable asshole. After nearly two years of that delicate balancing act, I reached a point where I had my ex doing household chores for me at no cost, more or less whenever I requested it. I did it for the sense of power it gave me, and I relished the thought of the pain it must be causing the father of her child. Every time she came over, a large fight between them would, and still does, break out, and I loved every minute of it. After a while, he refused to hang out with me, saying that being around me made him nauseous. After further probing my ex, I found out he was having nightmares about me. It was enthralling, but even while I was caught up in the intoxication of revenge, I went through a difficult internal struggle trying to make sense of the conflict between who I believed myself to be and how much I enjoyed what I was doing.

In the end, I was forced to accept the facts. I liked hurting him. I liked controlling her. I loved the thought of her staying in a dead-end relationship, never finding satisfaction. I liked having my things done for me for free. It wasn't about righting wrongs, nor was it about friendship. The glee I felt at the thought of it all wasn't something I could just sweep under the rug. But acceptance wasn't easy to come by, because I'd always believed very strongly in the ideas of right and wrong. It was the basis of the hatred I came to realize that I felt for my ex and her boyfriend, and without those very morals which would call my actions into question, I had no way to justify what I was doing. Freedom from that conflict required a paradigm shift in my perceptions of me and the world at large.

But accepting these parts of me, and realizing that they needed no justification, caused a dramatic shift in my life. I'm calmer, more laid back, and I'm easier to get along with. I'm more prone to compromise, and little things don't bother me so much. It's hard to believe that acceptance of such dark aspects of my personality could bring me so much peace, but with it has come such a great release of anger, toward both myself and others, that I'm left feeling like I'm on a permanent vacation. When I cause pain to those who have harmed me, or symbolically trade nic-nacs for bars of solid gold, I no longer feel a sense of glee, nor am I wracked with guilt about it. I simply look at the world, and the phrase which best describes what I feel is, "All is as it should be." That feeling has brought with it many significant benefits in nearly every aspect of my life, from career all the way to romance. And to this day, my chores are still done for me by the woman who inadvertently freed me from myself. I can't imagine going back to that life of self-delusion. I only wish that everyone could learn to shed their false skins, so they could find out what lies inside and learn to truly love it. The world would be a much happier place.

Saturday, May 24, 2014

Sociopaths on television: Luther's Alice Morgan

There's a very fun "malignant narcissist" (seems more sociopathic) character in the BBC television series Luther. The titular character says this about her: "The way Alice sees it is this world is full of people that have "offended her, embarassed her, let her down, and those people deserve to be punished." The way she is portrayed is very well done -- her moments of quiet reflection, her inappropriate emotional responses, her boredom, her seeming contradictions, her complicated relationships, her pleasure in life -- all come off as being very three dimensionally real, and, apart from a few bad acts and the occasional moments of craziness, she is very high functioning.

Definitely worth watching.

Spoilers in the clip below, but a good example of the narcissistic/sociopathic traits in the character. Also a good example of how useful getting advice from a self-aware narcissist or sociopath can be:

Friday, May 23, 2014

Manipulation 101

I was a very manipulative child but people started resenting it immensely as I grew older. It was a struggle to learn subtle manipulation tactics to replace my heavy-handed ones but now I have sort of a personal rule (aimed at sustainability) of using only subtle manipulation, except in emergency situations.

My favorite subtle manipulation that I use multiple times a day is to refer to people by what I want them to be to me, e.g. friend, lover, colleague, etc. I learned this when I was taking a swimming class that also had a very small diving component. The diving coach only came one day to work with us. We were all beginners but he had us circle around and said, "Hello divers." The rest of the session whenever he wanted to get our attention, he addressed us as divers. It seemed weird at first, because I had never had any formal training in diving so I didn't feel like I deserved to be called a diver. It didn't seem totally inappropriate given the circumstances, however, and there was something about him always referring to us as divers that made me think that I was a diver, or at least that I was capable of being one. I saw what I was doing as not just messing around, but taking the first steps on the path to becoming a diver. I continued to think about myself in that context for the rest of the session, unconsciously trying hard to live up to the expectation that he set for us of being "divers".

Since then I started calling people by their title. When I greet people that I like and want to be loyal to me I say, "hello friend," or "hey buddy." As long as the person does not actively hate me, referring to them in this way causes them to behave more friendly to me, no matter how close we actually are (or aren't). I like to call my bosses "boss" because it subtly strokes their ego without seeming sycophantic. I even call my relatives by their relation to me, particularly if I need to somehow leverage that sense of blood to get something from them. It gives everyone a sense of security, a sense of concrete position and value in the world. They're grateful to you for this, and they also feel that you "believe in them," particularly if the title you are referring to them by is somewhat aspirational, e.g. "tax expert" or "plumbing guru." Try it, I think you'll like it.

Any other favorite subtle manipulation tools?

Thursday, May 22, 2014

Q&A Day!

Ok, it's been a while since we've done this, but go ahead and put any questions you have in the comments addressed to "M.E." so I can find them. I'll try to answer throughout the day according to my availability. 

Wednesday, May 21, 2014

Q&A Tomorrow

When the book came out a year ago (by the way, the paperback came out last week), I promised a Q&A that I never got around to doing in the ensuing fallout. I've been thinking about going on a hiatus for the summer or otherwise being less active on this site, or at least maybe trying that out. But before that, I wanted to do another Q&A. So I'm going to be around tomorrow periodically checking the comments section throughout the day and answering questions that people may have.

To get us in the mood, some Q&A I did with a reader recently:

1) You have attributed your ability to see inconsistencies (in belief systems and behaviors) to your sociopathy. Don't you think that may have more to do with your native intelligence than your personality disorder? I, too, score in the 99th percentile on shit, and I often see inconsistencies in political platforms, news reports, stories friends tell me, etc. I'm also about as empath as you can get.

I do think some of it is intelligence, but also when I used to hang around very smart law professors all of the time, it was also apparent that my different worldview made me see certain things that they wouldn't unless pointed out to them and vice versa.

2) I frequent a few recovery sites for people who have been involved with psychopaths. People often post what "their" psychopaths have said. What struck me about most psychopath apologies is that they often allude to shared blame. Something like: "I'm sorry things turned out the way they did", not "I'm sorry I hurt you." My ex was very fond of citing "miscommunication" as the cause for all of his interpersonal problems, for example. 

It seems to me that the perfect manipulation would be an imitation of a sincere apology, and sincere apologies involve taking responsibility for one's actions. If you really wanted to manipulate someone into sleeping with you again, giving you money, etc., you would say something like, "I take full responsibility for what I did. It was wrong. You didn't deserve that." And then proceed to ask for what you really want. 

Why wouldn't sociopaths imitate a sincere apology? Why is there always a hint of self-justification, which weakens the manipulation significantly?

In fact, why would any truly amoral antisocial person feel the need to justify themselves or their existence? Presumably a desire for self-justification falls on a spectrum, just like anything else. I suppose sociopaths' unwillingness to claim responsibility for their destruction of others reflects their belief that victims are complicit in their destruction. But why wouldn't they even seem to take responsibility

I think the sociopaths are usually being a little sincere in their apologies when they're mixed like that. Sometimes I give insincere apologies, and you're right, they are profuse and over the top and I accept all blame.

3) On the topic of self-justification, you mentioned recently that sociopaths' ruination of others can paradoxically improve their targets. This sounds like disordered thinking to me.

Destroying victims' boundaries and making them feel bad about who they are can make them realize their own worth and, to a lesser extent, rectify their flaws. Sure. But you can achieve the same goal by being kind to someone, becoming their close friend, and then gently suggesting that they improve themselves in a certain way. Sure, it stings a little when a friend tells you that you're not perfect. Once the sting is over, you feel grateful to this friend who helped you understand yourself and improve. It seems to me that there are better, less destructive ways of accomplishing what sociopaths accomplish, and that the ability to "reset" people's character ought not to serve as justification for the widespread destruction.

Targets have told me that, but I do agree it seems a bit of a paradox. Maybe see this.

4) Would you say that the following statements reflect how many sociopaths think?

You have said that sociopaths often see empaths as hypocrites. Empaths have moral codes but do not always follow them, and sometimes (often?) the codes themselves are flawed. For their inconsistencies, empaths deserve to be violated in every possible way - physically, emotionally, and mentally. (You may not feel that way, but that is certainly how my mega-psycho ex thinks.)

This, to me, exemplifies disordered thinking. It also amounts to what is, essentially, a stringent moral code - a strange circumstance for a group of people who call themselves "amoral".
This morality places consistency as the highest good and hypocrisy (really, imperfection) as deserving of severe punishment. (The term "punishment" implies morality, as well. If there really is no good or evil, then there ought to be no justice.)

Consistency is not the highest virtue. You can't say, "I am superior because I am consistently a hedonistic nihilist." One commenter on your blog suggested that, instead of framing this discussion in terms of absolute right and absolute wrong, we should view society as an organism and the actions of individuals as damaging or strengthening that organism. Empaths overall do way more to strengthen the organism. Sociopaths, intentionally or unintentionally, leave severe emotional damage wherever they go. And you yourself have admitted that sociopaths need society. They need the organism, but they often try to justify their damage to its members by citing empaths' "hypocrisy".

Isn't it better to be a "good" person most of the time than a "bad" person all of the time? And by "good", I mean good for something - for society. You yourself have said that sociopaths can do "pro-social" things (your blog being a prime example). If sociopaths think that society's norms are bullshit, who are they to mete out punishment according to their own simplistic sense of right and wrong?

I don't think sociopaths need to see empaths as hypocrites to justify their treatment of them. They were going to treat them that way no matter what, but hey, also they noticed that they're hypocrites. They're basically unrelated in the sociopath's mind, although it makes for good deflection when the sociopath is confronted about his behavior.

5) You talk extensively about your flexible sense of self, yet your writing voice is very consistent. You always sound like "you". How is this possible?

Also, you frequently associate empaths' strong sense of self with "Harry Potter" syndrome. The fascinating thing is that "sense of self" is actually a totally misleading phrase. I don't really have a strong sense of who I am. In fact, my association with a psychopath revealed myself to me in ways I had not anticipated. I cannot act, for example, to save my soul. I hate lying; it makes me uncomfortable. This is a good thing because I can't lie, either. Any time I try to act out of character, it is utterly unconvincing, but at the same time, I'm not really sure what my character looks like. I'm not looking for any sort of external validation of my self (a la Harry Potter) because I'm not really sure who I am or even how I appear to other people. What I'm trying to say here is that I have a self, not a sense of self.  That's why the Harry Potter thing doesn't really ring true, from my perspective.

I feel like I am me the same way that an operating system is a distinct entity. I have an iphone. It operates in particular ways. But I am not that particular model of iphone or version of the operating system. I'm not what I look like or act like in a particular moment. I don't identify with any of my output, only the way I think and process things.

You're not sure of who you are, but wouldn't it be great if someone came up to you and told you exactly who you were? Gave you an identity and said, without a doubt this is you and what you should be doing?

Also, about whether sociopaths are a net gain or loss to society.

Tuesday, May 20, 2014

How identity changes behavior (part 2)

The reader continues:

Thanks for your reply. The idea is interesting and I will try this over the next few weeks and see what conclusions I come to. 

Over the last few weeks I have started seeing a psychologist - I feel like I actually need to know what is "wrong" with me - although not sure that I really feel like anything is wrong - things just are. He seems inclined to think that I've got antisocial personality disorder or that I possibly am a sociopath. 

I know in your book that you mentioned one time when a guy told you off for walking down a closed escalator on the underground in Washington you had this "snap" when you followed him with the purpose of assaulting him. I've also had several "snaps" like that but have always snapped out of them before anything has actually happened. The most serious was when I was 21. A friends of mine had been dating this guy who worked as a tram driver. They broke up and one day when I was waiting for the tram at my stop the tram approached and slowed down and I could see that he was driving. I was alone at the stop and he slowed down - just to then not stop and drive off to piss me off I guess. As I stood there the tram slowed down (the next stop was just within sight from where I was standing) and I realised that there was another tram on that stop (probably having issues closing the doors or something) and before I knew it I had jumped down on the track and ran after the tram and all I could think of was that I had to kill this guy. I managed to catch up with it and get onto it just as the doors were closing. I rushed through the tram to the front where I started shouting at the driver (my friends ex) and tried to get the door open. Suddenly someone started shouting at me asking what I'm doing and I turn around and realise that there are 2 police officers standing there looking at me, clearly they had been on the tram and I had missed this as I was so focused on killing him. And then I snapped out of it. The police officers was about to arrest me but the driver talked them out of it explaining that he knew me and what had happened. 

I guess my main concerns with incidents like that is that it's something I don't have control over. Don't get me wrong, they don't happen on a weekly basis, but when they do I feel like I'm not my everyday self, like it's something I can't control. Even though I know I shouldn't act on it, when these moments come all reasoning stops and all that exists in my mind is that focus on killing that person. Do you have any method to control these urges/impulses?

M.E.:

Yeah, I know what you mean. For me, the thing that things that contribute to a feeling of being out of control (1) part of me feels like that's who I really am so I can't/shouldn't fight it, (2) part of me feels like I want to do that thing, (3) I can't really predict when they will happen -- sometimes something like that will trigger me and other times not, (4) I think I really do have attentional issues that make it easy to get locked on to a thought the way a pitbull locks on to its prey, (5) it's often irrational, so I feel like it wouldn't do any good to try to reason with myself, and without reason what else could stop me but physical force, I wonder? (6) the feeling that it isn't me, or at least not everyday me gives me a feeling that I am out of touch with myself.

And other reasons, probably. But I have found the previous exercise is really helpful for all of those things. It doesn't necessarily address them directly, but I feel like it is like the swimming drills I love to do -- doing things differently or even awkwardly often makes you aware of things you are doing wrong much better than if someone told you you were wrong over and over again, if that makes sense?

I have always sort of struggled to identify and track my own thoughts and feelings. I think I always felt like my identity was a moving target. And I used to not care to understand myself, at least not actively. In fact, for a long time I felt like at least a part of me was actively trying to hide certain aspects of my identity from myself. Recently, though, I have realized how much I don't know, and it has started bothering me.

So these sorts of exercises are what I am working on in therapy currently. It's not super pleasant. Little things bother me that used to not, e.g. hopefully this is just a passing phase, but it really bothers me to think that other people know me better than I know me (especially when they say as much).

It's odd. I've always believed that if truth relative, or at least the perception of truth is. But in order to maintain the belief that I am connecting to some basic truths about myself, I have had to believe that there are basic truths about me -- things that are true about me no matter what the situation, even if I close my eyes to them, even if we all agree to pretend they don't exist. And that is starting to seem more "true" to me than my previous beliefs about myself. Because even if I ignore them or convince myself that these little "secrets" about me don't matter, they're still there. And they affect me and my life in ways that I am still hazy about. And I think that's a major reason why it has traditionally been hard for me to learn from experience -- why I have historically kept making the same mistakes over and over again. To the extent that I have deluded myself about who I am, I have also remained willfully ignorant of the causes to a lot of the effects I experience.

This must be true for almost everyone, I imagine. And maybe it is disturbing for everyone -- for empaths because they have such a strong sense of identity that may or may not encompass all actual truths about themselves. For someone like me, the disturbing part about not knowing myself is the lack of control I feel and the sense that others can exploit that knowledge gap against me.

Maybe this is how we get sociopaths to care about things that they don't naturally care about?

Monday, May 19, 2014

How identity changes behavior (part 1)

I thought this conversation with a reader was a good illustration of what effects a sense of identity (or lack of) has on behavior. From a reader:

Thank you for your excellent blog and lovely book. I started reading the blog a few months ago and finished your book a few weeks ago.

Though I've never been diagnosed with any form of disorder I recognise myself in what you're writing. I've always known that I was different but until I started reading your blog I didn't realise how I'm different.

The first time I actually realised the extent of my odd-ness I was 16. There was this girl who went to the same class as me, we were friends growing up and we lived in the same street. When she was 13-14 or so she turned a bit wild and we weren't really friends after that. I just found her nasty and disgusting. When she was 16 she one night took a drug overdose and died and the next day in school we were told about it. I remember everyone being upset and crying except me. The only thing I though about it was that she had done the world a favour - after all she would probably have grown up living on benefits having loads of babies just like her mum and the rest of her family had turned out, so actually it saved us all the inconvenience of having to pay for it via our tax. And I couldn't understand why nobody else though of it like that - I really didn't understand why people seemed upset and kept crying. Later in the evening when my mum got home she asked me about it - and me at that stage not having realised how inappropriate those thoughts were in the eyes of most people - I said it straight out, exactly what I felt. I have never seen my mum reacting that way, although she of course knew I didn't really respond emotionally as most people (such as laughing at the movie Schindlers List aged 13 which made my teacher a bit nervous) she probably had not realised just how cold I actually am. My mum's face went pale and she didn't know what to say, she just stood frozen for a few minutes and then walked away and we have never discussed it again. And that was the moment I realised how different I am different from most people and I started censoring myself more.

Something I've been wondering about is your being Mormon. I've always been very interested in religion - quite randomly since my family is not religious at all. And I've always wished I was religious. I did my degree in Sociology of Religion and did very well - I was offered doing a PhD but after spending 5 years wearing the mask I had to get away and put on a new mask, so I moved abroad instead and now I live in London having a successful job. I therefore know more than most people about the LDS church and I kind of get what you mean that it is quite a sociopathic religion. I wish I could commit to a religion, I would probably choose Christianity (a desperate hope that even a cold hearted sociopath like me would be shown some mercy on the day of judgement?). And even though I can on an intellectual/philosophical level accept that there is a God - I simply can't motivate myself to follow it. Any attempts I have made to believe in God or practise a religion fails as I eventually loose interest in it. I guess it's because I struggle with long-term goals, I just can't motivate myself to do it when I don't see any result after a few weeks/month. I read your blog about how to break goals down to smaller pieces and I found it very useful. Do you think it's possible to do the same with religious goals? And in that case how? Because ultimately the rewards for religions is something beyond here and now, and even beyond this life. Would be very keen to know your thoughts.

My response: Interesting question. I have the added benefit of religion being pushed upon me by my family and little religious community, so that does make it easier. Maybe it would be best to start with what you believe. I know that is often hard for us to dig into, but I think that we (like everyone else) have beliefs that we aren't really aware of. Take for instance, some little thing that annoys you. Do this right after it happens. Mark a piece of paper with four columns. In the first, describe the situation. In the second, write the most irrational thought that you had as a result of this situation (e.g., this person doesn't deserve to live or I'm the best). Identify whether this belief seems to be related your conception of your own identity, your role in life (or your beliefs about the purpose of life), or your sense of individuality (not typical with sociopaths). In the third column, write down any personal conclusions, e.g. the other thoughts you had that weren't irrational. In the last, write down your reactions for these three categories: emotional, physical, mental, if any. Don't do this more than a couple of times per week. I think you will discover some beliefs that you didn't realize you had.  

Sunday, May 18, 2014

Saturday, May 17, 2014

Social norms

I have never quite understood social norms, both the concept and how to identify and comport myself consistently with various social norms, which make the findings from a recent study so interesting:

Neuroeconomists at the University of Zurich have identified a specific brain region that controls compliance with social norms. They discovered that norm compliance is independent of knowledge about the norm and can be increased by means of brain stimulation.

The oft-cited complaint about sociopaths is that they actually do know right from wrong, so they should be held to the same standards of behavior as everyone else. The findings of the study were actually consistent with this belief, but interestingly the researchers found that the knowledge of right and wrong was independent of a person's behavior under different brain stimulation treatments:

When neural activity in this part of the brain was increased via stimulation, the participants’ followed the fairness norm more strongly when sanctions were threatened, but their voluntary norm compliance in the absence of possible punishments decreased. Conversely, when the scientists decreased neural activity, participants followed the fairness norm more strongly on a voluntary basis, but complied less with the norm when sanctions were threatened. Moreover, neural stimulation influenced the participants’ behavior, but it did not affect their perception of the fairness norm. It also did not alter their expectations about whether and how much they would be punished for violating the norm.

"We found that the brain mechanism responsible for compliance with social norms is separate from the processes that represent one’s knowledge and beliefs about the social norm," says Ernst Fehr, Chairman of the Department of Economics at the University of Zurich. "This could have important implications for the legal system as the ability to distinguish between right and wrong may not be sufficient for the ability to comply with social norms." Christian Ruff adds: "Our findings show that a socially and evolutionarily important aspect of human behavior depends on a specific neural mechanism that can be both up- and down-regulated with brain stimulation."

So if I took a non-sociopath and "stimulated" their brain in a particular way, they too would change their behavior to be more likely to violate a fairness norm, despite knowing that it was "wrong". I guess we're not so different after all? Or maybe does this mean we should be implanting the brain equivalent of a heart's pacemaker in the brains of sociopaths to get them to be more docile and compliant?

The other interesting finding was that people with high stimulation responded highly to punishment but their voluntary compliance went down, and vice versa. That sounds like sociopaths -- unlikely to be influenced by a threat of punishment but also oddly known to be randomly and voluntarily "altruistic".


Friday, May 16, 2014

Am I?

A reader asks:

This entire message will compose of one question; Am I a sociopath? Before I get into it, I believe you'll require some background history.

My family has a history of individuals with little to no emotions, my Uncle, Grandfather and further back. I have a reason to suspect this because of the history they have, my Uncle is a parasitic man living off care benefits from his Psychotic/Schizophrenic sister, attacks people when he drinks, but never gives off body language of guilt or embarrassment when confronted, and Grandfather was entirely selfserving, violent, but extremely cold indiscriminately.
I wasn't abused by any family member as the criteria of ASPD suggests, I was bullied as a child though. Those years are beyond my reach of memory, but I have been told that my educational Psychologist referred me to a child-adolescent mental health service for lack of guilt and/or empathy. What I can remember though from the ages of 11-15 is being 'manipulative, sly, and abusive to teachers, and those distracting from schoolwork' as my principle so eloquently described. In those ages I was arrested twice, once for credible threats to kill and second for drunk and disorderly, there were a few other impulsive acts that got me into bother, but eventually I figured out that I needed to adapt to my environment.

I've only recently turned seventeen, in those two years I've been restricting my need for a thrill to doing things with my 'best friend', a thrill seeker, herself. Now that I've been more introspective, I've noticed that feelings of like or so that a rarely feel are only comparable to the attachment someone would have for an object they wear everyday, but I would discard them if they become non beneficial to me, love on the other hand is very different than what others experience, where they become blinded to everything else but the 'good' in that person, I become practically obsessed, I trail over their lives with a metaphorical comb and enjoy their company, as if they're my own. The sex is different, if it's someone I don't have that attachment to, it's an act, but the other would be consuming. It's unfortunate that it lasts so little time, though, like everything I feel, anger, rage, frustration, all are there and gone in minutes, then I'm just thinking, feeling physically but not emotionally. I don't suppose I *want* to be a sociopath, but if I am then it's just something I've found out about myself. The reason I'm e-mailing you instead of waiting to go to one of the appointments I've been referred to once again, is that I'm curious to see if these feelings (would it be more applicable if I said non-feelings?) are more widespread than I originally thought.

Thank you for your time if you decide to reply.

Thursday, May 15, 2014

Female sociopath: fact or fiction?

Merve Emre writes for Digg ("The Female Sociopath") on the popularity of the female sociopath in fiction (TV/books, etc.), and the reality. Worth reading in its entirety, the first little bit:

If you don’t know who Rosamund Pike is, you will soon. In October, she will appear in David Fincher’s film adaptation of Gone Girl, one of the most popular and addictive novels of the past decade, as Amy Dunne — the beguiling and cerebral housewife who stages her own murder and frames her philandering husband. Amy’s creator, the novelist Gillian Flynn, has proudly described her character as a “functioning sociopath,” which she is quick to distinguish from “the iconic psycho bitch.” The iconic psycho bitch, Flynn explains, is crazy because “her lady parts have gone crazy.” Think of Glenn Close in Fatal Attraction, so consumed with desire for Michael Douglas that she boils his daughter’s pet rabbit to death; think of Sharon Stone and Jennifer Jason Leigh (and Kathy Bates and Rebecca De Mornay) chasing men through dim rooms with sharp objects. 

Unlike these women, the functional sociopath isn’t “dismissible” as a slave to her emotions. She is not outwardly violent. Patently remorseless, clear-eyed and calculating, she is chameleonic in the extreme, donning one feigned feeling after another (interest, concern, sympathy, simpering insecurity, confidence, arrogance, lust, even love) to get what she wants.

And why should she feel bad about it?

For M.E. Thomas, author of Confessions of A Sociopath, such affective maneuvers are tantamount to “fulfilling an exchange.” “You might call it seduction,” she suggests, but really “it’s called arbitrage and it happens on Wall Street (and a lot of other places) every day.” Whatever you choose to call it, its appeal is undeniable when linked to the professional and personal advancement of women. “In general, the women in my life seemed like they were never acting, always being acted upon,” Thomas laments. Sociopathy’s silver lining was that it gave her a way to combat that injustice, in the boardroom of the corporate law firm she worked for in Los Angeles, but also in the bedroom, where she marveled at how her emotional detachment let her commandeer her lovers’ hearts and minds. Somewhere along the way, pathology became recoded as practice — a set of rules for how to manage the self and others.

No wonder the female sociopath cuts such an admirable figure. Intensely romantic, professionally desirable, she is the stuff of fiction, fantasy, and aspirational reading. And while actual female sociopaths like Thomas are rare, and sociopathy isn’t even recognized by the Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders (DSM), the female sociopath looms large in our cultural imagination. Amy Dunne may stand as the perfect example — a “Cool Girl” on the outside, ice cold within — but she is not alone. Of late, she has faced stiff competition from fictional females like Lisbeth Salander, the ferocious tech genius in The Girl With the Dragon Tattoo, or Laura, the shape-shifting alien who preys on unwitting men in Under the Skin. Network television has been even kinder to the female sociopath, placing her at the center of workplace dramas like Damages, Revenge, Bones, The Fall, Rizzoli and Isles, Person of Interest, Luther, and 24. Here, she has mesmerized audiences with how nimbly she scales the professional ladder, her competence and sex appeal whetted by her dark, aggressive, risk-taking behavior, and lack of empathy.

And so we lean in to the cultural logic of the female sociopath, for she is the apotheosis of the cool girl power that go-getter “feminists” have peddled to frustrated women over the last half-decade. The female sociopath doesn’t want to upend systems of gender inequality, that vast and irreducible constellation of institutions and beliefs that lead successful women like Gillian Flynn to decree that certain women, who feel or behave in certain ways, are “dismissible.” The female sociopath wants to dominate these systems from within, as the most streamlined product of a world in which well-intentioned people blithely invoke words like arbitrage, leverage, capital, and currency to appraise how successfully we inhabit our bodies, our selves. One could easily imagine the female sociopath devouring books with titles like Bo$$ Bitch, Nice Girls Don’t Get the Corner Office, The Confidence Gap, and Play Like a Man, Win Like a Woman to hone her craft — to learn how to have it all. From atop the corporate ladder, she can applaud her liberation from the whole messy business of feeling as a step forward for women, when it’s really a step back.

The result is a self-defeating spectacle of feminism that finds a kindred spirit in Rosamund Pike on the cover of W, erasing her own perfect face to reveal that what lies beneath might be nothing. Like Gone Girl’s Amy Dunne, who confesses that she “has never really felt like a person, but a product” — plastic, fungible, ready to be consumed by anyone, at any time — the female sociopath is a product of a broken promise made to women, by women. She is a product poised to disappear into the immense darkness from which she came. 

One of my favorite parts of studying music was learning that the representation of women in professional orchestras skyrocketed when they started doing blind auditions (i.e. the judges couldn't see who was performing). When I taught, I told my students to use their initials on their C.V.s and résumés, because it seems like every year there is another study that shows that everywhere in every field there is gender and racial bias. Sometimes I wish we could do the equivalent of blind auditions everywhere. Maybe we shouldn't out any sort of name on our résumés. Maybe we should make that illegal, like it is illegal to put your name on a standardized test. Because why should it matter?

When I first started writing this blog, it was like a blind audition. No one knew who I was, only what I wrote. I didn't realize at the time how great that felt, what a respite from my normal life that was. Without realizing even to what extent, I had been swimming against the current all of my life, until I was allowed to just be me. And then when I came out as being female there was a certain significant portion backlash that wasn't really explainable apart from being a reaction to my gender. (See also, popular science blogger Elise Andrew who got a cyclone of hate only after it was discovered that she was female.) There was probably as much backlash in my sociopath life for being female as there was in my normal life for being a sociopath. And now when I write or say things, it is seen through a different, distorted lens of my perceived femininity. I used to never get accused of the typical "oh man, you won't believe how crazy my ex-girlfriend was" type behavior -- "classic female traits" like self-harm/cutting, attention seeking, jealousy, vanity, histrionics, woman-scorned flavored vengeance, man-hating flavored vengeance, or anything else that is likely to get a woman slapped with the term "crazy". Now I get them all of the time. Which was sort of a surprise to me. Why did it bother people that I had been given the diagnosis "sociopath". Because it really seemed to. They took what I said and twisted it to fit something else, until I was "just borderline." as if the biased-female diagnosis was lesser than the sort-of male equivalent. Until I was "just crazy". Until I was something or someone that could be dismissed as a nobody nothing. Because that's how we marginalize people, I guess.

See also SNL – Red Flag | Katabatic Digital


Wednesday, May 14, 2014

Quote: Victims

“once I gave up the hunt for villains, I had little recourse but to take responsibility for my choices ...Needless to say, this is far less satisfying that nailing villains. It also turned out to be more healing in the end.”

― Barbara Brown Taylor

Tuesday, May 13, 2014

Saint sociopath?

So suggests a recent comment:

It is a very natural thing for a sociopath to become a saint. 

Take an irresponsible, impulsive person who accepts that we all die and can't accumulate anything (wealth, fame, pussy good looks, etc) and that everything is relative (e.g. the car you find so ugly would have been considered great 50 years ago, and simply miraculous 300 years ago).

If such a person can find a way to control his antisocial impulses (that includes saying the truth), and do things for the betterment of others, other people will think he's divine. Because he won't be controlled by the typical things (family, country, wealth, fame) that stop one from being creative, altruistic, joyous, loving, tolerant and compassionate.

I'm not completely sold on the conclusion, but the premises actually fit, at least personally. I feel so fine about the idea of death that I have no strong attachment to anything about life -- or at least an understanding that everything is transient, including my own sense of self as I morph from one thing to the next. Will my preferences now still be my preferences tomorrow? Not likely, which is why it's hard to get really worked up about acquiring things. I can't really be bought, which has often made me a terrible employee. While my colleagues were bound by golden handcuffs in the form of family or expensive habits they had to support, I continued living a life of minimalism and doing my own thing. I've often dreamed of living in a shipping container and eating legumes for every meal. Maybe other sociopaths are the same? Is that why it's so easy for us to see things self-destruct, because we never cared much about them in the first place?

Did anyone else relate to this like I did? I know there are plenty of examples of (most?) sociopaths not acting like saints. But it didn't seem that outlandish either, when you consider that sociopaths have a naturally sort of Buddhistic outlook on life. Or does this general disinterest not include all sociopaths? For instance, I hear that there are "covetous sociopaths". I actually have never encountered one. Are they not just especially aggressive narcissists?

Monday, May 12, 2014

Disgust (part 2)

Morality has always been a bit of a puzzle to me -- puzzling to figure out how I feel about it and puzzling to figure out how other people feel about it and why it has the power to get them to act the way that they do. One thing that I find so fascinating about empaths is how they will often justify what would otherwise be abhorrent behavior because they feel a particular way about something. Like this recent comment:

I believe that most people are good, but at the same time I am deeply and profoundly sickened by the fact that any cruelty that a normal person can justify to their conscience is acceptable to themselves and society. If you feel disgust towards something, you are justified in speaking against it and calling for its destruction, whether it be a person, animal, or object.

To illustrate how strongly disgust might motivate people to act out against the object of disgust, the other main story the This American Life episode from last post tells the story of a man called Gene who lived in a small town. After his fiancée was brutally murdered by her ex-husband, he seeks solace from her family, only to have them turn against him. Turns out they Googled him and discovered all sorts of disturbing things:

Someone with the user name Calvin asked, does anyone know the last name of Gene, the boyfriend hairstylist? I'm worried, because Gene is making his way down to Florida to meet with Paulette's side of the family. I'm truly fearful that this is not the end of this tragedy.

Someone named Mouth then said, keep that creep away from the children. He is trouble. What would you do if the perv was chasing your grandchildren? Calvin thanked Mouth for the warning.

And then someone who called himself Bugs added, Gene is not a nice guy. He cheated on his first wife. I know Paulette and Gene well, and they were both sickening out in public, kissing all over one another.

It continued on like this. People accused him of every kind of character flaw you could imagine, of getting fired from every job he had, of being a liar, a drunk.

Once the gossip ball started rolling, it didn't stop. People stopped talking to him in his town. He got fired from his job because no one wanted him to serve them. His life in the town was over, so he picked up and moved, but not before he contacted an enterprising lawyer. After over a year of legal battles, the source of the gossip was finally revealed: "they were all the same woman, a woman who had gone to the trouble of making multiple accounts and then having fake conversations between those accounts." Why would she go to all of this trouble? (This is where it becomes really crucial to listen to the show if you get a chance, they have a recording of this woman saying these things):

I don't like the way he looked at the younger girls in staff where we worked together [for three months]. Looking them up and down, lusty look. You know what I'm saying? There's a difference in looking, and there is a difference in (ELONGATING) "looooking."

He's the reason the woman's dead. He is the very reason that woman is dead. He knew how her (EMPHASIS) "husband" was. But yet, he kept doing what he was doing. He'd come in there with her on numerous times. Sit in the corner, and that woman couldn't even eat for him pawing at her, being gross. You know what I'm saying? You don't do stuff like that out in public, for God's sake. People went back and told the ex-husband to get the ex-husband riled up and disturbed enough about it to kill the woman.

And this exchange:

Interviewer: What business is it of yours, though? I mean, it seems like you're making a lot of assumptions.

Woman: Did you not understand or listen to what I said? He brought it upon himself in my opinion.

Interviewer: Are you proud of what you did?

Woman: [SCOFFS] Am I proud of what I did? I'm proud of standing up for what I believe in, for what I know. I'm proud of telling the truth.

Gene ended up getting a legal judgment against for for over $400,000, but he still hasn't seen a penny of it. The good news is that he was able to move back to his hometown -- people had heard about the trial and decided to stop treating him like human trash.

When the book first came out, I was a little surprised at the level of disgust that some people feel towards sociopaths. It wasn't anything as crazy as what people feel for pedophiles, maybe more like what people currently feel towards gay people -- the majority does not, but the ones that do feel pretty strongly about it. I understand why. It seems like an evolutionary advantage to a point, to have extreme group cohesion and oust anybody who doesn't play by the rules. But it has always been a blunt instrument. And the internet plays a funny role in the way people make these sorts of moral judgments:

You could tell somebody something and they'll kind of believe you. But if they see it in writing, they're going to believe it. Once you write it down, it's not gossip anymore. You know, that becomes truth for what people are concerned with.

Sunday, May 11, 2014

Disgust (part 1)

In celebration of American mother's day, This American Life episode, called Tarred and Feathered (well worth a listen in its entirety), features a very inspiring mother/son relationship. The show discusses a young boy (they call him Adam, currently 18 years old), who realizes around the time of puberty that he was attracted to small children -- a pedophile. He starts watching child on child pornography, which didn't seem too unusual to him because he was close to their ages. As he grew older, however, he realized that he was still attracted to that younger age range. He eventually becomes totally turned off of child pornography when he sees a clip involving an 18 month old baby. From the narrator:

He began reading up on child abuse and was upset at what he learned. He decided he wanted to stop watching child porn, and he needed help if he was going to do that. For that help, Adam turned back to the internet. He posted on a mental health forum, explaining his situation and asking for advice. Two women who were child abuse survivors befriended him. With their help, Adam says he stopped watching porn. But in its place grew a deep depression.

It wasn't like he'd stopped having sexual thoughts about kids. He says he felt like a monster for having viewed the videos, but also just for having the attractions. Some days, he thought about killing himself. He didn't know what else to do. He was 16. He wanted to talk to someone. So he started with a cautious letter to his mum.

Dear Mummy, it begins, I'm writing this letter to you, as I cannot bring myself to say what I need to say to you to your face. It would simply be too painful for me. I am always overshadowed with feelings of depression, guilt, and shame. I'm really sick and tired of covering these feelings up. I want you to let me see a psychologist. I understand you probably have a lot to ask me. But I need some time to get my head wrapped around things. Love, Adam.

He didn't explain the source of the problem, and his mother never asked. Instead, she made him an appointment at a local therapist for a week or so later.

The therapist at first didn't believe him, then made excuses, then she showed disgust. She told him that she couldn't treat him. She told him that she had no one to refer him to. She told his mother against his wishes. He tells how his mother took it:

You know, my mother, I'm sure, reacted the best I really could have hoped for. She kind of put her arm on my shoulder and squeezed a little bit. She seemed to be supportive. I'm sure she was in shock, probably kind of horrified, but at least she was able to hide that. And the fact that she was able to do that, it meant so much to me.

The mother continued to be supportive, and apart from the few subsequent therapists that have seen Adam. She hasn't even told her husband.

The parallels to sociopathy are fascinating. There is basically no scientific understanding of what to do with a pedophile ("It is a gigantic black hole in science."). There is no treatment for a pedophile that has not offended. Because therapists don't know how to handle them, they often get caught up in mandatory reporting laws, which caused the number of self-referrals to drop precipitously "because folks are too afraid to reach out for help. The consequences are too high." And none of the panic/paranoia related to pedophiles is actually scientifically supported:

"Another thing that has not been researched in-depth is if having an attraction to kids makes it more dangerous to be around them. On its face, it seems obvious. But there is no evidence to support it."

About the lack of research:

For years, Letourneau has been trying to change all this, to get money for research, and for prevention programs. But there's not much money for that. Funders don't want to be associated with pedophilia research. The stigma is too great. Even someone like Letourneau, who wants to do this research in order to prevent children from being abused, has been called a pedophile sympathizer, simply for advocating these programs.

Elizabeth Letourneau
If we can prevent this, we can prevent a lot of harm and a lot of cost. And we just don't. It's nuanced. It's difficult to wrap your head around. It's a lot easier to say these guys are monsters. Let's put them in prison. Let's put them on a registry. Let's put them in civil commitment facilities. And forget about them.

Even the numbers are similar to sociopathy: "1% to 3% of men would meet the diagnostic criteria for pedophilia".

After searching online for any help with his condition and finding nothing, Adam started his own support group:

Everyone I've spoken to has a story about how the group saved them. A 22-year-old college student told me this one.

Anonymous College Student
There was a time when I was really running out of hope for the future. I was unemployed, and I felt like no one was going to give me a shot. And I felt like I had literally no shot in life. And I kind of wanted to kill myself. I didn't do it. The first thing I thought of was especially Adam, in specific, but the rest of them as well, that I couldn't let them down like that.

From the narrator: "In a different world, this person would be talking to a professional, not a 19-year-old with no training at all. Or maybe this person would just be in prison" beca
use there are no current ways of dealing with people in this situation. But the very fact that they exist suggests that pedophilia isn't necessarily un-manageable. It has prompted at least one researcher to talk to the members of the support group in order to devise possible early prevention and other treatment programs.

Can you imagine finding out at some point in your life that you are different, and for the type of different you are there is no help or sympathy but only disgust?

Saturday, May 10, 2014

Who is better?

Although I've never had any opinions on who is better as a whole, empath or sociopath, I found this to be an interesting argument for the former, from a recent comment:
I disagree, i think we are worse. Logical? yes. Intelligent? generally. Efficient? absolutely. But when i see regular people forego logic and efficiency for love, it impresses me. Logic has led me to believe we are lesser beings. They see something we don't, and it is more important to them than efficiency, sometimes more important than their lives. We are the superior tacticians, and can easily exploit these weaknesses. Many are aware this advantage though, and still choose to follow their emotions. Logic would dictate these people have superior judgement to us on the matter of what is important in life, they are aware of a side of the human experience we cannot be. They know they are vulnerable, not all of them, but many, this has led me to believe what they see is more important than us. They, as servants of this great sight unseen, are more important than us. I have come to believe our rightful place is not their rulers, but their servants, their guardians from the dangers they leave themselves so undefended from. They found something greater than we can ever know. So i serve them, i give them my honest and non emotionally driven guidance. I use my propensity for, and lack of aversion to, violence to protect them. We are more efficient, but in the grand scheme of things, were useless. We cant make the world better, because we cant care in that special way, but we can serve those would. I guess that is how one could be a "good" sociopath. 


Friday, May 9, 2014

Quote: Cunning

"Is not cunning always the natural consequence of tyranny?"

 - Francis Fedric, former slave

Thursday, May 8, 2014

Sociopaths and theology

People often express a certain level of discomfort with the thought that sociopath minded people exist in the world. I'm not a theologian, but it seems that many common deities or religious beliefs directly suggest sociopaths or implicate sociopathic traits. For instance, the Christian's Jesus (because it is his special day) may have seemed friendly when he was in his mortal incarnation, but as the God of the Old Testament he has been called "the ideal sociopath."

A part time theologian friend of mine has been working on a theological "take on sociopathy" based on "theological anthropology":
Theological anthropology is the academic name given to the study of the human in relation to God. Both in terms of the innate nature of human beings (e.g. body vs. soul, body vs. soul vs. spirit, or monism) and in terms of the biblical doctrine of imago dei (we are somehow an "image of God"). What this doctrine entails has been hotly debated through the centuries. The primary issue is one that is connected to the notion of theodicy (the so-called problem of evil). If God is Good and we are made in God's image, why are we "bad", i.e. sinful? The traditional explanation is original sin, but that doesn't help much because there is so much disagreement about what that means, too. One can ask, as certainly many have in the past about gay people, "Is the sociopath made in the image of God?" If we hypothesize that sociopaths, as homosexuals, can attribute their status to some combination of (a) pre-natal disposition; (b) post-natal socialisation and (c) personal affirmation, then what does that mean for theological anthropology?

So we must explore the concept of "conscience." The conscience is what humans are endowed with--an internal guide--to tell us God's will and help us do the "right thing." The "right thing" has always been defined, or at least seriously impacted by, human notions of what is right and good. To explore this, Kierkegaard posits the "Knight of Faith." This figure places her faith in herself and in God; she is not influenced by the world. This is the Individual writ large, without connections and pretensions. Kierkegaard (or really his pseudonym, Johannes de Silentio) identifies two people as Knights of Faith--Mary, Mother of Jesus and Abraham. He uses the biblical story of Abraham to demonstrate the relation of ethics to the Knight of Faith. The world, with its ethics, would find Abraham's willingness to sacrifice his only son completely abhorrent. Abraham operates, however, in a realm of faith. He draws the knife to pierce his son's heart, because that is what God (the sublime) demands. This connected with what Kierkegaard calls the teleological suspension of the ethical.

In any case, it seems society would likely label Abraham as psychopath or sociopath if he had murdered his son. In fact, the world would probably do so if it discovered that Abraham even was willing to do so. I think some sociopaths are like the Knight of Faith. What is ethical or conscience-driven, in a teleological sense, is much less clear than society wants to think. Who is to say that any particular sociopath is not a Knight of Faith, formed in the image of God? My point is, how can we judge this, as humans in the world? We can certainly say that certain behavior is criminal and must be addressed and punished . . . my point is not to abolish human law. But to recognize that what is considered a crime or a violation of standard decency or ethics is a human judgment is important.

Then, of course, there are passages in the Bible that show God acting like what modern-day psychologist might deem a "sociopath." Some Protestants refer to this as via negativa or divine darkness. I've been thinking about this, too. Perhaps sociopaths are more directly the image of God. And that is why many of us admire them and are fascinated on some level we don't completely understand.

Wednesday, May 7, 2014

Out for blood

Our friendly narcissist correspondent reader shared this article about Lance Armstrong. I thought the reporters action oddly paralleled that of what I've seen from a lot of people who have been burned by sociopaths. Worth reading in its entirety, here is main thrust of the reporter's reactions:

What I wanted was to find him slumped in his uneasy chair, naked nails on the wall, haircut in his hands, not even a poodle by his side.

I wanted someone who was sorry -- sorry for what he'd done, sorry for what was next, sorry to be stuck in his new, sorry life.

But that's not what I found.

Lance Armstrong is happy. In fact, he looks better at 42 than I've ever seen him, less gaunt in the face, thicker in the chest, bluer in the eyes. I found a man sitting in his den, surrounded by his seven Tour de France chalices, his 3-year-old, Olivia, on his lap, kissing him and laughing.

Really pissed me off.

I came to see ruins, not joy. I came to see a man ruined for lying to me for 14 years -- and letting me pass those lies on to you. Ruined for lying to everybody. And not just lying to the world, but lying angrily, lying recklessly and leaving good people wrecked in his lies.

It wasn't enough he'd been stripped of his seven wins, not enough that, so far, he'd lost half his estimated $120 million fortune to lawsuits, had to sell homes, his jet, lost every single endorsement (another $150 million), his earning capacity, and his association with the very foundation he started and built, Livestrong-- with two more lawsuits to go.

Yet here he was telling me he was "at peace" with it. I didn't want him at peace. I wanted him in pieces.
***
"People are going to call bulls--- on this, but I've never been happier. Never been happier with myself or my family. My kids suffer no bullying at school. Nobody says anything to them. They're doing great. Anna and I are extremely happy and content. It's true."

As I left, I thought about my motives for coming at all.

If a man has suffered the loss of more than half his wealth and 100 percent of his reputation, how much more blood should I want? I felt a little shame in coming at all.

As I come to the end of my sportswriting career, I wonder whether I need to make peace, too. Peace with the athletes who thrilled me, then disgusted me. Pete Rose, Ben Johnson, Mark McGwire, Marion Jones, Tiger Woods, Lance Armstrong. Peace with letting myself be thrilled, and then fooled, time and again. Why carry it as I go? And if Armstrong is over it, why aren't I? "You've got to live life no matter what's going on," Anna says. "Cancer teaches you that. Life isn't going to wait."

So I forgive Lance Armstrong for all the lies, though he's not asking for my forgiveness. And maybe I forgive myself for letting myself be lied to in the first place. And I thank him for the hope he still gives the millions who still believe in him, though I'm not one of them.

I like that the reporter was aware that a lot of his negative feelings were his own pride being hurt because he was duped, but you wonder what did he expect?.The reporter thinks he is somehow special that he would be treated differently than everyone else in the world? (For a better reaction to Lance Armstrong, see Matthew McConaughey.) And maybe part of me has a hard time taking sports seriously, but it also reminds me of this quote from Eleanor Roosevelt "you have been honest with yourself and those around you"? Really? Because I think word on the street is that Eleanor Roosevelt was a closeted gay woman in a sham marriage as someone's beard, which may or may not constitute fraud on the entire American people. But we aren't pissed at her, I guess because she didn't hurt hundreds of other cyclists who would have placed slightly higher than they otherwise did (although, again in weighing pros and cons fashion, Armstrong arguably did more to benefit cycling as a whole by raising awareness and popularizing it than he ever hurt it as a whole or hurt individual cyclists, even in the aggregate.)

Our narcissist reader's thoughts:

When narcissists like Lance stop caring about being admired, they change in a fundamental way.

Before his striving was focused on winning and getting away with it - securing as much admiration as he could. Now he's probably focused on helping his kids, staying on good terms with his wife and managing his investments. That is, more utilitarian concerns. If you offered Lance enough money, he might star in a porn film to benefit cancer victims, because he'd think, "well, my reputation is worth nothing now, but we can turn my celebrity into money for cancer victims, so let's go!"

He is probably still noticeably psychopathic. If Lance thinks, "that was a good day", and you ask him why, it is probably because he ate some nice food, had a big orgasm and made a lot of money in the market. That is, thrilling. He might not remember days as the one where he had a deep emotional conversation with his partner, someone opened a door for him and he felt gratitude or he took a walk and felt wonderment and awe that he is alive, has legs that work, eyes and a mind that sees, etc.

Tuesday, May 6, 2014

It was a pleasure to burn

This was an interesting question posed in a recent comment:

I am wondering if a sociopath devoid of any narcissism and sadism could function at all in society. I would venture to say that perhaps a certain level of those traits is necessary to higher functioning sociopaths. What would be the motivation for them to get out of bed in the morning and interact with people in a manner that is engaged/engaging enough to keep them functioning in society? They have blunted emotional response to negative stimuli, so surely they need a bit of emotional response to positive stimuli (narcissism) or they need to get something out of affecting people in some way: either destructively (sadism) or constructively (back to narcissism) - Beware, tough, the constructive sociopath is probably out to get you :-) 

I actually am having problems conceptualizing a sociopath without any narcissism or sadism. Wouldn't his behavior be more akin to that of an autistic person then, uninterested in interaction with people? 

I realize I am oversimplifying things here, but I am very interested in any response, especially from Machiavellianempath and ME.

I've been thinking about this recently, particularly after coming across the novel Farenheit 451 again. I love Ray Bradbury, and this is a favorite of mine. The narrator of the story is a fireman, tasked with burning books, et al. in a dystopian oppressive regime. Although (spoiler alert) he eventually comes to see the folly of his ways, he still (and refreshingly) acknowledges with great candor the pleasures of his previous work:

It was a pleasure to burn.

It was a special pleasure to see things eaten, to see things blackened and changed. With the brass nozzle in his fists, with this great python spitting its venomous kerosene upon the world, the blood pounded in his head, and his hands were the hands of some amazing conductor playing all the symphonies of blazing and burning to bring down the tatters and charcoal ruins of history. With his symbolic helmet numbered 451 on his stolid head, and his eyes all orange flame with the thought of what came next, he flicked the igniter and the house jumped up in a gorging fire that burned the evening sky red and yellow and black. He strode in a swarm of fireflies. He wanted above all, like the old joke, to shove a marshmallow on a stick in the furnace, while the flapping pigeon-winged books died on the porch and lawn of the house. While the books went up in sparkling whirls and blew away on a wind turned dark with burning.

I can also say with all candor that it was a pleasure to burn. Some of the worst things I have done in most people's eyes were great pleasure to me. That's why I did them. I understand that people wish that were not true, and I feel the same to an extent. I know some of my supporters wish that I was neither narcissistic or sadistic, but I suffer from both in varying degrees that flare up in different contexts. I don't feel like there is anything inherently wrong with these traits (as illustrated in the comment above) anymore than I feel like there is something wrong with deriving pleasure in destruction. It's more about how and the context in which they manifest themselves, right? And the particular standard of morality you adopt? And whether you are on the axis or the allied side? And whether you can control yourself or should know better or whether you embrace it or pretend otherwise or some other stuff? I don't know, I don't really understand it all, but I'm trying to also learn your perspective on these things, so thanks for being patient.

Monday, May 5, 2014

Truth serum?

I had dinner with some doctor friends of mine who were relating stories about how people react under anesthesia. My favorite story was about a 14 year old kid started hallucinating and feeling like he was being kidnapped by his doctors. When the doctors told him, "No, we like you, we're your friends."

The kid screamed back, "You like me?! You want to rape me?!"

After like 10 minutes of trying to calm him down, they decided to give up on the procedure for the day. The patient had stopped screaming enough for the doctors to explain that they were about to get his parents, and that seem to relax him. While the doctor was in the waiting room explaining to the parents about the child's adverse reaction to the drugs he heard a nurse yelling, "He's running!"

The child had apparently faked compliance to trick his captors into thinking he would cooperate with them. Really, he was just biding his time to escape. Unfortunately, as he sprinted away from the clinic, he seemed to be headed directly for a busy street and was still in his impaired condition. The doctor kicked off his clogs and started running after him in his socks. When the kid saw the doctor behind him, he freaked out again, running even faster. Finally the doctor caught up with him and tackled him to the ground before he ran out into the busy intersection.

But the stories that I thought were most interesting from a philosophical point of view were the stories about patient reactions to the drug Versed/Midazolam. Apparently it is a psychoactive drug with some funny side-effects. From Wikipedia:

In susceptible individuals, midazolam has been known to cause a paradoxical reaction, a well-documented complication with benzodiazapines. When this occurs, the individual may experience anxiety, involuntary movements, aggressive or violent behavior, uncontrollable crying or verbalization, and other similar effects. This seems to be related to the altered state of consciousness or disinhibition produced by the drug.

From the doctors' stories, it seems that the most common manifestation of this in female patients is to cry. For the male patients, a very common manifestation of the verbalization is to turn into complete perverts. One of the female doctors was telling me that it was really eye-opening to her to have this uptight conservative businessmen come in for their procedures and then say raunchy-as-hell things once the Versed gets flowing.

I asked them perhaps the age old question, which is the real them? is the Versed version the more authentic version of the patient? (In vino veritas?) Or does the Versed alter their natural thought patterns? The doctors seemed to think it was definitely the former. As an example, one doctor told me about one of her patients that seemed so inappropriate on Versed that she looked him up online afterwards and found out that he was a relatively prominent public figure who had a history of sexual indiscretions and cover-ups. The thing about Versed is that it also causes temporary amnesia, so the patient doesn't typically remember how they behaved on the drug.

I, of course, thought that an enterprising unethical doctor should start taking video of these patients and using the tapes for blackmail. What better way to ruin someone's life than to shame them in the court of public opinion, right? And they deserve it too, I bet. Best case (?) scenario, the patient/target is not aware that he has these particular flaws and we're doing him/her a favor by letting him/her know about them in no uncertain terms. Worst case scenario, the patient/target already knows about his/her character flaw and has been working overtime to mask it from the general public. Fakers. We should not have to tolerate this level of deception and/or hypocrisy from our fellow humans. These people deserve to be outted. If they are innocent, harmless, or if there is nothing really wrong with what they're doing then I'm sure they'll be fine. If bad things happen to them, then they obviously must have gotten what they deserved. 
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