Sunday, November 29, 2015

Quote: Day and night side

"However well we get to know the world it will always contain a day and a night side."


Friday, November 27, 2015

Selfish altruism and altruistic selfishness

This was an interesting article on David Hume's thoughts on altruism. First, he talks about how all altruism has an essence of selfishness:

All is self-love. Your children are loved only because they are yours: your friend for a like reason; and your country engages you only so far as it has a connection with yourself. Were the idea of self removed, nothing would affect you: you would be altogether unactive and insensible: or, if you ever give yourself any movement, it would only be from vanity, and a desire of fame and reputation to this same self.

He does not find this to be at all problematic (nor do I) because as he says: "The virtuous sentiment or passion produces the pleasure, and does not arise from it. I feel a pleasure in doing good to my friend, because I love him; but do not love him for the sake of that pleasure."

Yes, surely often that is true, but I don't think that is 100% the case. I think plenty of people do altruistic things not for the pleasure it gives them to serve someone that they love but for the pleasure it gives them to do any number of other things: appear good in front of others, get someone to owe them something, feel important or needed, etc. So, ok, old news -- altruism isn't as selfless as people sometimes pretend it to be,

But more interestingly perhaps for this crowd are his assertions, centuries ago, the oft heard (on this website) explanation for why would a sociopath ever choose to do something altruistic him or herself:

In the second place, it has always been found, that the virtuous are far from being indifferent to praise; and therefore they have been represented as a set of vainglorious men, who had nothing in view but the applauses of others. But this also is a fallacy. It is very unjust in the world, when they find any tincture of vanity in a laudable action, to depreciate it upon that account, or ascribe it entirely to that motive. The case is not the same with vanity, as with other passions. Where avarice or revenge enters into any seemingly virtuous action, it is difficult for us to determine how far it enters, and it is natural to suppose it the sole actuating principle. But vanity is so closely allied to virtue, and to love the fame of laudable actions approaches so near the love of laudable actions for their own sake, that these passions are more capable of mixture, than any other kinds of affection; and it is almost impossible to have the latter without some degree of the former. Accordingly we find, that this passion for glory is always warped and varied according to the particular taste or disposition of the mind on which it falls. Nero had the same vanity in driving a chariot, that Trajan had in governing the empire with justice and ability. 

In other words, if all altruism has an element of narcissistic or selfish pleasure, then vanity can motivate altruism as well as a love of virtue. Yes, ok Hume, I follow and I agree. Plenty of sociopaths love to do altruistic things because it appeals to their own vanity, a la "I can do this thing better than anyone else, so I will and earn the self-satisfaction/praise/honor/reputation/gratitude/etc."

The only off thing about Hume's thinking to me is that he follows that thought immediately with this non sequitur: "To love the glory of virtuous deeds is a sure proof of the love of virtue." What? Didn't you just finish telling us that the love of virtuous deeds can come from vanity? So maybe I misunderstand him, do I?

Tuesday, November 24, 2015

The morality of sociopaths, clueless, and losers

I have forgotten how I got linked to this (sorry twitter people or emailers!), but it is a further explanation of the Gervais Principle, previously discussed on this blog, in which the author discusses the relative roles of the losers, the clueless, and the sociopaths in a modern work environment. The author, Venkatesh Rao, makes clear that he is not necessarily talking about clinically diagnosed sociopaths, but the way he defines them does share a lot of overlap with at least a certain subset of clinically diagnosable sociopaths:

I originally characterized “sociopath” as will-to-power people. Let me add a few more characteristics.

First, sociopaths are driven by unsentimental observation of external realities, no matter how unpleasant. Second, they use the information they acquire through reality-grounding in skilled ways. Third, their distrust of subsuming communities and groups leads them to adopt personal moralities. Whether good or evil, the morality of a sociopath is something he or she takes responsibility for.

Finally, and most importantly, sociopaths do not seek legitimacy for their private morality from the group, justify it, or apologize for it. They may attempt to evade the consequences of their behavior. In fact their personal morality may legitimize such evasion.  Equally, they may, out of realistic and pragmatic assessments, allow themselves to be subject to codified group morality (such as a legal or religious system), that they privately disagree with. So they might accept consequences they feel they do not deserve, because they assess attempts at rebellion to be futile. But in all cases, they reserve for themselves the right to make all moral judgments. Their private morality is not, in their view, a matter for external democractic judgment.

So yes, this entire edifice I am constructing is a determinedly amoral one. Hitler would count as a sociopath in this sense, but so would Gandhi and Martin Luther King.

In all this, the source of the personality of this archetype is distrust of the group, so I am sticking to the word “sociopath” in this amoral sense. The fact that many readers have automatically conflated the word “sociopath” with “evil” in fact reflects the demonizing tendencies of loser/clueless group morality. The characteristic of these group moralities is automatic distrust of alternative individual moralities. The distrust directed at the sociopath though, is reactionary rather than informed.

It then goes on to contrast this group, characterized by the members' personal morality, with the clueless and the losers:

The key here is that the clueless and losers often externalize their moral sense, into some sort of collectively (and ritually) adopted code, thereby abdicating responsibility for the moral dimension of their actions entirely. You don’t have to think about the morality of what you do if you can just appeal to some code (religious texts are the main kind, but there are others, such as Hippie or Joe the Plumber codes). The morality that they defer to is always a codified communal version of the views of some charismatic sociopath, but it is the abdication of responsibility, as a group, by the clueless and losers, that amplifies the impact of both the Hitlers and Gandhis of the world. Without this group dynamic, Hitler would have been a random local psycho, perhaps serial-killing a dozen people. Gandhi might have been no more than a friendly neighborhood do-gooder.

Which implies, by the way, that organized religion is incompatible with sociopathy.

This entire view can be disturbing to some of you, so take a step back here. What do you fear most?An evil group or an evil person? Read Shirley Jackson’s thoroughly scary story of group insanity, The Lottery. Watch Children of the Corn. Would you rather live in a town where there is a sole vampire terrorizing the population, or be the sole non-zombie in a town that has gone all-zombie? Ask yourself, who scares you more — Hitler or the mindless army he inspired? Would you prefer the tyranny of a dictator or the tyranny of an illiberal democracy, where a mob tramples over individuals? Dictators can be overthrown. Can an evil group culture be as easily displaced?

I don’t want to offer flippant and easy solutions to these age-old moral conundrums. I just want to point out to those who are equating “sociopath” with “evil” (modulo any semantic confusion) that morality needs to be looked at in more complex ways.

Sunday, November 22, 2015

Different children and identity

An LDS person with two children on the autism spectrum asked me both about LDS reactions and about what sorts of things I would be careful about with my young people who are different (kind of, she asked something slightly different but I obtusely missed it and answered that question instead).

My response:

I've actually had mostly good reactions from other LDS people. I once had a relief society president in one of my wards flip out on me about it, but she tearfully apologized for it the next week, giving me a hug. When the book first came out, I read some amazon reviews, etc., and some mormons were a little down on that, said I couldn't really be mormon or had a terrible understanding of mormonism (and I'm sure I didn't understand certain things very well, and my understanding has constantly evolved, but isn't that true of everyone and do we usually judge people because of it?). I have had a couple mormon friends that may not keep in touch with me because of it, or maybe they're just busy and I'm imagining things. Overall the reception within the church has been much better than without the church. To the extent that things got a little ugly here and there (you probably know what I'm talking about), I can sympathize with what people thought they had to do. I think me writing the book put a lot of people in a bad position personally because it came as a surprise and they very naturally perhaps wondered if I am a practiced liar, what did they really know about who I am. They were stuck between feelings that they had to rush in to defend themselves or others or institutions against a perceived threat and the reality that I've always been basically the same person, pre and post book, I'm just much more open now.

If I had advice to give to anyone dealing with children who are different, it would be to try to be very careful to not damage their identity or suggest that they need to be any different than how God created them to be. My current (LDS) therapist says that the best way that we can worship God is to be precisely the being that he created in us. Questions of identity are tricky, of course, because sometimes we associate with attributes that are just coincidentally related to our socialization, experiences, etc. But I think that's all the more reason to be very careful with how we interfere with people's expression of their identities, because we never know what is truly core to who they are.

I'll give you a quick example of what I think to be bad interference. My 5 year old nephew is differently minded. One of the things he does (did) is pull the front part of his hair, particularly when he was thinking analytically (which he loves to do). It drove his mother a little crazy, so she buzzed his hair. I talked to him about it, and he seemed really sad, thought it would take forever for his hair to grow back, and also felt like it was a punishment or because he was bad for pulling his hair. A week later he told his mom, "See, I pull on my lip now like this [demonstrates] because you cut off my hair. And if you cut off my lip, I'll just do this with my ears [plays with ears]." It wasn't accusatory, and it wasn't critical of her. He just realized that there was a reason why he did the things he did, and that they were so important to him that he had already come up with another contingency plan if he lost the ability to do that thing.

My therapist on this topic says that even things that aren't closely associated with identity, like pulling on hair ticks, can still implicate identity in dangerous ways. He says that although things like certain types of anxiety can and should be confronted in people's lives, if you try to get a child to do it at too early of a stage, it will not only affect the anxiety but the child's other aspects of core identity. 

Friday, November 20, 2015

An sociopath's online journal

A reader writes:

I'm writing because I've recently come across your book and have found it mind blowing.  Particularly so, because it reads as if you are peeling back layers from my mind on every page. You have articulated things I have thought but not been able to express. I also was accused of being a sociopath by someone who had come across one before. I also let it go but felt offended. I am a black, 27 year old who has done pretty well but seem to have hit a wall in my life. I only came across your book by chance and I've not put it down since. It has inspired me to also write an online journal anonymously. I am not sure if I am a sociopath but many of the qualifying traits reside in me perhaps to a lesser extent than yourself. The journal has made me reach into my childhood to find out what is "wrong" with me so to speak.

An excerpt:

I do not think I am a bad person but I can do bad things. Most people tend to like me when they meet me. I genuinely care for people without always feeling any form of emotional compulsion towards them. I'm a generally smiley person, i know it encourages people to let their guard down. I love breaking ice, whether between my teeth or between myself and another person. It's exhilarating. I also have a penchant for the extreme. Though I admit I'm actually scared of most things I do, there is something that draws me to it. The sense of danger, the adrenaline, the suspense and the anticipation of conquering it. 

Wednesday, November 18, 2015

Extreme empath child?

From a reader:

Enjoy your blog as always.

This video of a little girl with an extraordinary capacity for empathy is doing the rounds.

(I worry about the intentions of the woman who filmed it but that's another story.)

Monday, November 16, 2015

Seeing the world as an extension of ourserlves

This was an interesting comment on an old post from someone who identifies as narcissistic, but actually became self-aware and got better:

Everything I've read about narcissism says leave them alone...I was physically abused as a child and had a series of crises (death of the parent who abused me, failed relationships etc)

Now I can remember how I slowly died and became an unfeeling shell.

For 20 years of my life I lived the life of a narcissist..compartmentalised life..using and abusing everyone and everything..A part of me knew it was wrong but it was a very small part of me..For the most part there was an unfeeling emptiness that I hid very well.

I got married and had 2 children..compartmentalising allowed me to have something that remotely resembled a marriage on the surface.
But nothing filled the hole till I decided to try spiritual practise...even that was narcissistic in its nature..I felt that I was better and knew more than anyone.

I had an experience..I guess you could call it a spiritual experience..After the experience I slowly started feeling again..It's taken 7 years so far..I ve learnt to take leaps of faith..and I've taken many..Every leap revealed something about myself to marriage began to crumble..and I recently took another leap because I could not deal with it..Nothing helped...and something snapped in my head..The pain was gone..All of a sudden..I'm ok on my wife is a person my children are their own beings...I don't know if this is just a phase..We put labels on things we don't understand thinking the labels are reality..forgetting that we've just collected a set of traits...grouped them together and put a label on the group. 

I thought that last paragraph was particularly interesting, especially, "my wife is a person my children are their own beings". My current therapist (and I apologize, I haven't had the time to verify or source this assertion) says that all of the cluster Bs suffer from a common ailment -- that they fail to see others as separate individuals, but rather perceive them to be an extension of themselves. Apparently we all start that way as infants, seeing mother and world as all being the same "us/I". Eventually as a toddler we expand our reach a little and realize that there can be a distance between us and mother, that we are our own autonomous self, and that psychological development allows us to see our true place in the world: that we are one of many people who also have separate identifies, inner worlds, volition, likes and dislikes, and finally that we all have separate realities and to challenge someone else's reality and assert ones own instead can be as violative to that person's personhood as rape. I've always thought that attitude was particular to narcissism, or at least not shared by sociopaths, who seem to very well understand that everyone is different, which is why we can both seem so tolerant and skilled at manipulation, because we see and target people's individual predilections. But my therapist believes that this is common (or perhaps even necessary) in an ASPD diagnosis. I do admit that in my most antisocial, I disregard the personhood of the people around me. But it's not because I have an inability to see them as anything other than just an extension of myself/universe. I wonder, is this a possible distinction between the classic sociopathic diagnosis versus the DSM's ASPD? Can any other sociopathic leaning individuals or people that know sociopaths speak to whether this trait is shared not just in ASPD but the broader sociopathy?

Saturday, November 14, 2015


From a reader:

I'm an 18 year old female and I just wanted to thank you for your book. I brought it when out with my boyfriend one day as it caught my eye, but as I started at the beginning of your story, I couldn't help but notice so many traits that I associate with my own personality. I'm not sure that I would 100% label myself as a sociopath, some of the emotions I experience feel too real and even from a young age I have been quite compassionate, or at least I have come across that way. I did however find myself relating to a lot of the manipulation and self interest and appreciation that you speak of, surprising since I can be so caring and thoughtful when I want to be. Since reading your book, I've come to acknowledge and accept parts of me that I was unsure or wary of previously, and it has helped me to understand that although I may not be a classic 'sociopath' that I do have a lot of the traits which are associated with the label. Your honesty has helped me address issues with friends and family, in particular with my boyfriend, that I previously had no idea how to go about. I'm not expecting a reply or for you to tell me your identity, I just wanted to let you know how you've helped me and probably many other people who are not as normal as they make out to be. Thank you.

My response: Thanks for this, I sometimes feel that people get hung up over the label and whether or not they fit exactly in the diagnosis of sociopath, when the label seems to hardly matter in terms of people understanding who they or other people are. I think labels and descriptions can be really helpful, but particularly since there is no real consensus on what makes a sociopath, are sociopath and psychopath the same thing, are they separate or related to antisocial personality disorder, are they a disorder at all or a personality type a la machiavellianism, etc., along with the tendency that people have to conform to what the believe to be the expectations of them, people might take care with how much they identify with or rely upon a label for their self-knowledge.

Thursday, November 12, 2015

Religion and sociopathy

From a reader:

We corresponded a few months back about your sister.  I've been following your blog on and off since and having read your book I know you take your religion seriously.  I've found myself returning to my own religion and am beginning to realize how accurate it's world view and message is.  Sociopathy does not exist as defined by psychologists.  A default lack of empathy (or diminished capacity) should yield indifference, not pleasure at other people's misfortunes (not to mention deliberating causing the misfortune, especially when the victim has been generous to you).  

I'm not proselytizing but I'm certain if you read the Qur'an you'll find answers to any and all questions you may have that remain unanswered despite years of therapy, research and experience.  The website below has three English renderings.  Worst case you'll just become familiar with a book believed to be divine by a quarter of humanity.

Best of luck.


Ok, I downloaded i to my Kindle.

I do feel like Islam is a beautiful religion. I visited Egypt and Jordan years ago and saw some Mosques and was half tempted to convert right there.

I sometimes wonder whether our connection to our religions feels so good because we are recapturing a little that sense of identity and connection to the universe that is otherwise so sorely lacking. What do you think?


I think you phrased it almost perfectly.  For the past few months I've been battling depression resulting from heartbreak.  I was betrayed by my own father, brother and closest friend (who was also my love interest).  No one knows what I felt and why I feel I was wronged.  All of them are less intelligent than I and apparently lack insight so they mistook all my favors for manipulation.  I've been depressed in the past and easily recovered from medication rather quickly.  This time around it has been a mental jihad - I've been fighting to decide whether I should give up being a nice guy who's always screwed over and care about myself only.  What led me to God was the fact that I could NOT - no matter how hard I tried - keep my integrity while prioritizing myself.  I swear it was as if I had only two options: be a "good" person and stay depressed / lonely or become apathetic and be happy by causing others suffering along the way to material success.  No matter how hard I tried I couldn't knock myself out of it.  If you knew me personally you'd know how strong my resolve & self-control once was.  Then all of a sudden I had a mysterious experience while driving once.  I've been ruminating about the same thing for months but this time it felt like it wasn't me who was talking to me but literally something outside which imprinted its message directly in my heart.  Since that day I've been coming closer and closer to true faith.  I read the Qur'an and I understand the verses which once read like some lunatic having a go at poetry but now they so much sense I can't help but cry so many times I read some of them.  

The Qur'an asks a reader to approach it with humility.  Be objective and try to not have any bias - one way or another - when approaching it.  For me, the combination of objectivity (or as close as I could be to it) and watching a youtube series on the life of Muhammad ("seerah of Muhammad") did it.  I could not convince myself that this man was a liar.  I'd bet my life he genuinely meant what he said.  Of course he could still have been deranged / deluded etc but it begs the question: "do deluded people end up doing what Muhammad did"? He united an unknown tribal "civilization" spread over 1 million square miles into countless tribes in a period of 23 years and immediately following his death these very people - people with no history prior to this point, no significance whatsoever - conquered almost all the ancient civilizations from Spain to Western India in under 100 years.  Imagine an outsider - an alien civilization examining us from the outside.  I doubt they'd look at Muhammad's accomplishments and say "the only explanation is what some people who never knew him and live hundreds of years after him have said: he's deluded." 

Lastly, I also realized that he was dealing with classic psychopaths / sociopaths but most of those same people ended up becoming some of the greatest people in history.  You can look up figures like Umar and Khalid bin Walid - their impact on the world is documented in western sources as well as muslim sources.  Besides the history, my own personal experience in dealing with family and friends has shown me that sociopaths are not incapable of empathy - they are just unlikely to do so until they see a victim of theirs forgive them knowing full well what was done to them.

On a little bit of an aside, I've been really interested recently in learning how the 12 step programs use the concept of God/higher power and religion/spirituality in really instrumental/pragmatic ways, as being an essential element of a successful program. I've watched some friends who were never at all spiritual or religious have to figure out some way to integrate that as a primary driver in their lives. Why, I wonder, is this true? 

Tuesday, November 10, 2015

Empathy's role in defining otherness

From a reader:

I've begun to take your advice on "getting people to my side", as you called it, by coming out to them. I decided to tell my oldest, and whom I consider my only close friend, about me being a sociopath. He's an incredibly empathetic person, and upon telling him it was almost as if he had lost that ability with me. Like he was no longer capable of empathy or understanding with me because it was such a shock to find out his friend had been lying to him. Even after a decade long friendship (even I'm surprised it's lasted that long) he nearly ostracized me simply for who I am. One of his defining features is that he hates lying, and it's one of the reasons why I told him. He is maybe the only other person I respect, other than you M.E., so telling him became an easy choice. Although, it took him almost four weeks to finally begin accepting it; he nearly hated me up until that point. 

All that got me thinking: was the cause of his negative reactions from his empathy? Was is strong moral compass and empathy the source of his inability to connect with and understand someone who lacks those things? Is empathy the reason people like me, or the gays, or anyone else considered "abnormal" by those with a "moral high ground" get ostracized and alienated? All I want is to be myself publicly without scorn from the people around me. Will this society change in its own, or do we have to make it change?

I don't know the answer to his question. I wish I did, and I'd love to hear people's thoughts on it. Here's my attempt to give some sort of response:

I wouldn’t say that empathy itself leads to this, but I think that the illusion that empathy often gives can lead to this. By that illusion I mean that I don't really believe that empathy is as functional (and certainly not as flawless) as people seem to report experiencing it. Maybe I'm just overly cynical, but I wonder how often people are accurately feeling the same feelings that someone else is feeling. The whole concept seems really foreign and almost absurd to me, like a superstition of a culture to which I don't belong. It seems like such magical thinking to even believe that the common belief of empathy exists. But I think a lot of people have an unexamined faith about it. It feels very real and true to them, so they have no reason to doubt it, or question its failure rate like I do. And it is that faith in empathy, I believe, that contributes at least in part to people treating otherness as they do. The empathy gives them the illusion that we are all connected (or at least the ones that they feel connected to). It emphasizes and validates that sense of connection -- proves it to be true, in a way, to the person experiencing the empathy. The empathy helps people to feel like others are a part of them in some way, because that's how they experience it -- they believe they feel the joys and hurts of another, so how couldn't they be seen as a part of them? But if you can't empathize with someone or they can't empathize back, that sense of identification and connection isn't there. If anything, it's seen as a threat -- not just to the person, but to their whole group of people they do identify, e.g. all white people, or all males, or all gay people. 

I was recently reading an article about the rise of polygamous unions and the calls to have these unions legitimized as the marriages that they functionally are. The arguments in favor, of course, are very similar, even identical, to the same sex marriage arguments. But is there widespread support? No. Why? I think at least in part because those people are seen as other, they're difficult to empathize with. I identify as ambisexual, or at least sexually fluid. I read media sources targeted at gay audiences, especially now as I continue to try to build a stronger sense of self and identity and integrate all facets of myself in the process. They do not support polygamous relationships, not even same sex ones (perhaps especially not those, because they "make a bad name" for the community that has been so successful in normalizing as of late). 

I had to laugh because I recently saw an article lauding a woman for being a gay woman in science with Asperger's. She is quoted thusly: "While I’m not trying to push my ideas on anyone, I’m happy to know there are people that might look at me and feel more comfortable about being themselves." Good for her, and I really mean that. I am so pleased to see other marginalized groups gaining recognition, acceptance, and even accommodation and appreciation for their special needs and attributes. This is not sour grapes but just a fact: no group I am part of would laud me for what I am. No group would not even openly acknowledge me as being one of them. 

As a society, I do think that we want people to feel more comfortable about being themselves (google Mr. Rogers "It's you I like"), but still only if they fit certain acceptable categories, albeit an ever expanding list. Certainly you can't be open about being attracted to children still, nor being diagnosed as a sociopath. That's fine, I understand that's how things are and I actually fully expect things to change with that respect in my lifetime (how could they not? transgenderism was taboo only a decade ago). But I do wonder what role empathy plays in all of this.

(And just to clarify for those who might misinterpret, I don't mean that we have to accommodate all behaviors just because someone is wired differently. Rather I think that we shouldn't keep people out just because they are wired differently if they're able to conform their behaviors as needed. For example, I strongly support increased understanding and acceptance for pedophiles in the sense that I believe that they can't help who they are and that if it was possible for them to be more open about their condition, they could possibly get better help and fewer children would be harmed as a result. I feel the same about sociopaths. No one is advocating for special treatment. But demonizing or ostracizing someone who comes out as a sociopath is compounding the problem, not helping. Yes, the sociopath probably misrepresented him or herself by not revealing that he was a sociopath, but is it really fair to punish them for that evasion when this is how people react to the truth?)

Monday, November 9, 2015

Presidential psychopathy

From a reader:

Interesting video of James Fallon speaking about how most beloved American Presidents score highest on the psychopathy checklist. 

Other interesting points he makes it that Hitler's not a sociopath, neither are any of the other Nazi leaders. Neither are mafiosos typically sociopathic. That's why Hannah Arend calls it the banality of evil, not the evil of psychopaths. 

Sunday, November 8, 2015

Not caring to act like caring (part 2)

Reader (cont.):

About that psuedo-authorities, like Morpheus said: "I know exactly what you mean."

I remember my feelings when I wrote this letter. I don't know where to start or how to explain myself, but I'll give it a try.

Before answering your question about Dostoyevsky I feel like I need to describe my way of thinking and my perspective to the other's feelings. I see myself as a computer thinking logically all the time. My main purpose is protecting myself and second one is protecting my stuff(money, family etc.). I can understand a human whose thought is pure logical. But usually, some parts of their thoughts are corrupted by the feelings. I consider these feelings as hypocrisy because nearly always these feelings blind them from seeing the truth, they know the truth but somehow they don't want to see it. But to be honest, I also see my flaw, that is lack of understanding of human feelings. I mean, I can understand if someone is sad or feeling something else but with no emotional response. Well, I sometimes giving a response to that but not the right one. Once, I hurt some girl emotionally because he was playing with my friend. But, I do it because I want my friend to be like he was before that girl (OK, I also enjoyed it but that was not the main reason.). But that didn't help and he was frustrated for a long time. So, I got bored, even angry and moved away from him.
And there is that example that I love to use; when I think someone being executed and try to understand the feelings of him/her, I always find myself thinking about the physiology of that death, I can only consider the feelings as some impulses in brain, I am somehow materializing all the feelings. 

Sometimes I have some of my friends watch an execution and ask them how they feel, what they think about convict's feelings and they usually say they feel sorry but can't explain that feeling with words and objectively.

So, what is my point. Dostoyevsky is sentenced to death once, after forgiven. In his book Idiot he can describe a convict's feelings objectively and purely with words and I can absorb that feelings thanks to him. Here is that part of the book if you want to read it:

Long before, I remember I constructed some emotional fake responses to some particular emotional reactions like anger, sadness.. of other peoples via processing these with environmental factors. Well, my father (he is an indulgent man) help me construct that basic stuff. (You should do that, shouldn't do that..) But with his guidance I didn't reach a point that I can say sufficient but my expectations from life was low (just going home after very boring school and just playing some computer games, masturbating..) and it was enough for the moment.

But after I went to college my expectations get more complex and that emotional responses wasn't enough for my desires. With some other things happened, this is where I noticed something is different with me. I started to do everything to get what I want with intense impatience mostly caused by inadequate mask of mine. I was like "I just want what I want, I don't want to act a role to get it." Soon, the mask fell. After that, my relationships with friends started to collapse and they didn't leave with no harm. They were hostile. They left me with too many questions and anger. In a short time, I found out that I am a sociopath. After that, my questions were answered and I relieved hugely. But I didn't know what to do, I was lost. This is when I sent you the first mail. But after that, I found my way out and I need to thank you for that and your followers that comment to the posts. It was enough to know that some other people been through what I experiencing and survived. I know what to do now.

I need to construct a brand new emotional response system that can meet my needs. I need some insignificant guys to test that responses and improve myself. But first I need to stay low with lesser effort. This is where Dostoyevsky help me mostly. He can somehow describe daily human behaviors and their emotional responses so good and he is doing it often in books (And I need to admit, I admire him for that). I need to feel secure before I can pass a new tact for fulfilling my desires (not harmful desires btw. just sex and money and a controllable environment...). I am trying to find a way to seem normal while I respond my desires with the least effort. I need to avoid emotional nonsense unless there is no other way.

About one thing you said, that people think that we wear masks just to manipulate and get what we want, it happens sometimes to me. Also physical fights happens sometimes. But it is impulsively happens. I mean, I just do it suddenly and I realize what I did after the act. I don't feel sorry about them. Actually, I enjoy it but I try to stop myself from doing these unless I have to. I don't need to create enemies. I try to find the adrenaline rush from some crazy but not harmful things like sky-diving, hunting etc. but still sometimes it happens.

Seriously, what is up with Dostoevsky appealing to sociopathically minded folks? Are there any exceptions out there? But I do think it's true, he walks you through the mental and emotional processes of people so well that you feel like you're actually in there head. This, by the way, is what I think sociopathically minded folks mean when they say that they can imagine and understand the emotions that others feel, they just don't feel them themselves. But I also think there is something to the vantage point that Dostoevsky takes with his characters. I want to say that it is a little amoral, because there is none of the conventional morality seeping through as judgment of anything the characters do. But Dostoevsky is not amoral. It's more like the perspective of humanity transcends the particular moral era he was socialized in. And although his writing still reflects a deep sense of morality, it has more the feel of a timeless, almost platonic form of morality. If there is a God, you would expect that sort of transcendent morality to be more in line with God's macro morality as well. I think? So I like that aspect as well. Dostoevsky is not heavy handed with right and wrong, although he is quietly insistent about it. But he explains it so well and the stances he takes on it seem to have the ring of Truth (capital T) to them, so I find myself actually buying into a lot of it.  

Saturday, November 7, 2015

Not caring to act like caring (part 1)

From a non-English speaking reader:

For a long time I haven't known about I am different from others. For example, if a friend's close relative dies, I always try to act like feel sorry for him/her. But, I thought it was normal and what everybody doing. Well, honestly I never thought about what everybody doing. I didn't care about them. That was all normal to me at least. Because I born this way.

Last year summer I was in some city, visiting my friend. His father is a coroner (I am in med school btw). So, his father asked if I wanna attend one of the autopsies. I said yes. 

Long story short, the guy was shot to dead. Young guy. His sister came in before the autopsy. She was saying something like "Get up my little brother, let's go home." and she was crying. But you know I find it kinda funny because I thought that "He is dead you idiot, How do you expect him to get up?". Well, I know actually it is not funny but it was to me. I've almost laughed at it. I slightly smiled at it so, I turned around and closed my mouth with my hand like feeling sorry. After that I realized something wrong with me. Not wrong actually but different.

So I started thinking about it a lot. I remembered some memories while I was thinking. I looked at internet about it. I read a lot about antisocial personality disorder. Remorse, irresponsibility, impulsivity, lack of empathy, conduct disorder bla bla... It fits perfect. So, I found that I am a sociopath. I like being it but the thing is I cannot stand pretending like I care. My tactic was just being sympathetic but I am right opposite inside. It is too hard to pretend for real. After I noticed it was not what everybody doing, it get harder and harder, day by day. People started to noticed something wrong with me (you are selfish, you are bastard cause you only care yourself, stuffs like that), one by one because I started doing it sloppy. 

The thing is, I don't want to have problems with people. It is just unnecessary but I can't do it anymore. I just try to do not interact with people but I am being the weird boy then, so I get spotted. You know people feel afraid from unknown. Then, that cause anger to unknown. If you don't talk to them you are an unknown. So, they are being hostile to me. 

I read a lot about sociology, psycology, some Dostoyevski books just to find how not to be spotted by them with the least touch. Still didn't find any solution. For now, I have to act if I wanna get some comfort. But I don't wanna fucking act a role anymore. When I communicate I see stupid things about them and it is fucking hard to be kind and act like they're cool, good friends or something. Or listen to them while they talk about their girlfriends/boyfriends, they are being strong because they handle so many difficulties bla bla bla... 

How you people endure this? I really need advice.


Your predicament is the predicament of all sociopaths and is probably the worst thing about being a sociopath. Can I publish what you wrote? People think that we wear masks just to manipulate and get what we want, but a lot of the time (most of the time?) it's because we have to, otherwise people will persecute us.

Just recently I was flying somewhere foreign. The flight attendants handed out the customs, etc. forms for our destination. I was familiar with this country, and knew that I would have time in line to fill out this form, so I planned to fill them out then. About halfway through the flight a flight attendant saw the forms on the seat next to me and asked me (only me) if I had filled them out. Why does she care? I said no and smiled what I thought was a friendly smile. She got irritated with me and demanded that I fill them out. Again, why does she care? But I know there's something about me that rubs people the wrong way, particularly psuedo-authority figures. The week before I got stopped and detained by a private security guard for nothing. A couple weeks before that, I got stopped and detained by the manager of an apartment complex of an acquaintance of mine. This has happened to me my whole life and as overt as this persecution is, there are dozens of little, less noticeable incidents that happen to me weekly.

But I'm so curious, why do you read Dostoevsky to figure out how not to be spotted?


Thursday, November 5, 2015

Hating the idea of sociopaths

From psychologist Barry Schwartz, via Brain Pickings. First regarding the amorality of science:

When a scientist, or anyone else, discovers something, it doesn’t occur to us to ask whether that discovery should exist. In other words, though discoveries often have moral implications, they do not, by themselves, have moral dimensions. If someone were to suggest that the Higgs boson shouldn’t exist, we’d wonder what mind-altering substance he’d ingested. Inventions, in contrast, are a whole other story. Inventions characteristically have moral dimensions. We routinely ask whether they should exist. We wonder what’s good (life improving) about them, and what the drawbacks are. We debate whether their wide distribution should go forward, and if so, with what kind of regulation.
Social science has created a “technology” of ideas about human nature… In addition to creating things, science creates concepts, ways of understanding the world and our place in it, that have an enormous effect on how we think and act. If we understand birth defects as acts of God, we pray. If we understand them as acts of chance, we grit our teeth and roll the dice. If we understand them as the product of prenatal neglect, we take better care of pregnant women.

I like that. I feel like sometimes people think of the existence of sociopaths as some sort of moral issue that they can take a stance on -- anti-sociopath. But as one recent comment noted, that's a little like saying that you're anti-gravity (back to the future!) or anti-phytoplankton (whoa!). Things that exist primarily just exist. There may be a moral element in how they are created or, I don't know, maybe something else in there too. But too many people think that it's just enough to be anti-sociopaths, as if disliking them would eliminate them. But that's like disliking poverty. Or disliking drought or famine or disease. There are sociopaths in the world. Disliking them or wishing they were all locked up and killed won't prevent there from being more sociopaths. The more rational thought if you wanted to prevent mental disorders would not be to just hate on mental disorders, but to understand how and why they occur and try to figure out some way to prevent or treat them humanely. I don't think anyone (at least not here) is truly "pro-sociopath", as if that were the pinnacle of all humanity has to offer. You don't need to convince anyone that sociopaths sometimes cause problems for themselves and others, but given that's true (as it is true with almost everyone at sometime or another), the only truly helpful question is, what are we going to do about it?

Another interesting thought:

However, there are two things about idea technology that make it different from most “thing technology.” First, because ideas are not objects, to be seen, purchased, and touched, they can suffuse through the culture and have profound effects on people before they are even noticed. Second, ideas, unlike things, can have profound effects on people even if the ideas are false… False ideas can affect how people act, just as long as people believe them… Because idea technology often goes unnoticed, and because it can have profound effects even when it’s false — when it is ideology — it is in some respects more profound in its influence than the thing technology whose effects people are so accustomed to worrying about.

Tuesday, November 3, 2015

Writing fictional sociopaths

This was an interesting New Yorker article about the difficulty of writing fiction with elderly characters, and how infrequently authors get it right and why not. About the problem of old people being depicted incorrectly:

But when I asked her about the ethical responsibility younger authors have to depict old age realistically, she responded, “As a writer, you have to think—am I capable of this quantum leap of the imagination? If the answer is dubious—then don’t do it. Stereotyping is a kind of fictional abuse.”

As for what she thinks she got wrong when she was creating elderly characters as a younger writer, she says she wasn’t quite able, back then, to imagine the less dramatic physical aspects of being old: the constant pain from various forms of arthritis, the slow impairment of sight and hearing, and a “kind of instability,” a loss of balance “that would be unnerving if it came on suddenly, but, because it is gradual, you adapt.” With the elderly protagonist Claudia, in “Moon Tiger” (written when Lively was in her early fifties), she says, “I ducked the problem … by making her a mind rather than a body—she is dying in hospital, but not much is made of that, what you know of her are her thoughts and her memories.” What she believes she got right, however, is that Claudia’s mindset in old age is much the same as when she was young; this, she says, has been true to her own experience of getting older.

I thought of all the fictional depictions of sociopaths, and how surprising it is when they actually get certain aspects right, and how that rightness is so hard to maintain consistently throughout a story or several seasons of a show (I'm looking at you Dexter). It reminded me of the post on the Dr. Who character who gets redeemed in a way that basically seems to just make her an empath convert. But I have gotten better in the past couple years about things like not manipulating people or objectifying them all of the time or being more in touch with my emotions, but I'm not suddenly just like an empath. And for some reason I keep thinking that if there is such thing as enlightenment, a heightened plane of existence, it's going to be something much more like meeting in the middle between empath and sociopath than all sociopaths, autistics, personality disordered, bipolar, etc. etc. etc. just all suddenly become like your average empath. Does that hurt your feelings, empaths? That I don't feel compelled to convert to your cause, despite no longer being 100% sold on the sociopathic lifestyle?

Sunday, November 1, 2015

Early childhood intervention -- a missed opportunity

From a reader:

I talked with my friend - I've written you about him before - Professor Psychopath. He's from a family with high-functioning psychopaths on both sides. His dad is/was a compulsive gambler, lives off various women, delights in knocking people out in street fights, etc. The mom had similar men in her family - they were literally royals (in their home country). PP is a professor with a lot of bad habits - things like driving down the street the wrong way for thrills. He's as Machiavellian/cold-hearted as they come.

He shared the following with me: when he was young, a teacher noticed he was really shy and had some issues suggesting he might need some help. They did a full battery of tests. The parents kept the information from the kids because - they said - they didn't want the kids to feel bad/good depending on their IQ ranking - all of the kids had genius IQs. These days two of the kids have PhDs in STEM and the other one was a successful entrepreneur. The parents didn't tell them that they'd done general psych tests, so they thought they were just IQ tests.

So today the dad gave him his scores from the psych tests. All he said was something about the IQ, and was proud (as if he had anything personally to do with having an IQ, passing it, on, LOL). Our guy learned today (30 years after the fact) that they'd done personality tests too.

He was surprised to see that they'd had him pegged when he was still a child. They figured that he was very smart, but with lots of problems relating to others, including social anxiety, OCD and aggression. They noticed all things that have made his life (and those in his family) difficult: OCD, social anxiety and lousy impulse control. They noted he had a great ability to strategize and scheme, but little ability to complete things. Total desire/inability to do assigned tasks - he wouldn't follow orders . He did work on tasks that he found interesting.

They didn't label him a "psychopath" or "sociopath", but they did say that given his body/age, they were recommending that he get some psychological treatment and learn to emotionally connect with others and control his anger, lest he become a bully in a few years (which he did). The OCD and social anxiety eventually became debilitating, at which point - decades later - he got treatment. After he got the treatment for anxiety he went on a tear, traveling around the world seducing women. A bit like Walter White (Breaking Bad) the high levels of social-anxiety (manifesting as emotions like fear, shame, envy) kept him in check. Once that lessened  his lack of a conscience, need for stimulation and antisocial bent led to him doing a lot of extreme things.

When he looked at the results, he felt disappointed. The teachers had tried to help. And nothing came of it. He wonders what might have happened if they'd intervened earlier.

He figures his narcissistic dad was too involved in his gambling habit to care. He's so self-absorbed he probably didn't read the report much, and probably ignored the negative stuff. The mom had her head way up her ass - but had she said anything about the kid needing help, the dad would have shut that down - if only because he needed to run the show. He didn't to be the guy with the screwup kid.  It wasn't hard at all for PP to put himself in his dad's shoes (they are VERY similar) and realize how his dad would have thought/felt about the report: "hey, MY kid is super smart. Of course he is. Chip off the old block." And that was it. He didn't act on the information that he could act on.

So PP wasn't too resentful about his dad. He said he had compassion for him; the dad really couldn't have done otherwise. I thought about my own family - very similar situation and way of relating to it - which is why he'd told me. FWIW, my dad only raised me because the government paid him to do it. He took custody of me weeks after it became possible to get paid to raise me due to my mother killing herself. I had to move out of the house as soon as the government checks stopped coming. He spent the money on his hobbies. When my extended family told me about my dad's behavior and motivations, it all made sense. I wasn't particularly bothered with him; what else was he going to do? The most irritating thing for me was that he couldn't be honest about his motivations.

I gave some thought to the phenomenon of diagnosing kids and the families dropping the ball. I know a family with Aspergery/ADD kids. I helped one of them (in his 50s) to do basic tasks that he'd never learned to do. It took me being patient, focused on the goal, creative, etc. I really made a positive difference in his life - the family is very grateful. When they expressed that to me, I was mostly angry with them - why hadn't they done the same thing? It wasn't like it was hard - how hard is it to hold a gun to someone's head to get them to do something? And it would have really helped him out. But then, spending time with them, it was clear why they couldn't help - they were all too Aspergery/ADD/Catlady to make it happen. As soon as the going got rough they would have folded. They were really lucky to have a kind psychopath in their lives.

Anyway, this got me thinking that psychopathic families will relate "psychopathically" to the news they are "special" (with a shrug, or perhaps a prideful, "yes, we're really at our best in crises"). If they get serious about change, they'll detonate their lives - really burn them to the ground - and set up a life with structure (join the military/monastery) and try again. Aspergery/ADD/Catlady families will wring their hands and start a self-improvement program (and then quit it 6 weeks in). Stupid families will be too stupid to integrate the information and do anything.

So in conclusion, perhaps it makes sense that extreme traits in families - creativity, psychopathy, stupidity, ADHD - exist because they are self-sustaining. Eg society will try to get the underclass to behave more like the middle class; it won't work. Society will try to get the psychopaths to behave - they'll ignore it. Society will try to get the ADHD/Aspergery people to retrain their brains - but perhaps they'll be too distracted/upset to make changes. Or maybe not - perhaps this is just overthinking it.
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