Thursday, July 28, 2016

W.H. Auden: False Enchantments

I found this quote from W.H. Auden to be thought-provoking:

The state of enchantment is one of certainty. When enchanted, we neither believe nor doubt nor deny: we know, even if, as in the case of a false enchantment, our knowledge is self-deception.

All folk tales recognize that there are false enchantments as well as true ones. When we are truly enchanted we desire nothing for ourselves, only that the enchanting object or person shall continue to exist. When we are falsely enchanted, we desire either to possess the enchanting being or be possessed by it.

We are not free to choose by what we shall be enchanted, truly or falsely. In the case of a false enchantment, all we can do is take immediate flight before the spell really takes hold.

Recognizing idols for what they are does not break their enchantment.

All true enchantments fade in time. Sooner or later we must walk alone in faith. When this happens, we are tempted, either to deny our vision, to say that it must have been an illusion and, in consequence, grow hardhearted and cynical, or to make futile attempts to recover our vision by force, i.e., by alcohol or drugs.

A false enchantment can all too easily last a lifetime.

I feel like sociopaths deal in the currency of enchantments all the time. It's essentially what I mean by seducing someone -- to enchant someone, to put them under a spell. But, I also think (using Auden's tautology) that not all of my seductions involve a false enchantment. I know they don't, because many of them have led to life long friendships.

And as Auden's quote applies to this type of seduction, I think that whether or not something is a true or false enchantment often has more to do with the person being enchanted than the person doing the enchantment or the nature of the enchantment. I know myself that I have had hopeless crushes or obsessions on people that were not instigated at all by the person and reflect more a projection of my own ideals or idealizations on to the person. And actually, I think this comports with Auden's own experience -- that most of his early erotic encounters involved a gross inequality between the partners, either between age or intelligence, but were initiated because Auden had constructed in them a sort of idealized "Alter Ego", as he called it. It wasn't until his relationship with Chester Kallman until he found an equal, that he finally considered the relationship a marriage. So, yes, the sociopath is the one facilitating the enchantment (I don't think the sociopath can actually generate it out of thin air, consider the anti-seducer). But the sociopath has not control over whether there is a false or true enchantment.

That said, I get emails all of the time from someone who is under the throes of a false enchantment that has lasted much too long for their preference.

Sunday, July 24, 2016

Ok to hate

This was an interesting interview with the author of " Hillbilly Elegy: A Memoir of a Family and a Culture in Crisis by J.D. Vance, the Yale Law School graduate who grew up in the poverty and chaos of an Appalachian clan."

The interview is mainly about the appeal of Trump to the lower class white demographics.

Interviewer: I’m not a hillbilly, nor do I descend from hillbilly stock, strictly speaking. But I do come from poor rural white people in the South. I have spent most of my life and career living among professional class urbanite, most of them on the East Coast, and the barely-banked contempt they — the professional-class whites, I mean — have for poor white people is visceral, and obvious to me. Yet it is invisible to them. Why is that? And what does it have to do with our politics today? 

J.D. Vance: I know exactly what you mean.  My grandma (Mamaw) recognized this instinctively.  She said that most people were probably prejudiced, but they had to be secretive about it.  “We”–meaning hillbillies–“are the only group of people you don’t have to be ashamed to look down upon.”  During my final year at Yale Law, I took a small class with a professor I really admired (and still do).  I was the only veteran in the class, and when this came up somehow in conversation, a young woman looked at me and said, “I can’t believe you were in the Marines.  You just seem so nice.  I thought that people in the military had to act a certain way.”  It was incredibly insulting, and it was my first real introduction to the idea that this institution that was so important among my neighbors was looked down upon in such a personal way. To this lady, to be in the military meant that you had to be some sort of barbarian.  I bit my tongue, but it’s one of those comments I’ll never forget.  

The “why” is really difficult, but I have a few thoughts.  The first is that humans appear to have some need to look down on someone; there’s just a basic tribalistic impulse in all of us.  And if you’re an elite white professional, working class whites are an easy target: you don’t have to feel guilty for being a racist or a xenophobe.  By looking down on the hillbilly, you can get that high of self-righteousness and superiority without violating any of the moral norms of your own tribe.  So your own prejudice is never revealed for what it is.

I thought it was interesting, the observation that there is some tribalistic influence to look down on others. And it looks like hillbillies are to white liberals as sociopaths are to neurotypicals (and even non neurotypicals love to hate, I guess). But unlike hillbillies, there are plenty of sociopaths in the government and places of power and influence. So there's that I guess. 

Wednesday, July 20, 2016

Quote: Destruction

"Construction and destruction alike satisfy the will to power, but construction is more difficult as a rule, and therefore gives more satisfaction to the person who can achieve it.”

Saturday, July 16, 2016

Trolling IRL

This was a pretty funny description of someone messing with people for the "puerile desire to get on other people’s nerves," as she describes it (I thought only sociopaths find pleasure in messing with people?).

She describes the game thusly:

All you do is stonily deny any knowledge of a person or cultural touchstone that you should, by virtue of your other cultural reference points, be aware of. These will of course be different for everyone, but my favorites include:

Žižek, John Updike, MORRISSEY (only for experts), Radiohead, Twin Peaks, David Lynch in general, Banksy (only for streetfighters), Withnail and I, Bauhaus (movement), Bauhaus (band), Afrika Burn, the expression “garbage person,” A Clockwork Orange, Steampunk (this one is really good), Jack Kerouac, “Gilmore Girls,” Woody Allen, the expression “grammar nerd,” the expression “grammar Nazi,” cocktails, bongs, magical realism, millennials, Cards Against Humanity, trance parties, bunting, many comedians, William Gibson, burlesque, the Beats, The God Delusion, sloths, anarchism, Joy Division, CrossFit, “The Mighty Boosh,” and Fight Club.

Find someone who is crazy about Morrissey, and pretend you have no idea who that is. It drives people nuts. I don’t know why, but it does. Just kidding, I know exactly why, because I myself have been on the receiving end of the Žižek Maneuver. This girl I had a bit of a crush on told me she had never watched “Twin Peaks,” and it damn near killed me. The reason I had a crush on her in the first place is because we liked so many of the same books, and movies, and music. How could she have never watched “Twin Peaks?” Was she messing with me? How? It did not for a second occur to me that she just hadn’t got round to it. My immediate response was to believe that she had deliberately not watched it in order to get on my nerves. When she told me later that of course she had watched “Twin Peaks,” my eye started twitching.

This is the beating heart of the Žižek Game: the disbelief that something you care about has failed to register on the consciousness of another. The agony of suspecting that someone has looked at Slavoj Žižek’s Wikipedia page and thought “I do not need to know about this man.”

But I thought the most insightful observation of playing this, or really any other game or interaction with another human being, is that you can never be afraid to look stupid:

Your success in this game depends on your ability to cope with people thinking you are dumb. This is so important. Adolescent conditioning—I grew up in a city with a strong surf/skate subculture of people who like to get extremely high—means that I am not only comfortable with people thinking I am dumb, I actually lean into it. I pretend I’ve never heard of Roman Polanski all the time. I do not falter, and neither must you. Your opponent must never have the satisfaction of looking down on you. When they begin to scoff and roll their eyes, because how could you have never heard of the Weimar Republic, you must simply smile and shrug your shoulders. If you look abashed, your opponent has won.

Too true. In the law, it's hilarious to me (and looks terrible to jurors) for lawyers or witnesses to work hard backpedaling on some point in order to save face or pretend like they know what's up. I don't know why we care so much what strangers think of us, but most people do. You absolutely can exploit this. And if you can gain all sorts of situational advantages by refusing to let other people's opinions change who you are, what you are doing, or what you believe about yourself or the world. They don't call it "confidence game" for nothing. Good luck!

Thursday, July 14, 2016

Famous (?) sociopaths: David Wood

A reader sent this to me, and for the first couple of minutes I had no idea why and thought it was going to be a discussion of religion, and part of me wanted to give you this video without telling you where it's going so you could have the same experience of being surprised when this guy just starts talking about what it's like to grow up with mental health problems that largely remained undiagnosed. He talks about being diagnosed as ASPD and launching in this discussion of feeling like he was socialized/brainwashed about morality, so begins to just start doing wrong things all of the time as a reaction to it. And of course, after the first 8-10 minutes or so, it does get into religion topics, mainly criticizing Islam and radical Muslims. But the first part I think some people might relate to, not realizing that your brain is wired differently, and so just acting as if what you're doing is normal and right and obvious.

I wonder if he still identifies with being ASPD, because then another example of a religious sociopath. I wonder how his Christian followers feel about that?

Tuesday, July 12, 2016

Context is everything

A little related to the last post, Mormon small children around the world were given this interesting pseudo ethical (but mostly practical) dilemma recently:

Ask the children to imagine that they are alone on a raft in the middle of the ocean. They discover that they must lighten their load because the raft is riding low in the water. They must throw overboard all but two items of their supplies. From the following list, ask them to choose the two items they will keep:

Life jacket

First aid kit

Chest filled with gold

Fishing pole, fishing tackle, and bait

Case of one dozen bottles of fresh water

Two-way radio

Box of emergency flares

Large can of shark repellent

At this point you may be wondering what the moral punchline is going to be. For me, I thought for sure it was going to be about getting rid of the chest filled with gold (by the way, the relative weights of a chest of gold and life jacket do not seem equivalent)? Or maybe something more of a stretch, like the importance of having a two way radio to God or something?

For some reason the answer was unexpected to me.

List the choices on the chalkboard, and ask the children to explain the reasons for their choices. The choices in this activity should pose a dilemma. Point out that choosing would be difficult because they would not know what would happen in the future: they might sink and need the life jacket, become thirsty and need the water to drink, become hungry and need the fishing pole, encounter sharks and need the repellent, need the radio to seek help, get hurt and need the first-aid kit, need the flares for a nighttime rescue, or get rescued in the next few hours and wish they had kept the treasure.

I thought it was an interesting illustration about how the value of things depends on context, and how I was sort of ignorant to assume that there would just be a set hierarchy of usefulness to nonusefulness based on the limited information given. Maybe you were like me and your brain raced to figure out what the "right" answer would be too, given what you think you know about survival. Like many of you likely prioritized water over food (fishing pole), because you can survive longer without food than water. But I've read Unbroken, so I know that there's actually a decent chance of getting fresh water from the rain, which would naturally collect in the bottom of a typical raft. And if the two way radio was in range of help, it makes most sense to keep that. Who cares if you get a little thirsty or hungry in the few hours that it might take to be rescued. Also, who cares if you're hungry or thirsty if sharks come right away, so in some ways shark repellant is most necessary. But if the whole idea is either to facilitate speedy rescue or to survive until rescue comes or you've drifted to safety, it's really not clear what would be more valuable without more context. But still my mind had an impulse to think that there was a "right" answer, or at least "righter". I was surprised that the punchline was -- it depends.

But I think I also can understand a little better now the perspective of people who think that there's really no use for sociopaths in the world, such that we can and should just eradicate them all. Those people must feel the same way about sociopaths as the way I almost instinctively felt about the chest of gold in the raft. Because the gold seems to me to be so obviously useless to that situation, I would have probably thrown out the gold without a second thought. But the lesson makes a good point -- what if you were rescued in a few hours. You'd wish you hadn't.

I think it's similar with sociopaths. Some people might see the world in a particular way that would make sociopaths seem an obvious detriment with no countervailing benefit and almost just automatically think it would be best to get rid of them. But sociopaths can be extremely useful in certain contexts, e.g. life or death situations where something dangerous or morally questionable needs to get done quickly and effectively -- war, espionage, natural or man made disaster, but even smaller things like car accidents, impending street violence, taking risks in business, having the mental fortitude to try something and not be afraid of failure. Sociopaths are like the gold, or maybe more like the flares, in the sense that they don't seem as immediately useful as we've been conditioned to see the other items, but sociopaths would truly be your tool of choice in certain situations.

And unlike this survival hypothetical, there's no reason to want to go around killing sociopaths (or even preventing them from being born through genetic screening or whatever). Because unlike the survival hypo, we can keep everyone in the boat. And you know the old saying, better to have something and not want it than to want something and not have it. 

Saturday, July 9, 2016

Who can shoot to kill?

A reader sent me this interesting video (a little bit timely) about what type of motivations (or what type of person) you need to be to shoot to kill, at least in war. I would like to see a similar explanation of what it takes to kill outside of a wartime, soldier situation.

My thoughts on the video:
1% of fighter pilots accounted for 50% of kills
of people who shot to kill, 2%

Most men can't make good snipers because most men cannot kill someone who is not trying to kill him.

I love the part at 8:40 about Che Guevara being a really nasty, brutal person, and why people are executed from behind. If you doubt this a little, you should read about what he did in Africa. Why is Che such an acceptable person nowadays?

10:30 are the people who can shoot to kill, either because they're psychopaths and don't recognize fear in others, or because (according to this guy) out of love and the desire to protect the people you love. I think that may be true, but I think there might actually be a bit of an overlap between the two groups.

Sunday, July 3, 2016

Different lives, different incentives

This is largely unrelated, except perhaps to the extent that it suggests that normal people often suffer from a lack or failure of not just affective empathy for those people that are considered different from them or are considered too remote to somehow trigger an empathetic response, but also cognitive empathy. People apparently have a very difficult time imagining what the lives of other people must be like.

From the Washington Post, "The big problem with one of the most popular assumptions about the poor", a discussion first of the infamous marshmallow experiment, in which child participants were asked to forego the instant gratification of one marshmallow in order to earn an additional marshmallow. The study participants were followed into adulthood and there was a correlation between ability to wait for the second marshmallow and general success, as society typically defines success. Also correlated, poverty and eating the first marshmallow without waiting. But why? Are they poor because they're impulsive? Or are they impulsive because they are poor? From the article:

The realization has sparked concerns that poverty begets a certain level of impulsiveness, and that that tendency to act in the moment, on a whim, without fully considering the consequences, makes it all the more difficult for poor children to succeed. But there's an important thing this discussion seems to miss. Poor kids may simply not want to delay gratification. Put another way, their decisions may not reflect the sort of impulsive nature we tend to attribute them to.

"When resources are low and scarce, the rational decision is to take the immediate benefit and to discount the future gain," said Melissa Sturge-Apple, a professor of psychology at the University of Rochester who studies child development. "When children are faced with economic uncertainty, impoverished conditions, not knowing when the next meal is, etc. — they may be better off if they take what is in front of them."

In some ways, this uncovers a broader problem with how we perceive the actions of people who live very different lives than we do. We brand certain actions and choices as mistakes, when they might simply be developmental adjustments necessary to cope with their environment. For those who don't worry about their next meal, because they never had to, choosing a marshmallow now instead of two marshmallows in a few minutes, all things equal, could only be the result of impulse-driven folly. For those who do have to worry about the next meal, passing up food now for the promise of food later is the misguided move.

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