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Friday, December 18, 2015

Hate crime hoaxers and Munchausen's Syndrome

It's tempting to think that all of these hate crimes hoaxes are the work of slick political operatives who are merely trying to make the opposition look bad, raise awareness of "hate crimes," and get their own side fired up. But the more you look at these hoaxers, the more it becomes clear that many are just not right in the head.

What some have is a variety of Munchausen's Syndrome, that "mental illness" where people pretend to be ill in order to gain attention and sympathy and affection. But, Munchausen's Syndrome, as I've written in the past, is not so much a separate syndrome as it is simply a manifestation of sociopathy.

Think of Martha Nicholas, who claimed to have Stage 4 ovarian cancer when she didn't, and held fundraisers to help her pay for her (nonexistent) treatment. To keep a scam going as long as she did, you'd have to be utterly without shame.

The clearest proof that people with Munchausen's are sociopaths is provided by those who have Munchausen's-by-proxy, like Lacey Spears, who gradually poisoned her son, making him sick, and eventually killing him, in order to gain attention and sympathy for herself. Her actions were so utterly dishonest, shameless, and unspeakably cruel, that a nonsociopath simply wouldn't have been able to pull them off.

Bear in mind, Spears' case wasn't just an uncharacteristic moment of insanity, it was a long, ongoing process that required lots of planning and subterfuge.

Think of Jackie Oakley, the University of Virginia student who falsely claimed to have been raped by eight fraternity boys. The temptation at first might be to think that she was just a mixed up girl, but in fact she, too, was a sociopath who kept her scam going until her story finally fell apart.

Oakley's case is exceptional in that it garnered so much publicity, and was used, most (in)famously by Rolling Stone, as a way to highlight the "plague" of campus rape. But none of the political ramifications changed the fact that Oakley was simply a conniving little sociopath with a bottomless need for attention and sympathy.

I've had personal experience with this phenomenon too: the woman who educated me about sociopathy claimed to have cancer when she didn't.

Munchausen's Syndrome is not all that rare: you've probably heard of cases where someone, usually a woman, claims to have cancer and garners all sorts of attention and sympathy, and sometimes, even admiration for her "courage." Then it turns out she never had it.

While writing the previous post, it occurred to me that the parallels between Munchausen's and hate crime hoaxes are striking.

Not every last hoax is purely about getting personal attention and sympathy. Some of these hoaxers were covering up other misbehaviors. And they had varying amounts of politically motivation.

But all require a level of ongoing dishonesty so extreme that almost by definition, the perpetrator of the hoax has to be a sociopath.

Another distinctly sociopaths trait is wanting to sow discord: faking a "hate crime" fits that bill perfectly.

Imagine the mentality of a hate crime hoaxer. You prefer to believe that your own frustrations in life are due to racism or homophobia than to anything intrinsic to you. And you keep hearing about how racist and homophobic our society is, but you don't really see all that much in the way of overt examples. People seem to generally ignore you around campus, or, even worse, act as if you're not even there. And while you are incensed about racism or homophobia, some of your fellow blacks or gays don't seem to be as riled up as they should be.

What to do?

Solve all those problems at once by staging a hate crime. If you're black, you can put up a swastika made out of human feces in the bathroom. Or post anonymously on Yik Yak that you plan to shoot every black you see on campus the next day. Or hang a noose somewhere people will be sure to see it.

If you're gay, you can spray paint "Faggots get AIDS and die" on a convenient wall. Or maybe carve "gay" into your own arm. Or, if you have a fight with your boyfriend which leaves some nasty bruises, report that some gay bashers beat you up.

Once you've started, of course, you're committed to following through. You have to give a complete report not only to campus authorities but also to the police. You have to act like a traumatized "victim."

You'll be the center of attention, and people will act very sympathetic to you. Your cause will be promoted, and the narrative about what a racist or homophobic society we live in will be reinforced. The right people will be riled up at this injustice, and your cause may even gain a few converts. And people will admire you for your "bravery."

If you're a sociopath, this is how you think.

It's curious that the Left seems to attract so many of them.


Rifleman said...

Peter Frost article - Is "Sick" the Right Word?. About sociopaths and their evolution.

John Craig said...

Rifleman --
Thanks, I did actually happen to see that (someone had linked my post on Bill Clinton from the comments in that article). Frost knows what he's talking about. I agree, evolution is basically an evolutionary strategy, it's too common to be otherwise, and the advent of agriculture (and thus cities) allowed it to flourish.

I actually wrote about that (much more briefly, and in less sophisticated fashion) here:

Steven said...

Sounds plausible. Here's one from the UK:

John Craig said...

Steven --
It's pathetic that this guy won't even face charges. How can he not have known his injuries were caused by a fall? Surprising the police would buy that.

Anonymous said...

Another reason people with Munschausen do it to obtain drugs, instead of sympathy/money. I once knew a pothead who convinced a psychiatrist to prescribe him diazepam and quetiapine by claiming he suffered from anxiety and heard voices. I knew him well enough I know he was lying about both conditions (he is a sociopath). Quetiapine is an antipsychotic and a powerful sedative, and is useful to people who take deliriant drugs like LSD so they can abandon the trip if it's too scary.

- Gethin

John Craig said...

Gethin --
But if people are doing it to obtain drugs rather than sympathy or love, then by definition it's not Munchausen's, which is all about filling that bottomless need for affection. I can easily believe that people lie and pose for drugs, but in that case they'd just be drug addicts, and possibly ordinary sociopaths.

Anonymous said...

Do you reckon some of the authors of some of these child abuse 'misery memoirs' have M√ľnchhausen's? When I first read Dave Pelzer's 'A Child Called It', some 14 years ago, I took it at face value. He describes being stabbed by his mother; being forced to eat dog faeces and his own vomit; being made to sleep in the freezing cellar; being starved and having to wear the same, unwashed clothes every day ("that had holes like Swiss cheese"); having to sit in a gas chamber; being burned on an oven and so on.

I continued to take this guy seriously until I read an article in the NYT, suggesting that Pelzer might be a fraud*. The article points to Pelzer's obsession with his place on the NYT bestseller's list and to the way people who knew him refuse to corroborate the story. It also says that Pelzer changed the story (his mother apparently stabbed him in the heart, not the stomach like he said in the book).

Having thought about it, I now remember how there was nothing in the book to substantiate it. He might've scanned reports from social services, the school nurse or his teachers into the book, but there was nothing. He could even have included a picture of the scar from his purported stabbing. I find it suspicious how his mother would allegedly make a concoction of toxic chemicals in the bathroom then lock Pelzer in and force him to breathe the fumes. Gas chambers need an air vent, otherwise the torturer/executor gets gassed too - and typical bathrooms don't have the necessary air vents. Also, the book is full of gory detail - the bit about the stabbing goes on for 13 pages. Usually, people who've been traumatised find things like that difficult to talk about. I've known refugees from Afghanistan whose relatives were shot by the Taliban. When they do talk about it, they give sparse detail - a few sentences at most - and tend to focus on the preceding events and aftermath, not the incident itself.

It might be that Pelzer wasn't lying, but I'm unconvinced. He reminds me a bit of a BPD girl I knew at university who would tell all and sundry that she was raped when she was 16, only for someone to sneakily read her diary and find that she hadn't.


- Gethin

John Craig said...

Gethin --
That's an interesting observation, you could well be right. I've never read any of these misery memoirs, so have no opinion, but what you're saying is entirely possible. It could be a sort of one level removed variety of Munchausen's. Not Munchausen's-by-proxy, but, say, Munchausen's-by-book.

I wouldn't hold it against Pelzer if he was obsessed with his position on the NYT bestseller list. If I had a book there, believe me, I'd track it to see how it was doing. And I'd probable develop some competitive feelings vis-a-vis other books. But the fact that people who knew him refuse to corroborate his story is highly suspicious.

Good observation, thank you.