Search Box

Thursday, July 31, 2014

How sociopaths excuse their sociopathy

Sociopaths never see their sociopathy as a disadvantage or a weakness. They often don't even see it as a moral failing. They simply see themselves as superior. And there are certain classic, distinctively sociopathic ways they talk about themselves, all of which put their own actions and character in a good light. If you've ever known any sociopaths, these lines -- or slight variants -- may sound familiar.

This first set of justifications are only yellow flags, the kind of things which might also be uttered by garden variety narcissists.

On their tendency to fly off the handle:

"Hey -- I get angry because I care." (Implying he cares about the organization or cause, when in fact he only cares about himself.)
"I'm passionate about my work." (Translation: I have no self-control.)

On their impulsive natures:

"What's wrong with a little spontaneity in your life?"
"I don't want to be a stick-in-the-mud like Sam."
"Sometimes you have to just go with your gut."

On their grandiose sense of self-worth:

"Do you know who I am?" (Have you never heard of my greatness?)
'I'm the last guy in the world you want to mess with." (True enough.)
"This place would collapse without me." (In fact, the place would probably do better.)

On their low threshold of boredom:

"I like action, I like to stir things up a little, see what happens." (Translation: I like to upset people just because it amuses me.)
"I'm an adrenaline junkie."

On their manipulativeness:

"I'm a leader. I know how to get people to do things."
"Don't worry about that guy, I can handle him."
"I got her wrapped around my finger."
"They all think I'm a god." (When this is plainly not the case)

The statements from here on tend to be red flags.

On their dishonesty:

"I just wanted you to be happy, so I told you what you wanted to hear."
"Hey, the bosses want profits, this is what I have to do."
"If they're dumb enough to believe me, that's what they deserve."
"One man's truth is another man's fiction, it's all perspective."
"Okay, so I lied. So what?" (Said in an angry, challenging manner.)
(They also like to tell you what others say about you behind your back -- even if it's not true.)

On their bullying:

"I'm a take no prisoners kind of guy." (Spoken with great pride.)
 "I know I can be a little obnoxious." (When the actual behavior is far worse.)
"I hate that guy!" (For no good reason, about multiple people.)

On their disloyalty:

"Hey, it's a dog eat dog world out there." (Because people like him make it that way.)
"Guy woulda done the same to me, believe me."
"Someone needed to teach that guy a lesson."
"I believe in doing it to the other guy before he does it to you." (Even if the other guy had no intention of doing so.)
"It's time for a change. We can't have a guy like that in charge." (I should be in charge.)
"If he thinks I'm going to put up with that shit, he's crazy." (Regarding some reasonable request.)

On their criminality:

"Hey, I got three hungry mouths to feed."(So I have to rip these people off.)
"There are two kinds of people in this world -- sheep, and wolves." (As if he had no choice but to be one or the other.)
"I know I've made a few mistakes in the past, but they don't define who I am."
"That was the old me. I'm a new person now." (Somehow they always seem to think you'll believe them when they tell you they got a personality transplant.)

On their lack of shame or embarrassment:

"Why should I feel bad? That motherfucker had it coming."
"No point in dwelling on the past."
"What's done is done, no point in worrying about it now."
"I just did what everybody else wanted to do." (Said with a shrug.)
(Or, they may just change the subject.)

Filial respect, Part III

I had a typically mature argument with my son yesterday about who has the fitter body. When I pointed out that I have more definition, he retorted, "Dad, what you call definition is just wrinkles. Every time you get a new wrinkle, you're like, hey, look, more definition! The best definition you have are those crow's feet around your eyes."

The other day my daughter pointed out that I have to get a new photo for my blog. (It's the only digital picture I have, a "selfie" from three years ago.) I asked her what was wrong with it, and she said I looked like a "sketchball."

When I asked what that was, she said, "A sketchy character." She expounded further, "You look like a teenage girl who's trying to look soulful."

In fact, when I snapped that selfie, I had not been trying to look like a soulful 19-year-old girl. I was actually trying to be expressionless, since most poses end up looking calculated.

So, I'll probably change the photo sometime soon.

Nothing I can do about those wrinkles though, other than referring to them as 'definition."

Tuesday, July 29, 2014

From a woman who knew Fred Baer in middle school

An anonymous woman wrote the following comment on the Prison Pen Pals VII post last night:

I am a female who attended middle and high school (when he did come that is) and had classes with Fred. Yes he is mental. Maybe he was abused by parents, but so were a lot of kids in our area. He used to get into physical fights with teachers male and female and I do remember him as a psychotic kid. A very high percentage of kids I went to school with turned out to be drug addicts. Only two of the hundreds of kids I was classmates with ended up killing someone. Both happened to be drug addicts, but the craziness started waaaaaay before they even entered middle school.

I replied:

Anonymous female --
Thank you of that, that was illuminating. Most sociopaths turn out to be such because they had abusive parents rather than loving ones; Baer was no exception. And when someone is sociopathic, they act that way from a very young age. A lot of psychologists say you shouldn't diagnose someone as a sociopath until they're 18; but they always display behavior pattern before that that make it apparent that that's what they're going to turn out to be.

Baer wasn't "psychotic," by the way, he was sociopathic (or psychopathic). He didn't hallucinate, or think the clouds were sending him messages, or anything like that. He was just dishonest, impulsive, disloyal, incapable of love, narcissistic, and didn't feel shame or embarrassment. In other words, he was just evil. 

One of the reasons you're not suppose to diagnose someone as a sociopath at an early age is that we all tend to be naughty when we're young. We all do things that we end up being ashamed of. But it's precisely because we are ashamed of them that we never repeat those behavior patterns as adults. Sociopaths also do bad things as teenagers (and before). But since they don't feel shame or embarrassment, they just continue those bad behaviors into adulthood (though they probably become slyer about hiding their motivations as they get older).

But even early on, non-sociopaths don't act the way little sociopaths-in-the-making do. The future sociopaths are always worse. 

Psychologists always talk about the "dark triumvirate" of childhood traits that give away future serial killers: cruelty to animals, late stage bedwetting, and fascination with fire. (The fascination with fire often translates as a desire to burn things.) At first I couldn't figure out what late stage bedwetting had to do with being a sociopath, but then I realized that it's a function of an absence of inhibition and lack of desire to please one's parents. (If you care nothing of the future and what others think, rather than getting up in the middle of the night to go to the bathroom or holding it, you just take a leak right there in your bed.) 

In any case, the anonymous commenter's description of Baer is a great example of how sociopaths are different, even as kids. Even though we may have been naughty as children, most of us wouldn't have dreamed actually getting into physical fights with our teachers.

And as she pointed out, Baer may have ended up abusing drugs, but his uninhibited and violent behavior far predated his involvement with drugs.

This commenter may not be familiar with the psychological jargon, but she exhibits far more common sense than that "therapist" who was completely taken in by Baer. She understood that there was something basically wrong with him beyond mere drug addiction.

Monday, July 28, 2014

Parking as narcissism meter

One consistent pattern I've noticed in my hometown is that how people park is a reflection on their personalities.

At the Y where I swim, there are six ten minute parking spots, for people there on brief business. One woman, a confirmed narcissistic personality, always parks in the 10 minute parking spot for at least an hour while she works out.

(If you're going to the Y to exercise anyway, why is it so horrible to have to walk an extra 50 yards in the parking lot?)

Another indicator is when people will straddle a line, effectively taking two parking spaces for their car. I see this on a fairly regular basis, and can't help but think how selfish (read: narcissistic) that is. Sometimes it's a befuddled old person parking this way, in which case you have to cut them a break. But usually it's a huge SUV driven by someone with a commensurate ego.

In New York City, the narcissists express themselves slightly differently -- by double parking. If someone wants to get out while their car is boxed in, too bad.

At Costco, people sometimes see someone else loading up their car and will wait for a couple minutes for them to finish packing and leave, so that they can get that choice spot. In the meantime, all the cars behind them have to wait those couple minutes as well. Similar behavior.

Any time anybody essentially says, my time is more valuable than yours, it's narcissistic behavior. And anytime anybody doesn't stay within the lines, they're saying the rules don't apply to them.

Which together are a pretty good summation of the syndrome.

Saturday, July 26, 2014

"How a 'weird' Chelsea Clinton is getting in on the family business"

An interesting -- and illuminative -- article in the NY Post about what Chelsea Clinton is really like. The part about how she tried to squeeze Teneo is particularly revealing.

I'd never given Chelsea much thought, and had only been vaguely aware of her as the royal offspring. But when you think about it, there's really no reason she would have turned out any different from the way this article depicts her, given her parentage.

Fred and Bill

The parallels between Death Row inmate Frederick Baer and a certain sociopathic ex-President are quite striking. I'd like to point a few of them out.

Both men like to pose with pets to show what nice, affectionate people they are:

As Gethin pointed out after the last post, Baer kept saying in that interview that he "deserved to die -- according to the laws governing the state of Indiana." This lawyerly qualification implies that he only deserves his sentence in the strictly legal sense, not in any larger moral sense.

Baer's choice of words is reminiscent of how Clinton parsed the definition of the words "sex" and "is" during his Monica Lewinsky deposition.

When Baer said that he cried when a butterfly hit the windshield of his car because he was so soft and sentimental, he was trying to convince us of his empathy. Just as Bill Clinton was when he said, "I feel your pain."

Baer was a serial rapist before he murdered that 24-year-old woman and her 4-year-old daughter. Clinton, too, was a serial rapist. His victims included Juanita Broaddrick, Eileen Wellstone,  Elizabeth Ward, and an unnamed 22-year-old student at Yale.

Baer was successful as a serial rapist because he was able to talk his way into his victim's houses with a pack of lies. Clinton talked himself into the White House using similar tactics.

Baer had a meth habit. Clinton reportedly had a cocaine habit when he was governor of Arkansas.

Both men were raised by an alcoholic mother.

The only differences between Baer and Clinton were IQ and circumstance. Not character.

Baer was probably not smart -- or sly -- enough to have ended up a successful politician. But Clinton might easily have ended up somewhere far less glamorous than the White House.

Thursday, July 24, 2014

"I cry when a freakin' butterfly hits the windshield"

(Frederick Baer soon after his arrest)

Two days ago I wrote about a recent argument I'd had with a friend of Frederick Baer, the Death Row inmate in Prison Pen Pals VII. This friend of Baer's, who claimed to be a therapist, tried to make the case that Baer was not only not a sociopath, but honest, empathetic, and remorseful to boot. I argued that his sociopathy was unmistakable.

Today two separate people ("A" and "Gethin") sent links to the original post of a video of Baer, which showed him both right after he was caught and later on, in his cell on Death Row.

The video is quite revealing. In an interview right after he was arrested, when he was still insisting he was innocent, Baer vehemently claims, "I cry when a freakin' butterfly hits the windshield. That's how soft and sentimental I am! Why would I want to destroy life? I love life."

That kind of false emotionality is classic sociopathy. Sociopaths often give themselves away by unconvincingly claiming to be better than normal people. Sociopaths don't really have a good sense of what moves normal people, so they'll make ridiculous claims like that, thinking this will convince people of their innate goodness.

Most non-sociopaths don't cry when they hit a bunny rabbit, yet we were supposed to believe that this probable double murderer wept over insects?

The other thing I was struck by was how the clips of Baer right after he was caught showed a healthy and fit young man with no pockmarks on his face. So crystal meth had not made the kind of inroads it tends to on most addicts, meaning that Baer was probably not as deeply in its clutches as his friend seemed to suggest.

Baer's persuasive ability is probably best illustrated by the fact that before he killed the 24-year-old woman and her daughter, he was already a serial rapist, and his modus operandi was to ask women if he could use their phone. Most people are suspicious when a stranger comes to their door, yet Baer was somehow able to convince these women to let him into their houses.

Baer has sociopath written all over him. The fact that he was able to convince that therapist that he was honest, empathetic, and remorseful is just one more bit of proof.

If you haven't yet, check out the video.

(And, once again, note the thin lips which seem to characterize so many sociopathic Caucasian killers; I can think of no reason why this would be so, but I keep seeing it again and again.)

Wednesday, July 23, 2014

Maria Putin

The NY Post ran an article today about how the grieving Dutch are outraged that Vladimir Putin's daughter is living among them with her Dutch boyfriend in the wealthy suburb of Voorschoten. I was struck by her picture:

It's a somewhat blurry shot -- Vladimir undoubtedly discourages photos of his children -- but some things are still clear from it.

First, she's undeniably attractive, as pretty as she is sexy.

Second, and more interestingly, her relaxed pose and easy smile make her look extremely confident.

It's a confidence undoubtedly borne partly of her ability to attract men. But it goes beyond that. Most pretty women are just as insecure as the less physically blessed.

Some of Maria's confidence has to come from knowing her father is the most powerful man in the world. (The President of the United States doesn't have nearly as much leeway in his country as Putin does in his.)

And some of it must come from knowing her allowance is unlimited. (Vladimir Putin didn't stay in power just to give all the money away to the oligarchs.)

Maria's confidence has expressed itself in her willingness to live abroad. She could have stayed in Russia, and lived the life of a czarina. But she was adventurous enough to try her luck abroad.

Not that she really needed any luck.

I doubt that she jokes to her boyfriends that if they don't satisfy her she will have them eliminated.

But I can pretty much guarantee that her boyfriends have made those types of jokes to her.

There are worse things than going through life as Maria Putin.

Appreciating others' intelligence

A young woman mentioned to me yesterday yesterday that she was reading War and Peace. She was only about a tenth of the way through the book, but raved about how Tolstoy could capture someone's personality perfectly with just one brief anecdote.

It takes a smart person to appreciate a smart person. It's hard to imagine a lesser IQ waxing as enthusiastic about Tolstoy.

Young people willing to read any book, let along a big chunk of pavement like War and Peace, seem an increasingly rare species these days.

When I was young, in the 70's, we read books because there was no other form of entertainment (unless you wanted to watch Gilligan's Island). Today, with the internet, a plethora of movies at your fingertips, Facebook, and all your friends to text, it's all the more admirable for a young person to try to tackle Leo.

The book, by the way, was also highly recommended to me by the smartest guy I ever met: one more piece of proof that you have to be intelligent to appreciate intelligence. 

(I'll read it when the Readers' Digest version comes out.)

Generally, you can really only appreciate others' intelligence up to the level of your own, and perhaps a little beyond. People of ordinary intelligence meet a lot of people smarter then they are, so are generally less inclined to appreciation. But I suspect that three standard deviation-types rarely meet people smarter than they, so unless they are insecure about these things, are probably delighted to discover someone smarter, particularly if he's interested in the same sorts of things. 

Tuesday, July 22, 2014

Even therapists get fooled

I had a somewhat heated exchange last Wednesday and Thursday with a commenter who said that he/she is a "friend" of Frederick Baer, a Death Row inmate I wrote about in Prison Pen Pals VII, and that I was misjudging Baer.

Take a look at Baer's advertisement, then the description of his crime and my analysis of his ad. (They are at the beginning of the post.) Then take a look at the comments below the post.

The commenter, who claims to be a therapist, said that Baer is an empathetic, honest, remorseful guy. Then the commenter recited a bunch of statistics about crystal meth to show how destructive it is, as if Baer had no choice but to slash the throat of that four-year-old girl and her mother because he was on the drug.

If the commenter is not lying about being a therapist, this is proof of just how convincing sociopaths can be (and of how naive some professionals can be). It's all too easy to imagine Baer getting a certain gleeful satisfaction from fooling the therapist by pretending to be a decent guy. In fact, Baer boasted about gaming his first prison doctor, as I described in the post.

Of course, for all I know, this anonymous commenter is Baer's sister, not his therapist. (Baer himself wouldn't have access to a computer from prison.)

In any case, read the exchange and see whom you agree with.

Why don't the gorillas rule?

Saw Dawn of the Planet of the Apes last night. It wasn't great, but it was entertaining, and had as plausible a plot line as one can expect from this type of movie.

Despite the obviously evolved intelligence of the chimpanzees, the point is made -- twice -- that chimp leaders ascend by virtue of sheer physical power. There are two fights between Caesar, the good chimp, and Koba, the evil one, to determine who will lead. Both times the other apes seem content to passively await the outcome.

My son asked the perfectly logical question: if might rules, why aren't the gorillas in charge? (The gorillas in the ape colony tend to fulfill more blue collar roles, sentries and the like.)

Given that Dawn is sequel to Rise of the Planet of the Apes, the filmmakers were obliged to show continuity. And the plot to Rise hinged on James Franco, as the compassionate scientist, adopting Caesar as a baby and affectionately cuddling him as he grew up. This would have been more awkward with a gorilla.

But it's hard not to think that some of this was also an outgrowth of some recent real life chimp attacks, the most publicized of which involved that unfortunate Connecticut woman who was mangled by her friend's pet chimp.

In Africa, the locals know full well that chimps, when given the opportunity, will kill and eat young humans. Chimps tend to bite off the face, fingers, and genitals of humans first, so their attacks are particularly gruesome.

Gorillas, on the other hand, kill rarely. Of course, there are far fewer gorillas than chimps, but even given that, gorillas, despite their more intimidating appearance, are simply less vicious. When confronted by a human, they are far more likely to bluff charge, or beat their chests, than actually attack. This is as befits a herbivore. (Chimps are omnivores, like us.)

So, maybe the underlying message of the movie is that it is not the most intelligent who rules, but the most vicious and dishonest.

In that sense, they are not so different from humans.

Sunday, July 20, 2014

James Garner

Actor James Garner has just died, at 86. He starred in The Rockford Files, which ran from 1974 to 1980.

Throughout his career Garner played characters who maintained their common sense despite being surrounded by all types of insanity. In Maverick, he played a card shark who didn't like to unsling his gun, and would always talk his way out of a fight if possible.

In The Rockford Files, he played a private eye who lost half the fights he (unwillingly) got into, and associated with a lot of lowlifes, but always had a pithy comment to accurately summarize whatever situation he found himself in.

In his favorite role, in The Americanization of Emily (opposite Julie Andrews), Garner played a cynical procurer who is reluctantly forced into the role of hero during WWII.

Hollywood has a long history of hiring cosseted body-builders to play tough soldiers, pretentious dummies to play geniuses, and homosexuals to play heterosexuals. Still, it's hard not to believe there was something in Garner that he imparted to all those charming, quick-witted, and cynical characters.

A big thanks to James Garner for all the pleasurable hours I spent watching The Rockford Files.

One sure sign of sociopathy

One behavior I've witnessed among sociopaths, and sociopaths alone, is finding it hilarious when someone gets hurt.

We all feel schadenfreude. We certainly feel it vis-a-vis our enemies. And we may even be secretly gratified when a successful friend gets knocked back a peg or two (even though it may make us doubt our own decency). But we don't find it funny.

And we certainly don't find it funny when we witness a stranger have an accident resulting in, say, stitches. (Where is the humor there? Where is the irony, the unexpected ending, the subtle satire, the taboo truth?)

But the sociopath will find that hilarious. He'll cackle as you or I would if someone had just made an extremely funny joke.

If you call them on it, they'll say, I'm just laughing 'cause the guy was so stupid. Or something to that effect.

But it's a very distinctive sociopathic trait. Non-sociopaths simply don't find this kind of thing humorous.

There's a great scene in Cape Fear where the sociopathic Max Cady, played by Robert DeNiro, picks up Ileana Douglas in a bar. She starts to tell a joke: "An unmarried woman meets a guy, and he tells her he’s just got out of prison. 'What did you do?' she asks. 'I hacked my wife into 52 pieces with a chain saw….'"

At this point DeNiro laughs uproariously, as if what Douglas has said so far is great cause for mirth.

Douglas then tells the punchline: "She says, 'So you’re single'?"

At that point DeNiro laughs some more, a little less enthusiastically, and says, "That's even funnier."

It was a subtle touch, one probably lost on most viewers, but Martin Scorcese, the director of the movie, knew what he was doing. Only a sociopath like Max Cady would have found the mere fact of a man chopping his wife up into 52 pieces funny.

Keep that in mind the next time you hear someone laugh at an accident.

Saturday, July 19, 2014

Signs of narcissism

The other day a friend mentioned that he thought his girlfriend was probably a narcissist. As an example of her behavior he mentioned that she would constantly interrupt him, but get angry if he ever interrupted her.

Those who get most enraged when interrupted do seem to do the most interrupting themselves. (In both cases, they must dominate the conversation, a sure sign of narcissism.)

The other behavior my friend cited was that if he so much as talked with other women, she would get angry, and say it was inappropriate, and hurtful to her. At the same time she would brazenly flirt with other men, and once even received flowers from another guy. She would then dismiss my friend's objections by saying that these men were just friends and he was being silly.

Hypocrisy may be the best measure of narcissism there is. There's no one more easily annoyed than a hypocrite, and there's no one more annoying.

Another measure is how much the person wants to talk about himself vs. how willing is he to listen to others talk about themselves. There's a guy who swims at my pool who likes to talk about himself, but if anyone else dares to do the same, he'll just say, "I have to loosen down now," and put his head underwater and push off the wall. (I'm not the only person who's noticed this.)

This guy isn't evil; he's not a sociopath. He's just a hypocrite (and demonstrates this in other areas as well). Like most such, does not see his own hypocrisy. (I actually told him once he was a narcissistic personality, which he didn't appreciate.)

The other day I swam a set with him and another guy. I was complimenting the other guy on his swimming, and the narcissist seemed to get increasingly annoyed. I eventually realized that he was annoyed that I was complimenting the other fellow rather than him.

A narcissist has to be the center of attention.

Your garden variety narcissist is not a sociopath: you don't have to dive for cover when you see him. But hypocrites are never good company.

Thursday, July 17, 2014

Why you should never envy a sociopath

There are times we are enraged by sociopaths who get away with murder, even literally. At such times, people often grumble, "Well, he'll have to live with himself," as if his conscience will somehow bother him.

In fact, that's no consolation.

Having to live with themselves is never a problem for sociopaths, since they feel no guilt. Did it bother Ted Bundy that he killed all those girls? Of course not. If it had, he would have stopped doing it.

However, there are plenty of good reasons why we should never envy sociopaths.

Sociopaths never have peace of mind: serenity is beyond their grasp. They will alway have something gnawing at them. They exult in their victories, and feel glee at others' misfortunes, but gloating and schadenfreude are by their natures fleeting satisfactions.

Sociopaths can never quietly appreciate any sort of art, or beauty, unless they are exulting in their possession of it. They need to be out and about, actively screwing others over. They are like sharks, which will die if they do not keep moving. Put yourself in Ted Bundy's shoes: what must your everyday frame of mind be if you regularly feel a compulsion to kill complete strangers?

Sociopaths will never feel love. They are never overwhelmed by heartfelt adoration of another human being, even their own children. (They may feign it, but that is not the same thing.) At the same time, they can never receive enough love or attention; that need is so great they will concoct a lie just to be able to bask in someone's temporary admiration.

As a matter of fact, sociopaths can never get enough of anything. You or I might feel happy after a windfall; with them, it only whets an already ravenous appetite.

Sociopaths may fly high, but there's a good chance they're heading for a steep fall. And that fall is almost always self-induced, whether through carelessness, arrogance, or overconfidence. Icarus is a metaphor for sociopathy.

While sociopaths often spark negative emotions, they themselves are constantly filled with envy, resentment, and hatred. Think of the one person you've hated most in your life. Now think of the one time you were so consumed with rage against him all you could do was fantasize about destroying him. Now, imagine spending your entire life in that moment.

Rage is not the most unpleasant of emotions; paralyzing fear and depression are worse. But neither is it a pleasant emotion. And when your emotional repertoire goes from jealousy to fury to spite to hatred to occasional glee, you are not only unpleasant company for others, you are for yourself as well.

A certain type of sociopath never smiles. Ponder for a moment what that means.

So be happy you're not a sociopath, since they will never experience anything remotely approaching peace of mind. Dislike of them is justified; envy is not.

Tuesday, July 15, 2014

College girls vs. strippers

A young soldier recently explained to me the difference between the way he presents himself to the two different types of women he meets.

When any of these women ask what he does, he tells them the truth, which is that he was on active duty until recently, and spent a year in Afghanistan. If they press, he might volunteer that he was in the infantry and went on a couple of raids.

They're all curious as to whether he killed anybody, and after a few drinks they'll generally ask. With college girls he just says he's not sure, and that in a firefight, it's not always easy to tell. (In fact he didn't kill anyone.) This seems to get their juices flowing.

With strippers, he plays it differently. When they ask, he replies, "Two confirmed."

College girls want a little excitement, but not too much. Strippers want a killer.

Evidently these tailored answers work.

I happened to overhear a conversation between this young man and a liberal woman recently. He's not liberal, but he does know how to use their language.  He told her, "What I want to do is have all kinds of exotic sex with as many young women as possible. That's just the way I'm constructed, and I don't think you should discriminate against me because of my sexuality."

It was an interesting angle, one I hadn't heard before. In a way, it made sense.

Sunday, July 13, 2014

The "empty eyes" of a sociopath

Two days ago a commenter, Gethin, apropos of A sociopath who actually looks like one, asked:

Do you think the blank, expressionless eyes stereotype could be down to confirmation bias? I'm not saying the stereotype is necessarily wrong (stereotypes do come from somewhere, after all), but I'm sure many non-sociopaths also have vacant expressions that we aren't noticing because we aren't scrutinising them.

(Gethin is from the UK, so he spelled "scrutinizing" correctly.) 

This is something I've thought about a fair amount, so it's worth a post of its own. I'll rephrase and expand on my reply to Gethin here. 

First of all, yes, there's definitely the possibility of confirmation bias here; there always is, in such situations. But, as Gethin suggests, the stereotype exists for a reason. 

When I first heard people talk about the "blank, empty eyes" of a sociopath, I thought, how ridiculous. Eyeballs themselves are incapable of any expression other than changing pupil size as a possible indicator of interest, but most people don't even notice that.

I soon realized that what people were referring to was the way the skin around the eyes gives the "eyes" their expression. A smile or frown can often seem to extend to the eyes. "Narrowed eyes," i.e., tensed eyelids, make one appear angry, and so on. 

What gives the impression of "blank eyes" are an absence of an expression. The absence of an expression, or complete relaxation of the muscles of the face, is indicative of a complete lack of stress. So it makes sense that sociopaths would often have a blank, stress-free expression when with other people, since they have no regard for or concern about others. 

Think of how you feel most of the time you're conversing with other people: you're at least a little concerned about what they think of you, the impression you're making, whether you're being accurate in your statements, and how you're making them feel. And your face will reflect whatever tension or stress you feel, giving your "eyes" expression. 

Another thing stress can induce is watering of the eyes, which can help make someone's overall expression appear more heartfelt (for good reason). It can also indicate amusement, a la "twinkling eyes." (Or even, "I laughed so hard I cried.")

A sociopath feels no such tension, since they regard you or me the same way we would regard a bicycle: as a tool to be used. Ergo, no expression. (I've seen this up close, and been struck by it.)

Now think of the way your face feels when you're watching a somewhat boring, late night rerun on TV which is gradually lulling you to sleep. You feel zero social stress, so you're completely relaxed, and are wearing no expression. At that moment, you, too, have the "blank, empty eyes" of a sociopath. 

The difference is, that is not the expression you wear for social situations. 

Having said all this, I should also point out that sociopaths are usually consummate actors, and can often feign emotions so convincingly that they appear more heartfelt than those of non-sociopaths who are actually feeling those emotions. 

But, if you know what to look for, sociopaths will also always give themselves away in various ways, and one of those ways is that they sometimes wear a completely blank, empty expression.

Ian Thorpe

It was all over the swimming websites yesterday that Ian Thorpe is coming out today on Australian TV. My initial reaction is, finally. He's been so obviously gay for so long that the more he denied it, the sillier he appeared. Waiting this long and then finally coming out to confirm something everybody knew anyway doesn't really make him look any less foolish.

At the same time, it's hard not to feel some sympathy. He grew up in Australia, which is both a swim-crazy and macho culture, and he's been a public figure there pretty much from the age of 14. He's never really known anything else, and it must have been difficult for him to keep that "shameful" secret all those years.

Every time I'd read about his alcohol/prescription drug/depression problems, I'd think, if he'd only come out of that self-imposed closet, a lot of pressure would be lifted off his shoulders, and he might have a chance of healing. I hope he does.

Friday, July 11, 2014

A sociopath who actually looks like one

The NY Post just ran an article, Google exec's hooker eyed in second heroin death, about a "high-end prostitute," Alix Tichelman, who may be culpable in the deaths of two different clients from heroin overdoses. As far as her sociopathy goes, I'll just quote one paragraph from the article:

In California, police say surveillance video shows Tichelman casually walking over Hayes as he lay dying on his yacht, picking up her clothes and heroin and swallowing the last of a glass of wine before lowering the boat’s blinds and walking back on the dock to shore.

'Nuff said. (There's plenty of other evidence as to her character if you read the entire article.)

In any case, what I was struck by most was her pictures:

At first I was going to say that she has the blank, expressionless eyes of a sociopath, but that's not quite true. She looks evil in a vampy, trampy sort of way. And it's not just the heavy makeup and the tattoos. She looks completely relaxed and sure of herself, which is how sociopaths often look (and feel). And she somehow manages to look soulless, carnivorous, and salacious as well, all at the same time.

Strangely, the Google exec, Forrest Hayes, looks almost as wholesome as Tichelman looks evil; it's almost as if they included his picture to provide a contrast. (Though if he was hiring hookers and shooting heroin, Hayes' looks may have been deceiving.)

Anyway, some sociopaths, like Lacey Spears, manage to look cherubic. Others, like Tichelman, actually look the part.

Thursday, July 10, 2014

On second thought…..

It's a good thing the Brazilians express their passion through sport. If they funneled their energies -- and blind nationalism -- into, say, politics, it'd be downright scary.

The last thing we need is 200 million Chechnyans in our hemisphere.

Brazilian pride, Part II

The NY Times ran an article this morning, World Cup Despair in Brazil, with pictures and quotations from various Brazilians about what it was like to see their team lose in the World Cup.

A sampling:

"Our nation is hurt. We will need to face people making fun of us for the rest of our lives. I will have to tell my grandchildren one day that I saw this happening. How am I going to tell this to my grandchildren?" -- Lucas Dos Santos, 41

(When the USA lost the bronze medal in hockey to Finland 5-0 at the Sochi Olympics, did it occur to you that you would have to tell your grandchildren about it? Did you worry about how you would phrase it? Were you even aware of that game?)

"The way they hurt the hearts of the Brazilian people. My head hurts. It's too much suffering." -- Adilson Mourao, 47

(Suffering? Has Mr. Mourao ever heard of World War II? World War I? Or even the fact that eight Brazilian workers died during the construction of the World Cup stadiums?)

"If I could, I would like to step on Felipao's callus. I would not like to pinch him. I would not like to hit him. I would like to step on a callus on his foot." -- Andrea Silva, 41

(When the 2004 USA Dream Team lost to Puerto Rico in the preliminaries of the Athens Olympics, did you want to stamp on Alan Iverson's bunions? Or kick Tim Duncan in the shins? You know, not pinch him, or hit him, but just kick him in the shins?)

Another Times article today, 29 Minutes That Shook Brazil: 5 Kicks Felt in Guts Everywhere, actually started on the front page and then continued in the sports section. It, too, quoted random people on the street:

Rogerio Graces da Silva arrived at his sister's house to find her crying so hard that "We thought she would become ill. She was shaking! We made her sip water. I've never seen sadness like it." 

(His sister is ill. But she doesn't need a regular doctor, she needs a psychiatrist.)

"When the fourth goal went in," said Jose Brito Lopes, who watched at a crowded favela bar in Rio de Janeiro, "people started saying, I am ashamed to be Brazilian." 

(I can recall people saying, or at least implying, that they were ashamed to be Americans during the Viet Nam War. And I remember a few Hollywood liberals saying that they would leave the country if George W. Bush was elected President, though none of them ever made good on that promise. However, I cannot, for the life of me, recall a single person ever saying he was ashamed to be American because of a sports defeat.)

Mr. Dos Santos was right when he said "We will need to face people making fun of us for the rest of our lives." Because the Brazilians do need to be mocked. Not for their World Cup loss, but for their reaction to it.

Which seems to be pretty much on a par with America's reaction to 9/11.

Brazilian pride

There has been a fair amount of publicity in the past couple days about how Brazil's loss to Germany in the World Cup has disheartened the entire nation. There have been numerous articles with embedded videos of Brazilians crying and carrying on as if a loved one had just died. The 7-1 loss is considered a national tragedy.

Someone should tell the Brazilians that soccer is just a game.

The Italians have a reputation for being a demonstrative, emotional people. The Brazilians make them look like inhibited robots.

I've known Brazilians, and I've liked almost all of them. Yes, it's a cliche, but they really do seem to be warm and friendly. But I know to avoid the subject of Brazil with them, at least in any honest way, since they all have this weirdly emotional nationalistic mindset.

I occasionally read the comments following articles on swimming websites. Whenever a Brazilian swimmer is a contender for a title, Brazilians write in to state that his victory is a foregone conclusion, or something to that effect. Worse, if anybody on the message board says anything that could possibly be interpreted as remotely critical of a Brazilian, the Brazilians react like scalded cats, and lash back. They seem to have huge amount of national pride combined with an equal helping of national insecurity. It's a volatile combination.

Every year Swimming World Magazine names the World Swimmers of the Year. In 2007, they decided to let the readers vote for their choice. That year Michael Phelps won seven gold medals at the World Championships in Melbourne, five of them in individual events, and set four individual world records. Later that year, Brazilian Thiago Pereira won six gold medals at the Pan Am Games, a second tier meet. Four of his golds came in individual events, and he didn't come close to any world records. (At Melbourne, Pereira's best finish was a solitary fourth place.) The Brazilians orchestrated a campaign to flood the Swimming World website with votes for Pereira, so he "won" the popular vote for Swimmer of the Year. (What did the Brazilians think they were proving?)

Swimming World discontinued popular votes for Swimmer of the Year after that.

Cesar Cielo, the great Brazilian sprinter who holds the world records for the 50 and 100 meter freestyles, bursts out crying after every major victory. He does this without fail. Others find it a little embarrassing, but in Brazil this is probably considered normal behavior.

Think of the most diehard sports fan you know, the one who lives and dies with his team's fortunes. Let's say he's a Boston Red Sox fan. He's not a bad guy; he's just a little insane when it comes to the Red Sox. He wears sweatshirts with Red Sox logos, Red Sox baseball caps, and his room is festooned with team pennants. You sometimes wonder about his sanity, and every now and then you get the urge to ask him why he cares about the Red Sox so much, since he has no personal relationship with any of the players. But you refrain, because you don't want to provoke an emotional outburst.

Now, imagine an entire country composed of people like that.

Renzo Gracie, the great Brazilian mixed martial artist, was in the news a few weeks ago, for having been involved in a brawl outside a nightclub in Manhattan. It turned out that he and some of his friends had gone there to rough up the doormen because a few nights before the doormen hadn't let Gracie's cousin past the velvet rope. There's something quintessentially Brazilian about such an overreaction to a minor insult.

Don't ever try to tell the girl from Ipanema that her country does not have the best cuisine, the best-looking people, the greatest athletes, and the most beautiful scenery in the entire world. Not if you don't want to start a fight.

There's been some recent talk that because preparations are behind schedule, the 2016 Olympics may be taken from Rio de Janeiro. Evidently the IOC has already made some discreet inquiries to other cities about possibly substituting at the last minute.

My advice: let Rio have the Games. Even if the venues are unfinished, even if some of the events have to be canceled, even if the track measures 399 meters and the pool 49 meters, do not move the Games. The national crisis of confidence that would erupt would be just too terrible to contemplate.

Tuesday, July 8, 2014

Chance couplings vs. arranged marriages

The NY Post just ran an article about a new TV series, Married at First Sight, on FYI, which premiered Tuesday night at 9PM. It's about three couples who are married without ever having met before. The show matches people who are compatible on paper; after four weeks, they can decide whether to stay married or get divorced.

Four experts -- a sexologist, spiritualist, psychologist, and sociologist -- winnow down a list of 625 potential pairings until they come up with the three best matches.

At first, it seems like the kind of junky reality TV/manufactured drama that has gotten so much play this past decade. And, it sorta is. But it's hard not to wonder if these couples aren't actually better matched than your average bride and groom.

Think about how marriage normally works: a guy marries the best-looking girl he can get (provided she's not incredibly noxious). And a girl marries the most successful guy she can get (provided he's not incredibly noxious).

Sure, other things count, like "chemistry," and similar interests, and, of course, sex. But the most important part of the equation usually boils down to looks and money. Other than that, newlyweds are often poorly matched.

During a normal courtship process, most people put their best foot forward -- to the point where it's almost a false foot. Everyone pretends to be a little nicer, and smarter, and wittier, and more well-adjusted than they actually are.

Plain, unvarnished honesty tends to be in short supply: how often does someone confide, beforehand, "Listen, I just thought you oughta know, I'm bipolar."

Or, "It's been so hard starving myself to stay below 140. I can't wait till I get married and don't have to diet anymore! Did you know that no woman in my family ever got below 180 again after her first pregnancy?"

"If you think I'm gassy during the day, wait till the night, that's when I really go to town."

"I feel it's only fair to tell you, I don't plan to stay faithful for more than a few months, max. I mean, there's just too many girls out there I haven't fucked yet."

"In the interests of full disclosure, I'm still seeing my old boyfriend on the side. I don't know why, but I just can't seem to resist him."

"I see you primarily as a beard. Mostly, I'll be having sex with men."

"Did you know that my two previous fiancees both ended up taking out restraining orders on me?"

"I seem to be unscathed, but just so you know, schizophrenia runs in my family."

"If I don't always seem to get the joke, it's 'cause I have Aspergers."

"I have a little problem with heroin addiction, but I think I've pretty much got it beat."

"When I was a kid, I was a little on the mischevous side. One time I doused this cat with gasoline and set it on fire. It was so funny!"

"I know you lean conservative, so it's only fair to tell you, I absolutely despise Republicans. And I'm very doctrinaire -- I'm only open to facts that support my viewpoint."

"Don't you hate people who try to save? Oh, I have so many plans for your salary!"

No, people generally don't confide these things. So, wouldn't it be better to have a team of experts screen people first?

As ridiculous as it sounds, the odds of these made-for-TV marriages succeeding are probably better than the odds for the typical random "love match."

Sunday, July 6, 2014

Facebook and narcissism

A commenter ("Gethin") pointed out after a recent post that research had found a strong correlation between high friend counts on Facebook and frequently changing profile pictures and narcissism.

If you Google the topic, you'll find a number of such studies, including this one cited in The Guardian. It all makes sense. Having a high number of "friends" indicates a certain superficiality and a desire for more of an audience. And changing one's picture frequently betrays a certain vanity.

Something to keep in mind as you appraise your Facebook friends.

I have something like 30 friends on Facebook, many of whom I barely know, I've used only one profile picture (the same one I've used on this blog), and I've never put up a single status update. On the other hand, this blog is basically my Facebook-substitute, and I put far more effort into it than most people put into their Facebook pages. Not sure where that leaves me.

Friday, July 4, 2014

Wildly inappropriate comments

The NY Post ran an article, "Dad was sexting teen while baby baked in car," yesterday.

When the story first broke about how Justin Ross Harris had left his 22-month-old son strapped into the back seat of a car on a sweltering day a couple weeks ago, everyone assumed it had been an accident.

Evidence soon emerged that Harris had intentionally killed his son. Harris had returned to the car to put something in it during the course of the day. And he had visited websites which advocated not having children as well as other websites giving advice on surviving in prison.

Even more damningly, Harris had taken out two life insurance policies on his son, one for $2000 and the other for $25,000. (Why would someone buy life insurance on a 2-year-old?)

All of this not only establishes Harris's guilt, but his sociopathy as well: obviously, no one but a sociopath would be capable of such a heinous crime.

The most chilling part of the article was the description of Harris's behavior right after his son died:

During police questioning, Stoddard said Harris, a former 911 dispatcher, showed no emotion. He made odd statements while in custody, like “I can’t believe this is happening to me” and “I’ll be charged with a felony” and talked about losing his job, according to Stoddard.

Sociopaths occasionally give themselves away with these types of wildly inappropriate comments. At a time when a normal person would be beside himself with grief, a sociopath will remain weirdly self-centered.

The story reminded me of the behavior of Diane Downs, the notorious murderess who had shot her three children in the back seat of her car 1980. When the police arrived at the scene, Downs, who initially blamed a "bushy-haired stranger" for the shootings, asked them if they thought the bullet holes in the rear seat could be repaired.

Most people don't fully grasp the utter inhumanity of a sociopath. They think that sociopaths are like the rest of us, but a little worse. Not true. They are utterly remorseless, utterly without affection, and utterly without shame.

Note the keyword: utterly.

Most people imagine sociopaths as agonizing over a moral quandary, but then doing the wrong thing anyway. It's not like that. There is no agonizing.

Most people don't fully fathom what it's like to be completely without conscience. Those people should be educated about Justin Harris, and ponder the mindset of one who can kill his own child and then be annoyed that "this is happening to me."

Having said that, most sociopaths obviously don't murder their own children. In fact, most stick up for their own children in an aggressive, shameless sort of way. But never doubt that all sociopaths feel the same way about you that Harris felt about his son. If you're in their way, they would feel absolutely no compunctions at all about getting you out of their way.

Most won't murder you, since they don't want the attendant hassle, and the risk of going to jail. But it's only the fear of consequences that keeps them from doing so.

(Harris and his son Cooper)

Here's hoping Harris's fellow inmates find out exactly what his crime was.  

Wednesday, July 2, 2014

How to flatter a 9-year-old.

Around ten years ago, back when my kids were still involved with competitive swimming, there was a local kid whose family I knew, who had just had a particularly good swim.

One day I saw him and his mother in the lobby of the pool, so I walked up to the boy, and said, "I hear you were ranked second in the nation for 9-year-olds this year." He just nodded solemnly.

I then said, "Listen, don't laugh at me or anything, but can I have your autograph?"

He looked up and nodded, unsure what to think.

I said, "Wait here a sec, I'm going to go get a pencil and paper."

When I returned from the lobby desk, his mother said, "Jack, I think Mr. Craig is making fun of you."

I replied gruffly, as if annoyed by her comment, "No Mrs. [Smith], I am not making fun of anyone."

I instructed the boy, "Just write Jack Smith...50 yard backstroke 31.9….age 9….second in nation."

When he finished and handed it to me, wide-eyed, I said, judiciously, "Hey, this is going to be worth some money some day." I stuck out my hand and said, "Thanks a lot, man," as we shook.

You have to remember that the window of opportunity here is relatively narrow: eight and nine, that's it. At six or seven they haven't quite grasped the concept of an autograph yet. and from ten on, they realize that you're not really being serious.

In retrospect, it would have been even better to enlist a co-conspirator to also ask Jack for his autograph. That way it would have been less about the old weirdo and more about him.

You may think it beneath your dignity to put yourself in a supplicating position vis-a-vis a nine-year-old. It's not. Your dignity is something you lose only when you try too hard to maintain it.

On the rare occasions when I bump into the family these days, they're always quite friendly, and I'm pretty sure it's in large part because of that autograph.