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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.


Pavonine99 said...

The scientific consensus seems to be that you're born with sociopathy, and abuse can affect how it manifests itself-an abused sociopath is more likely to be a serial killer, one with a good home environment would probably be a conman/woman. I know you've said elsewhere that you believe sociopaths are created, but do you think it's possible that some people are simply "born bad"? There seem to be many otherwise healthy families who've raised normal children who nevertheless have a sociopathic child, like the one here, for example:
I suppose severe abuse/neglect of an infant could cause sociopathy, but from what I understand, without the genetic componant, it would have to be very extreme to create a sociopath rather than another personality disorder.

Quartermain said...

I dread to tell you this but I too, knew a future serial killer in junior high school phys ed.

He was evil back then as well. He was a bully without empathy. The look in his eyes was like a black hole that sent dread and nausea to anyone unfortunate to look inside.

IMHO, Don Piper was born evil.

John Craig said...

Pavonine --
Just finished the article. When I first was reading about Michael, I thought they were jumping the gun with the diagnosis of sociopathy (or, as they refer to it, Callous/Unemotional). His out of control rages and his slamming of the toilet lid up and down sounded as if it could be any number of things. But then his dishonesty became more apparent, and I thought, aha, yes, he probably is a sociopath-in-the-making.

Yes, it does sound as if there's something organically wrong with him given that he seems to come from a "normal" family. There's no doubt that people who have some sort of frontal lobe damage are unable to be empathetic and quite often become sociopaths. (Some psychologists distinguish between "sociopaths," whom they say become that way because of how they were brought up, and "psychopaths," who are that way for an organic reason.) And the fact that something like 3% of the male population is estimated to be sociopathic, whereas only 1% of the female population is, certainly points at some sort of hormonal role as well. And with Michael, it does sound as if he could have inherited something genetic from his father Miguel which predisposes him to this type of behavior, given that Miguel had similar problems in his youth, though he seems to have overcome them.

But I've just seen the "orphan effect" too many times not to believe that the most common cause is a disconnect between the infant and the parent. So many orphans turn out to be sociopaths, and so many children with alcoholic mothers (who pay them little attention), and so many sociopaths who were abused as children, that I'm going to stick with the primarily environmental explanation. This isn't to say that there aren't people who are genetically predisposed (with lower thresholds of boredom and higher thresholds of fear and a lot of male hormones and with possible frontal lobe damage), the "organic psychopaths."

John Craig said...

Allan --
Wow, he was evil, no question. I couldn't find much information about him on the internet, he's not well known. But I did see his picture, and even later on in jail, he seems to have an unembarrassed sneer on his face.

Don't know about whether he was born evil, or was just predisposed that way because of what happened to him as an infant, but you're absolutely right about his character.

Steven said...

When one child in a good family is bad, there is always the chance only that child was abused, perhaps by an uncle or neighbour or teacher. Just wanted to mention that.

If sociopathy always has a genetic precursor that is 'necessary but not sufficient', that would make it eradicable in the future.

I think I once heard of lowered empathy being associated with 'alpha male syndrome' and basically high t. So I think maybe high t is correlated with low empathy. It sort of makes sense. To become socially dominant involves defeating others. Plus some ability to make 'hard decisions' that affect individuals for the benefit of the group is involved in leadership, as is navigating danger.

Pavonine99 said...

Fist of all, thanks for your response. I had forgotten how long the article was, so thanks for reading it and responding so thoroughly.
I always assumed that that the reason most sociopaths/psychopaths came from poor backgrounds is because one of the ther parents had the gene, and therefore the disorder. But you're right, the "orphan effect" seems like a likely cause as well. It may just depend on the individual case.
The lower female figure is interesting-I wonder if that is'nt because, without the testosterone boost, a female sociopath would be less likely to be violent and therefore might be misdiagnosed as something else or fly under the radar entirely.

John Craig said...

Steven --
Yes, it's always possible one child was abused but not others.

I don't think sociopathy is ever going to be completely eradicable. There will always be cases of orphans, alcoholic mothers, etc. I guess some of the genetic predispositions could be screened for, but then you get into the area of eugenics, which there's a huge amount of social pressure against right now.

And yes, what is often called being "alpha" is merely another way of saying narcissistic.

John Craig said...

Pavonine --
I like your theory about how a lot of female sociopaths probably fly under the radar, and I think it's probably true. A violent felon is more likely to be diagnosed that way than a scheming gold-digger.

Steven said...


at the moment, there isn't enough genetics knowledge to justify screening on most things but people in the know see it as almost inevitable. That (embryo selection) or genetic engineering. For better or perhaps worse. We are probably a decade or two away from a good understanding of the genetic architecture of IQ.

John Craig said...

Steven --
I certainly hope it's true. It makes too much sense not to do. But if you start selecting for IQ -- especially IQ -- a lot of liberals will start screaming genocide.

Steven said...

The very same liberals that have no problem whatsoever with abortion. It may be the conservatives who oppose it on the basis that you must fertilize numerous eggs and discard all but one (technically abortion).

Perhaps if liberals realise that the intelligence related allelles differ in frequency between continental populations, they will get on board with moving towards evening things up- it may be the only way to arrive at real equality.

Both sides of the political divide will have reasons to support and reasons to oppose. The argument might even become genetic engineering vs embryo selection, with each side supporting one.

I just wonder where it ends. Every generation gets more intelligent until when? And what other phenotypes do we change? Will everybody end up as super athletes? It will be totally do-able.

John Craig said...

Steven --
I'd never thought about it in those terms, but yes, being against eugenics and being for abortion does seem to be a little contradictory.

Eugenics is actually already taking place in the form of all those women who select their sperm donors on the basis of their IQ and appearance and health.