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Friday, December 29, 2006 - 9:03amSanction this postReply
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I just watched some of the first season of "Dexter" (closet sociopath killer forensics specialist). It's scary to think that 4% of us might be like that (though 96% of us aren't).

Ed




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Friday, December 29, 2006 - 10:02amSanction this postReply
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4% is a huge number. It seems the definition of "sociopath" is getting broader. One wonders if it will soon be large enough to fit everyone with "The Virtue of Selfishness", "Winning Through Intimidation" and "Looking Out for #1" on their bookshelf.

"Re-Education Camp" anyone?



Post 2

Friday, December 29, 2006 - 7:51pmSanction this postReply
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Some think I'm a sociopath because I have a problem dealing with people, but in my case it's more of a anxiety disorder in that if I get too much exposure to people at work I tend to either want to run away or I get aggressive.

So often people think I'm some how a complete psycho, which is sorta nice because I get first dibs on things. I don't even have to push a person aside, it's like, "OMG, there's the psycho, run!" And I'm like, "No people around?! Score!" *walks up to the ice cream aisle* ^.^

Sorry, I'm just a bit daffy tonight.

-- Bridget
(Edited by Bridget Armozel
on 12/29, 7:52pm)




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Post 3

Saturday, December 30, 2006 - 4:30pmSanction this postReply
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If you want some great insights into the criminal mind (whether you call the person a "sociopath," "psychopath," "anti-social personality," or whatever), I heartily recommend the work of Dr. Stanton Samenow, including his classic Inside the Criminal Mind. Dr. Robert Hare's Without Conscience has valuable observations, too.



Post 4

Saturday, December 30, 2006 - 7:46pmSanction this postReply
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I second the Samenow recommendation. Excellent.



Post 5

Sunday, December 31, 2006 - 5:34pmSanction this postReply
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I think what makes a sociopath is someone who lacks empathy, who isn't bothered by someone else's pain or suffering and who in that sense has no "conscience." Such people realize, of course, that you can't always exploit others and get away with it. Consequently, sociopaths are often civil, but only because they are acting "prudentially." They are careful not to reveal their true feelings and attitudes, lest they alienate those whom they depend on to get what they want.

Because their public persona is an act that they engage in for the sake of social acceptance, they can appear quite normal and even personable. Scott Peterson was a classic sociopath, who viewed other people strictly as objects to be manipulated for the sake of getting what he wanted from them, whether sex or money.

I have heard that prison inmates can be quite engaging and friendly. They can come off as really "nice guys," not at all how you might think that a hardened criminal would act. But they will stab you in the back without a second thought if they find it expedient or happen to dislike you for some reason.

Bridget, you are not a sociopath -- far from it. :-)

- Bill
(Edited by William Dwyer
on 1/01, 11:33am)




Post 6

Monday, January 1, 2007 - 8:30amSanction this postReply
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"They are often described as people who know the difference between right and wrong but ...  the only thing that constrains ... is the fear of adverse consequences to themselves."
"... glow or charisma ... more charming or interesting ... more spontaneous, more intense, more complex, or even sexier ... leaving us easily seduced."
Mike Erickson: "Re-Education Camp" anyone?
Bridget Armozel: Some think I'm a sociopath because ...
Robert Bidinotto:  ... the criminal mind (whether you call the person a "sociopath," "psychopath," "anti-social personality," or whatever ...
William Dwyer: "I  think what makes a sociopath is is someone who lacks empathy ...
1.  To determine the difference between "right" and "wrong" you need a standard.  If your own life is the standard, then is ethical egoism identical with sociopathy?  If fear of adverse consequences to oneself is not appropriate, then what is?  Fear of hurting the feelings of others might be a good indicator for dealing fairly with "others" whom you value for their virtues as judged by you according to the standard of your own happiness, but a vague and unfocussed concern for "everyone else's feelings" is not. 

2.  What is the causal relationship between this "glow" (complexity, sexiness, etc.)  and sociopathy?  Are boring people the only safe and sane people?  Or are all politicians and movie stars sociopaths? Or both? Or neither?

2.a. "... leaving us easily seduced..."  Us who?  If you have no sense of self-worth, if you have never examined your own life and made it to be what you want, then, yes, you probably are easily victimized by someone with a stronger will.  In fact, I have wondered to myself -- and never decided, hence no post or article -- if having a stronger will is in and of itself a form of aggression in society.  At what point does the "victim" lose control?  Absent a gun, we say the victim could walk away, but could she/he?  Police who work "bunko" squads know that often the same people are victimized time and again.  Yet, in most of these frauds, the "victim" had ample time right up until they handed over their money to say no.  All they lacked was will

2.b. Morality and intelligence are not the same thing, and apparently neither are morality and will nor will and intelligence.  Brilliant people can be altruists, or so we Objectivists admit. 

2.c. Few would characterize Einstein or Mother Teresa as "sociopaths" -- though Objectivists might make a strong case for such a claim.

3.  Mike Erickson's point rests on the truth that harm is an action.  You have to actually violate the rights -- natural or contractual -- of another person in order to have done wrong.  For a criminal justice seminar last semester, I wrote a paper about the U of Minnesota studies of twins and what they say about the genetic roots of behavior.  Religiosity is heritable and the Twin Towers were taken down by religious fanatics, therefore, beware "the religious person next door."  Do we want to prosecute (or persecute) people for their ideas and emotions?

4. The comments of Bridget, Robert, and William indicate that this term "sociopath" lacks precision.  What "some people" think or what you "feel" might be some indication of something, but to use three different words to identify the same existent is to beg for differentiation and integration.

5.  In a different forum topic, I suggested that you are responsible for other people's feelings.  It does not take much to know what affect your words and actions will have and we act on that basis.  You can make someone angry.  That's obvious.  Of course, that claim drew counterarguments from others who denied that you are "responsible" for someone else's feelings.  Are those people "sociopaths"?

6.  Finally, from the descriptions offered by the other posters here so far, can anyone deny that Ayn Rand was a sociopath -- if that word has any meaning...




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Post 7

Monday, January 1, 2007 - 10:42amSanction this postReply
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Michael writes: "If your own life is the standard..."

Wrong. Rand distinguished between "standard" and "purpose" in ethics. Those who do not understand this distinction continue to assume that Rand's ethics is Nietschean/subjectivist: that "I" am the measure of all things moral.

That's not what she advocated at all.

In Rand, "one's own life" (well-being, happiness) is the proper PURPOSE (or end) of ethics. However, "MAN'S LIFE" is the moral standard -- the measure and guide to an individual's actions.

Reread what she said about "man's life" in "The Objectivist Ethics" and "Galt's Speech," and you'll see that this standard/purpose distinction is central to grasping what's unique about her ethics. And you'll also see that her ethics is not the same as, or reducible to, personal subjectivism. Or sociopathy.





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Post 8

Monday, January 1, 2007 - 1:19pmSanction this postReply
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Bob Bidinotto quotes Michael Marotta: "If your own life is the standard..." and replies:
Wrong. Rand distinguished between "standard" and "purpose" in ethics. Those who do not understand this distinction continue to assume that Rand's ethics is Nietschean/subjectivist: that "I" am the measure of all things moral.

That's not what she advocated at all.

In Rand, "one's own life" (well-being, happiness) is the proper PURPOSE (or end) of ethics. However, "MAN'S LIFE" is the moral standard -- the measure and guide to an individual's actions.

Reread what she said about "man's life" in "The Objectivist Ethics" and "Galt's Speech," and you'll see that this standard/purpose distinction is central to grasping what's unique about her ethics. And you'll also see that her ethics is not the same as, or reducible to, personal subjectivism. Or sociopathy.
The distinction Rand makes between "standard" and "purpose" in this context is subtle. The distinction may become clearer if we consider it in a medical context.

What is the standard of good health? Is it your own life? In one sense, yes. That which promotes your health and well-being is good for you; that which harms it is bad for you. For example, I am allergic to egg albumin; if I ingest it in the form of influenza vaccine, I will die; others who receive the same vaccine will be protected from the flu and thrive. So, for me, the requirements of good health require that I abstain from receiving what for others is pro-health and pro-survival. It is in this respect that one's own life is one's standard of good health, because what is beneficial to others may be harmful to oneself, and vice-versa.

But in another sense, the standard of good health -- and one that doctors rely on -- is what is conducive to human survival, because it is by studying what is common to human beings that medical science is able to formulate guidelines that apply to everyone in virtue of being a certain kind of living organism. It is this latter sense of "standard" that Rand is referring to when she uses the phrase "man's life qua man. She is not saying that to take your own life as the standard in the sense of meeting your own special needs and survival requirements is wrong or inappropriate.

Nor do I think that her formulation is intended specifically to rule out subjectivism or whim-worship. She could just as well have said that your own life is the standard, because (in the sense described above) it is. That which furthers your life is the good; that which threatens it is the evil. For Rand, there is no necessary conflict between these two senses of "standard." When she uses the phrase "man's life qua man," she is simply emphasizing the importance of considering the kind of organism one is. She is saying that in determining how one should live one's life, one must consider one's nature as a rational animal, and formulate one's principles accordingly.

- Bill





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Post 9

Monday, January 1, 2007 - 3:59pmSanction this postReply
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When I think of sociopathy (having been a therapist), my focus is on the structure of person's defenses and their motivations. The technical definition is kind of grab-bag of “anti-social” behaviors and not very useful.

I saw two different spectrums present with sociopaths. One was the nature of the façade they put out and degree of control over it. For example some individuals seemed compelled to stay in a particular character (always charming or always threatening or always 'ignorant' in specific areas) where others would shift themselves like a talented actor. Either in answer to some interior impulse (like a surge of fear) or a cunning change to manipulate the people around them.

The other spectrum was the degree of control and intensity of viciousness exhibited in their undesirable behaviors. Some sociopaths were very much in conscious control of their behavior where others appeared to be acting more compulsively – like someone who is fighting an addiction. And of course some are incarcerated thugs, others are elected to public office and others are just people who secretly steal pencils from the office. (If you’ve stolen a pencil, don’t worry, keep reading. You probably aren’t a sociopath).

They all share common characteristics. They never question their internal double standard or the fact that they always maintain a false front. Their inner life must be that of someone for whom a constant state of siege – of them versus the world – that must feel omnipresent and natural. Just as you or I would never take a breath while under water in a pool, they would never drop their deception in the presence of others. They wear it as naturally as clothes.

A therapist expects a fair portion of this population to present with substance abuse (usually hidden), and with that comes massive denial. Rationalization is a defense that lets them support the inner contradictions and ‘explain’ poor outcomes they often experience. Denial, rationalization and no sense of a real connection to others makes for a very little reality in their awareness.

The other thing that comes to mind is that the nature of their primary defense (you are never talking to the real person, but rather a façade) makes all forms of psychotherapy that we have now very ineffectual in helping achieve change. They have a tendency to take whatever you present and craft an acted response instead of having a real and emotionally corrective response.

No way have that 25% of the population fit the description I’ve given!

Steve

P.S. I’m new here and perhaps this long of a post is not welcome – if so, please let me know, Thanks.




Post 10

Monday, January 1, 2007 - 4:04pmSanction this postReply
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Whoops! In my last post I said "25%" when I meant "1 in 25".

Steve



Post 11

Monday, January 1, 2007 - 6:52pmSanction this postReply
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Steve,

They never question their internal double standard or the fact that they always maintain a false front. ... They wear it as naturally as clothes.
I take issue with the word "naturally" as it is used above; which is likely merely a matter of semantics. What you are describing here is human evil, but humans are a type of creature that is not "naturally" evil. Instead, evil is something that is contrived and propagated as an (illegitimate/irrational) alternative to living "humanly." In short, there is no such thing as "Original Sin" -- all sin is chosen.

Does what I have to say about this ring true to you?

p.s. I should also say, because you expressed a related concern, that that was an excellent post by you (barring this one, noted ambiguity); not too long or short, but "just right" -- at least in "my" book!

;-)

Ed

(Edited by Ed Thompson on 1/01, 6:58pm)




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Post 12

Monday, January 1, 2007 - 7:56pmSanction this postReply
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Thanks for the kind words, Ed. I used the word "naturally" to indicate they are comfortable doing what you or I would feel ashamed and badly conflicted to do. I didn't mean "natural to humans" but rather "feels natural to them".

Evil arises out of choices made. A few psychological disorders are organic in nature - no choice, therefore no evil. But others are a process of ongoing bad choices.

And, yes, all "sin" is chosen and I have alway found origonal sin a repulsive concept. Steve



Post 13

Tuesday, January 2, 2007 - 12:11amSanction this postReply
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Steve,

Thanks for the clarification. It appears that we are in overall agreement on this issue, but I have to nit-pick just a little more ...

I used the word "naturally" to indicate they are comfortable doing what you or I would feel ashamed and badly conflicted to do. I didn't mean "natural to humans" but rather "feels natural to them".
Steve, would you not agree that the reason that they have gotten to a place where they "are comfortable" with their intentional duplicity -- is because of purposeful evasion?

p.s. I agree that there are some folks who are just biochemically off-kilter (and, therefore, "need" a padded cell), but that is very likely the minority of folks who exhibit the behavior you have described. I'm speaking about the overwhelming majority of sociopaths -- and pointing to their moral culpability.

Ed




Post 14

Tuesday, January 2, 2007 - 7:32amSanction this postReply
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Ed,

I mentioned that some people have organically caused disorders and because they are unable to make a choice in that context, moral culpability wasn't an issue. But sociopaths don’t ever fall in that category - it isn't an organically based disorder. I consider all sociopaths responsible for their behavior.

Do I agree that sociopaths got where they are by purposeful evasion? Not entirely. I would divide the question into two parts. How did this disorder form in the child (it starts at a very early age - perhaps 2 to 4 years of age)? And, what does the mature individual do to maintain the disorder?

Using the words "purposeful evasion" to describe the mental processes of a very young child doesn't make sense. It drops the context of what the child is capable of. But, the sociopath is still responsible for their actions because they continue to "choose" to deceive after they acquire sufficient maturity to be "purposeful" in a conscious, self-aware manner. (In terms of moral culpability we haven't mentioned the parents - but that's another discussion.)

My discussion and yours are at slight cross-purposes because I spoke of a phenomena from the perspective of a therapist and you raised questions regarding the same phenomena but from a perspective of ethics. I don't think we have any disagreements - just not completely matching up in the purpose of our remarks.

As a therapist, I would attempt to create a therapeutic alliance with the more rational, the healthier parts of the client. That alliance would make me more effective in encouraging them to make better choices. It is a different mind-set than the one adopted to make moral judgments.

Steve




Post 15

Tuesday, January 2, 2007 - 8:11amSanction this postReply
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Mr. Wolfer,

Thank you for engaging in this conversation.  As a therapist who has dealt with "sociopaths" in your practice I believe you have more in common with the author of "The Sociopath Next Door" than the rest of us.  Given that "no way" is 1 in 25 a representative number for sociopaths in our society my question is this: what would motivate the author of the book to overstate this number?  Paranoia?  The desire to sell books?  Or an attempt to discredit everyone who lacks "empathy" for their fellow man, for instance, anyone with an "intellectual" argument against altruism?

I don't know if you can see the book cover (this is a "best seller") I posted with this thread.  It shows up in my mozzilla browser, not in IE.  From the cover: 

"A chillingly accurate portrayal of evil--The decent persons quide to indecency"--Jonathan Kellerman

and

"Who is the Devil you know?"

If the argument is that people who lack empathy are sociopaths becomes widely accepted then that effectively immunizes large numbers of people against even listening to the anti-altruism arguments of objectism and reverses the trend towards individualism.

Sorry this is so quick.  Have to get to work.




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Post 16

Tuesday, January 2, 2007 - 9:49amSanction this postReply
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Mr. Erickson,

Let me start by saying that I didn't work with very many sociopaths when I was practicing and certainly don't see myself has having much expertise in the area.

Also, not having read the book I would feel foolish trying to guess at the motives involved. You mentioned Jonathon Kellerman's cover blurb. He is, or was, a psychologist with clinical experience - so that Intrigues me - I may decide to read it.

I can't offer much more other than to say that "lacks empathy" is not sufficient by itself. I have no empathy for some people - but I do for others. I empathize with the victim of a crime but not the one who committed the crime. Empathy needs a context.

If a person is never able to empathize, or their empathy were often strange, it would make me very curious and I would look deeper.

A lack of empathy wasn't the key characteristic for me with sociopaths - it was that constant false front and a willingness to embrace a double standard. There are lots of personality issues that include inappropriate or missing empathy responses (nearly all of the personality disorders - like Narcissism , paranoid personality disorder, etc.)

I can certainly see how there might be some people that would like to take political/ethical positions and cast their opposition as some kind of disorder. "You don't agree with government aid to the poor because you have no empathy and because you have no empathy you are a sociopath." Liberals have such a peculiar response to these things. They're fear of being seen as 'unsympathetic' is so great that they have no problem attacking opponents, indirectly, as sick. With conventional religion based morality on the decline there are those that attempt to misuse psychology as its replacement (instead of "you are bad" it is "you are sick").

Steve






Post 17

Tuesday, January 2, 2007 - 9:59amSanction this postReply
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My last posts in this thread were intended to show a therapist’s perspective of the sociopath disorder. But I think that the issue raised by Michael (post #6) (and replied to by Robert and William) are very interesting.

A short story: I was at a conference in New Orleans in about 1982 and Ayn Rand was a speaker. I submitted a question that had been puzzling me for years. I can’t remember exactly how I phrased it, but probably something like this, “Shouldn’t man’s long-term happiness be the standard of values since it is the purpose of life for a rational man?” I don’t remember the exact words in her reply, but they were fairly caustic and accused me of being a Hedonist. Either she misunderstood what I wrote, or much more likely, what I wrote was misleading.

My confusion in using “Man’s life qua man” as a standard probably involves a misunderstanding on my part. I certainly agree with the spirit of that approach. I would not rest, were I a moral philosopher, until I had a standard that was NOT subjective. “Subjective standard” sounds like a contradiction in terms or an example of the stolen concept fallacy. So, I grasp the need for a standard to be objective – otherwise how can it serve as a standard – a measuring tool. It needs to be the same across time and from person to person (within the context for which it is used).

But isn’t there some circular reasoning inherent in the “qua man” part of Ayn Rand’s statement of the standard? Don’t I have to know already know what is proper for man before I can use it as a standard? And isn’t “what’s proper for man” already a moral issue (what’s good for man)? How did we determine what is proper without the standard?

I don’t believe my confusion is about “I” versus “mankind” – that seems clear. What is confusing is what one puts in place of “qua man” to expand that definition. With any other standard one can expand the definition with the constituents that were condensed to form the portion being expanded (hope that’s clear). It seems to me that an expansion would look like this: “The standard of values is man’s life defined as how a man should live his life” – see how that “should” that I put in there makes it circular?

I need to think about the difference between purpose and standard. And about the methodology for choosing a standard (which relates to the purpose for which it is chosen). Should the standard for values should be the highest value of all? After all, the measuring we are doing is hierarchical (which of these is the greater value?). On the other hand we often make categorical measurements (Is this a value or a disvalue?).

Steve

(Edited by Steve Wolfer
on 1/02, 2:32pm)

(Edited by Steve Wolfer
on 1/02, 2:35pm)




Post 18

Tuesday, January 2, 2007 - 11:37amSanction this postReply
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The sad thing about Kellerman - and yes, he is a psychologist, with many interesting views of the field - is that, after reading his books, you get the feeling the percentage is much more than 5% [which is why have stopped reading him, despite the to me good plotting and intriguing of the mysteries involved]...



Post 19

Tuesday, January 2, 2007 - 9:23pmSanction this postReply
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Steve,

My discussion and yours are at slight cross-purposes because I spoke of a phenomena from the perspective of a therapist and you raised questions regarding the same phenomena but from a perspective of ethics. ... It is a different mind-set than the one adopted to make moral judgments.
Have you read M. Scott Peck's People of the Lie (The hope for healing human evil)? In it, Peck talks about a successful intervention wherein he morally judged his patient. I'd be interested to get your take on THAT. For instance, do you believe in Carl Roger's person-centered (humanist-existentialist) approach to psychology -- where the therapist maintains an unconditional acceptance of his/her client?

Ed




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