Self-Proclaimed Sociopath: Look How Special I Am!

2013-05-16 SociopathI read a very odd piece in Psychology Today that purports to be written by a “diagnosed sociopath”Psychology is well outside my area of expertise, but I’m not sure if that matters because the author seemed to be relying much more heavily on Hollywood notions of sociopathy than the DSM’s definition of antisocial personality disorder. According to Hollywood, sociopaths are amoral (correct), manipulative (fairly correct), and brilliant (not necessarily). They villains around which plots revolve and who inspire heroes to come forth and do battle, so they’re sort of a big deal.

But M. E. Thomas is no supervillain. There was this one time that she followed a guy and fantasized about strangling him, but then she lost him. Not really how big a threat that ever was, because she had no weapon, no physical advantage, no training, and not even a plan. Oh yeah, and like I mentioned, she couldn’t even manage to keep up with him. So how, exactly, was she going to overpower him and strangle him to death? Also, there was this time she was so sarcastic to her dad that he put his hand through a wall. While it’s not exactly Andy Griffith’s Mayberry, it’s hardly American Pysho, either.

I understand that a main point she’s making is that not all sociopaths are violent criminals. Some are just a-holes. OK, point made. But… why would I read a book about that? A memoir has to either have interesting events or an interesting person, but M. E. Thomas evidences neither.

The only reason I was prodded into writing this post is the following:

The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints is a sociopath’s dream. Mormons believe that everyone has the potential to be godlike—I believe this includes me. Every being is capable of salvation; my actions are what matters, not my ruthless thoughts, not my nefarious motivations. Everyone is a sinner, and I never felt that I was outside this norm.

See, this is when I knew that M. E. Thomas is seriously deficient in the practical intellect department. The idea that a sociopath is cut out for “potential to be godlike” in a religion that defines God in terms of His empathy is ridiculous to the point of genuinely sad. Don’t get me wrong: I’m not trying to pass judgment on her moral worth. Not my department. But the fact that she’s advancing such a ludicrous argument shows how completely out of touch she is. I’m not sure to what extent “delusions of grandeur” or “narcissism” play a role in sociopathy, but those are the only traits where’s she’s nailing perfect 10s.

But it’s just too delicious of a quote for anti-Mormons to pass up, especially because it summons up some additional bogeymen. She’s got the noxious idea that Mormons believe we earn salvation through our works and also the fun stereotype that we’re a superficial bunch obsessed with behavior and outward appearances and completely immune to moral introspection. Neither is true, but both will please those who already have an axe to grind, and  so I’m fairly confident I’ll be seeing the “sociopath’s dream” quote on an image in my Facebook feed eventually. (Hey, at least it will add some variety.)

I can’t hardly wait.

In any case, I just don’t believe that articles like this one are really going to move copies of the book. It’s got the subtitle: “A life hiding in plain sight”, but I don’t think there’s anything “hidden” about non-violent sociopaths. I think we all know who they are. We just have a different word for them. We call them assholes.

7 thoughts on “Self-Proclaimed Sociopath: Look How Special I Am!”

  1. I read a few passages. It’s basically everything wrong with TV, now in book format for less convenient enjoyment. But I guess they’ve been doing that for a few years now, anyway…

    I’m fairly certain the book is a work of fiction, so there’s that.

  2. Hey, Reece, it looks like the anonymous sociopath has been unmasked.

    Turns out she (apparently) went on Dr. Phil (wearing a wig, great disguise). Dr. Phil didn’t seem to buy her sociopath claims either. She was a professor at St. Mary’s School of Law in Texas, but apparently just got hired by BYU. Who evidently, are now preparing to fire her. Whoops.

  3. Dude, I don’t think the woman is a sociopath. People without regard for the norms and standards of society don’t become law professors; they typically don’t even graduate from high school, and they don’t then make their profession teaching young adults. And people without regard for society don’t bother going on national TV to talk about their lifestyle and be berated by Dr. Phil. If she has any sort of psychological disorder at all — whatever that means — then arguably it would be factitious disorder.

    It just really seems that the book is intended as entertainment, and is fictional in nature. She authored it pseudonymously pretending it to be a real memoir, much as Frank Baum maintained that Oz was a real country whose history he was relating, or as David Handler insists the character Lemony Snicket authored all of his children’s books. It’s scandalous to read precisely because she’s pretending it to be real, and otherwise there’s no reason that anyone would bother to read it as, successful though she may be (have been?) as a lawyer, her prose is pretty much terrible.

    I’m also not sure why a school would fire a professor for allegedly authoring an anonymous book wherein the narrator pretends to have psychological disorders that the author pretty clearly does not have.

    I think I’m taking this far too seriously… :P

  4. I don’t think she’s a sociopath either. Looks like you and me are in agreement with Dr. Phil on that one. (Not sure what to make of that…)

    I guess the only difference is that I think this book really was intended to be taken seriously as non-fiction. It’s being marketed and reviewed as a serious work of non-fiction, so if ti was intended as entertainment I think the message got seriously lost. I view it not as intentional entertainment, but as unintentionally bad non-fiction. My suspicion is bolstered by the impression that she didn’t expect to be uncovered so easily, nor is she happy to be losing her job for the sake of publishing a book that I don’t suspect will anywhere compensate for the lost income and job security.

    My impression, based on the first article, was that M. E. Thomas was egotistical and not particularly bright. So far: I’m sticking to that theory.

    (It’s remarkable, on a slide tangent, how many people take advanced degrees as an indication of intellectual capacity, when the two are really not that related at all. I mean, unless your degree is in something intrinsically taxing like math or physics, you’re degree just means that you went, paid your dues, and got processed through the system. Not much more than that. It’s really sad, the false sense of elite stature these degrees seem to confer on people.)

  5. I’m sure it is being marketed and reviewed that way. I’m just saying, whether this is or is not a work of fiction, the marketing tactic would be the same: publish anonymously, list it as non-fiction, have Psychology Today run an excerpt, don’t let people find out you wrote it. Marketing the book as a work of fiction, whether it is or is not, will get rid of about half of the interest in it.

    And to your tangent, yeah. I’m fairly upset, actually, by the number of people going to “graduate school” to get professional degrees or whatever. Apparently it is now necessary to have a masters degree to teach kindergarten? “Grad school” is college, college is high school, high school is being babysat; let’s just take what is now college, and make THAT high school, and thus solve the problem. And I use scare quotes for “grad school” because the business school here includes a three hour “graduate” elective titled “Microsoft Excel Spreadsheets” at the 8000 level. Frankly, if you’re not studying an actual academic discipline, then you’re just paying money and time to get resume coupons, and in the process cheapening everyone else’s educations.

  6. I finished reading this book the other day, and I spent most of it laughing out loud. If she was diagnosed as a sociopath? That doc needs to go back to school. I think she is manipulative, and she has a dream to be a sociopath, and I think she believes herself to be overly intelligent. It was simply ridiculous.

    I picked up this book, because I read that quote you wrote about in a magazine, and I feel like she screws Mormon doctrine to her liking to justify her need to be manipulative – that, and shock value for the book. I also agree with your anti-Mormon idea, that they will feed off of this book.

    Great article! I went online to see if anyone else felt the way I did. Good to know I’m not alone.

  7. I finished reading this book the other day, and I spent most of it laughing out loud.

    I’m pretty sure that’s the reaction I’d have had from actually reading the book as well!

    I picked up this book, because I read that quote you wrote about in a magazine, and I feel like she screws Mormon doctrine to her liking to justify her need to be manipulative – that, and shock value for the book. I also agree with your anti-Mormon idea, that they will feed off of this book.

    Yeah, it’s a shame. Every religion (every large group of people, even) has their wack-a-doos. This is one of ours, I guess.

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