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Profile of Patric Gagne, sociopath. Caucasian, 48, married, two children, dirty blonde hair. Occupation: therapist, writer. What makes one a sociopath?

Traits may include lack of remorse, deceitfulness and a disregard for the feelings of others as well as right and wrong.

Sounds pretty bad.

But that only tells part of the story. The part that’s missing is you can be a sociopath and have a healthy relationship. You can be a sociopath and be educated. That’s a very uncomfortable reality for some people. People want to believe that all sociopaths are monsters and that all monsters are easy to spot.

I’m relieved sociopaths can still get degrees. What’s the subjective experience like?

Just because I don’t care about someone else’s pain, so to speak, doesn’t mean I want to cause more of it. I enjoy living in this society. I understand that there are rules. I choose to follow those rules because I understand the benefits of this world, this house where I get to live, this relationship I get to have. That is different from people who follow the rules because they have to, they should, they want to be a good person. None of those apply to me. I want to live in a world where things function properly. If I create messes, my life will become messy. I think [transgression] feels good because it feels free. To do something bad, it’s like, I don’t give a [expletive]. The consequences — be it internal guilt or getting thrown in jail — happen after. In this moment, I’m going to do this because it feels [expletive] great to just not care. That is what the sociopath experience is almost all the time.


Lately I keep hearing about ethically questionable things my acquaintances do. Examples:

  1. Driving in the bus lane to beat traffic.

  2. Buying 5 TVs to take advantage of a sale, then returning four of them immediately.

  3. Buying furniture from IKEA, using it, then returning it before the 180 day policy expires.

  4. Using the carpool lane when driving alone.

  5. Avoiding road tolls with illicit methods.

  6. Raiding the office snack room and hoarding the best snacks for themselves, or even stocking their pantry at home.

I’m not going to browbeat these people to get them to admit that this stuff is wrong and antisocial. It’s not exactly the crime of the century. Depending on how well I know the person, sometimes I gently ask them why they think this is acceptable. The responses I get range from non-sequitur rationalizations (“I overpaid my taxes, why should I pay bridge tolls?”) to rules-lawyering (“if it’s not forbidden, why shouldn’t I?”) to blackpills (“it’s like India here, every man for himself”) to blank stares and changes of topic.

The people I’m talking about are high functioning. They have careers, relationships, educations. They make good money. The sociopath at least understands that there are rules that have to be followed, but Gagne’s understanding of “neurotypicals” doesn’t match what I see (maybe I don’t know enough affluent white female liberals?). I see people who see no connection at all between rules and benefits. I see people who don’t feel that they have to follow the rules, or even that being a good person entails following the rules. I see people who will do just about anything that gets them ahead if they can’t immediately see the harm. The notion that actions may have diffuse costs, that abusing policies makes things worse for people who follow the rules, that your coworkers might want to eat those snacks, is the furthest thing from their mind. They view these considerations with something between ignorance and contempt - you’re just a sucker if you aren’t looking out for #1.

But sociopaths use it out of necessity, and that’s a really important distinction. My decision to mask [adopting prosocial mannerisms] is not because I have some dark ulterior motive. It’s because you guys are interesting to me. Neurotypical emotions are so colorful and complex. In order for me to engage with you, you have to feel comfortable with me. In order for you to feel comfortable with me, I have to mask. I find that people are unnerved by me when I’m not masking… The bottom line is that I want you to feel comfortable, so I engage. I smile. I mirror. It’s not nefarious; it’s necessary.

Has it always been this way? I am not sure. I think that things have gotten worse. It seems that more people are adopting the perspective that they should just loot all the value they can out of the systems around them, systems that aren’t perfect (why do we W-2 employees need to jump through these tax hoops again?) but make our way of life possible. Burning trust and social capital by mainlining the remorseless sociopathic experience is not long-term sustainable. The people are the same as they used to be, but the mask is slipping, whether that means there’s more of this behavior or people feel emboldened to speak out about it.


Borges wrote a meta-fictional review of a book about how a knave got a glimpse of preternatural goodness in some scum-of-the-earth son-of-a-bitch and realized that he must have witnessed a glimpse, a shard of a great man.

All at once - with the miraculous consternation of Robinson Crusoe faced with the human footprint in the sand - he perceives some mitigation in this infamy: a tenderness, an exaltation, a silence in one of the abhorrent men. "It was asif a more complex interlocutor had joined the dialogue." He knows that the vile man conversing with him is incapable of this momentaneous decorum; from this fact he concludes that the other, for the moment, is the reflection of a friend, or of the friend of a friend. Rethinking the problem he arrives at a mysterious conviction:some place in the world there is a man from whom this clarity emanates; some place in the world there is a man who is this clarity. The student resolves to dedicate his life to finding him.

Even a man of the ‘vilest class’ can reflect a kind of holiness. Isn’t it possible that the mild-mannered white collar transgressors around me are reflecting a kind of damnation? Did these small-time bastards pick up their tendencies from some glancing contact, a ‘faint trace’ of a scowl or word in someone more pathological?

Gagne again:

I think, inherently, neurotypicals are fascinated by sociopathy because it’s a relatable disorder. Everybody has that darkness in them. Everybody has those thoughts that they shoo away because of guilt. If more conversations between neurotypical and so-called neurodivergents were to occur, it would benefit both… I was sitting across from a man at a dinner party — this was like two years ago — and my diagnosis came up, and 30 seconds afterward he said, “You know, I have thoughts of killing my wife a lot.” Not to normalize that, but I was like, Tell me about that. And he goes: “I’ve really thought about it. I’ve reached out to people about hiring somebody to kill her.”

“The line separating good and evil passes… through every human heart.” There has to be a way to beat back the darkness and grow the ‘bridgehead of good.’ To refuse to reflect the damned darkness of the guiltless sociopathic id, in ways big and small.

But as for myself, with no clear villains to tilt with, perhaps the best I can do is to keep my mouth shut. Borges has the last word:

After rereading, I am apprehensive lest I have not sufficiently underlined the book's virtues. It contains some very civilized expressions: for example, a certain argument in the nineteenth chapter in which one feels a presentiment that one of the antagonistsis a friend of Al-Mu'tasim when he will not refute the sophisms of his opponent "so as not to be right in a triumphal fashion."

Here's an essay I wrote. It's mostly sketching out the general case without going into case studies. I realize people like to bring things down to reality but it didn't feel right for this essay.

Arthur has an oil well. Caleb has the skill to refine the oil. Without the oil the skill is useless. Without the skill to refine the oil the oil is useless. How do they share the profits that come from selling the refined oil? How do they negotiate the split of the profits?

One might imagine that Arthur could choose from many oil engineers and select the one that will give him the best deal, and Caleb could find the oil well owner that will give him the best deal, and supply and demand would meet in the middle through ordinary market forces. In practice this isn’t always how things go. Sometimes one side doesn’t have any other potential partners. Sometimes, for one reason or another, neither side does. If there’s only one seller and one buyer, that’s known as a bilateral monopoly. In the case of the oil well it’s less a matter of buyers and sellers and more about two business partners who can’t profit without the other.

In such cases, negotiation turns into a game of chicken. If Arthur offers Caleb a split that Caleb thinks is unfair, Caleb can refuse it, in which case the oil stays in the ground and neither side gets paid. Likewise for an unappealing deal that Caleb offers to Arthur. If one side wants 95% of the profit, the other side could reject the deal, even if it means no profit for either of them. That’s not irrational, it’s just the only way to exercise leverage in such a situation.

So far so obvious. But here’s the thing that I want to call attention to: in a simplified model, the deal that will go through is one where the wealthier business partner gets a larger cut of the profits. In a market with only one buyer and one seller, the side with the highest willingness to cancel the deal has the most leverage, and the richer side (theoretically) needs the money less. Horribly ugly, but also utterly reasonable. In many cases we may wish it were otherwise, but if the poorer business partner cancels the deal too often out of indignation and pride that’s not so great either.

It might seem like the situation I described with only one buyer and one seller is unlikely to occur, but consider the situation in Venezuela under Hugo Chavez: Chavez couldn’t fire all the domestic oil engineers and replace them without greatly hampering oil production and disrupting the workings of the entire country, and the oil engineers couldn’t go work somewhere else without uprooting their lives and going to an entirely different country. Venezuela didn’t have a monopoly on oil, and the oil engineers didn’t have a monopsony on oil engineering, but the costs for switching partners were high enough that somewhat similar effects were in play, I think.

Mood board:

The national pride of poorer countries as a recurring factor in geopolitics

Oil negotiations between Iran and Britain in the 1950s

Hugo Chavez firing all the oil engineers in Venezuela

Hollywood Strikes

The likelihood that both sides will think that what they bring to the table in the deal is the key ingredient in the process and therefore more valuable.

Additional thought:

What would it look like if the richer side needed the money more? Could that ever happen? Maybe there could be situations where the richer party has “farther to fall” than the poorer party. For instance, if the richer side of the equation has a lot of valuable businesses that need capital injections in order to stay afloat, and the poorer side of the equation can just continue with a meager but stable lifestyle.

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