How to Fail at Almost Everything and Still Win Big

This is a really interesting book by Scott Adams, who is mostly known for being the creator of Dilbert.  I’m a big fan of the Dilbert comics, and I’ve read several of Adams non-fiction books before, and this one was a lot of fun.  I think that Adams style of writing is very entertaining, humorous without always going for the easiest jokes, and very informative.  I’m not going to talk about everything that he writes about in the book, but I am going to give some of my general thoughts.

Book StatsHow to Fail at Almost Everything and Still Win Big

231 pages

Non-Fiction, Psychology


This book is one part humor, one part biography, and one part self-help book.  If that makes it sound like something fairly boring, well, you’re probably not familiar with Adams work, because I read this book in about 2 days and loved every minute of it.  I was familiar with some of the topics that he discussed in this book from reading one of his previous books – Stick to Drawing Comics Monkey Brain! – but it was still interesting to read them again.

Adams has had an interesting life, one that went from being a kid growing up in the semi-rural northeastern part of the country, to failing in multiple jobs out in California, to being a well known cartoonist, author, and public speaker.  He’s also overcome some potentially debilitating things throughout his life, most notably Spasmodic Dysphonia, and if you’ve never heard of that condition, don’t be too worried, you could probably ask everyone you know about the condition and nobody else will have heard of it either.

Throughout the entirety of the book Adams discusses a process that he has used throughout his life to try and find success.  The basic idea is that instead of trying to set a goal for what you want, set up a system that will help you reach a goal.  It’s a subtle difference, but it is there.  He also describes how it can be used for anything from trying to lose weight, to becoming successful in a new job, to being more popular with other people.

There are a couple of things in my life I want to change, and what reading this book has done is giving me a couple of different ideas for how to go about creating those changes.  Thinking about it in hindsight, I had already started to do a couple of those things, but I’m going to continue to work on more in the future, and maybe in 6 or 8 months I’ll do a post updating what I was thinking about doing and seeing how well the results work out.

I already said that I’m a big fan of Adams work, so it shouldn’t com as any surprise that I enjoyed this book.  If you’re looking to try and improve anything in your life, this book might give you a few ideas for what you can change, and at the very least, it’ll give you a few hours of entertainment.

Overall Grade

An interesting book that provides a very different way of looking at life, I really enjoyed it.


D.C. Shooting

As I’m sure you’ve all heard by this point, there was a shooting near Washington D.C. that left 13 people – 12 victims and the gunman – dead this morning.  As sad as this is to say, I’m not terribly surprised that something like this has happened again.

Yes, I said again.  One of the first things that came to mind when I got home and heard my parents talking about this was something written in a blog post by author Dan Wells shortly after the Sandy Hook shootings late last year:

America has a mass murder about every six months, on average, which makes this one horrific and shocking but, sadly, right on schedule. Sometime in the next five to eight months we will have another.

So what does this show, that he was off a bit, we made it almost 9 months before this happened today.  Everything that Dan talked about in his post about Sandy Hook can be applied to this shooting as well.  Talking about how easy it is to blame the abundance of guns in our culture for everything.  Guns end up being the weapons used in the attacks, but a lack of guns wouldn’t necessarily prevent the attacks.

Already on there is an article about how the gunman had a “pattern of misconduct” throughout his life, and how he suffered from Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder, the article also says that there were signs the shooter was unhappy, and that he had also had a history of anger management issues.  Much like in every other article about a shooter such as this, there are quotes from family and friends saying things like “we didn’t see it coming” or “I could never imagine him doing something like this.”

Maybe if we made it more acceptable in our society to admit that you need help, that you’re depressed, that you’re angry, that you don’t know what to do.  But no, we live in America, where only complete whack-jobs should ever even think about going to see a psychiatrist or a psychologist to talk about what’s bothering you.  Where we immediately dismiss anyone who isn’t perfectly normal as “crazy” or “a psycho” and talk about them as if they’re sub-human.

Are stricter gun laws the answer?  Maybe they’re part of it.  I think that a much larger part of it would be to make mental health care both more accessible and acceptable in our society.

Because the posts are worth reading again, here are the links to both Dan Wells’s post about Sandy Hook as well as his brother Rob Wells’s post about mental health, along with my original post about Sandy Hook.

Dan Wells post – Mental Health, Mass Murder, and So On

Rob Wells post – How Close are we to More Killings?

My Original Post – Sandy Hook and Mental Health

A Moment of Weakness

I’ve mentioned a couple of times before on my blog that I have an anxiety disorder and panic attacks.  Most of the time, I can see it coming when I’m about to have one, and in many ways I’m able to stave them off until I can get home and hopefully relax, or if nothing else not let anyone else see what happens. Thursday night, I had one and I wasn’t able to hide it until I got home.  To quote the show Scrubs, it was a moment of weakness and not one that people are supposed to see.

The part I referred to starts about 1:50 into the video.

I’m not going to get into the details of what happened that night, but I am going to do a bit of an analysis of myself.  Talking about it to another person, and having them listen and ask questions really led me to analyze it a lot more than I have in the past.  And basically, here’s what I’ve come up with.

While I’ve been able in recent years (after studying Psychology) to identify that what I’m having is a Panic Attack, thinking about it more I realize that I’ve had them at least since high school, and possibly before that, but there aren’t any that I can think of before then.

I’ve said before that I could probably be diagnosed with Paranoid Personality Disorder and Panic Attacks.  But more accurately, I should probably be diagnosed with General Anxiety Disorder.  Here’s the problem with an anxiety disorder.  You start to feel anxious about something, and you start to worry that you may have a panic attack, this causes you to feel more anxious and more likely to have one.  When the spiral starts, it’s very difficult to stop.  Sometimes I can, and sometimes the best I can do is delay it so that I don’t explode in public.

Part of the problem, and part of the ongoing process for me, is to learn what my triggers are.  There are some things that I know will trigger my anxiety, but then there are times when I can’t explain what happened.  Two of the more common things which trigger it for me are counting things and making sure that doors are locked.  It’s strange because there are times when it doesn’t bother me at all, and then there are times when I can just walk away, but then there are times when it just won’t leave me alone.

General Anxiety for me, leads to other problems.  At times it leads to Paranoia, Obsessive Behaviors, and Agoraphobia.  This is a large part of the problem with many Psychological Disorders, one can lead to others and the rate of co-morbidity is extremely high.

Lastly, here is the reason why it’s so hard to talk about.  This is a problem that I have to deal with, it’s rare that someone would be able to help me with it, and I often don’t want to talk about it because I don’t want anyone to treat me differently because they know about it.  Because I know about what I’m dealing with, I would say that 99% of the time I’m able to function perfectly normal in society.  And of those few times when it does bother me, I’m often able to adjust what I’m doing or how I’m thinking and get through the day.

So while having a breakdown in public was a moment of weakness that people aren’t supposed to see, I’m going to try and find the positive.  Maybe the willingness to talk about what’s happening and the willingness to publish this post is a moment of strength.  I’ll always be dealing with this, and hopefully it will get easier as time goes on.

So exactly how far have we come?

I’ve still got to get back into the rhythm of reading in my free time again, so today I thought I’d talk about something different.  I also think that I need to expand the scope of my blog since I don’t really think I’ll get back to reviewing two or three books every week like I did for the better part of the first two years of my blog.

The basis for this post comes from two separate things I’ve seen recently.  The first is a documentary that I came across last light on Netflix about Lenny Bruce – Looking for Lenny.  I’m a big fan of standup comedy – I know I’ve talked about George Carlin on my blog before – and anytime that you really look into the history of standup comedy, you eventually come across Lenny Bruce’s name.  But while I’ve heard of him before, I wasn’t familiar with any of his material, I was only aware of the impact that he has had on the world of comedy.  After watching the documentary last night, it gave me a lot to think about, to the point where I watched it again tonight.

While he is largely known for being a foul comedian – and he did use more than his fair share of foul language – Lenny was really one of the first people to use comedy as a way to introduce an idea.  When you tell a joke, there is the immediate reaction (hopefully a laugh), but with a quality joke, there should also be a delayed reaction when you think about the joke later.  While Lenny started this, I think that one of the best people to ever do this was George Carlin, specifically with his routine “The Seven Words You Can Never Say On Television.”

But while I think that Carlin’s 7 words routine is a perfect example of using comedy to introduce an idea, I think it shows part of the problem as well.  We’ve been inundated with people cursing to the point where you don’t even notice it anymore.  I know that I swear far more often than I probably should, but the words have no power to me anymore.  The words are overused, but they’re no longer attached to new ideas.

It’s difficult to get people to listen to controversial ideas, even in situations where you think you should be able to.  Even in my college courses, there were plenty of times when I would throw out an off the wall idea, and oftentimes I would get blank stares from other classmates and my professors as well.

So exactly what point have I been getting to?  Simple.  We may have progressed in a lot of areas, but unfortunately not in any of the ones that matter.  We claim to be forward thinking, but most of our society is so afraid of anything new that we mistake an acceptance of cursing for an acceptance of ideas.  And this leads to the second item that served as a prompt for this post.

While I haven’t blogged about it very much, I’m a sports junkie.  And the biggest story in sports for the last couple of weeks is that fact that the NBA player Jason Collins is coming out and admitting that he is gay.  While it is a step towards acceptance, I don’t see why it’s such a big deal.

Depending upon the source that you look at, studies have shown that up to 1% of the population is homosexual (it’s from Wikipedia, but I can easily believe the number, I actually thought it would be a little higher).  Even with a mere 1% of the population being homosexual, the odds are fairly good that you know at least one or two people who are gay.  I knew several people who were gay when in the music department at the University of Akron when I was a music major my first three years out of high school, and several of them were my friends.

So here’s the question that I ask after talking about my recent media viewings and the one news article I’ve seen recently.  Exactly how far have we come?  My answer to the question is that we haven’t come very far at all.  And it’s not just with language or homosexual people.  It’s with anything.  As a society we feel such pressure to show how tolerant we are that we show off the first person who is different far more than we should.  Jason Collins coming out will get far more airtime than something as meaningless as a person’s sexual preference should ever get.

The fact that a professional athlete in comfortable enough in our society to come out as a homosexual shows how far far our society has come.  The fact that it’s a major news story shows that we have so much further to go.

Sandy Hook and Mental Health

At this point, everyone knows exactly what happened at Sandy Hook Elementary in Connecticut this past week.  When I heard about it, I considered writing a post here linking back to my posts from several months ago talking about sociopaths in our culture.  After giving it some thought, I realized that those posts are entirely the wrong tone for what happened.  I decided not to post about what happened, and I wouldn’t have, had I not found two posts that say everything that I could ever hope to say and more.  These are posts by two authors whose books I have read and enjoyed, Dan Wells and Rob Wells:

Dan Wells post – Mental Health, Mass Murder, and So On

Rob Wells post – How Close are we to More Killings?

I hope you take the time to read those posts, they are excellently written and they say everything perfectly.  But there’s something from Dan’s post that I want to highlight for everyone:

Statistically speaking, everyone reading this post has at least one person with a mental disorder in their immediate family–it is a part of our lives that we need to embrace and study and deal with instead of sweeping under the rug.

Keeping in mind that Depression is counted among the mental disorders, it’s easy to see how easily that figure can be reached.  But remember that there are many other conditions that can be counted in there as well.  So here’s where I come in to this, and why both posts that I linked to affected me.  One person in every family, yep, that’s me.

I’ve not been clinically diagnosed, but I would self-diagnose myself with Paranoid Personality Disorder and Panic Attacks.  (Again, not professionally diagnosed, but I graduated from college with a BA in Psychology.)

About a month ago while I was at work, I was pulling an order where I had to count out 30 of a part for the pinsetters.  No big deal right?  Yes, until I thought I lost count the first time, and then was worried again that I had lost count and counted it incorrectly yet again, after counting the parts 4 or 5 times I finally had to tell myself that I had 30 of them, and that I needed to move on because I had other things to do.

And that should be the end of it, except now I’m walking around the rest of the day feeling like I’m going to cry because I’m still worried about the order that I had finished hours ago.

It’s not easy constantly asking myself if I locked my car door, or if I turned off my car lights, or did I remember to do this, that, or the other.  Stupid things that we all think about from time to time, but how many times do you feel like you have to go back out to your car to make sure that it’s locked?  And then once you’ve gone out to check, you’re still worried that it’s not locked.  How many times do you wonder if you forgot to do something at work?  How many times have you been laying awake at night unable to sleep because you’re worried about it until you drive back to work at 2:30 in the morning to make sure it was done?

How are you doing?

At first glance, the title for this post is going to seem very strange, but by the end of the post I hope that it will make sense.

Most of the time on this blog I’m talking about books, I’ve tagged over 250 of my 325-ish posts with the ‘books’ tag, but I’m also a fairly big sports junkie.  You’d never know it looking through my blog of course, my ‘sports’ tag has been used all of 1 time out of all of my posts.  But there was something eventful in the sports world this weekend that I want to talk about.  (And for those of you watch a lot of Sportscenter, it’s exactly what you think it is.)

This past Saturday, Jovan Belcher, a linebacker for the Kansas City Chiefs killed his girlfriend before taking his own life in the parking lot outside of their home stadium.  I’m not going to call the entire event a tragedy like many people will – because while I enjoy sports, I don’t consider athletes to be so far above us regular joes that they should be worshipped.  I do feel sorry for his girlfriend’s family, and for the young child they left behind.

While this event has gotten a lot of attention from the national media, I’m going to take a slightly different take on the situation, and this all starts from the post game interview speech given by Brady Quinn, quarterback for the Chiefs.  (Quinn starts about 20 seconds into the video.)

In 30 seconds Quinn perfectly sums up everything that should be said about the incident.  Think about it for a second.  How often do we ask people how they’re doing and then half-heartedly listen to what they say in response?  I’ve seen people ask me how I’m doing and then walk away before I have a chance to talk, and I’m sure that I’ve done the same to other people as well.

In my Abnormal Psychology class, one of the things that our teacher discussed was the idea of taking any mention of suicide seriously.  And to treat it as if the person was talking about how they’re going to do it.  Life isn’t easy, and there are times when it seems like the only way out is to end it, I’ve been there before, and I know several other people who have been as well.  I’ve had a friend tell me that my being in their life was the reason they didn’t kill themself.  It’s a powerful moment in your life, and the simple act of being there for a friend is one of the easiest things you can do.

Technology has improved our ability to communicate with everyone, I’m using some of this technology right now as I talk about this.  But while we’re more connected to everyone in our lives than people at any point in history, we seem to have more distance between us than ever before.

When you ask someone how they’re doing, take the time to listen to their answer.  When you go out with someone, put your phone away and talk to them.  It’s the easiest thing in the world to do, and you never know how you can change their lives.

The Hollow City

The Hollow City is a standalone book by Dan Wells, author of the I Am Not A Serial Killer.  I really enjoyed his Serial Killer trilogy as well as the first book in his YA series (Partials) so I was really looking forward to this book when it came out.  On with the review.

Book Stats

333 pages

Horror, Thriller (which a heavy emphasis on the Psychology of the main character)


The main character of the book is Michael Shipman, a young man with paranoid schizophrenia.  The book is told entirely through his viewpoint, and because he has schizophrenia, you go through the entire book not knowing what is real and what is a figment of his imagination.  I loved the way his character was written.  All of the other characters in the book were also interesting, but you don’t really want to get too attached to them because you don’t know who is real and who is a hallucination.


Present day Chicago.


Michael lives his life in constant fear of everything around him.  He is obsessed by the thought that he is being followed, and he believes that every electronic device is capable of tracking his whereabouts.  Along with this, he sees some very strange creatures following him all the time.  But what happens when you realize that some of the monsters following you are real?  Who can you trust when you can’t trust your own mind?  The book is the story of Michael trying to figure out what’s really going on in his life.


This is something that I rail about every time I read a book where the psychology of a character is a central plot point.  But in this case, I get to praise the book, because Wells gets the psychology right.  He accurately describes schizophrenia in the book, and even has a scene where he calls out most of modern society’s view of schizophrenia.  It is not multiple personalities, it is your brain responding to stimuli that don’t exist.  I will readily recommend this book on that item alone, because he took the time to get the psychology right in the book.  He even researched some of the medication used and the side effects that occur as a result of the medication.  The psychology was very well done.

And now to discuss the actual story, I loved it.  It’s very dark, mysterious, and you never know what is real.  A common topic when talking about books is the concept of the unreliable narrator.  I don’t normally use the term because I think that the narrator cannot truly be unreliable.  They may not be describing the world as it actually is, but they’re describing it how they experience it, which makes their description real because they are affected by what they experience.  This book is the best example of a truly unreliable narrator that I’ve ever seen.  When the narrator’s mind isn’t sure of what’s real, how can you be sure as the reader?  My one complaint about the story is that the ending isn’t as good as the rest of the book.  It’s not bad by any stretch of the imagination, but the beginning of the book is so well written that I don’t know if any ending could have been as effective.

Overall Grade

A very unique, very dark story that gets the psychology right.  I loved this book.


Sociopaths in our Culture – Part 3 – In Fiction

This post is the third in my series of posts about Sociopaths in our Culture.  The first post, concerning the definition and description of sociopathy, can be found here.  The second post, where I look at the cultural adaptation of sociopaths, can be found here.

There are a great number of characters in fiction (including movies, books, and TV) that could easily be classified as having Antisocial Personality Disorder.  By my own way of looking at it, I see three different ways in which characters with APD are used in fiction.

For reference, let’s put the definition and indicators up again: A pervasive pattern of disregard for and violation of the rights of others, beginning in childhood or adolescence and continuing into adulthood, and indicated by three (or more) of the following:

  1. Failure to conform to social norms with respect to lawful behaviors as indicated by repeatedly performing acts that are grounds for arrest.
  2. Deceitfulness, as indicated by repeated lying, use of aliases, or conning others for personal profit or pleasure.
  3. Impulsivity or failure to plan ahead.
  4. Irritability or aggressiveness, as indicated by repeated physical fights or assaults.
  5. Reckless disregard for safety of self or others.
  6. Consistent irresponsibility, as indicated by repeated failure to sustain consistent work behavoior or to honor financial obligations.
  7. Lack of remorse, as indicated by being indifferent to or rationalizing having hurt, mistreated, or stolen from another person.

The first is very obvious; a great number of the villains in books are obviously sociopaths, many of them wanting nothing more than to destroy all or part of the world.  One of the better examples is probably Raj Ahten who is the primary antagonist of the first four books in David Farland’s Runelords series.  Ultimately he has a noble goal – he is trying to unite the countries of the world in order to face a bigger threat – but the methods that he uses are brutal as he tries to subjugate society.  (Looking at the list, you could diagnose him with #’s 1, 2, 4, 5, 7.)

The second use of APD in fiction comes from a variety of book with a specific type of main character.  While not the most common, there is a history of books being written about antiheroes, characters that in most other stories would be the primary antagonist.  (For antiheroes I’m using the classical definition as described in the Writing Excuses podcast.)  Looking through my list of reviews, the only true antihero book that I have on there is Perfume by Patrick Suskind.  But I’m going to talk about a different book for this, Waiting Period by Hubert Selby Jr.

Selby is one of my favorite authors, and Waiting Period is one of my favorite books of his.  The basic premise of this book is simple; a man who is depressed decides to kill himself.  He decides that the best way to kill himself is to buy a gun and end it quickly.  Because of the laws he has to wait several days before he can get his gun.  During this time, he starts to think a little differently about his situation in life.  He starts to think that his life isn’t the problem; the problem comes from people in power keeping everyone else down.  This leads to him deciding that he needs to kill the people who have been causing the problems rather than himself.  He is in many ways the prototypical APD case, and is easily diagnosed with symptoms #1, 4, 5, & 7.

The third use of people with APD is not one that many people commonly think about.  In many cases, the primary protagonist in many novels could easily be diagnosed with having APD.  The main reason most people wouldn’t consider them to have this personality disorder is because they’re doing noble things.  But if you look at their patterns of behavior, several heroes of stories show consistent signs of APD behavior.  Two characters that easily fall into this category are Kelsier from Mistborn (#’s 1, 2, 4, 5, & 7) and Kvothe from The Name of the Wind and The Wise Man’s Fear (#’s 1, 2, 3, 4, 5, 6, & 7 – yes, he shows all of the common symptoms at times).

Not everyone with Antisocial Personality Disorder is a serial killer – in fact many people who could be diagnosed with APD are very successful people.  This series of posts started because of the ways that I saw H. H. Holmes being depicted in media.  I don’t think anyone can argue that what he did was horrible, but the worst thing you could do is simply dismiss someone because of his or her behavior.  Take the time to understand different personalities, and try and figure out why they exist.  Many times people with strange patterns of behavior are the most interesting to look at.  This is true in both fiction and real life.

Realize that any time you’re dealing with people with different personalities or conditions it’s never an issue of “us vs. them.”  We all have numerous aspects to personalities, and there are no clear dividing lines between groups of people, it really comes down to a matter of degree.  It’s also worth considering that there is no condition that is inherently good or bad.  We all have different tools for use, and from there it’s simply a matter of what we decide to do with them.

Hopefully you enjoyed this series of posts (and hopefully I didn’t ramble too much).

The definitions from this series of posts come from my psychology textbooks that I used in college.  My Abnormal Psychology textbook is the Hansell & Demour Abnormal Psychology (2nd edition).  Also of use was my textbook from my Personality class, which is the Larsen & Buss Personality Psychology (4th edition).  Obviously I also used my lecture notes from these classes, for which I thank my professors.  If you are interested in further reading into this topic I would highly suggest looking into both of those books.

Sociopaths in our Culture – Part 2 – Cultural Adaptation

This post is the second in my series of posts about Sociopaths in our Culture.  The first post, concerning the definition and description of sociopathy, can be found here.

Continuing with my discussion of Antisocial Personality Disorder, we come to the question of how these people continue to survive in our present day culture.  In general, about half of our personality is based upon our genetics, while the other half is based upon our upbringing.

One of the most commonly used and widely accepted models for analyzing overall personality is the Five Factor Model (FFM) used by Costa & McCrae.  Their model assumes that personality can be broken down into the five factors of Neuroticism, Openness, Extraversion, Agreeableness, and Conscientiousness.  The two that are relevant to this discussion are Agreeableness (A) and Conscientiousness (C).  Agreeableness is a measure of how well the individual cooperates with other people, while Conscientiousness is a measure of how hard people work as well as how much planning they put into a situation.  Generally a person who has been diagnosed with APD will rate very low on A & C as compared to the average of the population as a whole.

Like anything else in genetics, your personality isn’t simply going to be the average of your parents.  There is going to be some variation from your parents.  If you have parents who are fairly low on A & C, there is always a chance that you would end up scoring even lower on both measures.  The biggest issue with this is that having low A or C would seem like very poor personality traits.  This would lead you to think that over time these personalities would be slowly phased out of the gene pool.  So why are they still around?

The answer is simple, these are adaptive traits and in many circumstances people who possess these traits can be highly successful in society.  I know it sounds strange, but if you stop and think about it, it’s fairly easy to think of situations where it’s advantageous to be low on A, C, or both.

The clearest situation where someone low on A would be successful would be any situation where there is competition.  Lets look at sports for a moment.  (I’m watching the NBA playoffs as I type this, which is one of the reasons I’m using this as an example.)  One of the most highly regarded players in the NBA is Kobe Bryant, and in listening to analysts discuss his play, he is often described as having a killer instinct, or being ruthless.  To me at least, both of those adjectives sound like works that you could use to describe someone very low on Agreeableness.

So what about low C?  One of the clearest markers for low C is showing low remorse for other people’s well being.  The easiest situation to see where this would be advantageous (and oftentimes encouraged) would be in a time of war.  If you’re a general of an army, there are times when you have to be willing to send people into battle, knowing that in many cases they won’t be coming back.

It’s also very easy to see how it can be balanced in society.  A good example of this is the movie The Invention of Lying (which I have to confess I haven’t actually seen, but the previews got the premise across very well).  If you live in a world where everyone is honest and considerate, it can be quite advantageous for a single person who goes against these traits.  If no one ever lies, then the first person that starts to lie will be able to abuse that ability because people aren’t accustomed to anything other than the truth being told.  However, if too many people exhibit that behavior, more people become wary of it and it becomes a less adaptive strategy.  The constant cultural adaptation that we experience means that the level of people who exhibit dishonest and/or violent behavior will be fairly stable over time.

Tomorrow I’ll post part 3 – Sociopaths in Fiction

Sociopaths in our Culture – Part 1 – Definition

One of my biggest complaints about Erik Larson’s book The Devil in the White City is that I felt like I’d been sold the wrong book.  The title of the book (which is one of the main selling points) leads you to believe that the book is going to be primarily about H.H. Holmes, who was one of the first recorded serial killers in America (as well as one of the most prolific).  While the book did discuss part of Holmes life, I really thought that it was shoehorned into the book with the goal of helping the book to sell better.

I was still interested in learning more about Holmes, so I watched a documentary about him on Netflix that was directed by John Borowski.  The documentary was very well done and had a lot of interesting information about Holmes, some of which was included in Larson’s book, but much of which was not.  If you’re interested in learning specifically about Holmes, I would suggest Borowski’s documentary before Larson’s book.

While contrasting the two works, I noticed a big difference in the tone that was used when they were discussing Holmes.  Early in the Larson book, he is very derogatory and almost dismissive of Holmes.  I understand that it’s his book and it’s going to be styled by his opinions, but I think it leads to a kind of “us vs. them” attitude when dealing with sociopathic individuals, which I consider to be the wrong way to look at it.  The Borowski documentary is much more even in tone when looking at Holmes’s actions, which allows you to draw your own conclusions.

I have a big problem with trying to create the “us vs. them” attitude with anything, it doesn’t work and ultimately causes more problems then it will ever solve.  It’s easy to simply dismiss someone as insane, to call them a psychopath.  It makes us feel safer because there’s no way that we could ever do anything like that, we’re normal.  And while it’s the easy way to look at things, and it makes people feel better, it’s also dead wrong.

The first thing to discuss is the proper term for a serial killer, antihero, psychopath, whatever you normally use.  The term used in the DSM IV-TR and accepted by the APA is Antisocial Personality Disorder (APD).  Is that a bit of a politically correct term?  Yes, but it’s the proper term.  Now, for the fun part that will probably surprise most of you, it isn’t nearly as rare as you think it is.  My Abnormal Psychology textbook lists the lifetime prevalence of APD as being 2% of the overall population.  In the 2010 Census the US Government listed the population of the country as just under 309 million.  Which means that there are potentially as many as 6.18 million people in this country who could be considered sociopaths.  (Please keep in mind that 2% is the figure that my textbook uses, although I don’t recall exactly which books they come from, I’ve heard estimates as high as 4% of the overall population.)

So what exactly are the symptoms to be diagnosed with APD?  Once again I turn to my Abnormal Psychology textbook:  A pervasive pattern of disregard for and violation of the rights of others, beginning in childhood or adolescence and continuing into adulthood, and indicated by three (or more) of the following:

  1. Failure to conform to social norms with respect to lawful behaviors as indicated by repeatedly performing acts that are grounds for arrest.
  2. Deceitfulness, as indicated by repeated lying, use of aliases, or conning others for personal profit or pleasure.
  3. Impulsivity or failure to plan ahead.
  4. Irritability or aggressiveness, as indicated by repeated physical fights or assaults.
  5. Reckless disregard for safety of self or others.
  6. Consistent irresponsibility, as indicated by repeated failure to sustain consistent work behavior or to honor financial obligations.
  7. Lack of remorse, as indicated by being indifferent to or rationalizing having hurt, mistreated, or stolen from another person.

Obviously not everyone who is diagnosed with APD is a serial killer, and there are killers who couldn’t be diagnosed with APD.  Any time you encounter someone with a different overall personality or viewpoint, it’s easy to break the discussion down to “us vs. them.”  But the better reaction to have is to take some time and examine their situation.

Tomorrow I’ll post part 2 – Cultural Adaptation