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A public conversation about our worlds.

  • Monday: Morgan J. Locke
  • Tuesday: Madeleine E. Robins
  • Wednesday: Maureen F. McHugh
  • Thursday: Bradley Denton
  • Friday: Steven Gould
  • Saturday: Caroline Spector
  • Sunday: Rory Harper

Brain Activity



The Internet Is For . . . Sociopaths

July 11th, 2008 by Bradley Denton

He's out there.

In my fifty years, I have encountered only one person whom I have deliberately, unequivocally, and publicly cut out of my life.

That person then completely (and blessedly) vanished from my personal radar for eighteen years.

Some of my fellow Brainiacs, and some of our visitors, will recall this individual as well – or will after I describe him. Thought he was gone, didn’t you?

Well, thanks to the Internet, he’s back. So this is the latest and greatest reason why I don’t like the Internet. (Oh, sure, I use it. Here I am using it right now. However, as I’ve noted before: I don’t like cars, but I know how to drive. And I don’t like guns, but I know how to shoot. Life in the modern world often requires unpleasant compromises.)

What was the deal with this guy? And why did you shun him so utterly? many of you are wondering.

I’ll attempt to explain.

According to the American Psychiatric Association (as quoted on Wikipedia – a dubious source, but since it’s on the g***amn Internet, an appropriate reference point), a person must display three out of the following seven criteria to be diagnosed with “antisocial personality disorder” (that is, to be considered what a layman such as myself would call a “sociopath”):

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 repeatedly lying, use of aliases, or conning others for personal profit or pleasure;

3. Impulsivity or failure to plan ahead;

4. Irritability and 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 honor financial obligations;

7. Lack of remorse, as indicated by being indifferent to or rationalizing having hurt, mistreated, or stolen from another.

The only one of these characteristics that this guy didn’t clearly display (from my admittedly non-professional vantage point) was Number 4.

But as for the rest – you better believe it. Six out of seven.

Add in a pretty high level of insidious personal charm, and you’ve got Poison.

He was always short of money, and what money he did have came from (he said) sporadic efforts at selling encyclopedias by phone. When he first came to town, he was an almost un-dislodgeable houseguest. Afterward, he was a perpetual freeloader, frequently showing up at my and Barb’s doorstep, uninvited, at mealtimes. He was always having troubles that he insisted weren’t his fault at all, and needing my help to get out of them. (“Gosh, I ran into this curb in the dark last night, and it blew my tire and bent the wheel. I don’t know how it happened. And I’m broke. Could you – ?”)

He conned me, then conned my friends and acquaintances. He progressed from that to flat-out lying. Circumstantial evidence indicated that he stole from us as well. (Hmm. I could have sworn I had two twenty-dollar bills in this drawer before . . . ohhhh . . . ) Direct evidence indicated that he drank heavily, then drove drunk. After which he conned and lied some more to avoid the consequences.

A few months after I finally told him to go to hell, he married a lady who (at that time) was a member of the Austin science-fiction and writing communities. A few months after that, he left her and moved to another state, taking some of her property with him. That property included a computer whose hard drive contained her novel-in-progress.

I don’t know whether she ever got it back.

And I’d be willing to bet that, to this day, he would act baffled if someone accused him of stealing from her. (That’s Number 7.)

Holy moley, some of you will say. Why did you ever hang out with a guy like that in the first place?

Long story short:

He was a guy I had known slightly in high school. He contacted me after I moved to Austin, said that he had read my work, and that he was interested in writing as well. And he was moving to Austin, too.

Well, when Barb and I had moved to town, one of the local sf authors (a great writer, a beautiful man, and a dear friend still) had taken us under his wing, shown us around town, and introduced us to EVERYbody. So I decided that I should pay-it-forward and do the same for this next newcomer.

And make no mistake: This newcomer was a charming, intelligent, friendly guy. At first.

Little did I suspect that several months later, I would verbally tear him a new asshole in front of several other people (some of whom are now of the Brainiacal persuasion).

I did so only after giving him the benefit of the doubt many times — then giving him second, third, and fourth chances even after “benefit of the doubt” ceased to make any sense. And I only made that final angry break after I saw that his presence in my life was beginning to harm a number of GOOD people in my life. People who did not deserve to be harmed.

This happened eighteen years ago. And to this day, I have difficulty explaining when asked, “Just what did he do to you?” Because for quite a while, there was no one clear despicable act. Rather, there was a long pattern of questionable behavior and dubious incidents, culminating in a final overt insult against some of my friends.

That was when I got out the flamethrower and burned away the spider and his web. I only wish, for the sake of the lady he married and whose computer he stole, that I had done it a lot sooner.

Why am I telling you this story now? And how is it connected to the Internet?

Well, EVERYTHING is connected to the Internet now. And I wouldn’t be telling you any of this had That Person not dropped my name while introducing himself to an old acquaintance and colleague of mine on a blog site.

I won’t quote it exactly, but it was along the lines of: “Hey, I’ve read your stories and I love them. You might remember me – we met at Bradley Denton’s house a long time ago.”

If I had run across That Person’s name on the Web any other way, I doubt that I would have given it a second thought. And I probably would have run across his name sooner or later, since he’s posting stories and reviews on various sites. Nothing wrong with that; after all, there’s no law against sociopaths posting to the Web. (Indeed, there seems to be a law requiring it.)

But he used my name.

And then he proceded to “friend” someone I know after introducing himself that way.

Also, he revealed that he now lives in my part of the country again, although apparently not in Austin. (Surely he wouldn’t think of coming to ArmadilloCon? No; there are too many ‘dilloCon attendees who still remember what he did to the local lady he married. Tar and feathers can still be obtained.)

Now, I’ll admit that eighteen years is a long time. People can change a lot in eighteen years. Alcoholics can join AA. Thugs can become teachers. Sociopaths can get therapy. So it’s possible that the Person I’ve described here is not the Person he once was.

But he used my name.

He shouldn’t have done that.

Because now all I can think of is that he used me and my name once before, with heinous results for my friends and community. I can’t allow that to happen again.

However, I won’t mention his name here in a public forum, since I have no evidence that he’s done anything heinous in recent years. And I’m asking everyone else who might remember him to refrain from mentioning his name (or initials, or anything else that might directly identify him) as well . . . because if all he’s doing now is writing and “friending” on the Web, he’s doing nothing wrong.

So I’ve told this long story for just one reason – to remind all my fellow Brainiacs (and anyone Brainiacal) of what you should already know. In other words, I’m pointing out the bleedin’ obvious:

Just because someone “friends” you online, that doesn’t mean he/she is your friend. And just because someone praises your work, that doesn’t mean he/she is your friend. And if you like someone’s work, on the Web or elsewhere, or if you just find someone’s Web presence charming and intelligent . . . well, THAT doesn’t mean he/she is your friend, either.

And yes, that applies to me as well. If you haven’t met me, you don’t really know me. No matter what you think of my posts, my stories, my novels, my music, my photo, or my website. Oh, I can tell you — either directly or by trying to flatter and charm you — that I’m a swell guy who would never hurt you (by the way, I am, and I wouldn’t) . . . but how do you know? Just because I tell you? Just because I (sometimes) seem “nice”?

Of course you should all continue to enjoy your Internet “friends” for their words, their music, their art, their wit, and their virtual comradeship.

But until you really, really KNOW them, don’t let them near your wallet. Don’t let them into your home. For the love of God, don’t let them anywhere near your kids.

And don’t even think of meeting them In Real Life unless you’re also in the presence of a few Real Friends who are willing, able, and authorized to provide a Reality Check.

You see, some of my Real Friends told me, after the horror of That Person had vanished into the past, that they had been creeped out by him the first time I’d introduced him. But they hadn’t said anything about it because they’d trusted me.

That’s why I won’t let it happen again.

But jeez, gang, next time, just tell me . . . although you probably won’t have to, because now I know the warning signs, too. Thanks to that one awful guy.

In fact, that one awful guy is the single biggest reason why I’m as paranoid as I am today.

But remember. Just because you’re paranoid, that doesn’t mean –

You know the rest.

Posted in Barb, Brad, Dammit!, Education, Health and Safety, Horror, People, Personal History, You | 13 Comments »

13 Responses

  1. Caroline Spector Says:

    Ugh. I remember all too well the fallout from “That Person.” Though we got back to Austin toward the end of this story, I did meet “That Person.” And they were what I’d call “aggressively charming.”

    That’s the problem with sociopaths, they sneak up on you. Thank you for reminding all of us that the Internet isn’t necessarily a safe place.

  2. Rory Harper Says:

    Great icky post here, Brad!

    Unfortunately, it looks like I have:

    Symptom #1 as a result of a lot of my political beliefs. Not to mention the frequent speeding, as well as the occasional one-finger salute to cell-phone junkie SUV drivers when they block me or cut me off. And I often meditate upon doing symptom #4 regarding those people.

    Symptom #3, which describes most of my life.

    And, lately, with the motorcycle thing, Symptom #5.

    I must be a sociopath. Good thing that I’m so damn charming….

  3. Paula Helm Murray Says:

    Yikes, just yikes. We’ve had a couple of friends who parasitized on us for a while over the years, but no one that mean.

    And alas, my tolerance for this kind of bullshit is getting lower and lower. But the one person who is pissing me off the most right now (through his actions toward Conquest, etc.) fortunately has no guts for confrontation. I think he witnessed me losing my mind on the last person who got on my last nerve in public and knows he’s not able to take it. I was told I was very polite and used no curse words, the only thing i actually remember telling her is that if she does not shut up, she can take her ‘display’ out of the art show room and put it out in the hallway.

    Besides, if he starts, I will finish it, and he knows he’s not going to like it.

    Good luck.

  4. Casey Hamilton Says:

    Yeah, I remember That Person. He’s the reason I ended up learning how to play bass for a time [was that really 18 years ago? damn.] for Los Blues Guys.

    I will never, ever forget the time I gave him a ride to my very first ever LBG practice session, very VERY shortly after I’d moved to Austin. He was reading something over in the passenger seat, paying zero attention to where we were, despite me having told him that I had no idea how to get where we were supposed to be going.

    He tried to chew me out for not taking the turn off 290 onto 21. I think the operative word in that sentence is “tried.”

    I’d had previous experience with sociopaths, unfortunately, and he triggered every alarm I had developed as a result of that learning experience. He got kept at further than arm’s length.

    And to be honest, I genuinely do not remember That Person’s name. But I never forget a sociopath.

  5. Casey Hamilton Says:

    P.S. I’m sorry, Bradley, that you’re having to deal with That Person in any way, shape or form. Truly sorry.

  6. Bradley Denton Says:

    Caroline, I’m just glad you didn’t take a direct hit from the situation. And “aggressively charming” is right on the money, in retrospect. (Someone who seems to be trying too hard to be Nice . . . probably isn’t nice at all.)

    Paula, I’ve never seen you be anything other than fair and even-tempered. So if someone has pissed you off to this extent, he deserves it. And had best back off.

    Casey, I’M truly sorry you were exposed to that ugliness in the first place. And I’m awfully darn lucky you’re still my friend.

    Rory, if we hadn’t discussed this essay before I posted it, I’d worry that you’d missed the point. And I know you’re being facetious — but just in case someone out there might take you seriously, I have to point out:

    You do NOT display Symptom Number 3, because you were very careful and not at all impulsive in raising your wonderful daughter.

    Merely contemplating Number 4 is meaningless. EVERYbody THINKS about committing violence — but you have to act on the impulse, repeatedly, to be guilty of this particular symptom.

    As for Number 5, well, I don’t think that someone who voluntarily took a riding-safety course and who always wears a helmet can be considered a reckless motorcyclist.

    I can almost grant you Number 1 . . . except that none of your lawbreaking behavior, to my knowledge, has ever been of the sort that places other human beings in danger. To really be a lawless sociopath, you have to not give a damn about how your actions affect others — which is clearly not true in your case.

    So I’m sorry, Rory. I know you’d like to think of yourself as an amoral rebel. But the sad truth, my friend, is that you’re Lawful Good.

    And besides, dude, you just ain’t that charming.

  7. Kimm Antell Says:

    You let us know if That Person shows up at ArmadilloCon and I’ll sic Chuck on him and get him kicked out. I do NOT want you or anyone else to be uncomfortable.

  8. Martin Wagner Says:

    Well, Jesus. Now you’ve got me wondering if I’ve ever met this loser. I can’t recall anyone I’ve met being quite that dysfunctional, and I’ve met some royally dysfunctional people.

  9. Rory Harper Says:

    Hey, Martin! It’s great to see you here!

    Since I know who’s being referred to, I think it’s possible but unlikely that you ever met him.

    I’ve known enough sociopaths that I can feel sympathy for them in the abstract. They’re unable to form any genuine human bonds. An ultimately futile, empty existence.

    And they don’t get better, IMHO, despite what some of the sites on the web might lead you to believe. There’s a piece of them missing, and I don’t think there’s a way for them to regain it.

  10. Peggy Says:

    Great blog and very accurate regarding sociopaths…But you should give out his name! the only way to stop a con-artist is to expose them! They do not change and they will continue to hurt others, like you say ‘befriending’ then manipulating! You and others have been conned by him and you should not feel the least bit concerned about it but will assist in helping others!

  11. David F. Jackson Says:

    Where can someone get help for this disease? I am a 49 year old man who needs serious therapy as soon as possible.

  12. Judais Harlem Says:

    Quite the interesting story. I must, however, point out the mere fac that you had forgotten a few of the significant warning factors of a sociopath. I must also admit that you that you were moderately lucky in that, from the tone of your experience, you had accepted a moderately less intelligent sociopath than most. There is another point of correction, I feel, I must also make. Sociopaths do not tend to change willingly. We do enjoy the way we are and are not willing to alter such a state of existence. (I, of course, use the term ‘enjoy’ in a general or a metaphoric sense) Malevolence, as you had also experienced, is a common trait among most, if not all.

    It was of great interest to me to read of your account. Do let us all know if you are to come into contact with this person again.

  13. Dean Dugen Says:

    http://www.associatedcontent.com/article/8138481/characteristics_of_a_sociopath_pg2.html?cat=70

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