The Occult Triangle Lab Reading List Vol 4: The Mind of a Psychopath

This is Vol. 4 of the Occult Reading List, where I collect all the interesting stories and strange pieces of trivia I’ve picked up over the past week from books, articles, and webpages. Also included are the songs that have been on repeat for me this week. Guaranteed to make you more interesting at parties.

This is a special edition of the Reading List that deals with building a picture of a psychopathic mind. This is not the clinical definition of a psychopath, as defined by the DSM–this is the popular idea of a psychopath. I’m working on a new story that deals with a Mephistophelean character who’s a liar and master manipulator, and I wanted to delve into some material that could flesh out his mindset and worldview. I also asked my friend, Joel Clapp, to help compose a sketch of Yute based off the infamous photo of Charles Manson:

No one should romanticize real-life serial killers or cult leaders, but there’s something fascinating and deeply disturbing about delving into the mind of a psychopathic character. Trying to capture the essence of that sort of person ended up leading down interesting paths, especially ideas about the self, including Zen, Jungian archetypes, and German philosophy.

 

The 48 Laws of Power by Robert Greene and Joost Elffers

Reading the highlights of this book was like finding the Cliff’s Notes for American Psycho. Written in 1998 after observing the behavior of Hollywood’s power elite, the book is a apparently a big hit among celebrities, prison inmates, and corporate Machiavellian types, the kind that read The Art of War in order to get an edge in the boardroom. Some of the laws include things like “Court Attention at all Cost”, “Keep Others in Suspended Terror”, “Think as you like but Behave like others”, and the best one of all, “Assume Formlessness”.

Despite supposedly being a guide to the laws of power, the central tenets of the book revolve around the idea that appearances, not substance, are what really matter. You are who you appear to be, and your reputation is the most important thing you have. It really is a new Machiavellian handbook, and the worldview it espouses closely resembles nightmarish, uber-wealthyworld that Patrick Bateman inhabits in American Psycho.

Patrick Bateman is going to be an ongoing touchpoint for the reading in this week’s list, and the video above gives a great interpretation of his fictional character. As for the character of Yute, The 48 Laws of Power offers the bedrock for a master manipulator’s view of the world and his relationship to the world: everything is illusions, and the world is a zero-sum game that must be played every waking hour.

The Psychology of Interrogations and Confessions: A Handbook

Everyone knows there’s a certain way to frame a conversation so that you’ll always win in the end. For police interrogators, the key is following certain techniques, like the Reid Technique, which consists of seven (sometimes nine) steps. All of it’s based on psychology and the mental stress of a guilty conscious (and imprisonment). At the same time, reading through the book made me realize just how much police offers can deceive you, trick you, and abuse your rights in order to get a confession–one passage essentially says “don’t remind a suspect of their Miranda rights against self-incrimination” and encourages the officer to keep the suspect away from a lawyer. It’s all about pressuring someone and manipulating their emotions to break down their will, which is disturbing.

At the same time, the methods and techniques in the book offer a good primer on how to structure dialogue and character dynamics in a story, especially when someone is being subtly (or overtly) pressed to reveal something they don’t want to. For the story I’m writing, it offered a body of knowledge to draw upon when trying to show that a character was an accomplished liar.

The Matrix and Meaning of Character By Jacqueline J. West and Nancy J. Dougherty

I read the first chapter of this book, titled “Schizoid character structure:
Encapsulated in ice”. I’ve never had any love for psychoanalysis in practice, but as storytelling inspiration, it’s a great resource. I actually came across the idea of the “schizoid” in Emmanuel Carrere’s biography of Philip K Dick:

“The source of all evil, he thought, was withdrawal in the self, into one’s shell—a symptom, in psychiatric terms, of schizophrenia…A schizoid thinks more he feels. His comprehension of the world and of himself is purely intellectual and abstract, his awareness an atomistic aggregation of a number of disparate elements that never cohere into an emotion or even truly into a real thought…”

This idea is expanded in the text of Matrix and Meaning:

“The schizoid patient experiences a terrifying emptiness, a nameless dread, an inner landscape unpopulated by human figures. She frequently turns to endless dreams and fantasies, which may be rich, symbolic, and mesmerizing. She may find solace in a well-developed intellect and develop an internal crystal palace in which she lives alone, safe but frozen. However, she may also find dangerous depths, unpredictability, and deadly horrors.”

It’s a fascinating idea, and good insight into what a twisted mind might look like. One of the most uncanny and frightening things about psychopaths or serial killers is that they appear to be normal people, but their minds often seem completely alien to “normal” people. It evokes the title of one of the most famous books on psychopathy, The Mask of Sanity by Hervey M. Cleckley.

Hegel’s Theory of Self‐Consciousness: Deducing the Necessity of Inter‐Subjectivity by Julia Batty

This was an honest-to-god MA Philosophy thesis from the Universiteit van Amsterdam that I found online, published in 2009. It’s on Hegelian phenomenology, the most complicated, confusing, and absolutely unintuitive brand of German philosophy possible. I studied some of it college, and it turned out to be not as bad as I remembered, though it was still a labyrinth to read.

The central idea of the essay (and intersubjectivity) is that “the self only becomes fully self‐aware by seeing oneself through the eyes of another in mutual recognition…” Subject-object relationships are the big thing for Hegel, where the self is the “subject” and everything else is an “object.” The problem arises when the self tries to examine itself–who is the little voice in your head talking about your thoughts? Well, that must also be you. When you examine yourself, you make part of yourself into an observer and part of yourself into an object of observation, but there doesn’t seem to be a way to “get outside yourself” and see everything.

This is supposedly solved by viewing yourself from the perspective of another person–but, as the essay says, you can never understand anyone or anything except in your own terms:

“…Hegel’s interpretation, consciousness is never in direct relation to an object, but in relation to an object only in a self‐relation.”

If “man is the measure of all things,” then each person is their own measure of the world, and of themselves. When we see other people, we aren’t really seeing them, we’re seeing aspects of ourselves. Strangely enough, a great articulation of this idea comes from American Psycho again, in his monologue on Whitney Houston.

Hegel doesn’t seem to be too troubled by this infinite loop of the self seeing the world as reflections of itself, but it raises some terrifying questions, especially when it comes to the ego-driven world of the psychopath. The whole subject-object relationship Hegel puts forward reminds me of the 48 Laws of Power, and how much emphasis it puts on the self being totally dependent on other people–not just socially, but existentially.

Alone Down There by Modest Mouse

This is the song I’ve been listening to while writing this new draft with Yute. The lyrics fit the story scarily well, especially this one:

The Devil’s apprentice he gave me some credit
He fed me a line and I’ll probably regret it

It speaks to the Mephistophelean nature of the character: the lyrics “fed me a line” can refer to both a line of credit, which is a great tool for putting someone in debt, and the line of a fishing hook, which catches someone in a trap. The lyrics “I don’t want you to be alone down there” makes me think the song is talking about Hell, and that the singer is trying to make sure he fills Hell with plenty of victims so they won’t be alone.

On top of that, the song’s lyrics are sung in a sort of seductive lilt, while the chorus is shouted, which makes it sound more abrasive, desperate. It sums up the story and the character well.

Alan Watts: The Void Pt 1

Zen is a constant inspiration for my writing and my worldbuilding. A lot of my stories start from ideas about self, illusions, reality, eternity, and the human relationship with the universe, even if those ideas aren’t explicitly brought up in the course of the plot. When thinking about the character of Yute, I realized that The 48 Laws of Power and Zen Buddhism both share a central tenet: formlessness, or the Void. The Zen idea of the self is mu, or emptiness, as explained in the video. There is no innate self, according to Zen, and the experience of realizing mu is the feeling of annihilation. Upon the annihilation of the self, one experiences enlightenment, which is the realization that one is not an identity–one is the universe.

So formlessness can be the birthplace of a manipulative, psychopathic mind that consumes and tricks people to further itself, like The 48 Laws of Power, or it can birth a mind that sees no division between itself and the rest of the universe, where any injuries it inflicts on others are really injuries to itself. This ties into intersubjectivity, and the idea that your sense of self is inseparable from those around you.

Patrick Bateman and the DAO of the Psycopath:

I think psychopathic characters, like Hannibal Lecter or Patrick Bateman, are fascinating because their internal world is so foreign and alien to other people that they end up functioning like broken mirrors on humanity. You get a sense of vertigo when you read them, like you’re looking through a window into another world. That’s the heart of the uncanny attraction, I think. But what makes them frightening, in an existential sense, is that it may be a thin line between ego-driven, manipulative madness (like Charles Manson) and transcendental enlightenment (like Zen Buddhism).

The difference, I think, is one’s perception of oneself and one’s relationship to the world, which is where phenomenology comes in. Hegel seems to say that we can only truly understand ourselves through the eyes of others, but can anyone really see into the essence of someone else? Can we even see into our own essence? As Patrick Bateman claims in the chilling ending monologue of American Psycho, the “inside” of people, the substance or essence, may be of no consequence–an absurdity.

According to the Hegelian view, the self is only beholden to the beliefs and bounds it submits itself to, and it decides what it should submit itself to. With nothing guiding the self but itself, self-defintion becomes an ouroboros–your definitions of the world and yourself may be completely incomprehensible and unintelligible to anyone else, and what you perceive as your “self” may be a bunch of incoherent babbling with nothing at its center and no meaning, even to you. Self-examination may be a futile exercise, since there’s nothing to know or understand that you didn’t already know on some level. This is what Bateman may be expressing when he says “I gain no deeper knowledge of myself. No new knowledge can be extracted from my telling. This confession has meant nothing.”

So what is at the heart of a person? What makes their identity? Bateman says early in the movie:

“There is an idea of a Patrick Bateman; some kind of abstraction. But there is no real me: only an entity, something illusory. And though I can hide my cold gaze, and you can shake my hand and feel flesh gripping yours and maybe you can even sense our lifestyles are probably comparable… I simply am not there.”

This would be a profound and positive realization for a practitioner of Zen Buddhism, but for anyone else, it’s absolutely alien. Of course Patrick has a self–who’s talking, if not Patrick Bateman? It’s a similar question to the one the Emperor of China asked Bodhidharma, the founder of Zen Buddhism: “Who is speaking before me?” Bodhidharma’s answer was “I don’t know.”

If you’re a Zen Buddhist, having no self is the gateway to enlightenment. And there is a name for a person that comes back from the self-annihilation of Nirvana and tries to enlighten others: a Bodhisattva. It’s the highest good you can achieve in the Mahayana view of Buddhism, and it all starts with mu, the Void. But this sense of no-self, of emptiness in the soul, can lead to the opposite: someone who desires to inflict suffering and anguish on anyone and everyone, with no reason beyond the fact that there are no reasons not to:

 “My pain is constant and sharp, and I do not hope for a better world for anyone. In fact, I want my pain to be inflicted on others. I want no one to escape.”

I think when anyone writes a “psychopath” character, they’re only making their best guess. But even if those characters are only simulacra of the minds they’re supposedly based on, they can still cause us to ask difficult questions about what it means to be a human. It’s unsettling that, of all questions, that one has never been settled.

One of Joel Clapp's initial sketches of Yute, based on Charles Manson

 

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“Secrets” by Joel Clapp

Hey, so I just bought a 12×16 piece of art from my friend Joel Clapp, titled “Secrets.”

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Joel has done some concept art for my stories, including the Grinning Man helmet, the sketches of Oroboro and his scary-ass smile, and the city of Ibiza, from “Hypnotica.” Here’s what he has to say about the piece:

“I was inspired by two of my favorite painters, Zdzislaw Benksinski and Chet Zar. Their apocalyptic tones and surreal, fleshy creations have fascinated me for a long time. I tried to capture a feeling of ruin and foreignness and focus on a lone entity, with the secrets of the fallen civilization locked away within its fortress-like skull. It all really started with trying to emulate my favorites, really.”

I’m gonna hang this on my wall, right above the bloodstains. You can check out more of Joel’s work here.

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Worldbuilding: Map of Lechuguilla

The real Lechuguilla is a mind-boggling vast, terrifyingly beautiful system of caverns in Mexico. My Lechuguilla (I’m using the name as a placeholder until I can create a fitting name) is an underground city constructed after the surface of the world became uninhabitable. I drew a new version of the city today, and I wanted to share it on the blog.

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As I imagine it, the main feature of the city would be a pair of hollow spheres whose walls are lined with tiles of glass. A magical light source would hover in the center of the spheres, creating something like a lighthouse, with the light spilling down two long shafts, which lead to the main chambers below. As day changes to night, one shaft would be illuminated with strong light, creating a “day” in one chamber, while the other shaft would have weaker light, creating a “night” in the other chamber.

Both chambers have several stone pyramids, sort of like NERV HQ in Evangelion. Each pyramid has a second, upside-down pyramid attached to the bottom, which hangs down in an even larger lower subterranean chamber, where a series of columns meet the apexes of the pyramids. The pillars hold up both the lower and upper chambers and extend into a vast underground lake, which is heated by subterranean magma channels.

One of the toughest parts of creating an underground city is devising the layout in three dimensions. On the right side of the image above, I included a vertical look at the city, which shows some of the lateral chambers.

 

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My New Grimoire

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I love this book. I picked it up from Poetic Earth’s booth at New York Comic-Con this year, and it’s got a hand-tooled leather cover. Last night, I made the first entry in it on the title page (see above).

The triangle-tesseract design is the same one that came to me in a dream several years ago, after a night of reading too much about fractals. If you place each letter of the word “OROBORO” at the right vertices, the name should repeat perfectly across the whole design, meaning you can read “OROBORO” forever in three dimensions.

Beneath that is the phrase “ONE THOUSAND EYES OPEN.” This is the same phrase I used for one of my artists books, which used origami and an eye design to create an interactive little book that read “ONE THOUSAND EYES OPEN” no matter how you folded it.

At the far bottom, I drew the symbols of the three gods in my canon: Erroth, Sol, and Ormun.

I’m planning on using this book as a reference document for my worldbuilding, especially magic systems. Right now, I’m thinking of including diagrams of the Sephiroth, Qliphoth, Eightfold Path, the Five Skandhas of Existence, Pascal’s Triangle, and the Sierpinski Gasket, along with notes from my notebooks. This way, I’ll have all my notes and inspirations in one convenient tome.

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Reflections on the Meme Machine

This is not a blog about memes or internet culture. That being said, I spend a lot of time on the internet, and I think there comes a point where you have to try and make some sense out of all the obscure, insane, bizarre, offensive, absurd things you see. This is my attempt, spurred by watching Filthy Frank’s video, Meme Machine. Originally, this essay was a late-night, hour-long IM to a friend of mine. I hesitated to post this on the OTL, but there’s no other place to put it.

My God have mercy on all our souls.

— Chris

“You know, it’s interesting. Memes kind of represent a post-modern form of shared youth culture, but it keeps curling back in on itself as internet denizens like you and me begin to acknowledge and meta-critique the development, rise, and fall of memes. Marxists spoke at length about the “culture industry,” the system by which films, radio show, and celebrities are produced in a manner akin to consumer products; in internet memes, this whole process is sped up via viral sharing, so that a whole new piece of culture can attain global cultural status in one day.

meme-machine-bear-blue-houseBut rather than passively consuming the memes, internet communities are extremely conscious of the rise of these culture products, as well as the cycle of critique, parody, counter-parody, and becoming an old, “classic” meme (like trollface). This kind of self-awareness (what the Marxists would call “consciousness”) inevitably goes where normal, “passive” mass culture does not–the recognition that all of these novel pieces of entertainment are ultimately just diversions to distract us from our unfulfilling lives. Maybe it’s unique to internet denizens and the otaku shut-in crowd, who are told by society that they’re wasting their lives in front of computers, but it’s the meme consumers and producers who are most conscious of the emptiness of their own brand of “mass culture” and consumerism.

Hence, the seemingly incongruous connection between Frank’s song about memes and the question: “Why has god abandoned us?” and the quiet cry “Help me.” This is an
acknowledgement by one of the chief internet culture producers that this whole system, of memes, is inexorably tied to an existential crisis in our youth culture and our post-industrial world–more than ever, the creativity and subjectivity of the world’s citizens is being expressed and shared, but, to our horror, it only expresses our collective id, rather than what Enlightenment philosophers would call “the human condition.” Memes, whose ridiculous, absurd origins and meanings can create huge shifts in culture overnight, are nothing more than the scribblings of an idiot.

“Meme Machine,” in the unique method of internet culture, takes a humorous, irreverent attitude toward internet culture itself, but at its core is the recognition, like Pagliacci the Clown, that memes cannot cure what memes have wrought. And like the punchline of the famous joke, it seems that Frank has realized that laughter and humor is the only response to “absurdity,” the boogeyman Kierkegaard and other existentialists identified as the chief enemy of the modern philosopher. The question becomes whether we take a step further and acknowledge Camus’ bold statement: that the only philosophical question worth pondering is suicide. Embracing memes, knowing that they are vacuous and without meaning, may be the modern “sickness unto death,” for surrendering to them signals despair. Memes, more than any piece of art, are an unfiltered glimpse into our collective consciousness, and the longer we gaze into them the more we see of ourselves, and of the abyss.”

Reflections on the Meme Machine

That Time I Was a Panelist at New York Comic-Con

My experience at Comic-Con this year can be summed up in one gif:

This year, I got a Speaker Pass to Comic-Con, thanks to Outer Places, my new freelance employer. I was signed up to speak on “The Science Awakens: The Science of Star Wars” panel, which meant I had to study up on what kind of blaster Han Solo used (DL-44) and what that Starkiller Base runs on (quintessence). Best of all, I had an excuse to rewatch all of Harry Plinkett’s Star Wars reviews and see the new one on the Force Awakens, So I rolled into NYCC ready to nerd out with the best of ’em.

I also got my yearly reminder that Comic-Con is the biggest fucking thing ever. This year, NYCC had a record attendance of over 180,000, apparently. Here’s a shot of a section of the floor, seen from the VIP Lounge.

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The panel was on Saturday, but I had events to report on all four days. In between my reporting, though, I did a lot of other stuff.

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First, I visited the Dark Horse booth and got a copy of “I AM A HERO,” which is one of the best manga I’ve read in years. Good call, Dark Horse booth staff.

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“You will never experience true serenity until you’re holding 15-pound recreations of giant video game guns.”– Me

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Met up with Daft Punk and asked them about the ALIVE: 2017 tour. They said nothing. I think Bengalter was on drugs.

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Saw Paul & Storm at the Bell House and celebrated Storm’s birthday. They sang “Opening Band,” but no one threw panties.

paul-and-storm-2Listened to Jonathan Coulton play some new songs off his upcoming album, including “Brave.” That’s JoCo’s 11-year-old son in the corner. Coulton came on stage, then looked over at his son and asked the audience “Can you see him too?”

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Saw some of the best cosplay I’ve ever seen. There were a thousand Harleys, Negans, Dippers, Deadpools, and Team Rockets, but there were a couple gems.

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My favorite purchase this year was definitely my new grimoire. It’s a bound leather book with hand-made paper pages and deckled edges from Poetic Earth. They said they’d sell me a Necronomicon for $2000 (along with a certificate of authenticity), but I was dubious.

Then Saturday rolled around, and it was time for the panel. Here are some shots from behind the mic on the stage. We had a full house!

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panel-picture-2Besides my editor and me, we had Drs. Travis Langley and Mara Wood, Charles Liu, and two FX designers, one of whom had a fully accurate recreation of Wedge Antilles’ helmet from the original trilogy. I’m still looking for the official video of the panel, but it was a lot of fun.

During the panel, Dr. Liu and I exchanged a couple ideas about the nature of hyperspace, with Dr. Liu speaking a bit about 10th-dimensional physics. When it came my turn to speak, I had to physically stop myself from saying “Well, Chuck, we got a theory about magic…and miracles” and busting into a recitation of “Miracles” by ICP.

I also got to talk a bit about artificial intelligence and the sentience of droids by bringing up the Lovelace Test as a possible alternative to the Turing Test, then a bit about the economic realities of flying starships around and building something like the Death Star.

We ran through our whole time, got to fan questions, and ended up having to cut the whole thing short to stay within our time slot. It was a great thing to see a whole room filled with Mandalorians, Stormtroopers, and Jedi–the whole thing was a blast.

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Pictured: me having fun.

The thing I loved most was the sense of wonder, community, and genuine excitement. There were so many people my age and older who were psyched beyond belief, but the kids were the best. You could just tell this whole thing was blowing their minds. And some of the conversations I had within a 2-mile radius of Javits Center were great–geeks just radiated out across the city, and odds were, the person next to you on the train had just seen something amazing.

All in all, I give the whole thing a tenouttaten.

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#JoCo and Paul & Storm 2016 at NYCC

I just got tickets to go see Jonathan Coulton and Paul & Storm at the Bell House on October 7th! I haven’t seen them since 2010, back at PAX Prime in Seattle, when I went with my West Coast buds.

I remember getting up at 4 AM to drive up to Seattle in the dark. The first 100 people who arrived at PAX got free tickets to see JoCo and Paul/Storm, and we were dedicated to getting those tickets. We decided we were going to cosplay as gangsta versions of Mario, Luigi, Wario, and Peach.

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This was me at 17, sitting in on one of the panels at PAX.

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#JoCo and Paul & Storm 2016 at NYCC