Paleo Retiree writes:
Have you run into Sam Vaknin? He’s quite a phenomenon. Vaknin is a self-described narcissist who has, primarily online, made a name for himself as an expert on narcissism. Hundreds of thousands of people have watched his videos, visited his website, and/or read his book. Academics and credentialed therapists have their beefs with his views, but he has always struck me as pretty darned smart and helpful. Yet how can a genuine narcissist have any kind of sane, trustworthy distance on narcissism? Isn’t that a logical impossibility? And, like that, voilà: you’re caught in the Vaknin web.
My wife and I recently enjoyed “I, Psychopath,” a documentary made for Australian television about Vaknin. It’s a peculiar one in its own right. As Ian Walker, the director, walked Vaknin from expert to expert — for brain scans, tests and diagnoses — he found himself getting drawn into Vaknin’s ego and games-playing, and decided that that experience deserved notice too. So, as it goes on, the doc becomes as much about the frustrations and abuse the filmmaker is enduring from Vaknin as it is about Vaknin himself. Which is a pattern that, if you’ve had many dealings with narcissists, will ring some bells.
The film is a little exasperating, and it’s certainly easy coming up with ways it might have been better. What a movie Werner Herzog might have made of Vaknin! But it’s well worth a watch anyway. On YouTube, the doc is cut up into eight segments, but if you start watching the video that starts off this posting the segments should play straight through.
Watching “I, Psychopath” in fact put us in a mood for a Herzog doc, so we then treated oureselves to “God’s Angry Man,” a relatively early (and relatively short) America-the-Weird film about Dr. Eugene Scott, an oddball L.A. televangelist who was a big deal on public access TV in the ’70s and ’80s. Hipsters of that era loved watching him and marveling at him. You’ll probably want to skim Wikipedia’s entry for the basic facts about Scott — Herzog isn’t big one on supplying the journalistic basics. But Herzog certainly captures what was peculiar and fascinating about him.
- I haven’t watched this video presentation about narcissism by Ann Barnhardt yet, but a friend tells me it’s good.
- There’s much here for the hard-core to explore.
- A list of some recommended books about narcissism.
- Werner Herzog does a Reddit AMA.
Had a brief encounter with Vaknin 15+ years ago when I hung out at everything2.org. He wanted to post stuff (about himself, and narcissism in general) without following our rules, his reasoning being more or less that narcissists don’t obey rules. The admin who was on deck at the time politely told him that we didn’t make exceptions. He cheerfully went off to bother people somewhere else.
In that brief encounter he was not an unpleasant guy at all, aside from the boundary-pushing thing, but he would have gotten deeply boring in short order. Narcissists are like Beck lyrics from the 1990s: There’s nothing there to interact with. Effectively, there’s nothing there at all.
Interesting snapshot of the guy, thanks. Judging from the doc, he’s certainly capable of being impressive and he’s certainly capable of wit and charm. Seems to have less than zero interest in anyone else on the planet, though.
The Psychopath Code by Pieter Hintjens. Book by a software guy who analyzed psychopaths like software code. One of the best books I’ve seen on psychopaths. Free download at,
Funny you should say that, I’m in the middle of reading Hintjens book myself. Finding it really brilliant and very helpful. (And sad that Hintjens is dying of cancer.) Did you run across the Reddit AMA he did about psychopathy? Fascinating (as well as a little hard to explain) how outraged some of the questioners were.
Thanks for the Reddit link. They sure are negative towards him. I’ve read a lot of stuff on psychopaths and his book seems to me to very concise and detailed. “The Mask of Sanity” by Hervey Cleckley and his book seem to me to be really good.
I enjoyed “God’s Angry Man,” because Dr. Gene Scott was always on TV when I was a kid, and we used to watch him, trying to figure out what his deal was (when there was nothing else on). Several times, I spotted him wearing an old, German Imperial-style spiked helmet. I never was quite sure what that was about, LOL.