Wishing harm unto others and intense sexual thoughts are not inherently inappropriate. It all depends on the context.
Interview (High School Project of Brandon Abear)
1 - Are most serial killers pathological narcissists? Is there a strong connection? 5 - Is the pathological narcissist more at risk of becoming a serial killerthan a person not suffering from the disorder?
A. Scholarly literature, biographical studies of serial killers, as well as anecdotal evidence suggest that serial and mass killers suffer from personality disorders and some of them are also psychotic. Cluster B personality disorders, such as the Antisocial Personality Disorder (psychopaths and sociopaths), the Borderline Personality Disorder, and the Narcissistic Personality Disorder seem to prevail although other personality disorders - notably the Paranoid, the Schizotypal, and even the Schizoid - are also represented.
2 - Wishing harm upon others, intense sexual thoughts, and similarly inappropriate ideas do appear in the minds of most people. What is it that allows the serial killer to let go of those inhibitions? Do you believe that pathological narcissism and objectification are heavily involved, rather than these serial killers just being naturally "evil?" If so, please explain.
A. Wishing harm unto others and intense sexual thoughts are not inherently inappropriate. It all depends on the context. For instance: wishing to harm someone who abused or victimized you is a healthy reaction. Some professions are founded on such desires to injure other people (for instance, the army and the police).
The difference between serial killers and the rest of us is that they lack impulse control and, therefore, express these drives and urges in socially-unacceptable settings and ways. You rightly point out that serial killers also objectify their victims and treat them as mere instruments of gratification. This may have to do with the fact that serial and mass killers lack empathy and cannot understand their victims' "point of view". Lack of empathy is an important feature of the Narcissistic and the Antisocial personality disorders.
"Evil" is not a mental health construct and is not part of the language used in the mental health professions. It is a culture-bound value judgment. What is "evil" in one society is considered the right thing to do in another.
In his bestselling tome, "People of the Lie", Scott Peck claims that narcissists are evil. Are they?
The concept of "evil" in this age of moral relativism is slippery and ambiguous. The "Oxford Companion to Philosophy" (Oxford University Press, 1995) defines it thus: "The suffering which results from morally wrong human choices."
To qualify as evil a person (Moral Agent) must meet these requirements:
- That he can and does consciously choose between the (morally) right and wrong and constantly and consistently prefers the latter;
- That he acts on his choice irrespective of the consequences to himself and to others.
Clearly, evil must be premeditated. Francis Hutcheson and Joseph Butler argued that evil is a by-product of the pursuit of one's interest or cause at the expense of other people's interests or causes. But this ignores the critical element of conscious choice among equally efficacious alternatives. Moreover, people often pursue evil even when it jeopardizes their well-being and obstructs their interests. Sadomasochists even relish this orgy of mutual assured destruction.
Narcissists satisfy both conditions only partly. Their evil is utilitarian. They are evil only when being malevolent secures a certain outcome. Sometimes, they consciously choose the morally wrong but not invariably so. They act on their choice even if it inflicts misery and pain on others. But they never opt for evil if they are to bear the consequences. They act maliciously because it is expedient to do so not because it is "in their nature".
The narcissist is able to tell right from wrong and to distinguish between good and evil. In the pursuit of his interests and causes, he sometimes chooses to act wickedly. Lacking empathy, the narcissist is rarely remorseful. Because he feels entitled, exploiting others is second nature. The narcissist abuses others absent-mindedly, off-handedly, as a matter of fact.
The narcissist objectifies people and treats them as expendable commodities to be discarded after use. Admittedly, that, in itself, is evil. Yet, it is the mechanical, thoughtless, heartless face of narcissistic abuse devoid of human passions and of familiar emotions that renders it so alien, so frightful and so repellent.
We are often shocked less by the actions of narcissist than by the way he acts. In the absence of a vocabulary rich enough to capture the subtle hues and gradations of the spectrum of narcissistic depravity, we default to habitual adjectives such as "good" and "evil". Such intellectual laziness does this pernicious phenomenon and its victims little justice.
Note - Why are we Fascinated by Evil and Evildoers?
The common explanation is that one is fascinated with evil and evildoers because, through them, one vicariously expresses the repressed, dark, and evil parts of one's own personality. Evildoers, according to this theory, represent the "shadow" nether lands of our selves and, thus, they constitute our antisocial alter egos. Being drawn to wickedness is an act of rebellion against social strictures and the crippling bondage that is modern life. It is a mock synthesis of our Dr. Jekyll with our Mr. Hyde. It is a cathartic exorcism of our inner demons.
Yet, even a cursory examination of this account reveals its flaws.
Far from being taken as a familiar, though suppressed, element of our psyche, evil is mysterious. Though preponderant, villains are often labeled "monsters" - abnormal, even supernatural aberrations. It took Hanna Arendt two thickset tomes to remind us that evil is banal and bureaucratic, not fiendish and omnipotent.
In our minds, evil and magic are intertwined. Sinners seem to be in contact with some alternative reality where the laws of Man are suspended. Sadism, however deplorable, is also admirable because it is the reserve of Nietzsche's Supermen, an indicator of personal strength and resilience. A heart of stone lasts longer than its carnal counterpart.
Throughout human history, ferocity, mercilessness, and lack of empathy were extolled as virtues and enshrined in social institutions such as the army and the courts. The doctrine of Social Darwinism and the advent of moral relativism and deconstruction did away with ethical absolutism. The thick line between right and wrong thinned and blurred and, sometimes, vanished.
Evil nowadays is merely another form of entertainment, a species of pornography, a sanguineous art. Evildoers enliven our gossip, color our drab routines and extract us from dreary existence and its depressive correlates. It is a little like collective self-injury. Self-mutilators report that parting their flesh with razor blades makes them feel alive and reawakened. In this synthetic universe of ours, evil and gore permit us to get in touch with real, raw, painful life.
The higher our desensitized threshold of arousal, the more profound the evil that fascinates us. Like the stimuli-addicts that we are, we increase the dosage and consume added tales of malevolence and sinfulness and immorality. Thus, in the role of spectators, we safely maintain our sense of moral supremacy and self-righteousness even as we wallow in the minutest details of the vilest crimes.
3 - Pathological narcissism can seemingly "decay" with age, as stated in your article. Do you feel this applies to serial killers urges as well?
A. Actually, I state in my article that in RARE CASES, pathological narcissism as expressed in antisocial conduct recedes with age. Statistics show that the propensity to act criminally decreases in older felons. However, this doesn't seem to apply to mass and serial killers. Age distribution in this group is skewed by the fact that most of them are caught early on but there are many cases of midlife and even old perpetrators.
4 - Are serial killers (and pathological narcissism) created by their environments, genetics, or a combination of both?
A. No one knows.
Are personality disorders the outcomes of inherited traits? Are they brought on by abusive and traumatizing upbringing? Or, maybe they are the sad results of the confluence of both?
To identify the role of heredity, researchers have resorted to a few tactics: they studied the occurrence of similar psychopathologies in identical twins separated at birth, in twins and siblings who grew up in the same environment, and in relatives of patients (usually across a few generations of an extended family).
Tellingly, twins - both those raised apart and together - show the same correlation of personality traits, 0.5 (Bouchard, Lykken, McGue, Segal, and Tellegan, 1990). Even attitudes, values, and interests have been shown to be highly affected by genetic factors (Waller, Kojetin, Bouchard, Lykken, et al., 1990).
A review of the literature demonstrates that the genetic component in certain personality disorders (mainly the Antisocial and Schizotypal) is strong (Thapar and McGuffin, 1993). Nigg and Goldsmith found a connection in 1993 between the Schizoid and Paranoid personality disorders and schizophrenia.
The three authors of the Dimensional Assessment of Personality Pathology (Livesley, Jackson, and Schroeder) joined forces with Jang in 1993 to study whether 18 of the personality dimensions were heritable. They found that 40 to 60% of the recurrence of certain personality traits across generations can be explained by heredity: anxiousness, callousness, cognitive distortion, compulsivity, identity problems, oppositionality, rejection, restricted expression, social avoidance, stimulus seeking, and suspiciousness. Each and every one of these qualities is associated with a personality disorder. In a roundabout way, therefore, this study supports the hypothesis that personality disorders are hereditary.
This would go a long way towards explaining why in the same family, with the same set of parents and an identical emotional environment, some siblings grow to have personality disorders, while others are perfectly "normal". Surely, this indicates a genetic predisposition of some people to developing personality disorders.
Still, this oft-touted distinction between nature and nurture may be merely a question of semantics.
As I wrote in my book, "Malignant Self Love - Narcissism Revisited":
"When we are born, we are not much more than the sum of our genes and their manifestations. Our brain - a physical object - is the residence of mental health and its disorders. Mental illness cannot be explained without resorting to the body and, especially, to the brain. And our brain cannot be contemplated without considering our genes. Thus, any explanation of our mental life that leaves out our hereditary makeup and our neurophysiology is lacking. Such lacking theories are nothing but literary narratives. Psychoanalysis, for instance, is often accused of being divorced from corporeal reality.
Our genetic baggage makes us resemble a personal computer. We are an all-purpose, universal, machine. Subject to the right programming (conditioning, socialization, education, upbringing) - we can turn out to be anything and everything. A computer can imitate any other kind of discrete machine, given the right software. It can play music, screen movies, calculate, print, paint. Compare this to a television set - it is constructed and expected to do one, and only one, thing. It has a single purpose and a unitary function. We, humans, are more like computers than like television sets.
True, single genes rarely account for any behavior or trait. An array of coordinated genes is required to explain even the minutest human phenomenon. "Discoveries" of a "gambling gene" here and an "aggression gene" there are derided by the more serious and less publicity-prone scholars. Yet, it would seem that even complex behaviors such as risk taking, reckless driving, and compulsive shopping have genetic underpinnings."
5 - Man or Monster?
A. Man, of course. There are no monsters, except in fantasy. Serial and mass killers are merely specks in the infinite spectrum of "being human". It is this familiarity - the fact that they are only infinitesimally different from me and you - that makes them so fascinating. Somewhere inside each and every one of us there is a killer, kept under the tight leash of socialization. When circumstances change and allow its expression, the drive to kill inevitably and invariably erupts.