Assassins are not born, they are made

Assassins are not born, they are made

Assassins are not born

Although philosophers have been racking their brains over the nature of evil for thousands of years, today that of immorality might seem like a solved problem. Consider the case of Bryan Kohberger, the prime suspect in a quadruple homicide case near Moscow University in Idaho. The man's arrest has given rise to a whirlwind of media speculation about the killer's psyche, as if the correct diagnosis of his personality disorder could mitigate the seriousness of the crime committed. His "psychopathic gaze" made the front pages of several British tabloids, while the New York Times scrutinized Kohberger's statements about his inability to feel remorse since adolescence. Doctor Drew, a US television doctor, questioned a former FBI agent about the case, bringing up the so-called dark triad: narcissism, psychopathy and Machiavellianism.

It is understandable that people seek help to give a meaning to the otherwise senseless deaths that populate the front pages of local newspapers and flesh out the vast catalog of true crime content on Netflix. However, attempts to explain evil remain scientifically dubious, as criminologist Jarkko Jalava and psychologist Stephanie Griffiths explain in the book The Myth of the Born Criminal: When it comes to crimes, psychologists often "are very sloppy," Jalava argues. While the perpetrator of the Idaho murders certainly deserves a conviction, getting inside the mind of a killer is easier said than done. The prediction and prevention of heinous acts - which should represent the final goal of the profilers - is even more difficult. And the proliferation of pseudoscientific terms for individuals who engage in nasty behavior or even murderers has far-reaching and serious consequences.

The medicalization of evil, i.e. the diagnosis and management by doctors of diseases such as the so-called "moral insanity" and "criminal psychosis", dates back to the beginning of the nineteenth century. While clergymen drew a clear line between good and evil, psychiatrists began to treat people who committed impulsive, self-harming or "unchristian" acts. At the beginning, these doctors involved in criminal profiling explained the existence of "rotten apples" with the help of theories such as that of atavism. Its proponents believed that, over time, the degeneration of people's gene pool was behind the concentration of poverty, crime, and other unwanted traits in certain ethnic groups or social classes. Although the degeneracy theory has slowly been replaced by the concept of "psychopathy" (literally "soul disease"), the subjects have remained unchanged: deviants who show a lack of remorse or guilt, exhibit sexual promiscuity, and develop a long criminal record, perhaps from a young age.

New variations of the same theme crop up all the time. The "dark triad", a term coined in 2002 by Canadian psychologists Delroy Paulhus and Kevin Williams, describes "offensive but not pathological personalities", such as CEOs, politicians and toxic boyfriends. There are also labels such as 'antisocial personality disorder', a diagnosis given to individuals with severe impulsivity, aggression, and criminal behaviors: in other words, a DSM-approved reinterpretation of the standard definition of " psychopath". At first glance, these attempts to frame the disease seem positive. On the one hand, researchers are slowly separating crimes committed on purpose from the more unintentional harms caused by mental disorders. Likewise, it is a relief to be able to call upon the dark triad to acknowledge how common selfishness is.

However, the shadow of degeneration continues to loom. In addition to further medicalizing everyday debate (the " assholes ", Jalava and Griffiths point out, have become " psychopaths ", with all the consequences of the case), these models support the dubious belief that every human being has an immutable personality and that these personalities can easily be classified as good or bad. In fact, recent research shows that many people change – in some cases drastically – throughout their lives. At the same time, many researchers continue to criticize the historical characterization of personality disorders, in part because it is stigmatizing and can demean trauma, but also because it does not lead to clear indications about the most appropriate treatment.

Many popular ideas about people committing evil acts seem to stem from tabloid news reporting rather than scientific evidence. For example, according to Jalava and Griffiths many experiments that claim to have a genetic or neurobiological basis have not been replicated or have subsequently produced contradictory results. The two - who are a couple in real life - have documented how meta-analyses of research on psychopathy, ostensibly the gold standard of scientific research, often ignore published results with null results. While origins researchers acknowledge the shortcomings of the existing scientific literature on psychopathy, the dark triad, and similar disorders, a new problem emerges: Experts are not just trying to describe existing traits, but want to use these metrics to predict future behavior.

In the criminal justice system, the results of assessments such as the Hare psychopathy checklist are used to calculate an individual's risk of recidivism, and thus the grant or terms of liberty supervised. Paulhus, the creator of the Dark Triad test, proposes that potential employers, including the police force and military, screen applicants based on his scale. It's easy to imagine a world where people are screened for psychopathy and, if their score is high enough, end up being monitored to make sure they don't commit crimes.

But Jalava and Griffiths insist that that it is not possible to make well-founded predictions even with existing methods. If the questions asking to indicate criminal records are removed from the evaluations for psychopathy, these scales are unable to predict the subjects' future actions.

The desire to use incisive language to describe heinous acts it's natural. Unfortunately, sadistic bosses, everyday assholes, and even murderers still remain human beings. Condemning people by portraying them as the subhuman (or, paradoxically, superhuman) incarnation of evil is a trend that is not based on the "characteristics of the individual we face - explains Griffith -, but on our response to them".

When it comes to evil, the search for understanding is itself controversial. For decades  the media have been rightly criticized for the morbid attention they give to murderers (assuming that this fuels the psychopath's desire for attention or narcissist and may in turn inspire imitators.) But there is a difference between news consumers' insatiable desire for serial killer content and the responsibility we all have to address the harm caused by our society and, perhaps, the ability to do our own harm.Many true crime enthusiasts, for example, cite data showing that about a third of serial killers (many of whom are presumed to be no psychopaths) was physically abused. Of these, a quarter were victims of sexual abuse and half of psychological abuse as a child. However, these statistics do not explain much about more than half of the cases - "evil" adults - who were not abused. But they raise a more interesting question: why do so many apparently non-psychopathic parents abuse their children?

This way of reformulating the question is neither an excuse nor an absolution; adults can, in principle, be held responsible for their own actions. But it must be said that evil does not exist only in an individual, as inherently judgmental labels such as "psychopath" might suggest. It's not simply that psychopaths are not born but formed: the point is that if psychopaths exist, the same forces that shape them are at work on the rest of us, probably with similar, albeit more subtle, consequences. br>
Challenging misconceptions about wickedness also paves the way for new solutions. We know, for example, that poverty is the number one cause of child abuse. One could reasonably conclude that the money invested in studying dark traits could be better used towards a universal basic income. Likewise, the idea that past behavior can significantly suggest future behavior is a useful starting point. For example, if the only part of a psychopathy test that can predict crime are questions about past crime, we should be able to drop armchair psychoanalysis and focus on documented and real behavior. Again, since people can change – and indeed they do – these rules cannot be hard and fast: context and compassion will remain essential elements.

It is still possible to free yourself from unnecessary labels, focusing on the idiosyncrasies of problematic individuals – or who, to be more precise, give problems – and on the specific context in which they emerged. Despite their research, Jalava and Griffiths say they lack the secret weapon to defeat, let alone replace, the myth of the born criminal, and advocate a descriptive rather than a normative approach. Understanding how a particular person has arrived at a given point in time cannot erase the harm they have caused, but it could help them chart a new path, which perhaps deviates from her "dark personality".

This article originally appeared on US.

Powered by Blogger.