Sunday, July 27, 2014

Yes, Virginia, Evil Exists

"She is beyond the grace of God.  She is damned."

--Brahm Stoker's Dracula

As Americans, we like to believe people can change and become good.  It is practically programmed in our genes to forgive.  Whether it be Michael Vick, LeBron James, or Tiger Woods, the formula is the same--if you do a bad deed, you are expected to be punished.  After some time, if you apologize, we will forgive you.  America gives people second chances.  We believe in the ability of people to remake themselves and redeem themselves.

Many Americans are Christians.  The Bible is filled with examples who were bad actors who later turned good.  St. Paul used to help Christians get killed before his conversion experience on the road to Damascus.  After this, he became one of the greatest missionaries in Christianity.  The notion that God's grace cannot touch certain people's hearts and reform them is antithetical to our deepest held notions of what is right and true.

But what if there are some who cannot be saved?  What if there are those that thanks to biology and brain damage, are unable to do good and actually mean it?  Recent advances in fMRI technology and psychological testing has shown that psychopaths are incapable of experiencing empathy.  As an experiment, these people were hooked up to machines which recorded the activation of certain areas of the brain related to emotion.  When hearing words that are neutral, like "table" and "ball", normal people show no activation in the emotional areas of the brain.  But when hearing words that are emotionally charged, like "cancer" or "death of loved one", the areas related to emotion show activation.  In psychopaths, the words "cancer" and "death of loved one" registered the same as the neutral words.  In the more sick psychopaths, the words of suffering toward others caused their pleasure centers of the brain to be activated.  They were "turned on" by the suffering of others.  Likewise, the areas of the brain responsible for empathy were unaffected by images of the suffering of others, unlike the controls.

There are things in the brain called mirror neurons.  These are activated when we see another person perform an action like cry or smile.  When a baby hears another baby cry, it will cry too.  These mirror neurons allow the baby to perceive the pain of others.  This then encourages their empathic centers of the brain to be activated.  In psychopaths, they have the same number of mirror neurons.  They can perceive the pain of others.  The problem is they simply don't care.  Their empathic areas of the brain don't get activated.  Like a reptile, they remain cold blooded.  That is why when psychopathic criminals are later interviewed about their crimes, they speak about killing people in a matter-of-fact sort of way.  When non psychopathic killers are interviewed, they are more likely to talk about the spiritual and moral meanings of their crimes.  Psychopaths never talk this way.

Experiments were done with identical twins to see what portion of the psychopathic personality is based on genetics and which part is the environment.  We do know that to get a violent psychopath like Joel Rifkin or Jeffrey Dahmer, the child must be beaten and abused.  But what if a psychopath is not physically abused?  Twins studies indicate that there is a 80% genetic inheritance for psychopathy.  To the extent that non violent psychopaths don't harm people, it is because their parents did a good job.  These psychopaths spend their time committing white collar crimes and living like parasites off the good will of people.  Some of them may even do good, the difference being that cognitively they know what society expects of them and do it.  But they still don't care about the suffering of others or remain law abiding because they have internalized these norms.  It is only in this sense that they are "saved" by God's grace--the love of their parents.  But it doesn't make them normal, empathic people capable of love.

Autistic people lack the ability to actually see the suffering or pain in others.  It doesn't properly register with them.  If you tell someone with an autistic spectrum disorder like Asperger's that they hurt your feelings, they would care and feel bad.  They don't have an inability to feel empathy.  They are caring people.  It is like they are colorblind to facial expressions.  The psychopath knows full well that you are suffering and can recognize your pain--they just don't give a shit.

James Fallon is a scientist who studies the brain.  He also is a psychopath.  He states in his book "The Psychopath Inside" that after the age of 5, the brain structures responsible for empathy are formed.  If they are underdeveloped or don't exist, it's too late.  After this critical window, they cannot be "gotten back."  The child will remain a psychopath forever.  The best we can do is show children with psychopathic tendencies as much love and kindness as possible to minimize the later harm they will do.  We may prevent them from becoming violent.  But they will still never be empathic and truly care for others.

Psychopathy tends to run in families.  It's not one gene, it appears to be a constellation of genes.  There very well may be epigenetic factors that help these genes be turned on or off.  How to avoid the expression of these genes and prevent psychopathy in those with the inherited condition remains a mystery.  It is estimated that 1% of the population are psychopaths.

One of the worst things we can do is hope that a psychopath will change.  We project on to them normal emotions like love and compassion.  A psychopath is an expert at imitating emotions, at feigning concern when it serves his or her purposes.  But these are crocodile tears.  When psychopaths are interviewed about their crimes, many of them will pretend to be sorry for their crimes.  But later in that same interview, they will talk about how the victim "Had it coming to them because they were stupid."

Even some children as young as the age of 18 months can demonstrate psychopathic traits.  One psychopathic child at the age of 10 hanged his mother's cat and left it there for the mother to discover.  When she was horrified, the child smiled, enjoying her reaction.  Psychopathic children enjoy hurting animals and playing with fire.  They are fearless and avid risk takers.  They usually have discipline problems after the age of 13, like delinquency, selling drugs, and other problems.

Strangely, words you say to a psychopath don't affect them.  As long as they get what they want, they don't care what you say about them.  Their confidence is rock solid.  They believe in themselves.  They feel they are superior to others.  They feel no sense of conscience as in people owing a duty of moral obligation to others.  They know that people are bound by these rules, but they don't value it and don't care.  That is how they can abandon their families and move away without a second thought.  Once they drain their hosts of their reputations, money, and resources, they move on.  They are living vampires, living in their own hells removed from all love, compassion, and goodness.

Many of them feel a sense of nothingness inside.  They feel devastating boredom.  Their emotions are shallow.  They hate the world and feel persecuted although they shit on people every chance they get.  They will kick you in the balls and make you apologize they did you the favor.  Anything you say or do, they will twist and turn to make you feel insane.  Because they have no social compass, they will trash talk about you behind your back and turn everyone against you.  They seek to crush you on every level if you don't give them what they want.  They are the darkness.  Listening to a psychopath attack you is fascinating because they will accuse you of the things they themselves have done to you.  If they are abusive, they will accuse you of abusing them, even though the facts are totally contrary to this. 

If you have a psychopath in your life, you need to cut them out like a tumor.  It doesn't matter if they are a spouse, parents, sibling, or whatever.  They will destroy you.  They will never change.  They will not be saved or born again.  Get away before it is too late.

You don't get a blue ribbon for being a victim.