What causes people to become ...evil? - Jo-Ann Carson

What causes people to become …evil?

In Canada, the media  is going wild with the gruesome story of Luca Rocco Magnotta who allegedly killed  and dismembered a young man. Allegedly, he  ate parts of the body and then shipped other parts around before he left the country. The first 2 parts arrived in government offices. The following week, 2 arrived in Vancouver schools. We hear this news reiterated on radio, TV and in the newspapers at a frequency of about every five minutes. The question being: where will the next one land?
The good news is that Magnotta was found in Germany and brought back to the country to face charges. Police departments throughout North America are checking their files to see if he could be responsible for some of their unsolved cases.
The real life horror story grows, fueled by details of despicable cat videos he posted on the Internet and his wild lifestyle. In the media it’s a feeding frenzy. So why would I want to add to such a ghoulish story?
The Vancouver Sun ran an interesting article exploring the ideas we’ve gathered around psychopaths (Are Psychopaths Hardwired to Hurt? by Sharon Kirkey 12-06-09, p. B3). What causes people to become so evil? For some time, the “Nature” camp has said it’s genetic (i.e., they are born that way…it’s in their blood), the “Nurture” camp has said it’s a result of societal conditions the individual grew up in (i.e., blame it on the parents<grin>), and then there’s the “Middle” camp that believes it’s a horrible mixture of the two. As Kirkey outlines in her article the debate is now fueled by research on the brain:

“…over the past decade, there has been a rush to research the brains of society’s worst criminals, with a stream of studies linking psychopathic bahaviour to physical abnormalities.”

The findings state:

“According to their brain scans, the prisoners with psychopathic traits had significantly smaller amounts of grey matter in regions associated with processing empathy, moral reasoning and self conscious emotions, such as guilt and embarrassment.”
“…One gene in particular has been implicated – MAO-A, which an enzyme which breaks down serotonin which affects mood and can have a calming effect.”

She also looks at the Nurture side:

“…abuse in childhood is common among those with psychopathic traits–abuse so relentless, ‘he has to anesthetize himself against it…and in the process…he also loses any touch of his own humanity.’ (Leyton)”

I still favor the middle position.

“…a combination of biological, biochemical, personal psychology and social environment that come together, very  rarely to produce this kind of abomination.”

I think we should focus on diagnosing mental illness  early on. Ask any school teacher. They know which kids act out and have no remorse, or empathy.  With school budgets constantly being cut, any counseling time that remains is used to put out fires and to help teachers implement proactive programs. It’s not enough. In a healthy society our public education system would be funded sufficiently to address the mental health of its students. It just makes sense.
How does this effect my  writing? My villains tend to be molded mostly by nasty backgrounds, because that’s believable to me and addresses my concern about society, how it treats children,and  the poor. It also leads to what I feel is one of the biggest issues in the murder mystery genre: justice. What is true justice?

0 Replies to “What causes people to become …evil?”

  1. Oh wow. I only heard about this now, but that’s just horrible. Even when it comes to fiction, if you’re trying to write a character like that, you’d still ask yourself, “What on earth was going on through their mind when they did that?” But I don’t really think any of us can answer it.

  2. Jo-Ann, I htink it can be either or a combination. We’ve read of folks who’s home-life is god-awful-terrible. Some of them turn to lives of crime. Others become servants, helping others in all kinds of professions. Sometimes even within the same family you’ll find differences, which comes down more on the brain sied. But we all know a person’s place in the family plays a roll in what they think of themselves. Sad to say as an elementary principal, I did see kids I felt were already on a scary, downward spiral. And know we didn’t have enough resources to help them. Even after the district offered free counseling, parents didn’t always take advantage of that. We couldn’t make them go. Sometimes they couldn’t get there (This was not offered at school, but through a separate counseling service.) And you know, who wants to have to change? That’s what parents are asked to do in some situations. And they need to, they’re enabling the children to become monsters. On the otherhand, I’ve seen the “good middle class” family with the tyrant child. How come? Is it a kind of birth defect? I don’t know, but you are so right, Jo-Ann, as a civilized, supposedly caring country (you in the northern part of the contenent and us in the middle, why can’t we find the resources to help at least the families who will take advantage of the help? Clearly one of my hot buttons. I just saw so much waste of potential in a lot of kids and family. Even after being out of the work for so long–6 years the end of this month, I still am angry and frustrated about the lack of support for public ed. Thanks for your blog and letting me sound off. 🙂

    1. Marsha
      Thank you for adding to the discussion.
      I don’t think retired educators ever forget the kids they wanted to help, but couldn’t because of barriers put up by parents, the system, or the children themselves. It’s sooo wrong. We all want a healthy society, but we don’t give all children the support they need. Too many slide through the cracks onto the street in broken and tormented fragments.
      Yes, it’s a hot button for me too.
      Best Wishes

  3. Truthfully I’ve been taught these kinds of people and yes even children have different brains that we do. Yes, environment plays a role. Some killers are made because of it. Most prolific killers like the one you talked about, have no conscious. I’ve seen small children with great parents who were this way. Something happen to them in the genetic pool.
    They can not be fixed either. I have never seen one helped by therapy. Therapy only teaches them how to fit in and appear normal. Ann Rule, a wonderful crime writer, knew Ted Bundy. She thought he was a nice guy. They are great at concealing the monsters inside them. Until they want to let the monster out and hurt someone. I know Canada doesn’t have the Death Penalty, but if they get out they will do this again, and again. They can’t help themselves. Adults who do this should get the DP in my opinion.
    Now don’t ask me about kids and the death penalty. I think we as a society have to try to rehabilitate. We just don’t know how to do that yet with these types of predators. These kids shouldn’t be let out until we find a way of doing that.
    And as for justice? Like you said Jo-Ann there isn’t any. No matter what their loved ones are gone. They died in a horrific manner. Something I’m sure the families live through in their minds daily. Life as they knew it is over.
    Ture Justice-there isn’t any.

    1. Diane
      Thanks for adding to the discussion with your comments. As you’ve studied this topic, I know you know what you’re talking about.
      I wonder why we don’,t as a society, do something for “troubled kids”. We know who they are, and we know they’re dangerous, but we stand back…until it’s too late.
      As for justice: I like to believe that there is justice for everyone, somewhere…sometime. It may be a romantic notion, but it’s part of the glue that holds my universe together.
      Happy writing

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