Sunday, 15 January 2012

Those that do harm

Note: The following is an extract form an essay on fiction writing.

It's very difficult for a lot of people to acknowledge the human capacity for gratuitous malice. Even for people who've been subjected to cruelty and torment themselves, That may be due to the fact that most of us recognize our own potential for aggression even if many underestimate their own capacity for such. Attendant to such self knowledge is the faith in redemption, that is, the belief or hope that a person may atone for past transgressions because we or they are not intrinsically evil. To a certain extent that faith is well founded and could be applied to the majority of people, conventional psychology states that only a small percentage of the population is irredeemably psychopathic but there is much disagreement about how to define that percentage.

One of the problems with psychology is that there is a tendency, with some, to attribute all abhorrent behaviour to one or another psychological syndrome or malady. There's a failure to recognize that malice, spite, violence, aggression and cruelty are intrinsic to normal human behaviour. The term psychopath has fallen out of favour in certain circles where the inclusive, sociopath is preferred. There's nothing more foolish than a layman weighting into a debate in a specialised field of which they are scantly cognisant, so I'm going to sidestep the issue by creating my own categories. Another reason for avoiding the psychological labels is that it's apparent that individuals categorized under a psychological label will not necessarily be manifestly cruel or malicious. Indeed they may even be regarded as talented or uniquely enabled individuals, who offer great benefit and insight to broader society. What I'm going to try to do is analysis and describe the reasons why you might encounter malicious behaviour and categorize, in descending order of severity, those that do harm:

Category A
This is the only category in which all the subjects are irredeemable, do not, under any circumstances, expect any reasonable behavour from people who fall in this category. You not only run the risk of disillusion you put your own prosperity, safety and well being in jeopardy. Unfortunately it is impossible to avoid contact with people who fall in this category completely but you can minimize the risk of harm you expose yourself to by recognizing likely candidates.

This is also the only category under which the subjects that fall within it exhibit an unambiguous pathological cause for their behavior. They're bad because they're fucked in the head, either congenitally or through injury. This doesn't necessarily mean they're stupid, although the majority will be below average intelligence, they can be highly intelligent and even successful politicians, professionals and businessmen/women but their propensity for cruelty may undermine their success.

Many who fall within this category are likely to be recognized with relative ease, such as people prone to spontaneous acts of gross violence. Those within this group who manage their appetites for cruelty and violence more covertly can be difficult to pin down. There is however, a list of attributes that, while an imperfect tool, may be helpful for the purpose of recognition. These attributes are: superficial charm, propensity for lies or equivocation, self aggrandizement, lack of remorse or guilt, callousness, propensity to shift responsibility to others. Just as pedophiles seek out opportunities for contact with children you are likely to encounter these people in situations or occupations where they can exercise a degree of power or duress over others. Such occupations include: police, customs, tax office and residential care. That's not to say everyone in those occupations will fall within this category, just 10-20% which is about 10 times the incidence within the general population.

caveat: the following does not represent a psychological diagnosis or opinion of any person listed. It represents my opinion of those likely to fall within the category described above and as such represents my best guess, which I acknowledge, is likely to be incorrect. Please do not interpret this as a factual statement about any person, living or dead, listed.

Carol Tessaman, Joseph Stalin, Phineas Gage, An Extant British Politician -- noted for deceit and glibness, Myra Hindley, Reinhard Heydrich

Category B
People who fall in this category are those who've acquired their dysfunction through environmental means. This can include injury through alcohol and drug abuse but only where their effects are not irreversible. While those in this category may commit acts of violence or cruelty while under the influence that's not to say all people who commit acts while in such a condition fall within this category. Individuals in this category may conform to the dysfunctional stereotype, abused and tormented physically and sexually as a child. This is not necessarily the case though but they will exhibit a degree of isolation an remoteness from social norms characterized by nihilism in varying degrees. In some ways those in this category are the most volatile and dangerous, they're more likely to explosive suicidal acts that culminate in extreme violence and high body counts.

The main problem with this category is that those that fall within it are defined by the extent they're at odds with society in general. So any assessment of likely candidates has to be in relation to the broader social context. To explain this I use two well known fictional social contexts, in what I call The Walnut Grove - Oceania Analogy. Suppose there's a person breaking up chairs and starting fights in Walnut Grove, they're probably not very nice are they? Now imagine someone doing the same in Oceania, you wouldn't necessarily draw the same conclusion would you? So you have to bear that in mind when you're looking at people at odds with social norms.That's not to say the person in Oceania is any less dangerous but they're more likely to be redeemable and less, sick in the head rather than a product of a sick society. You should apply the same list of attributes for assessing candidates for this list but be aware that people in this category are less likely to be successful they're more likely to be socially disadvantaged loners.

caveat: the following does not represent a psychological diagnosis or opinion of any person listed. It represents my opinion of those likely to fall within the category described above and as such represents my best guess, which I acknowledge, is likely to be incorrect. Please do not interpret this as a factual statement about any person, living or dead, listed.

Columbine Shooters, Timothy McVeigh, Adolf Hitler, Herman Goering, Michael Ryan

Category C
While this is not the most prevalent category it is by several order of magnitude the category responsible for most harm and therefore the most dangerous on a broader scale. The good news is that on an individual level they're generally, although not always, less dangerous than the two previous categories.This is the first category for which there is no requirement for psychological dysfunction for those included, although they may exhibit such. People in this category do not necessarily have a predisposition to cruelty or violence unless they are provided with a motive to justify such. This category does not include those with genuine motive to commit violence, such as protecting themselves, their family or property. People who are included in this category are those who justify their actions with specious or false justification. Such justification will more often include self deception and deception of others to recruit allies. They prefer to equivocate but will justify outright dishonesty with the, ends justifies means rational. The scope of the harm perpetrated by people in this category can vary immensely from small scale family feuds to the global scale. Do not make the mistake of expecting reasonable behavior from people in this category, their capacity for self deception ensures they're nearly as intransigent as those in category A. Do not try to argue your case in the hope that reason will prevail in the mind of your adversary, any perceived reconciliation is most likely to be a deception by them to gain advantage.

It's relatively easy to identify individuals in this category on a personal level, family members or colleagues who lie about you because of some imagined grievance are obvious examples. It's not so easy to recognize people in this category in a broader context. That is, people in the media or political arenas. Your assessments are likely to be coloured by your own preconceptions, which is why I will not include any explicit examples for this category.

Category D Everyone else
That's you and me, well I did say it was normal human behaviour.

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