Why Serial Killers?

Have you ever told someone what you write about and you suddenly see them kick into flight or fight mode?  Watched them fold their arms protectively around their body and pre-program 911 into their phone? Yeah. I’ve been experiencing this a lot lately since I’ve started focusing my writing on serial killers. So, I’d like to set the record straight up front.

My obsession with writing about violence and serial killers does not stem from a desire to kill you (unless you go 20 mph in front of me and keep tapping your brakes). It doesn’t mean I want to be a serial killer or even want to know one.

It comes from two things:

Remember that stage all two to three year olds go through? The “why” stage? It seems I have never grown out of that. It drives me nuts not to know why something happens the way it does. That’s the main reason I love science and use it a lot in my writing. Science answers questions. Psychology and neuroscience has come a long way in figuring out human behavior, but not far enough.

Research has shown neurological abnormalities in the frontal lobe of a sociopath’s brain.  So, sociopathy is a disease, not a behavorial choice. When an individual born with this type of brain abnormality grows up in an abusive or neglectful environment, they are going to have problems being empathetic, well-adjusted members of society. They just don’t have the right equipment under the hood.

 Or the other side of the argument…that the harsh environment they grew up in caused these abnormal physical changes in their brain. Either way, we know that our brains are capable of structural changes that affect our personalities. Our brains are capable of re-organizing our thought patterns, the way we view ourselves and others. So, here comes the why–

WHY can’t we stop people from growing up to become sociopaths and serial killers? WHY can’t the ones that have already become these things be helped?

Well, I know why, really. We just don’t know enough yet. Some believe these people are just born evil. That’s the easy way out.  I don’t believe in evil so I can’t accept that explanation. I think they were born into unfortunate environments with vulnerable brain structures. They are just extreme ends of other mental illnesses, a matter of degree.

 I realize this is naive. In NOT knowing, I don’t know what’s impossible. Still, I don’t think we should just throw our hands up and say “well, they are just evil, we can’t help them.” Yes, they should be locked up, seperated from society, but we can’t ignore them. We have to learn from them, understand them and figure out how to stop our future children from becoming them.

I am always shocked more by the real news stories I read. Yesterday I read a story about a dad on PCP who ate his little boys eyes. WTF?  You can’t make this kind of stuff up. Nature is cruel. Humans are cruel. Fiction writers are control freaks. 

In real life, murders go unsolved. Killers walk amoung us, free to destroy more lives.

In fiction, murders are solved, killers are caught and justice is served. As a reader, it’s why I read crime fiction. You can call it fiction, but the satisfaction, the sense of relief gained is real.  And it’s priceless in a world that feels like it’s spinning out of control. 

(The second reason–my personal experience with serial killers–will be the next post, so please come back by and thanks for stopping in!)

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  1. #1 by M. R. Sellars on June 5, 2009 - 4:22 pm

    If you ever get over the 3 year old “why?” phase, please tell me how… I’ve been trying to kick that habit for 44 years. 😉

    Murv

  2. #2 by CHRISTIAN on June 5, 2009 - 5:20 pm

    YAY! SHANNON’S BACK!

  3. #3 by soesposito on June 5, 2009 - 8:11 pm

    Hi, Murv!

    Blog luv right back atcha, Christian. 🙂

  4. #4 by Uncle Buck on June 9, 2009 - 3:09 am

    Shannon,

    You certainly have created a well designed and interesting site. Congratulations.

    I appreciate your comments and observations. To a degree, I concur. However, just as you have a right to your opinion that “you do not believe in evil” I can respectfully disagree with you as I, not only believe that evil exists, I personally know evil exists.

    Science can explain the natural order of the universe as it applies to the physical laws that govern matter, energy, space, time and entropy. For the questions that science is not able to address, it is a matter of science having to catch up with the questions.

    “Meta” Science or psychology, is all about art and very little science. Human beings are three dimentional beings. There is the physical, science explained body. The second part of the trilogy is the spirit. This is something that can not be quantified but mankind has written about it and felt it within every human being. It is that part of you that is emotion, feeling and awareness. The third part is the soul. The Greek Psyche. The soul is the essence of the human being. The emotions that are expressed by the spirit originate in the soul.

    Science can explain the physical body fairly well. Psychology can stab in the dark at the spirit, but the soul is not something that can be explained. It is this part of the human being that is most vulnerable to evil. The soul communicates with the universe on a different plane than does the physical body. It is in this plane that evil exists. If that were all that there was to it, human beings could deal with it in a scientific method. However, evil communicates with the soul and manifests itself in the human spirit. The human spirit is more closely communicative with the physical body than the soul. It is here where evil does it’s worst.

  5. #5 by soesposito on June 9, 2009 - 2:08 pm

    Uncle Buck- Thanks for stopping in, I really appreciate your thoughtful post.
    You seem like a spiritual person, so I understand where you’re coming from and I understand everyone has their own life experiences to pull their beliefs from.
    As for the soul, I do believe in a soul. But, I believe we are all part of one whole…whether you want to call that whole “God” or something else.
    Though I don’t think a soul can be evil because of this oneness. I believe actions can be right or wrong. I guess you could label the wrong as evil. The different plane idea is interesting, I like it.
    Anyway, just some thoughts from my perspective…limited as it is. 🙂
    Thanks again for taking the time to make your opinion known here.

  6. #6 by Anticrombie on June 9, 2009 - 6:01 pm

    People can misconstrue the phrase “Religion is the opiate of the masses”, believing in the meaning of the effects of the drug of the same name, which can bring about euphoria, or the opposite; procuring a feeling of dullness.

    I believe the phrase needs to be extended: “Authority is the opiate of the masses.” Authority being any governing body including religion, military or government.

    There probably was a reason the Universe put a great writer and philosopher (and LSD proponent) by the name of Timothy Leary in a prison cell next to Charles Manson. After their encounters, Leary coined the famous phrase, ‘To think for yourself, you must question authority.’

    Perhaps at least one serial killer (I wouldn’t say ‘all serial killers’ as we are… oops.. THEY are all different) has shed the trappings of polite society in order to challenge the normalities of society and the authoritative rule.

    So the question of Uncle Bucks’ ‘evil’ that has invaded the ‘soul’ is irrelevant; Perhaps the real question is, “Who in their right mind would allow themselves to delve to greater depths inward… and like what they find?”

    …ramble, ramble… 🙂

    • #7 by soesposito on June 9, 2009 - 7:46 pm

      That’s an interesting theory for the mutation in the serial killer’s brain structure. Nature throwing a ghost in the machine? The only problem is, I don’t think they choose to challenge society’s rules…I don’t think they have a choice in the matter at all. What they have is a drive, an appetite just like the wolf stalking and killing the rabbit. There is supposed to be a line there, an empathic switch to stop them from acting out the killing, to seperate human from animal, but it is missing. Why is it missing? I agree with free thought, but I am also terrified at the prospect of some of the people I meet being able to exercise free thought. If there were no rules, no religion…there would be no accountability…society wouldn’t survive. And it’s precisely because people don’t delve inward and come up with their own moral code to live by that this would happen. These people need others telling them what’s right and wrong for the society they live in. Otherwise, they would only be in it for themselves. crumble crumble. 🙂
      As far as people not liking what they find…what’s not to like? We are all perfect. Our actions aren’t, but we’re here to learn not to be our own judge, jury and executioner.

      oh, and ps. It didn’t go unnoticed that you capitalized Universe. Which I will use from now on, thanx.

  7. #8 by Anticrombie on June 9, 2009 - 9:50 pm

    Everybody has a choice… just some are more easy to make than others. Sure, the choice between a razorblade through the tongue or a needle in the eye are not MUCH of a choice… but it’s still a choice.

    To have a compulsion is not a choice, but to follow one is. The empathetic switch may not be there, but at some point a choice was made to have it missing.

    Now, what REALLY gets under my skin is thinking through and imagining how the individual would feel when that decision is made. Would it be a relief to finally cave in to the compulsions? Would more psychic barriers immediately jump into place to protect the individual as their own mind saw fit?
    …that would be something to read about.

    As far as not liking what you find… If you do you’re not digging deep enough 🙂 The Shadow is an unconcious complex that is defined as ‘repressed and suppressed aspects of the conscious self’. The problem is, everytime you try to observe the Shadow, it changes. (From center out, unconscious to conscious: Self, Animus, Shadow, Ego, Persona). In other words, everytime you try to understand what is driving you, the idea that you THINK you understand it will change your driving nature.

    Carl Jung wanted us to just be AWARE of the Shadow, otherwise we would project it onto others. We see the best, and worst, of ourselves in everyone. Perhaps after crossing that initial line of murder, the next line was made easier by the further sinking into depravity, thus projecting more of their Shadow onto their victims.

    Dexter called his the ‘Dark Passenger’…

    • #9 by soesposito on June 10, 2009 - 1:37 am

      Ah! You hit it, that IS how they feel. Every interview I’ve read, they all say it is a huge relief when they kill. Then they come down and the urge begins to build again.
      It’s a brain functioning problem, a lack of connections somewhere, damage somewhere…not a choice.
      Sure, they could chain themselves to something when the urge gets that strong…even kill themselves before they kill. I’d prefer either. I guess that could be a choice. I’m picturing those old werewolf movies where the werewolf tried to confine himself before the full moon. Once he began to turn, though there was no going back. That’s how I think of the serial killers…animals.

      They don’t need barriers, they are not capable of remorse, guilt or even seeing their victims as a living person sometimes. Were they born that way? Did something go wrong during development or with their environment? Most likely both.

      Dexter is the only serial killer I would want to meet in person. Seriously brilliant character! Waiting for season 3 on DVD. 🙂

  8. #10 by Anticrombie on June 10, 2009 - 8:22 pm

    It’s funny… there seems to be a difference between books about serial killers and movies about serial killers.

    Books about serial killers tend to find the cause in psychological as the tipping point, while movies tend to find the cause in environmental. This seems the case even in books that were turned into a movie. (I have yet to find an example of a movie turned into a book, though 🙂 ). I wonded if this could be accredited to laziness, since environment is easy to show on the screen, while psychological is easier to write about. OR, it could be laziness in my research on them ;).

  9. #11 by M. R. Sellars on June 10, 2009 - 8:28 pm

    My personal research has shown that causality can be traced directly to the choice of hot or cold breakfast cereals.

  10. #12 by soesposito on June 11, 2009 - 12:35 am

    Yeah, except for Hannibal, who seemed like a pretty normal kid until they ate his sister. I’d have to chalk that up to environment. 🙂

    LOL, Murv! Personal research on cereal killers???

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