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The fictional Hannibal Lecter

PART I. The beginning of a sadistic psychopath.

The question of whether a psychopath, in the criminal sense, is born that way, or has learned the behavior, has plagued psychiatrists and social scientists for years. The issue has been presented in numerous articles often without satisfactory answers; neuro scientists have ventured into the enigma relying on state-of-the-art brain neuroimaging technology and highly refined computer analysis. There is talk about brain activity mapping and electrical “traffic” along the synaptic highways and artificial intelligence, but none of this work really gets us any closer to the question of whether a criminal sadist is born thinking about evil and willing to act on his thoughts; some experts believe that thoughts can become things over time, but it is also dangerous to associate all evil thoughts with psychopaths; there are too many clichés attached to psychopaths- they are loners, lack empathy, watch pornography, torture animals and the long list of Freud “mothering” characteristics. In the article above, we suggested that many such traits have been assigned to serial killers once they have been apprehended and that too large a net is cast when investigators pursue suspects who seem to exhibit such demeanors; the former being suspect because often the qualities seem to be forced on a suspect as an afterthought- in effect, the investigator’s thoughts become things; and the latter point being that many people who are not psychopaths exhibit these traits. At the same time, it does seem that sadistic psychopathy has evolutionary roots and the more recent these roots are, the greater the danger.

Our brains are motivated by emotion, either positive or negative; what is positive for one person may be negative for another; what is junk in one person’s mind may be art to someone else- beauty is in the eyes of the beholder. It could be said that we have free will when it comes to such matters. But it is also apparent that our past influences our will; for example, why does a person prefer the color blue over red? Almost certainly, something from the past impacts the preponderance. This is particularly the case when it comes to the so-called “universal motions” such as joy, fear, anger, sadness, surprise or disgust- some psychologists believe these are automatic, unlearned and predictable emotions- this may be true, but they are also idiosyncratic and heavily influenced by our distinct cultures. There is little doubt that social factors impact psychotic behavior; this is particularly present among participants in social media sites where issues like anxiety, bullying, threatening behavior, and ostracism occur. But such social implications, while important and potentially dangerous, occur regularly, the seeds that produce sadistic criminal psychopathy are much more subtle, cunning, and lethal and are present in the minds of all sadistic killers. The behavior is aggressive, hostile, secret, and almost always retributive (but not to a specific victim)- the sadistic killer has been dramatically shamed in the past. He has a higher-level cognitive mind than most- you will not see him coming.

In “The Psychopath” (1948), the author, Harry R. Lipton wrote about “Psychopathic Personality” and said, “Such individuals are neither psychotic nor feeble-minded * **We are all born psychopaths in the sense that we are born without repressions.” He goes on to say that such “problem” children encounter eating, sleeping and “elimination” disorders. Moreover, Lipton surmises, these children “are often boastful, destructive, deceitful, defiant, quarrelsome and shameless.” He adds, “Many psychopaths are sexually fixated at immature levels of sexual development.” Because of this, he concludes that their emotional development “lags and the instinctual drives are not adjusted to the demands of society.” Psychopaths often turn to “narcotic drugs” and alcohol and take the “path of least resistance” to escape stressful situations and often encounter “venereal disease, vagrancy, delinquency, illegitimacy, alcoholism, and drug addiction”. He says there is a strong need to keep these types under close supervision because “It is estimated that fifty percent of the men and women in this group come into contact with the courts because of threats, assaults, vagrancy, and other antisocial acts.”

Some 60 years later, David Hecht would say, in his paper “An inter-hemispheric imbalance in the psychopath’s brain”,   “On the other hand, psychopathic individuals lack any concern for social norms and they are severely poor in maintaining healthy social relationships. Also, the ability of individuals with psychopathy to feel certain emotions such as empathy, guilt or fear is seriously compromised”. He then goes on to say that current thinking about such behaviors and tendencies may be exaggerated, and he references neurobiological research and “Neurophysiological” studies to shed light on some of his suggestions. Indeed, The Future of the Brain is the latest la derriere in the works of leading neuroscientists.

Mr. Lipton and Mr. Hecht both make valid points in their work, but in the case of Lipton, he paints with too broad of a brush when he describes his version of psychopathic traits; many of the characteristics he assigns to “psychopathic” children are true about many of the run-of-the-mill delinquents encountered by  juvenile court systems, and the disorders (if you could call them that), are by today’s standards, more typical of ADHD, Autism or other Anxiety disorders referenced in the DSM-5 Manual; Hecht’s theories, while interesting, are speculative at this point, and at the end of the day, recorded brain activity doesn’t explain why such activity is present. To understand sadistic killers, we must know exactly what set them off.

PART II.  The seed turns from a flower into a sadistic killer: Why? (March 2015)

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