How do people become monsters?

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setzer777
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How do people become monsters?

Postby setzer777 » Tue Jun 30, 2009 2:50 pm UTC

How do people become what we would normally label "monsters"? I mean where they'll do things like torture animals or people just for amusement, rape somebody completely knowingly (i.e. they have no self-delusion about consent), destroy somebody's life for a little personal gain, etc.

Are all of these people born as sociopaths? Do their genetics cause them to not feel any empathy towards other people at all? Or does something they experience in life somehow convince them that other people really don't matter at all?
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Re: How do people become monsters?

Postby General_Norris » Tue Jun 30, 2009 3:02 pm UTC

Choice mixed with conditioning.

And I can't call animal-torturers monsters even if I don't like it at all. I eat meat for amusement too as I could just eat vegetables.

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Re: How do people become monsters?

Postby Delalyra » Tue Jun 30, 2009 4:08 pm UTC

I'm of the opinion that all humans are capable of hellacious things under the right circumstances (see: the Stanford Prison Experiment). We tend not to because we're socialized not to; and also because we usually don't need to do any of the above to survive. And, I suppose, how much one uses one's capacity for empathy, which is undoubtedly tied into socialization.

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Re: How do people become monsters?

Postby gmalivuk » Tue Jun 30, 2009 4:18 pm UTC

General_Norris wrote:And I can't call animal-torturers monsters even if I don't like it at all. I eat meat for amusement too as I could just eat vegetables.

Eating meat doesn't require anyone to slowly flay an animal's skin from its flesh while it's still alive, though. Even if some kind of meat processing did require anything so horrific, there's a relevant difference between eating meat anyway because you don't care about animal suffering, and engaging in animal torture because you positively like animal suffering.

(Same thing could be said of ordinary soldiers versus sadistic interrogators: Even if a wound you inflicted gets left untreated and causes the same amount of suffering as if the other guy was being tortured, *you* didn't shoot at him with that intent, and so you are less of a monster than someone whose actions are entirely motivated by a desire to cause pain to someone else.)
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Re: How do people become monsters?

Postby sje46 » Tue Jun 30, 2009 4:26 pm UTC

What you call a "monster" seems to be the definition of Antisocial personality disorder, basically the disregard for the rights of others.
It seems to be a result of bad parenting, apparently, and genetics. I am not surprised by this, knowing the possible sociopath I know.
The exact causes of antisocial personality disorder are unknown, but experts believe that both hereditary factors and environmental circumstances influence development of the condition.

A. Genetic and Biological Factors: Robins (1966) found an increased incidence of sociopathic characteristics and alcoholism in the fathers of individuals with antisocial personality disorder. Within the families of these individuals, male relatives have increased rates of antisocial personality disorder and substance abuse disorders, whereas female relatives have increased rates of somatization disorder. Adoption studies support the role of both genetic and environmental contributions to the development of the disorder. In a retrospective study of this disorder, Raine et al (1990) reported that indices of psychophysiological underarousal at age 15 were predictive of criminality at age 24 years. Criminals had significantly lower heart rates and skin conductance activity and more slow-frequency electroencephalographic activity than noncriminals.

B. Psychological Factors: Bowlby (1944) correlated antisocial personality disorder with maternal deprivation in the child's first 5 years of life. Glueck and Glueck (1968) reported that the mothers of children who developed this personality disorder show a lack of consistent discipline, a lack of affection, and an increased incidence of alcoholism and impulsiveness. These qualities contribute to failure to create a cohesive home environment with consistent structure and behavioral boundaries. In the prospective study, children found to be at risk by age 6 frequently showed features of antisocial personality at 18 years.

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Re: How do people become monsters?

Postby Pez Dispens3r » Tue Jun 30, 2009 4:42 pm UTC

Delalyra wrote:I'm of the opinion that all humans are capable of hellacious things under the right circumstances (see: the Stanford Prison Experiment). We tend not to because we're socialized not to; and also because we usually don't need to do any of the above to survive. And, I suppose, how much one uses one's capacity for empathy, which is undoubtedly tied into socialization.

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The Stanford Prison Experiment is a little dated, and some of its results a little dubious:
Because it was a field experiment, it was impossible to keep traditional scientific controls. Dr Zimbardo was not merely a neutral observer, but influenced the direction of the experiment as its "superintendent". Conclusions and observations drawn by the experimenters were largely subjective and anecdotal, and the experiment would be difficult for other researchers to reproduce.


Do we have any more recent experiments that demonstrate anything similar to the Stanford experiment?
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Re: How do people become monsters?

Postby Izawwlgood » Tue Jun 30, 2009 4:52 pm UTC

I don't mean to cue the anecdotal stories or personal tie ins, but one of my closest friends growing up bore, in retrospect, all these classic signs. He was volatile, seriously abusive towards animals, seriously abusive towards his family, was adopted, knew it, and his parents had a second child, this time biologically, and could subjectively be classified as 'intelligent but under performing'.

I mention this because while he had a very troubled childhood, he 'turned out okay' for whatever that means, and is now purportedly a happy dude doing purportedly normal person things (or more specifically, not doing abnormal person things)

Agreed fully, humans are capable of pretty monstrous things, many of which are unforgivable. We are also capable of redemption, by whatever metric you choose, and moving forward.
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Re: How do people become monsters?

Postby Kaiyas » Tue Jun 30, 2009 6:36 pm UTC

Pez Dispens3r wrote:
Delalyra wrote:I'm of the opinion that all humans are capable of hellacious things under the right circumstances (see: the Stanford Prison Experiment). We tend not to because we're socialized not to; and also because we usually don't need to do any of the above to survive. And, I suppose, how much one uses one's capacity for empathy, which is undoubtedly tied into socialization.

Humans are fun!

The Stanford Prison Experiment is a little dated, and some of its results a little dubious:
Because it was a field experiment, it was impossible to keep traditional scientific controls. Dr Zimbardo was not merely a neutral observer, but influenced the direction of the experiment as its "superintendent". Conclusions and observations drawn by the experimenters were largely subjective and anecdotal, and the experiment would be difficult for other researchers to reproduce.


Do we have any more recent experiments that demonstrate anything similar to the Stanford experiment?

Milgram seems to fit.
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Re: How do people become monsters?

Postby EnderSword » Tue Jun 30, 2009 7:04 pm UTC

I think the 'little personal gain' part is probably the key.

A lot of people would do bad things to others if it was for enough personal gain, and that's offset by their empathy for the other person.

There's a seed in everyone that occasionally likes seeing bad things happen to others they dislike, or enjoys exerting control over another person.
I think when you're talking about someone not doing something for money or material gain, you've got to look at the emotional 'gain' they're feeling, and that's probably the key to it.

They've got to be the type to derive pleasure from bad acts as well as the type who has empathy dulled so that it doesn't stop them from doing it.

There's plenty of people who have little to no empathy, who don't really care about others, but have no motivation to hurt them unless its for something....these are what I tend to think of as Sociopathic.
They'll shoot you in the face because they want your hat, not becaue they want to shoot you in the face.

There's others who might enjoy doing harmful things to others, but can't get over the empathy issues involved. I think there's shockingly more of these people than anyone thinks.
The internet itself is a testament to that, there's a great numbero f people who seek only to 'grief' others, something I've done myself in games online. Without having to deal with the other person or empathy issues directly, you find yourself more able to try and harm others.
I'd sit for hours 'corpse camping' someone when I played those games, but would be upset irl if someone got knocked out of a poker game too quickly.

I think the combination of the two makes for the real monsters, people willing to do something they want at only the smallest levels of gain to themselves and taking pleasure in doing it.

A 3rd factor could be a lack of any concern for being caught.
The only thing truly preventing me from killing a couple people is the idea I'd be caught and punished. I don't think I'd have any problem with actually doing it, but I'd either have to go to jail or spend the rest of my life worrying about it.
Some people seem to act with total disregard for that, and again those people are more likely to act in monsterous ways.
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Re: How do people become monsters?

Postby sje46 » Tue Jun 30, 2009 7:56 pm UTC

EnderSword wrote:They'll shoot you in the face because they want your hat, not because they want to shoot you in the face.
Or because they do want to shoot you in the face. Just like how most kids who burnt ants with a microscope probably aren't taking much glee in making them suffer; they are doing it just because. Or in GTA. You don't have to kill all those pedestrians, but you do because you're bored, and you don't care about their feelings . ..msotly because you know they don't have feelings, or rights. The problem is when people do have rights.
Sociopaths act the way that we act, really, just without that little thing called morality. Most people have to reconcile every action they make with some kind of morality, even if it's bogus. With Milgram they can say that they were folowing orders. With killing abortionists, they'll reason that away with utilitarianism. But no matter how they twist morality, they will always follow it. But the sociopaths don't really care about that. Some may not be going out of their way to hurt people. They just don't care if they do. They will get a job, work hard for money for possessions, marry a woman, but only for sex, not love. And then cheat on her, as long as he can get away with it. They will rise up the ladder and then secretly embezzle funds. As long as they don't get caught and it will maximize profit with limited risk, they will do it.
And yeah, sadism (finding pleasure in hurting or embarrassing others) just makes that worse. Maybe the person gets a boner from watching people burn alive or they like to troll people on the internet because it makes them feel powerful. Either way it's very dangerous.
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Re: How do people become monsters?

Postby guenther » Tue Jun 30, 2009 9:14 pm UTC

setzer777 wrote:How do people become what we would normally label "monsters"?

My perspective, without any sort of training in this stuff, is that we have a social fabric that keeps people acting decently to one another. For most people it's quite hard to blatantly go against the fabric (i.e. walk up to someone and start screaming in their face for no reason). Some are very sensitive to it and others are less so.

I suspect that being able to operate without regard to the fabric takes an alignment of a lot of factors. If there were a clear genetic link, we would have found it. If it were just a bad childhood, this would happen a lot more. It's probably a sort of "perfect storm" of conditions.

(By the way, if the fabric falls apart altogether, I suspect we'd see a lot more people behaving like "monsters", like what we saw with all the torturing in Iraq. If there's no reasonable expectation of being treated decently, it changes how likely we are to dole out decent behavior.)
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Re: How do people become monsters?

Postby setzer777 » Tue Jun 30, 2009 9:26 pm UTC

It looks like (because of the broadness of my original question) that there are two main things being discussed here:

(1) People with a total disregard for morality, law, and the feelings of others.

(2) People who take pleasure in causing others to suffer.

I find it very plausible that (1) might be the result of someone not having enough social constraint/healthy social development. After all, in a chaotic environment being willing to do whatever it takes to further your own interests has benefits.

(2) I have a much harder time explaining. Why should causing suffering bring anyone pleasure? There's no obvious benefit, as far as I can tell there's no reason that a tendency towards sadism would be selected for genetically (I could see a willingness to cause pain for other ends being selected for, but not an actual desire to cause pain). The only thing that springs to mind is that maybe displaying an eager willingness to hurt others can be an effective method of controlling them?
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Re: How do people become monsters?

Postby Naurgul » Tue Jun 30, 2009 9:37 pm UTC

setzer777 wrote: (2) I have a much harder time explaining. Why should causing suffering bring anyone pleasure? There's no obvious benefit, as far as I can tell there's no reason that a tendency towards sadism would be selected for genetically (I could see a willingness to cause pain for other ends being selected for, but not an actual desire to cause pain). The only thing that springs to mind is that maybe displaying an eager willingness to hurt others can be an effective method of controlling them?

I guess it's a power game: Maybe you want other people to suffer so you can assert your superiority? Or maybe it's some form of revenge: I suffered and feel depressed therefore you should too?
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Re: How do people become monsters?

Postby sje46 » Tue Jun 30, 2009 10:10 pm UTC

setzer777 wrote:It looks like (because of the broadness of my original question) that there are two main things being discussed here:

(1) People with a total disregard for morality, law, and the feelings of others.

(2) People who take pleasure in causing others to suffer.

I find it very plausible that (1) might be the result of someone not having enough social constraint/healthy social development. After all, in a chaotic environment being willing to do whatever it takes to further your own interests has benefits.

(2) I have a much harder time explaining. Why should causing suffering bring anyone pleasure? There's no obvious benefit, as far as I can tell there's no reason that a tendency towards sadism would be selected for genetically (I could see a willingness to cause pain for other ends being selected for, but not an actual desire to cause pain). The only thing that springs to mind is that maybe displaying an eager willingness to hurt others can be an effective method of controlling them?

"Law" does not belong in 1. All rational people have regard for the law. That doesn't mean they like it. It means they understand the consequences of their actions.
And (2) is actually quite easy. I think mostly it has to do with power. Manipulating people and the thrill of having them act the way you want them to. Have you never trolled? Never made a mean remark to your sister? Lied for the heck of it? Insulted someone? Laughed at a percieved inferior person?
Having so morality makes it easier to take pleasure in making others suffer. This is kinda our natural state . . .
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Re: How do people become monsters?

Postby Delalyra » Wed Jul 01, 2009 2:37 am UTC

setzer777 wrote: (2) I have a much harder time explaining. Why should causing suffering bring anyone pleasure? There's no obvious benefit, as far as I can tell there's no reason that a tendency towards sadism would be selected for genetically (I could see a willingness to cause pain for other ends being selected for, but not an actual desire to cause pain). The only thing that springs to mind is that maybe displaying an eager willingness to hurt others can be an effective method of controlling them?

Not every little thing each person can do has necessarily been selected for by evolution. There's quite a bit of normal variation in nature, and humans are no exception. And sadism may not necessarily be genetic; maybe it has more to do with individual personality.
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Re: How do people become monsters?

Postby Crius » Fri Jul 03, 2009 3:15 pm UTC

Sadism could develop through classical conditioning - if hurting someone or something elicits a positive response that causes pleasure, eventually just hurting someone or something will cause the pleasure response. For example, if bullying someone causes peer encouragement, which then makes the bully feel good, eventually the "feel good" response will be associated with bullying even if there's no peer encouragement.

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Re: How do people become monsters?

Postby Rheum » Fri Jul 03, 2009 8:52 pm UTC

I have reason to believe it's down to the enviroment a child is raised in, who raises them and strength of bonds formed between a child and care-givers. Children may have medical conditions which may lead to sadistic and violent behavious, but these can be controlled and maybe even prevented altogether if the situation is handled correctly.
Children with communicating problems such as Asperger's can learn to socialise adequately if taught correctly. I think it's a fact that good education and learning is down to the competance of the teacher, not the pupil.

But I'm not too sure what you mean by monster. On one level, murderers, rapists and terrorists are monsters, but on another level, all of humanity is monstrous.
Murdering, raping and terrorising are found throughout nature, instinctual and deliberate. Only humans interpret them "evil". Good and Evil are human concepts, and we are intellectually articulate enough to decipher between the two.
Could a monster be someone who cannot differentiate between the two, and is as mentally advanced as an animal. Would that make all animals monsters?
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Re: How do people become monsters?

Postby setzer777 » Fri Jul 03, 2009 8:57 pm UTC

Well, I would think that someone like an animal wouldn't have a real sense of the suffering they are causing another person, and how essentially it is no different than their own suffering. By a monster I mean someone who fully understands the suffering they are causing, and doesn't care (and doesn't hate the person, or have much to gain from hurting them). Especially someone who causes suffering because they enjoy doing so.
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Re: How do people become monsters?

Postby sje46 » Fri Jul 03, 2009 9:04 pm UTC

setzer777 wrote:Well, I would think that someone like an animal wouldn't have a real sense of the suffering they are causing another person, and how essentially it is no different than their own suffering. By a monster I mean someone who fully understands the suffering they are causing, and doesn't care (and doesn't hate the person, or have much to gain from hurting them). Especially someone who causes suffering because they enjoy doing so.

Anti-social personality disorder, in other words.
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Re: How do people become monsters?

Postby Philosophaster » Fri Jul 03, 2009 10:03 pm UTC

setzer777 wrote:(2) People who take pleasure in causing others to suffer.

...(2) I have a much harder time explaining. Why should causing suffering bring anyone pleasure?

Revenge. People who were abused or had tough childhoods in other ways can develop resentment and rage that becomes generalized beyond the specific people or things that originally caused them pain. The negative emotions become directed against whole classes of people, or perhaps even people in general. For example, someone abused by her / his stepfather / stepmother might come to hate men / women in general, and even be willing to inflict pain given the chance because they see something of the hated figure in the entire sex. Serial killers often target a certain type of victim (certainly there can be motives other than vengeance, though).

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Re: How do people become monsters?

Postby Kaeyn » Fri Jul 03, 2009 10:35 pm UTC

Usually, negative experiences that mirror what they're doing now.

As far as I'm aware, no serial killer in history has been killing without a reason, unless I haven't read enough.
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Re: How do people become monsters?

Postby rolandoftheeld » Wed Jul 08, 2009 5:28 am UTC

Is there not also the possibility that these monstrous behaviors can be induced through a physical trait, whether hereditary or otherwise?

I am a diagnosed schizophrenic (not to be confused with multiple personality disorder), and I have learned that this stems, at least in part, from a natural seratonin deficiency in my brain. A symptom of this schizophrenia is severe depression, on par with bipolar disorder. I have often considered suicide, and have come a hair's breadth from multiple homicide before checking myself into a psych ward. These desires were not born of sadism or masochism, nor of a disregard or disrespect for the law.

They were born of despair. Through the filter of my disorder, I honestly believed that the best course of action for me to take, the one that would benefit society most, would be to do everything in my power to hasten the end of that same society.

My childhood and my parents were far from perfect, but I was cared for, and I was not abused. If I did not have this physical imbalance, I doubt I ever would have considered the actions I've spoken of.

I don't propose that justifying monstrous acts through medical diagnoses absolves those responsible from blame, nor that the perpetrators themselves are any less monstrous. But it certainly brings to light a different breed of "monster."
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Re: How do people become monsters?

Postby harpyblues » Wed Jul 08, 2009 6:36 am UTC

rolandoftheeld wrote:Is there not also the possibility that these monstrous behaviors can be induced through a physical trait, whether hereditary or otherwise?

My childhood and my parents were far from perfect, but I was cared for, and I was not abused. If I did not have this physical imbalance, I doubt I ever would have considered the actions I've spoken of.

I don't propose that justifying monstrous acts through medical diagnoses absolves those responsible from blame, nor that the perpetrators themselves are any less monstrous. But it certainly brings to light a different breed of "monster."


But you didn't act on on your desire to end society. Many (if not most) people do experience those feelings or something similar to that in their life time. I've had to deal with some pretty bad depression issues where I've experienced similar desires, along with suicidal thoughts. The big difference, which marks the divide, is whether or not people act on those impulses. You've got a barrier that prevents you psychologically from actually committing those acts. A mental disease/condition might worsen/increase those desires, but ultimately most of those societal monsters probably would have gone through with or without that illness. I've read a lot of profiles of serial killers where the trend was 'they liked killing for the sake of killing'. They don't necessarily need a motive/ have a mental disease. They're often just incredibly fucked up in the head, which you can be without having a disorder. They lack that pull which prevents them from doing horrible shit.
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Re: How do people become monsters?

Postby scruff » Wed Jul 08, 2009 1:02 pm UTC

rolandoftheeld wrote:Through the filter of my disorder, I honestly believed that the best course of action for me to take, the one that would benefit society most, would be to do everything in my power to hasten the end of that same society.


Interesting that you attribute such a belief to schizophrenia. I was once diagnosed as schizo-affective, and I have a similar belief, though I had not considered it to be based on internal conditions.

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Re: How do people become monsters?

Postby rolandoftheeld » Wed Jul 08, 2009 5:42 pm UTC

@scruff:

The belief came from a very nihilistic depression, coupled with extreme paranoia/delusion. The depression is likely a symptom of the schizophrenia, though it is possible that it is independent. The paranoia certainly is a direct symptom of it. It was the depression that generated the belief, but the paranoia that defined it and spurred the action.
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Re: How do people become monsters?

Postby negatron » Wed Jul 08, 2009 10:04 pm UTC

Perhaps the whole thing can be reduced to a normal distribution of human tendency, which could be a necessary diversity. Behavior far astray from typical allows an individual to exploit the environment from a perspective under which there is little competition.

We would all be destroying eachother's lives had it been to our personal benefit. We generally don't do it, not because of any axiomatic morality, but because the consequences are often unfavorable. Most of us are 'monsters' in the sense that we will compromise another person's well being given sufficient reward. Some people merely have a lower threshold.
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Re: How do people become monsters?

Postby inhahe » Thu Jul 23, 2009 8:59 am UTC

setzer777 wrote:How do people become what we would normally label "monsters"? I mean where they'll do things like torture animals or people just for amusement, rape somebody completely knowingly (i.e. they have no self-delusion about consent), destroy somebody's life for a little personal gain, etc.

Are all of these people born as sociopaths? Do their genetics cause them to not feel any empathy towards other people at all? Or does something they experience in life somehow convince them that other people really don't matter at all?


well i would say two things
1) nobody becomes a monster in a vacuum. we're all products of society. for example maybe you had abusive, or just emotionally absent, parents. maybe you were really sensitive and everyone bullied you. i don't know exactly. society is pretty screwed up in general, and maybe some people are even less immune to the perversions in their peers, the media, the retarded school system and its indoctrinations, the technoindustrial context, specific psychic connections to the psychosphere in general, etc.

2) it may be genetics, people just born sociopaths, experiences in life, or any combination of the above depending on the individual.

how could 1) and 2) agree with each other? the answer is that genetics itself is in part a product of culture. it may be possible that the results of negativity or inconsideration etc. become embedded in dna patterns, more along some lineages than others, and maybe some more recessive than others and brought out or repressed by the energies involved in conception. and about being born, society could turn people into sociopaths, but that's not limited to one life. perhaps it turned somebody into a sociopath in a past life or overall across many different lives and so they incarnate, again, as a sociopath. those are my going theories for now.

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Re: How do people become monsters?

Postby King Author » Thu Jul 23, 2009 9:02 am UTC

I think people become monsters because our society is enabling towards that sort of behavior. To no small extent, we as a whole want there to be serial killers and so forth because it's really interesting. Why do you think fiction is so full of stories of war, fighting, violence, murder mystery and what have you? Because that sort of thing is interesting! And if it's real and not just fiction, all the better.

Additionally, people tend to behave the way that you treat them, so when you treat someone like a monster, it's all the more likely that that's what they'll become, and we treat an awful lot of people like they're monsters.

Furthermore, the Western World has lost its sense of moral outrage, mostly through over-use. People have freak attacks over things that they shouldn't (gay pride, Janet Jackson's boob popping out, etc.) and have lost the sense that makes them revolt at thoughts of murder and torture. The words themselves are just so commonplace and humdrum, we hear them on television all day everyday, that we're simply desensitized.

I'll say this -- you won't find serial killers in the tribal cultures that still exist throughout the world. Having little or no exposure to the nonsense of Western culture, their sense of proper moral outrage is still functional; they wouldn't stand for half the crazy crap that we do.

setzer777 wrote:(2) I have a much harder time explaining. Why should causing suffering bring anyone pleasure? There's no obvious benefit, as far as I can tell there's no reason that a tendency towards sadism would be selected for genetically (I could see a willingness to cause pain for other ends being selected for, but not an actual desire to cause pain). The only thing that springs to mind is that maybe displaying an eager willingness to hurt others can be an effective method of controlling them?


Asking why something causes pleasure is futile. Why do I like the taste of broccoli and revile at the taste of asparagus? Because. Just because. When I eat X food, my brain gives me pleasant sensations and when I eat Y food, it gives me unpleasant sensations. You can't ask "why" someone finds something pleasurable, they just do.

But let me say this; I fully understand the pleasure that someone could find in torturing. Not murdering, but definitely torturing. Not because I enjoy torturing, but because I find causing someone else pleasure to be intensely pleasurable myself. Whatever part of the brain drives me wild when I, say, perform cunnilingus, causing her to writhe, buckle, claw at the sheets, pant and moan is, I suspect, either the same part or damn close to the part that makes people who enjoy torturing feel simiar pleasure at causing pain; it's a thing of control. That I can affect someone else physiologically as profoundly as I can is exhilarating. It just so happens that I express and fulfil that desire of mine through causing pleasure. In those moments, I feel close to god, and I don't even believe in any god! Thus, I can fully understand and accept that someone could feel the exact same way when causing pain; it's the control.

Which isn't to say that I'm a control-freak or that I have no problem with people who enjoy torturing, I'm just saying that while you find it baffling how anyone could take pleasure in causing pain, I find it painfully obvious, because causing pain and causing pleasure are essentially the same thing from the standpoint of the perpetrator. Certainly not the recipient/victim, but from the perpetrator, yes.
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Re: How do people become monsters?

Postby EMTP » Thu Jul 23, 2009 3:50 pm UTC

One of the major assumptions implicit in the question is that we can agree on who the monsters are. Often we can't; and the danger of someone who is a monster to some and not to others is far more dangerous than the "pure" variety.

Mostly, it seems, we're talking about a low-empathy state in which others (and their feelings, including pain and suffering) do not seem very real to you. If this seems like a matter of degree, I would argue that it is.

I took care of a psych patient once with some sort of weird frontal lobe damage. You could see it in her, especially if she became even slightly stressed; there was no check on her rage or frustration; she might do anything to anyone. It's a hard thing to describe if you haven't seen it.

More commonly, I think, the problem is people who have normal empathy in most situations but get in situations where their empathy goes away. The primary risk factors for this seem to be fear, which shuts down our empathy right quick, and people who are perceived as different, a "them" as opposed to an "us." Places where these two factors both exist, like war zones, have the capacity to make monsters out of normal people.
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Re: How do people become monsters?

Postby Wayward » Sun Aug 09, 2009 6:31 am UTC

Delalyra wrote:I'm of the opinion that all humans are capable of hellacious things under the right circumstances (see: the Stanford Prison Experiment). We tend not to because we're socialized not to; and also because we usually don't need to do any of the above to survive. And, I suppose, how much one uses one's capacity for empathy, which is undoubtedly tied into socialization.

Humans are fun!



I would go one step farther and say that humans are almost default set at being bad, out of the carton. And we've developed this complex social survival system that makes us not be cruel/selfish/etc.

So maybe the people who become monstrous are just ignoring all the 'don't be bad' safety nets of group mentality?

(A note on people being default bad: I don't mean to say that we're inherently evil, but if no one ever told you it was wrong to steal/torture/maim/hurt/be selfish/manipulate others/so on it would be kinda hard not to do so, especially if there was some perceived benefit to you.)
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Re: How do people become monsters?

Postby Aikanaro » Mon Aug 10, 2009 12:51 pm UTC

Nah, humans are basically good, so long as no alternative presents itself.
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Re: How do people become monsters?

Postby u38cg » Mon Aug 10, 2009 2:58 pm UTC

I would go one step farther and say that humans are almost default set at being bad, out of the carton. And we've developed this complex social survival system that makes us not be cruel/selfish/etc.

So maybe the people who become monstrous are just ignoring all the 'don't be bad' safety nets of group mentality?


I think it's very difficult to draw specific conclusions about humanity from outliers. We can speculate and speculate and speculate, but on the bell curve of evil madness (the Poisson distribution might be more appropriate) there will always be one guy who is just way out there in terms of what he can do. There have been hundreds of thousands of people throughout history who hated and distrusted the Jews. Some were moved to action by it, but there was only one who was smart enough to become leader of his country and persuade his fellow men to systematically exterminate them. What can you learn from Hitler that you can apply to humanity in general? Not much, I believe.

More interesting is the question of what it was that made an entire country (barring a very, very few noble examples) *agree* with him? What is it about being part of a group that causes people (as the Milgram experiments suggest) to stop applying their own code of ethics and take on the values and behaviour of the mob? The simple fact is, the Sophie Scholls of this world are just as rare as the Hitlers and Stalins. So the rest of them went along because that's what everyone else was doing.

As for how individuals become monsters: simply take the above, and add a narrative. A kid left alone, with nothing to do and no friends, has access to 4chan and small animals. In his world, the next steps are not so unusual. By the time he comes to the attention of a wider society, he's already well over the line and he justifies it to himself. Maybe.
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Re: How do people become monsters?

Postby QwertyKey » Mon Aug 10, 2009 3:33 pm UTC

I will assume all social norms exist, like morality is well-defined.

I think people become monsters largely by their environment. If nobody taught X what is commonly taken as right or wrong, if he did not learn it himself, he is likely to go astray. X could, perhaps with testosterone(Not a Bio expert) or whatever, go rape Y. Let's say that Y's case is never made known, and X is unpunished. I can almost say with certainty another Y is going to get victimised.

If X were the son of a mafia leader, and X's father expected X to lead one day, I think the son is not going to be a priest. The father would be teaching racketeering and what not. Conversely, if X's father is a policeman(of a reasonable standard, like the country Singapore(Which really does have a not-so-corrupt police)), X is likely not to go astray, unless stress piles up too much and he breaks which, again, is the environment.

So you only get all weird kinds of monsters by nurturing them wrongly, whether humans are born good or evil is rather... say... not that important. If you push a box in a direction, it will tend to move in that direction, same logic.

I think 'don't be bad' is not that good, 'be good' would be stronger. That is why you have education which sucks greatly in some countries or is non-existent. Also on not being bad: perhaps because the Law is not enforced greatly? If you could steal that $10 000 without being noticed, wouldn't you steal it? I am very much likely to, though it is quite impossible in my country. If I had the capability to steal $20 million USD, I would do it and run away. Obviously, it also depends on the success rate.

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Re: How do people become monsters?

Postby Wayward » Mon Aug 10, 2009 11:38 pm UTC

u38cg wrote:
I think it's very difficult to draw specific conclusions about humanity from outliers. We can speculate and speculate and speculate, but on the bell curve of evil madness (the Poisson distribution might be more appropriate) there will always be one guy who is just way out there in terms of what he can do. There have been hundreds of thousands of people throughout history who hated and distrusted the Jews. Some were moved to action by it, but there was only one who was smart enough to become leader of his country and persuade his fellow men to systematically exterminate them. What can you learn from Hitler that you can apply to humanity in general? Not much, I believe.




I'm not sure thats what I was doing. I think my point is that acts of cruelty, selfishness, blatant evil seem natural. Animals maim each other all the time. And human beings, being so very clever, must have a large capacity for doing bad, bad things. But we're able to recognize them as bad and have consequences set in place for those that do them.
So we're nurtured into morality, if you will.

What can we learn from Hitler an apply to humanity? That a person who is in enough pain, has enough anger and doesn't feel there's any consequences to his actions will be okay with doing obscene horrifying things. It's not like if anyone else had lived his life, been that person would have been any less insane. The rest of us just came out ok because we were taught/conditioned to do better.
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Re: How do people become monsters?

Postby Lucrece » Mon Aug 10, 2009 11:57 pm UTC

But did people really learn from Hitler? There are many atrocities still going on in the world; it's a matter of just how much people care about the affected. I find that our nature doesn't improve; we are no more capable of good or evil than our ancestors were. What we do have is literature and subsequent social agreements to educate on a topic that was "solved" by our predecessors. Should we suddenly stop the teaching and history/cultural notions, I wouldn't find it surprising if the next crop of humans would be hardly different from the retrograde generations.

I also tend to take issue with the terminology of "monster" or "insane". We often tend to label what could be a natural human trait as "insane" and "disordered", often to lift weight from the heavy implications that would come from acknowledging a mass murderer/rapist as just a human. If we don't divorce those who are less common from our concept of humanity, then we have to carry around with a dramatic decrease in sense of safety and trust in others through the awareness of human capriciousness.
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Re: How do people become monsters?

Postby Diadem » Tue Aug 11, 2009 11:35 pm UTC

I think an essentional fact that everyone should understand about 'monsters' is that they are never ever only purely this. Hitler was loved, truly loved, by the people close to him, because he was kind and understanding towards them. He truly cared about animals as well. Neither of those were acts. Dutroux was so charismatic than when a priest visited him in prison after his arrest he came out declaring that "such a kind man has to be innocent" (or words along those lines. I don't recall the exact quote). They are monsters, yes. But not just monsters. They have good sides too. They are human.

Another important fact: Most people with antisocial personality disorders (aka: psychopaths) live perfectly ordinary lives. They are in fact often very succesful. There are telltale signs of course. They are for example often succesful in business because they are particularly ruthless. But most stay well within the bounds of normality - or at least legality. And since they are never purely monsters, they often do good things in their live as well.

The extreme cases, like Hitler, like Dutroux, usually combine an antisocial personality disorder with other issues. Hitler wasn't just psychopath. He was a psychopathic borderliner. It is of course a gross simplification, but one could say that his borderline gave him the hatred and the all-compassing need to have it all or nothing - to conquer the world or leave it in ashes, while his psychopathy gave him the self-control and ruthlessness needed to pull it off.

In itself an anti-social personality disorder just means having less than normal compassion for others. Caring less about other people's feelings and emotions. About morality. This is in fact pretty common, but of course most people only have a mild version. But in and of itself this doesn't make you a monster. More is needed for that.
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