Thursday, February 02, 2017

Serial Killers, Personality Disorders and Choice

Just about everyone knows about Ted Bundy and Jeffrey Dahmer; but not many people know about another serial killer named Charles Cullen. This person was an emergency room nurse who killed 300 people under his care. At first his killings appear to have been motivated by compassion. He saw people in horrible agony, and he euthanized them. Then he appears to have gotten bloodlust and started killing people left and right. Eventually of course he got caught.

When Cullen was in jail, his former girlfriend asked him to donate a kidney to save the life of her husband. He accepted the request. His police officer questioned him about it. To this he made an intelligent response. The response was, “Well this depends on what you think about people.”

This response is indeed valid. It appears that when someone has you pegged as a bad guy, he thinks that you are incapable of doing anything good. This indeed contradicts what we do know about people. All sorts of people have done both good things and bad things. Germans did horrible things during the Second World War; then they came home and built a beautiful country.

I have seen this error all the time. All sorts of people decide that their partner is a bad person, so they do not believe it when they are actually doing something good. In some situations, it does not matter how much good you do; you still get pegged as a bad guy, and whatever good things you do get portrayed as a sneakier attempt to do evil.

In case of Charles Cullen, his behavior appears to have been a result of a very legitimate psychopathology. As a child he had to take care of his family. He learned to take care of people. He also resented the people for whom he cared. He cared for them, then he started killing them.

That someone has done something bad does not mean that he cannot also do good. Once again, we see that with the behavior of the Germans during and after the Second World War. We also see the same in much less obvious situations. The first white settlers in Australia were convicts, but they did the right thing in Australia. America's settlers slaughtered the natives, then they started the greatest country in the world.

I do not believe for one moment that doing bad things at one point disqualifies the person from doing good things later. Charles Cullen is an obvious example of that, but there are many others.

I would like at this time to address something that has been claimed for a long time about people branded with sociopathic and narcissistic personality disorders. The claim is that these people are evil and can only be evil whatever they do. This contradicts most basic rationality. If people are responsible for their behavior then anyone – including the sociopaths and the narcissists – can choose to act rightfully. And if they cannot act rightfully whatever they do, then people are not responsible for their behavior.

Anybody can choose to do the right thing. If Charles Cullen could give his kidney to save someone's life, then a sociopath or a narcissist can choose to act rightfully as well. If concentration camp guards can come home and build a great country, then so can a sociopath or a narcissist. If convicts can build Australia – and murderers of Native Americans build America – then anyone can choose to do the right thing. It is time that more people recognize this basic human reality and act accordingly in whatever situation demands it.


Post a Comment

<< Home