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For the Worst of Us, the Diagnosis May Be 'Evil'
The New York Times ^ | 2/8/05 | Benedict Carey

Posted on 02/08/2005 2:38:42 AM PST by LibWhacker

Predatory killers often do far more than commit murder. Some have lured their victims into homemade chambers for prolonged torture. Others have exotic tastes - for vivisection, sexual humiliation, burning. Many perform their grisly rituals as much for pleasure as for any other reason.

Among themselves, a few forensic scientists have taken to thinking of these people as not merely disturbed but evil. Evil in that their deliberate, habitual savagery defies any psychological explanation or attempt at treatment.

Most psychiatrists assiduously avoid the word evil, contending that its use would precipitate a dangerous slide from clinical to moral judgment that could put people on death row unnecessarily and obscure the understanding of violent criminals.

Still, many career forensic examiners say their work forces them to reflect on the concept of evil, and some acknowledge they can find no other term for certain individuals they have evaluated.

In an effort to standardize what makes a crime particularly heinous, a group at New York University has been developing what it calls a depravity scale, which rates the horror of an act by the sum of its grim details.

And a prominent personality expert at Columbia University has published a 22-level hierarchy of evil behavior, derived from detailed biographies of more than 500 violent criminals.

He is now working on a book urging the profession not to shrink from thinking in terms of evil when appraising certain offenders, even if the E-word cannot be used as part of an official examination or diagnosis.

"We are talking about people who commit breathtaking acts, who do so repeatedly, who know what they're doing, and are doing it in peacetime" under no threat to themselves, said Dr. Michael Stone, the Columbia psychiatrist, who has examined several hundred killers at Mid-Hudson Psychiatric Center in New Hampton, N.Y., and others at Creedmoor Psychiatric Center in Queens, where he consults and teaches. "We know from experience who these people are, and how they behave," and it is time, he said, to give their behavior "the proper appellation."

Western religious leaders, evolutionary theorists and psychological researchers agree that almost all human beings have the capacity to commit brutal acts, even when they are not directly threatened. In Dr. Stanley Milgram's famous electroshock experiments in the 1960's, participants delivered what they thought were punishing electric jolts to a fellow citizen, merely because they were encouraged to do so by an authority figure as part of a learning experiment.

In the real world, the grim images coming out of Iraq -the beheadings by Iraqi insurgents and the Abu Ghraib tortures, complete with preening guards - suggest how much further people can go when they feel justified.

In Nazi prisoner camps, as during purges in Kosovo and Cambodia, historians found that clerks, teachers, bureaucrats and other normally peaceable citizens committed some of the gruesome violence, apparently swept along in the kind of collective thoughtlessness that the philosopher Hannah Arendt described as the banality of evil.

"Evil is endemic, it's constant, it is a potential in all of us. Just about everyone has committed evil acts," said Dr. Robert I. Simon, a clinical professor of psychiatry at Georgetown Medical School and the author of "Bad Men Do What Good Men Dream."

Dr. Simon considers the notion of evil to be of no use to forensic psychiatry, in part because evil is ultimately in the eye of the beholder, shaped by political and cultural as well as religious values. The terrorists on Sept. 11 thought that they were serving God, he argues; those who kill people at abortion clinics also claim to be doing so. If the issue is history's most transcendent savages, on the other hand, most people agree that Hitler and Pol Pot would qualify.

"When you start talking about evil, psychiatrists don't know anything more about it than anyone else," Dr. Simon said. "Our opinions might carry more weight, under the patina or authority of the profession, but the point is, you can call someone evil and so can I. So what? What does it add?"

Dr. Stone argues that one possible benefit of including a consideration of evil may be a more clear-eyed appreciation of who should be removed from society and not allowed back. He is not an advocate of the death penalty, he said. And his interest in evil began long before President Bush began using the word to describe terrorists or hostile regimes.

Dr. Stone's hierarchy of evil is topped by the names of many infamous criminals who were executed or locked up for good: Theodore R. Bundy, the former law school student convicted of killing two young women in Florida and linked to dozens of other killings in the 1970's; John Wayne Gacy of Illinois, the convicted killer who strangled more than 30 boys and buried them under his house; and Ian Brady who, with his girlfriend, Myra Hindley, tortured and killed children in England in a rampage in the 1960's known as the moors murders.

But another killer on the hierarchy is Albert Fentress, a former schoolteacher in Poughkeepsie, N.Y., examined by Dr. Stone, who killed and cannibalized a teenager, in 1979. Mr. Fentress petitioned to be released from a state mental hospital, and in 1999 a jury agreed that he was ready; he later withdrew the petition, when prosecutors announced that a new witness would testify against him.

At a hearing in 2001, Dr. Stone argued against Mr. Fentress's release, and the idea that the killer might be considered ready to make his way back into society still makes the psychiatrist's eyes widen.

Researchers have found that some people who commit violent crimes are much more likely than others to kill or maim again, and one way they measure this potential is with a structured examination called the psychopathy checklist.

As part of an extensive, in-depth interview, a trained examiner rates the offender on a 20-item personality test. The items include glibness and superficial charm, grandiose self-worth, pathological lying, proneness to boredom and emotional vacuity. The subjects earn zero points if the description is not applicable, two points if it is highly applicable, and one if it is somewhat or sometimes true.

The psychologist who devised the checklist, Dr. Robert Hare, a professor emeritus at the University of British Columbia in Vancouver, said that average total scores varied from below five in the general population to the low 20's in prison populations, to a range of 30 to 40 - highly psychopathic - in predatory killers. In a series of studies, criminologists have found that people who score in the high range are two to four times as likely as other prisoners to commit another crime when released. More than 90 percent of the men and a few women at the top of Dr. Stone's hierarchy qualify as psychopaths.

In recent years, neuroscientists have found evidence that psychopathy scores reflect physical differences in brain function. Last April, Canadian and American researchers reported in a brain-imaging study that psychopaths processed certain abstract words - grace, future, power, for example - differently from nonpsychopaths.

In addition, preliminary findings from new imaging research have revealed apparent oddities in the way psychopaths mentally process certain photographs, like graphic depictions of accident scenes, said Dr. Kent Kiehl, an assistant clinical professor of psychiatry at Yale, a lead author on both studies.

No one knows how significant these differences are, or whether they are a result of genetic or social factors. Broken homes and childhood trauma are common among brutal killers; so is malignant narcissism, a personality type characterized not only by grandiosity but by fantasies of unlimited power and success, a deep sense of entitlement, and a need for excessive admiration.

"There is a group we call lethal predators, who are psychopathic, sadistic, and sane, and people have said this is approaching a measure of evil, and with good reason," Dr. Hare said. "What I would say is that there are some people for whom evil acts - what we would consider evil acts - are no big deal. And I agree with Michael Stone that the circumstances and context are less important than who they are."

Checklists, scales, and other psychological exams are not blood tests, however, and their use in support of a concept as loaded as evil could backfire, many psychiatrists say. Not all violent predators are psychopaths, for one thing, nor are most psychopaths violent criminals. And to suggest that psychopathy or some other profile is a reliable measure of evil, they say, would be irresponsible and ultimately jeopardize the credibility of the profession.

In the 1980's and 1990's, a psychiatrist in Dallas earned the name Dr. Death by testifying in court, in a wide variety of cases, that he was certain that defendants would commit more crimes in the future - though often, he had not examined them. Many were sentenced to death.

"I agree that some people cannot be rehabilitated, but the risk in using the word evil is that it may mean one thing to one psychiatrist, and something else to another, and then we're in trouble, " said Dr. Saul Faerstein, a forensic psychiatrist in Beverly Hills. "I don't know that we want psychiatrists as gatekeepers, making life-and-death judgments in some cases, based on a concept that is not medical."

Even if it is used judiciously, other experts say, the concept of evil is powerful enough that it could obscure the mental troubles and intellectual quirks that motivate brutal killers, and sometimes allow them to avoid detection. Mr. Bundy, the serial killer, was reportedly very romantic, attentive and affectionate with his own girlfriends, while he referred to his victims as "cargo" and "damaged goods," Dr. Simon noted.

Mr. Gacy, a gracious and successful businessman, reportedly created a clown figure to lift the spirits of ailing children. "He was a very normal, very functional guy in many respects," said Dr. Richard Rappaport, a forensic psychiatrist based in La Costa, Calif., who examined Mr. Gacy before his trial. Dr. Rappaport said he received holiday cards from Mr. Gacy every year before he was executed.

"I think the main reason it's better to avoid the term evil, at least in the courtroom, is that for many it evokes a personalized Satan, the idea that there is supernatural causation for misconduct," said Dr. Park Dietz, a forensic psychiatrist in Newport Beach, Calif., who examined the convicted serial murderer Jeffrey Dahmer, as well as Lyle and Erik Menendez, who were convicted of murdering their parents in Beverly Hills.

"This could only conceal a subtle important truth about many of these people, such as the high rate of personality disorders," Dr. Dietz said. He added: "The fact is that there aren't many in whom I couldn't find some redeeming attributes and some humanity. As far as we can tell, the causes of their behavior are biological, psychological and social, and do not so far demonstrably include the work of Lucifer."

The doctors who argue that evil has a place in forensics are well aware of these risks, but say that in some cases they are worth taking. They say it is possible - necessary, in fact, to understand many predatory killers - to hold inside one's head many disparate dimensions: that the person in question may be narcissistic, perhaps abused by a parent, or even charming, affectionate and intelligent, but also in some sense evil. While the term may not be appropriate for use in a courtroom or a clinical diagnosis, they say, it is an element of human nature that should not be ignored.

Dr. Angela Hegarty, director of psychiatry at Creedmoor who works with Dr. Stone, said she was skeptical of using the concept of evil but realized that in her work she found herself thinking and talking about it all the time. In 11 years as a forensic examiner, in this country and in Europe, she said, she counts four violent criminals who were so vicious, sadistic and selfish that no other word could describe them.

One was a man who gruesomely murdered his own wife and young children and who showed more annoyance than remorse, more self-pity than concern for anyone else affected by the murders. On one occasion when Dr. Hegarty saw him, he was extremely upset - beside himself - because a staff attendant at the facility where he lived was late in arriving with a video, delaying the start of the movie. The man became abusive, she said: he insisted on punctuality.


TOPICS: News/Current Events
KEYWORDS: crime; criminal; depravityscale; diagnosis; evil; morality; psychiatrists; psychiatry

1 posted on 02/08/2005 2:38:43 AM PST by LibWhacker
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To: LibWhacker

I'm surprised that Manson is not on this list. I think he'd have to be included. If you've ever seen any interviews they've done with this guy there is not a grain of remorse whatsoever in his body. He'll tell you that he didn't kill enough people before they caught him and if he ever gets out he'll kill again. I think Manson is the poster child for evil.


2 posted on 02/08/2005 2:48:16 AM PST by MadAnthony1776 ("liberalism" = "do as I say, not as I do")
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To: LibWhacker

Ah, the New York Times discovers what Christians and Jews have known for thousands of years: evil exists. How novel.


3 posted on 02/08/2005 2:55:14 AM PST by livius
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To: LibWhacker

Anti-life, anti-freedom..."may be" wakeup call?


4 posted on 02/08/2005 2:58:48 AM PST by PGalt
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To: LibWhacker
In the real world, the grim images coming out of Iraq -the beheadings by Iraqi insurgents and the Abu Ghraib tortures, complete with preening guards - suggest how much further people can go when they feel justified.

And it was at this point I concluded I need read no further.........BS meter on full tilt!

5 posted on 02/08/2005 3:03:09 AM PST by bullseye1911 (Natural Selection = the weak and stupid die!)
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To: livius

LOL My thought as well.


6 posted on 02/08/2005 3:09:13 AM PST by exnavy (lead, follow or get out of the way)
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To: LibWhacker

"Most psychiatrists assiduously avoid the word evil, contending that its use would precipitate a dangerous slide from clinical to moral judgment that could put people on death row unnecessarily and obscure the understanding of violent criminals."

Heaven forbid that we should call a spade a spade. There is evil in the world because the Evil One so desires to attempt to thwart the designs God has made. But, of course, these people don't believe in God or Satan, either.


7 posted on 02/08/2005 3:13:58 AM PST by Shery (S. H. in APOland)
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To: LibWhacker
Just about everyone has committed evil acts," said Dr. Robert I. Simon, a clinical professor of psychiatry at Georgetown Medical School and the author of "Bad Men Do What Good Men Dream."

That's what they'd like us to believe, I'm sure, as it excuses their malignant narcissism. But not everyone has committed evil acts. Far from it.

8 posted on 02/08/2005 3:41:54 AM PST by Peach
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To: LibWhacker
Dr. Simon considers the notion of evil to be of no use to forensic psychiatry, in part because evil is ultimately in the eye of the beholder, shaped by political and cultural as well as religious values. The terrorists on Sept. 11 thought that they were serving God, he argues; those who kill people at abortion clinics also claim to be doing so. If the issue is history's most transcendent savages, on the other hand, most people agree that Hitler and Pol Pot would qualify.

This statement is the crux of the problem in modern society. People tend to fudge the word and acts of evil. If I help an elderly or handicapped person across the street, I have no reason to hide my actions. And while most people may not do the act, the majority would approve of the act. Likewise for something simple and nice as giving a seat to someone or holding open a door. However, any act that must be done in secret so that society does not find out is the the start of evil. If we cannot - as a society - totally agree that some actions are evil and some are not, or agree on the concept of evil, than Satan is laughing. The elderly couple from Florida just arrested I believe in Idaho, for torturing the children they adopted - this doctor from the quote above would not say they are evil? The author Dean Koontz, tends to write about evil characters and one in particular was the main villian in his book Intenisty. The best line in the book, which has stayed with me for years, is near the end when the protaganist states there is no reason for human evil, only excuses. We make too many excuses for evil acts these days and it will come back to bite us all.

9 posted on 02/08/2005 4:08:41 AM PST by 7thson (I think it takes a big dog to weigh a hundred pounds!)
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To: bullseye1911

Yep. For halfaheartbeat, I thought the NYTs was reporting that "evil" is out there,.. but then the Abu Ghraib zinger.

Oh well, back to the reloading bench.


10 posted on 02/08/2005 4:32:07 AM PST by womcg (was in the hospital longer than Kerry was in-country)
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To: LibWhacker

There are some animals that need to be denied oxygen.


11 posted on 02/08/2005 4:35:24 AM PST by YOUGOTIT
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To: LibWhacker
its use would precipitate a dangerous slide from clinical to moral judgment

Isn't guilt or innocence more a moral judgment than a clinical one anyway? And even if guilt admits of some degree of clinicality, isn't the sentence itself devoted solely to the moral dimension? So why the fear?

12 posted on 02/08/2005 4:42:33 AM PST by IronJack
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To: LibWhacker
Most violent criminals are psychopaths but not all psychopaths grow up to be criminals. You can be different from every else and still do a tremendous of damage as a shady lawyer, a con artist, or a crooked politician. As for the truly evil - well its difficult to describe a clinical term that fits their depravity.

Denny Crane: "There are two places to find the truth. First God and then Fox News."

13 posted on 02/08/2005 4:45:34 AM PST by goldstategop (In Memory Of A Dearly Beloved Friend Who Lives On In My Heart Forever)
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To: 7thson
Dean Koontz's Intensity presents one of the most chilling literary portraits of a psychopath I've ever read. His intended victim is in every way his pure opposite. Pure Good meets Pure Evil and guess who triumphs? Morality and Justice prevails over Self-interest and the Darwinian Law Of The Jungle.

Denny Crane: "There are two places to find the truth. First God and then Fox News."

14 posted on 02/08/2005 4:49:17 AM PST by goldstategop (In Memory Of A Dearly Beloved Friend Who Lives On In My Heart Forever)
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To: LibWhacker

The article shows just how ignorant of Biblical teachings the author and these researchers are. There are over 300 references to evil in the Scriptures. Most refer to EVERY person, because the sinner is an evil-doer in the eyes of a holy God. You don't need to be a Manson or a sadistic child molester to merit God's punishment as an evil-doer. Without Jesus, we are all condemned. Because of Jesus, we can repent and "go, and sin no more," in His words. Forgiven, we can enter heaven. Don't compare yourself to Charles Manson as your moral standard. Compare yourself to Jesus. It keeps you humble.


15 posted on 02/08/2005 4:49:24 AM PST by kittymyrib
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To: kittymyrib
Among mankind, there are few monsters. And there few saints. The vast majority us fall somewhere in between. We are aware of our good and dark sides. We could do great evil if we gave into the beast within us completely. We sin to some extent and try to live our lives the best we can knowing we are not saints and hope that merciful God Our Father, will forgive us our all too human weaknesses and bless us for the good we have done.

Denny Crane: "There are two places to find the truth. First God and then Fox News."

16 posted on 02/08/2005 4:55:08 AM PST by goldstategop (In Memory Of A Dearly Beloved Friend Who Lives On In My Heart Forever)
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To: LibWhacker

Among themselves, a few forensic scientists have taken to thinking of these people as not merely disturbed but evil. Evil in that their deliberate, habitual savagery defies any psychological explanation or attempt at treatment.

Oh please, so if I humanely kill people I'm not evil. Anyone who murders should be killed. If they were disturbed perhaps that should be noted for the sake of their family but that shouldn't change their punishment.


17 posted on 02/08/2005 5:02:46 AM PST by freedomfiter2
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To: freedomfiter2
The permanent cure for evil doers? EXECUTE THEM!

Denny Crane: "There are two places to find the truth. First God and then Fox News."

18 posted on 02/08/2005 5:04:26 AM PST by goldstategop (In Memory Of A Dearly Beloved Friend Who Lives On In My Heart Forever)
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To: shrinkermd

you may be interested in this.


19 posted on 02/08/2005 5:08:27 AM PST by Nita Nupress
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To: LibWhacker
In the real world, the grim images coming out of Iraq -the beheadings by Iraqi insurgents and the Abu Ghraib tortures

How anyone can continue reading this beyond the above statement is beyond me. They are drawing a moral equivalence between beheading and putting panties on someone's head, having a dog leash around their neck, having a dog bark at them or stacking them up in a naked human pyramid.

Write wrong or indifferent, I refuse to read this tripe beyond that statement.

20 posted on 02/08/2005 5:08:45 AM PST by Malsua
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To: LibWhacker
Reading another thread I saw this picture -

And immediately thought of this -

As part of an extensive, in-depth interview, a trained examiner rates the offender on a 20-item personality test. The items include glibness and superficial charm, grandiose self-worth, pathological lying, proneness to boredom and emotional vacuity.

What do you people think? Maybe? Could be?

21 posted on 02/08/2005 5:23:43 AM PST by 7thson (I think it takes a big dog to weigh a hundred pounds!)
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To: Peach

"But not everyone has committed evil acts. Far from it."

Exactly. Everyone has sinned, and sin is always wrong, but sin does not equate to evil. Evil is the deliberate choice to sin against another person or persons repeatedly, with full knowledge and awareness, for the pleasure of it. My spiritual partner and I also differentiate in our discussions between what we call small "e", or everyday evil, and capital "E" evil. This article is talking about big "E"-- an example of small "e" would be the petty office tyrant who takes pleasure in verbally abusing the people in his power. I find it a useful distinction.

Sin is the first step on the path that leads to evil, though, which is why we are meant to fight against it. We won't ever win the fight completely in this life, but resisting it keeps us from moving down the path.


22 posted on 02/08/2005 5:28:30 AM PST by walden
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To: MadAnthony1776

Manson didn't kill anyone.


23 posted on 02/08/2005 5:40:07 AM PST by Rudder
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To: goldstategop

True, some become the POTUS.


24 posted on 02/08/2005 5:49:31 AM PST by robowombat
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To: bullseye1911

To me that statement in the article is like comparing apples and oranges. And like you, I quit reading after it. What BS to compare beheadings to panties on ones head!!

Cheers


25 posted on 02/08/2005 5:59:22 AM PST by SZonian (Tagline???? I don't need no stinkin' tagline!)
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To: 7thson

Dean Koontz books are very well written, so much so that I find I can no longer read them!! They stay with me for days....shudder. His books truly scare me. :)


26 posted on 02/08/2005 6:22:11 AM PST by EmilyGeiger
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To: Rudder

He was the mastermind behind them.


27 posted on 02/08/2005 7:02:33 AM PST by MadAnthony1776 ("liberalism" = "do as I say, not as I do")
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To: 7thson

BUMP


28 posted on 02/08/2005 7:08:46 AM PST by 7thson (I think it takes a big dog to weigh a hundred pounds!)
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To: 7thson

Lol, she fits the profile to a tee!... Pure evil.


29 posted on 02/08/2005 9:48:50 AM PST by LibWhacker
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