Friday, August 3, 2012

Sociopaths, Batman, and Dexter

I saw "The Dark Knight Rises" tonight. Needless to say, I am a huge fan and I won't even say how many times I've watched "The Dark Knight" because it's one of those things that's not "impressive," it's just plain embarrassing.

I prefer "The Dark Knight" because when I see a movie trying to depict true evil, I expect to be scared, and Heath Ledger's Joker definitely gave me chills. All I could focus on in this one was Bane's Sean Connery accent and his body... which were both distracting, to say the least.

I am fascinated by the concept of sociopathy in humans. Earlier today, before going to see the movie, I read part of a book called The Psychology of Dexter about the character Dexter Morgan, and his role as an organized serial killer, highly intelligent and methodical. The first essay asks how you think you would feel if you had to masquerade as a "human," when in fact, you don't recognize any emotion as true or real. Sociopaths experience shallow emotions, such as rage or jealousy, and that's why they can get pleasure out of criminal and destructive behaviors. The short-lived highs are exhilarating, but never last enough to create happiness or love.

What does it feel like to not experience guilt? What does it feel like to be truly cold?

Most sociopaths don't end up taking the serial killer path, but they function as "normal" people in the real world. He is "a social predator who charms, manipulates and ruthlessly plows their way through life...completely lacking in feelings for others, they selfishly take what they want and do as they please, violating social norms and expectations without the slightest sense of guilt or regret (Hare, 2003)."

I know people like this, and they disgust me. They aren't "cool" or interesting in the least... they are infuriatingly depthless and remorseless. The killers and criminals are the ones that interest me, and probably most other people as well because murder is such a human act, so up-close and personal, and yet the people who do it feel nothing.

I remember watching Ledger's Joker in awe like, how can a person act this way, how can they just not care? (I know this is a fictional character, but still.) He didn't care about innocence and guilt, like Dexter did. The Joker was a harbinger of chaos. Bane was carnal and allowed everyone play, even if it just means he'll kill them eventually, but he still knew what caring felt like.

Ted Bundy once said: "Guilt? It's this mechanism we use to control people. It's an illusion. It's a kind of social control mechanism- and it's very unhealthy. It does terrible things to our bodies. And there are much better ways to control our behavior than that rather extraordinary use of guilt."

I can imagine how a person might get to thinking that way. Extraordinary circumstances. Trauma. Bad childhoods. Most people use apathy as a shield though, as a defense mechanism. (Miranda Tate in "TDKR" says to Bruce Wayne: "You have a practiced apathy, Mr. Wayne. But a man doesn't spend half his fortune on a plan to save the world and isn't so wounded when it fails.") Even myself, I know that I have trained myself to become colder and more detached for emotional situations and horrific incidents. It's easy to laugh in the face of terror. It's easy to dismiss feelings and emotions. I do it all the time. But it's practiced, and definitely not how I really feel.

I remember reading an article about how people who act this way, the way that I do, are making the world worse, making society more hardened and aggressive, because they can never admit their true feelings, out of fear that they will succumb to them. And as a result, everyone else becomes wary of natural reactions, such as crying or feeling fear, disgust, or pain, because people (like us, like me) make a false mockery of it.

But too many bad things happen every day, all the time. If I invested my emotions in all of these murders, kidnappings, affairs, divorces, wars, plagues, suicides, everything, I'd have maybe 3 minutes out of a day to feel any happiness. I've always been a black-and-white person, all or nothing. I'd rather pretend to be a cold-hearted bitch than to be vulnerable to attack, ridicule, or pity.

Which is why it took so long for me to allow myself to cry. Because it's such a powerful gesture of weakness, of pain and sorrow, and vulnerability. I'm attracted to sociopathic people because they are what I wish I could be sometimes. If only I didn't feel guilt or empathy, I could do so many things, and I could be fearless.


  1. I really like this post, S. Good thoughts. I'm going to have to read it again when I'm not sleepy. :) It's tough stuff. That thing about being black and white (about anything really) I have learned is pretty much unhelpful when it comes to living. Thanks for the thoughtful post, though. I love your "vanilla" posts. :)

  2. You might find my page on psychopathy interesting.

    Also the book The Sociopath Next Door is interesting because it contains a discussion of why, even though having no empathy can seem like an advantage, it is still more rewarding to have it.

    1. Thanks! I do own that book but I haven't actually read it yet... I should get out that :)