Saturday, November 7, 2009

Sympathy for the Devil

hasan, evil, mental illness
the fact or power of sharing the feelings of another, esp. in sorrow or trouble; fellow feeling, compassion, or commiseration.

It's hard for most to feel sympathy for a person who has done a terrible thing, for someone like Major Hasan. I understand why. He ended and ruined so many lives, and were he alive there is no explanation, no apology he could give, no action he could take to undo or make up for what he did. No matter what or who he was before he started shooting up Fort Hood, the Fort Hood killer is what he'll always be from now on.

And yet, I sympathize. I wonder what drives people past the brink. What is it that motivates a man who lived peacefully for over 40 years to commit such terrible mayhem? Was it madness? I understand that.

Psychosis is not an uncommon side effect of porphyria. I don't like to talk about it, but I had a psychotic break shortly before being diagnosed. I remember those 3 days as fear, wave after wave of raw terror with never a moment of relief. Had someone put a loaded weapon in my hands, I probably would have blown my own head off to end the fear, but maybe not. Maybe I would have tried to kill everyone who was scaring me, which was everyone at that point.

The dirty little secret of psychiatry is that it is a profession with a very high suicide rate. It's hardly surprising. Psychiatrists act as psychic garbage disposals, constantly absorbing the misery and pain of others. It's hardly surprising when the line gets clogged.

Then there is the concept of the "trigger", wherein a sane person simply experiences more than they can bear and snaps. Some will argue that this is nonsense, that they will never snap, and they point to all the people who never do as proof. I think this is perhaps an unwillingness on their part to confront the evil within, the evil in all of us.

I am a gentle person. I am loathe to hurt another person in any way, physically or emotionally. I feel tremendous guilt when I accidentally hurt another person's feelings, so the concept of me, in my right mind, killing other people is ridiculous. Except it's not. Push me the wrong way, hit enough of the right triggers, and I know, though I don't want to think it, that I could do something terrible. We all would.

The difference, the only difference, between any of us, so safe in our peaceful sanity, and Major Hasan, is that his triggers were pushed, hard enough and often enough. Perhaps his triggers were easier to push, but we all have them.

So sympathize with the devil, because only then can we hope to prevent such tragedies in the future. We need to learn from these events, and we can't unless we sympathize.

Our servicemen and women are hurting. They come back from war quite predictably changed, and what do we offer them? Very little. "Go home, get a job, thanks for all the kills" and then they go back home, often unrecognizable to their loved ones, and can't get bombs and blood and horror out of their minds. We spend tens of thousands of dollars training them to kill, and very little training them to live again. Major Hasan was trying, and well, we know what happened there.

Sympathy is the only hope we have. Unfortunately, it seems to be in quite short supply.


  1. Just before I read this, I’d like to point out that the right edge of your posts are being cropped off, making it hard to read when you have to guess some of the words.

    (I could fix it for you, if you like …)

  2. Very eloquent post.

    & Welcome home, PF.

  3. Okay, read it now. Excellent viewpoint you have, there, one I wish many more people had. There are no “good” or “evil” people; just … people. With different emotions, histories, psychologies, experiences, desires and needs. Even the Taliban, or bin Laden, or Saddam Hussein, were not evil. Not even Hitler. Some were predisposed to commit vile acts, yes, but in the end, they were like everyone else in the world: a product of their environment and life’s experiences.

    Do people who commit these acts deserve punishment? Absolutely. But, they also deserve compassion and understanding, however hard it may be to extend such feelings to people who willingly, sometimes even gladly, tore lives apart. As PF said, one mustn’t only dwell on what they did, but also wonder, why they did such a thing. What could have pushed them that far? That’s how I like to think when I hear of such tragedies.

    It is truly hard, sometimes even impossible, to feel sympathy for these sorts of monsters. We are human, after all, and to care for those who deliberately hurt us and those we care for is against our nature. But, even when I’m shaking with rage or grief at some new atrocity committed, I like to think back to a quote from Red Dragon (though it probably originates elsewhere) …

    “Monsters aren’t born. They’re made.”

  4. Just wanted to point out that Major Hasan is still alive, there was some misreporting early on that has lead to a lot of confusion.

  5. "“Monsters aren’t born. They’re made.”"

    I strongly disagree. Some people are just evil. They live to inflict pain and suffering on others. Maybe there is some sort of neurological or genetic reason that we don't understand. But "evil" is just a useful catch-all to describe such persons.

    I don't necessarily put Maj. Hasan into the "evil" category, though. People who aren't inherently evil can do evil things.

    But my reservoir of sympathy for mass murderers is completely empty.

  6. « Some people are just evil. »

    It is my turn to strongly disagree. I have never seen any reason to believe that people can truly be born evil (ie. who inherently rejoice in causing pain and harm to others). I also do not believe that evil itself exists, if one means “evil” to mean a force of darkness or some such. There are only people, their actions, and consequences (how such actions affect others), and we use the term “evil” to describe events or actions at their most deplorable. But, that is another topic.

    There is an interesting program that plays on Discovery Civilization Channel, entitled Most Evil. In it, a brilliant psychiatrist, Dr. Stone, says that there are three basic constants for criminals, particularly the more vicious ones (rapists, torture-killers, terrorists, etc.). They always have a history of either head injury, childhood trauma/abuse, or mental illness, and often, a combination of any two or more of them. Understandably, one who has all three is at risk of becoming a true “monster”.

    The point is that there are no serial killers, rapists, torturers, etc. who do not have a clear and definable catalyst at some point in their lives, whether it be through what they experienced, or through a mental instability (a predisposition). Every case studied that I’m aware of has been able to pinpoint just what it was that led the individual down such a dark path – a loveless childhood, mental illness, unbearable psychological strain, whatever it may be. The only times experts haven’t been able to find out what “went wrong”, was when a subject’s history was either missing or incomplete.

    Of course, I do not claim to be any sort of expert in this matter. But, I have seen and studied sufficiently enough to lead me to believe that evil does not exist in itself, and that no-one is truly born to hurt or kill others.

  7. "It is my turn to strongly disagree. I have never seen any reason to believe that people can truly be born evil"

    I would just turn that around and say that I've seen no convincing evidence to disprove my hypothesis.

    "I also do not believe that evil itself exists, if one means “evil” to mean a force of darkness or some such."

    I agree with that. When I say evil, I use it as a descriptive term for a particular set of characteristics, not some mystical negative force.

    "The point is that there are no serial killers, rapists, torturers, etc. who do not have a clear and definable catalyst at some point in their lives"

    I'm not sure that's true, and I don't think we yet understand enough about the brain, and possibly other factors to make that kind of definitive statement.

    "Of course, I do not claim to be any sort of expert in this matter"

    Same here, it's just an opinion based on what I've observed.

    " and that no-one is truly born to hurt or kill others."

    There's no reason scientifically, to rule that out, that I'm aware of. Why isn't it possible that someone could be neurologically wired in such as way as to be predisposed to enjoy inflicting pain & suffering on other living beings?

  8. « Why isn't it possible that someone could be neurologically wired in such as way as to be predisposed to enjoy inflicting pain & suffering on other living beings? »

    Ah, but that is exactly what I meant by a catalyst. It doesn’t have to be one specific event; by “catalyst”, I meant anything that would lead to someone partaking in such vile acts, even taking pleasure from it, including mental illness. I do believe some people – very rare, but some – are born psychopaths and antisocial, who don’t really need head injury, trauma/abuse, or any tangible triggers in life to start acting in “evil” ways. Their neural wiring is screwed up; they are born that way. No therapy or treatment can help them.

    When I said that people who end up committing such vile crimes do so from one (or more) of three causes – mental illness, childhood trauma/abuse, or head injury – I also meant those who are “pre-programmed” to do evil things. That is what I meant by “mental illness” (for I do not see how such horrific, and inhumane, lacks of empathy and compassion for other human beings can not be classified as mentally ill, or downright insane).

    When I said that no-one was born evil (or no-one was “made” to hurt or kill others), I was talking about people who are clinically sane and rational, normal people like you and I. Normal people, mentally healthy people, do not deliberately hurt or kill others, and especially do not take pleasure in such acts. (Though, one can be allowed to occasionally indulge in some schadenfreude.)

  9. "Their neural wiring is screwed up; they are born that way. No therapy or treatment can help them."

    Ok, then our main disagreement is just semantic. I guess it is reasonable to object to the term "evil" because of its mystical overtones, but I find it a useful term for the kind of person we are talking about. But naturally, whether a person is characterized as evil, a monster, or whatever, there must be some scientific explanation for his/her motivations & behavior -- even if we haven't yet discovered it.

  10. Y’know, signing in with Blogger each time I come to post a comment, and having to retype it all over again afterwards, is getting *mildly aggravating*. *twitches*

    Anyway. It seems we have nothing to debate over anymore, as I agree fully with what you said lastly. Of course there is a rational, scientific explanation behind people’s actions, as there is an explanation for everything. It all happens far too quickly (on a femtosecond timescale, which is a quadrillionth of a second) and is all far too complex (chemicals, neurons, synapses, what have you) for modern science to comprehend, but the reason(s)/explanation is there. Nothing happens for no reason; the world is not random (or, as some would put it, “chaotic”). Everything is a direct result of causality – cause & effect.

    It’s just not always easy to anticipate the effects of any given cause.

  11. i didn't want to bring it up before, but you did so it must be ok...?

    i know of the associate between porphyria and some mental illnesses [are they really all "psychotic" ones? i have yet to read any that WEREN'T, and that's terrifying, too...]. i grant that i *would* have PTSD even if i had been perfectly healthy...
    what i am wondering is: did you ever recieve treatment for it? for a porphyria-induced issue?? what would it be?
    erm. we could go to email if you prefer. it's a damned touchy topic, and while i trust all the "regulars" here to not mock or attack me, i'm not sure i am totally comfortable talking any specifics because non-regulars sometimes come by, and you might not be, either.

    and new computer = no email addresses :( i really need to pull everything from the old one, but it *barely* turns on, and i'm afraid of messing up new computer if there are indeed viruses on the old one [like i think there are].


  12. ok, high, i have NOT been here for a week [more, i think]

    I"M SORRY!!!

    gods, i feel like an ass now. you just had surgery ?!?! i didn't know, because i just read it - after i posted above.

    no spleen :( i'm so sorry. i hope everything is ok, and if you don't mind i will send some GoodThoughts thru the Pagan Ether for you. i hope [pray] they find the cause, and stop it from any further damage, and fix any current damage...

    seriously - i did not know at all; if i had known i would have A) sent you good wishes earlier and B) not posed a difficult [and personal] question right now. i am *very* sorry!

  13. You are assuming a lot.

    If it is true that the Fort Hood shooter had some sort of psychosis, then I certainly feel sympathy for him. It's terrible to think that he could someday, perhaps even now, be in his right mind and have to face something he did that was so terrible.

    However, it is possible that he was just one more devout Muslim sincerely and coldly bent on waging jihad against the Zionists. Perhaps time will tell. I hope that the story does eventually emerge--not becuase I want it to go one way or another, but because the public has a need to know.


Comments are for you guys, not for me. Say what you will. Don't feel compelled to stay on topic, I enjoy it when comments enter Tangentville or veer off into Non Sequitur Town. Just keep it polite, okay?

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