Are Serial Murderers Human?

I ask because I saw a TV documentary on the “BTK” killer. This guy was positively inhuman-he testified how he slit childrens throats, and stargled his victims while they were bound. He appeared to have no feelings of remorse of any kind. To him, his victims were just toys, to be played with and discarded.
My point: is someone like this really human? With no feelings of empathy or regret, I find it hard to believe this guy is really human. My theory is that such people are born missing some vital area of the brain-they have no emotion beyond satisfying their own egos. It reminds me of Scoot Peteron’s behaviour-once he got rid of his wife, she ceased to mean anything at all to him-he was ready for a new relationship, and the fact that he killed an innocent human being (who trusted him) meant nothing to him.
Have these people ever been studied? Are they missing something basic?

They are known as psychopaths. That is what they are. The list of behaviors found here is a decent start to grasping how the operate in society. (Many of them do not murder, though they are not pleasant to be around either.) This essay is also interesting, it touches on what you were saying.

I guess it depends on how you define human.

They’re mostly sociopaths which just means a lack of integrating mores of the society into their habitual mental landscape and thinking egotistically to the extreme.

Personally, I think they’re every bit as human as the rest of us but operate from a colder, more ruthless aspect of human personality than others.

It seems to me in many cases there seems to be emotional injury that they – unlike other people – can’t seem to work themselves out of or around without destroying or attempting to destroy the source of the pain (I’m thinking specifically of Richard Kuklinski). Rage instead of problem-solving anger.

As for BTK, he seemed obsessive compulsive, literal-minded, rule-oriented, and as you say completely compartmentalizing of the pain of others as mere obstacles to his fulfillment of fantasy. Maybe there is a part that chemically lacks empathy.

I know that seekers of high risk have been established to have brains that require more juice to achieve an optimal mental state of being that other’s don’t require so maybe there’s something like that at play in some other manner. Still human, though.

I’d wonder if a guy like that wouldn’t be well served by virtual killing (were there such a thing in the future like a hologram video game type of thing – there are of course killing games now in regular video games) and if that would assist over time in helping to distinguish between real life and fantasy fulfillment. That, of course, goes back to the old ‘catharsis’ vs ‘instigation’ theory of pornography or death music, etc. (does it help cathartically express fantasies or does it inspire acting out the fantasies in real life).

As for the fantasies themselves, they strike me as simply extremes of power dynamics that are otherwise common in sexual play and fantasies.

They are humans who are compulsive and lack empathy.

Personally, I find that playing video games has helped me grasp this; like many people, I find it fun to do things in video games that I would find horrifying in real life. But unlike in real life, the characters in a video game are nothing but things put there for my amusement. I feel no compassion for them or moral obligation towards them, and doing those nasty things is simply entertaining. Or practical in winning. Blowing up a car for entertainment; whacking a random pedestrian with a club; obliterating entire virtual towns and massacring the populace; that sort of thing. Fun in virtuality, but not in reality.

Take my ( and many, many others ) tastes in amusement, and give them to a person who looks at real people as nothing but toys, and lacks the prudence/self control to avoid behavior that will get him tossed in prison or executed, and you have a monster.

The difference between them and us is smaller than you think; removing or distorting the wrong part of a mind can cause drastic changes in behavior.

Wow, that’s a really excellent point. I’ve always had trouble wrapping my head around the sociopathic mind, but that really helps. It’s like other people are characters - and nameless, throw-away red shirts, at that - in the video game that is their life. Huh. Thanks for that insight.

(I think. It’s not a pretty insight, but it’s still an insight.)

What I don’t understand is: the psychopaths/serialillers enjoy inflicting pain on thir victims; robbing them is secondary to enjoying the sick acts they indulge in. I don’t see why any mercy should be extended to anyone like BTK-he should have been subjected to the death penalty.

There is only one reason I support the death penalty, and that is for people who are a disconcerting disgrace to the term human. Take some career criminal – let’s say some mafioso with several murders under his belt – without any further details, I’d say it is probably better to leave them to rot in prison forever. But someone like BTK? No way in hell that person should live a day longer than they absolutely have to.

Sometimes I wonder if serial killers are in fact the next step in human evolution. Every animal on the food chain, with few exceptions, tend to be stronger & more intelligent than the animals they eat – weasels are smarter than rats, bears are smarter than weasels, and most humans are smarter than the average bear. Serial killers feed on humans (perhaps not literally, but they do feast on the energy released when killing a human being); data also shows that most serial killers are highly educated and possess above average intelligence, not to mention they’re charming as fuck.

If that’s the case, then no, serial killers aren’t human. But their rarity suggest they should be classified under the Endangered Species Act, and placed on federal reserves so they can thrive in their natural habitat. Not that I’m suggesting they should be allowed to freely intermingle with society (would you allow black rhinos or Sumatran tigers to walk around freely?) just set aside a few highway rest stops and co-ed college dorms and that’s it. :cool:

I think it’d be helpful if their continued living (if it’s going to continue in prison) was utilized for gaining greater understanding of either/both their psychology and their techniques and approaches to killing to help prevent more by others in the future.

No. Read a book on evolution.

In order for serial killers to be the next step in human evolution–whatever that means–you’d have to show that (a) Serial killing could be traced to an inheritable genetic mutation and (b) that someone with this mutation would be more likely to reproduce than someone without it.

If they kill everyone off, they would be more likely to reproduce…

Seriously though, they are broken people. To say they aren’t human is silly.

Wow, “broken people.” That pretty well summarizes it, doesn’t it? I’d agree.

The empathy thing is intersting. I started a thread in GD that never really was answered, asking if, since you can make other people (and cats & dogs) yawn by doing so yourself in front of them, would a psychopath never, ever respond and yawn?

But what about the other side of the spectrum: people who empathise too much? Guys who identify with their football team as if its fortunes actually effect theirs in any way. Or people who slap actors in restaurants who play villians on sopa operas? It would be interesting to see a confrontation between these two extremes (they did have the opportunity when they made the movie Nurse Betty, but they pissed it away).

Remember–in totalitarian governments, all of the atrocities described above have been committed by men & women who would test out as psychologically normal; they are merely driven by social pressures to do these things.

Look at the history of slavery. Murder, torture, death. Men selling their own children, fathered on their slaves. Most of these men would test out as normal.

And look at war.
Your opinions of what a normal Human should & should not be able to do are far too sentimental.

Except for the fact that these serial killers are frequently perceived to be “normal”. BTK was a member of a lutheran church, and was a sunday school teacher. Clearly, this guy knew what he was doing was horribly wrong-yet killing those poor people meant nothing to him. He even recounted how good h felt about telling the jury about his “projects”. I wonder if , faced with the death penalty, would this guy blubber and wail for HIS life? Anybody know what his poor wife knew about her husband’s “hobbies”?

Aside from the objections already posted, this suggestion is flawed in at least two other ways. First, being higher on the food chain has nothing to do with being evolutionarily successful, and being more intelligent doesn’t make one “more evolved”. There is no goal, no direction to evolution. Second, what makes humans as successful a species as we are is our ability to cooperate with each other. As individuals we’d be pretty mediocre omnivores, even with our great intelligence. Operating in cooperative groups we are devastating. What makes it possible to cooperate? Our ability to empathize with other humans and place value on their goals as well as our own. Lack of empathy is a crippling handicap for a human.

See the link to a site I posted titled “The Mask of Sanity”. :wink: ETA: It is the second link in my post above, I think you’ll find it quite informative.

As an example of the extreme sort of socio/psychopath, the stereotype of the personality would not have him blubber and wail, but rather trying to mindf**k the authorities by spinning the situation back upon them along the lines of: *“Well, now YOU are killing ME because it’s what your standards demand… only thing, you have to assuage your weak conscience by waiting to be ordered to do so by someone with authority, after giving me a due process, and even then need to use a ‘humane’ way of offing me. Gee aren’t you righteous avengers”. *

And that, folks, is the kind of thing only humans (pending contact with other sapient intelligent beings) can come up with.

Zabali, thanks for linking to this fascinating essay. I’ve been reading it this past half hour and I’ve been going from shocked nodding to wide-eyed recognition to philosophical musing and back again. Being linked to thoughts like these is why I value my time on SDMB so much.

By the way, did the words “real life vampire” occur to anyone else but me while reading that article?

I recall reading an article about how this is a myth, and most serial killers are undereducated simpletons who only get away with their crimes for as long as they do because they kill strangers and move around. Can’t remember where I read it, though. Anybody know if there’s any actual data on the subject?