Have you ever wondered what drives a serial killer? How about those that minded the ovens and gas chambers in Nazi concentration camps? I suppose the average person would probably not want to step into the deviant and sadistic minds of the worst of the worst. For most, it’s probably adequate to know that serial killers are some of the most horrific people on the planet, no need to venture into the macabre and horrifically inconceivable. For others satiating the need to know why is a little more difficult.
I am now on Episode 7, Season 1 of the Netflix series, Mindhunter, a dramatization of the real life story of FBI Agents John E. Douglas and Holden Ford. I did not anticipate the level of fascination I would have with learning the inner workings of serial killers cognitive motivations. I think it quite natural to ask why, particularly when it comes to the commission of unspeakable crimes, perhaps the most heinous of crimes. In doing so the answers that come forth require the contemplation of some very uncomfortable thoughts. One of these thoughts is the notion that the average person and a serial killer have quite a lot in common.
It is very counter intuitive to believe such a thing. It would be similar to contemplating a prison system run by the very people it incarcerates. How could it be possible that the inmates run the penitentiary, but during the height of communism this was exactly the case in the former Soviet Union. In Aleksandr Solzhenitsyn’s, The Gulag Archipelago, he writes of his experience of being held in Soviet Gulags for years, Gulags run by the prisoners. Victor Frankl, an Austrian psychiatrist who wrote Man’s Search For Meaning, details such mind bending circumstances of Jews facilitating the deaths of their fellow Jews. Similar accounts can be found in the book Night, by Elie Wiesel. Yet another historical example is that of the Einsatzgruppen written about in the book, Ordinary Men, by Christopher R. Browning. How could the average cop, who’s tasked with upholding justice, come to a point where he and his “colleagues” murder hundreds of people he once protected?
Though there are unexpected similarities between serial killers, death camp workers, executioner cops and the “average person” there clearly are differences, but what are the similarities? It’s rhetorical that most “average” people would say that they would never reach a point where they would willingly take the lives of innocent people. How would you really know, if you were not aware that there are indeed circumstances that have arisen that compelled the most innocent to become the most guilty. Do you know what would make you become the unthinkable? Knowing the answer to that question is the very thing that is necessary to keep from becoming the monster that you could never be. Some of those answers can be found in the following books.
Second Hand Time by Svetlana Alexievich, The Gulag Archipelago by Aleksandr Solzhenitsyn, Night by Elie Wiesel, Man’s Search For Meaning by Viktor E. Frankl