Evil Jokers: The Dark Knight and Other Psychopaths

Psychopaths often fool others with their mask of sanity. As we know, they appear glib and charming in casual contact, hide their wrongdoings from others and lie smoothly with no compunction. But usually they’re far better at fooling their buddies and professional acquaintances–those they have only superficial contact with–than they are their long-term significant others. For a number of reasons I’ve explored so far–including fear, dependency, a sense of helplessness, PTSD, loyalty and deep emotional attachment–women sometimes stay with known psychopaths. Perhaps a less obvious reason for this that I’d like to discuss today is a self-defeating fascination with evil. Many of us are intrigued by evil, partly because of it’s caused by human beings who are fundamentally different from the rest of us. Just as it’s impossible for psychopaths to relate to what’s good about human nature—they see conscience, empathy and love it as weaknesses–it’s almost as difficult for most people to understand what motivates psychopaths to harm others.

The film The Dark Knight (2008) was a box office hit largely due to the popularity of the evil character. The Joker kills not in order to become richer, as do the other outlaws in the movie, but solely for the sport of it. His characterization as a psychopath is plausible: except perhaps for the unfortunate fact that most psychopaths are much harder to identify. They usually don’t look as repulsive and don’t act as obviously crazy as the Joker does. Yet, fundamentally, all psychopaths are evil jokers. Their idea of entertainment, and of a life well-spent, is duping and destroying others.

Similarly, Dracula novels remain international best sellers for a similar reason. In spite of ourselves, we’re drawn to human vampires who feed upon our lives, to weaken and destroy us. Even crime shows that feature psychopaths are very popular. Evil individuals also tend to monopolize the personal interest and crime stories featured on the news.

Because most of us are capable of empathy and love, and thus can’t identify with those who completely lack these capacities, we imagine evil people to be far more complex and intriguing than they actually are. We may be initially mystified by the contradiction between a psychopath’s apparent charm and his underlying ruthlessness. But once we realize that the charm of evil people is purely instrumental, to get them whatever they want at the moment, this contradiction is resolved and ceases to intrigue us. In reality, normal people are far more interesting and less predictable than psychopaths. The depth and range of our emotions complicates, nuances and curbs our selfish impulses and desires. For psychopaths, however, nothing stands in the way of their absolute selfishness. Each and every one of their actions, including seemingly other-regarding acts, can be plausibly explained in terms of their quest for dominance.

Evil men may appear to be masculine, self-confident and in charge. They seem to know what they want from life and how to get it. Keep in mind, however, that it’s so much easier to know what you want when you’re considering only your own desires and are willing to sacrifice everyone and everything to satisfy them. Even animals manifest deeper emotions. They care about their young and bond with others. Psychopaths don’t. If decent men sometimes hesitate, it’s because they’re more thoughtful and other-regarding. They put other people’s needs into the equation before reaching a decision. Thus, paradoxically, it’s only because of their deficiencies and simplicity with respect to normal, more multidimensional, human beings that we consider evil individuals our “Others” and are intrigued by them.

Claudia Moscovici, psychopathyawareness

Dangerous Liaisons: How to Identify and Escape from Psychopathic Seduction

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