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Is there a universal lethality in people?

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“I think so.” So says Dr. Park Deitz, one of America’s foremost forensic psychiatrists. Dietz has evaluated Andrea Yates, who drowned her five children; Jeffrey Dahmer; the Unabomber; and would-be presidential assasin John Hinckley. More:

“I think people are born with the inherent ability to be cruel and harmful and destructive and selfish and acquisitive. It’s the function of many of the institutions of society to train us out of that.”

Dietz believes that we are no more than jungle animals with big brains, who could lapse back into our ancestors’ atavistic, savage behavior at any moment, not unlike the “trained” tiger that turned without notice on Roy Horn.

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  • Eric Olsen

    Thanks Joe – I think it’s disturbing but true, hence the power of “Lord of the Flies,” “Day of the Locust” and similar return to savagery tales. Mobs, riots and group contagion situations feed off this as well. People can be good, but they have to try.

  • I believe Dietz is giving too much credit to society. In many ways, Western capitalistic society encourages the traits he is worried about, such as selfishness, acquisitiveness and destructivenss.

  • Joe

    As opposed to other societies where selfishness, acquisitiveness, and destructivenss are non-existent.

  • Yup. Check out pacifist collectives such as Baltimore’s Jonah House.

    My brain tells me people, by and large, aren’t worth a goddamn. My heart says differently. The two, working together, say people have goodness within them and can be terrific if they work at it, but the fact is, most do not.

  • I believe traditional societies, though very imperfect, were less founded on ‘take advantage of the person next to you in hope of getting a bit more in material comforts’ than the cultures founded on mercantile captitalism. I am not saying the animal — homo sapiens — is better in traditional societies. Genetically, he is largely the same, including that nasty old reptile brain. But, I believe the cultural influences in a shallow, acquisitive society make people behave worse on a day to day basis.

  • jadester

    my brain tells me we are but animals, when it comes down to it, no matter what “culture” we may develop. Animals like any other animals, the only difference being we seem to have more arrogance in general.