MW: Let me ask you about the broader fragility of human nature then: Do we all have a seed of evil in us? Could we all become, under the right or wrong set of circumstances, a killer like Ms. Homolka or the Colorado shooter?
JF: I don’t think so. Some people will kill because it’s a last resort or they’ll kill because they need to protect their child, but not everyone has the capacity for enjoying murder, to kill in a cool, sadistic way.
PT: I would agree with that, I do believe in a human who is mentally healthy. I don’t think there’s that feel of intense violence in us. My caveat would be if you fell prey to a mental illness that puts you beyond the capacity to evaluate harm, to resist a trigger.
JF: Most psychopaths don’t kill anybody. There are psychopathic liars and cheaters and womanizers and they manipulate people…
MW: So James, do you believe that somebody is born with a psychopathic personality – or that early events in a child’s life can actually spark the disorder?
JF: I think both. You take two babies and within two days you can see differences in temperament. But a lot has to do with upbringing. The script is not determined. Take someone like serial killer (and cannibal) Jeffrey Dahmer. Had he been 6”10 and able to bounce a basketball, perhaps he would have gone to practice every day instead of collecting road kill. Maybe he would have been very popular and his whole life would have been different.
But we also have to be careful about not demonizing parents of murderers. We have lots of sympathy, as we should, for the families of the victims. But we have very little compassion and understanding for the families of the perpetrators. We blame them, we want to say, “What did you do wrong? How did you create a monster?”
MW: I would suggest that, at the end of the day, maybe there are certain horrible acts that are simply beyond understanding.
PT: I don’t agree with that at all. Our understanding of the human mind has grown in leaps. Compare what we thought hundreds of years of ago – that the shape of your skull determines your personality.
JF: Predicting horrible acts, that’s the problem. People have looked at brains of mass murderers and serial killers; there’s nothing that distinguishes them from loads and loads of other people who will never, ever kill.
MW: I am going to make one prediction of which I’m absolutely certain: this debate will renew itself as soon as the next mass shooting breaks out in a public place.