Monday, June 27, 2016

Why Bad Guys Think They Are Good.

 Or Plastic?



One of my biggest pet peeves about many story villains is that they walk around twisting the ends of their mustaches and declaring that they are the bad guys. In reality, most people involved in evil behavior don’t see that behavior as evil. 
In a conflict, each side sees itself as good and justified and the enemy as evil. In fact, you can argue that the only real thing that differentiates a protagonist from an antagonist is that the author is taking the protagonist’s side and showing his or her justifications rather than the justifications of the antagonist.
In a conflict, the enemy is painted to seem horrible. WWII propaganda fascinates me because each side is vilifying the other. American propaganda shows a swastika-bearing boot crushing a church, or a swastika-bearing arm stabbing a dagger through the Bible. Meanwhile, the Nazis were painting Hitler as a Christ-like figure wearing a cross and bearing a sword to vanquish the evil dragons representing Germany’s enemies. 
“The face of evil is no one’s face,” writes Roy Baumeister in his book Evil: Inside Human Violence and Cruelty. “It is always a false image that is imposed or projected on the opponent.” And philosopher Hannah Arendt said, “The most horrifying things about the Nazis was not that they were so deviant but that they were terrifyingly normal.”
Pure evil, argues Baumeister, is just a myth.
Psychologist Albert Bandura would probably agree. He theorized that people who do evil have justified the morality of their actions to themselves in some way. By convincing themselves their behavior is moral, these people can separate and disengage themselves from immoral behavior and its consequences.
 Bandura said that there were four different approaches to “disengaging internal control".
1. Redefine the behavior
 Redefining the behavior is a manner of changing perspective so one’s behavior seems less reprehensible than heroic. Many hate groups use this approach; so did a great deal of WWII propaganda.  For example, while most people believe that hatred and killing are generally wrong, hating and destroying something you have defined as evil is a whole different ball game. (Bandura called this “moral justification.”) This calls to mind that old ethical dilemma—if you could travel back in time and kill Hitler as a baby (and theoretically save millions of lives in the process), would you do it?”
I Googled around to see what people online have said about it, and the majority seem to be for killing baby Hitler. What’s interesting about the dilemma that a lot of people don’t point out is that Hitler was not the only person responsible for WWII, the Holocaust, and related atrocities. It also assumes that Hitler was evil incarnate from the cradle, and that environment had little or no influence on what he became. But then, it’s much easier to redefine your behavior as moral and good when things are black and white.
2. Disregard or distort the consequences of behavior
Minimizing, distorting, or disregarding the pain one’s actions create for others certainly reduces feelings of guilt for harming others. When I was collecting propaganda to talk about stereotyping, prejudice, and hatred for my classes, I discovered Ferris State University’s Jim Crow Museum of Racist Memorabilia (the goal of which is to teach tolerance). I was astonished by the number of images of slaves looking—or even saying—they were happy to be in the positions they were in.
3. Dehumanize or blame the victims
In many cases, the propaganda identifies the happy-looking slaves mentioned with the nword. Epithets like this are used to dehumanize people who are being mistreated. As Roy Fox writes in his article Salespeak (printed in the book Common Culture: Reading and Writing about American Popular Culture, 5th ed), “Names [are] sacred: they communicate the essence of our identity, not just to others but to ourselves as well. To rob someone of her name was to appropriate her identity, to deny her existence.”
4. Displace or diffuse responsibility
Rather than taking personal blame for evil, many people blame a larger group or organization. Over and over in history, people who have committed atrocities blame the orders they were given, and because they believe that following orders was the greater good, they feel little or no guilt for their actions.
 During the Nuremburg trials, for example, individuals who personally ushered Jewish people into gas chambers and killed them passed off personal responsibility by arguing that they had not done evil … they had simply been following orders. William Calley, who was convicted for his role in the My Lai massacre in Vietnam, stated during his testimony that “I carried out the orders that I was given, and I do not feel wrong in doing so.” In a talk I saw Philip Zimbardo do on his book The Lucifer EffectUnderstanding How Good People Turn Evil, he said that the soldiers involved in the Abu Ghraib prisoner torture  were also following orders. “The only thing they were not told to do,” he said, “was take pictures.”
All of this is to say that reprehensible acts are often disguised by intentions people have convinced themselves are good. So when you create your story villains, don't show your villain twisting his mustache ... show him arguing that his evil behavior was all for the good. He might well be wrong, but he will certainly be acting like a real villain.
© 2012 Carolyn Kaufman, PsyD ♦ Psychology for Writers on Psychology Today 
Carolyn Kaufman, PsyD is the author of The Writer's Guide to Psychology: How to Write Accurately About Psychological Disorders, Clinical Treatment and Human Behavior.  More information is available on the book's website.


q1605 said...

I will say one thing and that is that this author never got in my mothers cross hairs. That said, my mother could rationalize her deeds so well that she should have been a lawyer or politician. She saw the wounded souls she left in her wake and wrote them off as collateral damage that should have seen her coming and moved out of her way. That anyone that saw her coming should have noticed her flat snake eyes and if they didn't see her and her malleable ethics it was on them.

Five Hundred Pound Peep said...

I agree, this author probably would be fooled by your mother. I was around some of those people who told me there wasn't such thing as human evil only human ignorance and I knew they were WRONG. Your mother knew what she was doing as well of mine. I sometimes get uncomfortable with those articles, the Nazis were killing millions of Jews and gasing them in camps, trying to outline Hitler's followers as being well intended is a bit much of course knowing older Germans I asked them, "Did you know?" and they said NO so we can give them the credit that they didn't know but the ones working at the concentration camps knew. So their excuse, "I was just following orders" is a load of crap. Any evil person can make excuses. They can claim they robbed the bank because they needed the money etc.

The article seems to excuse those who are blindly obedient. I have another word for people like that too COWARDS. The author would probably say I lack empathy for them. It remains me of the people who write endless articles defending narcs and maligning their victims.

Judith said...

In the children's book my mother self-published, she is an all-powerful sorceress who is responsible for all the good in the world. Yup, that's how she sees herself.

q1605 said...

I think my mother thought the same way. If she hadn't been so lazy she might have written a book. In her world she had never done one bad thing and man oh man her whole life was corrupt. Me and sis figure she started conniving as soon as she woke up and didn't stop until she fell asleep. A Lot of her stuff had to be off the cuff. Things would be going our way and she would show up and it was like watching the Hindenburg.......Oh the humanity!

Five Hundred Pound Peep said...

Judith that's creepy. Even creepier that book got published.

Yeah sounds like your mother Q! Mine is totally innocent and PERFECT too, she never did one thing wrong!

q1605 said...

Peep. She said self published. Which means the only copies you can find are in the library of her mind. I was talking to my sister about something my mother did and never spoke of it "out here" until she told me she shared this story not so much in confidence as in an example of what a twist my mother had. When my sister and her then husband came in for my fathers funeral which my mother ultimately forbade us to attend. My mother boinked her then husband almost before we could get him in the ground. How despicable is that? You can see why I didn't pass it along until I knew damned well my sister was OK with me sharing. I was afraid she would be mortified. Turns out she doesn't really care. I confronted her about it in the conversation leading to NC and she told me it was yet another drug induced dream. Gawd she knew no bounds. I am sure that none of my ex's family ever got to hear the truth because they were rattling the families possessions too loud as they stuffed them in the trash can.

Five Hundred Pound Peep said...

I'm glad no mainstream publisher fell for that tripe, thank goodness, she didn't have to watch her earn bennies for narc fantasies. That's sick how your mother slept with your sister's ex husband and shows how toxic they both were. You hear about that kind of thing on Jerry Springer and at times Dr. Phil with the various psychopaths having a hey day on their victims. Drug induced dream, my foot. Sheesh. Money gives them more power to do their dirty deeds.

q1605 said...

I look at self published books like I look at this so-called music.
I'm coming dad hang on................