Thursday, May 21, 2009

The Serial Box

      A person recently blogged about how he has killed numerous cats. He asks himself, "Am I a serial cat killer?" This particular blog entry has enraged the online community and animal rights activists. This eighteen year old student is said to have been expelled from University of the Philippines because of the said blog confession. This person lives in my city. 

      I've been hesitant to write my piece on this particular issue because it saddens me deeply that a person is able to do this. That is, kill cats and derive pleasure from such. I write best when I am raptured in the throes of a sudden and all-consuming  inspiration. There is nothing inspiring about a teenager throwing cats against the wall in an outrage. There is nothing inspiring about a person who feels a burst of satisfaction course through his veins as a mangled animal draws his last breath. It is sick and twisted. It turns out all the lights. It leaves a bitter taste in my mouth. A cat killer is no different from the serial killer we see on TV who kills infants for kicks. These kind of people kill for satisfaction. These kind of people find pleasure in the expiration of life. Society must be very wary about these kind of people for these people have the makings of a monster. They are not the ones that hide under your bed, not the ones that linger in a dark room. They are the ones you bump into on the way to the cafeteria, the elderly gentleman in the ice cream parlor, the quiet girl reading a book  under the tree, the popular jock, the pimple-faced adolescent drawing japanese art on a sketchbook while waiting for the bell to ring, the preppy student leader, the cute pizza delivery guy. This person knows what he is doing is wrong. He feels it in his gut. Yet he does it again, again and again. Will he ever stop?

     This person asks, Am I a serial cat killer? Yes, you are. A serial killer is a person who kills usually three or more people/animals in a thirty over a period if thirty days, with a "cooling off" between each murder, whose motivation is based on psychological gratification. Is this dangerous? Very much. As much as I deeply abhor this person and as much as I want him to suffer the same kind of suffering he inflicted on these animals, a miniscule part of me feels sorry for him. This person is in dire need of help. What he's doing has a scientific term, it is called Projection. Projection is a type of defense mechanism commonly utilized by individuals in stressful situations. A sibling of projection is denial, the most commonly used of all defense mechanisms. One example of such is a widow who keeps insisting her spouse is alive even though he has been pronounced dead, or an elementary student who shrugs off a low rating on a quiz and vehemently says "It's fine, I passed the quiz, there's nothing to worry about." Projection is the act of projecting one's anger and frustration to another object. Sometimes the object is inanimate, in this case the object is a living and breathing cat. An example of this behavior is when a father who was recently terminated from his job goes home a hits his wife. Another example is the reprimanded child who slams his mother's favorite vase against a wall in anger. Defense mechanisms help people cope instantly with very stressful situations. It is what healthcare workers consider a "temporary remedy to escalating stress." or what I refer to as a"band aid mechanism" being that it only covers up the  wound and offers temporary relief to the injured individual. Emphasizing the word temporary, if an individual continues to utilize defense mechanisms in times of trouble, the person then develops a maladaptive response to stress. Conflicts remain unresolved and pile up. It is like applying a band aid on a gaping wound instead of cleaning the wound, taking out every bit of debris stuck in the injured tissues, disinfecting the surrounding areas and stitching the wound up. Defense mechanisms work like band aids and soon, the wound will be inflamed and develop an infection that will debilitate the injured individual. This is what happens to people who constantly take the easy way out. Whatever it is you are running away from will eventually catch up to you and bite you in the ass. 
     The danger with a cat killer lies in the evolution of his psyche. This act is just the tip of the iceberg. The fact that he finds gratification in killing cats is a peek into his potential for evil. Someday, he will get grow bored with cats, he will seek greater resources to satiate his need for gratification. Almost all serial killers begin as animal abusers. Ted Bundy, Jeffrey Dahmer and David Berkowitz tortured and killed animals in their younger years. There is a strong link between animal abusers and serial killers. some children torture animals to impress their peers, future serial killers torture and kill animals purely for enjoyment. Animal abuse is a recognized sign of a mental disorder. While there are many factors that contribute to a person becoming a serial killer, one thing they share is a history of animal abuse. Jeffrey Dahmer dismembered animals in his younger years. As an adult, he was charged with murdering and dismembering at least sixteen people. Most people on death row confess to abusing animals in their childhood. 

    "Researchers as well as the FBI and other law enforcement agencies nationwide have linked animal cruelty to domestic violence, child abuse, serial killings and recent rash of killings by school age children" says Dr. Randall Lockwood, vice president of training and initiatives for the Humane Society of United States. 

      These people live in a constant state of fear. They fear that the issues that haunt them will destroy them. they fear that they will not be able to resolve the conflicts and issues in their lives. They are persistently afraid of failure. Fear cripples sound judgment. In the eyes of a serial killer, an abusive spouse, a rapist, this fear transforms into an urge. An urge to feel power. The power to break someone down. There are three types of serial killers. The first type is the thrill seeker; the killer who enjoys media attention, police pursuit and breaking the law. These people keep records and files. The second type is the mission oriented serial killer, this person feels he is doing society a favor by eliminating certain people such as prostitutes or priests who molest children. the third kind is the power and control serial killer, the killer who enjoys the victim's terror and agony, who relishes the screams of his victims. They all share a common trait, serial killers keep souvenirs or trophies. They take personal items belonging to their victims and keep these objects as mementos, this is the souvenir type. The trophy type on the other hand, keep a shrine or a record of his killings. Jeffrey Dahmer kept photos in his apartment. In 1957, when police searched the farmhouse of Eddie Gein, they found a bowl made from a human skull, a chair and a suit made from human skin. Some killers leave a psychological signature. A signature include posing, concealing victims, or inserting objects into their bodies after death purely for gratification. As a killer's need to punish and kill intensifies as they develop unique preferences. Ted Bundy enjoyed sadism, rape and murder. Signatures are used quite rarely. Methods for preying, luring and killing may vary for different victims. A signature is different from modus operandi. Mode of operation refers to the way they overpower, kill and pick their victims without getting caught. 

     Most of us have urges. Sometimes we feel like we want to scream profanities in the middle of a traffic jam, we want to punch the slow counter girl working the cashier. But we stop ourselves, we realize this would lead to dire consequences so we refrain from doing so.  Serial killers embrace these urges. 

    "We are talking about people who commit breathtaking acts, who do so repeatedly, who know what they're doing, and are doing it in peacetime under no threat to themselves", said Dr. Michael Stone, the Columbia psychiatrist, who has examined several hundred killers at Mid-Hudson Psychiatric Center in New Hampton, N.Y., and others at Creedmoor Psychiatric Center in Queens, where he consults and teaches. "We know from experience who these people are, and how they behave, and it is time, he said, to give their behavior the proper appellation."

    Serial killers feel their crimes are justified. It is the only way they know to deal with the experiences, the dilemmas and conflicts that haunt them. There is no justification for killing a person, a child, an animal for personal gratification. In the real world, the grim images coming out of Iraq -the beheadings by Iraqi insurgents and the Abu Ghraib tortures, complete with preening guards - suggest how much further people can go when they feel justified. In Nazi prisoner camps, as during purges in Kosovo and Cambodia, historians found that clerks, teachers, bureaucrats and other normally peaceable citizens committed some of the gruesome violence, apparently swept along in the kind of collective thoughtlessness that the philosopher Hannah Arendt described as the banality of evil. Each of us is capable of evil, each of us, in one way or another have experienced abuse and violence. But this is not an excuse. There is no valid excuse for killing. None. It is our ability to resist evil that sets us apart from the likes of Ted Bundy and Adolf Hitler. 

     This person needs help. The gaping wound will become a systemic infection that will reduce him to a cripple at the mercy of his exacerbating urges. Someday he might see a small child playing in a park and the urge will be so strong, so palpable it will burn the tips of his fingers. He will slowly and assuredly approach the child and appeal to her curiosity and naivete, he will hold her hand and lead her to her most imminent death. And when that day comes, he knows there will be no turning back.

     Albert Schweitzer said it best, 

"Anyone who has accustomed himself to regard the life of any living creature as worthless is in danger of arriving also at the idea of worthless human lives".    

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