The Human Time Bomb

What happens when someone crosses the line from fantasizing about killing to committing the final act?

This article is written with the intention to provoke the reader. Its point is to disturb and haunt you and to leave you with questions about your own capacity for violence; to make you look inwards to your own darkness.

We all know that innately we all share the same predisposition for violence.  From a biological and evolutionary stand point, the drive to live and survive is engrained within the very fiber of our DNA. We have called it “Survival of the Fittest”, and it is this urge and desperateness to survive, to pass our own seed on, and to continue our lineage that has prompted us to protect ourselves, no matter what cost.

As many scientists, psychologists and specialists are researching today, could there be a so-called “criminal gene”? Are certain people more predisposed for enacting violence than others? The answer is not a simple yes or no, but rather is lined with shades of grey. It has been proven that both biological and environmental factors play a role in violent or criminal behavior.  But to go from fantasizing about an act, to committing a gruesome crime, what is needed is a final trigger; a push.  You do not wake up one morning and decide to kill somebody or kill yourself. Rather, it is more like a pressure cooker; the unhappiness, stressors in life that will ultimately cause one person to snap and another to retain control. It is what happens to the human mind when it loses the ability to control its impulses that I seek to investigate. What are the combinations that are needed to propel someone towards killing?

The Science of Killing:

Scientists have found what is being called the “Warrior Gene”. According to a recent study conducted by Rose McDermott, a professor at brown University, it was found that individuals who carry the “Warrior Gene” display higher levels of agression in response to being provoked.

To go dive deeper into genetics, MAOA (whose acronym stands for Monoamine oxidase A) is an enzyme that breaks down neurotransmitters in the brain such as norepinephrine, dopamine, and serotonin. Like all enzymes, humans experience different levels of enzyme activity across the board. The study found that those who produce lesser levels of MAOA have a predisposition for higher levels of aggression when provoked.   These findings have been highly controversial and the answer is still uncertain as to the significance of the Warrior Gene. It has led to many questions that are hard to answer and are highly controversial, such as: Could people be naturally born to kill? Should Individuals who are found to have this gene be identified to the general public?

In my opinion of defense for human privacy, I do not believe that individuals should be labeled as “would be criminals” simply because they possess lower levels of MAOA. Most individuals who possess this gene do not grow up to be psychopaths, murders and rapists.

What studies have also shown is that certain personality traits and mental illnesses which are inherited can cause an individual to suffer in standard society and be pushed slowly inside the pressure cooker towards committing criminal acts.

Personality traits that have been linked to criminal behavior include anti-social behaviors, depression, and sensory deprivation. Individuals who have a high sense threshold often see out or are involved in risk taking activities and often feel the need to engage in high sensation acts in order to achieve the stimulation they need or crave.

It has also been found that higher amounts of testosterone have been shown to increase the need for dominance and power in an individual.

An increase in toxic substances in bodily systems (such as lead, magnesium, cadmium, copper), along with severe head trauma or head injuries have also been shown to be linked towards greater chance of criminal behavior.

All biological factors aside, you cannot simply be born to kill. Most individuals with these biological traits do not become criminals. What is needed is a combination of Nature and Nurture. 

How Environment Affects the Individual:

PSYCHICAL, EMOTIONAL, AND SEXUAL ABUSE:

Though thousands of children suffer abuse at the hands of their families, neighbors or strangers, many children with an abusive past grow up to become happy healthy individuals. What has been proven though is that even though many children grow up to be functioning, loving people, there is still an undeniable emptiness and void that is left scared upon the child which may never be fixed, or may never entirely go away. What happens is people learn to cope, to let go, to think of themselves positively, to move on, and to live. I speak from personal experience when I say that abuse will deeply hurt and affect a person, but that with strong will-power, and determination it is possible to heal, to love, and to be “okay”.

Abuse (whether physical, emotional, sexual or a combination) is however an undeniable documented marker in most criminal’s lives. As Joel Norris, the author of the in depth and very interesting book “Serial Killers,” writes, “Childhood abuse not only spawns violent reactions, but also affects the child's health, including brain injuries, malnutrition, and other developmental disorders.” Health Professionals and Psychologists alike have found that if a child does not receive support or love from their primary care giver it cannot form the necessary bonds of trust and security, which can lead to severe isolation, destructive behavior, and lack of trust of others later in life. Often to escape the negativity, feelings of hopelessness, and helplessness that being in an abusive situation causes, many will form a fantasy life to escape into, or turn to other means of escapism such as substance abuse. Escapism is only natural, for when your home is not safe and you go through hell on earth every day, it is only through other means that you can hide, be safe, or find peace. Abuse has been documented in many criminal cases, and linked to severe dissociative and personality disorders, such as body integrity identity disorder, schizophrenia, sociopathic personality disorder, bipolar disorder, psychopathic personality disorder, antisocial personality disorder, depression, aggression, panic attacks, and self-mutilation. As abuse grows more severe, the dependence of fantasies, especially destructive ones can grow.

BEING EXPOSSED TO VIOLENCE OR CRIME:

Violent environments often have a rough cycle of developing more violence. If one grows up in neighborhood where safety is a concern and violence is all around, it is not surprising that many will grow up to fall into criminal activity themselves; after all what you are taught is what you know. Socialization of a child is important. A child does not innately know what is right from what is wrong. He or she must be taught through negative and positive reinforcement to understand what behaviors are socially acceptable and which are not. If a child is growing up in areas filled with gang activity, violence, and poverty, he or she may experience negative effects in learning the basics of moral actions. This does not mean that every child that grows up in a harsh environment is going to be a criminal, but they will be more exposed to theft, and multiple other criminal acts. Likewise, it has been documented that witnessing a traumatic or violent event at an early age can severely affect an individual and one’s associations with violence.

EDUCATION AND POSSIBILITIES:

It is often said that education opens doors to many possibilities and is the ticket to get out of a bad situation. Quality education and availability of educational opportunities and resources are all ways in which a person’s well-being can be improved or deteriorated. Levels of education have been determined to be significant in the manifestation of criminal behavior. Simply said, the more resources that are available to you, and the more education you receive, the more likely you are to be able to meet your primary needs and not find yourself needing to turn to criminal behavior as a desperate means to an end. Perhaps if we focused more on our country’s failing education system rather than spending money on more weapons and wars we could help people gain more access towards self-improvement, allowing for communities to grow and end the vicious cycle of what happens when you lack opportunities in life.

BEING SINGLE VERSUS MARRIED:

A Harvard sociologist, Robert J. Sampson recently pioneered the study of how marriage affects criminal behavior. It has been found that getting married will severely deter an individual from committing criminal behavior as it forces the individual to think of the well-being of not only themselves but also their families. As a provider, you are forced to look at the bigger picture. What will happen to the family if one parent finds itself in jail?


A chilling and violent ad produced by Dolce and Gabana.
A chilling and violent ad produced by Dolce and Gabana. | Source

Violence in Our Culture:

Many researchers on criminal’s mindsets and behaviors are also turning to our present day culture as a factor for violence. We have become so dissociated with violence that it seems unreal. Suffering and pain don’t seem to sink in as easily. Violence can be found in every part of our society. From Slasher films whose plots show nothing but insignificant gore, to music, videogames, and television.

Even sex and violence seem to go hand and hand. Violence has even been deemed “sexy”. It has been found that sex and violence stimulate the same areas in the brain. People go out of their way to give out a “bad girl” or “bad guy” image because we are drawn towards its darkness. And therein lies the truth, as humans, we have always been fascinated by the darker aspects of our society. A fascination for the morbid and macabre is not uncommon. But what happens when a fascination becomes an obsession? When war is desensitized to the point that you can’t even see your victims anymore? When violence is glorified in advertising?

Our social media seems to focus on violence in its news reporting and coverage. Sometimes I can’t stand to look at the news because rarely is there a positive story about people doing good in the world. Most often it is another story of another killing, another crime, another victim. We have become violence obsessed. What we want is a story, a tragedy. We don’t seem to indulge much in happy endings. Is this purely the result of our human history which is filled with wars and destruction? Or has our modern society been propelled towards violence in an unprecedented and escalating manner? In a world filled with uncertainty, distrust, and fear, it is easier to see each other as strangers or walking stereotypes. As we become more estranged from each other, it is easier and easier to see each other as objects and not as human beings.

Still, most of us do not become killers. Where does the final shove come from?

The Last Straw

There has to be a certain trigger that sets off a violent event. What is it that makes someone finally “snap”? Many argue that it is simply a basis of self-control. I believe its far more complicated than self-control. We cannot know how we will react in a situation until truly placed in it. Ask yourself this, if forced to kill to defend yourself or a loved one, and there was no other way (an either I die or they die scenario) what would you do? For most, it is the most common instinct: protect yourself, protect your pack, no matter what cost.  I am not a killer but I am aware of my capacity to kill if forced into a situation where it was self-defense or in defense of a loved one. If left no other choice I am aware that I could do it, this does not mean I would do it. I am simply saying that as an individual, I am aware of the darker aspects of humanity and the potential for violence that is hidden within us all; no matter how hard that is to admit.

Common triggers that criminals have sighted for committing their acts have been building feelings of anger, resentment or frustration, poverty, conflicts with others, conflicts with parents or spouses, conflicts within themselves, legal problems, trouble holding down a job, physical injuries, and financial stress, along with many others.

Put a natural inherited predisposition for violence alongside an environment that leads to an inevitable breakdown, and what you are left with is a possibility for losing control.

For snapping.

For losing your grip on reality.

For murder.

We are all possible human time bombs; only most of us will never explode.

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