Sunday, April 18, 2010

In the footsteps of James Hillman 28






Hillman's Concept of The Bad Seed and the Nature of Evil

If there's one question that has occupied the minds of the greatest philosophers, theologians and scholars from the dawn of civilization it is that of the presence of evil in the world.  Many of the best minds of various cultures over the last several thousand years have attempted explanations.  I have outlined the main theories of these scholars in these pages before: See this link here: EvilHillman gives us a wholly sui generis and archetypal or archetype psychological explanation of the Mystery of Evil.

One of the things that Hillman seeks to do is to explain what could possibly motivate child killers or other psychopathic or sociopathic serial killers.  He elects to discuss the case of Mary Bell, the famous English child murderer.  Mary Flora Bell (born 1957 in Newcastle upon Tyne) was convicted in December 1968 of the manslaughter of two boys, Martin Brown (aged four years) and Brian Howe (aged three years). Bell was ten years old at the time of one of the killings, and eleven at the time of the other.  Our archetype psychologist suggests that many of the theories presented as possible explanations for these horrific murders, while plausible to a greater or lesser extent, are not really fully convincing.  Those theories, he admits, would dismiss his theory of The Bad Seed as implausible, but Hillman argues that their theories are just as implausible.  I'm with Hillman here.  Let's be open to every possible explanation.  Let's not be reductionists.  Let's not be so naive as to say "ah, yes, we know the exact reasons why Mary Bell committed these crimes.  He mentions the biographer-historian's Gitta Sereny's classical study of Mary Bell's state of mind which she attributed to her upbringing by a dysfunctional mother - who was immensely destructive and a schizoid mother who never really wanted the baby Mary.  Inhumanity is due, then, to inhuman parenting solely.  Well, this is very reductionist indeed.  I've come across a few (not a considerable amount, I admit) dysfunctional children from very good and supportive families, and also a few (not a considerable amount I admit again) very good children from very dysfuncyional families.  So, from my own observed experience I can say that Sereny's theory is wide of the mark.  There could be other factors or an interplay of those other factors at play here.

Again, Alice Miller (born 1923) who is a psychologist and author, noted for her work on child abuse in its many forms, including physical abuse, emotional abuse and child sexual abuse would agree with Sereny's suggested theory as she has averred that "all absurd behaviour has its roots in early childhood." (Quoted The Soul's Code, p. 229).  Also Helm Stierlin (born 1926) , the famous German psychiatrist and psychoanalyst argues the same with respect to Hitler in his famous psychohistory of the infamous dictator: Adolf Hitler: A Family Perspective.  Stierlin would have us believe that the whole course of world history could have been altered by early therapeutic intervention in the young Adolf.

But surely genetics also must have conspired with family influence in the formation of psychopaths.  And perhaps, much more.  Let's allow as many influences as possible - nature, nurture and the Acorn Theory or nature, nurture and archetypal influences coming from the collective unconscious of the human species.  This is where the Soul comes in for the generality of the human species and where some lack or gap in the Soul comes in for the cases of psychopaths and sociopaths.  This lack or gap in the Soul accounts for the coldness in Mary and in Hitler.  Hillman argues that a lack of Soul altogether is what is called the "demonic." 

Hillman argues that Shakespeare and the all the great dramatists were aware of the demonic nature of evil, which in there stage and film versions make the sober theories of the professional psychologists and scientists pale into something far too tame to represent the horrific experience itself.  I suggest that it is as if these theories emasculate, de-spirit (If such a word does not exist, let it be my neologism, then!), sanitise, fillet the very horror of the evil act by explaining it away!).  In this, our man Hillman advances the theory that Shakespeare was well aware of the demonic nature of a lot of his villians, and especially of Iago, the archvillain of the famous Tragedy of Othello, who fails to answer Othello's question as to why he had so beguiled him into murdering his very own love Desdemona.  This is no wonder, indeed, Hillman suggests, because the devil need not give any motives for his crimes.  Iago simply replied to his once great leader: "Demand me nothing: what you know, you know.  It's as if this archvillain were to say to Othello and to us his audience, "You already know, Othello.  In the lines just preceding you have already twice named me a devil."  (See The Soul's Code, p. 235)

Hillman goes on to argue, and to argue quite convincingly, that the Bad Seed takes pleasure in evil-doing and in the malice and harm caused.  It is quite a simple exercise in research to check the biographies of infamous pyschopaths and sociopaths to supply the evidence for this pleasure-taking.  Mary Bell had reported to the police that on the day of her murder of the little toddler Brian that she was "full of laughter that day."  I have no intention here in listing the expressions of pleasure given by such sociopathic or psychopathic killers after having committed such horrific crimes when they were eventually caught.  Hillman gives such biographical evidence from the lives of other murderers - Dennis Nilsen, Jurgen Bartsch, Jeffrey Dahmer and Andrei Chikatilo.  This last is quoted by Hillman as saying at his trial:

It was as if something directed me, something outside me, something supernatural.  I was absolutely not in control of myself when I committed these murders .... I was in an animal fever .... seized by an uncontrollable urge.  (Quoted ibid., p. 238)
Hence, it is all too easy, all too reductionist, to reduce the question of evil in any particular situation to this or that single soul-emasculating theory (my formulation, not Hillman's).  Rather we must allow as many theories to conspire together as well as that of our great archetype psychologist here discussed.  Hitler's psychopathy cannot be reduced solely to his monorchidism (having one testicle) nor that of Chikatilo or Nilsen to sexual dysfunction, because this all puts the cart before the horse.  Because such individuals cannot live up to the driving demands of their daimon they become demonic.  Hillman, in short, argues that evil arises because of the dysfunctional relationship between the self and the daimon.

Above a picture of the ceiling of The Sistine Chapel, Rome, February 2010.

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