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Serial Killers: Philosophy For Everyone edited by S. Waller

1/04/2011. Contributed by Geoff Willmetts

Buy Serial Killers: Philosophy For Everyone edited in the USA - or Buy Serial Killers: Philosophy For Everyone edited in the UK

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pub: Wiley-Blackwell. 231 page small enlarged paperback. Price: GBP 11.99 (UK). ISBN: 978-1-4051-9963-6.

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I had to have a think when the nice publicist at Wiley asked if I would be interested in a book on serial killers other than her waving that blood-stained axe about. However, this book is more about what makes them tick and considering that Science Fiction is littered with psychopaths, from a writer’s point of view it might be worth investigating so if you’re planning to use said character types you can be up-to-date with their motivation let alone tell the different types apart and there are some marked differences between serial killers and multiple murderers.

Oddly, several of the chapters turn around and examine the fictional series ‘Dexter’ as if someone like that character is serving the community by doing to killers what they did to others. Considering Dexter Morgan’s activities are outside the judicial system which means he’s a one man star chamber kinda goes against the democratic process which should have the means to convict such people. But that is America, after all. If the American justice system isn’t working and all psychopaths took that stance, it would make its current state even more dangerous, especially as they would probably not have the inside track as to their criminal record. A statistic given for the USA is that there are roughly 16,000 murders annually are anything from 350-2000 are considered as being the activities of serial killers which must be a worry for you people across the pond.

Let’s go to the meat of the material. A serial killer is defined as someone who kills a number of people over a short period and then continues to do so. In many respects, any murderer could become a serial killer if left unchecked, especially if their victims are unrelated to them because it makes it makes it more difficult to make the connection. Considering also that many of these serial killers have been known to torture, sexually abuse and even eat their victims also indicates that they are different to, say, military who are trained to kill but don’t turn it into a passion. Indeed, I suspect that also differentiates between heroes and villains who kill although I wish one of these philosophers would have explored this. Saying that, they do cover the experiments where students were divided into wardens and prisoners can turn people against each other and even torture under the right conditions by being told doing such things are all right. Makes you wonder how easy humans are conditioned and what a knife-edge we must all walk between both sorts and why as villains they are an attraction in films. Looks like Nietzsche was right in that we look at the dark side of others to see ourselves under different circumstances.

Psychopaths or sociopaths (and yes, I did know they are one and the same although apparently a lot of people don’t know this) tend to stay on this side all the time and have no moral restriction or empathy which means they don’t have any breakers inside them to prevent them killing others. Mind you, Manuel Vargas in chapter five points out that being a psychopath and a serial killer doesn’t need to be the same thing. No doubt such people are in professions like banking which utilise such ‘killer instincts’ because they don’t worry about other people.

According to Elizabeth Schechter and Harold Schechter in chapter nine, women serial killers prefer poison and to let their victims suffer compared to the male of the species which probably contributes to the distain we have when such murderers are discovered. After all, women are supposed to nurture not kill.

Andrew Terjesen dispels one myth in that serial killers don’t actually lack empathy, that is to understand the feelings of others, but they do have the knack of ignoring it or at least their homicidal tendency does. One thing none of these philosophers take into account I noticed was that the killing itself might start as a means to cover up one’s other tendencies, especially if it starts with sexual abuse or rape. After all, a dead victim isn’t likely to give you away. Getting away with murder once by doing things in a particular way gets repeated because it works and hence the repeat pattern in their MO.

Only one of the philosophers, S. Waller, brings on board a couple of ex-American police officers to discuss serial killers, although neither have worked directly on such cases some of their observations are interesting. One of particular note is that they don’t think serial killers are psychotic but are highly manipulative and charming people, the last kind of people whom you would suspect of such action. I’m not so sure about them killing their own type so much. I mean, outside of colour and class, where do vagabonds and prostitutes fit into this other than being available and not the type to be missed. Having further categories of power rapists, thrill-seekers and comfort killers is something you ought to buy the book to have a ponder on, especially the latter which is seen as a means to an end. Indeed, if you looked at the list of known serial killers at the back of the book, you might well end up being able to place them in the various categories.

I found this book enlightening in many ways and on some things I’m not going to make too many mistakes if I use such people in any of my stories. I should also point out that none of the material is too graphic and centres mostly on what makes serial killers tick even if there is no precise pattern. I’m not altogether sure why comparisons are made to the ‘Dexter’ TV and book series when the real thing is far more interesting but it might be there to encourage his fans to have a look at this book. I do think the book could have gone a lot more in-depth but as a primer it will give you some insight. Don’t have nightmares and be careful of free invites. Those axes are lethal.

GF Willmetts

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This book has 39 votes in the sci-fi charts

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