The Glamorization of Evil

Forgive me, but I feel the need for a bit of a rant.

A few weeks ago the publication Psychology Today published an article called ‘Confessions of a Sociopath’.  It was a adaption of a work published by Random House of the same name, by M.E Thomas.

First the disclaimers – I don’t know the person who wrote this. She could be the devil incarnate for all I know. I’m only responding to what the article made me think and feel.

The article, to paraphrase, went something like this:

‘I’m a sociopath… I’m very, very smart…you would like me if you met me because…I’m very, very smart…I did really well at school and university, then at work because…I’m very, very smart…I’m a master manipulator.. because.. I’m very, very smart…I’m the scariest person you could know without being violent because…I’m very, very smart…I feel nothing for anyone but myself but I have amazing powers of persuasion and, damnit .. charisma because.. I’m very, very smart…’.

And so forth, peppered with stories to illustrate this rather repetitive theme.

Well, that’s the way it read to me. Fascinating. Read more like a narcissist wanting to boast, and also wanting to be seen as the scariest person in the room. Scariest and smartest. Perhaps because of a fear the person held that they were actually neither of those things.

For a start, I’d argue you aren’t a very good manipulator if you tell people you are, because.. hello…why would they trust you after that?

Or is she just telling us, her special, confessional, anonymous friends???

Who knows, maybe this ‘person’ doesn’t actually exist and is just a fictional example of a pathology. But even beyond that possibility there is a more disturbing element to it. Why would someone wanting to boast and get attention (which she clearly wants because make no mistake, the whole article has the tone of one boastful comment after another, dressed up as confession) think the title of sociopath is such an appealing one? Why has such a character become the poster child or success, glamor and aspiration? What does that say about our society these days?

And how we glamorize evil? Now, the author does comment that there are plenty of stupid, violent sociopaths around, but the overall theme of the work is how her cleverness is the cornerstone of her successful sociopathology. Perhaps fictional characters like Hannibal Lecter, Red John and so forth have made us think there is a causal connection between brilliance and evil.

Of course there is no reason someone evil can’t be smart (I’m sure some evil people are, though I doubt they are writing articles about it in psychology magazines). But it doesn’t follow they necessarily are. I tend to agree with Hannah Arendt’s concept of the ‘banality of evil’. I think it is a more accurate description of evil for the most part.

It disturbs me that we are seeing being a sociopath as being something aspirational in some way. It does make me think of that comic quote from years ago that said:

‘Yeh, though I walk through the valley of death, I shall fear no evil…because I’m the meanest sonofabitch here…’.

Do we think that if we are the evil one we are safe from harm in some way? Or has our modern world raised the meme of the brilliant sociopath to such a level that people now want to claim to be one, like it is a badge of superiority?

As I said, perhaps the author is a sociopath. Perhaps she is as brilliant as she says. Though if so I wonder why she needs to tell us. There was nothing new in the article from what I could see. It basically just attributed the current stereotype to her own actions. So what drives that? What makes us want to be that person, if indeed any of us do?

And what does that say?

About Helen

I'm drawn to blogging as a way to share ideas and consider what makes us who we are. Whether it's in our working life or our creativity, expression is a means to connect.
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60 Responses to The Glamorization of Evil

  1. greenembers says:

    Hmm, I am going to have to think about this for a bit. Honestly, is being a sociopath incurable? I would hate to think that someone is evil because that is who they are… that is the part that bothers me about calling someone a sociopath. It’s like saying, you will never be normal. Something happened to make them that way, which means if they work hard they can be unmade. I wouldn’t necessarily say they are evil, they can be evil. I dunno. But it does seem like a narcissist piece but… I don’t know if I would say glamorizing it per se. It sounds more like a warning about sociopaths. Just my two cents. 😕

    • Could be a warning..hard to tell without reading the book it came from I suppose…but the flavour felt more like a boast than anything else. I might be being unfair to the author, sometimes a summary of a work distorts its intent or nature.

      But what bothered me more was why a boast about being a sociopath might be appealing, and what that says about our culture at the moment and how we glamorise certain evil characters, be it fictional ones, or real life types like Charles Manson. 🙂 🙂

  2. There does seem to be a certain glamorization of the intelligent evil person. I think it appeals to people who read, because most people who read are quite intelligent, and like the idea that their intelligence could be used to somehow to get the better of the world. There does also seem to be some connection between a certain type of intelligence and not being very emotionally connected to things. The problem about sociopaths and people like that, you can glamorize it or not, you can do what you want. But it won’t make more people sociopaths, and it won’t get rid of current sociopaths. It seems that it is set at about 1% of human beings who have this tendency in their nature.

    • Very true – hopefully only 1%. I just wonder about our fascination with these type of people, and I include myself in that analysis because I read books and watch movies with those characters and find them intriguing…it just bothers me that there is only one more step to kind of admiring them…and that’s a slippery slope I think! 🙂

  3. It could be that the magazine is showing this article not to glamorize, but to demonstrate the mindset of a sociopath. Instead of an expert explaining it, you get a sense of how they view themselves through their own eyes. That can be a more powerful revelation than some guy saying he’s discovered these traits.

    • It’s true, but it still disturbed me that it seemed to imply the connection between sociopathy and a lot of apparently desirable qualities. I seemed to glamorise it to me. And I think a lot of popular culture does similar things at the moment, and it makes me wonder why. 🙂

      • I have seen some people called a sociopath when they only have one or two traits. People see the traits that can be translated into a favorable thing. Think of the ‘lying and manipulation with ease’ that goes into being a sociopath. A person that can manipulate would excel in business, sales, law, and a few other jobs where you need to be cunning. So, it isn’t the overall disorder that people are really paying attention to, but that odd upside that can be pulled out of it. This, of course, ignores the epic downsides.

      • Yes! I think that’s very true! And while we associate a pathology with success there is the risk we end up admiring it. 🙂

  4. Brian Hughes says:

    Most, if not all, of the socio-paths I’ve ever met have been well and truly thick. As a rule, the greater a person’s intelligence, the greater their empathy with other people’s suffering. I think the lesson to be learned here is to stop reading Psychology Today if they’re going to publish rubbish such as that.

  5. howanxious says:

    I am a little disturbed with the usage of the word “evil” in this post. I am sorry but I would like to ask you, what do you mean by evil?
    I think the word “evil” refers to an idea of what is not good but what is not good doesn’t mean it is bad. I don’t classify the sociopaths as the “evil”, those damned beings who could only create chaos. If we look at it carefully, it is a psychological disorder, isn’t it? Yes, it is found that sociopaths are generally law-breakers and have indulged in some criminal activity at one time or another. But does that make them evil when they are suffering from a mental illness? I guess not.
    Further, I think you are right; it may have been magazine’s (or the person in question) sale strategy to bring out an article of interest like that written by their own team of writers or may be it is a view into an actual sociopath’s mind; how that person actually thinks. Sociopaths may be narcissists as well after all.

    • Thank you – that’s a very valid point. Greenembers comment re whether real sociopaths can choose to be this way or not is similar and very pertinent. I think I have conflated two issues – mental illness and the concept of evil, and that is a fault in the rant. It was basically me reacting to the article, which definitely seemed to be implying ‘evil’ in the more usual sense of being scary or a threat, possibly of violence or some other malfeasance. And it seemed to be boasting about it, which disturbed me.

      I have sympathy for anyone with mental illness even if said illness means they cannot have sympathy in return for us… my point was more why we seem to think this is something to aspire to now, that we are in a society where someone could publish an article or book that seems to be boasting about it. But as I said in a comment above, the whole book in entirety, which I admit I haven’t read, might give a different message. And I could have picked up on one theme of the article while missing others too. 🙂

      • howanxious says:

        Well, if we consider the synonymous meanings of smart and evil that is prevalent in usage, it is may be because of the fact that smart is not a word which is applied to the things related with love and kindness.

        In today’s world, smart has come to mean very much like cunning and further even more similar to evil, just because this is how the society is perceiving these words.

        There is another point I would like to put forward. In present age, it is likely that successful people are smart people, who are ready to achieve any means to achieve that success.. I am an element of society and that is how society perceive them, as much as I know.. and those means are considered evil in nature and hence, it makes the smart people evil.

        I know I have put forth a very complicated equation. But may be that is how it is.

      • I think you’ve hit the nail on the head actually about how this has come to be! smart has been high-jacked to mean something more sinister of late. A lot follows from how we use language. I think you are spot on here! 🙂

  6. Sabrina Glidden says:

    It bothers me as well, that in general people think smart = evil. And also that we do have a fascination /curiosity about their nature, and how that plays to their ego.

  7. I agree. Sociopaths are indeed evil – because they have no moral compass, act only on their own behalf and have little to no remorse for their injury to others.

    • Yes, that is what I meant by evil, and I agree they are, or their actions are (which might be more accurate) as I take others points about whether it is an illness and whether they can help it, so I don’t know about the balance of choice involved…it just disturbs me that one (if she is one) thinks it’s something to boast about, and when published it went viral in a matter of days. Just not sure what that says about our modern times…

  8. I personally think sociopaths don’t know they are. So, to state you are is a little strange. But, in this day and age, people are trying to get attention in any way they can, unfortunately.

  9. Dr. Robert Hare (UBC) is one of the world’s foremost experts on psychopaths/sociopaths

  10. Malcolm Miller says:

    I agree with your comments about this apparent support of a sociopathic life style, whioch is probably inherently evil…

    • Thank you – that’s the core bit that worries me. There will undoubtedly always be sociopaths in all walks of life, but I worry if we start to look up to them. 🙂

  11. tjtherien says:

    leaders in business and government, law enforcement among other professions all display sociopathic traits, so many of these traits that they could be classified sociopaths… yet the word will always have a negative connotation to it because the same traits are shared by criminals…

    • I hope sociopathy does always have negative connotations… it would disturb me more if it came to have positive connotations, like something glamorous or aspirational. I am sure there are sociopaths high up in most occupations…I think I’ve met a few in my time as we all probably have…but I’m not going to admire them!! 🙂

  12. David M. Green says:

    Sociopaths are not mentally ill – if they were they would not be responsible nor should be held responsible for their actions – nor is lacking empathy a mental illness or not knowing right from wrong nor are sociopaths cowards. A sociopath is simply an individual who as a predator has deliberately chosen to prey on others – humans are by nature predators – and it is their intelligence and lack of empathy that aids the sociopath in preying on others but does not in themselves make someone evil.

    • I’m no psychologist, so I work from fairly common, every day terms with this – I do not know if they are mentally ill…if they are they perhaps have no choice…if they aren’t then they do choose . In any case, I just find it disturbing when society seems to admire the combination of essentially non-value based qualities like intelligence and skill, with very value laden and negative qualities, like cruelty, dishonesty etc. 🙂

  13. The author isn’t very charismatic lol Well boy are you in for a treat my dad is a psychopath and they do brag excessively (which society weirdly attributes to confidence). He does boast about his intelligence, his physical strength, his sports prowess but above all about inflicting pain on others. As a child he used to describe to me in painstaking detail how he beat his wife it was almost like dominion was an expression of love to him. I can say he was never more animated then when hurting someone or talking about hurting someone. He certainly had the narcissism element. He wasn’t charismatic really I think it was the severe alcoholism plus Schizophrenia but he looked like a deranged homeless man and that frightens many people off. He was good at manipulation and even brain-washing (that wife he beat mercilessly and abandoned pursued him relentlessly for years not because she was angry but because she loved him) but that is one thing he never spoke of, he never claimed that he was good at deception or even that he was deceptive, He made you feel that there was something wrong with you, that you were lying to yourself. My mom seriously insists he was a decent many despite how abusive he was, she laughs off his attempted murder charges once he gets his hooks in a woman he just destroys her entire way of understanding the universe. He wasn’t successful like they can be but he had the other two complications and the felony record so I think that may have contributed. He had a peculiar sort of intelligence even though he dropped out of school I am not sure what it was but you believed that he knew things, that he saw the world, my mom says he’s the best judge of character she has ever met maybe he works out people’s flaws and uses them as leverage.

    • Your mother could well be right about how he assesses people. I do believe that psychopaths are frightening people. I just found the article I spoke of sounded more like a wannabe and then it made me wonder why the hell anyone would want to be like that, but then I thought about how we sort of associate this all with the evil genius stereotype..and hence the rant, LOL. I’m sorry you went through that and your mother went through that. No-one should be treated that way!

  14. She sounds like a boring wanker to me, and not a very good sociopath, the really good ones are hold high office in politics, are religious fanatical leaders, on the board of big businesses, running care homes and abusing kids/aged adults and/or murdering people of a weekend, whilst all the while pretending that they are decent folk.

    I also don’t know whether this person is evil or just trying to be because she thinks it will glamourise her and bewitch the reader. Again, why would you waste your time on such an article when you could be doing evil stuff?

    I think most people are a bit fascinated with evil because we all have a dark side, and it’s better to know about and acknowledge it than deny it; I know I’m capable of hurting, but I also have a big font of good inside me, and every day is a battle to stay on the good side. M Scott Peck writes very eloquently about this kind of stuff in People of the Lie.

    • Thank you – that’s exactly how I felt about the author of the article when I read it! You put it so much more succinctly than I did though in my rant!!

      I read People of the Lie many years ago and I agree it is a great book on the subject. I think it really gets to the heart of the issue. 🙂

  15. Well done. This post raised some interesting comments. In fact I am so late everyone said it all

  16. words4jp says:

    John – I concur with your comment.. 🙂

  17. thegodspark says:

    I love to read murder mysteries but I started to drastically cut down. There are way too many US murder shows now. I can think of 10 that play regularly and there is even a network devoted to them. There is way too much of a saturation of that kind of material on the market. I mean the show Dexter inspired at least two different people to commit murders- you got to wonder what shows based on real life murders do. I mean our advertisements in America make women ashamed of their bodies and men have unrealistic expectations of what women should look like. I’m never thought that I would say this but I wish there was some kind of censorship in place that would cut down on these kind of shows and what not as well as the unrelated unrealistic advertising. And your synopsis of what the author was saying in the article made me think of certain well known US business leaders. They are worst than used car salespeople, they must be sociopaths. Glamorization of evil, glamorization of eating disorders… kind of a trend. It’s like the media is trying to turn us into something that ultimately destroys us.

    • Very true, and as I’ve said in some replies to comments, I’m also guilty of watching those sort of TV shows ……mea culpa I suppose. This does run very deep in our culture and it’s disturbing, for all the reasons you note. I just refute the concept that being like that is something to aspire too…or the natural outgrowth of intelligence….very disturbing.

  18. jamesslade says:

    Great post, good points. 🙂 I love writing sociopathic characters, and I think the attraction of putting myself in that mindset is the overwhelming confidence that comes with being utterly selfish and superior, even sadistic. Most people enjoy being a good person, but not having a care in the world beyond yourself and your enjoyment can seem desirable as opposed to worrying about other people and events outside your control all the time. Intelligent or stupid, sociopaths have a very short attention span; they’re too impulsive to worry about consequences, which is why they chase thrills and inevitably get into trouble. To be honest they’re a dead-end as far as fiction goes, they’re entertaining but they can’t change, so I try to think of them as a plot device as much as a character because there can never be any real development.

  19. Thank you for posting this. Can you post the link to this article? I would love to read it. I am actually the victim of a sociopath. Not in the “movie setting” type of way. I made friends with a man and I thought he was one of my best friends. He would make comments on lack of feeling and talk to me about it to some degree and me with my very sensitive heart (I could not grasp the concept of this man being a monster….he did so many good things for the community) I would stroke him and his ego. That is normal to do with friends. A girlfriend says she is fat…you say “You are beautiful the way you are.” To make a long story short, he entered my head, learned all my weaknesses, and tried to destroy all the relationships with everyone I loved. It turned out I was a game to him for 5 years. It was right under my nose and I didn’t see it. Sociopaths are very smart and though they may not be yielding a knife, ready to stab you a million times… if they target you as a game, they will cause much heartache and destruction. I really want to read this article. It seems characteristic for this personality type to boast about it. This man would boast to me all the time about his lack of feeling and mean things he wished he could do. I thought that he was just hurting and needed someone to show him that he was not alone in this world. I find it amazingly interesting that one would go to the lengths of offering up their thoughts for study…..and the more you know about the mind of sociopaths and psychopaths, the more you will be able to recognize one in real life situations and prevent yourself from being a victim. Please send me the link. Hugs to you and thank you.

  20. Office Diva says:

    Interesting topic, which definitely hits a nerve because these sociopaths seem to be everywhere. I come across them every once in awhile; they are what I call “functioning sociopaths”. Doesn’t mean they are murderers, but they are incredibly manipulative and feed off the energy of others (energy vampire, anyone?) Then there are the really sick people out there who marry mass murderers in prison and such. I think I am more frightened of them than the psycho behind bars. Why does everyone need so much attention these days?

  21. mlhe says:

    Your openhearted analysis was the reason for the article. It had to be. Such writing as yours serves a purpose in this world!

  22. andersays says:

    the validation and ability to do exactly what you said, to be blunt about it, and get away with it, is a hallmark of sociopathology. To flaunt the laws and rigors of society because you are really that smart. The thought process of academic vs opportunistic intelligence is to be able to flaunt that which you despise, which is often other people’s rules. but, other than that, i completley agree with you on the glorification of the “evil” in our world. Even the ability to take years of unfair business practices, and turn it into the largest charitable organization in the world, a’ la Bill Gates, can mask it, and certain behaviors outside of that, bad boys, money over everything, all exploit the basic notion of forgiveness to get ahead. I really like this article you wrote, made me think, and feel something about it. Well done 🙂

    • Thank you. I agree so much about the titans of industry and their so-called good works etc…very suspicious when in fact thy still live in incredible wealth while millions suffer in poverty or worse. 🙂

  23. Yes, that does sound much more narcissistic than sociopathic and evil. I have two thoughts on the “glamorization” of evil, which is just as common in the genres I read as it has been on TV recently.

    First, is that intelligent evil doers are easier to hate and far more interesting than thugs who just like blood and violence. It occurred to me that I like intelligent evil-doers as villains, not just because they’re more interesting, but because if they really are as smart as they think they are then they KNOW that they’re being evil. They really have chosen it, sold their souls, understand all the ramifications of their actions and therefore deserve to be vanquished.

    And there’s nothing I love more in fiction than a justified vanquishing.

    On the other hand, I recall an interesting quote:
    “Evil is bad that believes it’s good.”- Karen Marie Moning, “Shadowfever”
    Which makes things take on a whole new perspective.

    Ultimately, I just happen to really like stories that make one question the difference between good and evil and explore all those interesting shades of grey.

    • Thank you for your insightful response. The quote you use reminds me of Thomas Aquinas who said something like ‘evil is just mis-directed good’, which is a bit like when writers or actors talk about who the villain usually doesn’t see themselves as villainous. So I think you hit the nail on the head of what seemed off about the article and seemed more narcissistic – the author seemed to revel in being evil, she seemed proud of it. 🙂

  24. landl30 says:

    Thanks Helen, for opening a very important conversation.
    Len (

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