Columbia University professor Michael Stone knows evil. He’s a forensic psychologist - the type of expert that provides testimony on the mental state of accused murderers when a declaration of insanity can mean the difference between life and death row.
Inspired by the structure of Dante’s circles of hell, Stone has created his own 22-point “Gradations of Evil” scale, made up of murderers in the 20th century. “I thought it would be an interesting thing to do,” he says.
His scale is loosely divided into three tiers. First are impulsive evil-doers: driven to a single act of murder in a moment of rage or jealousy. Next are people who lack extreme psychopathic features, but may be psychotic - that is, clinically delusional or out of touch with reality. Last are the profoundly psychopathic, or “those who possess superficial charm, glib speech, grandiosity, but most importantly cunning and manipulativeness,” Stone says. “They have no remorse for what they’ve done to other people.”
Stone hopes the scale could someday be used in prosecutions. “The people at the very end of the scale have certain things about their childhood backgrounds that are different,” he says, from those who appear earlier in the scale. And because the scale follows a continuum of likelihood a killer will kill again, courts may be able to better categorize the risks posed by releasing a psychopath.
Conspicuously absent from Stone’s scale are wartime evil-doers. “My scale is a scale for evil in peacetime,” he says. “That’s because assessing wartime evil from a criminal-psychological standpoint is more complicated because of factors like culture, history and religion.”
And in war, there are often two sides. Take Hitler, Stone says. “He thought we were evil, we thought he was evil.” But, he adds, “in that particular case, we were right.”
Scale Of Evil:
- 1. Justified Homicide. The least malevolent: Those who have killed in self-defense and do not show psychopathic features.
- 2. Jealous Lovers, Non-Psychopathic. Though egocentric or immature, evildoers in this category committed their crimes in the heat of passion.
- 3. Willing Companions of Killers. Still far from psychopathic, some have antisocial traits and an aberrant personality. They’re often driven by impulse.
- 4. Provocative ‘Self-Defense.’ These people kill in self-defense, but they aren’t entirely innocent themselves; they may have been “extremely provocative” toward their victim.
- 5. Desperate Measures. These are traumatized, desperate killers of abusive relatives or others - but they lack ‘significant psychopathic traits’ and are genuinely remorseful.
- 6. Hot Heads. Killers who act in an impetuous moment, yet without marked psychopathic features.
- 7. Narcissists. Highly narcissistic killers who are often possessive, not distinctly psychopathic, but “with a psychopathic core.” They typically kill loved ones or family members out of jealousy.
- 8. Fit of Rage. Non-psychopathic people who live with an underlying, smoldering rage, then kill when that rage is ignited.
- 9. Jealous lovers, Psychopathic. The scale’s first foray into psychopathic territory, these killers are jealous lovers but with marked psychopathic features.
- 10. "In The Way" Killers, Not Fully Psychopathic. Killers of witnesses or people who are simply “in the way.” These evildoers are egocentric, but not totally psychopathic.
- 11. "In The Way" Psychopaths. Psychopathic killers of people “in the way.” Premeditation is not usually a major factor in their killings.
- 12. Power-Hungry and Cornered. Power-hungry psychopaths who kill when “cornered,” or placed in a situation they wouldn’t be able to escape with their power intact.
- 13. Inadequate And Rageful. Murderers with shortcomings that follow them throughout life, who also express psychopathic impulses and are prone to rage.
- 14. Schemers. Ruthlessly self-centered and psychopathic, schemers stop at nothing to deceive, con and steal.
- 15. Cold-Blooded Spree. Murderers who kill multiple people calmly and with a psychopathic motive. Often pathological in their denial of guilt or inability to confront reality.
- 16. Vicious Psychopaths. Those who commit multiple vicious acts that may also include murder, rape or mutilation.
- 17. The Sexually Perverse. Serial killers with some element of sexual perversion in their crimes. In males, rape is usually the primary motive and killing follows to hide the evidence. Torture is not a primary motive.
- 18. Torturing Murderers. Though psychotic, they do not typically prolong their torture. Murder, not torture, is their primary motivation.
- 19. Non-Homicidal Psychopaths. Psychopaths who fall short of murder, yet engage in terrorism, subjugation, intimidation or rape.
- 20. Murdering Torturers. Psychotic (legally insane) and primarily motivated by their desire to torture.
- 21. Pure Torturers. Not all torturers murder. These psychopaths (evaluated to be in touch with reality) are preoccupied with torture “in the extreme,” but never convicted of murder.
- 22. Psychopathic Torture-Murderers. Defined by a primary motivation to inflict prolonged, diabolical torture. Most in this category are male serial killers.
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