The fanatic manipulating a child into becoming a suicide bomber, the man holding girls prisoner in his home for decades, the trophy hunter aspiring to kill the last of its kind, murderous dictators, child molesters, killer drug kingpins … The real MONSTERS are human.
Humans have a long history of tyranny, mass murder, and crimes against all of humanity. As a species, our big, creative brains are scary. Once focused on evil, we take it to the max.
When a person commits a heinous act, the language we use to describe him—or her—often harkens back to a time before psychology and biochemistry sought to explain the inexplicable. People said a killer was possessed by a demon, was in league with the devil, was inhuman, evil, or simply a MONSTER. Now we use other phrases: he lacks empathy, she’s a psychopath (or sociopath), he’s got an antisocial personality disorder, he has a paraphilia…the words are different, but we are still describing monsters.
The creatures of myth and nightmare—the creatures that fill our fantasies and inhabit our favorite fiction—are more than mere metaphors. They give us the language that helps us define ourselves as human, while allowing us to face our biggest fears. Vampires drain our blood and will power. Werewolves embody our wild animal side. Mummies, ghosts and zombies personify our fearful ambivalence about death. The stories we tell offer comfort, security, assurance and triumph over monstrous evil. Even when the stories end in a bloodbath, even when the monsters are the most compelling characters, these stories help us feel more human.
Still, the real monsters—the scariest, strangest, most vile and violent are human beings. They are most often ordinary people either missing something that would make them truly human or with too much of something else that unleashes their violence. We’re never certain if the bad stuff is “human” or not, so we try to name it something else.
Who would you root for in a confrontation in the woods—the hunter determined to nab a werewolf OR his prey?