Serial killers captivated our country for the latter half of the 20th century. Why did they do it? Why was it the man next door? What makes a serial killer? Arendt says in a letter to Gershom Scholem, ” It is indeed my opinion now that evil is never ‘radical,’ that it is only extreme, and that it possesses neither depth nor any demonic dimension… It is ‘thought-defying,’ as I said, because thought tries to reach some depth, to go to roots, and the moment it concerns itself with evil, it is frustrated because there is nothing.” This statement is correct, but not for the reasons that Arendt states. There is nothing, because evil is nothing. In order for different acts to be evil, evil must be a spectrum. By having evil be a spectrum it shows that there is depth and dimensions to what we call evil, discrediting Arendt’s view. In reality evil is a term that is thrown onto people in order to further the distance between themselves and the perpetrators. It is much simpler to write someone off as evil then to try and understand why evil could be living next door to you. The word evil was created to label things, like criminals or natural disasters, that at the time could not be understood. But with the growing awareness, knowledge, and compassion towards mental illnesses, the term evil has hit its expiration date. Although actions are irreversible and sometimes inexcusable, there is no such thing as evil there is only understanding one’s psyche and its influential factors. Society does not want to think of the why behind ‘evil’ for then the perpetrators are humanized, but in order to fully understand ‘evil’ actions you must understand the why. Evil is an adjective to describe something or someone that is immoral or wicked. This usage of evil is correct, but most people think of evil as some sort of entity independent from external influences. This is where the common conception of evil is wrong: evil is not an independent being, it is simply an adjective. I cannot argue that what these killers did was not immoral, but they are not evil entities. Arendt’s usage of radical means something that is surface level with no external influences or depth. Depth meaning that there are reasons, equivalent to psychological explanations, and layers to something. Humans have depth, therefore if you say that there is depth to serial killers they have now become human rather than an evil entity. Good, something that is morally right, can only be radical because for an action to be truly good there can be no depth behind it. Contrary to radical actions, there are banal actions which are actions that one does not know are wrong due to norms in a given society. In Arendt’s Eichmann in Jerusalem, Arendt does not believe that Eichmann exhibited radical evil, rather that he exhibited banal evil. The actions committed by serial killers are neither radical nor banal, they are simply irreversible and inexcusable acts due to an altered psyche. Notorious serial killers like Jeffrey Dahmer and Charles Manson have become household names. No one can argue that what they did was not horrible, but writing them off as evil is the easy way out. Serial killers are usually described as the man next door: someone no one would have expected to do such horrible things. So why did they? What influential factors changed their brain chemistry and their way of thinking? Most people who suffer from the same mental illnesses that these serial killers suffered from are not violent or do not act on their violent urges/fantasies. But in the latter half of the 20th century the lack of forensic science made it easy for these people to take multiple lives before getting caught, and for this reason behavioral science had to be created and studied. Many would say that serial killers are evil and wicked. These people have the easiest, most relatable, and most understandable argument on their sides. How could someone take multiple people’s lives? They would argue that these people were born this way and that there is no reason nor depth behind their actions. Someone who kills mercilessly is as far from human as one can get for normal people do not go around killing people. There are people who have gone through similar experience as these serial killers but did not turn into one. The lives these people took will never come back and their families will suffer for forever. How is causing the suffering of others not evil? How is someone who kills for ‘fun’ not evil? Most would argue that they would not go around killing people, therefore those who do must be evil. Point blank: killing is not a normal thing to do, but goes far beyond not being normal and enters the territory of evil, for there is no rationality or excuse for what they did. But is saying that their actions are irreversible and inexcusable equivalent to saying that there is no depth to them?Jeffrey Dahmer took the lives of 17 men from 1978 to 1991. Dahmer was diagnosed with antisocial personality disorder (ASPD) with obsessive-compulsive and sadistic components. Symptoms of ASPD include lying, impulsivity, and lack of regard for their own safety and the safety of others. ASPD can be dealt with by therapy which Dahmer never received. Dahmer’s psyche could have been altered before he was even born. Dahmer’s mother was mentally ill and took 27 pills a day during her pregnancy even though she was warned it could affect the fetus. During infancy his mother rarely picked him up except to change his diapers, denying him the relationship that defines most people’s personality. Dahmer was described as a happy child until the age of four when he had a surgery for a double hernia, which family and friends say affected his mood but was inconclusive as to whether it was due to his mother’s medication or the surgery. At age six his younger brother was born taking away any mother-son time that he could have had. His teachers reported him as feeling neglected and alone. At age eight there were allegations made by his father that a male neighbor had sexually assaulted Dahmer, which both later denied. At age 13 he drank alcohol for the first time and the following year he had his first homosexual experience and confessed that he fantasized about having sex with corpses causing him to drink more to relieve these thoughts. Throughout highschool friends and classmates describe Dahmer as an alcoholic and a loner. At age 18 his parents divorced and his mother gained custody of his younger brother, leaving Dahmer at home waiting for his father’s return. Ultimately his father gained custody of both children due to their mother’s instability but neglected Dahmer in order to please his new wife. Dahmer was left utterly alone with no family or friends. He dropped out of college after one semester and was forced to join the army by his father, but was discharged after two years due to his alcoholism. Throughout his life he was described as a shy and timid person, he even believed and enjoyed that his glasses made him less noticeable. In order for someone to develop healthy social skills, human interactions in the early phases of your life are necessary. Instead Dahmer witnessed his mother under the effects of her anxiety medicine and the verbal abuse that occurred between his parents. Childhood is the fundamental time period for neuroplasticity, although it occurs throughout one’s life, but when a child sees these interactions between the people they view as role models it creates normacy in their behavior. Dahmer already faced childhood neglect and emotional abuse, but when his mother and brother left he developed abandonment issues believing that he would never be able to contact them again. In Dahmer’s closing statement he says, “I didn’t enjoy doing that killing. That’s why I tried to create living zombies… but it never worked. No, the killing was not the objective. I just wanted to have the person under my complete control, not having to consider their wishes, being able to keep them there as long as I wanted.” This exhibits clear signs of abandonment issues and ASPD. In a publication by Tamara Higgs of Regis University, she writes, “often times, the victim choice will in turn be based on the serial killer’s experiences with abuse as a child, and the characteristics of the abuser or perceived wrongdoer in the serial killer’s past will become the same characteristics that the serial killer seeks in the present when determining the next victim.” If the allegation of sexual assault was true it could explain why Dahmer went after young men. A long history of abandonment issues mixed with his disregard for others’ safety lead him to want people to stay. He knew he did not have the social skills to have people stay on their own will, so he had to find a way to make them. When one’s psyche has been so damaged by childhood abuse their sense of reality becomes skewed and they try to revenge or fill the void of the basic human interactions and relations that they have wrongly been denied. This shows clear signs of mental instability and illness. It also shows the depth behind his psyche and actions showing that he is not simply an evil entity. Charles Manson is undoubtedly one of the most infamous serial killers. To this date he still has a following and prior to his death he had followers begging for his release. During the summer of love the Manson family committed the famous Tate-LaBianca murders, where they killed seven people, including the eight month pregnant actress Sharon Tate, over the span of two days. During his time in prison Manson was married twice, exhibiting the hold he had over women. Manson was a diagnosed schizophrenic with paranoid delusional disorder, but he was also an incredible con man. Due to neglect from his mother and family Manson had to fend for himself from the beginning. In an interview Manson states, “not having parents has left me in another dimension,” and also said “I don’t fit into the world you guys live in, so I live over there in the shadows of it.” Manson exhibited clear signs of paranoia and schizophrenia. Manson’s mother was a prostitute and an alcoholic who had him at the age of 16. Manson never knew his biological father, but he inherited the name Manson from his mother’s husband William Manson whom she married before Manson was born but later divorced. Manson recounts a story, “mom was in a cafe one afternoon with me on her lap. The waitress, a would-be mother without a child of her own, jokingly told my Mom she’d buy me from her. Mom replied, ‘A pitcher of beer and he’s yours.’ The waitress set up the beer, Mom stuck around long enough to finish it off and left the place without me. Several days later my uncle had to search the town for the waitress and take me home.” Assuming that this story is true it exhibits clear signs of child neglect and abuse. At the age of five Manson’s mother was sent to prison for three years, forcing Manson onto family members who did not want him. A year after her release she remarried, focusing her attention on her new husband rather than her son. At this time Manson had started to rob stores and steal from his home. As a result, his mother wanted to put him into foster care but was unsuccessful and instead sent him to a boys school where he claims that he was raped repeatedly. He repeatedly tried to escape, preferring a life on the streets full of burglary. At the age of 17 he was arrested for car theft and by the age of 32 he had spent half of his life either behind bars or in juvenile detention centers. “Manson was described by probation reports as suffering from a ‘marked degree of rejection, instability and psychic trauma’ and ‘constantly striving for status and securing some kind of love.’ Other descriptions included ‘unpredictable’ and ‘safe only under supervision.'” The probation officers noticed his altered psyche and longing for love and admiration, which explains why he conned people into loving and following him blindly.The beginning of his mission is that he saw a hidden message in the Beatles song Helter Skelter. He believed that this song predicted a race war where the blacks were going to rise up and kill the whites in the summer of ’69. But him and his followers would be saved by moving to an underground city of gold, exhibiting clear signs of delusion. When this race war did not occur he took it as a sign that the blacks needed to be shown how to do it. The first murder committed by the Manson family was of a man named Gary Hinman which was staged to make it seem as if the Black Panthers had done it. When the race war still did not occur he took it a step further by targeting famous white elite. Until the day of his death he maintained his innocence saying, “what do you want to call me a murderer for? I’ve never killed anyone!” Although it may be true that he did not directly kill anybody, but he did order the deaths of seven people. It is hard to imagine that anyone would follow his delusional idea of an upcoming race war. But a paranoid, delusional, and attractive male was able to appeal to young women by offering them drugs (i.e LSD), shelter, and the glory that they would achieve by helping the race war, and it was enough to gain their admiration. Manson knew how to con people since adolescence; he enticed young women with love and sex making the match far from equal. When one views their beliefs, no matter how delusional, as righteous they will believe that their actions are justifiable. His altered psyche lead him to believe that he was helping the world, and although what he did was unjustifiable he was not evil, he was a man with an altered and unstable psyche.There is no question as to whether what these men did was wrong. Society as a whole can agree that these acts were horrific and disturbing. Their actions are inexcusable and irreversible and they will forever leave a dark stain on our society. But they are not evil entities, for evil as an independent being does not exist. It is a very privileged view to say that these people are evil. Because to say that they are simply evil is denying the reality of mental illness and the effects that childhoods and external influences have on one’s psyche. Although the majority of people who suffer from mental illnesses and abusive childhoods do not go on a killing spree it does not discredit the pain and suffering that these men had to endure. Acknowledging that someone who has caused so much suffering has also suffered is very hard, for most people view this as a justification for their actions. But it is not a justification, it is the depth that comes along with being human. These men are humans that committed irreversible and inexcusable actions due to the depth of their psyches, but not because they are evil.