Walking the Line Between Good and Evil: The Common Thread of Heroes and Villains
By ANDREA KUSZEWSKI - SCIENTIFIC AMERICAN
Added: Thu, 07 Apr 2011 13:13:54 UTC
Mythology, science fiction and comic books are chock full of stories of heroes and their battles against the ills of society—the eternal struggle between good and evil. We are meant to view these two main characters—the Hero and the Villain—as opposites on the spectrum of ethics and morality. But are they really so different when you look at their individual traits and behaviors?
Contrary to popular belief, right and wrong, moral and immoral, ethical and unethical—are not always on opposite ends of the spectrum of good and evil. In addition, the people who fight for the cause on either side may not always look or act like the one you would expect. Science may finally give some support to the old saying: There is a fine line between good and evil.
What is Heroism?
In the days following the devastating earthquake in Japan, word quickly spread about heroism displayed across the region—from the 50 brave nuclear workers, "The Fukushima 50" who stayed behind after evacuation in a valiant attempt to prevent further disaster, to a man who donned scuba gear and went into the tsunami to rescue his wife and mother, as well as other (sometimes a bit tall) tales of men and women who fearlessly put themselves on the line to help others in the midst of that tragedy.
Would we consider all of these people heroes, or were these just ordinary men and women who rose to the occasion? Is there something else that plays a role—a specific personality type—that makes people more likely to engage in very heroic acts?
While in the case of Japan it is likely a combination of factors, such as culture and situational rise to heroism, there is a specific personality type that is more likely to engage in extremely heroic behavior. Interestingly, this type of person is also very likely to be the kind of impulsive, argumentative person that readily breaks rules, acts impulsively, challenges authority—but all for the sake of good. These extreme heroes do not fit the image of the kind, peaceful, non-aggressive hero, like the Dalai Lama—in fact, they may not always be the most pleasant people to be around; they tend to be the ones who always stir up trouble or rock the boat, the whistleblowers. But they are the most important types of heroes to support, because they have the highest potential to do extremely good works.
Am I saying that the world’s greatest heroes are also some of the most hard-headed, rebellious, not-necessarily-law-abiding rule-breakers by nature? Yes, I am. Not only that, there may be a genetic link between these extreme heroes and those least expected to act heroically—the Sociopath. This person is called the Extreme Altruist, or X-Altruist.
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