I read this months ago and considered posting it on TypoC. I am not so sure I agree, but I offer it up as grist for the mill.
Walking the Line Between Good and Evil: The Common Thread of Heroes and Villains
By Andrea Kuszewski (Guest Blogger)Excerpt:
Andrea Kuszewski is a Behavior Therapist and Consultant for children on the autism spectrum, residing in Florida; her expertise is in Asperger’s Syndrome, or high-functioning autism.
Mar 31, 2011 11:34 AM
Scientific American Blog
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.
Heroism to the ExtremeA hero is someone who goes out of their way to help others at the expense of their own safety and well-being. This could mean getting fired from a job, arrested, injured, or even facing death. More than just an altruist, who has selfless concern for the welfare of others, a hero takes action—usually bold action.
Right now I prefer to use the term "Extreme Altruist", or X-Altruist, rather than "Hero", because a person can rate very high on a scale of altruism without ever engaging in a heroic act; I am speaking here of the personality type, not necessarily the actions committed by the person. The X-Altruist is the most extreme type of hero; the one who takes the highest risks, with a lot to lose, putting their safety and welfare on the line—and does it time and time again. To an X-Altruist, heroism is a way of life, a daily state of being, a temperament.
< read the entire essay >