Was I born a bad egg?
Was I born with screws lose?
Did I contribute to my Son’s Monster?
At first blush, one might wonder about persuasion and the Jeffrey Dahmer (JD) lust murder story. Some communication experts declare that people are negotiating and persuading fifty percent of their waking lives. So, yes, lots of persuasion goes on in this very well done Netflix series.
Nature or Nurture: One is provoked to contemplating this issue. Some think they know, but usually that is because they are using inductive thinking; that is, they have a belief and then they seek to prove that belief.
Others wisely use deductive thinking, saying "Show the facts and evidence." In the series, they demonstrate that JD at the young age of five was fascinated by inquiring into a dead possum found by his dad under the house. The dad noted that JD wasn’t interested in much but this so the Dad indulged him. They carefully analyzed the possum, noting that they are the only marsupial in the United States and because of the damaged head, some other animal such as an owl attacked the possum which sought refuge the home.
Roadkill: And so the hobby of the dad and JD looking for roadkill and then dissecting it in the garage began. On one hand, one understands the dad trying to bond with his lonely son; on the other, a bit too far? A bit too obsessive? A bit not normal or so thought the suicidal, depressed mom, but she failed to persuade them to stop.
As portrayed in the series, JD is persuaded that he was born with this interest, this deviation as he asks "Was I born a bad egg? Was I born cracked? Was I born with a screw lose?" The dad seems to be persuaded that he was and moreover, the dad had many of these thoughts, but controlled not acting on them.
Dissection of animals: Knowing the Persuasion Law of Association, most people associate dissection of animals with biology and medical inquiry. One notable scene was in biology class. The teacher highly commended JD for excellently dissecting a dead baby pig. Several students rightly objected to the exercise. When JD asked the teacher if he could take one of the extra dead baby pigs home to practice, the teacher was surprised but probably still associated dissection with biology, not the eventual “lust murders.”
Highly Dysfunctional Home: One, might instantly declare that all households are dysfunctional according to how one defines this concept. The Dahmer house was extreme. The parents were constantly fighting and yelling. The mom was so depressed that she tried several times to commit suicide. Completely frustrated, the dad eventually abandoned the family and moved out. Equally frustrated after the mom won custody of the younger brother, she abandoned JD and the home, leaving young seventeen year old JD on his own to try to complete high school.
Brain-No Medical Examination: Post death, someone oddly decided to save Dahmer's brain and not include it with the cremation. Medical authorities wanted to examine it as they were doing with mass murderer John Wayne Gacy. The mom and dad disagreed on this action as they disagreed on everything - and so the issue went to court. The judge was persuaded against the action by the mom and JD’s wishes to be cremated with no exceptions. The dad wanted the examination since he believed that his DNA may have passed this on to JD.
Nature or murture: Probably both.
They who frame the issue win the issue. Negotiators often say, those who frame the issue win the issue. Framing and reframing is a great negotiation and persuasion skill. The in-the-know psychiatrists have framed the JD issue as one of the psychological condition of a lust murder. Most are not aware of this condition because it is not common. Lust murder may be a combination of paraphilic and erotophonophilia.
Paraphilias are psychiatric disorders characterized by deviant and culturally non-sanctioned sexual fantasies, thoughts, and/or behaviors. Most paraphilias emerge during adolescence although there is usually a connection with events or relationships in early childhood. Once established, they tend to be chronic…childhood trauma may be a factor.
Paraphilic is the condition of being sexually aroused by atypical places or items like dead bodies or body parts.
Paraphilias are persistent and recurrent sexual interests, urges, fantasies, or behaviors of marked intensity involving objects, activities, or even situations that are atypical in nature.
Although not innately pathological, a paraphilic disorder can evolve if paraphilia invokes harm, distress, or functional impairment on the lives of the affected individual or others. A total of eight paraphilias are listed in the DSM V and include pedophilia, exhibitionism, voyeurism, sexual sadism, sexual masochism, frotteurism, fetishism, and transvestic fetishism…
The DSM-5 diagnostic criteria for paraphilia states explicitly that the patient must have experienced intense and recurrent sexual arousal from deviant fantasies for at least six months and must have acted on these impulses. A paraphilia becomes a pathology, or a paraphilic disorder, only when this behavior causes significant distress and impairment of functioning to the individual or if the paraphilia involves personal harm or risk of harm to others…
The treatment and management of paraphilias and paraphilic disorders pose extreme difficulty due to a multitude of factors.
The American Psyhological Association offers this: Erotophonophilia or homicidophilia is a very rare sadistic paraphilia in which sexuoeroticism hinges on staging and murdering an unsuspecting sexual partner, or the restaging of it in fantasy
Many distinguish Lust Murder from Sadistic Murder where perpetuators get satisfaction from torturing.
According to Psychology Today:
Erotophonophiliacs are usually White Males (75%) and may exude the characteristics of being timid, over controlled and highly deviant. They never really achieve their fantasies which explains the repetition. There is often an overlap with alcoholism and porn obsession. They focus on certain people they find attractive.
This seems to fit the JD situation.
What about the frame of cannibalism? The media loves to use this frame since it is known to their readers and viewers and fits their goal of sensationalism. It is true that JD did eat at least one human heart. Interesting that some say that human cannibalism has never been socially acceptable. Yet, there are cases where it has been perpetuated in rituals and medical procedures.
As an aside, it is interesting that it is acceptable for humans to eat cows, lamb, chickens, and turkeys but not dogs or cats.
Also, it's interesting that today people and the media have romanticized vampires.
What about the frame of race? This does have substance. Eleven of the 17 murdered were brown or black. JD was white. He lived in a deprived Black neighborhood. The complainers were black, specifically his next door neighbor Glenda Cleveland. Reverend Jessie Jackson of course used inductive thinking framing all social issues as race. This surely fit into his agenda.
Why was JD so persuasive?
Family Members persuaded by the Law of Expectations. Most of the time, JD persuaded family members including mom, dad and grandma that everything was okay and he was okay. (“Okay, BTW seemed to have been his choice word. OK is defined as “acceptance” or “not exceptional. Repeating OK may have been a habit or maybe a clue?) Family members expected to see and hear “normalcy” and that is what they got despite many signs saying otherwise. JD was generally quiet and polite, not bringing attention to himself. The Persuasive Law of Association may also come to play. Many would not associate quietness with lust murder.
Police persuaded, blinded by biases vs gays and Asians: The most egregious and basically criminal police behavior was a situation where they found a Laotian boy of fourteen bleeding from the head, naked, drugged, running down the street. He had just escaped JD’s apartment after being hit on the head and drugged.
JD persuaded the two while male straight police officers that they were involved in a relationship and rough sex (JD: You know, Asians like it rough. This is gay stuff.) while drinking. After the police escorted the Laotian boy basically to his death and JD to the apartment, JD presented them with pictures of the two of them The police failed to check when the pictures were taken or to find identification of the boy, especially the age.
The neighbors, specifically Glenda Cleveland, were not persuaded and were literally shouting at the police that "He is a Boy! Check his ID!" As typical, they almost got arrested for police interference. Police: "Let us do our jobs!"
Unfortunately and in this case, criminally, the two white male straight police were blinded by their prejudices:
JD is a young white male: tall, buff and fairly good looking, as well as polite. In American society, these are advantages to credibility. (Think of many commercials and advertisements offering especially blue collar services: air conditioning, plumbing, home repair, spouting, electric. Most of the time they will feature buff young white men.)
The victim was Asian-Laotian.
The complaining neighbors were all black and poor.
Regrettably, instead of being convicted, these two prejudiced police received awards from the Police Union.
Author Malcolm Gladwell in his book Blink devotes a whole chapter about how prejudices and biases can lead thinking away from problem solving and critical thinking.
Why was neighbor Glenda Cleveland unpersuasive?
Most would say:
She is Black of moderate skin color.
Her accent is of the black culture.
She is a female.
She is poor.
She is trying to persuade mostly white male police and officials, including a female white clerk.
She tends towards emotions.
So, she was not successful in warning the police multiple times that JD was up to no good.
She was not successful in keeping her apartment. (The city actually tore down the building.)
She was not successful in creating a park memorializing the victims.
Although she was successful in persuading the apartment manager to evict JD. It is to be noted that the manager was black, probably from an African country.
Dad was not persuasive.
Dad did persuade JD to enroll at Ohio State University and to join the army. He was not persuasive in getting the judge or the jails to give JD mental health assistance. He and his attorney were not persuasive in getting the sentencing judge to place JD in a mental health hospital rather than prison.
It is vital how one frames an issue. The sentencing judge framed the Dahmer issue as a legal one, not a mental health one, and set the stage for Dahmer’s being beaten to death by an inmate obsessed with the Bible and orchestrated by prison guards.
Internal biases and prejudices color how people are persuaded. Good looking, young, tall, white Dahmer was persuasive. Poor, black neighbor Glenda Cleveland, not so much.
The nature versus nurture controversy is present in the Dahmer story. Most likely, it is both and research is needed with both.
Note: Washington Post reviewed this series with the headline: Jeffrey Dahmer's murder spree was horrific. Netflix didn't need to serialize it. Netflix's series gets the well-documented details right, but at what cost? The writer questions whether the creator Ryan Murphy fulfilled his goal of highlighting the victims, especially since very popular Actor Evan Peters (American Horror Story and Pose Season One) plays Dahmer. This series is #1 on Netflix for the last weeks of September.
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Roy J. Lewicki is the author of 'Essentials of Negotiation', published 2015 under ISBN 9780077862466 and ISBN 0077862465. Publisher: McGraw Hill Higher Education
The Conflict Resolution Training Program, Leader’s Manual, ISBN: 0-7879-6077-2. Prudence Bowman Kestner and Larry Ray
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Getting Your Way Every Day.