In this article, we are going to answer the question, which we will call question 1: Where and how do the abusive Indian husband and the violent white male sociopath of Netflix documentary fame converge?
Mainstream media has long cataloged the world’s fascination with crime and criminality. First in focus were whodunnit murder mystery novels and 90s TV shows, a majority of which focused on policing and detective work — Law & Order, CSI, Prime Suspect. Now we have True Crime podcasts, Youtube channels, and Netflix documentaries about the Green River Killers and Ted Bundys and Yorkshire Rippers of the world. A common thread running through such new-age viral content is a shift of focus from good guys heroically defeating evil to individual perpetrators who commit heinous acts against women. These acts are rarely panic-stricken mistakes or crimes of passion. Rather, we want to consume — and hence, we produce — stories about carefully premeditated, sadistic, first degree murder predominantly carried out by cisheterosexual white men. In other words, we have become enamoured by sociopathy in its most violent form.
Sociopathy is layman’s slang for Antisocial Personality Disorder, characterized by an inability to experience a full range of emotions . Particularly affected is emotional empathy, which underlies the usual processes that lead neurotypicals to develop a healthy sense of morality. This inability, combined with characteristic impulsivity and boredom, can lead some individuals with ASPD towards criminality ranging from petty theft to torture. Psychopathy, which comes under the banner of ASPD but in the development of which biology may play a greater role, generally produces more violent and emboldened criminals . In this article, I use ‘sociopathy’ to refer to both forms of violent ASPD.
We don’t encounter violent ASPD in our day-to-day lives. Then, and this is question 2, why are we obsessed with it? Perhaps we are so constrained by norms, legality, and ethics that witnessing a complete disregard for social rules shocks us into fascination . In an age of relatability, the unfamiliarity of remorselessness tears into our illusion of the common experience of free will. Maybe we tie empathy so closely to humanity that learning about a lack of it shows us how little we know about what it is to be human. Mayhaps (I’m running out of adverbs), we — ‘normal’ people who are moved by injustice — are so harrowed by the increasingly documented cruelty of oppressive systems that gaining insight into the psyche of sociopaths allows us to make sense of a nonsensical world. Whatever the reason may be, we have found solace in the consensus: sociopaths are nothing like us.
Reconsider this convenient conclusion through question 3: If sociopaths are nothing like the ordinary, everyday men in our lives, why is there a significant overlap in the gendered violence that both groups carry out? When someone abducts and rapes a woman out for her morning jog off an isolated road, he is a sociopath. Closer to home, in India, when a man goes home after a long day at office and rapes his wife, he is simply taking what is rightly his. When the sociopath kidnaps and shoots his child to spite her mother, he is a notorious baby-killer. When men in our society bury their newborn daughters, we consider them participants in the epidemic of female infanticide. When a sociopath uses tactics such as lying and gaslighting to control his partner, we call it manipulation. When our men hold their wives’ finances hostage in their own bank accounts, we consider it the usual way of doing things. When a sociopath strikes a woman, we affirm his identity as evil. When an Indian man does the same, we shake our heads disapprovingly while policemen say: “woh unke ghar ka personal matter hai”.
To explore this overlap, let us first discuss what causes sociopaths to engage in violence. Sociopaths’ struggle with morality leads to an undermining of ethics (morality is personal, ethics entails determinations of good and bad laid out by the social setting we exist in). Therefore, their brains tell them that they are free to acquire whatever they want, by hook or by crook. The easier way is often crook — for example, wooing a woman into bed is laborious in comparison to snatching one off the street. Further, sociopaths’ struggle with empathy influences not just their interpersonal interactions with others, but also their relationship with themselves. Given that empathetic regard for the self is weakened but impulsivity and invincibility (owed to a grandiose sense of self) are heightened, sociopaths tend to commit crimes without adequately taking into account legal consequences [4, 1]. Hence, sociopaths view criminal activity as permissible and desirable, and the cognitive structuring developed in their brains orients them towards violence. In a patriarchal society, this violence is often gendered.
To understand violence by non-sociopathic men in patriarchal societies, let us look at Lundy Bancroft’s work. After spending two decades carrying out intervention programs aimed at abusive men, Bancroft authored the book ‘Why Does he Do That? Inside the Minds of Angry and Controlling Men’ . In it, he concludes, and pleads with readers to understand, that intimate partner violence does not arise from a loss of emotional control, irrational thinking patterns, or mental health issues. Rather, just as you and I navigate the world by acting in accordance with our values and believing that we are doing the right thing, abusive men also act in accordance with their values and believe that they are doing the right thing. Their values are simply prescribed by a patriarchy that (a) dictates male power, entitlement and ownership over women, and (b) sanctions violence as an effective way to achieve dominance. Actualizing these values via inordinate control and abuse is hence perceived by abusive patriarchs as the rational thing to do. In this way, the cognitive structuring of non-sociopathic men in patriarchal societies orients them towards violence. This violence, by way of conception, is gendered.
Let us finally address question 1: Where and how do the abusive Indian husband and the violent white male sociopath of Netflix documentary fame converge? The overlap between the brown patriarch and the white sociopath comes down to cognitive structuring that rationalizes violence against women. Exploring this overlap allows commonalities to surface. For the sociopath, the brain may play a greater role; for the patriarch, society. For the former, formative individual experience may be a more important causal factor, for the latter, contextual upbringing. But these different causes and sanctions lead to similar outcomes. Some sociopaths kill, while some abusive patriarchs create an authoritarian, controlling atmosphere at home. Some sociopaths create an authoritarian, controlling atmosphere at home, and some abusive patriarchs kill.
Still, we afford violent husbands undue understanding — we claim that they are products of their times, or that their control and manipulation is a form of benevolent protection. We simply cannot pin a large and intimidating patriarchy on any one individual, so we do not. At the same time, we view the violent white sociopaths of Netflix documentary fame as evil criminals who are a different kind of human — one that we have nothing to do with.
Centering the experiences of women in matters of gendered violence requires us to shift part of our focus from causes of violence to outcomes of violence. When we adopt this outcome-focused approach, note the chilling commonalities of rationalisation, and consciously choose to label all forms of violence as violence, we find that the patriarchy normalizes sociopathy — not as mental illness, but as a sanctioned, institutionalised, and deeply embedded way of life.
 Antisocial personality disorder. Wikipedia. https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Antisocial_personality_disorder
 What is the difference between sociopathy and psychopathy? https://www.medicalnewstoday.com/articles/psychopath-vs-sociopath
 Why are we so obsessed with true crime? https://www.law.ac.uk/resources/blog/why-we-love-true-crime/#:~:text=True%20crime%20gives%20an%20insight,is%20a%20common%20psychological%20trait%E2%80%9D.
 The Empathic Brain of Psychopaths: From Social Science to Neuroscience in Empathy. https://www.frontiersin.org/articles/10.3389/fpsyg.2020.00695/full#:~:text=A%20personality%20structure%20often%20marked,(including%20psychopathy)%20and%20behavior.
 Why Does He Do That?: Inside the Minds of Angry and Controlling Men. https://ia600108.us.archive.org/30/items/LundyWhyDoesHeDoThat/Lundy_Why-does-he-do-that.pdf