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Think you’re a nice guy? Think again: Deep down, you’re no better than Jeffrey Dahmer, Ted Bundy, or some wacko who walks into his office and starts shooting. At least that’s what psychiatrist Robert I. Simon posits in Bad Men Do What Good Men Dream: A Forensic Psychiatrist Illuminates the Darker Side of Human Behavior, published by D.C.’s American Psychiatric Press. “I’m fascinated with extremes of human behavior,” says Simon, a practicing forensic scientist and the director of Georgetown School of Medicine’s program in psychiatry and law. “As far as the darker side is concerned, there is no difference in kind, but difference in degree.” And no difference between males and females, either. Despite its title, Bad Men includes plenty of women who admit to ugly thoughts.
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Simon illustrates his point with biblical truisms (“only God knows the human mind and heart”) and shocking case studies (a man who repeatedly raped two girls; a doctor who coerced her patient into sex); he gives his chapters catchy titles like “Workplace Violence: Is Your Job a Dead End?” and “Stalkers: Forever Yours.” He has designed Bad Men as an easy read, not as a textbook, and hopes his theories will help ordinary people who struggle with making the right decisions every day. “The dark side is part of our human condition, part of humanity,” he says. “We have to control it…and not project it.”
Throughout Bad Men, Simon attempts to correlate acceptable and psychopathic behaviors. Simon considers it normal, for instance, to imagine torturing one’s spouse or even one’s children; a psychopath, he asserts, wouldn’t resist such impulses. And while the author agrees that serial killers like Dahmer are rare, he asks his readers if they enjoy football games or action movies in an effort to show that “sadism and power motives are common to all human beings.” Charges of oversimplification don’t ruffle him: “Laymen choke on the idea that they have a dark side,” he says. “No one is perfect—all are capable of antisocial acts.” But despite Simon’s defense and his detailed examples, Bad Men’s conclusion still seems too pat. After 30 years in practice, it is disappointing that Simon believes we all just need a good shrink. CP