Below you will find key quotes from two very interesting interviews. The first one is an interview of a mafia hitman, and the second one deals with a legal executioner. Of note is the fact that a key motivation for choosing their lines of work (killing people illegally, and killing people legally, respectively) was to be someone. That is, they wanted to be recognized by other people’s mental models as someone who is good at their job and whose line of work can command respect. I bolded the sections that show this in the most prominent way.
In other words, even people who would squarely belong to Slytherin are motivated by otherwise very normal, very human kinds of emotions and signaling behaviors. Perhaps what’s different is that for whatever reason the degree of moral disgust they experience concerning their choice of career is vastly out-weighted by the positive emotion they experience from their secure place in a robust competence hierarchy. Parallels to military, police, and political social roles are obvious. There are many people in the world whose internal affective triggers are configured in such a way that they will do anything to be someone. In turn, the world’s militaries, mafias, and slaughterhouses can always find people willing to cause immense suffering to sentient beings in exchange for crumbs of social recognition.
How do we steer people like this away from unethical lines of work? In light of the actual motivations behind their actions, here are four general approaches I think can work:
- Increase their moral disgust in response to causing suffering (cf. Clockwork Orange)
- Reduce the positive emotion associated with having a secure place in a competence hierarchy (cf. Rank Theory of Depression)
- Increase the positive emotion they associate with other’s happiness (cf. MDMA), and
- Make them believe/realize that we are all one consciousness (cf. Open Individualism, Peaceful Qualia, LSD for Criminals).
Which approach should be pursued? We shall come back to this in future articles.
Related: The Universal Plot: Part I – Consciousness vs. Pure Replicators, The Banality of Evil (David Pearce), Virtue Signaling (Geoffrey Miller), Book Review: Evolutionary Psychopathology and Radicalizing the Romanceless (Scott Alexander).
Susskind: My guest is a man named Joey. He by his own admission has murdered 38 people. He was a paid killer. A “hit man” for the mafia. Joey is the author of the recently published book “Killer” in which he describes his career and the world of organized crime. You’ve killed 38 people.
Joey: Yes, sir.
Susskind: When did you first kill somebody. How old were you?
Joey: I was 16 the first time I hit somebody in the head.
Susskind: How did that come to pass?
Joey: I was working numbers as a kid. I was a big, tough, kid. I became a controller very shortly. And one day a guy came to me and said “I got a job for you”. So what is it? “I want you to hit somebody in the head.” I looked at him. And said when do you want to know? “By tonight.” I said “ok, see you tonight”. So I thought it over. If I turned this guy down. All my life I will be scuffler. I’ll be looking to hustle, make a dollar somehow. If I take the job, I’m somebody, if I do it right. So I decided to take it. And then I was paid what I considered a fortune. And after I did the job guys who used to see me and just fluff me off, like “that’s just another kid walking around”, suddenly were “hi kid, how are you?”. All of a sudden I had new friends I didn’t know I had.
Susskind: How much were you paid?
Joey: Five thousand dollars.
Susskind: At 16?
Joey: That’s correct.
Susskind: How did you killed them?
Joey: I walked up behind them and shot them in the back of their head.
Susskind: Why did you kill them?
Joey: Because I was paid.
Susskind: Did you know what he did?
Joey: I didn’t ask. It was none of my business.
Susskind: Who hired you? Not the name of the man. I mean, was it an organization?
Joey: It was part of an organization, yes.
Susskind: Did they tell why he was going to be killed?
Susskind: You didn’t ask?
Joey: No. It was none of my business. You weren’t supposed to ask. They offer you a job. You take the job, you do it. You don’t take the job, you don’t do it. It is not my business to know, unless it happens to be somebody, where as you go by you get a reputation, and they are going to knock somebody down, and it is somebody you happen to know, well they tell you “you know them” and they give you the option. By the description of what they tell you, and you think you know the person, then you can say “I am not interested”.
Susskind: How did you feel when you killed somebody? The very first time.
Joey: I don’t know. I guess I was a little shook. But after that it didn’t bother me.
Susskind: Did your conscience hurt?
Susskind: Could you sleep?
Susskind: Did you ever wonder about the person, like they had a wife, or children…
Joey: I don’t worry about any of them. The same as if somebody comes after me. He ain’t gonna worry about me.
Susskind: Are there don’ts in killing people?
Joey: Yeah. You do not kill them in houses of worship. You do not kill them in their home, in front of their families. And you do not torture a man.
Susskind: Do you rob them?
Joey: No, you do not rob them.
Susskind: Do you torture, at all?
Susskind: You just do it discretely…
Joey: You just do your job and get out of there. You are not there to play games. You are not there to decide why he should die. Somebody already decided he is going to die. He ain’t have a chance to cross himself before you pull the trigger.
Susskind: What about their begging?
Joey: I don’t give them enough time to give the word “please” out. If they see me, it’s all over by the time they see me. If they don’t see me because I came up behind them, they never had a chance anyway.
Susskind: Do you think you have any ethics at all?
Joey: I have a lot of ethics. My word is my bond. That’s number one. I’m more honorable than anybody in the course of your life. That’s my ethics. If I say something will be done it will be done. If I make a promise I will keep it. If I tell you I will be at a certain place, I will be there. I will not break my word to you.
Susskind: You say in your book that women find you irresistible.
Joey: No, I didn’t say they find me irresistible.
Susskind: They find you sexually very attractive.
Joey: They find the fact of what I do very attractive.
Susskind: You tell them what you do?
Joey: No. I’ll give you an example. At a party one time after I had been acquitted, I was introduced to this girl, who incidentally comes from one of your better families. She couldn’t wait to jump into bed with me.
Susskind: Because you were a killer.
Joey: That’s correct.
Susskind: And that’s somehow alluring.
Joey: Yes, to her.
Susskind: Was she just a stunning exception?
Joey: No! When girls find that you deal in violence… in controlled violence, as I call it… the fact that you know you have taken a life. Or that you do this. That you have no compunctions about it… it has a strange fascination for them. Don’t ask me what it is. I don’t know!
Susskind: How long does this fascination last?
Joey: I don’t know… they do it two or three times and all of a sudden they look up and ask “where the hell am I?”
Intro: “Ashmawy” is the name given to an executioner in Egypt. We met with a retired “Ashmawy” who carried around 1,070 executions across his career.
Q: How did you become an executioner?
A: After I joined the army, I became part of the security forces. But two or three months after I joined the army, there was an execution. I watched as the executioner walked in with his two assistants and his subordinate officer, and he just commanded the whole room. It’s a job that earns people’s respect because it’s so unique. From that moment on, I knew it was something I wanted to do.
Q: What are the requirements needed to become an executioner?
A: The most important thing is maintaining your fitness and being a physically strong person. You also need to be observant, pray regularly and be close to God. You need to be over 30 or 40 years old because the job is tough and cruel. People’s minds begin to mature in their 30s and 40s, as they have many more life experiences compared to a young person. Sometimes, young men attend the executions, and they end up vomiting or fainting. And some of them are police officers!
Q: Did you love your job?
A: Of course, I did. I loved my job. I mean, some newspapers and magazines even wrote about how I was “in love with the noose”, or something like that. What they really meant was that I was so good at what I did, I became an innovator. And indeed I was innovative. The first time was difficult… I can’t deny that it was difficult. I couldn’t sleep for two days. There is usually a committee of 30 or 40 people watching. People with so much copper on their shoulders – lieutenants, security managers. And they are all watching you. I was scared, but not because someone was dying. I was scared of not doing my job properly.
Q: How did you feel executing someone?
A: It became a very normal thing for me… to the extent that during quiet times, I’d get upset because there were no executions to carry out. In the end it was just like meeting up with you now, or like going to see some friends and taking one to hang. That’s really it. No emotions involved.
Q: How do people treat you when they find out what your job was?
A: The job makes you famous. You can get someone out of trouble with the police. You can end a problem. A wise person in this position should be humble, and not take advantage of the position. Be humble about it and respect others. You will then find that people will respect you even more.