Like so many, the gangster king Al “Scarface” Capone counted himself among the large army of misunderstood people. Today, the former Chicago mafia godfather would probably say he doesn’t feel valued. “I spent the best years of my life providing others with light pleasures and a good time,” he once complained in an interview. In return, he is insulted and forced to live the life of a hunted man. So instead of thanking Capone for providing alcohol, drinking establishments, and prostitutes, the public passed judgment on a few dozen murders, extortions, gang warfare, and the occasional use of the baseball bat off the field. Poor Al!
Capone cultivated a self-image as a good person. In interviews, the man was a skilled PR manager in his own right, although he admitted to being rough on occasion. But he repeatedly emphasized that he had far more good sides than bad sides. Capone is anything but an exception, but rather the rule, now write psychologists led by Charlotte Cease and William Hart from the University of Alabama. Even the most violent perpetrators generally do not see themselves as reprehensible people, according to the researchers in the specialist journal Personality and Individual Differences.
This form of self-glossing is probably one of the human default settings. In their study, the team led by Cease and Hart observed that subjects with profound character traits rated themselves as slightly less good compared to friendlier people. But those who, according to personality tests, were more prone to narcissism, egoistic manipulation, psychopathy or sadism still attested to significantly more good than bad aspects of their self. So if some realistic self-knowledge shone into the dark minds, then only in a very limited light intensity.
Psychologists argue that ethical self-praise comes from several sources. The self-image as a good person is a basic egoistic need that, if necessary, is created or maintained with the help of motivated thinking. For example, there are almost always other people who are even worse and therefore a welcome benchmark for comparison: Look, these people are even more dishonest, meaner and more brutal. We are harmless compared to that! In addition, harsh, antisocial behavior remains a very rare exception, say the psychologists. Even criminals like Al Capone find in their memories significantly more incidents in which they were good instead of violent. Capone, for example, is said to have been a loyal and generous person. This is another way to polish your ethical self.
The old question of how someone like that can sleep at night or look in the mirror is no longer necessary. Even criminals manage to convincingly gloss over their ego. It’s like a related field: the real idiot really doesn’t know that he’s a idiot.