AUDIO: “Duality” from The Art of Minimalism by De Wolfe Music Library. Composer: Troy Banarzi

Have you ever thought about killing someone? I have. I’ve imagined it a number of times, and with a number of different people. Or, if not actually killing the particular bastard who’s inspired my wrath, at the very least I imagine dislocating his jaw with a crushing roundhouse knuckle sandwich that sends him reeling to the pavement. I think of cursing him all the way down for his malicious, backstabbing actions. In these fantasies I am Cassius Clay standing over Sonny Liston in their 1965 title bout, taunting my opponent to “get up and fight, sucker” after that first-round knockout. I am Billy Jack cutting down racist ruffians who dare to bully innocent Native American youths, burning a slow fuse that escalates into an explosive rage of marshal arts justice—“I just go berserk.” It’s almost embarrassing to admit it, but such fantasies have brought me enormous pleasure as I imagine the feeling of justice being served up to those who have done me, and others, wrong. Of course, I’ve never done anything like this—nor would I unless I or a loved one were directly threatened with grievous bodily harm—but I can identify with Mark Twain when he quipped, “I didn’t attend the funeral, but I sent a nice letter saying I approved of it.”

I am not alone. And neither are you if you answered the opening question in the affirmative. In fact, the evolutionary psychologist David Buss, in his 2005 book The Murderer Next Door: Why the Mind Is Designed to Kill, reports that most people have harbored homicidal fantasies at some point in their lives. Who are these homicidal fantasists? “Not the gang members or troubled runaways one might expect to express violent rage,” Buss explained, but “intelligent, well-scrubbed, mostly middle-class kids.” The results shocked him. “Nothing had prepared me for the outpouring of murderous thoughts my students reported,” which led him to suspect “that actual homicides were just the tip of the deep psychological iceberg of murder. Could actual murder be only the most flagrant outcome of a fundamental human drive to kill?”