Log in

No account? Create an account
06 March 2009 @ 08:16 am
Fan Essay: Light is not a sociopath  
Disclaimer: This is a fan essay, only for fun on my part with the hope of generating discussion. I'm well-aware that characters in any form of media are always open for interpretation, and this is just mine.


Light Yagami certainly has a reputation among the fandom, and that reputation isn't founded for pointlessly. The justice-toting boy-genius murdered thousands of people, most of which without so much as batting an eye. And he doesn't regret a single one. On the contrary, he probably views each as a job well done. It isn't just the killing, either. Light claims each victim with boyish enthusiasm and possesses a childish demeanor that leads him to be competitive to the point of taunting the condemned with a sinister smile and dancing on their grave (literally, if he gets worked up enough). Yes, that's the Light Yagami we know, our unforgettable protagonist of Death Note.

Light is a killer. Light has no disturbed childhood to blame. Light voluntarily kills and once he found the Death Note, probably wouldn't be happy doing anything else. On those facts alone, we could infer any number of similar conclusions. I've heard Light called, by the morally concerned, disturbed. The face of evil. Hopelessly insane. And, most common of all, sociopath. The label insinuates a total lack of everything we call humanity. The inability to feel guilt for any wrongdoing, and thus, a total lack of conscience. If we chose to conclude that, then Light Yagami isn't normal, he isn't like you or me.

But the aforementioned facts are not all there is to Light Yagami, and it's a slam to the complexity - and, I emphatically insist, realism - of his character to assume as such merely because he kills. 'Killer' and 'sociopath' are not interchangable words. The nature of the killing has to be taken into considerion. As far as the victim is concerned, murder is murder is murder, but not as far as the perpetrator is. The immediate fact of the matter is that sociopaths are, as a rule, self-focused and unable to empathize with the world or the people around him. This contradicts the very nature of Kira's legacy. Certainly there's the fact that Light was a bored, underchallenged genius in a society where he functioned solely on outward appearances and achievements, and certainly there's no doubt that a part of Light was perhaps waiting for the opportunity to test himself. But I honestly cannot conceive how this in any way discounts the fact that the reason Light took the opportunity he did was out of his zealous sense of idealism.

We know for a fact that Light has a societal conscience, beyond mere conditioning (if that were the case, Light wouldn't posess even half the passion that he does). The first chapter/first episode of the series is exclusively about Light's convictions. First, the shock at perhaps having actually taken a person's life, and then the total horror when he's tested it again and realized that he's killed people and yes, it's his fault. The anxiety he feels, that he's capable of feeling, does inexcusably deny him from the title of sociopath. Light is so disturbed by his actions that he can't eat, can't sleep, loses ten pounds in the first week and looks as though he's about to throw up. And finally, the resolution: doing this could make the world a better place. "Even if I sacrifice my mind and soul," Light states (even predicts). "The world is rotting. Someone has to do it." Light even acts initially under the impression that a Shinigami is going to come take his soul as soon as he's found, and when Ryuk arrives he's surprised that he's not going to be punished. Agree with his methods or not, it wouldn't be wrong to call Light's ambition selfless, wanting to "protect the weak" and "make a perfect world" without, as far as the text writes, asking in return for anything conventional such as money, sex, or political power (which also separates him from being a dictator, by definition).

Some argue the sincerity of Light's resolve as being only an excuse to jump at the chance to ease his boredom. I don't personally think that's fair, but nonetheless, the very fact that Light experiences such vivid anxiety before impulsively engaging in such risky behavior already excludes him from the title.

Now to get technical. "Sociopath" isn't a medical term, and though it has general uses it's not a proper diagnosis. When talking about sociopaths/psychopaths in the psychology field, most often we're talking about Antisocial Personality Disorder. The brief definition as listed in the DSM-IV is "The essential feature for the diagnosis is a pervasive pattern of disregard for, and violation of, the rights of others that begins in childhood or early adolescence and continues into adulthood." Sure, that's pretty vague and by that sentence alone, I'd agree without a doubt that Light is quick to violate the human rights of others, in particular the right to life (but let it be stated that the same can be said of L, Near and Mello). But the criteria goes beyong that. First, we can't quite call Light an APD at the beginning of the series - one has to be an adult aged at least 18. Furthermore, APDs ought to have a history of conduct disorder (breaking the law, inappropriate actions, truancy, running away from home, etc) since before the age of 15. I think it's safe to say that the Yagami's golden boy who so emphatically values the law hasn't even come close. Also, APDs are known for drug and alcohol abuse, which again, does not apply.

Now to the actual criteria.

1. Failure to conform to social norms with respect to lawful behaviors as indicated by repeatedly performing acts that are grounds for arrest;
2. Deceitfulness, as indicated by repeatedly lying, use of aliases, or conning others for personal profit or pleasure;
3. Impulsivity or failure to plan ahead;
4. Irritability and aggressiveness, as indicated by repeated physical fights or assaults;
5. Reckless disregard for safety of self or others;
6. Consistent irresponsibility, as indicated by repeated failure to sustain consistent work behavior or honor financial obligations;
7. Lack of remorse, as indicated by being indifferent to or rationalizing having hurt, mistreated, or stolen from another.

1. Light absolutely does conform to social norms and takes great pains to do so. And he has the utmost respect for the law - in fact, he created Kira in order to encourage others to uphold the law. Yes, murder does happen to be grounds for arrest, but with vigilante idealism in mind, we have to examine the circumstances. Nor does Light, to my memory, ever break the law in the series unless it specifically pertains to his goal of "making the world a better place". We don't see him raping, stealing, anything of the sort - and instd of acting indifferent toward such thing, he shows his disdain by declaring war against them.

2. Absolutely Light's a liar and deceitful to the max. He's able to act charming and naturally likable by everyone around him, while secretly manipulating them for his goals. But the critera would qualify if only Light's intent while lying was for the purpose of personal profit or pleasure. Unless we claim that Light is Kira only because he wants to have godlike power over other people, which defeats the purpose of his 'perfect, crime-free utopia' as a supposed goal, then there is nothing personal about his reasons. Lying and manipulaing out of what he deems necessity for the survival of his ideal can't be placed on the same level as lying because he can, and he wants something tangible out of it.

3. This is hugely characteristic of a sociopath, and Light "Ten Steps Ahead" Yagami would greatly resent being told he's impulsive. To disclaim, Light is perfectly capable of making impulsive, thoughtless decisions - the impetuous murder of Lind L. Tailor is the primary example here. But it's important not to alienate the facts, and examine Light from the perspective of a 17 year old boy before we try to apply him to abnormal psychology. If this is one of the few times that Light acts recklessly without considering the consequences, then he's still doing better than most male adolescents. In fact, I try to imagine another teenage boy finding the Death Note, and using it to kill the people he doesn't like without realizing that he could be caught, so we have to give Light credit for usually thinking things through.

4. Light's cool and collected by nature, and what irritability he expresses is stress induced from the mind-consuming task of delivering justice while dodging every policing organization in the world. Light's not prone to physical aggression either, at least not abnormally so. The only person he initiates fighting with is L, and I would be reluctant to call that anything other than male testosterone in all its dysfunctional glory.

5. Disregard for safety of self and others? Very possibly. He's willing to sacrifice others in a heartbeat if it means maintaining Kira's reign. He even puts himself in very risky positions, such as revealing himself to Naomi, letting himself be incarcerated by L, arranging to be stood up by an armed drug addict on a bus, and, which I think takes the cake, standing right behind Raye Penber and threatening him in the flesh. It'd be incorrect to say that Light doesn't have guts. But the problem I have with the actual criteria here is that the actions aren't reckless. They're well-planned to the best of Light's ability. He spends plenty of time contemplating absolutely every tiny detail.

6. We have no reason to believe that Light is irresponsible. Despite being Kira, Light ensures that he performs all of his duties to the best of his abilities. He takes time to study, get into a prestigious university, go to work, diligently manage his relationships. This in no way applies to Light.

7. Finally, the main concern many raise about Light: his lack of remorse. I agree, Light does not feel remorse for any of his victims (with the possible exception of the first two). Nor does Light often express humanly concern for other people in general. Yet, again, there's situational factors to take into consideration. Light is a vigilante. With every fiber of his being, he believes that he's doing the right thing. He could even be compared to a soldier fighting some war against an evil, intangible force like terrorism. If he's killing for righteous reasons, the fact that he has no regrets is far different from a serial killer who has just made a hobby of slicing up innocents. A sociopath/ASP person may know that their actions are wrong from conditioning and textbook definitions, but they just wouldn't care, wouldn't be capable of caring. Contrarily, a vigilante believes he's doing the right thing and cares about doing the right thing - whether or not we morally assess the cause and agree is irrelevant. I would also like to bring up the vital nature of Light's murders. The fact that he kills by writing down a name in a notebook makes the murder method totally detached. He doesn't have to be there in front of his victim, which makes it significantly different from killing with a knife or a gun. Light's mentality while killing may be no different than the mentality of a teenage boy playing a video game - it lacks the harsh, griddy realism that should be the process of taking another human's life. And if he's just a kid knocking off the baddies in the comfort of his room with his metaphorical controller, the Death Note, how can he feel remorse?

In order to succeed as Kira and ultimately create his perfect, sinless utopia, Light knew from the start that he would have to be willing to sacrifice everything and everyone for this greater cause. In addition to his own "mind and soul", as he put, he had to be able to kill even a loved one with hardly a moment's notice. Some accuse Light of being selfish in that he'd let others die before himself - though on one hand, I most certainly agree, but to look at it from his perspective, if he dies, Kira dies with him. Again, Kira is worth more than any one person because Kira is the collective hope of the entire world. For this reason, I do think that Light did deliberately cram his feelings into some tiny cavern of his brain to not be bothered, and thus becomes cold and calculating throughout the series - until the startling contrast of losing his memories of Kira, in which a caring, noble-hearted Light appears who is at the opposite end of the spectrum - no goal is worth moral sacrifice. Amnesia!Light also prove that Light is capable of valuing others. Unlike a sociopath, who simply cannot.

Not to mention that, feelings pushed aside or not, Kira!Light does care about people. Ohba deliberately states in HTR13 that Light not only loves his family, but even has friends and cares about humanity as a whole. Is this demonstrated in the manga? There is a lot of debate over whether or not Light's performance at Soichiro's death was sincere or acted (I happen to think it's a twisted mixture of both) but there is one person in the series whom Light is unable to sacrifice, even knowing the consequences (which he knew were dire, and proved to be, ultimately becoming a major contribution to his downfall): Sayu Yagami. Light is seen helping his sister with her homework from the beginning of the series, taking the time to be with her even though he could have just as easily shut her away. Not to mention Sayu is extremely fond of him, too. During arc 2, Sayu is kidnapped by Mello's mafia gang. Light's shock at this announcement isn't merely surprise. He says her name with shaky uncertainty, now weighed with the decision: to give in to the kidnapper's demands and relinquish a precious Death Note, or to kill his sister and eliminate any leeway they might have on her. In the end, Light cannot bring himself to do it. Sure, he makes an excuse about the murder's trail may point to him, but this is feeble in comparison to the risk of giving the Death Note to the enemy. Not only is this a risk because with a Death Note in criminal hands, it can only be imagined what havoc could possibly occur, but also with another willing group to test the Death Note, any number of discoveries could be found (including the 13 day rule, or about the Shinigami, etc... crucial information that Mello does ascertain and give to Near). Light's intelligent enough to know this. But Light can't kill Sayu.

Would I diagnose Light with any personality disorders? I don't feel quite confident that Light's arrogant enough to be considered for Narcissistic Personality Disorder. He certainly thinks he's special (believing that the Death Note came to him for a purpose, that Ryuk chose him, that only he can be Kira), he's exploitative of others.. but does he require excessive admiration, or is it simply given? Is he that arrogant, or is he just cognizant of how exceptionally capable he actually is? Personally, I've always thought that Light suffered from depression prior to picking up the Death Note, part of which made him so vulnerable toward it, but that's an essay for another day.

viola_canina on March 6th, 2009 04:39 pm (UTC)
Thank you for sharing this essay with us! Your thoughts are always interesting to read. I don't think that Light has APD; I'm not really a big expert on mental disorders, but yes, as your post shows, it doesn't seem like a suitable diagnosis. But hey, depression sounds like a very interesting theory! I'd love to read about that as well. It sounds quite believable and it actually explains his lack of interest in... things. So... yes, I agree that Light is not really a classic sociopath. I completely disagree with Kira's policy and his world is my worst nightmare, but that's another question; it doesn't mean that he actually has APD, it means that he has... something else maybe. xD;;;
亜莉尊: Lightserria on March 7th, 2009 01:32 pm (UTC)
Well, thanks for reading! :) I just can't get over how fascinating Light is, but half of my interest in him is that I think he is "normal", to use the term very loosely, and I always thought Death Note was supposed to show what a regular kid can become if given such a terrible power. I also completely disagree with Kira's policy, as I'm 100% against the death penalty, but to be honest I still admire Light's resolve.
waftimahwaftimah on March 6th, 2009 05:14 pm (UTC)
Very interesting analysis! Light's one of my favorite characters; there's so many interpretations...personally, I tend to think boredom and ego complex also contributed in creating Kira, but I can totally agree that too many fans overlook Light's idealism and simply label him as a sociopath. Thanks for putting this up, and I'd love to read that depression essay another day.
亜莉尊: Lightserria on March 7th, 2009 04:20 pm (UTC)
Oh, I agree, an integral part of Light's character is that he had nothing in his life to properly stimulate him until the Death Note dropped into his life. I just don't think that means he wasn't good-intentioned - boredom was just fuel to the fire imo! Thanks for reading. :)
randomaicoholic: Hakuba/Lightrandomaicoholic on March 6th, 2009 05:45 pm (UTC)
Let's said that I agree with you on the whole picture, even if I don't follow you in each details of the argumentation.
But well, I think it's just minors differences of opinions, regarding the meaning that we could gives to some words.

For example, the word selfless doesn't makes a bit of sense for me, and from my point of view, Light's acts are purely selfish...
...but since, for me, being selfish is not a bad thing, morally speaking, and since I consider that an altruist Saint or a hero putting his life in sacrifice for an ideal are parangons of selfishness...XD
I know it could sound weird, but to be clearer, any values(moral or not) suppose a desire as its ground(not only as a conditiopn of effectivess but as a condition of existence as well), so after cautious analyze and reflexion, we would always understand that an idealist is someone who cares only for one thing, his own desires and feelings...like every human beings(or living beings, or even beings, no matter their nature...)

That's why...
"Agree with his methods or not, it wouldn't be wrong to call Light's ambition selfless, wanting to "protect the weak" and "make a perfect world" without, as far as the text writes, asking in return for anything conventional such as money, sex, or political power (which also separates him from being a dictator, by definition)."
...I'm sceptical with your formulation.
It's not that Light doesn't care for power, it's more that he doesn't care for glory, or to be more precise, the appearance of power or the approbation of others...
(From this last point of view, we could said that Light is purely selfish since he doesn't need to be comforted by others's approval, when a dictator filled with vanity, who needs to feels his power being comfirmed by the opinions of his subject or servant, is selfless... The dictator's self doesn't stand by itself, it needs other self as a ground, contrary to Light's self)
Now, I don't think that Light would loves power for the sake of power. As you've wonderfully explained, he had values and purpose, BUT I think that Light enjoy the power granted to him by the death note per se, not only for the effectiveness of the death note as a tool for his goal.
I would said that it's a subtle balance between two desires which are not mutually exclusive, but are not identical.
For example, compare Light with a genius scientist who enjoy scientific research for science's sake, but enjoys as well his glory as a skilled scientist.

Or if you want another example, his fight with L is a step in the realization of its goal, but in the same time, I thinks he's enjoying the pleasure granted by a competition with a worthy opponent.
(Just thinks to his word before to kills Taylor "What a pity, L, if you were more skilled, we could have more fun together...")
On this area, L is not so different, and we could ponders if his words in the Death note sequel(when he compares his job with video games) are serious or not...

And regarding arrogance...Well, in my opinion, Light is narcissic...but his narcissism is counter-balanced by his values, or to be clearer, how his values are modeling his conception of an human being worth of praise, and pride.

But well, like I've said, it's a matters of details, on the whole, I agree with you, Light is not a sociopath, he cares for the others, had moral values(or a sense of good and evil), and could feel guilt.

Oh, and thanks for your analyze of Light's feelings toward Sayu, it help me to put things into perspective since, before to read your essay, I would have thought that Light's love for his sister couldn't counter-balance his desire of justice... I was obviously wrong now that I thinks more carefully to his behaviour in the second arc.
亜莉尊: Lightserria on March 7th, 2009 04:30 pm (UTC)
Perhaps we're looking at a difference in definition for "selfish/selfless"? To me, selfless is acting in a way that you believe is morally good with the purpose of benefiting others without expecting any reward in return, and by that standard I'd say that Kira is definitely selfless. Arrogant, perhaps, in his assuming that he has the right to judge human life, but he does genuinely want to make the world a better place for everyone. He could possibly be considered selfish if you look at the situation on a smaller picture - he was willing to sacrifice the people close to him for his own goals - but I think in the big picture, Light's actually altruistic. Theoretically, at least, the ultimate joy he derives is from succeeding as Kira and lowering the crime rate, thus protecting people. So his satisfaction comes out of (as he sees it, anyway) doing good.

Right, I agree that Light does care for power, at least his own power, though not necessarily for glory. My point was that Light doesn't give any indication that he wants political power, as in, the ability to micromanage peoples' lives through government. All he wants to do is stamp out the wicked through divine methods. He's not attempting world domination, he doesn't want to enslave the human race, he wants to create a utopia of good people.

(And I suppose it's possible to call Light selfish in that he doesn't care what other people think about Kira, doesn't ask for anyone's approval... but I think we might go around in circles, when it's probably easier to say that it's not a black and white issue? ^^)

I also agree that Light puts aside noble intentions in favor of competition. Light's not a saint, he's human. An adolescent boy who may be well-meaning but will throw a punch if he gets worked up enough. I'm just saying that Light's not a sociopath, he's not psychologically abnormal. He's a vivid illustration of what may happen if you give an idealistic teenager the power over human life.

Thank you very much for reading, and the thoughtful comments! :)
(no subject) - randomaicoholic on March 7th, 2009 08:28 pm (UTC) (Expand)
Fiammattafusakugyoku on March 6th, 2009 06:57 pm (UTC)
Oh, the million-dollar question... I think people call Light a sociopath idiomatically rather than as a diagnosable psychological disorder, as in "Light cackles insanely to himself, he's totally got some loose screws." But an analysis like this is certainly helpful =)

You probably expected this from me, but may I add this essay (fully credited, of course) to DeathNotes (http://deathnotes.kefi.org)? The site's been neglected for a while, but I hope to be as complete as possible =) Thank you!
亜莉尊: Lightserria on March 7th, 2009 04:33 pm (UTC)
Oh, I see what you mean, and I can understand that. I myself have even playfully called Light a psychopath, and I have worse nicknames for the rest of the cast. ;) But at the same time, I've gotten into a number of discussions with people who are willing to immediately dismiss him as a real sociopath, in all seriousness, a master criminal willing to do anything dirty just because he wants to and has no conscience.. and I just think that's completely inaccurate, and an unfair dismissal of Light Yagami as a person.

:) Sure, I don't mind.
Amanuensis: could you spell that?amanuensis1 on March 6th, 2009 08:28 pm (UTC)
I love these psychological discussions, thank you for this! I agree it's hard to classify Light. I define Light's journey as a quick descent into a controlled madness, but as to naming his madness, it's tricky.
亜莉尊: Lightserria on March 7th, 2009 04:35 pm (UTC)
Thanks! I guess what impresses me the most about Death Note is the masterfully woven characters that I feel could be really people, minus all their quirks and super-human intelligence, maybe. But as far as the psychology goes, I think the real complexity of how their brain works makes them difficult to easily label.
Инари: Calminari_laikvendi on March 6th, 2009 09:35 pm (UTC)
I can agree in general but I have two points to object. First, we cannot say that Light didn't kill Sayu because of his brotherly love and all that follows, beacuse compared to the previous kidnapping of police's head this action was not made public, and if Sayu died suddenly it would be very suspicious.

Secondly, and that's IMHO: Light is not vigilante. The point is vigilante opposes the system and does not try to create a system of his own, and surely Light is lawful (although he states his own laws). That's only an opinion, for I have issues in all this vigilantism thing %)
亜莉尊: Lightserria on March 7th, 2009 04:40 pm (UTC)
I know that that was Light's excuse - and I'm not even doubting that he justified it that way to himself. Nor can I claim with total certainty that Light spared Sayu out of love. But I think a rational Light would have weighed the consequences, and I think he would have concluded that allowing a Death Note into enemy hands would be the worst possible scenario. If he had written down Sayu's name as death by suicide, that could've been passed off as coincidence and normal tragedy. At any rate, regardless of the outcome, I just meant to point out that Light does exhibit feeling for his sister, if only illustrated by his reluctance to write her name (as an argument to the claim that he doesn't care about anyone).

We might define vigilante differently - I consider a vigilante to be anyone who takes the law into their own hands in order to act for revolutionary/ideological reasons. Light definitely is dishing out vigilante justice, considering he's killing off bad guys. But maybe it's a loose word?

Thanks for reading!! :) And bringing up the points, too.
Sadiemegalomaniageek on March 7th, 2009 07:04 am (UTC)
Great essay. As a Psych major, I do get kind of irked when antisocial personality disorder is thrown around too recklessly. Being a callous dick at times does not equal being a sociopath. You've presented a lot of great points here. He's very well-adapted socially, and even as a murderer I really don't see Light as the kind of guy who could, say, walk up and stab somebody to death.
It's possible that Light might have Narcissistic Personality Disorder (I've even argued this in a paper where the assignment was to describe and diagnose a fictional character). But he's not a psychopath. And NPD is still stretching it.
亜莉尊: Lightserria on March 7th, 2009 04:48 pm (UTC)
Thanks! I'm a psych major, too, and my parents are psychologists - so I've always been interested in seeing what does and doesn't apply to various fictional characters. And antisocial personality disorder is a very specific disorder that, as you said, shouldn't be slapped on anyone thoughtlessly. Being a bastard, even killing people and not losing sleep over it doesn't necessarily make a sociopath. Especially in Light's case. Personally, I don't even see him as almost a sociopath. Not even close, taking the circumstances into consideration.

The only time easily envision Light killing someone with his bare hands is during the final confrontation with Near, when he's snapped. Desperation could definitely lead most people to murder... it's not that Light's incapable, it's that his way of killing is so vastly unconventional.

NPD is more believable, but I still am not sure how much Light needs recognition and admiration from others, or if he's so arrogant as opposed to just knows that he's a genius (which obviously he is). He's certainly got pride, but he's never seen fishing for compliments or bragging with exaggeration, which I associate with NPD. Still, he does believe he's pretty special...I dunno, though, I haven't thought about that one too in-depth.
(no subject) - megalomaniageek on March 7th, 2009 08:17 pm (UTC) (Expand)
(no subject) - serria on March 10th, 2009 01:20 am (UTC) (Expand)
I'm a Space Rockstar: Grimmer -- Happy Juicescaramantula on March 7th, 2009 09:29 am (UTC)
I love you.
亜莉尊: Lightserria on March 7th, 2009 04:49 pm (UTC)
I love you too! (is that a Monster icon? <3)
(no subject) - scaramantula on March 8th, 2009 03:45 am (UTC) (Expand)
Cirrus: Mello/hug selfboldflame on March 7th, 2009 12:19 pm (UTC)

You have no idea how long I've looked for someone who can do this. Put out their thoughts about Light, so articulately, and me actually agree with them - I agree with pretty much everything you said.

And someone else who views Light's reaction at Soichiro's death bed as a mixture of both normal views!

Thank you so much for producing this, it's very interesting. :D
亜莉尊: Lightserria on March 7th, 2009 04:53 pm (UTC)
Aww, I'm glad you liked it!

I think there's a lot of desperation coming from Light at Soichiro's death. I've no doubt that Light does care deeply for his father, but he has an agenda: to get rid of Mello, and his father's the only one who knows his name. It isn't like this is some detail, either, considering that Mello's influence leads to Light's downfall in the end, Light doubtlessly knows he needs the name. Because he's well-aware of his mission, he doesn't want to seem suspicious to the others, so habitually he's thinking about appearances. But that doesn't detract from the heartache, the sense of loss, and trying to justify his father's death as an unfortunate sacrifice.. I think there's a lot of complexity in that scene. It's beautiful and incredibly tragic. >
(no subject) - megalomaniageek on March 7th, 2009 08:22 pm (UTC) (Expand)
Splintered Starstarsplinter on March 7th, 2009 05:35 pm (UTC)
Yay for fan essays! *has a few of her own planned*

Yeah, Light's not a sociopath. He's interesting *because* he's not a sociopath. That was one of the things that stuck me immediately about him and fascinated me from the beginning - Light was a good person who chose what he did, and (imo) chose wrongly. He made a conscious choice between what he saw as good and what he saw as evil - and if he's a sociopath, that choice is meaningless. If he were just blank evil, then he wouldn't be near as much fun.

Light does lack empathy, but that doesn't mean he's a sociopath. Light is a brilliant, egocentric CHILD who has never found anyone he can relate to. It happens to a lot of smart kids - they never find anyone they can connect with, and spend so much time in their own head they barely register that other people are there. He fairs better than most kids his age (myself included, cough cough) but he doesn't really know how to connect to anyone else on a personal level. *coughexceptforLcoughcough* It's not that he can't care about others - but he hasn't quite clued into the fact that most of them are *real*.

He also tends to thinks of the masses of humanity as theoretical. Most people do this, of course - it's hard for any one person to really comprehend the sheer number of people that exist, especially if you don't meet most of them. 8 billion is just a number, and the faces in a geography book are just symbols. For Light, who is already disconnected from humanity by his genius, this effect is worsened - and even more so by the Death Note, which reduces criminals - human beings - to a few syllables and a photograph. The most chilling of the early deaths was the the one he witnessed.

Later, when killing so many people had made him even more detached (a deadening of empathy almost always is associated with killing, as far as I've seen) watching Raye die didn't faze him at all. It's odd that he let Raye see him, but that's a subject for an essay of my own. (Light does like to gloat, you know.)

So yes. Light displays some of the symptoms, and certainly gets closer to it near the end of his life, he is not a sociopath. If nothing else, a sociopath would see no need to justify what he was doing to himself. (And Light blames no one else for what he's done. It's refreshing, in a twisted way.)


亜莉尊: Lightserria on March 10th, 2009 12:19 am (UTC)
Ooh, you should totally write out some fan essays! Honestly, sometimes I enjoy reading them more than reading fanfiction. And that's saying a lot. :P

And that's exactly where I'm going from - what makes Light so incredibly fascinating is that he ISN'T a sociopath. Not that a sociopathic character can't be interesting, and I certainly don't mean to disclaim people with APD. But when it comes to such a crime as Light's, the complexity of it would diminish. He would be a sociopath and that would be that, without much more to say about it. We could just say "oh, there's something wrong with Light", alienate him away from us, and now he's a cliche bad guy. But if Light is someone we can actually relate to, an idealistic teenager like you or me, suddenly the tables turn. Suddenly, we know that Light's story should make us think about who we ourselves are and what we might do. What we might learn from Light's example.

Rather than say Light is void of empathy, I prefer to put it that he has empathy but he doesn't bother to use it. When he's killing people, think about it, it be dangerous to use it. He has one resolve: rid the world of bad guys. But if he humanizes every name her writes, if he thinks about the victim's hopes and dreams.. he might not be able to go through with it. That's why, I believe, at the beginning he says "Would anyone else be able to go through with it? No, I'm the only one." I associate that line as meaning "I know I'll be able to unflinchingly do what I have to do, and I can't expect anyone else to stand firm".

Interesting point, and I agree. I think it's hard for anyone to think of humanity as anything but theoretical, a concept, especially a teenager who probably hasn't even left Japan in his life. Light has lead a disconnected life, feeling isolated, so he was especially vulnerable to being sucked into a god's battle of vigilantism.

Thanks so much for reading it! :)
(Deleted comment)
亜莉尊: Lightserria on March 10th, 2009 12:36 am (UTC)
Oh man, I agree - well, sort of. I think characters with mental disorders can be absolutely fascinating to think about. But it does bug me when people throw around disorders to easily and slap them on everyone, especially when they aren't really informed about all the disorder entails. To me, Light's definitely not a sociopath. L definitely doesn't have autism. But I would be interested in looking at a character like Near with autism, or Teru Mikami with OCD - not conclusively, but it can be interesting when making educated analysis.

I can only see Light killing without the Death Note if it was an absolutely desperate situation (but to be fair, anyone is probably capable of killing like that). Part of what makes him Kira is having the godly power to not get his hands dirty... and if 17 year old Light was presented with a knife and told to stab people, I can't even come close to imagining it. There's a lot that makes up Kira, and the kind of person Light is and the circumstances are part of it.

Come to think of it, why didn't Light have a gun at the end? I never even thought about it. Even if he wasn't a cop, he could doubtlessly get a hold of one, and that'd be a great back up plan. I know he was extremely confident and all, but Light normally can't be too safe...

Thanks for reading!
(Deleted comment)
(no subject) - serria on March 10th, 2009 01:41 am (UTC) (Expand)
(no subject) - megalomaniageek on March 10th, 2009 05:51 am (UTC) (Expand)
(no subject) - nesshelper on July 8th, 2011 06:28 am (UTC) (Expand)
shadowform on April 22nd, 2009 10:00 am (UTC)
Bit late here, but I am glad you wrote this because sociopathy (ASPD/psychopathy) is an issue I've devoted a fair amount of time researching myself, although not in the context of this show. The label of 'sociopath' is applied extremely loosely, in part because it is not a psychological term itself, and that lack of clarity tends to confuse the issue. Both ASPD and psychopathy tend to be generally lumped under the concept of sociopathy, not ASPD alone, and that should be taken into consideration because the criteria for psychopathy are just distinct enough to be highly relevant to this situation.

Psychopathy is not a binary matter (I'd argue that personality disorders in general aren't binary; a person could exhibit fewer symptoms or symptoms of lesser magnitude than a different person while still qualifying for the overall diagnosis), and Light falls quite nicely under the 'aggressive narcissism' portions of the psychopathy scale (also called the core personality traits of psychopathy by the PCL-R checklist):

* Glibness/superficial charm
* Grandiose sense of self-worth
* Pathological lying
* Conning/manipulative
* Lack of remorse or guilt
* Shallow affect
* Callous/lack of empathy
* Failure to accept responsibility for own actions

Naturally not every single factor will fully or necessarily apply to any single person (people and circumstances vary so broadly that fitting anyone perfectly into a single mold would be impossible), but it would be difficult to argue that he doesn't display a fair number of traits.
shadowform on April 22nd, 2009 10:00 am (UTC)
Broadly speaking, Light is not normal. It is not standard social behavior to murder hundreds of people in order to create an idealized version of the world and rule over it. No, not all killers display any significant degree of sociopathy--but a significant percentage of crimes are drive by specific emotion such as jealousy or rage. Serial killers, on the other hand, often tend to be driven by other motivations and I find it probable that well more than half could accurately be considered sociopaths in terms of either ASPD or psychopathy (but probably the former since someone with ASPD is more likely to get caught due to impulsivity and inability to plan ahead, which is why Light's story is more interesting to me than that of an irrational and impulsive killer would be).

Neither Light's idealism nor his slowly developing god complex qualify as emotional, because every step was so calculated. Yes, he spoke passionately about his idealism, but charm and charisma is a defining characteristic of psychopathy, so this is expected. It also seems to me that he took the entire thing upon himself because he grew corrupted by power, believed that no one else could succeed, and went about it as a responsibility, not because the killing was specifically driven by emotion. For the most part there was no emotion there, and that shallow affect (not complete lack of emotion, merely muted emotion) or lack of display is a classic sign. The god complex seems to have been born of his arrogance, a trait he clearly possessed since his claim at the very beginning that he wanted to rule over his utopia, which certainly qualifies as having a grandiose sense of self-worth.

I think part of the issue is that the definition for 'sociopath' is so broad and there are certainly multiple types, from the charismatic and manipulative charmer (psychopath) to the reckless and impulsive deviant (ASPD). There is no accurate count, but the statistics that have been cited claim that 1% or greater of the population would qualify--that's 1 in every 100 people, on average, and that's quite a lot. That includes everyday individuals who are seemingly perfectly normal and employ their charm and manipulation to succeed in their line of work or in their personal life. Many may never be in a situation where they or anyone else will ever consciously recognize their sociopathy. If such people qualify, Light most definitely does.

I do agree that the term 'sociopath' is thrown around fairly haphazardly, and I'm sure most people who employ it casually don't really bother to investigate, but I also do think that in this situation it does apply, in terms of psychopathy rather than ASPD.
give me time. and a crayon.the_gabih on May 30th, 2009 05:36 pm (UTC)
GACK. Stupid, stupid LJ- I had a lovely long debate-y comment all ready to post, and it says 'form not valid'.

Anyway- I do agree with you that he's not APD, and you've argued the point very well. Having said that, as Kira (and it's debatable whether or not his innocent self is the same), he does exhibit roughly 3/4 of the Hare's Psychopathy Checklist symptoms (superficial charm, grandiose sense of self-worth, manipulative, proneness to boredom, failure to take responsibility for own actions etc.), and even if he didn't actually have a disorder to begin with, I do think some of his worse traits were probably made more dominant by the Death Note, to the point where some of them could have been said to be disorders.

But yeah- it was a good essay, with some interesting points raised.
(Anonymous) on June 8th, 2009 04:56 am (UTC)
You forget, however, that it is indeed selfish to sacrifice others for one's own ideals. This "utopia" is the world as L. wishes, and hence it is his selfish desire to shape the world (whether or not others benefit from such shaping) that drives his actions.

Furthermore, it is sufficient for a diagnosis of mild antisocial tendencies to satsify at least three of your listed criteria. As such, L. is most assuredly at least some what sociopathic.

Nevertheless, I can relate to the character in that in the same circumstance I would do almost the exact same thing. So, whilst he does tend somewhat towards sociopathy, he is not a "full-blown sociopath" in the vein of the famed mass-murdering necrophiliac cannibals. In fact, most people have, to some extent, a trace of the antisocial in their personality, and the fact that it took such extreme and unlikely circumstances for L. to display his rather mild sociopathy would indicate taht he is, in fact, no more or less antisocial than a lot of people, including myself.
Speedy Hobbit- she's a runner, rebel and a stunnerspeedyhobbit on June 12th, 2009 06:23 am (UTC)
You know, I think you're onto something with the depression theory. See, I was beginning to come up with a germ of the idea myself, so I googled "Light Yagami depression" to see what others had to say about the matter. This is how I found this insightful essay. I especially was impressed by how you debunked the "sociopath" label via listing the various tenets of one and emphasizing with specific examples how Light certainly is *not* one.

The things from Death Note that made me think depression were he following:
1. The use of "bored out of his mind" in the summary on all of the back jackets, before "all that changes." Does boredom have any connotations of depression in Japanese? Furthermore and in a way that strengthened my hypothesis, I used to suffer from it myself, and boredom, among other things, was what I attributed to my melancholy.
2. That despondent, introspective expression on Light's face the first time he is shown in volume 1 of the manga.
3. The fact that Light dropped out of activities he used to love, such as tennis. The excuse that he wanted to focus on his studies just does not seem to hold water. I don't get the impression that he would have had problems managing his time because of tennis. Depression, however, would make him lose interest to the point of hanging up his racket.
4. Although others seem to like him, Light seems very detached from his high school classmates, even those he walks with sometimes when going home.
5. He explicitly said that the Death Note has made him feel much, much happier than he ever has after he is warned hat Death Notes often bring misfortune to their users.

I would love to see your essay on the depression theory!