Thoughts vs. behaviors 12/30/06
To follow up on my last post, people sometimes ask me whether they should feel sorry for mentally-ill people who commit crimes, such as pedophiles. My answer requires a distinction between thoughts and behaviors. Clearly, if an adult wants to have sex with a little kid, that thought indicates a sick mind, and we can all feel sorry about that. If, however, the individual then acts on the sick thought, that action requires conscious choice in virtually all if not all cases. The thought may be sick, but the behavior is evil (see previous post). Think of the cases you hear about in the media — you almost never hear about a child molester walking in the front door of an elementary school and trying to grab kids. They almost always try to lure kids to places where they can molest them without being caught. This shows that their minds are working well enough to plan (which means they could also distinguish right from wrong if they wanted to) and that they are able to resist their desires to molest (which means they could continue resisting indefinitely if they wanted to). They may not always be able to control their thoughts, but they can control their behaviors. So, they can be pitied for having pedophilia, but they deserve punishment if they act on it. Think of it this way: Assuming you’re a normal adult, and you’re sexually attracted to other adults, that attraction doesn’t force you to go out and rape an adult, and if you did that, you’d be guilty of harming that adult voluntarily, right? Well, that same kind of attraction that you feel for other adults is the kind of attraction that a pedophile feels for little kids, and yes, that’s sick, but the pedophile’s attraction to children does not force him to go out and rape a child any more than your attraction to adults forces you to rape an adult, so if he does that (and any sex with a child is rape because a child isn’t competent to consent to it under the law), he’s guilty of harming that child voluntarily, see? By the way, in my opinion, pedophilia cannot be “cured,” nor can psychology/psychiatry do much to “rehabilitate” child molesters (i.e. teach them to inhibit their urges and enable them to “reintegrate” safely into society). These people just need to be kept out of society permanently because the ongoing risk that they pose to children, as I see it, is simply too high to allow them another opportunity. I’ll be the first to admit that the mental health professions have failed in this area, and I’ll give you a funny, but serious, example from my own work: A judge once asked me to evaluate a parolee and determine whether he could benefit from a third “treatment” program for sexual abusers of children. The parolee — I kid you not — showed up for his evaluation driving an ice cream truck (you know, the kind with the bell on top that goes up and down residential streets so kids can run out and buy popsicles). On the issue of whether treatment works for these people, that says it all.
Sick vs. “evil” 12/28/06
I’m often asked if people who intentionally hurt others are ever truly “evil” or if they’re always suffering from some kind of mental disorder. I do believe that there are “evil” people in the world, and you don’t have to be religious for that term to have meaning to you. Evil happens when a person either harms someone else knowing that it’s wrong to do it or harms someone else without thinking rationally about it to determine whether it’s right or wrong, choosing to act out of hatred, rage, jealousy, physical urges, etc. Both types happen. Sometimes people absolutely know that what they want to do is wrong, but they choose to do it anyway, simply to get what they want. Other times, people’s brains are functioning well enough to figure out that what they want to do is wrong, but they choose not to think about it and do it anyway, again to get what they want. To reject rationality and do harm based solely on emotion or physiology is to reject one’s humanity and reduce oneself to an animal, and that’s evil as I see it. I do believe that there are some cases in which people are truly unable to differentiate right from wrong intellectually, but those cases are rare and mainly involve people who are so sick that they don’t even know what they’re doing — not people who just have diseased thoughts or desires and choose to act on them, but people whose senses truly fail to relay correct information about what’s going on around them. I know it might be more comforting if everyone who did bad things to others had an illness, because then maybe someday psychology and psychiatry could prevent most if not all serious crimes by curing the illnesses. Unfortunately, in my experience, that’s just not how it is.
Right on Ramsey suspect 12/27/06
I’ve been asked why I said from the very beginning that John Mark Karr was not the killer in the JonBenet Ramsey case. For a while, I was one of the few people in the media to state the possibility (and the hope, because otherwise there would likely have been additional victims over the years) that Karr was delusional and a pedophile but not a murderous molester (a pedophile is sexually attracted to little kids but may not actually molest, for example, confining his fantasies to child porn, which Karr allegedly used and which is also criminal behavior). It was his behavior that made me question his involvement in the case. When he got off the plane from Thailand, he looked more like one of the desperate housewives on the red carpet at the Emmy Awards than a guilty, ashamed molester/killer. Instead of shying away from the cameras, he looked as if he almost wanted to make sure they got him from every angle — not the behavior I would have expected had he actually been guilty. Also, his statements (which are a form of behavior) were “hedging” statements, in which he tried to associate himself with the event without confessing to any crime — again, not the behavior of a truly remorseful guy. I never said the guy’s mentally healthy or that he couldn’t have victimized other kids in his life, just that he may have been delusional where JonBenet Ramsey was concerned, as we now know was the case. The fact that the authorities in California have since been unable to make child porn charges against Karr stick, however (leaving him free to roam the streets of the U.S.A.), is still a travesty in my opinion.