A man is in custody after allegedly attempting to enter the home of singer Miley Cyrus while concealing a pair of scissors. We don’t know much about this guy yet, nor do we know whether there’s any history of him trying to contact Cyrus before this. We also don’t know what the scissors were intended for — a pair of scissors is kind of a crude weapon, so while it’s certainly possible that he was intending to harm Cyrus, it’s also possible that he was intending to try to get a piece of Cyrus’ hair, or a piece of her clothing, bedding, etc. Regardless, this sounds like a dangerously-unstable guy, and Cyrus is better off with him in custody. This also sounds like a possible case of an “erotomanic” delusional disorder, as we’ve seen implicated in previous stalking cases involving singer Madonna and actress Halle Berry, in which the disordered individual becomes obsessed with someone, sometimes a celebrity, develops a delusion that they have a romantic relationship, and then becomes increasingly upset when the object of the affection doesn’t respond to them, often trying to get close to the person by engaging in “stalking” behavior, sometimes threatening the person, sometimes actually assaulting the person. That absolutely does not mean, however, that the alleged stalker should be found not-guilty-by-reason-of-insanity. If he knew what he was doing and that it was wrong (i.e. that it’s criminal), which I’ll bet he knew (even if he thinks they’re in love — he apparently said that he and Cyrus had been friends for years, possibly even married — I’ll bet he knew he wouldn’t have been allowed into Cyrus’ house if he had tried to get inside legitimately), then he can be delusional all day long and still be guilty. One of my first insanity-defense evaluations was of a stalker, and while I believed that the defendant had developed erotomanic delusions about the victim, it was crystal-clear that the defendant knew that the stalking behavior was criminal.
There’s been a lot of good reaction to and discussion of my recent posts about the psychological commonalities underlying political issues and about the substance vs. the style of the recent political convention speeches. I sometimes wish that I could reply to individual readers’/viewers’ requests to discuss or debate such issues, and I think it might be fun someday to devote some of my work time to a radio call-in show so that listeners can call in and debate issues with me individually for a few minutes at a time, but for right now, I find myself having to concentrate my work time on just getting my ideas out in front of as many people as possible, which means I don’t get to engage in one-on-one or small-group debates as often (unless of course they’re televised!). I’m always glad to know that I’ve stimulated discussion of how we ought to run our society though. A lot of my fellow psychologists (e.g. psychotherapists, organizational consultants) and lawyers (e.g. prosecutors, personal injury plaintiff’s lawyers, and criminal defense lawyers) went into these professions specifically so that they could spend relatively large amounts of time and try to make relatively large differences in the lives of a relatively small number of people throughout their careers. While I have huge respect for those folks, and I do some of that kind of work privately, my publicly-available work is generally done with a different purpose — to try to make relatively small differences in the lives of a relatively large number of people by helping lecture audiences, TV & radio audiences, readers, legislators, and voters to better understand three things that I think determine how we all ought to live together most peacefully and prosperously: 1) the nature of human behavior (that’s the psychology piece), 2) how it’s best regulated (that’s the law piece, which incorporates basic behaviorism), and 3) how its productivity is optimized (that’s where my MBA comes in).
With respect to my recent posts specifically, the debate over whether to prioritize the collective or the individual is as old as the human family. It’s been said that we each come into the world and leave the world alone, but that’s not really true. We may leave the world alone, but we’re a member of a community — dependent upon one even; literally connected to one (a family) — before we’re even born. For me, though, it’s not so much about what we’d like to see happen in our society but about what role, if any, the government should play in making it happen. I’ve written before, as you may know, about why people form governments in the first place and about the difference between roles that are necessarily government’s and roles that are necessarily society’s at large. It amazes me that many people still seem to equate government and society when a clear distinction between the two seems to have been recognized even by ancient societies, even — for those who believe in big government for Christian “social justice” reasons — by Jesus Christ. Given that I recently opined that we have many people receiving food stamps who don’t really need them, it may surprise you to learn, for example, that I actually believe in a society in which every hungry person has enough to eat every day. I just don’t believe that that’s an appropriate undertaking for the government. I believe it’s only an appropriate undertaking for the society at large. Why is that distinction so important? Practically speaking, because a government guarantee destroys motivation. As I’ve often said, if you stand out on a street corner in Beverly Hills offering free pizzas to anyone who “needs” one, you’ll give away all of your pizzas very quickly, and chances are not one recipient will have “needed” one. That’s how we taxpayers end up responsible for an unsustainable number of people’s sustenance. Behaviorally speaking, the fear of not being guaranteed a free lunch is necessary to motivate everyone who can obtain his/her own lunch (and their kids’ lunches) to actually do so. If we got to that point, then only those who were truly incapable of feeding themselves and their progeny (probably somewhere in the low single-digit percentages of our population) would remain in need of food assistance, and their needs could (and would — Americans, at large, have always been a very generous people by nature) be met more effectively, more efficiently, and more morally-meaningfully by voluntary charity than by government-coerced wealth redistribution (and that’s not to mention how dramatically the lives of those who currently accept unnecessary public assistance could be improved if they were required to become productive instead).
When it comes to debating whether to prioritize the collective or the individual, the paradoxical truth, I believe, is that prioritizing the individual is the way to optimize the outcome for the collective as well. The converse, however (that prioritizing the collective optimizes individual outcomes) is not true in my opinion. Even if you’re a Marxist who believes in taking “from each according to his ability” and giving “to each according to his need,” the only way to ever truly effectuate your ideal is through voluntary, intrinsically-motivated generosity (if you forcibly take “from each according to his ability,” you’re not going to get many people to even reveal their true productive potential, let alone actualize it — just look at Europe, where every country that has instituted Marxist/socialist economics has ended up with an under-productive labor force, making for an entire continent on which most countries’ economies rate somewhere between collapse and mediocrity). That’s why it’s so clear to me which direction we ought to take, assuming of course that we all want the best for our fellow citizens and for America as a whole. Whether you agree or disagree, thanks again, as always, to everyone who reads, shares, and discusses my work!