Saturday, November 07, 2020

Treating Evil

Dalrymple is a retired English psychiatrist who worked in prisons and in inner-city Birmingham.  His career included some other interesting stops around the world. As I have worked moderately often with forensic patients and am familiar with the intersection between Corrections and Behavioral Health trying to determine levels of safety, I found his article in Law and Liberty Treating Evil to be interesting and accurate. 

The fact is, however, that any ignorant and stupid seventh century-minded extremist is more than a match for any number of psychologists, criminologists, sociologists, computer scientists, etc. While I cannot sympathize with his outlook to the slightest extent, in a sneaking or convoluted way, I am glad that he is up to the task. His ability so easily to deceive means that technocracy is still not triumphantly successful—as I hope that it never will be. Our humanity is preserved by the fact that so-called deradicalization is a charade. What Fejzulai needed was not a technical procedure, with a technical assessment as to whether or not it had worked, but thirty years or more in prison to cool his heels: for society’s sake, of course, rather for than his, though it is probable also that it would have saved his life.

I think of M Scott Peck's book People of the Lie, and his desire to understand evil diagnostically in hopes of treating it. That book has a serious flaw in its inability to separate out Borderline Personality Disorder from the evil he labels Malignant Narcissism, but it is otherwise good. (We are giving it to the girlfriend of our son in Norway for Christmas.) I also recall CS Lewis's "On the Humanitarian Theory of Punishment" which I recommend as well. However, things went wrong in significantly different ways than what Lewis imagined was possible, as you will see if you follow that link.  Whether that is a better or worse way of going wrong is a mixed picture. The piece is now more useful as background and general than applicable to forensic psychology either here or in Britain. 

From this it becomes apparent that even brilliant, thoughtful, and compassionate people have trouble sorting out all the threads of justice, mercy, forgiveness, responsibility, and discernment in "treating evil." We do not see into hearts, we do not see all ends, we have conflicting responsibilities. It may be that no one in a society should be expected to exhibit all of them, and we each have our roles to play.  I remain impressed by a principle expounded at an educational conference I attended in the late 1980s. The speaker was discussing how we determine whether a DSO (Dangerous Sexual Offender) could return to the community, and under what restrictions and controls. "The safety of the community is your primary concern.  The safety of the community is door he went through to be put away, and should be the only door by which he returns. If he is rehabilitated and no longer desires to harm others, it would solve all our problems, certainly.  It would be wonderful. But that is not your concern.  You cannot allow the question of whether an increase or decrease in freedom would help his rehabilitation or interfere with it, whether it will cause him to be encouraged or discouraged.  Let his attorney worry about his rights.  Let his priest worry about his forgiveness.  Let his therapist worry about his healing. You job is to evaluate safety, with every tool you have." 

As we see, political considerations can overrule strict safety considerations.  That has probably always been true, which is why the the powerful and their children are often not punished by the law.  We do better at that in America, but Hunter Biden is still going to skate.


james said...

"Deradicalization" here means changing someone's religion. I suspect the "psychologists, criminologists, sociologists, computer scientists" in charge of his "case" believe in no supernatural religion, and have no way of really meeting or understanding him. Another Muslim might--and even one of the Jews he hates would know more about responsibility to God, and how to talk with the jihadist, than a barrel-full of secular sociologists.

Assistant Village Idiot said...

Excellent point. Malcom Gladwell wrote an article for the New Yorker that the FBI and others involved with David Koresh and the Branch Davidians simply did not understand them, leading to increased conflict and eventually death.

Janet Reno had her own worldview that child molestation was everywhere and it was her job to stamp it out. Putting people in jail on shoddy evidence was how she had made her reputaion in Florida. She was determined to have this victory, leading to the massacre. It's good to bring this one up when discussing police responses. "Oh, you mean like Waco?"