Gnomicon 164

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Introduction to Gnomica.

Gnomicon  164
Saturday 20 October 2012
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If you commit a big crime then you are crazy,
and the more heinous the crime the crazier you must be.
Therefore you are not responsible, and nothing is your fault.
Peggy Noonan (7 Sep 1950 – )

This speech writer for President Reagan and columnist can be counted on to come up with the provocative aperçu, as here, and here she gets at the (to my way of thinking) infamous M’Naghten Rule aka ‘insanity defense’ aka ‘diminished capacity defense.’  I’m not a lawyer, but this one strikes the layman in me as a classic example of what one might designate the judicial world’s ouroboros (the ‘tail eater’):  the cyclically repetitive consumer of itself – law designed to punish crime gradually attenuating (eating) itself to such an extent that its very validation to punish criminality becomes moot and ceases to exist.

If you are crazy while committing a crime – no matter how horrific – you are not responsible for what you did, and therefore, if not exactly innocent (I mean, after all, you did decapitate the woman and then you did make an omelet with her eyes and then you did eat this culinary pièce de resistance) at least not guilty … that is, innocent ‘by reason of insanity’.  You’d think the worse the crime the more harsh the punishment, and that would be true up to a point — after which tipping point, apparently, the worse the crime the more lenient the punishment.  Thus, while our lethal chef above might get free room and board in a ‘caring environment’ until ‘declared sane’, the moron who holds up a gas station and gets out the door with a few hundred franklins might end up doing the max in a max environment that is anything but ‘caring’.

Go figure!

It seems to me you could argue rather persuasively that a “moron who holds up a gas station and gets out the door with a few hundred franklins” is almost by definition crazy.  But somehow I don’t think the M’Naghten Rule would apply there.

The problem is, as so often in our dealings with ourselves and others, a question of definitions.  What is ‘crazy’?  What is ‘sane’?  How should we (i.e., society aka court-appointed psychiatrists) define these terms? What rigorously consistent criteria for adjudicating one way or another in these matters does the psychiatric jury apply?  Is an exculpatory designation of ‘insane’ of great comfort to the husband, parents and children of the murdered and partly ingested woman above?

I think not.

Further, that same jury may subsequently declare the now ‘legally innocent’ perp ‘sane’, and, then, will he still be kept locked up – even in a ‘caring environment’?  Or let go, a free man?  I think that would prove even less thrilling to the husband, parents and children of the murdered and partly ingested woman above.  Society may like to applaud itself for its compassionate understanding … towards the monster, but is that compassionate to all those affected by the monster’s deadly actions?  Why in heaven’s name privilege the complicitous monster over his innocent victims?

OK, there’s my brief – and you have every right to ask me what I would do about “crazy” criminals.

Well, on the dubious proposition that you can even make distinctions between “crazy” and “non-crazy” criminals, I don’t think “crazy” criminals should be treated any differently from “non-crazy” criminals.  As with that to my mind slippery-slope (e.g., why is someone who commits unspeakable crime in a drunken fog not also innocent by reason of diminished capacity?) and utterly noxious notion of “hate crime” (what the perpetrator was thinking when she committed the crime!! – obviously it was something like, ‘There you go, you miserable son-of-a-bitch! Happy now?’), crime is crime and somebody beaten up or killed is just as killed or beaten up regardless of what was in the “crazy” or “non-crazy” mind of the dastardly doer of the dreadful deed.

Does that make me a juridical neanderthal?

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