Monday, September 16, 2013

Idle Thoughts -- Erewhon, Evil, and Ted Bundy

It's clear to many people that Ted Bundy is the perfect example of evil. He killed people without showing any feeling about them,  just for the sake of killing.  But you have to ask yourself, what do we mean by evil? Bundy didn't present himself as a worshiper of Satan or any of the other excuses often made by perpetrators.  He simply said he killed because he enjoyed it. He said it was a very powerful experience and that he felt the people he killed were always a part of him. The way described it sounds almost like someone having a deep religious experience.

Although psychiatrists couldn't agree on exactly what was wrong with him, it is clear that something was was abnormal. He didn't feel things that normal people felt. He also obviously felt emotions that other people feel as connected with positive events, but in his mind, they were connected with murder.

It wasn't long ago when people, even doctors, were convinced that all manner of things were totally "in the head". In World War I many soldiers who broke down from the horrors of combat were charged with crimes. The British said they had a lack of moral fiber. By World War II we were beginning to understand that the human body can only take so much and the brains of these men were simply breaking down. These people did not lack moral fiber, what they lacked was a environment in which human beings could survive without falling apart.

I recently watched a  documentary in which in a neurophysiologist was studying MRIs of the brains of convicted killers. He actually went into prisons to test inmates to determine what might or might not be different about their physiology. He discovered that individuals who had killed cold bloodedly, not on impulse or temporary rage, had differences in brain structure from normal humans.

One day, as he was reviewing his data, he was looking at the scans of brains. He had not paid attention to the labels. He was looking at one and thought, there's a person who clearly shows the signs of a damaged brain that is likely to commit murder. He then looked at the tag. It was a scan he'd done of himself.

He carefully studied his own scan in regard to the others, and concluded that yes, his brain show the same signs that serial killers and cold-blooded murderers displayed. When he told this to his family, he explained to the viewers, his family laughed. They said that it didn't surprise them! They then talked with him about his childhood and said he had always seemed rather ruthless to them

It isn't that he was a horrible person. It's just that he could get obsessed about something and follow through, determined to make it happen. He concluded that there are structures in your brain which can malfunction, but if you have that function it only means you are disposed toward becoming a heartless criminal.  It does not mean that you are unable to resist.

Had he had a different upbringing, in an abusive family such as Ted Bundy's, he probably would have become another evil monster.  Instead he became a respected scientist and doctor.

In another study, Finnish researchers looked at the extensive records the socialistic government kept on adopted children.  Because this government is such a presence in people's lives, the records extended over decades and allowed them to look at children's entire lifespans.  In the case of identical twins separated at birth, researchers made a very interesting discovery which led with even more interesting conclusions.

What they found out was that children who came from families with high criminal rates had different results in their own lives depending on the families with which they were placed.  If a child from a family with a record of a high criminal rate was placed with a family with a high criminal rate, the child had an increased likelihood of becoming a criminal himself. If the child's twin was placed in a family with a low criminal rate, this genetically identical individual was no more like to become a criminal than anyone else.

They also discovered that the children from families with low criminal rates also had lower rates of criminality, no matter which type of family with which they were placed.  In other words, children who had both factors were likely to become criminals. Children with only one factor were not. Remember that the two factors are that the child comes from a broad family background which displays a high criminal rate and is raised in a family with a high criminal background.  If both factors apply, the children  are more likely to become a criminal.  It is important to remember that we are talking about identical twins. That is to say, individuals with the same genetic and prenatal background.

These two cases strongly suggest that while certain brain structures can predispose someone with a certain personality type to become dangerous and perceived as evil, the right circumstances in raising that individual also prevents them from actually falling into that pattern.  

I don't know if you can work this into your paper, but as a child I remember being convinced that no one could actually deliberately do the horrible things I heard about in the news.  I just couldn't stand the suffering and the grief which was being caused. But obviously the things were happening, so eventually I concluded the people who did this must simply be sick. Strangely enough, that emotional response on my part may now seems to be showing some signs of having a scientific basis.

It is not impossible to imagine a day when, using advanced scientific knowledge and techniques with are not yet available to us, we will be able to look at criminals not as lacking moral fiber, but as individuals with a diseased or broken brain.  Picture a person accused of murder in the future. If sufficient evidence indicates that he committed the crime, he may be forced to take the equivalent of a functional magnetic resonance imaging test which will display what is or is not wrong with his brain.

It is possible then that the equivalent of a pacemaker may be inserted into the brain, altering its structure. So criminals might one day not be punished, but  cured.  This also, strangely enough, reflects a humorous, satirical book called Erewhon.
The book was published by Samuel Butler in the late 1800s. Among many other satirical comments, he said that in this strange Utopia people regarded criminal activity as an illness while they regarded illness as an evil sinful act.  While I can't imagine getting a cold or catching the measles ever being regarded as sinful, he may have made an excellent point. It is possible that serious criminal activity is a combined function of problems with your brain's physiological nature added to a poor upbringing.

After all, it is not only combat fatigue which we now regard as physiological, schizophrenics who under some circumstances commit horrible crimes can now can be treated with medication. Families report cases of individuals who become normal, healthy members of society while they were on their medications deciding to stop taking them and then reverting to strangely disturbed individuals who might commit acts of evil.

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