The Psychopath Dilemma

photograph of the justices, cropped to show Ju...
Antonin Scalia
Anders Breivik

David Barash, University of Washington psychologist: “What to do with psychopaths? They’re the Anders Breivik’s, the Ted Bundy’s, the people who kill without remorse, sometimes for sport, profit, out of boredom, or for no particular reason at all, their despicable actions lubricated by a literally inhuman lack of empathy. And, as I noted earlier, there is no known treatment for psychopathy.

For all of my oft-expressed lefty political positions (on war – especially nuclear weapons – social justice, environmental protection, health care, etc.) the more I know about psychopathy the more readily my opinion on one issue at least converges with such hanging judges as the right-wing lunatic Antonin Scalia. Thus, even though I am against the death penalty generally, believing that the state shouldn’t kill people in an effort to demonstrate that people shouldn’t kill people, I’m not so sure I feel that way when it comes to clearly diagnosed, murderous psychopaths.

Given that psychopaths appear to derive their behavior from nervous systems that function differently than the rest of us, they raise an interesting question: Can such people be held legally responsible for their actions? To tell the truth, I don’t really care. To my mind, psychopaths are so dangerous (and intractable) that I’m much less concerned about their rights than about our rights to be protected from their depredations.” (via The Chronicle of Higher Education).

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