Tuesday, February 08, 2005

Psychologists: Are Mass-Murderers Evil?

That the existence of evil can even be a subject for debate is an indictment of the current state of psychology. How can you study the mind without grasping the central fact of volition? How can you judge what is psychologically "healthy" when you believe, as one psychiatrist quoted here says, that everything is subjective and that good and evil are "in the eye of the beholder"?

A few psychiatrists are beginning to argue that the concept of "evil" can be applied to mass-murderers. But will they also realize that morality also explains run-of-the-mill criminals—as shown by Stanton Samenow? And when will they grasp that volition and morality apply to normal life—and make the difference between an individual's misery and happiness?

Incidentally, note the odd—and possibly revealing—use of the first-person plural by whoever wrote the headline for this New York Times article.

"For the Worst of Us, the Diagnosis May Be 'Evil'," Benedict Carey, New York Times, 2/8/05

"In an effort to standardize what makes a crime particularly heinous, a group at New York University has been developing what it calls a depravity scale, which rates the horror of an act by the sum of its grim details. And a prominent personality expert at Columbia University has published a 22-level hierarchy of evil behavior, derived from detailed biographies of more than 500 violent criminals. He is now working on a book urging the profession not to shrink from thinking in terms of evil when appraising certain offenders, even if the E-word cannot be used as part of an official examination or diagnosis. 'We are talking about people who commit breathtaking acts, who do so repeatedly, who know what they're doing, and are doing it in peacetime' under no threat to themselves, said Dr. Michael Stone, the Columbia psychiatrist, who has examined several hundred killers.... 'We know from experience who these people are, and how they behave,' and it is time, he said, to give their behavior 'the proper appellation.'...

"Dr. Simon considers the notion of evil to be of no use to forensic psychiatry, in part because evil is ultimately in the eye of the beholder, shaped by political and cultural as well as religious values. The terrorists on Sept. 11 thought that they were serving God, he argues; those who kill people at abortion clinics also claim to be doing so.... 'When you start talking about evil, psychiatrists don't know anything more about it than anyone else,' Dr. Simon said. 'Our opinions might carry more weight, under the patina or authority of the profession, but the point is, you can call someone evil and so can I. So what? What does it add?' "