Wednesday, October 27, 2010

Guilty By Reason of Insanity

"After a minute or two I again started to rise. 'Don't worry, Marie. I'll be back. We'll have plenty of time to talk,' I reassured her.

Marie continued to stare at me, but was having trouble speaking. Her eyes, peering out through their monstrous frames, grew larger, as if they were trying to express what her lips could not. Once more, in soft, pleading tones, Marie repeated, 'Don't go. There's something I have to tell you.'

I remained in my seat and waited... A minute. Two minutes. Three minutes went by. I snuck a look at my watch. It was well past five and the investigator was waiting...

I rose. 'Don't worry, Marie, I'll be back soon...' I picked up my papers and walked to the door, turning my back on Marie. I placed my hand on the door-knob and started to turn it.

Suddenly from behind me came a voice the timbre of which I shall never forget. It was deep. It was male. And it had the menacing quality of a lion about to strike. Low, guttural came the familiar words, 'Don't go. There's something I have to tell you.' I could not move, even to turn around. My hand was fixed to the doorknob, but I could feel the fine hairs on my arms rise, and I shivered. Then slowly, so as not to ruffle the beast behind me, I turned and stared."

Wow. Another one of those books whose subject matter makes up for any defects in writing. The prose is quite readable, if nothing to write home about, but I found myself gripped as if by Gladwell the entire time I was reading this tremendous, horrific book.

First, a few cautions: there is cussing, as there are a number of actual interviews transcribed. The worldview is overly modern: there appears to be no such thing as an actual villain, except those that damaged the poor murderers. Had they been her subjects, I'm sure she would have found out what damaged them, and she would have been equally correct. But this mentality that is willing to condemn no one actually condemns everyone: had the abusers of the abusive parents been condemned, the parents would have been spared, and by extension, the killers themselves, and at the far end, their victims. With the killers condemned, the chain is broken at whatever link is given to us to find, and I will apologetically say that at least more potential victims are spared, though I know that this is no consolation to the link of the chain waiting on death row. True justice will be done at the very end. We who condemn them here must say that "there, but for the grace of God..." And, condemn them we must.

Dr. Lewis was one of a team of two doctors that interviewed a number of death row inmates as a result of their work with juvenile delinquents. Her findings are simply appalling. How much damage can one person suffer before being shattered beyond repair, even perhaps beyond culpability? At what point does the victim become the villain? And how many fathers will be judged guilty for the murders that their sons committed? Is there a point at which a human nature is so warped by abuse that its perpetuation of it is simply a foregone conclusion? And if so, to what extent should they be held accountable?

Forgive my apparent irreverence, but the God that told the cripple to pick up his bed and walk also put him on that bed in the first place. And there were many cripples who received no miraculous healing. Is it true that God makes men cripples and bids them walk? Yes. But He alone knows how to judge actions in light of circumstances; He alone knows the intricacies of cause and effect with regard to the human mind and soul.

This exploration of the minds of killers--those who have raped nuns, tortured and murdered girls barely in their teens, even killed apparently for the sheer pleasure of killing--destroyed any idea that I had regarding a simple, straight-forward culpability. I think God's declaration "Whoever sheds man's blood, by man shall his blood be shed" would often be an act of mercy for the killer, as well as for the family of the victim and any future victim that may have been. The torture endured by these killers is staggering. I have heard of torture, but had never seen so direct a correlation between the desolate capacity of humans for cruelty and the sheer level of destruction and death that results from it.

Now, as to the primary topic of the book, and my chief interest in it.

Those of you who know my dad know that he is both one of the sweetest and scariest men out there, and, incongruous as these may seem, they dwell fully within the same man. How if they were magnified? Multiplied, even? Would they reach a point where the violence that can both endure and engender the extremes of cruelty in this world and the kindness that would alleviate them with bleeding hands would finally be irreconcilable, would finally tear away from each other, each taking portions of the man with them? This seems to have been the case with many, many of these killers; this seems to be the foundation of what is known as Multiple Personality Disorder (also more recently called Dissociative Identity Disorder): the "host," unable to cope with the sheer horror of his life, withdraws, and "alters," aspects of the host's personality--often violence and toughness--magnified into actual, individual people appear. People with different names, values, expressions, voices (including accents and vocabularies), interests, genders, diseases (such as diabetes), memories and visual acuity: people who can "take the pain" that their often despised host couldn't, people who hate the other alters sharing the host's body, people that are confident of their survival regardless of the death of the host, people that are, in one appalling instance, even willing to receive the lethal injection in the host's place, to protect him. After all, she knew that he (the host) wasn't the one who had committed the crime. She knew who had. Truly separate, distinct, individual people. The body and the brain are the only things shared.

Dr. Lewis' point in all of this is obviously the exculpation of her patients. And one cannot help but sympathize with her, though I must apologetically disagree. It is a shattering book. Horrifically informative, and very much worth the read.

Sunday, October 24, 2010

A Fondness For Sedley

The Black ArrowThe Black Arrow by Robert Louis Stevenson

My rating: 4 of 5 stars

Ah, the great fun of fiction. This was just a great read, though I felt a bit like I was taking a compressed and selective course of Great British Isles Poets. We had cross dressing heroines falling in love with their oblivious male companions ("Go then and take her. But henceforth direct thy feet where thou and I may never meet," or, "Is that the meaning of accost?" Or even, "Dost thou live by thy music?" "No sir, I live by the church." "Art thou a churchman?" "No such matter sir; I do live by the church, for I do live at my house, and my house doth stand by the church."). Then we have the heroes dressing up as friars (if anyone speaks to you, just say "Pax vobiscum," cross them and keep walking), the vilification of the ever-vilified Richard Crookback, and on and on. But it was so much fun! "Well, I suppose that marriage is like death, and comes to all men."

Truly, a delightful read. Light, fun, historically inaccurate but in a way not easily noticed. Just an all-around great time. Highly recommended.

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