A sense of entitlement

By Legal Eagle

Here in Melbourne, I’ve been rather freaked out by the trial and sentencing of Arthur Freeman, a man who threw his four-year-old daughter Darcey off the Westgate Bridge on what was to be her first day of school on 29 January 2009. For non-Melburnians, the Westgate Bridge is a massive expanse spanning the Yarra River which links the city with the Western Suburbs.

Freeman was estranged from the mother of three children, Peta Barnes. Barnes gave evidence that she rang Freeman when he did not arrive at school with the children, and he told her, “Say goodbye to your children.” Darcey’s two brothers, aged 2 and 6, were in the car at the time. Darcey fell 58 metres from the bridge and died of her injuries later that day. Heartbreakingly, Darcey’s older brother, Ben, told police in an interview which was played at the trial that he pleaded with his father to go back and get Darcey after the incident: “I said ‘go back and get her. Darcey can’t swim’. But he kept on driving. He didn’t go back and get her.”

Freeman pleaded not guilty to his daughter’s murder by reason of mental impairment, saying that he was in a dissociative state at the time. After a difficult period of deliberation, the jury convicted Freeman of murder, deciding that he was in possession of his mental faculties at the time when he threw his daughter off the bridge. In sentencing Freeman, Coghlan J noted that there were eight aggravating factors (at [17] of the sentence):

(1) This was the killing of an innocent child.

(2) The circumstances of the killing were horrible. The throwing of your four year old daughter from a bridge more than 50 metres above the ground could not be more horrible. What Darcey’s last thoughts might have been does not bear thinking about, and her death must have been a painful and protracted one.

(3) Your conduct is a most fundamental breach of trust and it is an attack on the institution of the family which is so dear to the community.

(4) The killing was in the presence of your son, Benjamin, who was then six, and your son, Jack, who was two. The community hopes Jack will be too young to remember.

(5) Any motive which existed for the killing had nothing to do with the innocent victim. It can only be concluded that you used your daughter in an attempt to hurt your former wife as profoundly as possible.

(6) You chose a place for the commission of your crime which was remarkably public and which would have the most dramatic impact.

(7) It follows that you brought the broader community into this case in a way that has been rarely, if ever, seen before. It offends our collective conscience.

(8) The threats to your wife on the telephone were in the presence of your children, who were in a position to have heard them.

He also noted at [51]:

Your behaviour through the whole of this period of your life was self-centred, with a strong tendency to blame others. You are yet to say sorry to anyone for what you have done.

One just struggles to think of how Freeman could possibly do this to his child.

The problem, it seems to me, is that Freeman had a sense of entitlement – his marriage had broken down, it was his wife’s ‘fault’, and he was entitled to punish her for this. I think that men are more likely to have this sense of entitlement, particularly if they are of a traditional patriarchal bent of mind, but that it is not a solely male problem. Of course, there are women who kill their children in the context of marital problems too, the case of Donna Fitchett being a recent Victorian example of this phenomenon. I am a layperson, not a psychologist, but I wonder if it is also linked to narcissistic personality disorder, which involves a focus on the self, and one’s own personal adequacy, power, prestige and vanity. It is the only way in which I can think that a person could possibly kill their own child – they are so focused on the wrongs done to them and the need to revenge those wrongs, that they cease to care about doing wrongs to others, and simply believe that they are justified in doing what they do.

Age journalist Karen Kissane wrote an interesting article on the Freeman case, noting the following:

I wrestled with this question [of how people could kill those they love] when writing a book about a wealthy, middle-class marriage in which a man called James Ramage killed his wife Julie after she separated from him. I talked to lawyers, psychologists, marriage counsellors, domestic violence advisers – people who might be able to shed light on what makes love turn to this.

One referred me to a book by British forensic psychoanalyst Arthur Hyatt-Williams, who worked with violent criminals in and out of prisons for many years. In Cruelty, violence and murder: Understanding the criminal mind, Hyatt-Williams said all the homicidal patients he studied were bogged down in a state of mind called ”persecutory anxiety”.

With depressive anxiety, the main feeling is self-blame. The person asks himself what he has done to bring his troubles upon himself. But an individual can tolerate only a certain amount of blame. If it becomes too intense, the feeling of responsibility that goes with depressive anxiety switches to a paranoid feeling of being ”got at”. Then the person slides into persecutory anxiety.

Hyatt-Williams says this is a ”primitive response to threat, internal or external, actual or supposed. It is a state of mind in which aggrievement is rampant and responsibility is muted. Action to silence, quell, obliterate or annihilate supposed persecution is felt to be totally justifiable. The victim or other people are felt to be responsible for the persecution.”

In other words, everything bad in the person’s life is seen to be someone else’s fault, and that someone is seen as deserving punishment.

Men with a history of violence are the ones most likely to flip into this state. But anyone who lends a shoulder to an angry man, or woman, venting savage blame or threats about their lost relationship could take note of the advice of Christopher Grace, a psychologist working with violent men. He told me, of his typical separated client, ”As long as he’s remorseful, safety is less of a concern. But when he moves out of remorse and gets into this total isolation, this tunnel-thinking pattern, where he thinks, ‘I’m the victim here, and she’s conspired for this, and I’ve lost all my family’ – then he can be very impulsive. He’s very dangerous.

”A lot of my work is to educate him that this is a possibility … ‘How are you going to protect yourself if this happens? How are you going to protect your family?’ ”

Grace said the men should get some sleep, not drink too much, not spend too much time on their own, and talk to Men’s Referral Service telephone counsellors.

This made me think of the attitudes we have to parties in a relationship when the relationship breaks down. As I have said in a previous post, for some reason, people seem to want to take sides. One party is Wrong, one party is Right. But I do not think this attitude is fair. Usually, things are more complex than that.

Here is a hypothetical. A wife comes home to find her husband in flagrante delicto with another woman. She is furious and shocked, and punches the man in the nose, making it bleed. Then, in a rage, she cuts all the crotches out of his clothes and scratches his beloved car. I would submit that society tends to find the woman’s behaviour understandable. Hey, it’s a stock standard in comedy sketches, and we’re supposed to laugh uproariously at the unfortunate, unfaithful man and his misfortune.

Indeed, in a recent case in Queensland, a magistrate said that the actions of a wronged woman were understandable:

A woman who trashed her partner’s caravan because she caught him with another woman has been told her actions were “understandable”.

Ipswich Magistrates Court heard Kerry Lee Grantham and her partner had split up but had been trying to reconcile their relationship, however she discovered him at a female friend’s house.

Grantham then went to her partner’s caravan and sprayed shaving cream over his clothes and bed sheets, cut the cord of his kettle, damaged his television, ripped the showerhead from the wall, poured food on his bed and punctured the tyres on a horse trailer.

“She said she did it because she believed she was being cheated on and she was angry,” Prosecutor Sergeant Jo Colston said.

Magistrate Donna MacCallum told Grantham: “It mightn’t have been the best thing to do but it’s understandable.”

How does your impression of this scenario change if it is a man who finds his wife in bed with another man, and attacks his wife? The woman is unlikely to get much sympathy from anyone. Nonetheless, I think we tend to view that situation with less levity, first, because generally women are less physically strong than men and might be more seriously injured, and secondly, because some men can react very violently in these circumstances. This is why the criminal law once had the defence of ‘provocation’, which essentially means that if a man finds his partner in bed with someone else and kills her, murder can be reduced to manslaughter on the basis that the man was ‘provoked’ by the woman’s infidelity. In the traditional version of the defence (which required a sudden loss of control) the cases all involve men (as detailed here). Provocation was difficult to extend to situations where a woman kills her husband. I know of no cases where provocation has been claimed, and where a woman has killed her husband after finding him in bed with another woman, or where a woman has killed a woman who made sexual advances to her or her partner. Killings by women in this category of case invariably occur when the husband is abusive, and the wife has to plan and wait for a moment when the man is vulnerable. Thus there is not a sudden loss of control. It is essentially a gendered defence in its original form. The defence was abolished in 2005 in Victoria after the Ramage case mentioned by Kissane in the piece above, where Ramage attempted to raise the defence on the basis that his wife had provoked him into killing her by falling in love with someone else and proposing to leave him.

Personally, I believe that it has to be made clear that there is no entitlement to react violently and hurt other persons or property when one discovers that one’s relationship has broken down, or that one’s partner has been unfaithful. It is understandable that people feel angry and wish to hurt their partner. But it must be made very, very clear by the law that there is no entitlement to invade the rights of other persons or property. I think that Queensland magistrate was downright wrong to condone any such behaviour. After all, I am a private lawyer, and I strongly believe that our private rights and obligations keep society going.

Now, of course there are situations when a relationship goes bad, when you feel like you’ve been wronged and that you would like to revenge yourself against the person. I think most of us have been there. At certain points in my life, I might have fantasized about putting burning paper bags filled with poo on people’s door steps, or about tipping acid on their lawn to spell out nasty words. I think that is natural and understandable. However, and this is the important thing, I have never acted on any impulse I might have had. And if I had acted on any impulse, I would have acted in breach of the other person’s personal and property rights. While one might recognise my impulses, and perhaps even sympathise with me, I do not think it is an excuse or a defence for my actions. Condoning violence or property damage of any kind is the thin edge of the wedge with this kind of stuff. Freeman’s actions are the hideous thick edge of the wedge – the result of believing that one has an inalienable right to assuage one’ s hurt and revenge one’s self on one’s partner by hurting her, her property or her children. Such a sense of entitlement is dangerous and should not be encouraged by the law or by society.

44 Comments

  1. Posted April 19, 2011 at 11:21 pm | Permalink

    I think that is natural and understandable. However, and this is the important thing, I have never acted on any impulse I might have had

    Sharing a house with my ex some years after we’d split (she’d got herself pregnant and homeless), she accused me of wanting her dead. My response – “I topped toxicology. I topped pathology. If I really wanted you dead, you’d be dead. Yet you breathe, so I’ll take your accusation as a compliment.”

    (It’s the poisons that don’t start acting for a few years that were the most tempting, but I passed the test.)

    The problem though, for the various disorders in the spectrum/differential-diagnosis is what we do with such types? Do we do the fMRIs then fix them with drugs or scalpels? Or do we look at the tragedy of the West Gate Bridge as the price we pay for our corporations to be full of go-getter managers?

    High-functioning sociopaths present a much bigger problem to notions of freedoms in society, and the legal system, than true psychopaths.

  2. Movius
    Posted April 20, 2011 at 1:01 am | Permalink

    Forensic Psychoanalyst? such a thing exists?

    “In hindsight, it is clear that this man had the Myers-Briggs type of a Killer.”

  3. Posted April 20, 2011 at 1:27 am | Permalink

    Dave, I have real problems with this ‘people who are successful in business must be narcissicistic, or psychopaths’, or whatever. The more I read of this stuff, the flimsier seems its empirical basis (I am dangerously close to advocating the abolition of all psychological defences, having seen so many of them tried on in court, and having noted how many of them are simply horseshit).

    And if you think that someone wanting to get ahead in trade or commerce is the same as chucking a four year old off the Westgate Bridge, then you have a broken moral compass.

  4. kvd
    Posted April 20, 2011 at 4:33 am | Permalink

    I think that Queensland magistrate was downright wrong to condone any such behaviour.

    Don’t know how the magistrate’s phrase “it’s understandable” became “condone”. Also, I can’t see how LE’s last para, containing “While one might recognise my impulses, and perhaps even sympathise with me” is any different to the magistrate’s comment.

    I accept LE’s point that the resulting behaviour is always wrong, but what is the problem, within the law, by at least acknowledging the impulse causing the behaviour? To me, that just seems to deny reality – unless you are arguing for some sort of system based on “motiveless” crime?.

    And SL I think you were way too harsh on Dave’s comment, with which I think I agree. He did not use the words you ‘quoted’ in your first sentence, nor did he equate the motives of every successful businessman with the Westgate Bridge killer; if he had, then perhaps your “broken moral compass” might apply.

  5. conrad
    Posted April 20, 2011 at 5:24 am | Permalink

    “I am dangerously close to advocating the abolition of all psychological defences, having seen so many of them tried on in court, and having noted how many of them are simply horseshit”

    I can never remember the case (no doubt other people here are more likely to be able to than me! If not, I’ll ask someone at work that will), but it’s actually extremely hard to use psychological defense anymore since one person got it too easily. This caused a whole bunch of changes in when one can plead that and hope to win — although interestingly one guy got it yesterday after stabbing his father to death.

    Interestingly, there are a number of studies now that look at violent offender populations, and what you find is that there is a lot of undiagnosed frontal damage around — If I remember correctly, I think more than half of them have it. Given this, some people probably really do have real impairments, but it’s hard to know what to do with violent people with no impulse control (or indeed what constitues “enough” impairment), and jail obviously trumps letting people with such damage reoffend.

  6. kvd
    Posted April 20, 2011 at 6:32 am | Permalink

    Thank you LE; your point is now much clearer to this layman.

  7. Posted April 20, 2011 at 8:02 am | Permalink

    [email protected]: I did *not* say the successful business folk “must” have these personality disorders. I didn’t say “price you pay for successful businesses” but for businesses to be “full of go-getter managers” – a not-so-subtle difference.

    High-functioning personality disorders (NPDs, BPD, etc) with insight into others (skilled manipulators) and the lack of empathy (even enjoying causing misery to others) is however, a common feature to murderers and “corporate psychopaths”, with shared fMRI patterns.

    This hardwiring makes it easy for people with this pathology to climb the greasy pole, there is individual success, but they are actually bad for the business (or government department) – team morale and consequently productivity suffers, blame for stuffups is shifted rather than problems fixed (the “blame the innocent, promote the guilty” thing)… Yet those with the pathology are great at getting seniority.

    The hardwired pathology certainly permits the crime – without the pathology, the crime would not have happened – but the *only* thing moderating individuals with this spectrum of pathology is what they think they can or cannot get away with – so in this case, the pathology demands harsh sentencing, a massive deterrent, rather than the typical process of pathology leading to a lower sentence.

    The contributing-factor, the necessary but not sufficient condition, hardwired in an individual, that should result in higher sentences? That’s counter to common wisdom about sentencing philosophy. I’ve got conflicting feelings about all possible approaches.

    The “price you pay” is because these pathologies increase individual fitness, and in a proportion of affected individuals, lead to tragedies, just as white-blood cell cancers are the price we pay for a highly adaptive immune system.

    I hope that as companies (and government agencies) recognize the damage “corporate psychopaths” do to long-term sustainability of the business, the rewards to people with these pathologies will decrease, and they’ll breed less.

    But the awareness of individuals, being able to recognize the high-functioning destructive personality disorders before having a number of kids with them, is more difficult. Compulsory bastard-awareness training in schools? Compulsory invasive expensive psych assessments of divorcing couples and heavy-handed interventions for many that won’t go on the commit crimes? Universal fMRI tests and neutering those who fail the tests for enough activity in empathy circuits? Even I shudder at the nanny-state and costs required to cut incidence of these tragedies significantly, anytime soon.

  8. Posted April 20, 2011 at 8:04 am | Permalink

    Oops – meant [email protected]… Can the gods fix?

  9. Posted April 20, 2011 at 9:45 am | Permalink

    I have always had a problem with the “First Wives’ Club” mentality (and revenge in general, I suppose). I don’t think it’s funny or clever. And I think you’re right – it’s the thin end of a wedge that has dreadful, horrifying behaviour at its thick end.

    I’ve been dumped – in fact I was once dumped in favour of one of my exes! – and have, as LE says, fantasised about what I might do. But I didn’t do it. I was miserable, and even maybe a bit depressed, for a while, but you get over it and you get on.

    Maybe this means I don’t understand what ‘real love’ is. Well, if it leads people to this kind of owning behaviour and entitlement, I’m glad I don’t. The kind of love I’ve experienced is fine for me.

  10. Patrick
    Posted April 20, 2011 at 11:36 am | Permalink

    DB, thanks for the clarification, but with respect I think you’ve clarified that it is complete bullshit.

    SL didn’t go too hard at all, perhaps the contrary.

    For my part I don’t think there is even the slightest value in comparing the ‘corporate psychopaths’ of your imagination to Arthur Freeman. I think it is denigratory and makes you look stupid.

    Doing something to get ahead that you know that will cause 10,000 layoffs, for example, is not even visible on the graph of moral turpitude compared to Arthur Freeman, nor is stealing, nor is lying, nor is cheating, nor is fraud of innocent pensioners, nor is frickin anything I can remember anyone in a corporate context doing.

    Without a doubt business people and their advisors, like all people, exhibit the full range of human virtues and flaws. But on the whole, business people exhibit a really reduced gamut of these since, contrary to your dearly-held delusions, most even merely ‘unpleasant’ behaviours are eliminated by recruitment, training and iterative interactions.

    I should note, however, that left-wing activists also exhibit a reduced scope of human virtues and flaws, in the opposite sense – most of what we consider civilised behaviour is eliminated through peer pressure and the need to demonstrate radical authenticity. That coupled with the overwhelming ignorance of most of them makes them more ‘psychopaths’ than any significant percentage of corporate types, particularly when assessed against the apparent metrics like ‘desire to achieve one’s goals irrespective of the human cost in terms of greater poverty and job losses.’

  11. Patrick
    Posted April 20, 2011 at 11:37 am | Permalink

    Back on the psychological points, the psychological difference between men and women is reflected in the differences between classical provocation and battered wife syndrome, the social difference is illustrated by the differing reactions to those.

  12. kvd
    Posted April 20, 2011 at 12:45 pm | Permalink

    [email protected] I find myself more often in agreement with your views than Dave’s. He is a frequently self-confessed “old lefty” and I identify with the “old” part of that, but not the other. That said, I have read and re-read his words and cannot find anything as outlandish as you seem to find in his comments.

    But I’d just like to ask you about two of your own comments:

    Doing something to get ahead that you know that will cause 10,000 layoffs, for example, is not even visible on the graph of moral turpitude compared to Arthur Freeman

    – this seems to me to ignore the very real possibilities of significant increases in alcoholism, house repossession, marriage stress and even suicide among those 10,000 job losses. Therefore, given you actually gave the business reasoning as simply “to get ahead”, these outcomes would cause a quite large blip on my moral graph.

    most even merely ‘unpleasant’ behaviours are eliminated by recruitment, training and iterative interactions

    – David Jones could probably use you – to mention one recent high profile exception to your rule. Maybe they shortcut the “iterative interactions”, whatever that means.

    Patrick you say that this particular person’s crime was horrendous and with that I certainly agree. The rest – not so much.

  13. Patrick
    Posted April 20, 2011 at 1:00 pm | Permalink

    You can boil it down easily kvd – not much compares with throwing your own kid off a bridge in front of her siblings.

    Repeat 500 times:
    It is not even visible on the graph of moral turpitude compared to what Arthur Freeman did.

    All this is taking your ‘horrible lay-offs’ shtick at face value. Imagine a world where people didn’t get sacked…

    Do you start to see the difference now? People are ordinarily laid off for a reason. Their being retrenched actually serves a purpose and in at least some cases (you must be able to agree to that) contributes to the greater social good.

    Throwing kids off bridges contributes to nothing good whatsoever, ever.

  14. Posted April 20, 2011 at 1:34 pm | Permalink

    The woman was put on a $400 good behaviour bond for four months and no conviction was recorded.

    Given her actions fit well within broader definitions of domestic violence, and are quite a significant example of such acts, there is a significant aggravating factor. I would have opted for a suspended imprisonment for a period significantly longer than 4 months. To be honest it sounds like a case of female sentencing discount.

    I’ve got to agree with the things that DB says @8. There’s a real difference between corporate management that engages in normal competitive behaviour to advantage themselves in a way that naturally progresses the economy and hence benefits society as a whole, and management that engages in behaviour that advantages themselves through net destructive behaviour that harms society as a whole.

    [email protected], your example of laying of 10,000 workers is not a good example. A better example would be management that decides to continue selling a carcinogenic product because they know that they (management personnel) will be long gone by the time the impact on health is detected (let alone a court case concluded) so any outcome will not effect them personally (even though the company itself may still be held liable in the long run).

    It’s an example that could easily be on par with the actions of Freeman.

  15. kvd
    Posted April 20, 2011 at 2:11 pm | Permalink

    [email protected] Bhopal, Chinese ‘whiter than white’ milk, Thalidomide, Chernobyl, industrial waste into ground water, mad cow disease, James Hardie early decisions, etc. etc. – repeated 500 times. Your next two paras ignore the fact that I specifically quoted your own stated business case was: “to get ahead”. Otherwise I agree with your general comments on industrial layoffs.

    Out of all this the most unsettling comment above is SL’s “dangerously close to advocating the abolition of all psychological defences” thought. The fact that the process is abused (by who, one is tempted to ask) is no good reason for denying the fact that some crimes are the result of psychological problems.

  16. kvd
    Posted April 20, 2011 at 2:13 pm | Permalink

    Posted my comment without the benefit of reading desipis’. I agree with what is said @15

  17. Posted April 20, 2011 at 4:12 pm | Permalink

    I think the point is that the high functioning sociopath is a danger in any system or organisation. Indeed, they are likely to be far more of a danger in a command economy than a capitalist one, simply because the power able to be amassed is so much greater and so much more unaccountable (two sides of the same coin).

    On revenge, while all the admonitions about ‘first dig two graves’ etc are obviously pertinent, the hardest harms to bear are those where they do not go away — not in the sense that the pain continue (this passes) but in the sense that some damage or harm continues to blight one’s life. The constant reminder is a genuine emotional burden.

  18. Posted April 20, 2011 at 4:59 pm | Permalink

    Lorenzo, I guess the question is to what extent does the system enable such people to be a danger and to what extent can we change the system to minimise such behaviour?

    LE, I can’t imagine the two brothers are going to far particularly well over their lives either.

  19. kvd
    Posted April 20, 2011 at 5:28 pm | Permalink

    I’m surprised by the lawyers’ comments here. LE, quite understandably, has her “mother’s hat” on – not her lawyer’s hat, and I’m assuming that Patrick also is a lawyer.

    There just seems to be a current running through the comments that this particular case is more morally shocking than, say, a business decision made with knowledge of the potential effects on hundreds/thousands of lives, and I just don’t accept that.

    Lorenzo’s comment about such people existing in any system rings true, but for mine, I am less unsettled by some murderous individual in Melbourne than I am by the thought that some business or government functionary could somewhere sometime decide that my water supply was a convenient dumping ground, just so he could “get ahead” as Patrick put it. I took Dave’s comments as a rumination upon how to weed out such people – not as an attack on capitalism.

    What I’m struggling to say is I thought lawyers worked on principles, not individual cases (however horrendous) – and I thought that was what Dave was commenting upon?

  20. Posted April 20, 2011 at 5:28 pm | Permalink

    For the record I was *not* talking about “evil companies”, but the high functioning sociopaths who can exist even in the warmest fuzziest non-profit, with one or more personality disorders (borderline pd and narcissistic pd being perhaps the best known), associated with great manipulative skills, indifference or more commonly enjoyment from causing misfortune to others when gaining status, and correlation with particular fMRI patterns.

    Sacking 1000 workers is not necessarily the mark of “corporate psychopaths”, for those workers are anonymous, it’s those on the team, or in related projects/business units that suffer.

    But, like the serial murderers studied who share the same personality traits and brain activity patterns, they can be charming, very charming. On the CV and in a half hour interview they look perfect.

    Universities are not “evil” like James hardie, but we could probably all point to corporate psychopaths even in genteel academia who climb as much by undermining others as by their own work, yet see themselves as perfect.

  21. kvd
    Posted April 20, 2011 at 5:39 pm | Permalink

    [email protected] Snap!

  22. Patrick
    Posted April 20, 2011 at 6:27 pm | Permalink

    I think, kvd, that the relevant difference may be LE and I are both speaking with our parents’ hats on.

    I actually realise on reading no23 that Dave Bath is referring to something quite different. I think he means just that non-functioning psychopaths (not sure that Freeman is a psychopath or just non-functioning) are less dangerous than the functioning type because the actually get ahead and thus cause harm to so many more people in so many more ways.

    But it doesn’t change my position at all – it is probably an even worse argument to make. There is such a quantum leap in the offence involved that I simply cannot get over it.

    Frankly, although I recognise that this is a stupid false dichotomy, if I was really really forced to choose I would rather, personally, consciously do everything the Directors of James Hardie did or sell carginogens, or be a viciously but subtly destructive boss or indeed work for one or pretty much whatever rather than throw my own child off the bridge in front of his/her siblings.

  23. kvd
    Posted April 20, 2011 at 6:37 pm | Permalink

    [email protected] you are not the only parent, and I apologize if anything I said caused that train of thought. Both the personal and the wider evils are shocking, confronting to me and I see no benefit in pursuing any further comparison.

  24. Posted April 20, 2011 at 6:49 pm | Permalink

    [email protected] – Freeman most likely *was* high function – his unfortunate wife was, for at least the period of time required to beget 3 kids, unable to either realize he was a beast, or get free of him.

    I haven’t got access (the Wile. E. Paywall), but I imagine the following has some goodies in one spot that I’ve seen in bits and pieces elsewhere:
    Behavioral Sciences & the Law
    Special Issue: The Neuroscience and Psychology of Moral Decision Making and the Law
    Volume 27, Issue 2 March/April 2009

    What I am saying is that the typical corporate psychopath and the likes of Freeman share a cluster of behaviours, brain wiring and hormone physiology – with a significant component probably determined by the time they are born. The advantage taken by this particular group of personality disorders,means we’ll continue to have Freeman-like crimes.

    The problem is sentencing the crimes – these bastards KNOW what right and wrong is, they DON’T care, but they are wired for it… is it “mad, bad or sad” as LE puts it? Mad – no, rational – they have a feeling disorder, not a thinking disorder. Bad – well, yes, but they are built that way. Sad – well, yes, they are built that way.

  25. pete m
    Posted April 20, 2011 at 7:53 pm | Permalink

    LE: criminal data in US shows mothers higher rate of killers of their children than fathers. Perhaps a difference may be the mothers more likely kill while parents are together while fathers when separated – but that belies the point of the killing. When it is done and why is meaningless to me.

    I’m horrified at the crime. I recall seeing the newsflash of the crime and prayed for her survival. With 2 little girls of my own, I couldn’t stop tearing up when she died. Such a waste.

    Frankly I don’t care about understanding the why. I’d rather offer support to her mother and family and wish them the best. The less this evil is discussed the better.

    ps I’ve been involved in 2 recent cases of custodial parents using that power to torture the noncustodial parent. Both lost in court but put the other thru hell. You do wonder how anyone would use children as weapons, but it happens, and is done by fathers and mothers, and for the most unreal and pathetic of excuses. Damn the lot of them.

  26. Posted April 20, 2011 at 7:56 pm | Permalink

    How does your impression of this scenario change if it is a man who finds his wife in bed with another man, and attacks his wife?

    In such circumstances it would go better for both of them if I didn’t happen to be carrying a .303 at the exact moment I made the discovery.

  27. Posted April 20, 2011 at 8:21 pm | Permalink

    pete [email protected],

    I know the absolute figures indicate that mothers kill more overall, but I thought once adjusted to consider proportion of parenting (e.g. single mothers, etc) that fathers were a greater danger. Although, the difference is certainly not to the extent that stereotypes portray.

    And there seems to be much made over the rate of divorce in modern society when it seems the manner people go about divorce is a bigger problem. It seems to bring out the worst in people, and there must be something strong at work if it can overcome normal parenting instincts.

  28. Posted April 21, 2011 at 3:05 am | Permalink

    It’s cases like this British one which put people’s backs up about the use of psychological pleadings (whether as mitigation or defence).

    I’m afraid I tend to agree with Patrick here – in terms of wrong, topping your own toddler pretty much takes the biscuit.

    M. Scott Peck’s book on evil “People of the Lie” is a fascinating read but took the definition a bit broader than I was comfortable with (perhaps because I know some evil people who are otherwise “high functioning”).

    And Adam Smith would disagree with Dave – didn’t he say something about people accidentally furthering the interests of society by pursuing their own self interest in business? If sociopaths behave like Peck’s concept of “evil” then they would be made less dangerous by the concern with fitting in and being socially acceptable, ie. they are aware that their behaviour has consequences. Psychopaths don’t have even that governor.

  29. Posted April 21, 2011 at 3:25 am | Permalink

    On the use of psychology as a complete defence (insanity) or to mitigate (diminished responsibility), I have yet to see a genuine one. Maybe Scotland will buck the trend, but Queensland and England certainly didn’t, and a lot of criminal trials kind of went with the territory in both places.

    Apart from that, there is the broader point that the criminal justice system is there to protect the public as well as to punish the perpetrator. Whether you are murdered by a sane or an insane individual is of no moment in this ghastly calculus: you’re still just as dead.

    And I am with Patrick on false dichotomies, although when I read Dave’s original comment I saw it as a clear case of ‘immoral equivalency’ (which is first cousin to false dichotomy, in any case).

    There is also a fair bit of this going on, too: http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/File:Venn-diagram-association-fallacy-01.svg

  30. Patrick
    Posted April 21, 2011 at 5:42 am | Permalink

    [email protected], unless we are St Maximilien Kolbe or Martin Luther King or some other such figure, we all do that to some degree.

    I don’t doubt that there are ‘corporates’ able to do that to a far greater degree than I am. I do strongly doubt that many of if any of them could throw their own child off a bridge.

    To the extent there are people who are able to do that to such an extent as you describe, rest assured, I fully support euthanising them.

    You can relax, however, as apparently serious studies notwithstanding, I don’t really believe that there really is anything other than a heightened susceptibility or proclivity which is pre-determined. So I won’t be lining people up for their dose of lead just yet.

    kvd, I did think you were a parent, for some reason. Maybe then it is just that LE and I have kids of the same age. Maybe it is that we are Melburnians(?). Maybe lawyer-types are just more emotionally sensitive than you… ?

  31. kvd
    Posted April 21, 2011 at 6:45 am | Permalink

    Thanks for the laugh Patrick; it leaves me only wondering about the impetus behind all those lawyer jokes – most of which are funny; none of which match the many good, honourable lawyers I have dealt with over the years.

    As to your maybe-s, I think it’s more an age thing. I admire (and remember) your present certainty, but I’m at an age where I am less confident that any significant questions are being addressed, and heading gloomily towards that age where one tends to forget what it was that was asked in the first place 🙂

  32. Posted April 21, 2011 at 9:11 am | Permalink

    Yes, the killing of one’s own children is so awful and incomprehensible, indeed I had to guess at a word for it analogous to the Fury-releasing parricide, matricide and fratricide – i’ve certainly never heard or even read (outside a dictionary) the term “filicide”.

    It’s so awful, so incomprehensible … Which only makes trying to find the “how” important.

    The psychotic filicides are easy to grok – a thinking disorder – the voices in the head that say “this child is the devil incarnate” or whatever.

    Filicides without thinking disorders are in literature – Medea (pertinent to this case) and Titus Andronicus (different reasons), and a diatribe from “the Lion in Winter” is pertinent: “You are Medea to the teeth, …, the human parts of you are missing, you are as dead as you are deadly”.

    We now have at least a hint of the how and why – the human parts that are missing would be in places like the anterior cingulate. There is a pathology, to some extent structural – the fMRIs being more similar to US “conservatives” than US “liberals”. Yes, there is probably training and reinforcement of those circuits, but I’d bet at least 50% of the capacity for filicide is innate – and circumstances pushing these badly-wired individuals past the limits.

    We know that social animals have evolved larger regions for figuring out what goes on in the heads of others. Without functioning circuits for feeling *for* others, for treating people as other than animated onjects, there is nothing apart from the fear of getting caught and punished to moderate a natural drive for increased status over others, a drive that properly tempered, can increase group fitness.

    It’s the classic tragic structure – too great a strength, unchecked by opposing strengths, leads to downfall.

    Breed out or lobotomise ambition, the will to rise, and Freeman wouldn’t exist.

    There is no free lunch.

  33. Posted April 21, 2011 at 10:58 am | Permalink

    This crime is the sort that ropes were invented for.

  34. Posted April 21, 2011 at 11:35 am | Permalink

    Interestingly, there are a number of studies now that look at violent offender populations, and what you find is that there is a lot of undiagnosed frontal damage around

    These types of findings on prison populations are startling. Very high percentages of ADHD and other psychological conditions. Frontal lobe damage often disrupts our behavior in unpleasant ways and has serious implications for impulse control. Our moral sensibilities are strongly affected by frontal lobe damage, especially the orbito-frontal regions.

    As to how to handle this issue, very difficult. These people are impaired and are not going to be cured.

  35. Posted April 21, 2011 at 6:48 pm | Permalink

    They had trouble with that in the UK, John H. As the regs were worded it wasn’t actually legal to lock someone up unless they were also receiving treatment and going to be cured eventually. For people considered ‘uncurable’ (public interest was mainly on sex offenders) it wasn’t actually legal to detain them indefinitely. Not sure how it stands now but is probably why they seem to end up chronically reoffending out in bail hostels in the middle of the community.

  36. Posted April 21, 2011 at 10:43 pm | Permalink

    For those with dysfunctional frontal lobes or empathy circuits, the “not going to be cured” is perhaps pessimistic given that at least one cognitive prosthesis (for the hippocampus which is involved in memory and learning) was built a few years back.

    So, a substantial mod, more subtle than a lobotomy (unless it runs Microsoft and blue-screens), but possibly almost like a steampunk version of Babylon 5’s “Death of Personality”, could well be available sometime soonish, maybe not in my lifetime, but probably of others here… Maybe even their working lives.

    When the cognitive prostheses hit the community (I imagine Alzheimer’s will push it), criminal justice systems will have to wrestle with the issues of these mods – how big a mod for what crimes (can’t let the shock jocks whip up a frenzy to mod even drunken yoof), is it cheaper than incarceration, is the modded personality so different that the new personality didn’t commit the crime and therefore the state has no right to punish the new person???

    If Freeman /could/ be modded, and it was a *big* mod so that he became some kind of super-empathic type, nearly a guaranteed saint (with regular servicing of his mod to make sure), then how would the community react to early release?

    I suppose it’s worth thinking about perhaps the most famous (and unsubtle) frontal-lobe brain mods in history – Phineas Gage – which raised the whole issue of nasty behaviour relating to frontal lobes.

    Phineas P. Gage (July 9?, 1823 – May 21, 1860) was an American railroad construction foreman now remembered for surviving an accident in which a large iron rod was driven completely through his head, destroying much of his brain’s left frontal lobe, and for that injury’s reported effects on his personality and behavior – effects so profound that friends saw him as “no longer Gage”.

    Is the legally enforced cognitive prosthesis a premise for spec fiction – “Bring Laws and Mods”??

    (btw – brain mods are scary, but I’m starting to think one of those subcranial peltier fridges as an option if the drugs screw me around too badly – mind you, that’s not a personality mod unless somebody drops a scalpel while my skull is open.)

  37. Posted April 22, 2011 at 12:16 am | Permalink

    s the legally enforced cognitive prosthesis a premise for spec fiction – “Bring Laws and Mods”??

    Lobotomy, that is the only brain mod for these people. As for the purported hippocampal prothesis, I doubt it. Only 3 months ago there was a paper that completely overturned the standard model of neural transmission. For all the huff and bluff about brain function we don’t have a clue. If ever you wanted an argument for God the mystery of cognition ranks right up there. For decades we’ve been hearing about “understanding the brain”. Truth is, like cancer, we’re running around in circles, we are barely scratching the surface.

  38. kvd
    Posted April 22, 2011 at 3:52 am | Permalink

    Link to a Richard Ackland piece in today’s SMH here

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