Thursday, November 12, 2009

Is Major Hasan responsible for his actions? Are we?

The Major Hasan case once again raises a fundamental conflict between liberals and conservatives.

It's an article of faith for conservatives that we are and must be completely responsible for our actions. This total responsibility apparently kicks in at the moment of our 18th birthday.

But it's an article of faith for liberals that we're depraved on account of we're deprived (as Stephen Sondheim neatly summarized this debate in "Officer Krupke" from West Side Story).

Who's right?

Neither. But I'm right. The bottom line is: people do what they do for many reasons, including outside influences, moral reasoning, brain chemistry, etc. We can get into endless arguments about degrees of culpability in crimes because of this--but we don't need to--IF we reorient the criminal justice system around public safety instead of its current orientation around punishment.

Anyone with life experience should realize that some people are truly unable to control themselves--as is the case with those afflicted with fetal alcohol syndrome. I've heard that at least 20% of prison inmates are mentally ill. I'm guessing it's even higher.

Or take someone whose brain chemistry is intact but whose single mother was, say, a meth addict, and this someone has never heard a kind word or felt a gentle touch in his 18 years of life. He isn't compassionate because our society has failed to give him any personal experience of it in his life.

But--and it's a huge but--even if you believe that no one is responsible for their bad behavior--that it's society's fault, or bad genes, or rotten parents--that doesn't mean we can tolerate letting dangerous people run around loose.

The question should always be: is this person or organization dangerous to the rest of us? If so, they must be made safe for the rest of us. That could mean prison, or a mental institution, or a halfway house, or supervised probation, or something else. But as long as someone's a danger we must act.

So, for example, a habitual drunk driver with scads of DUIs is a candidate for doing whatever is needed to keep them from driving--even if that means putting them in a low-security jail of some sort. The same goes for street people with no visible means of support and a string of very expensive (for us) trips to the ER for alcohol poisoning or ODs.

If anything, I'd advocate taking a lot of people off the street who are now running around loose--but letting loose a lot of people who are no danger to us.

Doesn't that make sense? Many police departments are called departments of public safety. I advocate taking that seriously. And sidestepping the useless wrangling lefties and righties constantly carry on.

As for Major Hasan--he's already been show to fit the profile of a mass shooter--a loser in his personal life, unable to form/hold relationships with women, physically unprepossessing (i.e. kind of chunky and short), showing signs of disordered thinking and religious obsessions that worried his peers greatly. Whoever assigned him to go to Iraq with this sort of background should be cashiered, by the way. I bet the person who did it was just trying to get Hasan out of his/her own jurisdiction.

But Hasan, regardless of whether he's insane or a terrorist, will never see freedom again--surely there's no disagreement on that front. And while I oppose the death penalty if there's the slightest doubt, there's isn't a smidgen in this case. He did it. And even if he's insane, he deserves to die, because it's immoral to force jailers to risk their lives around him.

Note that for an insane person he planned and executed his attack very effectively. To kill that many people--most of them trained soldiers--in such a short period of time took careful planning and execution that was both quick and methodical. And quite capable. That's not the kind of insane that I saw when I lived in Berkeley.

So from a public safety viewpoint I believe you can justify the death penalty in cases like this, even if you leave retribution/vengeance out of the equation.


artied said...

Yeah! He definitely fits the profile of a 'loser/nutter'.

He qualified as a PYSCHIATRIST and got promoted to MAJOR in the USArmy.

Always great to see the process of marginalisation of the guilty in action as a means of avoiding debate about situation that provoked the bad behaviour....

You can write better than this....

Ehkzu said...

Artied is certainly correct about interested parties trying to avoid their culpability in such situations.

But I thought I was clear about the need to spread the blams around, and for corrective actions to be taken.

For example, I said that whoever assigned Major Hasan to a post in Iraq should be cashiered, since he was obviously unfit for duty in a war zone.

I also said that it seems to be becoming clear that his superiors bent over backwards to get him through the program and overlooked his obvious nutball traits, due to him being a Muslim. While he complained about being harassed for being a Muslim, he doesn't seem to have realized how much he was getting a free ride for being a Muslim.

I acknowledge that the military has a tough row to hoe when it comes to Muslims, many thousands of whom serve honorably in the military.

Nevertheless the military needs to revise its procedures for dealing with people who become unfit to serve. It has come out that Hasan's commanding officer at his post prior to Ft. Hood tried to get him discharged from the military, but was overruled by the committee that has to OK dumping a shrink, because the committe felt that it was too much trouble to go through the process of cashiering him.

So it appears that the process in place leans too far in the direction of individual rights, and away from the direction of individual responsibility and the rights of the group.

So although he qualified as a psychiatrist and became a major, those facts are now pointing to some serious cracks in the system.

Finally, though I believe he is "depraved of account of he's deprived" or some such, I still believe he merits the death penalty.

But your general observation is generally important. On a national level, 9/11 is a perfect example. If I were Bush I'd have gone into Afghanistan in force and hunted down Bin Ladin like a dog, remorselessly. At the same time our P.R. missteps in the Middle East are the stuff of legend.

Knowing the reasons for problems is important--crucial--but should never hinder the need for action.

Hamlet dithered over taking out his murderous uncle, and look where it got him.