Diagnosis Evil



The New York Times has an interesting and hand wringing article about the challenges of dealing with certain individuals like serial killers in our criminal justice system. Here's the opening of the article to tease you:

"Predatory killers often do far more than commit murder. Some have lured their victims into homemade chambers for prolonged torture. Others have exotic tastes - for vivisection, sexual humiliation, burning. Many perform their grisly rituals as much for pleasure as for any other reason.

Among themselves, a few forensic scientists have taken to thinking of these people as not merely disturbed but evil. Evil in that their deliberate, habitual savagery defies any psychological explanation or attempt at treatment.

Most psychiatrists assiduously avoid the word evil, contending that its use would precipitate a dangerous slide from clinical to moral judgment that could put people on death row unnecessarily and obscure the understanding of violent criminals."

The problems for psychiatrists become more clear as the article discusses a depravity scale and a 22 level hierarchy of evil behavior. The article calls into question the cultural and philosophical assumption of the basic goodness of humans. Much of the 20th Century...the Holocaust, the Gulags, the Killing Fields, Segregation etc. argue against this assumption. One of the lessons of Nazi Germany was the ease with which ordinary men became brutal thugs and vicious killers. Hannah Arendt made popular the phrase the 'banality of evil' after observing the Eichmann trial.

Comments:

The article you posted from the NY Times briefly mentions, and misrepresents, the Depravity Scale. It is not by a group of NYU professors but rather one forensic psychiatrist -- Dr. Michael Welner, chairman of The Forensic Panel in New York. If you found the article interesting, please check out the Depravit Scale Web site -- www.depravityscale.org -- and participate in the research.

Posted by Staci on shkurt 17, 2005 at 12:16 PD PST #

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