Anders Behring Breivik: Mad, Bad or both.

Gaspard Ulliel as young Lecter in Hannibal Rising.

Image via Wikipedia

In the popular imagination, psychopaths are both insane and evil, with the possible exception of the fictional character Hannibal Lecter, and I am not sure that I understand quite what the popular imagination has made of him, though the description ‘anti-hero‘ fits in my mind at least.

For psychologists, psychiatrists and the mental health profession generally, sociopaths in general pose a particular problem. There are more sociopaths than people imagine, some estimates put the percentage of people who are sociopaths at about 5%. Not all of course are engaged in murder sprees, though some mental health professionals might argue that the sociopath is by definition a potential killer.

The conundrum is that sociopaths generally know what the norms rules and mores of society are, and know they risk punishment if they breach them. This however is not to say that they think breaking social rules is wrong, just to say that they know society as a whole thinks that this is wrong. For the sociopath the question that is important is will this or that behaviour meet their needs or wants, what society thinks is irrelevant to them, except in that society may interfere with the sociopath getting his or her needs and wants met. To the lay people perhaps the best description is selfish, without experiencing guilt. In my opinion sociopaths are probably the 5% of people that can fool polygraphs.

In mental health circles the word psychopath has generally fallen into disuse, being replaced by Malignant personality. To the lay people a Malignant Personality fit’s the popular image of the psychopath more correctly, though we might describe it as a more sophisticated description, or perhaps as a ‘sociopath plus’.  Where we might say a sociopath doesn’t care what society thinks is right and wrong, so long as their needs and wants are met, the Malignant personality takes this to another level, of indifference, and active manipulation. This is not to say that sociopaths are not manipulative or inclined use others, because they are, but to say that malignant personalities use others almost as a central strategy, and are inclined to destroy others in order to eliminate any threat to their agenda, or even to enhance their own agenda.

This kind of activity can be seen in the activities of individuals such as Peter Sutcliffe (Yorkshire Ripper), or Dennis Neilson, but also in the actions of Idi Amin, Wladislaus Dragwlya (Vlad the impaler {Dracula}), or Caligula, Nero, various other roman Emperors, and many others littered through history. Some might even argue that one success of the great wars of the twentieth century and the defeat of Hitler, was to limit the capacity of malignant personalities to attain the systemic power they crave.

The problem for the legal response of society to such individuals is that although they are clearly insane from the view of mental health professionals, they also know that what they do is regarded by others as morally suspect and so many think of them as ‘criminal‘. This creates a tension, since they are seen as bad by some and mad by others.

What is problematic here is that lay people generally want justice and punishment, if the sociopath or malignant personality is insane then they are interpreted by the legal profession as not responsible for their actions, and therefore not guilty due to diminished responsibility. To many this seems unjust, because malignant personalities are rarely obviously incompetent people, there is a deliberateness that defies the idea that they are not responsible for their actions. Linked to this there is the sense that because of their deliberateness, the calculating nature of their actions, and their capacity for deception, that they are too dangerous to risk the possibility that they might be classified as ‘sane’ at a later date, and released.

Many themes come together in this, firstly that mental health professionals have good research grounding their developing theoretical framework, and in many cases have reasonable grounds to think that they can help very disturbed people. Joe public however want’s things to be clear cut, right and wrong, often justice is confused with vengeance, and to some extent the Legal professions of many countries reflects this. It also raises the possibility that someone can be insane and guilty at the same time.

The case of Anders Behring Breivik currently brings these themes together.  Ross Cameron: in a piece at the following link:

http://www.smh.com.au/opinion/politics/horrific-acts-of-violence-were-driven-by-twisted-belief-not-insanity-20110803-1ibid.html#ixzz1UQvPnCpq

Comments that,“the argument of Breivik’s lawyer Geir Lippestad and others: ”This whole case indicates that he is insane”.

But adds

“But I am now inclining to the even more chilling view that Breivik is intelligent, calculating and rational within the terms of his twisted belief system.”

The problem of course is that this encapsulates the problem, “intelligent, calculating and rational within the terms of his twisted belief system” there is a fundamental contradiction, the belief system is insane but the reasoning built upon it isn’t.

We might regard this as similar to the idea that an entirely logically consistent argument built on a false premise leads to a false conclusion.

There is an argument within mental health circles that ‘insanity’ is often a rational reaction to irrational experiences, and that allowing sufferers of mental health problems to discover this can lead them to a more sane life. Many such suffers find that a part of the road to health is a realistic acceptance of responsibility for things they have done, rather than excuse them as a result of their illness. E.g. “I ran away because I was depressed, but it was wrong of me to desert the people who were depending on me.”

In this context I think that the response of the legal profession to mental health as a defence often distorts the recovery process. With lower level crimes such as kleptomania we might imagine that mental health treatment is sufficient, or that addicts might benefit from treatment and this way manage criminal behaviour. However when we encounter higher level crimes such as murder, it is my position that incarceration until ‘well’ is inappropriate. Rather I would suggest that treatment until well should be the position, and then once well sentencing for offences should commence.

I am aware that this  might be problematic in terms of witnesses, and evidence etc, but I think these could be overcome, for one thing ,that an individual be found responsible for certain acts whilst insane could be taken as evidence concerning the facts.

There are crimes so serious that insanity should not be taken as a defence, or as a mitigation, such factors  should perhaps delay sentencing and allow for treatment in appropriate secure facility, following this with sentencing when proper.

Anders Behring Breivik is one such person that would fit into this category to my mind, he is as guilty as hell, and madder than any hatter anyone would care to mention, nuttier than a fruit cake, a loon, a homicidal maniac, need I go on.

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About Transremaxculver

An entirely fictitious username I created for posting on 'alt.religion.scientology', Scientology is something of which I am highly critical. For those of you who don't know, the Church of Scientology have a habit of making life very uncomfortable for even the most legitimate of critics, which is why this username is completely anonymous. Anyway I have become quite fond of this username, and although it has to some extent outgrown it's original purpose, I think a blog is perhaps the right place for me/it to continue to grow and develop.
This entry was posted in Anti-Islamic Atrocity in Norway., Mental Health, World Politics and tagged , , , , , , , . Bookmark the permalink.

One Response to Anders Behring Breivik: Mad, Bad or both.

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