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Stopping psychopaths before they kill

by Greg Krehbiel on 19 April 2017

There is a very controversial passage in the law of Moses requiring the death penalty for disobedient children. Bible haters try to caricature this as executing kids who don’t clean their room, or who stay up after bed time, but it has a much more serious message that’s very relevant today. The passage reads as follows.

If any man has a stubborn and rebellious son who will not obey his father or his mother, and when they chastise him, he will not even listen to them, then his father and mother shall seize him, and bring him out to the elders of his city at the gateway of his hometown. They shall say to the elders of his city, ‘This son of ours is stubborn and rebellious, he will not obey us, he is a glutton and a drunkard.’ Then all the men of his city shall stone him to death; so you shall remove the evil from your midst, and all Israel will hear of it and fear. (Deut. 21: 18-21)

This isn’t talking about a casually disobedient kid. He’s stubborn and rebellious. He won’t even listen to his father or his mother, and he exhibits patterns of anti-social behavior.

I’m not trying to defend Moses, or recommend this approach. But this passage comes to mind whenever I think of the problems we have with psychopaths and with other people suffering from various mental illnesses. That is, people who are going to wreak havoc and just haven’t done it yet.

Yesterday I heard a discussion about what can be done re: people like the Facebook killer. The problem is, not much, given our current legal system.

This happens again and again. There’s some anti-social kid that everybody knows is going to be trouble. It’s just a matter of time. But until he “does something,” nothing can be done about it.

The same is true with the alcoholic who insists on driving, or the guy who hears angry voices, or the one who obsesses on hateful speech on the internet. You can’t do anything proactively until he does something. So the rest of us have to live with ticking time bombs in our midst. It’s the long battle between the rights of the individual and the rights of the society.

In this case, I think we’ve gone too far on the individual’s side.

There are people out there who are trouble waiting to happen. Some of them are simply no damned good, and the sooner we get rid of them the better. I know it sounds awful to say that, but that’s the sad reality. There are people out there who have no concern whatsoever for the feelings or rights or lives of other people. They are literally no damned good and there’s nothing we can do to help them.

Others — the majority, I hope and believe — are tragically ill, and need our help.

But we have no method right now for dealing with these people.

Moses took a very primitive approach. If somebody is exhibiting severely anti-social behavior at a young age, kill him for the safety of the community.

We can do better these days. Not because we’re morally better, but because we have other options at our disposal.

We need to allow family and friends to report anti-social behavior so these people can get the help they need — whether they like it or not. Or — in the extreme case — they need to be removed from society. (Exactly how is another question, but remember — prisoners and prison guards have rights too.)

I know first-hand what it’s like to have a friend who is trouble waiting to happen. You spend every day wondering if you’re going to get that phone call. And you’re completely helpless.

You can stand in front of the judge and have him involuntarily committed for a couple days, but then he’s out a few days later and up to the same tricks. And you wonder if a little girl is going to be stuck to the front fender of his car some morning.

There are parents who live in that kind of fear every single day for decades. It’s dreadful, and it’s all in the name of a misguided approach to individual rights.

Most of these mass shootings and assorted awful events that happen are entirely predictable. It has nothing to do with guns or Facebook live or violent video games. It has everything to do with the fact that we don’t have an effective way to deal with people who are going to (but haven’t yet) caused trouble.

2017-04-19  »  Greg Krehbiel

Talkback x 8

  1. William
    19 April 2017 @ 11:20 am

    You rightfully summarize the issue. Yet, because humans are so very complex and dynamic…how does one accurately predict who are in the “basket of deplorables”? We’ve seen enough situations where some look like they are going to be bad news all their lives and then something happens and they change for the better (via religious conversion, counseling, medication, etc.). As well, what happens to these people even if we could accurately predict who they will be? Are they executed? If so, on what basis, if they’ve not done anything worthy of execution…only the potential. Do we lock them up? Again, on what basis, when they’ve not done anything worthy of such? Do we keep them sedated until they are old and die naturally? Do we start DNA testing and abort those that appear to have certain troublesome markers?

    Albeit it would be extremely helpful to society to understand how to deal with this population more effectively, I wonder if when that door is opened, if it doesn’t create a slippery slope. So, at some point, people are not only “dealt with” due to potential psychopathic “deplorable” behavior but other characteristics that some might find undesirable begin to creep in (e.g., mental retardation, physical deformity, etc.). Where’s the appropriate line? As well, who gets to make these judgments? Lots of questions…few answers.

  2. Greg Krehbiel Greg Krehbiel
    19 April 2017 @ 11:28 am

    It’s certainly not an easy question, but we have tipped the scales very far towards individual liberty. Too far, IMO.

  3. William
    19 April 2017 @ 11:39 am

    You may be right. Yet, I’m wondering, what’s a reasonable solution that strikes an appropriate balance?

  4. Ken Crawford
    19 April 2017 @ 11:59 am

    The back and forth between William and Greg I think well summarize the difficulty and it is an important conversation for our society to have. I’m less inclined to think the scales are tipped too far towards liberty as the penalty for locking up people who won’t end up doing anything is high and the number of these sorts of crimes happening is pretty small. (I think our modern national media and sensationalism makes it seem like it is common, but people forget how large our country is, so even if it happens once a week, it is very unlikely to happen to any of us.)

    But I’m willing to consider I might be wrong and listen to counter arguments. This is definitely an issue of finding the right balance.

    I also think we need much more emphasis on mental health help for those who need it. It’s too hard for people to get help, even those who want it. I’m ready for “single payer” for that!

  5. pentamom
    20 April 2017 @ 10:35 am

    The most classic case of this is Adam Lanza. Everybody around him knew he was trouble. And yeah, his mother didn’t handle everything right. But she was as scared as anybody, and her options were way too limited.

    And that’s just one. There are people all over the place who live in fear of their kids, or their siblings, whether they fear harm to themselves or just harm the person might do to others, and they can’t do anything effective about it.

  6. William
    20 April 2017 @ 12:00 pm

    What preventative measures should be taken with someone like an Adam Lanza? Currently they could be evaluated, counseled and medicated. Yet, in some cases, those things have been ineffective in preventing harmful acting out. Again, it’s clearly an issue and requires serious consideration. Yet, what can be done that’s reasonable, effective and protects the rights of all involved (inclusive of the “potential” offender)?

  7. pentamom
    21 April 2017 @ 11:17 am

    They can’t be involuntarily medicated, as far as I know. And when someone actually threatens another person, that should be grounds for more serious action. I’m not talking about someone people just “worry about” because they’re “unpredictable” or “could be” dangerous; I’m talking about people you have just as much reason to worry about as anyone else who threatens your life or physical safety. When you have someone who assaults other people, and you know they don’t respond to getting hauled up in court and a few months in the county jail like a healthy person would, there needs to be something that can be done about it. Long-term involuntary commitment for people who have actually already hurt people, should not be beyond the pale of discussion.

  8. William
    21 April 2017 @ 1:19 pm

    @pentamom, thanks. I wasn’t speaking of involuntary medicating either. I’d agree those that have have shown a pattern of anti-social behavior are key candidates for some type of intervention. At that point, there’s something tangle that can be used to justfy reasonable action.

    Yet, I’m wondering are they put into mental facilities or prison? Who pays for them? Are they on a rehabilitation track or are they deemed to be doomed for the remainder of their lives? These are the types of questions that come to mind when I think of preventative measures. Since people tend to be very complex and dynamic, how do we do this in such a way that it’s effective but doesn’t falsely impair or brand someone for a lifetime who might just be going through a rough period and may change for the better. I’m not suggesting anyone has a panacea…just tossing it out for thought because it is an interesting subject and effective solutions could indeed saves lives.