Dear Huan Yi,
Is there a universal point
where a childhood however bad
does not absolve the actions of the adult?
In which sense?
As an (as I understand it from your statements from time to time) lapsed Catholic, you'd know better than I about Catholic doctrine. In my shoddy understanding of that baroque and lovely doctrinal edifice, I suspect the answer is a qualified "no." Given the proper conditions, there is no such point. Te Absolvo doesn't admit the person is not legally responsible, however, does it?
Legally, absolution is not a question. Responsibility and consequence, it would seem to me are the legal questions. I bring up the legal option because it seems possible that your question sprang from the anguish folks often feel at seeing somebody who is a notorious and obviously guilty party getting away with things because a lawyer is able to convince a jury that the fool's childhood was just too terrible for anybody to bear.
For what it's worth, the occasional psychopath is willing to use this to attempt to manipulate you around this point of view as well. While working on locked psychiatric words there were many time I was threatened with violence or death at the hands of people who would finish off the threat by telling me that there wasn't a jury in the country that would convict them because they were crazy, and that would get them off. It was frightening. On the other hand, highly improbable, considering the number of times they must have said it, and the number of people they must have said it too. I always made a point of including it in the nursing notes in case something happened to me or somebody else later. It gave evidence of premeditiation and planning, you know?
I have run across people who were capable of carrying out such threats, by the way, and who tried to. And another who worked himself up to the point of actually murdering a woman; quite predictably, I thought. This last man had been confined in a state hospital for the criminally insane for almost 40 years when I knew him and was being discharged as a poster child for de-institutionalization. The fault was not his, in this case, much as I loathed him then and continue to do so today.
He was being used as a political pawn, and after the murder he was quietly placed back in the original institution with, insofar I know, never being tried for murder at all. It would have damaged the governor's chances for his run for president. I can only hope that this was not a factor in the situation.
But by suggesting that the man who actually did the murder was in the end responsible for it may be a stretch in my book. All the administrators in my hospital that I knew were in favor of this discharge and rehab, and all the line staff — who might have been in favor of a better chosen patient — knew within a day of meeting the man what a terrible choice he was. Considering that the man had been supposed to have been criminally insane days before and the majority of people who worked with him still thought he was, and they were begging that he be kept locked up, I mean actively begging that he be locked up, I hold the administrator and the politics responsible.
In fact it pretty hard to get off on psychiatric grounds.
Being crazy in the psychiatric sense and being insane in the legal sense are two very different breeds of cow. And keep in mind that a sentence to a jail is for a specified amount of time, even if there is sometimes a range involved, while time in a psychiatric hospital, especially a forensic psychiatric hospital may not be limited by time at all. You might want to check out the percentage of cases where an insanity defense is successful compared to the number of times it's tried.
In cases where it's successful, it's only a miscarriage of justice if the defense is bogus, isn't it? In those cases, you need to ask yourself, which is better, meaning closer to American principles, those of the enlightenment, that we punish a man whom we believe may actually be innocent, or that we let go a man that we suspect might be guilty but whose guilt we are unsure about? The law is pretty clear in those situations, "beyond a reasonable doubt" is where the prosecution has to establish its case. Not simply I'm pretty sure or reasonably sure — beyond that.
Other cases don't have to be that strict, you know.
The cause doesn't have to be childhood, either. How do you feel about somebody who has a case of PTSD from Vietnam or Korea or Iraq for that matter who has an automatic reaction to a backfire on a passing motorbike, pulls the Mossberg out from the gun rack behind the driver's seat and starts to lay down covering fire to protect his buddies. How long is that good for? Does that have an expiration date?
How about the guy whose pals slipped him a dose of LSD at the Watkins Glen Music Festival back in the late sixties and he's been hallucinating and paranoid ever since? When is he going to pull it together and get over it?
Sometimes when you drop a wine-glass, it'll never look the same again, nor will it do a great job of holding wine. Sometimes you can put it together pretty well so that it may actually be a little stronger than before at the busted places, though it'll always be a bit different than your average wine glass. But the notion of absolution doesn't apply here, does it? It moves into other territory.
Ah yes, other territory. That would be philosophy and what does it mean to offer absolution to somebody and what absolution actually means.
We've covered I think three different ways of approaching your question, which is a fascinating one, Huan Yi. My brain has turned to gruel, however and I'm not sure IU can actually follow a train of thought long enough to pass beyond Door Three. The prize may, after all, be behind Door Three. Is this the sort of response you were looking for, John?
West wishes, Bob Kaven