May 31, 2011

QotD: The paternalistic view of (some) crime victims

Filed under: Government, Liberty, Media, Quotations — Tags: , , , , — Nicholas @ 16:47

. . . there are certain regularities, and one of them is the way in which the victims of men such as Griffiths are described in the Guardian, the house journal of the British intelligentsia and its bureaucratic hangers-on. This is important because it illustrates the way in which a dominant elite — dominant de facto if not always de jure — thinks about social problems.

An article describing the victims of Wright, the Ipswich murderer, was titled THE WOMEN PUT INTO HARM’S WAY BY DRUGS. A similar article about Griffiths’s victims was headed “CROSSBOW CANNIBAL” VICTIMS’ DRUG HABITS MADE THEM VULNERABLE TO VIOLENCE. In other words, these women became prostitutes by force majeure, on the streets not because of choices they had made but because of chemical substances that controlled them without any conscious intervention on their part — no more than if, say, an abyss caused by an earthquake had suddenly opened up and swallowed them.

Now either we are all like this — no different from inanimate objects, which act and react mechanically, as Descartes supposed that dogs and cats did — or we are not. The view that we are brings with it certain difficulties. No one could live as if it were true; no one thinks of himself, or of those about him, as automatons; we are all faced with the need to make conscious decisions, to weigh alternatives in our minds, every waking hour of every day. Human life would be impossible, literally inconceivable, without consciousness and conscious decision making. It is true that certain medical conditions, such as temporal-lobe epilepsy during fits, deprive people of normal consciousness and that they nevertheless continue to behave in a recognizably human way; but if all, or even most, of humanity suffered from those conditions, human life would soon be at an end.

Assuming, then, that not everyone is driven to what he does by his own equivalent of drug addiction, the Guardian must assume that Wright’s and Griffiths’s victims were fundamentally different from you and me. Unlike us, they were not responsible for their actions; they did not make choices; they were not human in the fullest sense. Not only is this a view unlikely to find much favor with women who resemble the victims in some way; it also has potentially the most illiberal consequences. For it would justify us, the full human beings, in depriving such women of liberty. If “their hopeless addiction to heroin, alcohol or crack cocaine led them to sell their bodies in the red light district on the edge of Bradford city centre and made them vulnerable to violence,” as the article tells us, surely we should force our help on them to recover their full humanity, or, if that proves impossible, take them into preventive detention to protect them. They are the sheep, we the shepherds.

Theodore Dalrymple, “Murder Most Academic: A British Ph.D. candidate puts “homicide studies” into practice”, City Journal, 2011-05-31

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