Monday, 5 May 2008

Fritzl: Mad or Bad

Nobody could fail to feel revulsion while reading about Joefs Fritzl and how he held his daughter captive in a cellar for 24 years and fathered seven children with her.
To most of us it seems a forgone conclusion that he now faces a long stretch in prison for the inhumane treatment of his family but psychiatrists are investigating his state of mind to see whether he is fit to answer to his crimes in a criminal court.
"My personal opinion is that Josef Fritzl is mentally ill and therefore certifiably insane. I believe that my client doesn't belong in prison but rather in a closed psychiatric clinic," said the lawyer and so begins the debate over was he responsible for his own actions.
What he subjected his daughter to was so shockingly evil that you could easily conclude that it could not be done by a sane person. He must therefore be insane. Problem is that it then leads to the proposition that the more awful and horrific the crime, the more likely it is that the perpetrator is insane, and we do not put insane people through the normal trial procedures.
You could also make the argument that for him to set about achieving what he did for 24 years, he must have been in full control of his faculties otherwise he would have been discovered years ago.
The diminished responsibility argument doesn't seem to sit too well with the public who feel that the offender escapes being punished for their crimes under the full weight of the law and justice has not been done.
We will have to put our faith in the psychiatrists who ultimately make the decision whether he was bad or mad.


Miz UV said...

I disagree with redefining "insane" to mean "anything most people don't usually do." Fritzl seems very sane -- incredibly cold-bloodedly sane -- to be have been able to commit these crimes undetetected for so long. Now, if he were to say that he kept people in the basement because he really thought they were cans of peaches, that'd be different. But according to the news, he damn well knew it was his daughter whom he imprisoned and raped for decades.

Lucy said...

I go along with you, to keep things hidden for as long as he did shows he was far from insane and was just an evil bastard. I do think this is just his lawyer trying it on.

Noah "Nog" M. said...

Criminal acts are all "insane" in some sense or another but humans always act according to some standard of reason.

I don't buy the legal concept of "insanity" at all. I understand "legal insanity" to be the assertion that someone A) is incapable of human cognitive function and B) still deserves all of the rights and protections afforded to fully functional humans. You are either a human responsible for all of your actions or you're not.

From my point of view "humans" simply can't be "insane" because rationality is a necessary condition for humanity. And animals don't have rights in the sense that men do. If you abdicate your "sanity" you abdicate your humanity (and logically all of the "human rights" accorded to humans).

My dog isn't legally responsible for anything. But if my dog rapes a human for 24 years I'm not going to send it to a psychiatric facility.

effay said...

I'll re-post my comment that I left on cody bones' Fritzl post:

"I remember one time in high school my English teacher came in to class and lectured us on the meaning of 'evil'. Apparently, she felt we were using it in a flippant manner, so she basically told us we could only use 'evil' to describe people like Hitler and Stalin in her class. I think she would have added this guy to the list of 'evil' people."

From a legal standpoint though, Noah is right - the whole insanity question is really quite unimportant. The purpose of criminal prosecutions should be (but isn't, sadly) to best determine if someone is still dangerous, and then lock them up until they are not. All that insanity matters for is if he should be seeing a shrink and taking happy pills while he's in prison.

I guess the whole idea here is: who cares if someone is mad or bad when they commit a crime? This distinction only creates two justice systems where people who are deemed mad have a continuing evaluation of their punishment, while people who are bad have their punishment assessed at the time of their trial. The proper system would work somewhat like if we deemed everyone to be mad and regularly evaluated if they were still a threat regardless of whether their crime was committed as an act of madness or badness.

By the way, Noah, under your conception, I guess we could just 'put down' crazy people? Who gets to determine whether someone is crazy? God I hope it's not Kathy.

effay said...

Oh yeah, another thing: really I am calling into question the who idea of 'punitive damages' here. That's essentially the purpose of the mad/bad distinction because we want to punitively punish bad people but we feel bad about punitively punishing a mad person. But wait a second...what are punitive damages good for in the first place? Nothing. They serve no purpose except to satisfy some people's deranged need to punish others. I propose that we reject 'punitive damages' which are effectively a subsidy of this awful mindset.

We put people in prison so that they don't hurt other people. If/once they are no longer dangerous, there is no legitimate reason to keep them in there and we should let them out.

Cody Bones said...

I think the issue comes down to whether you believe in "Evil", or not. To some people "Evil" does not exist, rather it's a question of sane vs. insane. As far as my opinion, I might be ducking the question that I proposed, but I simply don't know.

Miz UV said...

I think the "mad" thing came about because some people are clearly mentally ill and can barely function, and it was just repugnant the way England I mean SOCIETY was treating them when they really needed medical care, etc.

Lucy said...

I always thought that the reason behind the mad or bad thing is that if a person is certified 'insane', then they cannot be held responsible for their actions in a court of law.
Open to abuse by every morally iffy lawyer.

The Fez Monkey said...

Gee -

I'd say for an Austrian old Fritzl was behaving about as normal as one could expect.

Ook ook

Lucy said...

Austrians have a reputation of being the nice cousins of Germany as Canadians have a rep of being the nice cousins of Americans.
Don't know who us English are the nice cousins of though. The Scots maybe?

Anonymous said...


I thought Canadians were the nice cousins of the English and French...


Lucy said...

We refuse to be related to anyone
who puts a leaf on their flag Q.