I have a brother older than me, smarter than me more accomplished than me(I think I may have won in the looks department but this is debatable). So, this brother of mine is a professor of economics at Erasmus University in the Netherlands and for the past few years he has been invited to teach a series of courses in Singapore. Yes, you remember Singapore the avid enemy of chewing gum? Where throwing chewing gum on the streets gets you whipped publicly? Well being arrested for possession of drugs gets your neck in a noose and your soul to its maker.
In this land of wonders a couple of years back a 26 year old guy was put to death for possession of 400grms of heroin. The news caused a loud roar from our European neighbors across the pond. Curiously American news papers
were conspicuously silent. So, my brother the professor, maybe because I am a psychologist maybe because I consider myself an American formally requested my thoughts and feelings on this particular subject and on the death penalty in general. What follows is my response.
Personally I am pro death penalty for rapists, murderers (other than self-defense), pedophiles and child abusers, women batterers and some other psychopathic manifestations such as animal torture and sadism. I consider sociopaths beyond the scope and hope of rehabilitation and I can muster no empathy for them
But what about this patient of mine who at the age of 20 and during one of his college extravaganzas decides to buy some coke for himself and his friends and gets arrested. He is put on PTI (pre-trial intervention, a form of probation but with no permanent record) and mandated to seek therapy (enters Dr. Charalambidis-Urban). It is now 10 years later and he is a pediatrician, religious NA (Narcotics Anonymous) participant and contributor. Do I tell Dr. K. that he should had been hanged at the age of 20?
Or what about the 21 year old girl who after being raped by her father for what she decides to be the last time she drives to Asbury Park ( a shady city at the shore) to buy anything that she can get her hands on to do herself in. Fortunately she approaches an undercover narco-cop. After it is ascertained that she is suicidal she is sent to the hospital. Act II, enters yours truly. Act III takes place about 11 years later and she is now the head nurse in the ER at the hospital. Through the years she has recounted many stories of lives she has saved including that of a cop who was shot by a drug dealer. Do I tell her that it would have cost the society a lot less if she was executed? Or do I tell the cop she saved that the world would have been a safer place without her?
No, I am not making it up. But, if you have a few more hours I can tell you a dozen more stories. These people were not sociopaths. They were lost souls caught in the grinds of an outrageous life and needing someone to pluck them out and give them a second chance.
I wonder if Singapore’s peremptory morality is about justice or about what we psychologists call Splitting: we split, disown and dissociate the most shaming, tenebrous aspects of our psych and we project them on someone else, preferably someone weak, whom we then proceed to punish mercilessly and sadistically. Incidentally the Bush administration has been doing this exact thing for the past 6 years. It was Hitler’s dream too.
I too want to sleep with my door open, or walk to my car without thoughts of being raped, but not at the price of moral tunnel vision. It is a lot easier to use the same moral yard stick for everything, to adopt a moral indignation that shields us from disturbing dilemmas, but then I do wonder what happens to our humanity, critical thinking, and imagination. Would this be the path to evolution or devolution?
I too get scared when Euc goes to Amsterdam, I am scared because I know that young people experiment, and thumb their noses at danger and death all the time. That they make mistakes and give into temptation. I get scared because I know that the path of individuation is through rebellion, challenging of the status quo and breaking rules, even if they are re-adopted later on or new ones are made. And where would the rest of us be without the Galileos of this world (They too broke some very sacred laws). But can you imagine if I had to worry that he will be hanged if he was caught with a gram of coke? I could not live with that, could you my brother?
This over-sanitized over-civilized hyper-“cerebralized” society that Singapore aspires to be reminds me of an old star trek episode, the Festival. Do you remember?
My years in the therapist’s chair have shown me over and over that EVERY one’s psych is a simmering and babbling primordial soup which once in a while (to our shock and dismay) spits out some very insalubrious ingredients, whether there are laws against it or not. I would sleep better if I believed that at that time I would be judged with a little more leniency than the chronic and stone- hearted sociopath. Maybe that’s my own utopia.
Furthermore, if we attempt to allay our fears about safety with draconian and hegemonic rules aren’t we creating the Orwellian negative utopia that a lot of us confirmed “democrats” vehemently object to?
Ok, as the song says, I said too much