Murderous Madmen and Their Victim Groups

Posted in a shorter form on May 27, 2014

A bunch of girls didn’t do what he wanted, so he set out to hurt a bunch of girls and teach them all a lesson. Folks, yes that is misogyny, yes it is gun violence, but mainly


The reason all these killers find it reasonable and rational to hurt the people who don’t do what they want, is because EVERYONE finds it reasonable and rational to hurt people when they don’t do what they want. That’s the concept of punishment. And we all know where he learned it, where they all learn it, where WE all learned it. Right?

Now how is it that what these crazies are trying to do and why is somehow not front and center of the conversation? Why are we talking about sex rather than the roots of violence, why are we talking about who the victims are instead of what these killers are doing and why?

The way we and our media focus on the victim group is making me uncomfortable, there is something very wrong with it. Everything I’m going to list may be hyperbolic, but hyperbole would not be possible if it didn’t contain a substantial kernel of truth. Plus, taken together, the power and possible truth of the situation may be unavoidable. So these are the ideas that make me uneasy about it:

  1. The focus on the victim group (women, LGB&T people, racial or religious minorities) seems to call into question issues of the groups’ human rights status; the status of the group is reviewed in media coverage in terms of public opinion and public policy. This seems to put such crimes into a category of ideology where they do not belong. In our society, everyone has a right not to be victimized, and especially not to be murdered. Are we pandering to those who may support these crimes?
  2. Focusing on the victim group contains the implicit idea that there is, at least theoretically, the possibility that some groups can properly be targeted for victimization and murder, otherwise, why would the particular group identity of the victim be an issue? For proof of this, of course there are groups that many of us are OK with killing, people outside of our society, such as enemy combatants, and some within our society, perpetrators of heinous crimes, etc. I don’t intend to debate capital punishment here, but it shows precedent, and our sometime willingness to victimize and kill. The message is also inherent that there is a certain amount of flexibility in the list of who can and who cannot be justifiably harmed.
  3. By at least appearing in our media and private discussions to ignore the common factor –  the criminals and their apparent feeling that it’s justifiable to harm or kill those of whom they disapprove – we are subjecting the victim groups to a kind of ‘divide and conquer’ situation. Are we not condemning the use of force to change people’s behaviour generally, in favour of having each marginalized group address it’s particular abusers, and on their own? Must every identifiable group fight their attackers by themselves, when all various groups’ enemies are of one kind, and all doing the same thing?
  4. By directing attention to the victim group, we are detracting attention away from the psychological and social ground that produces the bad fruit of these criminal victimizers. I see it as analogous to the one of the points batted about in the gun control discussions: just as gun are inanimate and not to be “blamed” for what people do with them, so too is the practice of punishment, of hurting people to change their behaviour, not to be “blamed” or called into question. The difference is that punishing is even more sacred, and more so in more places than the freedom to own guns.

So, as I said, hyperbolic perhaps, but with a core of truth. Perhaps it is a matter that the victim groups simply make sexy headlines, and media discussions are so often sensationalist – but reasons why a thing is are a proof that the thing really does exist.

Please, let’s try to learn to talk about the bad guys and why they do what they do, and if it is a fractal of our culture of punishment, let’s go there too. Let’s not blame the victims, let’s not always be dropping the hint that if they don’t want to be victimized, they should just shut up and conform. OK?

Irony: when a Deterrent Becomes a Punishment

What a different world we would have if deterrents, one of the central tenets of punishment, actually worked like it was supposed to. But let’s face facts: they don’t, at least not often enough, not often enough that the damages of the punishments promised as deterrents aren’t hurting us all.


The amount of punishments we actually have to implement should tell us this. We have all, nearly every last one of us been punished as children, and millions are still being punished as adults, the correctional system is an ever growing industry. Perhaps many crimes are deterred, but enough to say that this is the best possible option for us? Is it working well enough?


This is an interesting question, “is it working well enough,” and the answer there would be dependent on some assumptions, the first of which, as always in this topic, must be our stance on Original Sin.


On one side of this doctrine, if we believe either the religious version, that Man is born with sin in his heart, or the evolutionist version, that Man is descended from beasts and must be civilized by force, then our view will be that a great deal of crime has been deterred, that left to our own we will be criminals. In this view, if we let up on the stick, crime will increase and civilization will collapse; in this view, without punitive restraint, the beast will rule.


On the other side of this doctrine, if we reject the idea that sin and crime are built into humanity and see people as basically good, at least like housecats, that is, good when food is plentiful, then we may look for other causes for crime, then we may need reasons why people commit crimes. No secret for anyone who knows me, or anyone who’s seen other posts of mine: this is the view I begin with. I am looking for reasons, I start with the idea that something, something in this life, in the here and now, is causing crime and violence. There certainly are genetic things, built in things on either side of the moral scale, but saying “the Devil made me do it” is not a reason that we shouldn’t analyze what we are doing in the here and now. To state it a slightly different way, declaring “that’s just the way it is” and refusing to look at our own activity, that is something like socio or psychopathy.


I am trying to deal with the deterrent aspect here, but this needs to be said. I’ve said it elsewhere in more detail, and please ask if this isn’t clear; this is an interactive media, after all: punishment damages us. The damages of abuse are clear and well documented, and the damages of corporal punishment are of all the same sort, also well documented; corporal punishment is rapidly moving to the wrong side of the law in much of the world. What isn’t so well documented, what I am trying to show, is one or both of two things, which have the same result.


  1. “Corporal” punishment is really the only kind there is. There can be no punishment in the world except that it is made to happen, physically, except that it is backed up with force. We are corporeal beings after all. We don’t generally volunteer for our punishments, they are imposed, against our will and this ultimately must be done by force, even if that means in a particular case it is through the threat and learned experience of force, that is, even if every single punishment doesn’t require physical force, a general program of punishment  does.


  1. Much of the damage of abuse, corporal punishment, and this fictional non-corporal punishment isn’t physical. It is emotional, cognitive, psychological, and it stands to reason that it isn’t the physical aspects of abuse and punishment that cause it. The damage a young child suffers when its parent hurts it somehow on purpose and then promises to do it again, this doesn’t require that the hurt be only physical. This is the damage of emotional betrayal (among other things).


Damaged people are more subject to all sorts of social problems, crime being one of them, and being a part of many of these damages, addictions, self harm, promiscuity, violence. It seems to me, genetic or not, at least some of this is crime we are causing with our damaging, punishing ways.


But back to deterrents:


The first thing I would point out regarding deterrents are that their power increases as the certainty of their implementation increases, and of course that equation works also in the inverse. The power of a deterrent is lessened as the perceived chance of actually having to face the penalty grows smaller, meaning, if there’s a perceived chance the misbehaver can avoid the penalty, the deterrent can fail; this is only more true if the chance is real – and of course, many crimes and misbehaviours are not found out. Of course then, in anything but a totalitarian, police state, deterrents can and do fail, and damaging punishments ensue. If deterrents worked well enough, the prisons would not be so full, and we would not all be punished as children.


We offer these punishments in our effort to turn our kids and our adolescents away from misbehaviours and turn our adolescents and adults away from crime, and when it works, terrific, it’s all good. But when it doesn’t work, when our kids insist on their misbehaviours, or when our criminals do and we have to implement the punishment – well then we are damaging our kids, and further damaging these adult misbehavers, and we have made the shift from being the solution and trying to prevent crime and bad behaviour to being the problem, and actually causing it.


Defined as a joke with the power to make us cry, this is irony, a logical joke, but a sad, sad reality, the deeply ironic fallacy of deterrents.


If we believe in deterrents, but see crime remains, or increases, we may think the deterrents need to be stepped up, the penalties intended as deterrents worsened . . . and this probably only increases the damage, and doubles the horrible irony of our public policy. This is what is offered by our Law-and-Order politicians, more damage, more crime. (I’m looking at you, Stephen Harper.) That situation is of course only even more heartbreaking if we do that with our parental discipline, if we increase the stakes.


If this is not heartbreaking to us, we can consider that we have been desensitized to it. There is only so much horrible irony a person can take before we just switch off.


So, if my side of this argument is true, even partly, then punishment and deterrents, the very processes we hope will lessen crime and misbehaviours, could well be ironically creating the crime we are trying to stop. It’s also true that we have given these ideas a fair try – all of human history – and despite that things don’t change much, and that any lessening of the violence and brutality in this world has been accomplished by a net increase in humanity rather than an increase in penalties and deterrence schemes, we keep trying it. It’s well known that cognitive impairment is one of the many damages incurred by abuse and punishment. Perhaps this explains our inability to see this conundrum: perhaps we are slow learners.



A Revolution in Nature VS Nurture, Part Two

Here’s a page with info about the first and most famous of the twin studies:

 So with this idea, that it takes genetics AND environment to produce an organism, and with the strong results that have been famously reported from the twin studies, I infer that the environments in the disparate homes these twins were adopted out to must be in fact far more similar than they are different from one another. What I am setting this up against is some of the ideas I have encountered during my time blogging and having online discussions about parenting, ideas like:

–         Some people nowadays let their kids do whatever they want

–         People don’t hit their kids anymore

–         The problems with kids nowadays are because they aren’t taught respect

It’s a pretty short list, I guess, but these ideas come in many forms. Of course, anyone who’s seen my stuff before knows where I’m at on this subject – spoiler alert! I don’t think kids should ever be punished, for anything – but the point I’m after here is a little different. The point I’m after is that many “normally” authoritative parents seem to believe that there is some large group of parents out there who aren’t fulfilling their responsibilities to civilize their children, that there is some sizeable group of people who don’t discipline their kids, parents who do not offer some reinforcement intended to teach their kids respect, and right from wrong – and that this idea is for the most part untrue.

It’s not my idea – these parents attribute some power to environmental influences, they assume that the presence or absence of discipline (punishment) to be an important environmental difference, and they intuit that this difference is what makes the difference in the success of their parenting and of their children. But is it true?

I don’t think it is, and this idea of the twin studies showing that environments differ very little, at least in a meaningful way, from household to household would support that conclusion. It would tend to suggest that at least in the adoptive households of these separated twins, either there weren’t these differences of punishing or not, or that the difference is not a meaningful one.

Certainly there is one common thing among the households: they all qualified as suitable for adoption families, either in the eyes of the government, or the private agencies, or both. Do we think they had to show they would provide discipline, or that they wouldn’t? That may be a real question, but it’s unlikely that many, if any of these households would have been the type that wouldn’t, because few households are. OK, that, by itself, is circular reasoning. But there are other reasons why I say that there really is no large group of people (at least in Canada and the States) who don’t use punishment as a way to rear their children.

The article linked below states that something like 80% of families in a study that recorded their family households were recorded using corporal punishment methods – perhaps a surprise for those who haven’t raised kids yet, that so many resort to it – and these were families that knew they were being recorded.

 One can only assume that some number of these families had some measure of care to change their ways while the microphones were active, so this study has it that something upwards of 80% of people today are still using corporal punishment. The exact percentage is a matter for speculation – and so to start us off down the path of unfounded speculation, allow me!

First, if you will grant the first part of my premise, which is that many parents seem to think that there must be many families where people are not providing enough discipline, then the next question may be, does something less than 20% of families satisfy their theory? Does that fraction of the population explain “what is wrong with kids nowadays?”

Second, my previously posted theories as to why corporal punishment is still so prevalent, in the shortest form I can manage. A somewhat less abridged form is in this post here:

  – nothing else “works.” Many parents want to raise their kids without spankings etc., but few are aware of or willing to change their expectations. We mostly haven’t thought it through, and before we work through it, the spanking has begun. Unfortunately, it appears to “work,” and many parents abandon their non-spanking dream.

 – even the parenting gurus, the sellers of popular books and radio broadcasts do not help these parents. They teach non-violent means but they don’t help parents with their expectations, and the parents are left to their own devices when a child insists on his misbehaviour. They reinforce the idea that everything should go the parents’ way.

So this is my thesis:

Nearly everyone uses punishment – we are all the same, there are no “different environments” among families within our culture. This aspect of the children’s lives are all pretty much the same, and so another explanation must be allowed for what is wrong with the world and “kids nowadays.” The idea that there are many people out there, a meaningful percentage of parents not disciplining their children and “teaching them respect’ and “right from wrong” is a myth, even if it’s an unconscious one. We need to look elsewhere for an explanation of why kids don’t listen to their parents.

A Revolution in Nature VS Nurture, Part One

It has come to be understood that without some form of Nurture there can be no Nature; that an organism’s genetic coding develops in interaction with the environment, and there is no “normal” or neutral environment. Eliminate the environment and you have eliminated the organism. Of course, all living things have both influences, and they are deeply enmeshed.

With this in mind, I would like to re-visit the seemingly astounding things unearthed in the many twin studies, separated twins, adopted out to different families, and tested later in life for personality traits etc. In short – very short, I admit – these studies famously showed that twins are twins, especially monozygotic twins, even when raised apart in separate families, separate towns, separate states, even sometimes in separate countries, many shared traits to an impressive degree.

(Some, and not a small number of people, have used the apparent triumph of the Nature over Nurture argument that the twin studies seemed to assure to justify some unpopular ideas of social Darwinism and the like. Personally, I too thought the results of these studies appeared to hurt the cause of those people invested in the Nurture side, myself included – although for me it’s a hobby, a train of thought, and not my livelihood. I confess to have been searching for a way out of that disillusionment, mostly from an intuitive thing, a sense that if Nature and our genes rule all, then there seems no point to life, to thought, to the choices we make. Life in that world seems mechanical and rather pointless. But a new – at least to me – insight seems to have the power to save my hurt feelings in the matter. I hope to provide some reason and logic; I hope I am doing more than asking that anyone simply share my feelings about it.)

In terms of evolution, it would be basic to say that over the long term, environment, and living things’ responses to it, have shaped our genetic makeup, and for a few decades now, genetic science is showing that this is also true in the short term, that during the development of a single organism, environment is in interaction with genes, activating and making dormant different genes. In other words, it seems that it takes a creature’s genes and the creature’s environment to produce an adult, developed creature of a particular, identifiable phenotype. I’m sure I’m not saying anything intelligible there, but the point is simply this, that it takes both, genetics and environment to produce a creature that would seem to be within the parameters of what we might require to identify it. Too much genetic variance, it’s a different sort of creature, a different species. That we all know, but considering the interaction of genes and environment, we can also very possibly assert that if the environment were not also similar enough during the creature’s development, a different creature may also emerge, a different phenotype.

Now if that were true – and I have a blogger or two to run this past, people who know better and will no doubt try to correct me in ways I may still not understand – if that were true, then what might that mean about the twin studies?

It might mean that the genes these people share are not the only thing they share. It could very well mean that different families, in different towns, different states, even sometimes in different countries are actually similar enough environments to produce such strikingly similar phenotypes.

It could very well mean that the assumption of those who would interpret the results of the twin studies to support unpopular things like social Darwinism (and worse), the assumption that these separated twins were actually raised in meaningfully different environments – is false.

Here’s Part Two:

State Funded Abuse – Punishments and Rewards in Prison

Abuse – well, corporal punishment – well, punishment – actually causes misbehaviour in children and crime and violence in adults, rather than curing these things. With children, it’s not news, I think that the exercise of punishment actually models and ingrains the very problem behaviour that we employ it to solve. Ironic, which means it would be funny if it weren’t horrible and tragic.

But in adulthood, in the justice system, this causality can be far more direct. The ways in which punishment promotes crime and violence in prison situations requires no knowledge of or belief in psychology at all.

When a person is convicted of a crime and incarcerated, there has long been a tradition and an assumption that the convict has lost his human rights, that if prisons are scary and dangerous places, well, that is the deterrent. That is a reason not to break the law, and we may say that the criminal has done it to himself. These days, a convict’s human rights are gaining some power, at least the officials, the prison administration and employees, are not supposed to abuse convicts any more than is required to enforce the removal of one human right, namely the obvious one, the convicted person’s freedom. The guards are not supposed to abuse the prisoners directly: no beatings, no sexual abuse – lately the force-feeding of hunger-striking prisoners is a controversy, whether or not the force and restraint required to stop a person’s slow suicide is or isn’t a violation of his human rights. This debate (not the situation alluded to) marks a huge improvement in the consideration of the rights of prisoners. There is room for improvement to be sure, but it’s a relatively large step, considering the condition of prisoners in history.

Having said that . . .

I think we need to turn our attention to the ability of prisoners to violate each other’s rights.

If a prisoner has rights, if we (society, the criminal justice system and its agents, the taxpayers who fund it), if we are not allowed to abuse these convicted persons, how is it that we are willing and able to lock them up with a lot of the very sorts of people who are likely to (and proven to) abuse them?

Prisons are scary places, full of dangerous, scary people, and in our attempt to control crime and abuse, we throw them all in there together. I think we have all given some thought to the minor criminal thrown in among the wolves, and the first thing I’ve already mentioned: don’t do the crime if you can’t do the time. I don’t really approve, but that’s not where I’m going with this. For now, regarding that, I’ll say, fair enough. A second point that may be viewed in favour of the forced intermingling of violent criminals with the less violent ones would be that there are tiers, different levels of prisons, minimum, medium and maximum security institutions. I’ll deal with the second point first.

Capone was imprisoned for tax evasion, right? Many criminals that would be perfectly suited for MaxSec locations spend time in all the other levels of the prison network. Many a murderous, gangland soldier spends time in lighter prisons than they might, they get convicted of crimes that are not necessarily their worst acts, possession of stolen goods, drug dealing, any number of things. Because of this, really bad guys can be encountered anywhere in the prison system. All prisons are scary and dangerous.

For the first point, again, we’ve sort of made our peace with the idea that we send not-so-bad guys to prison with very bad ones, that’s the deterrent, it’s prison, not Disneyland. It’s not supposed to be fun. But now we’re getting to it. In prison, and in life, there are winners and losers. The smartest, the toughest, the biggest, baddest, most dangerous men in prison can and often do, dominate and victimize the weaker ones. The well connected ones, the organized gangsters recruit and make slaves and/or soldiers of the more vulnerable . . . may I guess what you’re thinking? But that may not be it. Here’s my problem:

Are we not rewarding the most dangerous criminals?

Are we not creating a situation where the worst and most dangerous offenders are being given a convenient supply of victims to exploit, to rape, rob and enslave? In other words, are we not encouraging the very same patterns of abuse and victimization in the most powerful criminals in our attempt to discourage that very behaviour in the less dangerous ones? Wait a second, this sounds like sociology, ‘what are we incentivising,’ that’s not it either. It’s worse than that. The worst of it is not what we’re doing, it’s that we’re doing it.

What are we doing, exactly?

Collecting the worst, scariest people we can find, and . . . providing victims for them. We, the people, we, society, we the voter and the government, for God’s sake – are pimping for the most dangerous and uncaring people our nations have produced, and paying for it with public funds.

That is what we are doing.

Victimization is antithetical to rehabilitation. We need to keep our prisoners safe if we ever want to help any of them. I’m saying individual rooms, and contact among them only by mutual consent. I’m saying money, to be sure. But abuse causes crime, and what we are doing now isn’t working; the billions we are spending now are not only wasted, but actually exacerbating the problems.

It’ll be cheaper in the long haul.

Imagine a World Without the Damages of Abuse . . .

The damages from abuse are many, but they’re becoming well known. I’ve often listed the categories of them, physical, psychological, emotional and cognitive, but the damages themselves are:

Impaired cognitive development (trouble in school, poorer grades);

Behaviour problems;

All manner of disorders: eating, depression, anxiety, self-harm, addictions;

Physical injuries, sometimes permanent and/or resulting in impaired physical development;

Etc., etc.


The thing is, the list of damages that have been so well documented as resulting from what is called corporal punishment – that is the same list. This is why corporal punishment is fast being outlawed all over the world.


All punishment is corporal punishment – that’s the big secret. Therefore the list of damages that result from all punishment is the same list.

Much abuse is punishment gone too far, and even those who promote punishment will agree that punishing means the administration of abuse (in the generic sense) for a good reason. Now . . .

Imagine a world without it.

A world without these damages, or with less of this damage? Now that is a world that would be something to see, wouldn’t it? Just ponder:

People with less cognitive impairment, fewer disordered people, less addiction . . . less damage of so many sorts. Healthier people, healthier psyches, who knows? Maybe people would even be smarter.

Just imagine it.