The Tiger and the Zookeeper … Society’s Treatment of the Psychopath

The following reader question was sent to me by a Tumblr follower.  I touched on egalitarianism a bit in my previous post, but here we are going to examine the consequences a bit further, especially as it pertains to society’s approach toward identifying and punishing the psychopath.

My thanks. Simply for the sake of debate, I’ve a few questions I’d like to ask, if you wouldn’t mind. Firstly, do you believe that the formation of an egalitarian society (in which, as you said, there exists justice without prejudice) would introduce a level of pragmatism conducive the upholding of public safety? Generally, it seems to me that most humans (as well as other animals subject to the influence of conditioning) use predictions based upon retrospective examination in order to make decisions about which actions to take. The proverb, ‘those who cannot remember the past are doomed to repeat it’, comes to mind. Even deontological ethical systems, much like their teleological counterparts, require some knowledge of future consequences derived from an observation of the past. Now, I realize that the following analogy may not sit well with you, but I ask that you humour me. While I do not wish to conflate the image of the blood-stained, axe-wielding maniac with that of the psychopath who, despite meeting the established diagnostic criteria, manages to live between the boundaries of the law, I will personify the tiger as the diagnosed to demonstrate my point. The zookeeper keeps the tiger in a cage. Naturally (or unnaturally), all the animals are kept in cages to prevent escape and possible incidents. I’m not denying that giraffes can kill people; it’s just that the tiger seems to be the one most likely to do so for reasons which aren’t retaliative. Sure, (true or false) you can find a report detailing the consumption of a human by an elephant in 2005, but the matriarch, whose supposed provocation might have been the killing of her family, died shortly afterwards, unable to digest the meat she swallowed. In a way, her deed “killed her from the inside” – and dead elephants don’t reoffend. If I saw a tiger walking towards me on the street, I’d go and hug it; of course, I have no concern for my personal safety, providing my demise can be attributed to my own autonomy. Nonetheless, most others, having to choose between a tiger and a lamb, would probably prefer proximity to the latter. I’m not an advocate of thought-policing, in fact, I’m quite the anarchist at heart. I can understand your frustration with a legal system that assigns more severe punishments to certain individuals based on perceived proclivities/inclinations/tendencies/predispositions/whatever-you-want-to-call-its. But I ask you, what else is there to go by? When two men, from opposing factions, meet on the battlefield after war has been declared, do they both hesitate, holding their fire until the other makes a move and the danger is more imminent than before? Or do they fight through their reluctance and pull the trigger, realizing that the seconds spent trying to ascertain the motives of the other will likely precede those it will take for them to fall to the floor, bullet-wound in torso? Just so I won’t be accused of presenting an unbalanced and, indeed, biased argument, I will say: I do realize that the individual with ASPD is not like a tiger in all aspects – they certainly don’t come orange, black and striped with teeth like stalagmites…that could make career progression rather challenging. I don’t mean to speak as though I know you, and I am aware of the ambiguity you speak of in relation to your thoughts but, in my opinion, those such as yourself won’t necessarily offend more than the so-called “neurotypical”. The apathy, for example, which affects psychopathic individuals could mean that there are fewer stimuli to which they respond violently. Someone killed your cat? Heh, whaddaya know, more money to buy confectionary. You killed my mother? Great, one less present to buy for Christmas. Needless to say, on the other hand, the impulsivity which accompanies the condition, along with varying degrees of possessiveness, can lead to altercations. My point is that while being socio/psychopathic may not make you inherently wicked, is it not understandable that neurotypicals would want to protect themselves by taking preemptive, cautionary, albeit arguably discriminatory, measures against those they deem dangerous? After all, it’s considered wise to tranquilize the tiger that bares its teeth. To reiterate, I don’t necessarily support these views. I’m of a much more neutral and open-minded persuasion. Just interested in your response, is all. Apologies for my style of writing – I haven’t slept properly in the longest while.

The bold portions are added by me as a means of aiding the impatient reader.  Basically the question boils down to: can we accept egalitarianism for the psychopath since there are obvious advantages to removing the psychopath from the fold – in the eyes of the neurotypical, that is.

I can unequivocally and totally understand why the neurotypical would want to remove the psychopath from society.  In fact, I will even agree that such a move makes logical sense.  However, my tactic in addressing such wants by neurotypical society is, ironically, to play on emotions and empathy.  The gamesmanship that I employ dictates that there must be equal opportunity for all involved in the great game of life.  I, personally, do not wish to see anyone unjustly removed without at least the possibility of a fair fight should they wish to defend themselves.  I know that society, the zookeeper in the above question, wants to protect itself and will happily over-tranquilize rather than under-tranquilize.  However, is this is this the ethical stance to take and does this sit well with the empathy that neurotypical society supposedly prides itself on?

Ethically, it would seem that the punishment enacted for a crime would fit the “appropriate” level of retribution and no more.  So, in this case, the zookeeper would not be allowed to tranquilize the tiger unless the tiger had acted in a dangerous manner.  Likewise, the zookeeper could not euthanize the tiger without overwhelming evidence of further and imminent hostility.  What I see most often in dealing with neurotypical society, is that they wish to jump to their tranquilizer gun or lethal injection before any danger is realized.  They are afraid of potential more than actuality.  However, this should not sit well with the neurotypical that prides themselves on being “above” the psychopath.  This should seem hypocritical, because it is.

So then, if there is an ethical dilemma regarding how the psychopath is treated, then it should follow that the neurotypical’s empathy should kick in.  If the neurotypical is truly better than the psychopath and is able to maintain an unbiased point of view, then our struggles should qualify for the societal change that the neurotypical craves when combatted with injustice.  Of course, this will not happen due to group dynamics, but the point still stands.  Once again, we are left with the neurotypical being caught as hypocritical.

Yes, it makes perfect sense for the tiger to be kept at arms length from the zookeeper and for the psychopath to be isolated from neurotypical society.  However, just as the zookeeper has an ethical obligation to tend to his animals in a fair and just manner, so should society have the same responsibility when tending to the psychopath.  They should be devastated at the injustice we face, or else they are truly no different than we are on this level.  However, we see that ultimately society is hypocritical as we do not invoke their empathy.  We are running a zoo with a morgue full of dead tigers.

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