Friday, March 11, 2005

On Insanity

Reading about the arrest of a teenage suspected in causing Wednesday's California train derailment, I thought it was natural to ask, "why would a kid do that?--if the person did, of course." I guess there might be many reasons and probably few good ones, but some might say that the teenager wasn't right in the head. I can buy that. And I also know that there are some that say a society can and should be judged by how it treats its people with the least voice and competencies.

But I wonder how far this logic can go. It seems that whenever young adults, teenagers, or kids commit a crime, especially a heinous one, there's always a strand of argument that says we cannot punish them as sternly or harshly as we would adults. People under the arbitrary age of 18 or 16, so the reasoning goes, just don't have mental capacity developed enough to know fully from right or wrong. Sure, this makes sense. It's probably a good idea that folks don't get to drive until their 16 or vote until their 18. But when bad crimes like this are committed, I wonder about this reasoning. Not that I am saying that a crime as nasty like this requires the devious and devilish mind of a cold, calculating, and scheming adult or super-child. Instead, I'm wondering where the distinction comes at the other end. I would think that committing most crimes require a diminished mental capacity since the person committing the crime doesn’t seem able to distinguish between right and wrong. More simply put and asked: aren't most criminal acts like murder or rape indicative of a limited mental capacity on the part of the perpetrator--regardless of age? Isn't criminal action in-and-of-itself evidence of a certain form of insanity?


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