Pedophilia in a Pill

You may remember the case a few years back of the Floridian hypersexual pedophile whose depravity hailed from a brain tumor; the dude (rightly) got off, since he wasn’t culpable for the wiring in his head. You may even remember me taking the next step (scroll down to June 30th on the right-hand side), and remarking that the tumor didn’t really make a difference— nobody is responsible for the way their heads are wired, and the legal system had taken the first step (again, rightly) towards acknowledging that the very concept of culpability, while convenient, is neurologically unsound.

Exhibit B*: Phillip Carmichael, a former Oxfordshire headmaster and pedophile, exonerated after a court decided that his extensive collection of child porn had been amassed while under the influence of prescription drugs. Once again we see evidence that we are mechanical. The very phrase “control yourself” is dualist at its heart, a logical impossibility. It conjures up images of a driver fighting to stop a careening car with bad brakes. But the fact is, there is no driver. There is only the car— we are the car— and when the brake lines have been cut, careening is just what cars do. Medical professionals prescribed a bunch of pills to this man, and they literally turned him into someone else.

You might think that this would make people feel a bit more kindly towards natural-born kiddy-diddlers. After all, if it’s a chemical that turns you into a pervert, you’re not really culpable, are you? You’re taking the same drugs Carmichael was; the only difference is that they’re not being produced by the factory Pharm down the road, they’re being produced in your own head. If anything, natural-born pedophiles have even less choice in the matter than did our Exhibit B; at least Carmichael could have chosen more competent medical council.

I would be willing to bet, though, that most people would not think more kindly of pedophiles after performing this thought experiment, and in fact most people would vilify and shout down anyone who dared to make excuses for these monsters. Anything to do with kids is, by definition, a motherhood issue; and motherhood issues by definition turn us into irrational idiots.

But our legal systems generally define culpability in terms of whether offenders know that their acts are against the law, and by that standard I guess some kind of punishment is called for. Still. Let’s at least be consistent about it, shall we? We know that a human system called Phillip Carmichael deliberately broke the law; it just wasn’t the same Phillip Carmichael who ended up in court after the drugs were withdrawn. That Carmichael had been rebooted back into a benign, Linux sort of personality. The evil child-molesting Microsoft OS had been wiped. So if you want to be consistent about this, put Carmichael back on drugs until the guilty iteration reappears. Then put him in jail.

At least you’d know you have the right guy.

*Thanks to Nas Hedron for the link

This entry was written by Peter Watts , posted on Monday September 15 2008at 01:09 pm , filed under just putting it out there..., neuro . Bookmark the permalink . Post a comment below or leave a trackback: Trackback URL.

14 Responses to “Pedophilia in a Pill”

  1. *rolls up sleeves*

    Oh, it’s on, isn’t it?

  2. This is a goodie. I wish I didn’t have to go home so soon, but here is pass#1:

    1. Legality is matter of precedent, and it sways with the culture, so today’s crazed pedophile was ancient Greece’s normal citizen.

    2. You know that the legal system cannot dictate biology – just because the court says, okay, if you stop taking your Pedolactrine, you are cured, that doesn’t make it so. Collecting kiddie porn is way more than getting some bad pharma; the substrate of propensity must be present, whether you agree it was hardwired at birth, imprinted or learned. I will agree pharmaceuticals might lower thresholds or impair judgement, but *make* you a pedophile out of whole cloth? Improbable.
    Law and biology are not one item.

    3. I like your car image, BUT, unless it’s Kit, that car from the 70′s Knightrider show, human “cars” believe they have free will, and have some moment of decision before they commit to bad acts.

    4. What does the law require for you to be culpable? What are the set of threshold conditions that must be met for culpability?

    Gotta go; you guys have fun!

  3. If one is in a car with bad brakes, one doesn’t take it on the track. (Or one learns to decelerate via downshift.) What this means for the poor sod on the highway who suddenly discovers his massive machine won’t stop fast enough, I’m not sure. (Except that there will be a definite crunch, and insurance takes the rest.) There is an argument to be made that the limitations of one’s machine dictate acceptable actions – the pedophile learns not to hang around the school.

    Unfortunately, this argument also leads to the false god of faith, whereby if one’s compulsion towards God is strong enough, the temptations may be surmounted, and the man who wants to fuck men marries a nice girl and settles down because that’s what he’s supposed to do. How much of an animal do we allow ourselves to be? How much of the faulty wiring and misconnected neurons do we accept and embrace, and how much are we obliged to want to bury?

    More importantly, how do we want to not want something?

  4. If culpability is truly an illusion, then it’s reasonable to assume that rehabilitation – aside from some sort of major medical intervention – is also.

    Wouldn’t that argue for mandatory life sentences for pedophiles?

    What about mandatory medical procedures?

    Also, would a crime even need to be committed if medical tests could prove that an individual has the “pedophile brain”? If culpability is an illusion, why wait for the loaded gun to go off?

    Anything less would be putting the larger population at risk.

    Culpability or no, society has a responsibility to protect it’s members from harm.

    Pedophilia is the hot-button issue, but I imagine this reasoning could be extended to murder, etc.

    Can of worms, there.

  5. 1. This ground has been covered somewhat, years ago, in Larry Niven’s “The Ethics of Madness”. A paranoid who allows himself to go off his meds is guilty of negligent homicide, not murder, when he freaks out and kills people. Not murder, because he was insane; negligence, because he allowed himself to become insane.

    2. “at least Carmichael could have chosen more competent medical council” — if we are deterministic machines, “chosen” is a particularly ill-suited word to use there. Then again, you were probably predetermined to use it.

  6. Lots of good points taken, PW. And you’re right, the real test of someone’s commitment to thinking clearly is to see if they can keep it together when you run edgy pedophilia suggestions by them.

    But here’s a consideration. I’ve got no beef with the hardcore, material monism you’re running. But human nervous systems are exceedingly complex to the point that their behaviors may not be deterministic in any simple manner. That drives a bit of a wedge in your car analogy. Furthermore, it would appear that while drugs, chemical states, and tumors can obviously make people do stuff, even crazy stuff (there’s also a Parkinson’s drug that makes a small percentage of its users into pathological gamblers), it’s also true that talking to them, reasoning with them, getting them to try to exert some control on their behavior, and just flat deciding to do X from their subjective perspective also seems to be causally effective at bringing about outcomes. And these so-called rational means can be the most effective or the only effective means to getting the desired outcomes. So if that’s right, then how could we not employ a punishment system that treats people as responsible, free agents and thereby tries to impose some moral responsibility on them?

    Matt McCormick

  7. Well, the legal part of your argument assumes that the purpose of law enforcement, courts, and prisons, is to punish the guilty. It is, in most countries on Earth, but unfortunately that may be the worst possible purpose for those institutions*. It spends vast amounts of resources, both economic and human, to create hardened criminals and other sorts of people who can function less well in society than when they were put there. And the feeling of “closure” we all get from punishing these miscreants? Priceless? No, it costs us a lot. Valueless, though. It doesn’t make the damage they did any less, or reduce the suffering of their victims at all. But it sure makes us monkeys feel good.

    As for the argument against free will, I doubt we’re anywhere near knowing enough about how our brains and/or minds work to say anything meaningful about it**.

    * No, not the worst, I guess. What they used to do to make Bedlam a profitable operation was worse. Maybe second worst.
    ** Which certainly has never stopped me given a beer or two and a willing discussion group.

  8. While you argument is interesting for argument’s sake, I can’t help but notice that you’re not presenting any consquences. Okay, let’s say we all decide baby-touchers aren’t to blame because they can’t help their wiring (never mind that the baby-touchers’ victims tend to grow up to touch babies themselves, which kind of implies there might be a little bit of nurture mixed up in your nature). Fair enough. Then what?

  9. I have to agree with SpeakerToManagers. Sentencing a man to prison serves two purposes other than sheer vengeance:
    1. It takes the offender away from society and into a place where it can’t do any harm to free citizens.
    2. It provides a deterrent, making people less likely to perform offenses. Obviously, the threat is more important than the actual punishment, but it has to be acted upon to be effective.

    These two reasons don’t require culpability. If a car is broken and the brake lines are cut, TAKE IT OFF THE ROAD.

  10. bec-87rb said…

    …Collecting kiddie porn is way more than getting some bad pharma; the substrate of propensity must be present, whether you agree it was hardwired at birth, imprinted or learned. I will agree pharmaceuticals might lower thresholds or impair judgement, but *make* you a pedophile out of whole cloth? Improbable.

    You're arguing that tweaking neurochemistry can only up the amplitude of a pre-existing substrate, not edit the substrate itself. Given that all the wiring in the brain— substrates and volume dials alike — is fundamentally neurochemical, who's to say that new desires and coimpulsions can’t be manufactured out of whole cloth? The line you draw is an almost duellist one, implying that there is some essence of personhood unaffected my mechanistic processes. You’re talking about a soul, or at least hinting at one. And ooh boy, is this ever the wrong place to try and get away with that

    I like your car image, BUT, unless it’s Kit, that car from the 70′s Knightrider show, human “cars” believe they have free will, and have some moment of decision before they commit to bad acts.

    Well yeah, and Human beings don’t have carburetors either. It’s a metaphor. Not meant to be pushed to extremes.

    What does the law require for you to be culpable? What are the set of threshold conditions that must be met for culpability?

    I've been told that all that's required is for the accused to know that their actions are illegal — even the personal conviction that those actions are morally right doesn't cut it if you know that the actions you consider "right" are still against the law. But that doesn't jibe with the maxim that "ignorance of the law is no excuse", nor with the recent decision of a UK court absolving Greenpeace activists of charges of vandalism on the grounds that they honestly believed that their actions prevented graver damage to the world at large. And of course, what’s true in one jurisdicton may not be in another. So I don’t rightfully know. Anyone? (Nas, you out there?)

  11. Little late to the party, but…

    You’re arguing that tweaking neurochemistry can only up the amplitude of a pre-existing substrate, not edit the substrate itself. Given that all the wiring in the brain— substrates and volume dials alike — is fundamentally neurochemical, who’s to say that new desires and coimpulsions can’t be manufactured out of whole cloth? The line you draw is an almost duellist one, implying that there is some essence of personhood unaffected my mechanistic processes. You’re talking about a soul, or at least hinting at one. And ooh boy, is this ever the wrong place to try and get away with that…

    It certainly is, but what about the mentioned issue of complexity and the connected point of redundancy? We consist of a whole lot of neurochemicals, many of which are bound up into very similiar impulses. It’s reasonable to assume – and from my experience doing civil service at a psychatry, evident – that there will be some thusly reinforced traits more resistant to inputs than others.
    So, call it soul or call it the hardened wiring, I see no reason why there should not be a quasi-substrate.

  12. “Ray” said…

    There is an argument to be made that the limitations of one’s machine dictate acceptable actions – the pedophile learns not to hang around the school.

    ‘Course, if you can successfully argue an irresistible compulsion to kiddle when children are in view, what’s to stop you from also arguing that you have an irresistible compulsion to haunt schoolyards? And so, the infinite regress begins…

    More importantly, how do we want to not want something?

    Off the top of my head— operant conditioning. If you suffer blinding headaches every time you see a naked child, you learn to avoid naked children (or at least to drape them in rain ponchos before you have your way with them).

    Hey, it worked with me and Sarah Palin…

    Anonymous said…

    If culpability is truly an illusion, then it’s reasonable to assume that rehabilitation – aside from some sort of major medical intervention – is also.

    True. It’s also reasonable to assume that our desire to incarcerate for revenge, and to blame even when blame isn’t warranted, are equally beyond individual control. Ditto all your other well-taken cases-in-point. So you can start with an argument against culpability, and end up resigned to exactly the same system we’ve had all along. I don’t know why, but that reminds me of string theory for some reason…

    Can of worms, there.

    For sure. But that’s the way we like it here, yes?

    Ross said…

    "at least Carmichael could have chosen more competent medical council" — if we are deterministic machines, "chosen" is a particularly ill-suited word to use there. Then again, you were probably predetermined to use it.

    Exactly! Really, the only entity one can blame for anything is the Big Bang.

    Matt McCormick said…

    I’ve got no beef with the hardcore, material monism you’re running. But human nervous systems are exceedingly complex to the point that their behaviors may not be deterministic in any simple manner.

    Human behavior can be unpredictable, certainly, but that doesn't mean they aren't deterministic. There's no end of deterministic models that produce unpredictable behaviors— something as simple as a Ricker curve can do as much. That's one of the basic underpinnings of complexity theory (or what remains of complexity theory these days). In theory, these behaviors are predictable given infinitely-precise measurement of starting conditions.

    None of which detracts from your point in practical, everyday terms, of course…

    … it’s also true that talking to them, reasoning with them, getting them to try to exert some control on their behavior, and just flat deciding to do X from their subjective perspective also seems to be causally effective at bringing about outcomes. And these so-called rational means can be the most effective or the only effective means to getting the desired outcomes. So if that’s right, then how could we not employ a punishment system that treats people as responsible, free agents and thereby tries to impose some moral responsibility on them?

    Good point. I agree with it (I scribble out these rants out to provoke discussion and maybe scam some harvestable ideas, not necessarily because I believe everything I say). But I would tweak your wording away from treating people as “responsible”, and towards treating them as “malleable”. That shifts the emphasis from punishment to reprogramming.

    SpeakerToManagers said…

    As for the argument against free will, I doubt we’re anywhere near knowing enough about how our brains and/or minds work to say anything meaningful about it.

    We’re still quite a ways from doing much with it, in terms of honest-to-god synaptic rewiring and other cyberpunky bells and whistles. But the underlying principles are getting clearer all the time. I think there’s a lot of meaningful things to be said.

    The Lake Fever said…

    While you argument is interesting for argument’s sake, I can’t help but notice that you’re not presenting any consequences. Okay, let’s say we all decide baby-touchers aren’t to blame because they can’t help their wiring … Then what?

    Then we go one of two ways: either we keep baby-touchers and other miscreants locked away for society’s protection until such a time as we can rewire them for more acceptable behavior — at which time we immediately release them because they've stopped being a threat — or we argue that we are no more culpable for our own desire to exact revenge and lynch pervs than the pervs are culpable for their own depravity, so we might as well go ahead and string 'em up.

    In all honesty, I don't know which of those alternatives scares me more. The first one sounds better off the top, but there’s that very iffy question about who gets to decide what constitutes “antisocial” behavior to be engineered away…

    And Michael Grosberg said…

    If a car is broken and the brake lines are cut, TAKE IT OFF THE ROAD.

    Agreed. So, a vote for Scenario #1…

  13. Mr Watts sez:
    Given that all the wiring in the brain— substrates and volume dials alike — is fundamentally neurochemical, who’s to say that new desires and coimpulsions can’t be manufactured out of whole cloth

    Oh, tricky! I didn’t say that it couldn’t, I’m saying that it didn’t in this dude’s case. A fellow takes a drug to promote dopamine production, was it, and suddenly he is taken with a compulsion to ..what? Collect stamps? Eat nails? Gamble? Nope, he is taken with a compulsion to collect erotic photos of minors. That is activation of a proclivity already present, unless modern pharmaceuticals got way more sophisticated while we weren’t looking.

    I’m sorry for the guy that his up-to-that-point hidden sexual arousal circuits were revealed when his inhibitions got lowered or his reward system thresholds got jiggered, but his compulsions took a particular form not dictated by the drugs.

    Consider, if this drug he took turned standard-o-sexuals into raving pedophiles, then you’d have had more than one guy with this weird side-effect. This gentleman was a nascent pedophile already.

    You’re talking about a soul, or at least hinting at one.

    *Harumph*
    I never did.

    It’s a metaphor. Not meant to be pushed to extremes.

    Granted. Point to you. I like Mr. Grosberg’s use of your metaphor, I have to admit.

    I’ve been told that all that’s required is for the accused to know that their actions are illegal

    Interesting, hmmmm! Would you imagine our Parkinson’s patient knew what he was doing was illegal? I’m thinking he did.

    Greenpeace activitists

    If knowing what you’re doing is illegal is the measure, then vandalism is breaking the law. Or maybe I am being curmudgeonly to suggest that if you knowingly break the law to prove a point, getting arrested is part of the process? Srsly, I thought that was the point, getting attention by letting the boot of the State light on your neck briefly. Civil disobedience, etc.?

  14. lakefever:
    Okay, let’s say we all decide baby-touchers aren’t to blame because they can’t help their wiring … Then what?

    Mr Watts:
    ..either we keep baby-touchers and other miscreants locked away for society’s protection until such a time as we can rewire them for more acceptable behavior — at which time we immediately release them because they’ve stopped being a threat — or … we might as well go ahead and string ‘em up.

    You missed a step? Maybe two?

    We give them the option to rewire/retrain themselves. These are grown men, in possession of their faculties, right? Could they agree to some future procedure or drug or whatever that allows rewiring to occur?

    You’re about to say, “It’s the same thing as enforced re-wiring, because the penalty is so high.”

    I say, If you love some part of yourself so much that you’re willing to keep it even if it causes gross harm to others, and to yourself, that is your right. But if you make the informed decision to keep that part, you must also be an adult and take the consequences if any.

    Do you agree?

    For instance, here’s a step you missed that actually almost exists today – sexual behs are multi-step processes, so what if we let our pedophile keep his wiring, but prevent his activation? Drugs that dampen sexual desire, for instance?

    What if there were a drug that for 1 year and with no other side effects, utterly killed his libido? If he agrees to take it each year, freely, with no arm twisting, both me and we can be assured that he will not act on his proclivity because that part of the feedback loop is gone.

    Too 1984? Too Clockwork Orange?