Wednesday, January 31, 2007

Erosion of personal responsibility - Part II

This is the excellent foppery of the world, that, when we are sick in fortune, — often the surfeit of our own behavior, — we make guilty of our disasters the sun, the moon, and the stars; as if we were villains on necessity, fools by heavenly compulsion, knaves, thieves, and treachers by spherical predominance, drunkards, liars, and adulterers by an enforc'd obedience of planetary influence, and all that we are evil in, by a divine thrusting on.

This quote from Shakespeare's King Lear (via the Mises Institute) finds a description of those who, throughout human history, have denied free will and personal responsibility, instead blaming their wrongdoings on interventions divine and planetary.

Western criminal law is based on the premise of free will but as neuroscience develops further it is beginning to challenge this basic tenet that glues free societies together.

The British government is seeking to change the law in order to lock up people with personality disorders that are thought to make them likely to commit crimes, before any crime is committed. The national DNA database being built up allows identification of such people. How long, ask the Economist, before those people are subject to surveillance.

In the late 1990s a previously law-abiding American began collecting child pornography. The day before his sentencing, his brain was scanned and he was found to have a brain tumour. When it had been removed, his paedophilic tendencies disappeared. When it started growing back, they returned.

Was he responsible? Should he be locked up?

Scientists have now found a higher concentration of certain molecules in people prone to anger and violence. Are they too blameless for their violent actions?

The old French proverb, "to understand all, is to forgive all" may about to become true.

This would be a huge mistake.