Wednesday, January 28, 2009

Abuse Excuse

Abuse Excuse

Gregory Koukl

Greg identifies the underlying view of human nature of those who would accept the "My mom abused me!" excuse from a criminal.


I want to talk to you about something that we've talked about here before, and that's the "reason as an excuse" point of view.

By the way, this is what we saw being used in the Lorena Bobbitt case and in the Menendez brothers case to acquit, or at least to get a hung jury. In other words, these people said: You know, life was really hard. We have a reason we were mad enough to either blow our parents away with multiple shotgun blasts, or to tiptoe in the dead of night and snip off the husband's penis. Those despicable crimes are excusable because of the reasons for which they were done.

Alan Dershowitz wrote a great article. The title is great: "Abuse Excuse Du Jour Victimizes Many." If you're not up on your French, it means abuse excuse of the day, and every day has a different one. Like soup du jour, you know? What's the soup of the day? Every day we change the soup on the menu.

This is "abuse excuse du jour." The idea is that there's a kind of a merry-go-round of abuse excuses that justify immoral behavior, and the latest one Alan Dershowitz writes about is the "adopted child syndrome."

Listen to this. Dershowitz writes: "This newest entry into the competition over which defense lawyers can come up with the most bizarre syndrome is from Joel Rifkin's lawyer, Martin Efman."

Who's this Rifkin guy? Rifkin has admitted to murdering 17 women.

Get the picture here, folks. Rifkin says he murdered seventeen women, mostly prostitutes.


If they [the accused] didn't have a moral obligation to do right because of their bad circumstances, why do we have a moral obligation to understand their bad circumstances and exercise leniency?


Dershowitz continues, "His abuse excuse for this serial killing rampage? 'I was rejected by my mother.'" Rifkin apparently believes that his biological mother, who gave him up for adoption as an infant, may have been a prostitute. And, according to his lawyer, this explains why he gravitated to the world of prostitutes. But why did he have to kill them? Simple. He strangled women to alleviate his own pain!

If this kind of psycho babble were not becoming so prevalent in our courts, it would be a sick joke, or perhaps a sob story on Sally Jesse Raphael. "Adopted child syndrome" and its dozens of variations is now the defense of choice in a growing number of murder cases. The phrase was coined by Dr. David Kirschner, a psychologist and director of the Psychotherapy Clinic in Baltimore. He's an expert witness on the issue. Dershowitz points out that "Kirschner has already assisted in the defense of 10 adopted children who have been charged with murder." Apparently this man is arguing that they have "adopted child syndrome." They were rejected, therefore they should not be held blameworthy for their murders.

What is this syndrome? Well, it allegedly includes the following symptoms: pathological lying, learning problems, running away, sexual promiscuity, absence of normal guilt and anxiety, and extreme anti-social behavior. Dershowitz points out that these sound like the same characteristics shared by a lot of people, including most if not all criminals and many anti-social people.

I also highlighted a couple of these items: pathological lying, sexual promiscuity, and an absence of normal guilt and anti-social behavior. The reason I highlighted them is that it seems our educational system is particularly adept at teaching these kinds of things.

What are you talking about, Koukl? Are you some kind of wild man out there on the fringe?

No. Remember, our educational system is very paranoid about suggesting that there is any value system which has merit, and says that we ought not force our values on other people. Therefore it essentially encourages a relativistic view of morality.

Why shouldn't people lie pathologically if that's their value system? If there's nothing that is absolutely wrong, then what's the point of having guilt? Of course, this would set one at odds with any society that required certain types of behavior, so he'd become anti-social.

Sexual promiscuity speaks for itself. You can get condoms in every school, and to suggest that there's something wrong with pre-marital sex is anathema. It's one of the most serious social crimes you can commit not the sex part, but saying there's something wrong with the sex part.

Here's a syndrome that results in people murdering others, and four or five of the symptoms of that syndrome seem to be the kinds of things we're encouraging in our schools by the way we teach, or fail to teach, or refuse to teach values.

But here's something else I think is kind of a chuckle. Actually, I would be laughing more if it weren't so bizarre. There are ten people now being defended as murderers using this defense! This one guy admitted to murdering seventeen women.

Here's the bizarre thing: What is the appeal being made based on the "adopted child syndrome"? Isn't it kind of an appeal to us as members of society to be fair or reasonable or to understand? Isn't there a suggestion here that we have a moral obligation to take this into consideration that we ought to let these people off because they had it hard?


If we are merely the products of our environment, then all of us are basically machines and no one is responsible.


The question I have for them is, if they didn't have a moral obligation to do right because of their bad circumstances, why do we have a moral obligation to understand their bad circumstances and exercise leniency? Why should I even be compelled to care? Why should it matter? Why can't I just say that, as a legal system, we have a story too?

We've been abused! The citizens have been abused by abusive excuses! We've been abused by the "dumb excuse syndrome," and because of that we're not responsible for our actions. So let's kill 'em all! How about that? Let's just kill 'em all, and we're not responsible as a society because we've been victimized by the "dumb excuse syndrome." It's an idea. I mean, if the logic works in one set of circumstances, it seems to me it ought to work in the other as well.

Why is it people even argue this way? Well, I've mentioned before that ideas compel most things, and the ideas are more important than the details. I think the reason people are compelled in this fashion is because there's a viewpoint that people are machines. They don't have souls anymore; they're just neurons and c-fibers firing, and brain cells and that kind of stuff. They're machines that merely respond to the pushing of certain buttons. So if someone pushes those buttons, why do we hold the machine responsible for doing that which it's programmed to do? If people are merely machines products of the environment then we should change the environment so the machines function differently.

I think that's at the heart of a lot of this argumentation. It's a deficient view of man, and the reason it's really deficient is the point I've been making for the last ten minutes. If it's true that man is just a machine and not responsible because other factors cause him to do the things he does, then it seems to me you can't hold any man responsible like a judge or a jury or a policeman who acts in such a way as to punish those people for doing what they did. Why can't we just say that we are merely the products of an abusive system as I mentioned before products of abuse by sick and abusive excuses that compel us to want to punish these people in a vicious fashion?

If we are merely the products of our environment, then all of us are basically machines and no one is responsible. That's why it doesn't work to try to appeal for leniency on the basis of some kind of moral responsibility founded on the notion that we ought to be lenient to people who had it hard. Either we're all machines or we aren't. If we're machines, nobody's responsible, and if we aren't machines, then it seems like everyone's responsible and we have to deal with human beings in that fashion.

I think we're not machines. To pass people off as mere products of their environment removes their human dignity. That's why I think punishment ultimately dignifies people, not rehabilitation. Rehabilitation just means let's change the circuit board because the man is just a machine and we'll fix him.

This is a transcript of a commentary from the radio show "Stand to Reason," with Gregory Koukl. It is made available to you at no charge through the faithful giving of those who support Stand to Reason. Reproduction permitted for non-commercial use only. ©1994 Gregory Koukl


Anonymous said...

The excuse my family NPD always came up with when he did something outrageous was "you always HURT the ones you LOVE" while batting the puppy-dog eyes and looking like butter wouldn't melt in his mouth. I bought it for years, but no more.

If someone says that to you, RUN! It's the mantra of an abuser.

Anonymous said... about "I wouldn't argue with you if I didn't love you"....

Anonymous said...

Lorena Bobbitt was severely abused by her husband for years. Please do your research before stating egregious comments like saying it was her fault. Do not perpetuate the fallacy that victims never fight back.

Anonymous said...

My narcissist seemed to have no concept of time, which served him well for absolution of all abuse, along the lines of 'That happened yesterday/a week ago, why are we talking about that, its today now so it's irrelevant.' In fact, the past appeared to be anything even a nano-second ago. He similarly seemed to have no concept of the future, and therefore no realization of the consequences in the future of current abuse.

Anonymous said...

I agree with Sept 30, 2010 post about anything that was said or done in the past is irrelevant.The thing is I couldn't forget the past and was always on edge at what was to be forthcoming.Became a complete nervous wreck.