Deviance has been on my mind quite a lot lately. Law and disorder, crime and punishment, deviancy and normalcy – it’s a weedy garden this Eden I inhabit. Not surprising I suppose. I have probably spent too much time starring into the Abyss.
Some people are fascinated by extreme deviant behavior such as Karla Homolka’s -(see earlier posts “Finding Karla”(PT 1,2,& 3) or my book “Karla: A Pact with the Devil” now for sale in the States for the first time.)
Something a bit strange to me is how desperately everyone wants a cogent explanation for incoherent acts. We want to know why someone who is ostensibly just like us could commit such heinous acts.
As I wrote in the first chapter of “Karla,” “There are abiding mysteries in Life such as who cleft the Devil’s foot or what songs the Sirens sang?” It has always been my considered opinion that extreme deviancy is just that kind of mystery – abiding.
As people familiar with this particular case know, by 2003, Karla had been examined by at least sixteen psychiatrists and psychologists, the majority of whom diagnosed her as a battered woman suffering from post-traumatic stress disorder. (That is the official explanation, the one the Justice system accepted but spparently few laypersons concur.)
I continued: “A few contrarians diagnosed her as a psychopath.” Now that’s something many people readily accepted, except technically, by the definition of this so called extreme “personality disorder” as delineated by the DSM-IV-TR and the Hare Checklist (which was administered Karla at least three times by three different “experts”, Karla is not a psychopath.)
“One honest man described her as a ‘diagnostic mystery.’(No more satisfying a concluson than abiding mysteries.) Regardless, the more Karla is studied the more mysterious and inexplicable her past behavior becomes.”
This statement remains as true today as it was when I wrote it. After all, Karla is now a mother of three young children with a thriving online business and a doting husband who divides her time between Montreal and Guadeloupe, a French protectorate in the Caribbean. (Nice life if you can get it.)
The other day I stumbled across an old article I had clipped years ago that comes at deviancy as though it is possible to explain. (Deviancy takes many forms and shapes not just the most extreme such as Karla’s crimes manifest.)
Written by Charles Krauthammer “The Indictment of Ozzie and Harriet” was first published in The New Republic in 1993 and one of the things it strongly suggests is professional explainers such as the psychiatrists and psychologists who tried to explain Karla are at the very root of a much larger conceptual problem than whether Karla was mad or just bad.
In the article Krauthammer, an American Pulitzer Prize winning columnist, political commentator, and physician, also sometimes classified as a Neocon, starts by ruminating on an essay he read in The American Scholar” by Daniel Patrick Moynihan entitled “Defining Deviancy Down.” This article is all the more interesting because Moynihan was a life-long influential Democrat and scholar.
Monyihan’s essay argued that deviancy had become an epidemic.
Deviance had reached such incomprehensible proportions that we adopted a unique form of denial that significantly lowered the threshold for what we were prepared to call normal. This in order to keep “the volume of deviancy within manageable proportions.” Obtuse, perhaps, but interesting.
For example: In the thirty some odd years between 1960 and 1993 the incidence of single parenthood had tripled. Almost 30 percent of all North American children in the early 90s were born to unmarried mothers.
“The relationship of fatherlessness to poverty, welfare dependency, crime and other pathologies points to a monstrous social problem” in both Monyihan’s and Krauthammer’s opinion. Obama was born too late. Those were the days when Democrats and Republicans took each other’s ideas seriously.
Moynihan’s second example was crime.
According to Moynihan “we” have become totally inured to levels of criminality considered intolerable in 1960. He gave the example of the St. Valentine’s Day Massacre even though it only involved four thugs killing seven other thugs it became the iconic definition of atrocity for an earlier generation.
Whereas in 1992 seven to ten homicides were the tally on an average weekend in Los Angeles.
Monyihan’s last example was mental illness. In the 1990s there had been no noticeable increase in mental illness; that rates of schizophrenia had not changed, but the rate of hospitalization for schizophrenia and other psychoses had dropped – dramatically. In 1955 there were 93,000 diagnosed patients in New York State asylums, in 1992, 11,000.
Where did the remaining 82,000 inmates “and their descendants” go? In one generation a tsunami of mentally ill people flooded the streets of North American cities.
These refugees from the asylum have been systematically redefined as “the homeless”. Today, we routinely step over them sleeping in doorways and over warming grates in the middle of the street. They are now accepted as part of the cityscape, but universally described as folks who lack affordable housing.
Legions of professional helpers, intellectuals and most egregiously, Moynihan and Krauthammer say, “the mass media,” ubiquitous colluders in all degeneration, have defined deviance down by describing it’s manifestations as “lifestyle choices” The homeless are not crazy or sick they’re just very poor – “as if anyone crazy and sick and abandoned would not end up very poor.”
Here’s his point that remains relevant. With what Krauthammer and Moynihan describe as “the moral deregulation of the sixties,” we had an “explosion of deviancy in family life, criminal behavior and public displays of psychosis. “We have dealt with it by redefining deviancy to make “normal” what a more “civilized, ordered and healthy society would have labeled – and did label – deviant.”