Saturday, March 12, 2011

“Who’ll stop the rain”

“Who’ll stop the rain”

“Long as I remember rains be fallen’ down.
Clouds of mystery pourin’ confusion on the ground.
Good men through the ages searchin’
for the sun and I wonder, still I wonder
who’ll stop the rain.”
Credence Clearwater Revival

I am on the social networking site Facebook. There someone posted a link to a call to protest the release of a one Michael Woodmansee . Mr. Woodmansee is a convicted murderer. He murdered a fellow child at the age of 16. The details are of the sort that arise passions.  This piqued my interest and lead me to post the flowing comment. If you are of the persuasion of these thoughts then it is “preaching to the choir.” If not they will probably be quite unsettling if not enraging. There is usually little “in-between” in these matters.

The core thought that is expressed again later is “The truth is we harm ourselves the more we hurt others. And that is what punishment does, it hurts others, pure and simple and therefore through it we harm ourselves.”

I started my thoughts thus: “I am glad to see an open discussion on this matter.”

I have been involved in these matters for a very long time. No I am not in the legal profession. I am a physician so think some about the human condition for a living. Long before that I thought about what we “should” do with ourselves, that was in college. We give various names to this “Ethics” etc. It has surprised me how my career has never quite veered in some respects from staying close to commenting on and trying to improve the understanding of what we call the “criminal mind” and the criminal justice system. My first attempt was my college thesis “Let Us Help Him Who Did So Human A Thing.”

Therapist long ago took on Terence’s aphorism “Nothing that is human is foreign.” Jeffrey Dahmer,. Hitler et al who committed unspeakable atrocities are in the end human and it falls to someone to understand them because without understanding we do not progress as humans and I believe given the right circumstance we are all quite capable of atrocities.

Nietzsche said to understand the sate of a society look to how they treat their prisoners. So I have tried to come at these things always not from a right or left or religious viewpoint. So how? From what we call science.  That said, and so, it always bothered me when many a religious will supposedly promote the gospel of “vengeance be mine saith the lord” and that and that redemption is a personal mater and yet are on the front lines of executions.

I simply do not believe at this point in history that “punishment” has any place in the armament of human interactions. The only reason to incarcerate is to protect society from the harm others might due to the high probability that they will reoffend. Of course there are all kinds of details to be worked out. How long do we incarcerate ect if we do not base it on a sense of “justice.” Is this “radical?” I believe all psychological research tells me I am not, I am not radical.  Otherwise I believe in a “Restorative Justice” approach and reparations.

Punishment cannot be used for retribution or vengeance. It is and of course will continue to be used. It certainly will be but I see no religious/moral/philosophical grounding for it.

Anyway the way I see it. Now why? It is because criminality starts and stops in the human mind. Crimes are discreet acts no matter how horrible. The truth is we harm ourselves the more we hurt others. And that is what punishment does, it hurts others, pure and simple and therefore through it we harm ourselves.  If that is what one wants that is your problem.  All we can do is try and heal ourselves. I have never understood what business I had yelling for the harm of another who did me no harm? And of course here I am even arguing against that. Sure I am part of society and there is violence done to society but again. Again in the end they are discreet acts.  As we know the execution of one will not bring back the deceased.

I do not believe in “evil.” Whatever took place in the mind of this 16 year old took place due to some combination of genetics and environment. I have briefly looked for some biographical data but have found nothing but that his father was retired police. This is a red flag. I have great respect for police. We tell them to “take care” of the business that we want no part of. They absorb all the trauma then go home and get addicted to prescription drugs and alcohol and beat their kids and wives and honest citizenry that they stop and the dishonest ones. I know, I hear the tales. Certainly not all, nor even the majority, but maybe it was true in this household. And it does not take much. 

If the idea of murder does seem to come out of left field like it apparently did with Leapold and Lobe then it simply does. I for one ask why is it so hard to understand. Why is it so hard to understand that, well, people might be broken, simply broken? It is then to understand. A simple tornado comes out of left field and destroys 300 lives and that is simple to understand and yet we are flabbergasted when billions of neurons take a momentary left turn

Do I believe in excuses? Darn right I do. I believe in explanations. I believe the mind to be fragile. To explain is to understand.

So should he be released?  It is a done deal is it not?  I think we have a system. I think the system is going in the right direction. I think it cannot be perfect. For sure we cannot know for sure that “good behavior” proves anything. We do know that even at 18 people are much different than at 16 and then again at 22 and even at 25. The brain is not fully integrated until 25. Almost all murders are committed before 25 years of age. I don’t think it is for me to have an opinion. I do not have the facts.

I am happy Pat Quinn signed the death penalty out of existence in Illinois today.


Brian Lynch, M.D., Chicago

Shame and Humiliation (Summary of Principles used in these posts.)

Tomkins, Silvan S.: Affect Imagery Consciousness NY: SPringer Publishing Company, 1963.

Shame and Pride : Affect, Sex, and the Birth of the Self by Donald L. Nat

On  Amazon by Brian Lynch Paper Back and Kindle:
"Knowing Your Emotions"
"Doing- Thinking- Feeling - In The World"

Facebook | Affect Psychology


  1. Good stuff - I just sent a brief email, and will comment more later.


  2. I was happy to see that Quinn abolished the death penalty, too.

    Thanks for this piece. It's interesting how people--all of us--seem to have retribution and revenge come rather naturally. Even some of the most preogressive-minded politicians bend over backwards to appear "tough on crime." And what does "tough on crime" mean? Invariably it means being as harsh as possible to convicts. The Neitzsche quote is salient, I think.

    I don't believe in evil, either--especially when it comes to a teenage murderer. What we know about the brain, as you said, should modify how the legal system handles a case like that. It seems like every month or so I read another story about some 13 year-old being tried as an adult.

    Thanks for the piece.

  3. Does the 'death penalty' really act as a deterrent to violent crime anyway?

  4. William,
    Correct, as far as I know no research as ever shown that there is any deterrent effect.
    Dr. Lynch