Thursday, March 5, 2009

unstable Asians and the insanity defense

We of Asian ethnicity have heard the stereotypes: Asians are neurotic slaves to parental pressure, manic overachievers, and generally nerdy as hell. You don't normally see an Asian leading man in an American movie unless he's proficient at one or more martial arts-- also part of the Asian stereotype. Asians are paradoxically viewed as overly passionate and expressive, but also overly stoic and detached. What's strange, though, is that the phrase "emotionally unstable" is almost never a part of the stereotype.

That might change, what with the Cho Seung Hui massacre, the recent stabbing of a Kiwi teacher by a Korean teen, and the horrifying beheading of a Greyhound Bus passenger by a Chinese immigrant.

The above-linked article notes the clemency of Canadian justice: the murderer was adjudged insane, and will have no criminal record. That's too bad; I'm not a fan of the insanity defense. I understand the rationale behind it ("can you blame an angry bear for acting like an angry bear?"), but don't accept it as sufficient to obviate the need for some sort of punitive or severely restrictive measure. Travis the chimpanzee might also have been considered "not responsible for his actions," but his shooting death was condign: had he not been stopped, he would have done far worse damage than he'd already done.

I've mentioned Herbert Fingarette before, but just to remind you: Fingarette, in his book Confucius: The Secular as Sacred, notes that responsibility breaks down two ways: (1) it refers to one's being the locus of some action (e.g., "Who ate the hiker? That bear did."), and (2) it refers to moral agency (e.g., the difference between accidentally and deliberately injuring someone). While sense (2) might not apply to an insane person, sense (1) assuredly does, so it is within bounds to say that an insane person is responsible for his deeds. Punishment might not be the answer if the person in question is truly unable to process the gravity of what he's done, which is why I also mentioned severely restrictive measures. I'm not convinced that rehabilitation and eventual release into the community (which is what the above-linked article says is a possibility for Vince Li, the crazy Chinese immigrant) are the best solutions when dealing with the criminally insane.

Then there's this example of Asian insanity...


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