surrender # 6 Being the sixth issue of Surrender: A Journal of Ethics

Sunday, December 07, 2003 :::
Will No One Rid Me of These Meddlesome Books?

Possible future essays in the zine: the hows and whys and deep ambivalences of becoming a late-in-life Deadhead after years of ignorant disdain for them; a long disquisition on my favorite photograph of myself. In the meantime, here are some more books I finished last April.

PSYCHIATRY AND NEW PERSPECTIVES ON CRIMINAL BEHAVIOR by C.R. Jeffery et al. One of the most openly evil books I’ve ever read, yet instructive in its clear-eyed and unashamed presentation of the totalitarianism hidden behind biopsychiatric explanations. This book stands proudly and strongly behind the ideas that there is no such thing as a choice for which someone should be praised or blamed or punished, and that, of course, the state should be able to forcible treat anyone for any reason at the call of biopsychiatric scientists.

Chapter four, “Law, Biological Psychiatry, and Diseases of the Brain” is one of the most brazenly hilarious examples I’ve come across of someone speculating beyond the evidence in defense of a ridiculous thesis—from page to page he both makes assertions about the “brain disease” nature of certain misbehaviors and ad hoc “syndromes” like post-traumatic stress disorder and then admits over and over that of course we haven’t found the evidence for these assumptions yet—lots of “assumed” and “probably” and “it is hoped before too long” peppered throughout. (You see some of this same rhetoric in defenders of evolutionary biology—they literally cannot imagine that their base presumptions might not be true, so whatever explanation they come up with that fits logically with those presumptions must be true. This does not, of course, mean that they aren’t right—it just means they haven’t proven it.)

The authors could have stopped the book after a paragraph proclaiming, “humans don't really act or choose, and we should be able to do anything we want to anyone we please because of this fact.’” The chapter in which the author details the actions of various famous murderers, muses on what sort of brain diseases we would have found if only we’d studied them, then leans back as if something has been demonstrated is also good for a sour chuckle or three.

This book is foolish, and motivated by pure evil. Still, it has one good polemical point: the authors are foursquare opposed to the standard insanity defense. Of course, they are against it because it implies that there are some people who are in control of their actions and should be considered responsible for them, and of course that can’t be true. The authors can’t even keep on top of their nutty presuppositions—one of them, for some mysterious reason, discusses the growth in crime in Miami after the influx of lots of Caribbeans and Central Americans—are we to presume they all suffer from some racial neurological imbalance leading them to crime? In one way the authors are more intellectually honest than many in this field—they recognize that biopsychiatry creates a divide between total freedom and total tyranny, and openly and proudly choose total tyranny. For those who don’t understand the connection between biopsychiatry and tyranny, or who deny it, this book is a constructive lesson. One might say that these authors are merely dopes and their thoughts on the implications of biopsychiatry are meaningless in judging its cultural and political effects and implications. That’s as may be, but I suspect in the realm of popular politics these guys’ conclusions will dominate more than the subtle (as a serpent) thinkers who say that there is no such thing as will or choice but we should—and will—have political freedom anyway.

LEXICON DEVIL: THE FAST TIMES AND SHORT LIFE OF DARBY CRASH AND THE GERMS by Brendan Mullen with Don Bolles and Adam Parfrey. An amusing oral history on the links between dumb kids, Scientology-linked groovy mid-'70s educational experiments, and self-indulgent dolts who could make a terrific and dreadful noise. Don was there behind the drums, Mullen hung around and talked to everyone, and Adam had to get the whole thing put together—there are some hints the tortured story of getting this book finished might have been as aggravating and funny as the stories in the book itself. Darby and the Germs are among the most controversial figures in punk history—genuinely controversial, in that no standardly accepted version on whether the band was ever any good or Darby an interesting singer/thinker/human being has yet dominated the “scholarly literature.” This book doesn’t really take sides either, though its very existence would appear to be a vote in the “Darby Yeh!” category. Not having been around LA before that fateful Dec. 8, 1980, I can only say that I can dig hearing (GI) almost any ol’ time.

ROBERT NOZICK by A.R. Lacey. A serviceable explanation of the major writings and ideas of an often-infuriating writer and philosopher. Lacey is not the kind of expositor who can make you see things in a writer that the writer himself couldn’t—that is, if you go in sympathetic to or aggravated by aspects of Nozick’s conclusions or style, Lacey won’t change your mind on any of that—nor will he make things that didn’t make sense to you in Nozick make any more sense. Is the practice of endless consideration of counterfactuals intellectually illuminating in the main? Was Nozick just being a self-glorifying jackass with his smug assertions that he wasn’t out to “coerce” people into agreement with him? What the hell is “organic unity,” such that we should value it (or, should I say, such that it defines value?) How can compensation play any real role in a system of justice with rights as side constraints? Lacey can’t answer these questions any better than Nozick himself. As such, not a whole lot to recommend this over and above reading Nozick himself, except that this book is a lot shorter than any of Nozick’s.

::: posted by Brian at 10:10 PM


Being the sixth issue of Surrender: A Journal of Ethics

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