I know everybody’s tired of it and of him. But questions linger and the post mortems are just as, or more important than, the explosion of media reporting that accompanies the events. We all know how bad that was. Except for this, and I’m not sure if it counts since it’s on the blogs and not in print – John Cruikshank prolly doesn’t even know it’s there.
The post mortems are threatening to be equally bad, even when of the more, er, “thoughtful” kind. Take this from The Globe and Mail:
In 1941, American psychiatrist Hervey Cleckley published a seminal book about psychopaths called The Mask of Sanity, in which he described an intelligent and cunning person skilled at manipulating others and indifferent to their pain. A man like this, Dr. Cleckley explained, finds no real meaning in love or horror or humour, as if “colour blind” to human feeling.
Dr. Cleckley used interviews, observation and medical records to learn about his patients, but today, brain imaging offers scientists a new way to peer behind the mask. A growing number of them now see psychopathy as a neurodevelopmental disorder, one in which a combination of genetic and environmental factors, such as neglect or poor bonding with parents, lead to deficits in the brain. And if biology is to blame, can society hold the psychopath responsible?
The brain deficits that neuroscientists have documented affect the ability of psychopaths to feel emotions and learn from their mistakes – as if they have a learning disability that impairs their emotional development, says Kent Kiehl, a neuroscientist at the University of New Mexico. The differences have been seen in the brain images of children as young as 5.
There is much that I find interesting and important in these theories and findings. Including that it might be quite beside the point to “blame” and punish psychopaths – though it’s still important to find humane ways to protect ourselves from them. But what they almost always leave out, as in this case, are questions about gender and race. Perhaps that comes later for scientists and most media types but I think the issues need to be addressed now.
Why are criminal “psychopaths” most often male? Why are their victims most often female (and children)? If we remain obsessed by the neurobiological, importantand intriguing as it is, we fail to properly address the fact that psychopathology results from a complex process involving not just the biological but also the social and environmental.
Cops miss this too, even when they acknowledge the interconnections. For instance, The FBI produced a monograph on serial murder after a “multi-disciplinary” symposium on the topic held in San Antonio in 2005. Here’s something the monograph says about causality and serial killing:
Serial murderers, like all human beings, are the product of their heredity, their upbringing, and the choices they make throughout development.
Though the monograph does discuss this in somewhat more complex terms like “environment” it never really gets beyond the issue of “upbringing” within the family. It never gets to the “social” at all, beyond pointing out that serial murders are present across racial and socioeconomic divides. When it addresses the myth that serial killers are (mostly) white males, it explains how that is not so in terms of race but never deals with the issue of gender.
I’m thinking there weren’t any feminists at the symposium. A feminist might ask why male psychopathy more often leads to serial death than female psychopathy. Might also ask why the victims are more often women, especially when murder is combined with sexual assault. A feminist might think certain social divisions need to be investigated. Like women’s inequality. Like the objectification and sexification of women. Like the violent images of women’s victimhood so beloved in the Western world that they comprise a multi-billion dollar industry – and not just in porn. Like the vulnerability often imposed on women by race and poverty. Like the masculinization of power.
But while we’re on race and poverty. One thing that I do like about the FBI monograph is that it points out how rare serial murdering is.
Serial murder is a relatively rare event, estimated to comprise less than one percent of all murders committed in any given year. However, there is a macabre interest in the topic that far exceeds its scope and has generated countless articles, books, and movies.
We’ve certainly experienced that in Canada this past week. There isn’t a way to diminish the suffering of the Lloyd and Comeau families or the tragedy of the deaths of these sisters and daughters. But their deaths and the prurient and sensational interest in Colonel Williams and others like him does diminish our aptitude for further examination of the lives and suffering of others. For instance, apart from a few brief mentions, does anyone seem to care much for the women who survived attacks by Williams? That is, apart from Antonia Zerbisias. And why isn’t the media all over the stories of missing and murdered Aboriginal women. If Williams had chosen from among them, would anybody have noticed? From Amnesty International Canada:
According to a Canadian government statistic, young Indigenous women are five times more likely than other women of the same age to die as the result of violence.
Indigenous women have long struggled to draw attention to violence within their own families and communities. Canadian police and public officials have also long been aware of a pattern of racist violence against Indigenous women in Canadian cities – but have done little to prevent it.
The pattern looks like this:
- Racist and sexist stereotypes deny the dignity and worth of Indigenous women, encouraging some men to feel they can get away with acts of hatred against them.
- Decades of government policy have impoverished and broken apart Indigenous families and communities, leaving many Indigenous women and girls extremely vulnerable to exploitation and attack.
- Many police forces have failed to institute necessary measures – such as training, protocols and accountability mechanisms – to ensure that officers understand and respect the Indigenous communities they serve. Without such measures, police too often fail to do all they can to ensure the safety of Indigenous women and girls whose lives are in danger.
What about our stolen sisters? A new report has added 62 more names to a growing list of missing or slain aboriginal women and girls across Canada.
The report by the Native Women’s Association of Canada pegs the total as at least 582. The data is drawn from the last three decades, with 153 of the cases occurring between 2000 and 2008. Most of the women in the database were killed, while 115 are still missing.
I challenge the mainstream media to make a big event of these numbers and the lost lives of these women.
Stephen Harper certainly won’t.