Psychiatric Annals

Envoi: Correcting the Corrections

Karl Menninger, MD, MACP

Abstract

As I sat in Judd Hall in the Mayo Building in Rochester a few months ago, listening to the speakers whose remarks you have been reading in the preceding pages, I reflected with others on the occasion for the meeting. It was to honor a Mayo man, a doctor, a great human being - Howard Rome. I was proud to be asked to have a moment of participation in the scientific discussion honoring him.

As I listened, it occurred to me that all the discussions were taking place from the standpoint of the observer - the nonsick, noncriminal, like ourselves. To us those who are causing all the problems with their serious illnesses and violent crimes are problems. They are nuisances, in a way.

But, I reflected, these criminals, like the patients, are also victims. They are examples of man pitted against himself, examples of selfdestruction.

There were several remarks about victimology. Why do those who commit violent street crimes seem to want to submit to our retaliation? They will not be treated as patients are, but as malefactors. I think we might profitably speculate on this: How do these acts of violence look to those who commit them?

It seems possible to me that many of these persons are just as troubled by us as we are by them. Dr. Farnsworth mentioned how dangerous these offenders look to us. I wonder how dangerous we appear to them. Our entire society must look dangerous to many people, including malefactors. It is just possible that there is a direct proportion between the danger a dangerous man feels society is to him and the dangerousness he exhibits to society.

What is he afraid of? What malignancy has society at heart?

Perhaps in his behavior he is only remembering that attack is the best defense. If he really sees society as something very dangerous to him, his duty - his own ego duty - is to defend himself against that dangerous something, just as we consider it necessary to defend ourselves against him.

When we have a situation of mutual fear, we certainly want to be able to figure out something to prevent it from exploding.

What is the solution to the question of mutual fearfulness, mutual anger, and mutual hate? The discussions have presented people who were describing a common evil, the essence of which depends on a psychologic (or at least an epistemologie) process. We need some clues to the cause of this evil.

Perhaps one clue can be gained from a discussion I heard yesterday. Someone was saying that the majority is always wrong. You do not arrive at the truth with landslide votes or by straight-shoot sailing. In what the sailboat people call tacking, I do not aim my boat at the point I intend to reach but steer on an angle away from my destination, then correcting and going at an angle on the other side, and so on. I get where I am going by first going where I do not wish to go, then correcting.

I believe this correction of the correction has something to do with the whole crime situation. If we are frightening some people in our society into being our enemies because they are afraid of us, certainly we do not recover the balance by attacking their defense. I kept thinking, all the time I was listening to the discussion, that there might be some ways to prevent this sort of thing from developing in society.

I did not hear much about prevention in these talks. And I think the consideration of prevention…

As I sat in Judd Hall in the Mayo Building in Rochester a few months ago, listening to the speakers whose remarks you have been reading in the preceding pages, I reflected with others on the occasion for the meeting. It was to honor a Mayo man, a doctor, a great human being - Howard Rome. I was proud to be asked to have a moment of participation in the scientific discussion honoring him.

As I listened, it occurred to me that all the discussions were taking place from the standpoint of the observer - the nonsick, noncriminal, like ourselves. To us those who are causing all the problems with their serious illnesses and violent crimes are problems. They are nuisances, in a way.

But, I reflected, these criminals, like the patients, are also victims. They are examples of man pitted against himself, examples of selfdestruction.

There were several remarks about victimology. Why do those who commit violent street crimes seem to want to submit to our retaliation? They will not be treated as patients are, but as malefactors. I think we might profitably speculate on this: How do these acts of violence look to those who commit them?

It seems possible to me that many of these persons are just as troubled by us as we are by them. Dr. Farnsworth mentioned how dangerous these offenders look to us. I wonder how dangerous we appear to them. Our entire society must look dangerous to many people, including malefactors. It is just possible that there is a direct proportion between the danger a dangerous man feels society is to him and the dangerousness he exhibits to society.

What is he afraid of? What malignancy has society at heart?

Perhaps in his behavior he is only remembering that attack is the best defense. If he really sees society as something very dangerous to him, his duty - his own ego duty - is to defend himself against that dangerous something, just as we consider it necessary to defend ourselves against him.

When we have a situation of mutual fear, we certainly want to be able to figure out something to prevent it from exploding.

What is the solution to the question of mutual fearfulness, mutual anger, and mutual hate? The discussions have presented people who were describing a common evil, the essence of which depends on a psychologic (or at least an epistemologie) process. We need some clues to the cause of this evil.

Perhaps one clue can be gained from a discussion I heard yesterday. Someone was saying that the majority is always wrong. You do not arrive at the truth with landslide votes or by straight-shoot sailing. In what the sailboat people call tacking, I do not aim my boat at the point I intend to reach but steer on an angle away from my destination, then correcting and going at an angle on the other side, and so on. I get where I am going by first going where I do not wish to go, then correcting.

I believe this correction of the correction has something to do with the whole crime situation. If we are frightening some people in our society into being our enemies because they are afraid of us, certainly we do not recover the balance by attacking their defense. I kept thinking, all the time I was listening to the discussion, that there might be some ways to prevent this sort of thing from developing in society.

I did not hear much about prevention in these talks. And I think the consideration of prevention is something psychiatry owes the public. We owe to society the discovery and development of methods of preventing the whole criminal pattern from starting and the overt revenge pattern from developing. And when you consider that in the United States we have a million children in some kind of confinement and two million in homes of abuse and cruelty, it seems to me that we psychiatrists ought to be concentrating on finding ways to prevent people from being cruel to children who will later become cruel to us.

That is why, in the later years of my life, I have become much more interested in prevention than in treatment. This lies in back of my wife's and my dedication at present to The Villages, Inc., homes for abandoned and neglected children who are victims, by anyone's judgment - now; in a few years they can turn into dangerous adults.

I think the same applies to what Dr. Tyce is trying to do in the Probation Offenders Rehabilitation and Training Program. The aim is not to punish people - which only makes them more afraid, more convinced that we are cruel and dangerous, and therefore more convinced that they must make themselves dangerous to us - but, rather, to do something preventive, something that will make less likely the development of retaliatory reactions in those people we call by all these names: criminals, offenders, dangerous persons - those who at one time were someone's victims. These victims of our society now worry us as offenders, as dangerous threats. When might they have been diverted from their march along the pathway of retaliation and victimization and turned instead in a direction that would have led them to become participating citizens? When could we have intervened to assuage before they developed into our enemies?

We have been thinking of the street criminal as just that - an offender, a criminal, an enemy of society running in our cities. We have been treating him accordingly. Now perhaps it is time to take another tack at the problem. If we consider his conduct as a reaction to a reaction, we will start out using terms that are different from those we are now using. And if we start out with different terms, we may find that the solution lies along a course that is different from the one we have been taking. When we do this, we may discover a new "answer" to the problem.

But we must keep in mind that this new solution will also be partly wrong. It will need correcting, just as past solutions have needed correcting. As we continue to work at the problem by tacking, we are going to make progress.

As in our model of sailboating, the only dangerous thing in working towards a solution is reaching a complete balance. Once one has achieved perfect equilibrium, he is stuck in the doldrums - he either has to jump out and swim or stay there while the rest of the world goes sailing by.

10.3928/0048-5713-19770601-10

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