The Consolation of Joe Cinque

One of the books I read over the holiday break was Helen Garner’s latest, Joe Cinque’s Consolation. Like Garner’s previous work The First Stone, Joe Cinque’s Consolation takes the form of a journalistic dissection of real life events, but becomes something much more profound and literary.

joeandanu.jpgJoe Cinque’s Consolation tells the story of the murder of a young engineer by his girlfriend Anu Singh, a beautiful young ANU law student who is utterly spoiled and self-absorbed almost to the point of narcissism. She kills Joe by overdosing him with rohypnol and heroin (he didn’t use either of them himself, or any other drug) after announcing to her friends that she was going to commit suicide and possibly kill Joe as well. Singh even held dinner parties where all the guests except Joe knew of her murderous intentions. Singh was eventually (in 1998) found guilty of manslaughter rather than murder after her defence team successfully advanced a defence of “diminished responsibility”. Morag’s Fraser’s review of Garner’s book provides a succinct summary of the book’s plot and structure. I want to focus on a specific aspect.

Anu Singh served 4 years in prison, completing her law degree while behind bars in a minimum security prison, and embarking on a Masters degree in criminology, researching a thesis on the conveniently self-serving topic that “rationality and right and wrong are concepts that do not necessarily apply to people, especially women, who have been suffering from an emotional or psychological disorder at the time they committed their offence”.

Helen Garner touches in passing on this aspect of the Singh case, musing about the medicalisation of criminal behaviour, and whether it’s appropriate to affix medical labels to behaviour that would previously have been regarded simply as wrong or perhaps even that old-fashioned word “evil”.

The “diminished responsibility” aspect of the case provoked my interest because the bloke who killed my wife’s mother back in 1995, by cutting her throat in front of my daughter just two days before Rebecca’s 7th birthday (while we were out shopping for her birthday present), literally tried to get away with murder by employing just that defence.

* Photo of Joe Cinque and Anu Singh from The Age.

His defence team tried to claim that he was suffering “diminished responsibility” in the form of alcohol-related brain damage and being under the influence of both alcohol and anti-depressant medication at the time of the killing. Fortunately, the prosecution medical experts were able to demolish this claim and proved conclusively that it was manufactured and spurious. He is currently serving a life term for murder in Berrimah prison, and isn’t eligible to apply for parole until 2015.

Anu Singh was more fortunate, probably because her father was a doctor who could afford a better class of medical expert to tell self-serving lies for her in the witness box. Singh successfully claimed that her extreme self-absorption/narcissism was a mental illness called “borderline personality disorder” and that she also suffered from “masked depression”.

I think there are very real questions as to whether the defence of diminished responsibility should exist at all. It’s a statutory defence designed to accommodate the psychiatric ‘insight’ that there is a wide range of medical conditions, short of the old-fashioned common law insanity defence, that may sometimes impair an offender’s ability to control their actions and consequently provide a basis for not holding them wholly legally responsible for them. But to what extent can that psychiatric insight be sustained? And even to the extent that it’s true, does it necessarily follow that such an impairment justifies a reduction of criminal responsibility (typically reducing murder to manslaugher)?

Way back in 1960, Thomas Szasz dealt with the general issue of principle in his seminal essay The Myth of Mental Illness:

The term “mental illness” is widely used to describe something which is very different than a disease of the brain. Many people today take it · for granted that living is an arduous process. Its hardship for modern man, moreover, derives not so much from a struggle for biological survival as from the stresses and strains inherent in the social intercourse of complex human personalities. In this context, the notion of mental illness is used to identify or describe some feature of an individual’s so-called personality. Mental illness — as a deformity of the personality, so to speak — is then regarded as the cause of the human disharmony. It is implicit in this view that social intercourse between people is regarded as something inherently harmonious, its disturbance being due solely to the presence of “mental illness” in many people. This is obviously fallacious reasoning, for it makes the abstraction “mental illness” into a cause, even though this abstraction was created in the first place to serve only as a shorthand expression for certain types of human behavior. It now becomes necessary to ask: “What kinds of behavior are regarded as indicative of mental illness, and by whom?”

The concept of illness, whether bodily or mental, implies deviation from some clearly defined norm. In the case of physical illness, the norm is the structural and functional integrity of the human body. Thus, although the desirability of physical health, as such, is an ethical value, what health is can be stated in anatomical and physiological terms. What is the norm deviation from which is regarded as mental illness? This question cannot be easily answered. But whatever this norm might be, we can be certain of only one thing: namely, that it is a norm that must be stated in terms of psycho-social, ethical, and legal concepts. For example, notions such as “excessive repression” or “acting out an unconscious impulse” illustrate the use of psychological concepts for judging (so-called) mental health and illness. The idea that chronic hostility, vengefulness, or divorce are indicative of mental illness would be illustrations of the use of ethical norms (that is, the desirability of love, kindness, and a stable marriage relationship). Finally, the widespread psychiatric opinion that only a mentally ill person would commit homicide illustrates the use of a legal concept as a norm of mental health. The norm from which deviation is measured whenever one speaks of a mental illness is a psycho-social and ethical one. Yet, the remedy is sought in terms of medical measures which — it is hoped and assumed — are free from wide differences of ethical value. The definition of the disorder and the terms in which its remedy are sought are therefore at serious odds with one another. The practical significance of this covert conflict between the alleged nature of the defect and the remedy can hardly be exaggerated. …

In actual contemporary social usage, the finding of a mental illness is made by establishing a deviance in behavior from certain psychosocial, ethical, or legal norms. The judgment may be made, as in medicine, by the patient, the physician (psychiatrist), or others. Remedial action, finally, tends to be sought in a therapeutic — or covertly medical — framework, thus creating a situation in which psychosocial, ethical, and/or legal deviations are claimed to be correctible by (so-called) medical action. Since medical action is designed to correct only medical deviations, it seems logically absurd to expect that it will help solve problems whose very existence had been defined and established on nonmedical grounds. …

Anything that people do — in contrast to things that happen to them (Peters, 1958) — takes place in a context of value. In this broad sense, no human activity is devoid of ethical implications. When the values underlying certain activities are widely shared, those who participate in their pursuit may lose sight of them altogether. The discipline of medicine, both as a pure science (for example, research) and as a technology (for example, therapy), contains many ethical considerations and judgments. Unfortunately, these are often denied, minimized, or merely kept out of focus; for the ideal of the medical profession as well as of the people whom it serves seems to be having a system of medicine (allegedly) free of ethical value. This sentimental notion is expressed by such things as the doctor’s willingness to treat and help patients irrespective of their religious or political beliefs, whether they are rich or poor, etc. While there may be some grounds for this belief — albeit it is a view that is not impressively true even in these regards — the fact remains that ethical considerations encompass a vast range of human affairs. By making the practice of medicine neutral in regard to some specific issues of value need not, and cannot, mean that it can be kept free from all such values. The practice of medicine is intimately tied to ethics; and the first thing that we must do, it seems to me, is to try to make this clear and explicit. I shall [p. 116] let this matter rest here, for it does not concern us specifically in this essay, Lest there be any vagueness, however, about how or where ethics and medicine meet, let me remind the reader of such issues as birth control, abortion, suicide, and euthanasia as only a few of the major areas of current ethicomedical controversy.

Psychiatry, I submit, is very much more intimately tied to problems of ethics than is medicine. I use the word “psychiatry” here to refer to that contemporary discipline which is concerned with problems in living (and not with diseases of the brain, which are problems for neurology). Problems in human relations can be analyzed, interpreted, and given meaning only within given social and ethical contexts. Accordingly, it does make a difference — arguments to the contrary notwithstanding — what the psychiatrist’s socioethical orientations happen to be; for these will influence his ideas on what is wrong with the patient, what deserves comment or interpretation, in what possible directions change might be desirable, and so forth. …

The diversity of human values and the methods by means of which they may be realized is so vast, and many of them remain so unacknowledged, that they cannot fail but lead to conflicts in human relations. Indeed, to say that human relations at all levels — from mother to child, through husband and wife, to nation and nation — are fraught with stress, strain, and disharmony is, once again, making the obvious explicit. Yet, what may be obvious may be also poorly understood. This I think is the case here. For it seems to me that — at least in our scientific theories of behavior — we have failed to accept the simple fact that human relations are inherently fraught with difficulties and that to make them even relatively harmonious requires much patience and hard work. I submit that the idea of mental illness is now being put to work to obscure certain difficulties which at present may be inherent — not that they need be unmodifiable — in the social intercourse of persons. If this is true, the concept functions as a disguise; for instead of calling attention to conflicting human needs, aspirations, and values, the notion of mental illness provides an amoral and impersonal “thing” (an “illness”) as an explanation for problems in living (Szasz, 1959). We may recall in this connection that not so long ago it was devils and witches who were held responsible for men’s problems in social living. The belief in mental illness, as something other than man’s trouble in getting along with his fellow man, is the proper heir to the belief in demonology and witchcraft. Mental illness exists or is “real” in exactly the same sense in which witches existed or were “real.” …

By problems in living, then, I refer to that truly explosive chain reaction which began with man’s fall from divine grace by partaking of the fruit of the tree of knowledge. Man’s awareness of himself and of the world about him seems to be a steadily expanding one, bringing in its wake an ever large; burden of understanding (an expression borrowed from Susanne Langer, 1953). This burden, then, is to be expected and must not be misinterpreted. Our only rational means for lightening it is more understanding, and appropriate action based on such understanding. The main alternative lies in acting as though the burden were not what in fact we perceive it to be and taking refuge in an outmoded theological view of man. In the latter view, man does not fashion his life and much of his world about him, but merely lives out his fate in a world created by superior beings. This may logically lead to pleading nonresponsibility in the face of seemingly unfathomable problems and difficulties. Yet, if man fails to take increasing responsibility for his [p. 118] actions, individually as well as collectively, it seems unlikely that some higher power or being would assume this task and carry this burden for him. Moreover, this seems hardly the proper time in human history for obscuring the issue of man’s responsibility for his actions by hiding it behind the skirt of an all-explaining conception of mental illness.

Quite. If someone like Anu Singh is permitted to evade criminal responsibility for her manifestly calculated actions in drugging and killing her boyfriend, what does that mean for society as a whole? If you have enough money, you can find a psychiatrist or psychologist willing to label almost any behaviour, however calculating, as a mental illness. Criminal responsibility may frequently be something that can be pinned only on the poor who can’t afford expensive therapists.

But even if I’m exaggerating just a tad, there are still some very real issues here. Did Singh make a choice in acting as she did, and is that choice one for which she ought to be held responsible? Is there any such thing as freedom of choice? Some argue that freedom of choice is an illusion; that we’re all products of our genetic makeup and conditioning, and that those factors determine the choices we think we’re making to a much greater extent than we mostly think.

For a start, I accept that offenders from a disadvantaged and physically or emotionally abused background may well have a much narrower range of life choices available to them than spoiled middle class brats like Anu Singh (or me for than matter). But that’s not really the point I’m discussing. All of us act to a considerable extent on the basis of an evolved view of the world and what it means, and we filter the stimuli entering our brains and ignore information that our experience has taught us is irrelevant or unnecessary. We also evolve habituated responses to situations and stimuli, based on our previous experiences. Sometimes those habitual responses become compulsions, so that we behave in a particular manner unthinkingly and sometimes inappropriately. Habituated responses, especially in interpersonal relationships, can be very hard to unlearn, even when you become aware intellectually that they’re having counterproductive results. It’s a phenomenon of which I’m acutely personally aware at the moment, as I go through the painful (but joyous) experience of building a new relationship with Jen.

But does the fact that habitual responses are difficult to change mean that there is no such thing as freedom of choice? My own experience tells me that we do indeed make choices, and that we can make different ones if we want. Freedom of choice isn’t just an illusion IMHO, although my conviction to that effect may itself be an illusion. But even if it is, it doesn’t logically follow that we should be absolved of criminal (or general) responsibility, short of insanity in the classical common law sense (which results in indeterminate inarceration for the protection of the community, not just a couple of years in a minimum security facility as Anu Singh experienced). At the very least, the knowledge that, in all but the most exceptional circumstances, we will certainly be punished severely if we transgress the criminal law by committing a serious crime like murder or rape, is likely to be one of the most important socially positive formative experiences which shape/determine our subsequent responses, whether or not a true choice exists at the moment of action itself. Conversely, the assimilation (whether from actual experience, exposure to media, or studying law) of the knowledge that criminal responsibility can often be evaded by claiming “diminished responsibility” is equally a strong socially negative factor in shaping individual responses and actions.

This is only one tiny aspect of Garner’s book. It’s well worth reading.

PS – It seems that Garner’s book also succeeded in flushing Singh out of her previous silence. This article appears to be Singh’s response to Garner’s book. She doesn’t appear to have learnt anything at all, nor does the article hint at even a glimmer of remorse or compassion for Joe’s family (as opposed to herself and offenders like her).

PPS – [thanks to Darlene] Anu Singh was also interviewed by Phillip Adams on Late Night Live. The interview also reveals an almost complete lack of either compassion or insight into the enormity of what she did. Perhaps the most telling passage is this one:

Phillip Adams: Are you responsible, or were you responsible, for what you did, in your own view: sit in judgment on yourself.

Anu Singh: No, I absolutely am responsible and take full responsibility for it, and that’s something that is difficult to come to terms with and it’s something that I live with every single day. It’s difficult that the whole notion of responsibility is predicated on the basis that someone is rational, and it makes it even more difficult that when you are rational, you can look back and see what you’ve done in a state of irrationality, and it’s actually harder to be able to accept that, because I guess a lot of me wishes so much that I’d listened to so many people who had said, ‘Look, there’s something wrong, you need to actually get treatment in a different way.’ I was consumed with what I perceived to be physical illnesses, and in fact what happened was that my illness manifested in a physical way, so that I was not at all wanting to accept the prospect that possibly there wasn’t something wrong with my body, it was something with my mind. And I guess in terms of now accepting full responsibility, I’m trying to determine ways of making it up to my parents, to society, I don’t think that …

Phillip Adams: To the Cinques?

Anu Singh: Well I don’t think there’s anything that I can do there. I’m thinking about getting involved in a restorative justice program with them.

About Ken Parish

Ken Parish is a legal academic, with research areas in public law (constitutional and administrative law), civil procedure and teaching & learning theory and practice. He has been a legal academic for almost 20 years. Before that he ran a legal practice in Darwin for 15 years and was a Member of the NT Legislative Assembly for almost 4 years in the early 1990s.
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Gaby
Gaby
2022 years ago

Terrific post Ken, raising the biggest philosophical doozy for moral responsibility. Do we have free will? If not, are we responsible for our actions?

I think we do and that”compatibilism” between free will and determinism is the only viable answer that preserves substantive moral responsibilty. Free will as essentially the absence of “external constraints” to choice.

Specifying what are “constraints” that vitiate freedom of choice is , unfortunately, where it gets hard and messy. There probably is no rule that adequately disposes of all of the possible hard cases.

Caz
Caz
2022 years ago

Sorry to hear that happened to your family, Ken.

I read this book over Christmas myself. I found it was a real page-turner, but so utterly depressing at the same time. Garner has a natural flair for bringing people to life – I’ve long been quite fond of her writing. I found myself thinking a lot about Joe Cinque’s mother Maria, and how she has to live without her son forever, while Singh got off with it so lightly. Very thought provoking, and very chilling. I

Darlene
2022 years ago

An interesting and frustrating book.

Don’t enjoy the way Garner positions herself and her own experiences within the text, but love her rage just the same.

Singh was on Late Night Live last year and she came across as glib and self-absorbed. She is good with a certain (feminist) language to explain herself, but….I don’t know, lacks empathy.

Diminished responsibility is surely used far too much.

What a thought provoking post.

Rob
Rob
2022 years ago

Phillip Adams did a very good interview with Singh and also with Joe Cinque’s parents. Singh was simply amazing – seeming to argue that just becuase people commit murder that’s no good reason to think badly of them. She was still hoping to be able to practise as a barrister in the ACT at the time of the interview, not to mention completing her PhD.

It’s a horrible thing to say, and one’s heart absolutely goes out to Joe’s parents, but killing Joe Cinque actually seems to have been a quite good career move for Singh. Meanwhile, the life of the Cinque family has been destroyed, with no hope of restitution.

Mark Bahnisch
2022 years ago

I’m also sorry to hear about that awful incident involving your family, Ken. It must have been very traumatic for all concerned.

Does Garner represent this book as ‘faction’? I was very disappointed in her after she admitted multiplying characters (particularly since this gave the impression of a ‘conspiracy’) in the First Stone, and also the fact that she more or less said that she wrote the way she did because she couldn’t understand why the complainant in the matter involving the Master of Ormond College didn’t wish to speak to her – which was surely their right. Helen Darville/Demidenko was then able to conveniently invoke a writer of Garner’s stature to try to excuse her nonsense. I’d really want – in light of Garner’s own admissions about the research and writing of The First Stone – to be sure that it’s reportage before making a judgement on it.

Of course, the legal and ethical issues you raise arise independently of any questions about Garner’s ethics.

I might also note that I know someone who abandoned an honours thesis on the topic of the definition of rationality in the law as related to gender because she found it impossible to find any reliable literature in this field.

Jason Soon
Jason Soon
2022 years ago

I think there is a role for psychiatry but the problem here is that ‘diminished responsibility’ is simply too generic a category that it becomes a lawyer’s catch all(can’t plead insanity? why, then, let’s try this ‘diminished responsibility’ thingo) bad psychiatry rather than psychiatry itself is the problem. singh seems to my albeit untrained mind (though I have read a bit on abnormal psychology) to be more a classic sociopathic personality (glib, lack of remorse, superfically intelligent) than ‘diminished’ in any way) and the rational thing to do with these types is to lock them away until they’re too old to do any damage

Rob
Rob
2022 years ago

Mark – you are being a bit hard on Helen there. She said quite publicly before ‘The First Stone’ was published that she had been obliged to mask the identity of the central defender of the complainants on legal advice. The person concerned was Jenna Mead, who hit back a couple of years later with ‘bodyjamming’ – which is easily the most spiteful book I have ever read.

As for Joe Cinque’s Consolation being less than fact, no-one – including Singh and the Cinque parents – has said it was anything other than truthful. Singh’s first response was to claim that Garner had not tried to contact her to get her side of the sorty, but she retracted that, in the Adams interview, admitting that Garner had tried at least twice to get her to tell her side of it.

Ken Parish
Ken Parish
2022 years ago

Rob

More than twice, in fact. Garner wrote to Singh directly on two occasions, but also made repeated attempts to contact her through her parents. Singh’s watered-down claim in the Adams interview (that Garner should have tried harder to contact her!) is a very good example of her glib, self-serving, self-absorbed attitude to every aspect of the case, not to mention an approach that suggests she sees truth as an infinitely flexible commodity to be shaped and reshaped to fit her personal convenience. One would hope she’s never admitted as a legal practitioner (although some cynics would see the latter characteristic as an ideal qualification).

Jason’s suggestion of sociopathic personality is one that also occurred to me, but I didn’t mention it because it exemplifies the very syndrome that I seek to question: medicalising human behaviour. However, one possible solution that would partially meet my concerns about the operation of the defence of diminished responsibility would be to have independent court-appointed expert psychiatrists as the tribunal of fact in relation to psychiatric defences, rather than the current system of “duelling experts” where neither a judge or jury really has the expertise to decide which expert should be preferred.

Jason Soon
Jason Soon
2022 years ago

Ken
Essentially what you’re suggesting is overlaying elements of the European inquisitorial system at least in areas where the issues become very technical. This approach may have merits elsewhere e.g. trade practices law.

Mark Bahnisch
2022 years ago

Rob, Jenna Mead’s main complaint as I understand it was that Garner wrote about her as if she were several people and then wrote about a “feminist conspiracy” when she had in fact invented all its “personalities”. Regardless of the tone of Mead’s response (and you can understand her being angry), this seems ethically dubious to me.

I knew some women who went to Ormond College and they described the College as having an oppressive culture and a climate of fear. Garner may have formed an opposite impression due to the limited number of people who were prepared to talk to her, but I don’t believe this was accurately represented in ‘The First Stone’.

I still have some respect for Garner as a writer, particularly for her early fiction – notably “Monkey Grip”.

Nabakov
Nabakov
2022 years ago

Whoa! Ken!

I wasn’t aware of this amazing and terrible story (the bit about the dinner parties sent chills down my spine). And then to hear about your personal experience of this kind of life-changing, life-fucking event.

There’s been some recent discussion about the meaning and value of blogs here. This post and the thread so far does show what they can offer that other mediums can’t. I can’t think of a subject like this, which as you know all too appallingly can smash up lives without warning, being raised and then discussed like this, thoughtfully and with instant non-hysterical feedback in old style or mainstream media.

I’m still digesting all the implications. But I do have two initial observations.

The fact that Rebecca, judging from when you posted here about her achievements, is getting on with her life and looking forward to a good future, means you and Jen must have being doing something right.

The second observation is about that term “diminished responsibility”

Rob
Rob
2022 years ago

Mark, I understand what you’re saying, but the point that Garner made in her book was that making a dopey pass at a girl at a party is not worth the ruination of someone’s life. OK, the guy shouldn’t have done it, and it was an abuse of his authority and position at Ormond. And I’m not clear that the complainants suffered career loss to the extent the master did. If I’m wrong, I’m happy to be corrected.

But we are all human beings and fallible. That was the heart of it, and Garner saw it a lot more clearly than her opponents. Garner didn’t call the book ‘The First Stone’ for nothing. Which of us (straight guys, anyway) hasn’t made a clumsy play for a beautiful girl at a party? Mea, mea culpa – culpa.

Garner copped a lot of flak for talking about ‘eros’ in the book. Me, I agree with her. Human behaviour does not respond to ideological prescriptions, but to certain totally unpredictable chemical and biological forces (not to mention intellectual and spiritual) that nobody really understands. That’s Garner’s ‘eros’. Sometimes we just have to go with the winds that blow us inside out and the currents that pull us this way or that. That’s life.

Maybe the atmosphere at Ormond was, as you say, ‘oppressive’. I don’t actually understand what that might mean, to be honest. But Garner wasn’t talking about atmosphere: she was talking about individual human beings responding to and making choices about human behaviours.

As for Mead’s response, I wouldn’t describe it as ‘angry’. I would say it was spiteful and vindictive. I have never encountered such bile as that articulated by the essayists she assembled to destoy Garner’s reputation. She failed, I’m happy to say. I’ve read lots of books I don’t agree with for political or moral reasons but ‘bodyjamming’ was the first one I came away from thinking, ‘They ought to be ashamed of themselves and one day I hope they will be’.

Evil Pundit
2022 years ago

Feminism seeks to make excuses for female evil — preferably ones that blame it on men.

Did Singh ever claim in her defence that she was “sexually abused in childhood” or “beaten by her boyfriend”? These are the two most common feminist get-out-of-jail-free cards, followed by “post-natal depression” and general mental malaise (which seems to be the foundation of Singh’s defence).

In cases like this, I think the death penalty, or at least compulsory sterilisation, would be appropriate. Dangerously defective individuals like Singh should not be able to inflict their genes on fiture generations.

Nabakov
Nabakov
2022 years ago

I forgot to place my last comment in my emotional context now.

This week a good friend of mine who was a very funny and humane pyschologist and about to play beautiful violin on a mutual music project was killed by a hit and run driver. Just like that. On his bicycle. Out of the fucking blue. By a drunk driver.

Rob
Rob
2022 years ago

I should have said my previous post was written under the influence of Mozart – which means it must be right. No one understood Eros better than he did. Listen to the violin concertos if you don’t believe me. OT – sorry.

James Farrell
James Farrell
2022 years ago

Ken

Sorry to hear about your family horror story. You must understand the Cinques agony better than most, even if your own case had a more satisfactory resolution.

Garner’s book reveals a serious flaw in the system, and your reflections on free will and responsibility are persuasive. But I couldn’t quite follow the last part of the reasoning, i.e. this bit:

‘At the very least, the knowledge that.. we will certainly be punished severely if we transgress the criminal law… is likely to be one of the most important socially positive formative experiences which shape/determine our subsequent responses, whether or not a true choice exists at the moment of action itself.’

‘Knowledge’ is not really the same thing as ‘experience’, in the sense (implied by the structure of the argument) of a nasty shock capable of conditioning the future of people with little self control. So I’m not sure if this a simple deterrent argument or something more subtle.

But a simple deterrent argument is all you need anyway. Singh’s interview with Philip Adams was about the creepiest thing I’ve ever heard. No one could listen to that and not marvel that the woman is out on the streets. But if someone is totally lacking in moral sense, maybe their responsibility is diminished. However, that doesn’t mean they can’t understand rules. They just need a different incentive to obey them.

Mark Bahnisch
2022 years ago

Rob, let me just say that my understanding is that the incident that prompted the complaint was not as innocent as Garner made it out to be, nor as isolated. Admittedly, that’s hearsay, but the people I talked to weren’t particularly political, had no intention of taking any action, but were horrified by the way Garner portrayed a man they knew quite well (too well for their liking). Anyway, I’d prefer not to keep debating this as it’s somewhat tangential to the purpose of Ken’s thread. So let’s agree to disagree about Jenna Mead and Helen Garner. All I really wanted to know was the degree of research Garner did for her latest book – the topic of Ken’s post.

Mark Bahnisch
2022 years ago

And I’m happy to agree about Mozart!

James Farrell
James Farrell
2022 years ago

Would it not make sense to have the discussion about The First Stone on another thread? Why don’t you put your thoughts in a post, Mark?

Mark Bahnisch
2022 years ago

Part of my frustration, James, about this discussion and also the one on Sophie’s thread with ‘Confused’ is that I’m debating something which is only tangential to the purpose of the thread. I suppose I don’t have to reply to comments, but anyway, that’s why I don’t want to go on with either conversation.

I also don’t want to post on The First Stone because it’s been a long time since I read it and the ripostes and I’d really need to do so again if I wanted to say something substantive and I lack both the inclination and the time. So I’ll leave you guys and gals to it. But thanks for the helpful suggestion anyway, James.

Rob
Rob
2022 years ago

Mark: Well, yes, but it was you who actually raised the subject in what seemed to be an attempt to question whether Garner’s account of Joe Cinque’s death was reliable, based on the credibility or otherwise of ‘The First Stone’. I was just defending her – and Joe C’s C.

However, enough said, as you say.

Mark Bahnisch
2022 years ago

I know, Rob, I probably shouldn’t have but rather just asked the direct question I was interested in. Evidently, I need the Kim Beazley (TM) anti-prolixity programme. I wasn’t saying I didn’t enjoy chatting with you, btw – quite the contrary – just that I was worried that I was taking up space on this thread on a diversionary topic. So I’ll stop :)

jen
jen
2022 years ago

Crime and punishment. Punishment fits the crime. (to he of the cliche) Notions of fairness. Balance in the society and balanced minds.
Is that balance that restored when the punishment fits the crime? Can a punishment fit a crime?
I would hate to live my life as Anu Singh – she misses all the best bits.

Nab, an understandable error, but I am not the mother of Rebecca – and you are right, her happiness is a credit to her parent’s insight and care.

Nabakov
Nabakov
2022 years ago

Jen, I am aware you’re not Rebecca’s mother but from what I gathered from the rather Woolfish interchange between you and Ken on this site over the past couple of years, it does sound like you would have been one of the most prominent and influential women in her life as it developed over the last few years.

You don’t have to be blood related to someone in order to accept the challenge of helping them grow up and out.

Ken Parish
Ken Parish
2022 years ago

Nabakov

Jen and I have only known each other for just over a year, and Bec’s relationship with her has been fairly minimal and somewhat stand-offish. I don’t want to go into more detail than that because it’s unnecessary and a breach of the privacy of both of them, and potentially Jenny Parish’s as well. I’ve learnt the hard way that there are severe limits to how much personal stuff should appropriately be the subject of blog discussion, and this topic has already gone over it. Let’s drop it there.

Nabakov
Nabakov
2022 years ago

My apologies Ken. Didn’t realise or understand – just extrapolated too much as is my wont when in the grip of the demon drink.

So what did you think of Lleyton having his fist handed to him on a racket by a wild Russian?

Seriously though, that is a powerful and provocative post (and not just because its subject’s dark matter hit you too). Back to the point you raised about medicalising anti-social/anti-human behaviour.

The dichotomy between neurological disorders (which are increasingly seen as chemical or plumbing imbalances within several pounds of grey brown wetware) and the fucked up imprinting limned by psychological praxis is not gonna go away. Nature, nurture and natter…

Personally I think a human personality, and how it interacts with others, will always be more unquantifiable than the sum of its parts

Andrew Norton
Andrew Norton
2022 years ago

I’ve know the former Master of Ormond for 20 years, and found the whole scandal there hard to believe. If I’d had to rank every man I knew on the likelihood that they would be a groper I’d have put him very near the bottom as a very, very, unlikely groper. He has a strong sense of propriety; this might have been what caused some people there to construe the atmosphere as ‘oppressive’, but he would have applied the rules to himself as well.

ctd
ctd
2022 years ago

One could argue that anyone who commits murder has, by that very act, shown diminished responsibility.

A psych would probably argue the reluctance to accept this form of defence shows an inability to accept that mental injuries are as real as physcial injuries. If a brain damaged person (damaged via physical means, such as an accident or birth) does something wrong there is some sympathy in the sense that its thought such a person didnt really know/appreciate what was being done (hence the additional criticism in relation to the USA executing ‘retarded’ people)(not sure of the current ‘correct’ word).

But can it be claimed there a difference between such a person and one who is not physically brain damaged but has, for whatever reason, developed a mental state that prevents them from understanding the implications of what is being done? Even if this effect is temporary and (for example) by trial the person appears quite normal.

Anorexia is (or may be) just a ‘mental state’, but is it right to blame the person for not eating? Isnt such a person acting irrationally and in a manner they cannot control, but without any physical cause.

There is a natural suspicion that it is impossible to make any real or clear assessment of such mental states, since the ‘injury’ doesn’t show up on an MRI or whatever. It follows that a criminal defence team will use such a defence because its such a slippery concept that cannot definitively be disproved.

However, such analysis is based on what you might term ‘subjective’ assessment of a crime ie look at why the criminal did something rather than look at what they did, then punish the criminal accordingly. There is a very strong argument that certain acts are just unacceptable to our society and punishment should be imposed regardless of the reasons for the act. This gets into the ‘retribution’ vs ‘rehabilitation’ argument of punishment, which is an impossible topic.

Jim
Jim
2022 years ago

I enjoyed both “The First Stone” and “Joe Cinque’s Consolation”.
In both instances Garner took a somewhat unfashionable and contrary position but did seem to make far greater efforts to balance and include opposing viewpoints than many journalists.
What affected me most was the overlaying of injustice and grief for the Cinque’s. I can’t imagine the pain of losing a son (or daughter) but seeing the enormity of that loss trivialised or rationalised to a mistake by someone who should have been “receiving different treatment” rather than the most serious of crimes would surely compound it.
If someone is insane (like Martin Bryant) then there is a difference but a crime I committ when drunk should attract no different penalty to one committed whilst sober.
It is this erosion of responsibility that causes so much disharmony and distrust in modern times.

David Tiley
2022 years ago

Here’s a little story, lived out by many people in therapy.

You arrive at your psychiatrist to say you are having great difficulty dealing with rage. Your life has not turned out very well, you can’t communicate with your partner, you have lost your job.

Of course, you talk about the past. The therapist asks you to describe and confront the terrible fights between your parents. Your father beat your mother, who could not protect you.

The therapist asks you to see this from your parent’s point of view. They too had terribly diminished histories. It goes down the generations.

Eventually, you weep for both of them, see them as the damaged people they are. You recognise that the impoverished experience of love and trust that you grew up with has made you a more limited, more trapped person. You grieve for that too.

You realise it is impossible to stay angry with your mother. She was powerless in a morass, was robbed of her life. But you don’t forgive your father. Instead, you realise that he always retained the power to say no, to put his belt and boot away. All he had to do was acknowledge that you and your mother were human beings, that you suffered.

After all, that is exactly what you do in relation to your own family.

But then it gets worse. You realise that your father enjoyed your terror. He knew you were human alright

derrida derider
derrida derider
2022 years ago

I think a lot of the confusion over this is because we have this notion of ‘justice’, which we consistently confuse with ‘revenge’. We should be more pragmatic.

I think we should try and forego revenge; “tout comprendre, c’est tout pardonner”, “there but for the grace of God go I”, etc. That doesn’t mean that I don’t think a few people should be put out of the way until they can’t do us any more harm, nor that much criminal behaviour is quite rational and therefore deterrable with harsh punishment (in principle anyway, although most econometric studies indicate that the probability, rather than the harshness, of punishment is the most powerful explanatory variable in deterrence).

But was Anu Singh deterrable? And if not, is she enough of a future risk to lock her way from us for a very long time? I don’t know the answer in either this case or in the case of the perpetrator of your tragedy, but I think the focus in answering these should be on the individual cases, not on the general existence of a “diminished responsibility” defence.

I have seen the effects of serious mental illness in my own family – had the person affected hurt someone when in the throes of a paranoid episode (thank God she hasn’t), there is no way you could reasonably have held her responsible at a moral level. It should, though, be easier to temporarily detain and medicate someone in that state against their will – as Singh’s parents discovered.

As for her friend – words fail me.

James Farrell
James Farrell
2022 years ago

DD

I don’t know much about this, but I think traditional concepts of justice do in fact include an element of retribution. It’s different from revenge to the extent that it’s meted out by the society, which makes it impartial and consistent rather than dependent on the degree of rage and indignation felt by a particular victim. But it still has an element of revenge. Even if the person wouldn’t repeat the crime, and even if punishment is ineffective as a deterrent, the victim – along with the society whose rules have been flouted – still has a need (which seems pretty universal) for some kind of vindication. The perpetrator must be made to regret the crime.

Rob
Rob
2022 years ago

I’m with you, James. Here’s another take on retribution. I remember a program a few years back where the a group of victims of crime talked about their experiences. All of them said that the fact that the perpetrator had not been punished was the hardest for them to bear; they couldn’t heal because of it. That’s not a call for vigilante justice but maybe it suggests that retribution for crime (impartially and cooly determined) is something society owes to its members.

It’s interesting too to recall that Maria Cinque has said that it was Garner’s book that helped to begin her own healing process – her own consolation – which the judicial system had absolutely failed to do. In fact, the legal system betrayed her – and her family.

Ken Parish
Ken Parish
2022 years ago

James and Rob

Precisely. A socially-mandated retributive approach is very different from vigilante vengeance. The following summary (see http://www.debatabase.org/details.asp?topicID=307 ) eloquently explains the principled basis of the retributive element in sentencing:

“Which is a better general justifying aim for punishment?
A sanction should not merely be helpful

derrida derider
derrida derider
2022 years ago

I couldn’t agree with you less, Ken.

You say “Crime is not pathology, it is not the product of circumstance, and it is certainly not the product of coincidence”. I think that most crimes are exactly one of these (which, as I note, should not necessarily stop us trying to deter or incapacitate the criminal). And I think you only have to have some acquaintance with the sort of people who do crimes to think my view more likely than yours. Tony Vinson, when he was head of NSW prisons, said that when asked at parties what he did for a living he replied “I take hopeless people and turn them into bitter hopeless people”.

If my schizophrenic relative were to hear voices that ordered her to stab me before I poisoned her with her “medicine”, and I suffered real trauma as a result, would you seriously think retribution to ease my pain appropriate or effective? Would it not be a better strategy for me to be told that the person was sick, and to make sure that they presented no future danger to me?

Ken Parish
Ken Parish
2022 years ago

dd

It was a quote about retributivism, not my own words. I don’t agree with everything the bloke says, and I partiularly don’t agree with the sentence you isolate. I’m not arguing per se that there’s no such thing as a non-organic mental condition that should properly affect criminal responsibility in some way. I am simply raising the issue for debate.

Moreover, as I observed in an earlier response to a comment by Jason, a lot of my concerns about the abuse of the diminished responsibility defence would be resolved if we had independent court-appointed experts as the tribunal of fact in relation to those questions, instead of judges or lay juries. That is, in considerable part my concern is not so much with the reality or otherwise of the posited mental conditions as with self-serving, dodgy and exaggerated claims advanced with the assistance of “hired gun” psychiatric experts.

Nevertheless, I suspect schizophrenia DOES have an organic cause (or causes), whereas one would suspect that Anu Singh’s alleged conditions “borderline personality disorder” and “masked depression” don’t. Also, many if not most schizophrenics would satisfy the old common law test of insanity anyway: their delusionary state means that they lack understanding of the nature and quality of their actions. As my primary post explained, the statutory defence of diminished responsibility was implemented to cover cases where an offender DOES understand the nature and quality of his actions, but is nevertheless suffering some lesser degree of impairment of mental functioning adjudged to be sufficient to justify a reduction in criminal responsibility. It’s a matter of where you draw the line and who decides whether it’s been crossed.

Francis Xavier Holden
2022 years ago

Joe Cinque’s Consolation was a powerful book and although Garner’s approach has some flaws it is hard to see what other author might have offered us anything as good.

It is a long time since I read the book but one thing I thought was never dealt with adequately was Joe’s contribution or any mental illness he might have suffered from.

The portrait of Singh as an extreme example of a modern youthful psychopath (with elements of narcissistic personality disorder) is well drawn. (There is long standing legitimate debate as to whether these are in fact psychiatric illnesses as it is generally held that they are largely not able to be treated successfully and “cured”)

Not all psychopaths go around murdering people. In fact this society throws up many psychopaths as successful business people, adventurers, superficially charming risk takers, high academic achievers and so on. Of course many crash and burn, sometimes in public often not. Insider trading and inappropriate self disclosure on television shows will expose some. With others it will be a long grind of failed companies and fights with boards, shareholders and ASIC. In others it will be the final removal of the high profile professor surgeon from the hospital after years of complaints by colleagues of “heroic” unsafe procedures, fawning sympathetic articles in newspapers praising heroic surgeon ahead of their time. The news articles will ignore the complaints of hard working modest colleagues, ignore the fact that an entire department of research costing millions was essentially built offline from legitimate budgets, ignore the fact the salaried professor was overseas 6 months of the year heroically operating in foreign climes, whilst on the 3rd, 4th or 5th marriage and failed private business venture. Some will rise inexplicably from door to door sales to seem to run mobile phone companies before auditors and others discover their scams. Some will die in Spain. Others will simply get shot on the streets of Carlton after running afoul of an equally self centred crime colleague. Many operate at a lower level of finance and personal relationships and if they crash or succeed it is in a much less spectacular fashion.

As far as Singh is concerned I can, at times understand, if not approve of, a suicide pact gone wrong. But what I cannot understand is why the court did not impose a large penalty for her standing by while he died in agony over a long period of time. From what I remember in the book there was ample time to call an ambulance and save his life. I think the same goes for the other female “friend”.

Ken Parish
Ken Parish
2022 years ago

Francis

Although Singh professed to friends that she was intending to commit suicide and take Joe with her, there’s no evidence or indication AFAIK that she ever made any attempt whatever to kill herself (as opposed to Joe). So styling it a “suicide pact gone wrong” would seem to be extraordinarily generous to Singh. In fact she didn’t just stand by and do nothing while he died in agony. She repeatedly drugged him and injected him with increasing doses of heroin over an entire weekend until he eventually died some time on the Sunday. Her crime, as opposed to that of Madhavi Rao, was anything but one of omission.

Rob
Rob
2022 years ago

Ken,

I think an additional point worth making here is that Singh elected to be tried by a judge sitting alone. I must say that I was unaware that in the ACT you could exercise that option and it seems extraordinary to me that it’s available to someone on a murder charge. Both Garner and Adams made the point (conceded, I believe, by Singh in her interview) that a jury would have been a lot tougher on her and probably her friend also.

I know the jury system has its faults, but its fundamental principle – that the community, as represented by the jury, is the judge of the facts – is central to the way our democracy works. It should not be the state that decides guilt or otherwise, especially in the most serious cases, but the community.

Garner gave the presiding judge as fair a hearing as anyone could, but he still emerges as having made some deeply flawed judgements. In the boook he acknowledged to Garner that the Cinques will always hate him for letting Singh go (more or less) and no doubt he will be troubled by that knowledge perhaps for the rest of his life. The system should not put judges in that position, IMHO.

Geoff Honnor
Geoff Honnor
2022 years ago

“Although Singh professed to friends that she was intending to commit suicide and take Joe with her, there’s no evidence or indication AFAIK that she ever made any attempt whatever to kill herself (as opposed to Joe). So styling it a “suicide pact gone wrong” would seem to be extraordinarily generous to Singh. In fact she didn’t just stand by and do nothing while he died in agony. She repeatedly drugged him and injected him with increasing doses of heroin over an entire weekend until he eventually died some time on the Sunday.”

And Joe didn’t have any knowledge of “the pact” to which he was supposedly a party, so it could hardly have been that.

I can’t help wondering how this would have run if Joe Cinque and Singh had been tattooed, Anglo, high school dropouts, doing bad speed, dealing a bit of dope on the side and getting into drunken stoushes with each other in pub carparks. Given the facts, I suspect that Singh’s diminished responsibility defence would have cut far less ice. Singh is a bright, attractive Indian girl from eminently respectable antecedents. We have no context for understanding how someone from this background could be the sort of amoral, narcissistic monster that emerges from Garner’s book. It’s therefore perfectly natural to conclude that “other factors” were at work – and Singh’s sense of non-accountability for her own actions is thereby reinforced. This case is where our Anglo couple is pre-destined to end up – not Anu Singh. Anu Singh reminds me of Charles Sobhraj and the antihero from Brett Easton Ellis’ “American Psycho” – being a demonstrably class act is the best way to mitigate a murder charge.

Evil Pundit
2022 years ago

I can’t help wondering how this would have run if the perpetrator had been a man, and the victim a woman.

Would a man have got off with only four years? Would he be a media celebrity after his release?

Zoe
Zoe
2022 years ago

Evil, your one train of thought is wearing thin, despite its occasionally merited application.

How is Singh a “media celebrity”? Show me (with a link for preference) one report about her that isn’t highly critical of her self obsession and lack of insight, or that in any way excuses her criminal behaviour.

It’s Singh’s family and money, not her gender, that have helped her.

Have you read the book? It’s bloody good, and I can see no reason why Garner would be on your shit list. Go read it, then let’s talk.

Nicholas Gruen
2022 years ago

I agree with Ken’s point and long quote aboev about retribution and censure. A decent sentence for Singh would have shown respect for the santity of human life.

It is remarkable to me how much weight is placed on justice to the accused. Indeed, this is so much so that I expect there will be lots of people who will be shocked by that statement and its corrollary – justice to the accused is just one consideration in the criminal justice system. There are other considerations – such as the need to censure wrongdoing – which goes by the uglier name of retribution, and the public saftey. So long as we are pretty sure the person did it, those things ought not to be disrespected. (indeed in sufficiently horrific cases its hard to justify too heavy a burden of proof. Are we absolutely sure that Ivan Milat is guilty. Well, if I was pretty sure I guess I’d want him behind bars. But I digress).

One thing that’s not been mentioned througout this – at least on my fairly quick reading of all the comments – is the burden of proof. The prosecution should generally bear a strong burden in proving that the accused committed the crime. But I don’t accept that the prosecution should bear the burden of proof in meeting all possible defences – particularly ones such as the ‘diminished responsibility’ defence of Anu Singh. This would provide a way of leaving such defences as possibilities, but only in cases where there were strong grounds.

Brian Bahnisch
Brian Bahnisch
2022 years ago

Zoe I haven’t read the book, so I’m not going to make judgements about it. I did hear the Phillip Adams program, twice I think, but under circumstances where I couldn’t give it total attention. So I’m on shaky ground, but I’d still like to raise a few questions.

Way back comments were made about Singh not responding favourably to Garner’s request for an interview. As I recall it, Singh refused initially because she didn’t feel ready at that stage to resurrect the whole thing in detail with another person. Yes, one is entitled to be cynical, but consider this.

Garner was not just another person but a writer working on a book. Singh, OTOH, was a person putatively trying to come to terms with committing an horrific act, but neverthelass a person that the State had deemed rehabilitatable and sceduled for release in a relatively short space of time. Geoff writes of the “amoral, narcissistic monster that emerges from Garner’s book”. Not a picture that is likely to facilitate Singh’s rehabilitation.

Under these circumstances I think it is ethically questionable whether Garner should have gone ahead with the book inspite of the fact that it has clearly raised important issues of public concern. The notion of the greater public good has to be balnced with the injunction that one should do no harm.

Ken, the material on balancing retribution and rehabilitation was interesting. I would put it to you that if a criminal is slated for release the overriding concern should be rehabilitation.

Murder, though, or the taking of human life, is a special case. Once inspired by Derrida I wrote:

“[Derrida] says that only the unforgivable can be truly forgiven. It is not as difficult to forgive the forgivable and perhaps there should be another word for it. Only the victim can forgive the unforgivable. In doing so the victim sets the perpetrator free, but the victim then also becomes free. This is unequivocally a good thing, not the least for the victim, but no-one, not the perpetrator, nor a friend or supporter of the victim, nor an appointed conciliator can expect it.

“The perpetrator can admit the wrong, express regret and sorrow, seek forgiveness, and even offer restitution (which must be appropriate, commensurate, and seem so to the victim), but not with any hope or expectation of forgiveness, but in the knowledge and recognition that what has been done is unforgivable. If the victim cannot bring him or herself to forgive, then the perpetrator remains unforgiven, there is no release.”

(Originally at http://www.smh.com.au/articles/2002/11/11/1036308629574.html and subsequently at http://backpagesblog.com/weblog/archives/000507.html in both cases towards the end.)

In the case of murder clearly the victim cannot forgive the perpetrator and hence there can be no release. Logic tells me that if a person has taken another’s life they should forfeit their freedom forever. The state is not entitled to forgive the perpetrator. The state afterall has a vested interest. By releasing the perpetrator the state saves money, initially anyway.

It is worth noting that the parents of the victim are indeed victims (we all are in a sense) but secondary victims rather than primary. In response to my original piece Rosie Young wrote:

“I’ve come to realise that forgiveness does not have to mean pardoning someone for perpetrating some perceived wrong against me – it simply means letting go of my grievance so that I am not burdened by the idea that I have been wronged. This “forgiving”, this letting go of the notion that I have been attacked by an enemy, is a blessed relief. It means I do not have to carry resentment around with me or embark on the laborious and irksome process of revenge.”

(http://www.smh.com.au/articles/2002/11/12/1037080725857.html)

I have been interested to hear about a number of cases where the relative of a murder victim has found the kind of release Rosie had in mind. This surely must be the purpose of restorative justice. In the case of murder true restoration is technically not possible. What is possible is the notion of giving secondary victims their freedom, their life back.

In this regard Phillip Adams erred quite badly. When he spoke to the Cinque parents he brought them the message that Anu Singh was interested in rapprochement. At that point the father made clear that he wanted her dead, by her own hand preferably. It seems to me that Adams made the situation worse by interfering in an area best left to those with the relevant expertise.

Finally the vexed area of diminished responsibility and mental illness. I think the notion of responsibility is best considered on a continuum, with no responsibility at one end and full responsibility at the other. If applying the principles derived from Derrida I’d still lock them up (but I would always argue that prisoners should have community standards of comfort, at least.) Realistically, though, people will not be locked up forever. So you are back to how the whole thing is framed and as Ken says where you see the line as having been crossed.

I’m attracted to the notion of court-appointed experts, but in the case of mental illness it wouldn’t solve all the problems IMO. The whole field of mental illness seems fraut and contested.

Finally I’d like to say that I was horrified by the crime, unconvinced by the arguments for diminished responsibility put forward, disturbed by what I heard of the court processes and much more. However, I don’t find it necessary to have an opinion on whether the judge erred. Nevertheless rehabilitation has been ordained and I feel that in Adams’ interview at least and probably in Garner’s book insufficient sensitivity to that work in progress was in evidence.

PS I’m past bed-time and if I’m attacked I won’t be logging on until late tomorrow. Sorry.

Rob
Rob
2022 years ago

Brian, I think that perhaps you are missing the essential point that is at the heart of Garner’s book (appreciating that you have not yet read it). Garner’s whole endeavour was to rescue Joe from silence, to recover him as a person through her empathy with his mother’s inconsolable grief. She thought that, though Joe was already dead, the court process had murdered him over and again, had obliterated his memory and presence and denied them to his own bereaved parents. She wanted to restore him – certainly to his mother – as a loved and lost human being. Theorists like Derrida are no help to us in this kind of elemental territory. Artists like Garner are. They enable us to reconnect with things in ourselves that we can’t see for ourselves. Maybe that’s what artists are there for.

As an example:

‘[The camera] had no reason to single him out at that moment, let alone focus on his agreeable face. But it found him, and dwelt on him. It lingered, intimately, and without his ever realising, for a good seven or eight seconds. His face was fine and sensitive, still faintly blurred with youth, not yet set in the hard lines of manhood. He looked like a man who was lightly poised on the very rim of the world he came from. I sat on his parents’ couch and watched him with my heart in my mouth. Maria too ceased her murmured commentary. We gazed in silence at her undefended son’.

I can’t read that unmoved.

I don’t believe that Garner owed Singh anything. I think the world owned Nino and Maria Cinque a lot more than they got, and Garner helped to put it right.

Francis Xavier Holden
2022 years ago

Brian. As I said its a while since I read the book. My feeling is now that Garner was too easy on Singh and Rao but I might be wrong. From what I can remember I thought Singh had enhanced responsibility.premeditiated and plenty of oppurtunities to save his life (or even let others save it) even after the attempt. as i pointed out even though some murderers are glib psychopaths, like Sobhraj as Geoff mentioned or better known like Ted Bundy, there is nothing about being a psychopath that propels one to murder.

MrLefty
2022 years ago

Great post and discussion…

Very disturbing case. And Singh’s argument appears to lead to a conclusion where no-one is EVER guilty of a crime, because there’s always some sort of pathology behind it. You could argue that every crime is a result of some sort of mental illness.

Since that’s ridiculous, a line has to be drawn. Way, way, below where Singh wants it drawn.

Haven’t read JCC yet, though – will look for it. I did enjoy The First Stone (I was in Ormond College at the time and have a letter from Helen Garner responding to a letter I wrote to her discussing it). I do agree about Mead’s response – it really was bitter and spiteful. Garner isn’t perfect, but whatever she writes is honest and truly felt. Mead attacked her as if she was some sort of wacky conspiracy theorist.

As I understand it, the complainants did have to move interstate before they could go on with their careers, afterwards.

Zoe
Zoe
2022 years ago

Brian, I wasn’t suggesting that anyone who hadn’t read the book shouldn’t comment or discuss it, rather that if Evil Pundit wanted to make it part of his feminist conspiracy theories, he should do some research.

That said, Rob’s comment about the mission at the core of the book is spot on.

Brian Bahnisch
Brian Bahnisch
2022 years ago

Thanks for those comments, folks, especially Rob for explaining so clearly Garner’s purpose. I wanted to raise a question rather than make a judgement about Garner’s ethical position. From all the comments it seems to me that Garner’s work has great value. Your account of her book has made me want to read it. I agree also about the role of artists in these situations, but don’t agree that the theorists such as Derrida can’t help us. We need to understand the full human dimensions of cases like this and appreciate the uniqueness of every human experience. Yet in the end we need an approach to such situations that is rationally supportable and consistent with identified principles.

One of the points that Singh made, I think correctly, is that a criminal trial is not focussed on the victim or the needs of the relatives. Rather the purpose is to determine the guilt or innocence of the accused. The point you make “that, though Joe was already dead, the court process had murdered him over and again, had obliterated his memory and presence and denied them to his own bereaved parents” is powerful. It seems to me that in many cases the process of determining the guilt or innocence will inevitably do harm.

This is commonly true in the case of rape, where the victim has to hold the event in memory until the trial and be willing to undergo some extremely unpleasant experiences.

In the case of Anu Singh there didn’t seem to be much doubt that her actions had caused the death of Joe Cinque, the only question the extent of her responsibility.

To me the finality of death demands a commensurate response by society. To me if you cause the death of another person your own life should be permanently constrained by sacrificing your freedom, whatever the degree of responsibility.

That having been said I am extremely uncomfortable with the framing of justice in any way in terms of retribution. One wrong is not rectified by another. I believe that the perpetrator should have every assistance in growing and developing as a human being and contributing to society, but within the constraint of a loss of freedom. This constraint is appropriate if for no other reason to protect other members of the community. If you break the rules of living to that extent, you are physically removed from the game.

I need to say at the moment that my position on this has been developed from Derrida, but from memory he didn’t go that far. I read his essay, (“On Cosmopolitanism and Forgiveness”) sometime in 2002 (it’s two essays, actually) and wrote the Webdiary piece after the Bali bombing. Subsequently I returned to the topic in Back Pages in the context of Bill Clinton’s sex life. So my thoughts on the implications of Derrida’s insights on forgiveness for the criminal justice system and in life generally are tentative and exploratory.

It seems to me that we have fundamental problems in the criminal justice system and maybe it’s going to get worse before it gets better. Tonight on the 7.30 report (http://www.abc.net.au/7.30/) we had unedifying scenes of a released pedophile being hounded out of one town after another in Qld by alarmed and enraged local community members and a media pack. Honestly it is hard to feel a lot of sympathy but he looked like a desperate, cornered animal. His doc came on and said if you want to start to treat a pedophile you must first offer him safety. He was clearly worried that we were increasingly seeing justice in terms of revenge. If we do, no-one will be rehabilitated. And no-one will be safer as a result. Beattie clearly would like the option to keep this particular character in jail and has so legislated after (and because of) the event.

It was in a similar vein that I was raising concerns about the rehabilitation of Anu Singh. After listening to her on Adams’ program it was not possible to have much sympathy for her, but the problem remains. Garner’s book, Adams’ program, Ken’s post and all the amazing comments will help us perhaps to nut out a better way. Meanwhile we don’t owe Anu Singh nothing.

FXJ, you are right about psychopaths. They walk among us and the vast majority don’t murder any-one. Nor is it an excuse.

Zoe I wasn’t concerned about you suggesting etc. It was just a hook to crank my tired brain into gear. Not especially clever of me.

Rob
Rob
2022 years ago

Brian, appreciate your comments. I don’t want to prolong this thread unnecessarily but would still like to offer a couple of additional points. I agree that a criminal trial must be focused on the guilt or otherwise of the accused. Singh made that point quite well in her interview and although there was something at the back of my mind that raised up and started screaming at me I could still recognise the truth of it.

At the same time, there are some crimes that do call for retribution. Maybe that’s not the right word but I can’t think of a better one (punishment is not a helpful concept in this connection). I have never supported capital punishment, on the basis of a conviction that the state should never have the power to kill its citizens . But if I ever found myself in the company of Anita Cobby’s parents I hope I would have the grace to keep my opinions to myself. (Anita Cobby was raped and murdered many years ago by a pair of gleeful sadists. It was a famous case in Austalia, as many will remember.)

There are some crimes so awful that they seem almost to create a kind of cosmic rift – things so horrible that they require an act of, if not comparable violence, at least a violent act of denial commensurate with the heinousness of the offence, to restore the cosmic balance. If that’s the point you’re making about permanent deprivation of freedom, I agree with you. Failing such an act, it seems that the moral universe remains in in some kind of limbo, awaiting a resolution that nothing else can bring. The dead can’t be brought back to life: but the inscription of the act that killed them must by some means be erased. At the risk or seeming to argue against myself here – and I’m happy to be proved wrong – I can’t think of a single pre-20th century culture that has not erased the inscription of murder by overwriting it with an act of murder of its own.

What I’ve just said probably sounds like pretentious metaphysics and maybe it is. But the point I am trying to make is that the wilful destruction of another life is the irremedial, irretrievable offence. The victim, their loved ones – and the perpetrator – can’t come back from it. As the perpetrator, you can’t expect that society will ever allow you to get back to where you were before. By your actions you have cast yourself out, because you always – always! – could have chosen not to do it. Singh seems to think she has an easy and automatic right of return. She does not.