Another review of the book stating violence comes from brain damage, noted yesterday, from the Wall Street Journal.
“Who is the last person you thought about killing? Come on, we know you have thought about it. Psychologists have established that the majority of us have the fantasy. Now think again. Who do you know who has actually killed somebody? Right, probably nobody, at least in civilian life. Why is it: We all have thought about it, but none of us has done it? Why do some people actually kill? And even more intriguing, can this last question be considered as a public-health problem—and if so, should we as a society intervene with social measures to pre-emptively control violent behavior, just as we do with cigarette smoking?
“Adrian Raine, a professor of psychology at the University of Pennsylvania, has some ideas. He has been studying psychopaths and violent criminals for 30 years and has distilled his view into “The Anatomy of Violence: The Biological Roots of Crime,” a well-written and engaging account. Mr. Raine understands that many people have a great capacity for violence and, to make the point, describes one case where he acted upon this impulse. Several years ago, a man broke into his hotel room in Turkey. Instead of playing asleep, the author leapt up and attacked him—and almost got himself killed. That incident served as a moment of truth, Mr. Raine reports. He realized at the time of the intruder’s trial that, deep down in him, there was the ferocity for vengeance that we all possess.
“But Mr. Raine wants to rise above mental explanations: Like many scientists before him, he wants to pin down the underlying biological causes of anti-social behavior and violence. He is convinced that modern neuroscience is awash with facts and knowledge that are ready to be applied to the criminal-justice system and will help mitigate findings and sentences. He wants to redirect the ways society thinks about crime and the ways we understand and deal with people who do horrible things. He wants us to view such people as biological machines that have gone haywire. Something is wrong.
“Mr. Raine reminds us of all the interesting things we do know about genes, brains and the environment that can tilt someone toward anti-social behavior. He begins with an informative primer on evolutionary psychology: Many of the long-ago scenarios that could have shaped our instincts to erupt into violence, he suggests, also established the foundation for cooperation. For cooperation to thrive, cheaters have to be punished. The author then goes on to explain, through twin studies and other research, the evidence for a genetic disposition to violence. He also proposes a neural model for how nerve circuits go awry when regulating and controlling behavior in violent brains. He even takes a guess at what might be wrong with the worst of the worst, the coldblooded killers who dominate our headlines….
“The U.S. courts are not unfamiliar with the exuberance of scientists in the flush of newly acquired knowledge, and they have considered before how their findings should be applied to the less fortunate, the violent and others. It has been a rocky road, as U.S. District Judge Jed S. Rakoff recently recounted in a speech at Washington and Lee University. During the 19th century, Judge Rakoff pointed out, scientists believed in phrenology—the theory that bumps on the skull reflected specialized brain areas beneath the skull. They thought that by palpating someone’s skull, it could be determined whether that person possessed a mental attribute to a greater or lesser degree than the average person. In 1834, this “science” was invoked to explain the horribly brutal murder of a young boy by another boy his same age. The trial turned out to be a model for understanding the admissibility of a “science” and the role of experts. The judge didn’t allow the expert testimony and wrote: “We cannot suffer a mere theory to go as evidence to a jury.” Some of the founders of American forensic science took part in the trial, foretelling today’s dilemmas and revealing how chronic are the tensions between expert “scientific” testimony and the courts. Of course we now know phrenology was a pseudoscience, but at the time it was thought in some quarters to be real.”