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notes on thoughtcrime // linkage and commentary - Lograh — LiveJournal

Monday, 02.Aug.2004

14:58 - notes on thoughtcrime // linkage and commentary

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so, this news article (which I've found repeated on other news sources, so it seems real enough) brings up an interesting topic. First, a summary: a guy convicted of child molestation is back on the streets (done his time) and he mentiones to his shrink how he went to a park and thought about sexually molesting the kids. The shrink tells the cops, the city bans him from going to parks, the court system upholds the ban. He did not actually commit any crime, he simply thought about kids, went to a park and continued to think about kids, then left and told his shrink. He was not banned from parks before this confession (parole conditions or somesuch), this ban is strictly as a result of his thoughts.

The question: Is thoughtcrime real? Can/should we punish certain people for having certain thoughts?

I've allways been a strong opponent to doing such. I don't care who you are, what your history is, I don't feel you should ever be punished for any thoughts you may have. Even if you later admit to having those thoughts, you shouldn't be punished for them. Whatever fantasies you're having in your head, however you choose to entertain your mind, if those thoughts don't materialize themselves in action I don't feel you ought to be punished for them.

The one occasion I could see for allowing thoughts to be punished would be if the thinker asked for the punishment as a sort of external method to bring about altered thoughts. If he comes and says "please punish me for these thoughts because I can't make them go away on my own", that's one thing. If he says "hey, look, I had these thoughts but I didn't act on them" then why the hell would we punish that?! If anything, we should pat him on the back and say "good for you for recognising those thoughts and not acting on them".

In this particular situation, his thoughts did generate some action -- he went to the park. Last I checked, going to the park is itself not a crime. The court arguments claim that the only reason he didn't grab a kid was because they were in a group and would have been too difficult for him to grab just one. My argument is that we don't know for certain that he wouldn't have simply stopped even if there was only one. Perhaps if there was only one lone kid, he would have walked up to the kid and right before he reached out he could have a change of heart and stop himself. We don't know, and now we never will.

Comments:

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From:bridgeweaver
Date:17:31 02.Aug.2004 (UTC)
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Hmmm, let's see. I'm a child molester, and have done my time, and even bought into the idea that molesting is bad m'kay? Therapy is part of my toolbox to keep myself out of Chesterland. Now I come to find out that telling my shrink about my thoughts might get me in trouble. I'm definitely going to be open and honest with my shrink from now on, yessiree I am. Bollocks!
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From:pleckos
Date:22:09 02.Aug.2004 (UTC)
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We all have dirty thoughts. The difference between a good person and a bad person isn't what they think. It's how they act. If thought could be criminal then I'd be guilty of assassinating the president by beating him to death with a giant pretzel.
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From:tobin
Date:23:17 02.Aug.2004 (UTC)
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Child molestation is a very...sensitive subject. Perhaps they did overreact, perhaps they did not. The article states that he has been in treatment since 1986 and was last convicted of a sex offense in 1991. That proves how difficult it is to treat pedophelia. The article also states that the offender admitted that he went to the park to look *for* children, not at children, for children. That's quite different than saying "I just went for a stroll through the park because it was a beautiful day. There just happened to be this little boy/girl there and I had a sexual thought about him/her."

Now, if they banned the guy outright, saying that he can never enter parks again, that seems a bit overreactive. But, if they said, "He is banned from parks pending further therapy" then that would be entirely different. Since he has been in therapy for almost 20 years, and had committed sex crimes while in therapy, it's pretty obvious that his thoughts do lead to actions.

I like this quote: "Chicago psychiatrist Daniel Yohanna said pedophilia ``doesn't go away'' and is hard to treat, so society has to find ways to protect children.

`I don't think it would be unreasonable to reduce risk by restricting where convicted sex offenders go, particularly because our current treatments are not perfect,'' said Yohanna, medical director of the Stone Institute of Psychiatry at Northwestern Memorial Hospital in Chicago."

At any rate, this is just one article about the story. It would be interesting to see other articles and their view on the situation.
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From:macklinr
Date:23:36 02.Aug.2004 (UTC)
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All good points.

Another point, which I will simplify to avoid many typos: We already have a precedent for thoughtcrime in the U.S., under "conspiracy to do X" (as in "conspiracy to commit murder").

I don't feel like going any further into it, as I'm tired. I'll leave it with this: perhaps it's not used as often, or as leverage with certain cases, but the point is that it exists. And, if I understand the law correctly (which, as a layman, I'm sure I don't), it's basicly expressed thoughtcrime.
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From:lograh
Date:8:18 03.Aug.2004 (UTC)
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I think for the "conspiracy to do X" crime, there have to be multiple people, and have real plans drawn up on paper, and I understood it to be only for certain crimes, not just anything.

Though yes, it does still fall under a similar category, the big difference I can see is that the conspiracy point is about shared thoughts among multiple people where this incident is about just one person's thoughts. I feel it makes a difference, as a group is less likely to "do the right thing" when the moment of truth comes.
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From:macklinr
Date:8:41 03.Aug.2004 (UTC)
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I know Conspiracy is only for certain crimes (as I've never been busted for Conspiracy to Jaywalk). I don't know the rest of the details, but it was close enough for government work.

I sense a minor inconsistency:

From the original post:
Perhaps if there was only one lone kid, he would have walked up to the kid and right before he reached out he could have a change of heart and stop himself. We don't know, and now we never will.

From the comment:
I feel it makes a difference, as a group is less likely to "do the right thing" when the moment of truth comes.

First, one could argue (and, in fact, they did argue) that pedophilia falls under the same "less likely to do the right thing when the moment of truth comes" category. You are, in effect, saying that one person operating solo (and thus restricting this outside influences at the "moment of truth") with a serious mental disorder is more likely to "do the right thing" versus a group of individuals, who may or may not have mental disorders of their own, draw up plans to execute some crime.

Perhaps, but it's not dissimilar to saying: "What's more likely to leave me alive -- stabbing myself in the chest, or injecting this cobra venom?" In the above case, I'd put my money on the group, as group dynamics have multiple elements that may feel a sense of morality or guilt, and aren't guaranteed to have a serious mental disorder justifying their actions.

But, that's really a tangent.

Second (and here's where the inconsistency comes in), you professed outrage against thoughtcrime seems to have limits that I honestly didn't expect you to have. You state that the big difference is that the criminal thought is shared within a group. Your statements here imply preferential treatment to someone who keeps his thoughts to himself. I'm surprised that you feel that one way or the other should get preferential treatment. After all, you state that "he could have a change of heart and stop himself. We don't know, and now we never will." Just pluralize the pronouns and you have to exact same situation.
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From:lograh
Date:8:57 03.Aug.2004 (UTC)
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I don't see it as an inconsistancy because of the various group-behaviour studies I've read (and, informally, done). When you have multiple people planning to perform an action, even if there are only two people, anyone who might have a 'change of heart' is far more likely to not express this feeling to the group, and they will follow through with the action even though they know it to be wrong and they don't want to, simply to avoid being seen as a "wimp" by the rest of the group.

hence, when a thought of crime is shared by many, it is far more likely to become reality than a thought of crime kept to one's self. Yes, I realize that it is essentially still thoughtcrime, and I am hesitant to condemn it because of that, but I feel for certain crimes and when the group-thought is sufficiently developed it is reasonable to consider it as good as done.

You can't, with human behavior, simply take the rules that apply to an individual and directly apply them to groups. people behave far differently in groups than they ever would as individuals.
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From:macklinr
Date:10:24 03.Aug.2004 (UTC)
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I can accept that the rules for groups cannot simply be the rules for individuals -- a group dynamic changes everything. But as they are still individual humans, they much be given equal credit as those who act solo. The phrase is "innocent until proved guilty", not "innocent until you buddy up".

However, you also cannot take the rules of the "normal" population and expect them the apply the same to people with mental disorders that cause a serious clash with society.

We are not talking about some solo guy thinking about robbing a bank or killing his wife's lover. We're talking about someone who is wired to derive pleasure from the molestation of children and the motivation to seek out said pleasure. He himself said it was premeditated.

You no more can lump him in the "average solo criminal" rule than you can a group. His own, solo-thoughts were sufficiently developed (and self-reinforced) that it is reasonable to consider it as good as done. Only through chance (only finding his prey) was the crime avoided.

Similarly, group-conspiracy may be avoided through chance, such as there being far more guards at a bank or target. Furthermore, when you remove the concept of "an individual", declaring them only to be a group, you ignore any cases where the group is not as strong as you'd believe, or that one member finally stands up to the group's proposed action. They are still individuals, and they still have the opportunity of choice. This is why we try and sentence people as individuals.
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From:lograh
Date:8:30 03.Aug.2004 (UTC)
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Good points, but I don't think they validate the ban.

Yes, he had a history of committing the acts, and therapy wasn't working for him. Yes, he went to the park specifically to commit the act. Still, I don't feel those two points outweigh the fact that he did not break any crime *this time* and yet he is still being punished for it.

If there's one thing I learned in psychology (actually, there are many, I loved those courses), it's that negative reinforcement doesn't work as well as positive reinforcement. The authorities had here a perfect opportunity to give him a cookie, pat him on the back and say, "we realise you went there to commit the crime, and you would have had the kids not been in a group, but you didn't and that's what matters." They could have reinforced the "don't act on the urges" aspect positively instead of reinforced the "don't think dirty thoughts" aspect negatively. But that's just my opinion that they handled the situation poorly.

Google the topic. I found a few other reportings of the event from various news sites using phrases from the story. Some more complete than others.
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From:jimbo_the_gecko
Date:8:40 03.Aug.2004 (UTC)
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Aside from the moral discussion about whether the judgement was right or not, how would the law prevent an average man from entering a city park? I know of no parks with locked gates, and unless this guy is particularly distinct in appearance, the local law enforcement would have no reasonable way of idenifying him as he strolled nonchalantly by the swingset.

So I think the judgement, right or not, is really very absurd.
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From:lograh
Date:9:01 03.Aug.2004 (UTC)
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good point. Yet another example of modern government having far too much time on it's hands.
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