Can we really be blamed for anything?

If a person is diagnosed with Chronic Fatigue Syndrome, we no longer blame him for being lazy or lacking motivation – simply because then, his behaviour becomes attributed to something outside of him; a ‘syndrome’ documented in a medical journal. In other words, what used to be a common character vice suddenly becomes a symptom of a physical or mental problem.

Likewise, if a person has Alzheimer’s, we no longer blame him for being forgetful – because it’s no longer forgetfulness. It’s ‘Alzheimer’s’.

Probably the best example of what I’m talking about is depression, which in the late 20th century exploded from being a basic emotional state that everyone experiences at some point, which we just have to ‘snap out of’, to a mental illness with an entire industry of psychologists, drugs, questionnaires and support groups established around it.

But what if, say, common forgetfulness is just a mild variation of the same thing? After all, isn’t ‘forgetfulness’ a condition too, which we seem to either have or don’t have – like its opposite, a photographic memory? Isn’t it likely (if not already fact) that some code in our DNA is responsible for whether we’re more or less proficient than others at remembering?

We don’t blame old people for being forgetful, because at that point we call it ‘senile’ – and again, once you give something a different name it somehow becomes a different thing. Old people are allowed to be forgetful because they’re ‘senile’. But couldn’t one argue that forgetfulness is just, say, premature senility? Do we look down on or get annoyed with young people who have bad backs, poor vision or rheumatic bones? Of course not.

That said, I’m extremely forgetful myself by nature – Westpac probably have me on record as either a prankster or criminal with all the bankcards I’ve lost – but I’ve trained myself out of it over the years, simply by developing certain habits. So you could argue that even though a weakness might be pre-programmed and therefore ‘not your fault’, it’s still not out of your control to address.

I guess what interests me most about this issue is, will we still have prisons one day? Will we look upon criminals as being psychologically or genetically predisposed to certain behaviour, and therefore – like people verified ‘insane’ today – not responsible for their actions? For example, could the combination of Bilal Skaf’s teenage hormones, cultural background and social environment have made it inevitable that he’d rape women – the hard result of a particular biological-psychological-sociological equation? At the same time, if the answer is ‘yes’, can we still let such actions go unpunished? My own perspective on crime says absolutely not – especially when vicious shitheads like him are involved – but it is a profound question. I guess, ‘Can he help the fact that he’s an vicious shithead?’

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