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Bad Nor Mad tells the story of Garry
David, a convicted Australian murderer who became famous by sending out threats
to the public and descriptions of his extreme self-mutilations to news papers
while incarcerated. This very public figure posed the government a serious
problem - he was deemed dangerous, but could not be diagnosed 'mentally ill'
and thus could not be detained for longer than his actual crimes (as opposed to
acts of self-mutilation, and general threats reported by newspapers) deserved.
Greig recounts how psychiatrists, lawyers, judges and politicians juggled with
medical facts, the criminal justice law, and perceptions of the 'normal person'
in order to find a satisfactory way of dealing with Garry David - and how they
spectacularly failed to do so.
David was diagnosed as suffering from personality disorders, but psychiatrists
would not commit themselves to a diagnosis of mental illness - he was thus not
considered eligible for being held in a psychiatric hospital. Greig's depiction
of the psychiatric aspect of the Garry David story, is of a long file of
psychiatric doctors and hospital nurses each in turn puzzled and horrified by
David's manipulative and extreme personality, but still firmly convinced that
he was not mad. The fact that there were many attempts at diagnosis reveals a
keen interest in being able to label him with a recognized psychiatric illness.
This itself would appear in part to confirm a claim made by Thomas Szasz, for
example in his Cruel Compassion, that mental illness is a category used
to repress the disturbing elements of society, a license to put away criminals
for periods much longer than are warranted by their crime. Greig makes it clear
that the perception of Garry David's dangerousness was increased by the fact
that he came to the public eye during a period where two large-scale massacres
took place. So there was more pressure both to keep him locked up and to label
him as mad (as the perpetrators of the massacres were both diagnosed as
suffering from mental illness).
government's response to Garry David, was quite simply, to create a law just
for him, the Community protection act, which would license keeping him in jail
on the basis of assessed 'dangerousness', even if he could not be institutionalized
in a psychiatric hospital.
are some serious philosophical objections to policy making which has as its
object a particular situation. For example, following Rousseau (On Social
Contract, Book II, chapter 6), because the law is the expression of the
general will, it cannot be framed by the particular. The particular can only
come in at the point at which the law is executed, not when it is being
formulated. Anything else is both a misuse of the law and unfair to the person
or persons against whom the law is being made. Garry David seems to have had a
keen awareness of this unfairness. This is apparent in a reported dialogue
between a high court judge and David in which David explains that he will not
co-operate, even if it means ruling out his chances of an earlier release, on
the grounds that the law which is being proposed in order to lengthen his
sentence is unjust (pp.198-199). The government's attempts at dealing with Garry
David in this way, thus seems to have exacerbated the situation further.
also spends some time relating how the public's perception of David as
'abnormal' played a role in the proceedings. When Greig refers to the 'normal person's
perception of madness and dangerousness, it seems that she's referring to one of
the epigraphs of Chapter III, a quotation from Berlin:
I find a man to whom it literally makes no difference whether he kicks a pebble
or kills his family, since either would be an antidote to ennui or inactivity,
I shall not be disposed... to attribute to him merely a different code of
morality to my own or that of most men, or declare that we disagree on
essentials, but shall begin to speak of insanity..." p.76.
Greig's strategy seems to be
to denigrate this propensity to non-expert diagnosis of insanity. However, it
strikes me both that what Berlin says is right in an important way -- there is a moral
norm of human behavior, and one does not need to be an expert to notice that somebody
is way off that norm -- but also that Berlin's point doesn't seem to be applicable in this case.
If non-expert appraisals of 'normal behavior' can be condoned, it nonetheless
has to be the case that the behavior under scrutiny takes place in a 'normal'
environment, in which a human being can be expected to function normally.
However, as Greig herself points out, prisons are not a normal environment.
Prison life is such that many inmates do in fact commit acts of
self-mutilation, that they do exhibit personality disorders more than people
outside prison do, and that those disorders are exacerbated. In this light, it
seems wrong to qualify David's mutilations as abnormal. Many people in the same
situation act in the same way. Garry David was different because he publicized
his acts. Again, threats against the police and the public (i.e. those he
actually made - Greig explains how some newspaper reported false threats) are
probably not unusual amongst prisoners, but Garry David was confident and
articulate enough to make these threats to newspapers.
the whole, the emerging portrait of Garry David from Greig's book is of a
person who is not devoid of sense, who is creative, and who is extremely aware
of the 'abnormality' of his life in prison, and of the social injustices that
contributed to him being there in the first place. He also seemed to be very keen
to publicize his views on social justice, albeit in a sometimes violent or
threatening manner. At the same time he was clearly very disturbing. He would
not settle to prison life, and prevented others from doing so. He would not
submit to any kind of mental health care. He performed horrendous mutilations
upon himself and did not allow them to be healed. He made frightening
statements to the press.
draws the following conclusion from her many observations. First that it is
imperative to ascertain the reasons for policy shift, especially when making
laws that threaten civil rights. Second that there is at present no clear
boundary between 'mad' and 'bad' and that we had better be careful how we use psychiatry
in conjunction with the criminal justice law.
are also conclusions she does not draw, perhaps because they would not follow smoothly
from her careful and well-researched argument. The first is that prison
conditions are clearly unacceptable, and unconducive to 'normal' behavior. If
the general public had been better aware of prison life, it would have been
less eager to label Garry David as a madman.
second conclusion is that even though society shouldn't condone the systematic moral
revolt of all those it punishes, it is to be expected that once in a while an
individual will take it upon himself or herself to denounce some aspects of
society. Society's response, it seems, should be then a little more
sophisticated than shuffling of policies and classifications. When the only
actual acts of violence committed by Garry David as part of his protest were
directed against himself, society should have been prepared to listen to his
complaints, and show willingness to address some of them.
© Sandrine Berges 2004
Berges is a member of the Department of International Relations,
University of Bilkent, Ankara, Turkey.