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Related Topics
Neither Bad nor MadReview - Neither Bad nor Mad
The Competing Discourse of Psychiatry, Law and Politics
by Deidre N. Greig
Jessica Kingsley Publications, 2002
Review by Sandrine Berges, Ph.D.
Apr 1st 2004 (Volume 8, Issue 14)

Neither 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.

Garry 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).

The 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.

There 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.

Greig 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:

"If 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.

On 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.

Greig 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.

There 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.

The 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

Sandrine Berges is a member of the Department of International Relations, University of Bilkent, Ankara, Turkey.


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