What if we could weed out bad eggs before they hatched
Australian politics is in a mess: backstabbing, corruption, sexting, disloyalty. It’s impossible for party leaders to predict the evil lurking inside the brains of all those fresh-faced backbenchers. But there may be a solution: give all prospective ministers a brain scan to see how likely they are to misbehave.
For years Dr. Gerhard Roth of the University of Bremen has been peering into the minds of hardened German felons seeking to unlock the complexities of the criminal mind. And now, he claims to have answered the ultimate question: What is the source of evil in these offenders? According to the doctor, It’s a little dark spot at the front of their brains.
Evil, claims Dr. Roth, is a function of deficiencies within the frontal cortex. “When you look at the brain scans of hardened criminals, there are almost always severe shortcomings in the lower forehead part of the brain”, Professor Roth said in an interview with German newspaper Das Bild earlier this week.
“There are cases where someone becomes criminal as a result of a tumour or an injury in that area, and after an operation to remove the tumour, that person was completely normal again.” “Or,” he continued, “there are physiological deficits, because certain substances such as serotonin in the forebrain are not working effectively. But this is definitely the region of the brain where evil is formed and where it lurks.”
Dr. Roth argues that evil behaviour is largely determined in criminals. Hence he says “When I look at young people, and I see there are developmental disorders in the lower forehead brain, I can say that there is a felon in the making with 66 per cent probability. It is easy to spot this anti-social behaviour from very early on.”
So. How about it? What better way to root out all those Machiavellian politicians? In the 2011 NSW Labour election report ethics classes were recommended for current and prospective Members of Parliament. But why not add in a brain scan as well?
Alas, the minds of scheming villeins aren’t that simple. Human action is far more sophisticated than the crude model painted by professor Gerhard Roth. And brain scan with 66% accuracy doesn’t seem to be conclusive evidence of evil behaviour. Even when combined with consideration of environmental factors, people still seem fairly free to chose their path in life.
In the world of science and philosophy, a deterministic view of morality is not uncommon. In psychology, Roth joins the ranks of Sigmund Freud and B.F. Skinner in arguing for a kind of moral determinism. And in philosophy, eminent philosophers such as Patricia Churchland and Galen Strawson are adamant that moral behaviour is determined by the ‘way we are’ (genetics and general environmental factors).
But others rail against this approach, arguing that human autonomy plays a far more significant role in behaviour. They draw upon a fundamental intuition - shared by most people - that at least some of the time people are personally responsible for the misdeeds they commit.
Indeed, even if the accuracy of Roth’s tests were exceedingly better, we would still be reluctant to force scans and treatments on people showing ‘early symptoms’ of criminality.
Perhaps it may be useful for some more serious cases where, after committing a crime, someone is suspected of having a severe mental illness. But there is a fine line between identifying genuine mental illness and underestimating free will. Such hard determinism is far too prescriptive for our indeterminate world.
Unfortunately, then, giving our politicians EEGs will not solve our political woes. Alas, the desperate search must continue a for solution to the mess in our parliaments.
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