Tuesday, February 27, 2007

Privileged Insanity

Law professors are well aware of the idea of "not guilty by reason of insanity." The idea is the person who is accused of a crime is not guilty for purposes of criminal law if, due to some psychological impairment, he or she can not appreciate the different between right and wrong.

It seems possible that the same analysis could be applied to the privileged. In particular, is a sense of entitlement analogous to a sickness that removes from privileged people a sense of guilt that, if present, would mean their behavior might change? We claim to treat those whose insanity results in violating criminal laws. No such treatment seems to be available for those with "privileged insanity."

Here are three examples from legal education but can there be any doubt that the best example from outside legal education is George Bush and his insane war.

For a while at my school professors taught and graded members of their families. When finally challenged they were offended. Believing that it is "right" to have family members in one's class is, well, crazy. If the display of being offended by the objections was sincere, one can only surmise that they could not understand the difference between right and wrong. This insanity is explained not by deprivation but by excessive affirmation.

A student and graduate of an elite school gets an A on an exam with a 2200 word limit for answers. He writes 2900 words instead and his grade is lowered to a B+ . The student is incensed that he did not get the grade he earned. Parents call the school, emails are written, complaints are lodged. The insanity of being shocked not to be held to the rules that apply to others can only be explained by the conviction that one is special. The sense of entitlement again can only come from years of excessive privilege.

A law professor proposes a special program but, in doing so, does not disclose his own personal and financial ties to the overseas site of the program. It may not occur to him to do so, although on a daily basis we read about conflicts of interest. If it actually does not occur to him he obviously lacks the ability to tell right from wrong. This again suggest a history of being taught he is different with respect to observing everyday standards of honesty.

Again, the inability to distinguish right from wrong is hardly an affliction only of those on the wrong side of criminal law. It is regularly found among the privileged. Maybe a year or two of treatment is just what they need.

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