Bad ideas don’t just go away – UPDATED

Back in June 09 I made various allusions to Minority Report when I blogged on claims that UK police were arresting youths just to get DNA samples on file. That rant took place at a time when IngSoc in their NuLabour clothes were still having fun and games, and the most egregiously authoritarian cock dribble seemed to be made attractive to the government if whoever was selling the idea said it used a database.

Officers are targeting children as young as 10 with the aim of placing their DNA profiles on the national database to improve their chances of solving crimes, it is claimed.
The alleged practice is also described as part of a “long-term crime prevention strategy” to dissuade youths from committing offences in the future.

In English this translates as “we assume that you will commit an unspecified crime at an unspecified date in the future, so in order to solve it more easily then we’ll have your DNA right fucking now, sunny Jim.”

“It is part of a long-term crime prevention strategy. If you know you have had your DNA taken and it is on a database then you will think twice about committing burglary for a living.
“We are often told that we have just one chance to get that DNA sample and if we miss it then that might mean a rape or a murder goes unsolved in the future.”

Fuck, if you’re going to think along those lines why not just declare the whole country a prison now. Anyone with a penis – potential rapist. Anyone with a vagina – potential prostitute. Anyone with two working arms that can stand upright – potential murderer. Anyone good at maths, which probably eliminates 75% of people under 30 or so – potential fraudster. Anyone who buys a pack of fags – potential drug addict and dealer. The Department of PreCrime is working hard on the red ball / brown ball thing to ensure your future safety, but until it’s working properly you’re all considered potentially guilty of something.

And the red ball / brown ball thing just got slightly closer to reality, though rather than precognitive mutants it centres on brain scanning young children to identify those with criminal tendencies before they’re even of school age.

More researchers believe that violent tendencies have a biological basis and that tests and brain imaging can pick them up in children.
They argue that, by predicting which children have the potential to be trouble, treatments could be introduced to keep them on the straight and narrow. If the tests are accurate enough then a form of screening could be introduced in the same way we test for some diseases.

Okay, I’m prepared to believe that there may be something in the idea that some people are just wired to be criminals and I don’t disagree that a pinch of prevention is worth a pound of cure, but surely that doesn’t mean that the nature vs nuture argument is one sided.

The tests are back, Mr and Mrs Scum, and I’m afraid there’s some bad news.
The brain scans indicate that your boy is a financial prodigy and we feel he’s
likely to move through a stage of teaching economics at degree level before
winding up advising the Bank of England.

But we’ve ‘ad ‘is name dahn fer Parkhurst since before ‘e was born.

I know. We’re so terribly sorry.

The theories were put forward by two leading criminologists at the American Association for the Advancement of Science in Washington.

Washington? Holy shit, it really is like Minority Report.

Prof Adrian Raine, a British criminologist, argued that abnormal physical brain make-up could be a cause of criminality, as well as helping to predict it.
His studies have shown that psychopaths and criminals have smaller areas of the brain such as the amygdala and prefrontal cortex, both of which regulate and control emotion and behaviour. He also believes that a lack of conditioning to fear punishment, which can be measured in toddlers before disruptive behaviour is apparent, could also be a strong indicator.
Dr Nathalie Fontaine, who also spoke at the conference, argued that children as young as four exhibited “callous unemotional traits” such as lack of guilt and empathy that could also suggest future bad behaviour. Linking these features with “conduct problems” such as throwing tantrums could be a strong way to predict who could be anti-social in later life.
Both speakers said that identifying these issues earlier could be important in stopping children from becoming criminals.

Perhaps, but if you’re not really fucking careful how you go about it you’re also sticking the mark of Cain on the kids before they ever do anything.

Dr Raine, a former Home Office psychologist who works at the University of Pennsylvania, said therapy could include counselling to counteract innate behavioural problems and boosting the brain with drugs or foods rich in Omega 3.
Dr Fontaine, from Indiana University, said the work showed that punishment did not necessarily work and that reinforcing positive behaviour rather than punishing bad might be the solution.

Which may be true, but don’t you think that it might occur to someone that simply sticking a Peckam Rolex on them at an early age might be cheaper and a lot less effort? And let’s just remind ourselves of how much actual crime they’ll have committed at this stage:

Oh, yeah. That’s right, almost certainly bugger all because we’re talking about four-year olds.

Assessments of callous unemotional traits and conduct problems were based on teacher questionnaires when the children were seven, nine and 12. Information was taken from parents when the children were as young as four.

But it seems that according to Dr Raine all this is for the greater good.

Dr Raine said he acknowledged the ethical implications of treating children before they had done anything wrong, but argued that “biological” causes of crime could not be ignored.

Who’s saying they should be ignored? I’m certainly not, but I do think we should worry about the potential for labelling people as naturally criminal to act as a self fulfilling prophecy. How broad a net is being cast? How many of the people we see walking around every day, almost all of whom will be as law abiding as either Prof Raine or Dr Fontaine, have brains that naturally make them – what was it again? – unemotional and lacking empathy? Quite a few, I’d guess. We’ve all known some cold fish but I’d bet few of them are also criminals. And where does free will come in? How should we see someone who is unemotional and lacking empathy yet law abiding? Are they all criminals who just haven’t happen not to have committed a crime yet, or are they law abiding people who’ve chosen not to? And how should we see someone who wears their heart on their sleeve and has a record longer than the arm inside it? Do we say it’s not really their fault because they can’t help the way their brain is, or do we never ever forget that they always had the choice not to commit a crime? I’m not saying that there’s no value in this at all but we’re in a very iffy area here, on the one hand risking ruining innocent lives by labelling them in a way that would cause outrage if applied to gender, ethnicity or sexuality, and on the other hand further diluting the concept of personal responsibility by allowing criminals to externalise their guilt on yet another thing.

The bottom line is that the only way we can tell for sure that someone has criminal tendencies is that they have committed crimes, and even then we have to hold to the idea that all are innocent until proven guilty. Brain scanning kids to try to identify future criminals goes beyond simply turning that around to guilty until proven innocent. It’s guilty before a crime has even happened.

It’s the Department of Pre-Crime.

UPDATE – Mrs Exile’s reaction to this when I told her a short while ago bears repeating. Her exact words were: “Oh, fuck off. That’s the modern equivalent of having your bumps felt.” She’s got a point, though I have to admit the obvious comparison with phrenology hadn’t occurred to me.

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Posted on February 22, 2011, in Uncategorized and tagged , , , . Bookmark the permalink. Comments Off on Bad ideas don’t just go away – UPDATED.

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