31 March 2009

Insanity v. Brainwashing

One of the first things that I did after sitting down today was browse a little for an interesting story to comment on. Lucky for me, the first headline I saw not only provides adequate material for this endeavor, it also is such a story that I think everyone will be able to join me in a little


How about everyone takes a moment to look at the story about a Maryland mother who joined a cult and starved her son to death? Here are a couple of different versions:

Washington Post,
Associated Press.

It's difficult for so many reporters to get the same story differently, but just in case you don't like one organisation, well, there you go.

What I would like to know is, how are we defining insane nowadays? I was talking about this "event" with the head copy editor, and we were trying to decide if this lady was really insane or not. My first impulse is to maintain that while I wouldn't necessarily say that the woman is insane (I go more for brainwashed), I believe this "Queen Antoinette" person probably is insane. I mean, who else would take on a name like that? Not to mention convince her followers that a member's baby was a demon because he wasn't old enough to handle saying "Amen" after meals...

On the other hand, "insanity" seems to have a much broader definition than I had previously thought, according to Merriam-Webster's Online Medical Dictionary:
Main Entry: in·san·i·ty
Pronunciation: in-primarystresssan-schwat-emacron
Function: noun
Inflected Form(s): plural -ties
1 : a severely disordered state of the mind usually occurring as a specific disorder (as paranoid schizophrenia)
2 : unsoundness of mind or lack of the ability to understand that prevents one from having the mental capacity required by law to enter into a particular relationship, status, or transaction or that releases one from criminal or civil responsibility

Some officials are saying that Ms. Ramkissoon is not, in fact, insane; and I would like to agree with them. However, can insanity be taught, as through being brainwashed? Isn't that what brainwashing is? Creating a "severely disordered state of the mind"? Maybe that's the reason they're still sentencing her, because of the ambiguity of the definition.

If this is how the dictionary defines "brainwashing":
Main Entry: brain·wash·ing
Pronunciation: primarystressbramacrn-secondarystresswodotsh-ieng, -secondarystresswäsh-
Function: noun
: a forcible indoctrination to induce someone to give up basic political, social, or religious beliefs and attitudes and to accept contrasting regimented ideas

Then perhaps it really is possible to induce insanity, if the "contrasting regimented ideas" mess so much with a person's head that it is impossible for them to understand things going on around them. Read that as saying: That it is impossible for them to understand that murder, no matter what sort of resurrection you're waiting for, is wrong.

Is forced homicide insanity or brainwashing? And does it matter?

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