One of my mother's former students was set on fire by a young man (they were both tweens) a few months ago. The firestarter was angry over something trivial and a notorious bully--he forced his way into the victim's house, doused the poor child in some flammable liquid, lit a match, and watched the flames.
This led my mother and I to discuss psychopathy. As much as we would all like to believe that the parents are to blame or the schools or the Evangelical Christians or Al Qaeda, for a small group of people, it appears that they are not born with the necessary processing systems required for appropriate social behavior. There are a lot of theories about psychopathy, including the role of empathy and affective processing in developing a social consciousness.(for reviews: Blair, RJ. Dev Psychopathol. 2005 Summer;17(3):865-91; King, JA. Neuroimage. 2005 Nov 21).
If in these individuals, there are serious impairments in the circuitry mediating socially appropriate behavior and a lack of functioning in the regions needed to "teach" social norms, then all the behavior modification, parenting, and warm fuzzies in the world are not going to prevent the instrumental aggression characterizing psychopathy, that aggression resulting in deleterious societal consequences. Currently, we do not have a pharmacological intervention that is optimally efficacious in treating psychopathy and, if we have learned anything from the treatment of other psychiatric illnesses we would understand that we have no way of ensuring compliance even if we found a miracle drug.
My mom looked at me for a long time after our conversation had wound down...and then she asked the question with no answer. It's even better than the "if a tree falls in the woods..." question.
Should psychopaths be held accountable for their actions, then?
I just stared at her blankly.
Obviously, if someone can not exist in society without causing harm to others then they can not be allowed to be free...
What does "holding someone accountable" mean?...
There is no real answer to this question--I do, however, think it is good food for thought, albeit contextually morbid...