A Philosophical Investigation: A Novel (7 page)

BOOK: A Philosophical Investigation: A Novel
Jake read this first section of the information program, yawned and then went to the window of her hotel room. In the distance she could see the Main River which was the same washed-out colour of grey as the sky. A barge the size of a high street hooted as it made its slow, smooth way across the riverscape. She didn’t care for Frankfurt anymore than she cared to spend her evening reading about crime prevention strategies. The truth was that Jake had little faith in any of these. She saw it all as a great waste of money when criminal investigation was still comparatively under-resourced.
Thoroughly distracted now, she turned the Nicamvideo set on and flicked through the 42 cable-channels. Her German was good but there were no programmes that seemed to make it worth the trouble of listening. Briefly she found herself detained with a sex film in which a couple were taking a bath together. The girl reminded her of Grace Miles: a strong, athletic-looking black woman with large breasts and a behind like a well-stuffed haversack. But when she started to suck the man’s cock with all the languorous concentration of a child eating an ice-cream, Jake wrinkled her lip with distaste and turned the set off.
Could they actually imagine that a woman enjoyed doing that kind of thing? She shrugged. Perhaps they just didn’t care.
She lit another Nicofree and returned reluctantly to her PC to read the rest of the information disk.
During the last two decades of the twentieth century, British society sought to control whole groups, populations and environments. The emphasis was not so much on community control as on control of communities. Technology and resources were directed towards surveillance, prevention and control, rather than ‘tracking’ the individual adjudicated offender. The thinking was to manipulate the external environment to prevent the initial infraction. The community continued to be involved but the reality was rather less comfortable. Fortress-living, armed guards patrolling schools and airports were simultaneously solutions and problems: problems in that they were helping to create the urban nightmares which caused people to revolt against their physical environments.
With the failure of schemes which aimed to ameliorate the environment, the accent returned to tracking the individual offender. The adoption in 1997, following mass-immigration to the EC of Hong Kong Chinese refugees, of an EC national identity card scheme enjoyed considerable success. This was made even more effective when the ID card was able to include DNA-Profiling. As a result, and for the first time ever, the machinery was now in place which enabled Government to track the individual before he offended at all.
The 1990s witnessed the discrediting of socially and economically fatalistic theories of why people commit violent crime. Attending only to the exterior causes of crime diminished any sense of personal responsibility. Today society no longer takes exclusive blame for how a person became a criminal any more than the individual himself: a combination of social and individual factors is seen as a better way to account for every kind of criminal behaviour.
Determinism is not considered to constitute a menace to freedom in the new century. A pragmatic assumption of order made for the sake of advancing scientific enquiry can hardly be questioned. This reverses an earlier trend in the social sciences which mistakenly sought to protect freedoms by confining determinism to the physical world, thus effectively ‘outlawing’ all attempts at establishing some kind of ‘biological determinism’.
Modern social science does not consider predictability and generalisation to be dangerous. Indeed, any advance in social science without first establishing certain notions about human behaviour would not have been possible. To claim infinite adaptability for human behaviour is no longer valid. Thus the concept that violent criminality has no real roots in us, being an external socially-produced phenomenon, is now wholly discredited.
The last ten years has seen enormous advances made in the science of somatogenics, and in particular the aetiology of most mental disorders (with the exception of conversion disorders, such as neurosis). It is now accepted that most mental illness has some organic cause. There has occurred a similar revolution in what is known about organic pathology and its relation to violent crime.
Neurological research has centred on sexual dimorphism, that is, the difference between male and female brains. Leading this field was Professor Burgess Phelan of the Department of Anatomy and Cell Biology in the University of Cambridge, and director of the Laboratory of Neuro-Endocrinology at the London Brain Research Institute.
Phelan’s work followed the discovery, by a UCLA scientist, in the preoptic area of the male rat, of what became known as the Sexually Dimorphic Nucleus (SDN). This area, which helped direct sexual behaviour, was five times larger in male rats than in females. Yet another area of the rat brain that showed difference in size according to sex was the Ventro Medial Nucleus (VMN), associated with both eating and aggression. It was discovered that amputation or even a small lesion of a rat’s VMN made the male rat extraordinarily aggressive. But a similar lesion in the VMN of the female rat did not affect it at all.
Using surgical brain atlases and the brains of volunteer male convicts, Burgess Phelan discovered an SDN and a VMN in the human brain. That like rats, the human male’s SDN was several times larger than a female’s. He also discovered that in human males, the VMN acted as an inhibitor to male aggression; that if the SDN was removed, the man was not aggressive at all; but that otherwise the absence or amputation of the VMN made the male, like the rat, more aggressive. Equally, aggression in human females, with smaller SDNs, was not affected by the absence or amputation of the VMN.
The results of Phelan’s research were taken up by Professor David Gleitmann, of the Department of Forensic Neuro-endocrinology at the London Brain Research Institute. He discovered that some violent criminals had no VMN at all; that they were VMN-negative.
Originally this important discovery was made surgically. However, a breakthrough in the technology of Proton Emission Tomography, the so-called PET scan, enabled Gleitmann to take detailed colour photographs of the brain inside living human skulls. With these pictures Gleitmann was able to establish, within a matter of a few minutes, the presence or absence of a VMN and, as a corollary, latent criminality.
Professor Gleitmann’s research has so far revealed that violent criminality in the VMN-negative subject may always remain merely latent. Current scientific investigation centres on the possibility that many men who are VMN-negative somehow manage to stabilise their own levels of aggression by producing an increased quantity of oestrogen.
In 2005, the average cost in the EC of a murder investigation was an EC$ 750,000. The same year there were some 3500 homicides, representing an investigative cost to the Community of EC$ 2.6 billion. In an attempt to try and reduce this staggering cost it was decided by the Europarliament to adopt Professor Gleitmann’s research within the context of an experimental program to be undertaken in one member country. Because of its higher than average record of violent crime, the UK was chosen and in 2011 the experiment began in the shape of the Lombroso Program.
Using a specially designed computer and a number of scanning centres in London, Birmingham, Manchester, Newcastle, and Glasgow, men submit themselves to an examination. Those few who are discovered to be VMN-negative are guaranteed confidentiality in that only the computer is aware of their real identities. Codenames are issued by the computer, prior to the men being invited to attend a personal counselling session where the implications of the result are explained by a fully-qualified therapist. The accent is on help. Treatment is offered in the form of somatic therapies (most commonly oestrogen and/or psychiatric drugs). It is explained that the VMN-negative’s confidentiality will only be broken by the Lombroso computer if the respondent’s name occurs within the course of a police investigation into a violent crime.
So far over 4 million men have been scanned. Of these 0.003 per cent (120 men) have been revealed as VMN-negative. Of these, 30 per cent (36 men) were in prison or had some kind of a criminal record. At the time of writing, the Program has been instrumental in the apprehension of 10 violent criminals.
While the test is not mandatory, a number of factors have helped to persuade many men to take a test. In the first year of the Program there were small cash incentives which operated in the same way as giving blood. The Central Office of Information ran a series of television commercials to encourage men to be ‘good citizens’ and have themselves tested: these helped to dispel some of the myths and negative images which inevitably became attached to the Program. It wasn’t long, however, before employers in the public sector began to insist on tests for all their employees. And these were swiftly followed by health and insurance companies. It is generally held that the only barrier to testing more men has been the limited capacity of the Program facilities themselves.
Hereditary diathesis is only the immediate cause of any aggressive disorder and it is important for the counsellor to remind the subject that a number of other factors, for example USS (Unemployment Stress Syndrome), ESS (Environmental Stress Syndrome), SEFSS (Socio-Economic and Familial Stress Syndrome), may be needed to trigger the pathological process in persons with the initial diathesis. These may be very remote and thus the VMN-negative subject may be perfectly able to function reasonably well in the ordinary world.
There should be, it is stressed, no imputation of mental illness. To this effect, subjects are usually reminded of the standard work on structural personality tests. These reveal that the Psychopathic Deviance (PD) scale of the old MMPI (Minnesota Multiphasic Personality Inventory) shows that high PD scorers tend to be aggressive; but also that high PD scores are characteristic of professional actors and others who show a significantly above-average level of creativity.
Subjects who persist in regarding themselves as in any way mentally defective are encouraged to assess their condition from the perspective of R. D. Laing, i.e. as a voyage of self-discovery.
Elsewhere it may be considered that society itself may have reason to be glad of these men since one of them may yet turn out to be a Gauguin or a Beethoven. This is not to say that society endorses the acts of people which may have unlooked-for artistic by-products. But at the same time, moral values must be treated not as unquestionably supreme, but only as one value among others.
For Jake it did not make agreeable reading. It was full of phrases which seemed almost to indicate a certain sympathy for these men who had the potential to become violent killers. A sympathy which as a law-enforcement officer she found irritating, and which as a woman and potential victim of violent crime she found outrageous.
When she had finished with the information disk, Jake hauled it out of her PC and, finding that the bedside table, which looked as if it had been constructed from three of Harry Lauder’s walking sticks, was too small for anything other than the baton-shaped lamp resting on it, she threw them both onto the bed with a snort of contempt.
She sat down in front of the window.
So what, if someone decided to kill a few potential psychos? It would save her the time and trouble of catching them. Not to mention the lives of all the innocent women they might eventually kill. Women like Mary Woolnoth. Jake could just picture herself facing the mother of one such victim and saying that her daughter’s murderer was only assessing his condition from what the information disk had referred to as R. D. Laing’s perspective - as a ‘voyage of self-discovery’.
‘Well that’s all right then, Chief Inspector Jakowicz. For a moment there I was really worried that my girl was raped and murdered for no good reason.’
She laughed out loud. It made, she thought, quite a change for someone to concentrate on killing men. Jake was struck by the irony of what she, the expert on serial gynocide, was expected to do. Briefly she entertained herself with visions of the stupid scared bastards accompanying each other home at night. Perhaps she might even issue a warning for men to stay indoors after dark. That would certainly put a severe dent in the well-polished bodywork of the collective male ego. Despite the Minister’s implied threat to her, something told Jake that she might actually enjoy this case.
At first I was a little shocked.
I wandered out of the Brain Research Institute in Victoria Street, having swallowed the two Valium which the counsellor had given me, as well as having agreed to the course of oestrogen tablets and psychotherapy that he had recommended, and went into the Chestnut Tree Café across the road. There I numbly took stock of my new situation in the world.
I remember being so dazed at what had happened that I completely forgot to imagine myself carrying out any mindless acts of violence against the other people in the café. Instead I drank several cups of coffee, ate a plate of cholesterol-free bacon-sandwiches and toyed glumly with the novelty of my new Lombroso-given name.
Situations can be described but not given names. Names are like points; propositions like arrows - they have sense. Maybe we’ll come back to the name. Let’s deal with the situation first.
I left the café and telephoned my own analyst to make an appointment for the next day. When I was back in my flat in Docklands, I stood beside the window for a while, as I often do, and watched the progress of the Thames down Greenwich reach, past the Isle of Dogs. Reality often disappoints and, under the brown fog of a winter noon, the city seemed somehow much less real than of old. And had done so for some time now.
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