Wednesday, May 26, 2010
"Let Not Your Left Hand See What Your Right Hand Does"
So how do they end up there in the first place, those inmates we (however tangentially) have been discussing?
Let's begin with the most convenient answer, one that surely might have been raised by many a felon: Alien (or anarchic) Hand Syndrome (AHS), as demonstrated saliently by the above photo from Jon Jacobson.
AHS is a medically verified neurological disorder in which one hand appears to have what we can only call a mind of its own. This disorder can occur owing to systemic infections, brain injury or surgery, or strokes.
Was it originally described in the Biblical injunction, "But when thou doest alms, let not thy left hand know what thy right hand doeth"? Couldn't say. That's the earliest verbal reference to the phenomenon. The scripture itself seems to suggest that only brain injury could account for charity, a rather jaundiced view of human motive even for yours truly.
You will be interested to learn that AHS is also known as Dr. Strangelove syndrome, in recognition of the eponymous character who found his right arm compulsively struggling to engage in a Nazi salute, shown below.
As the eminent Dr. Sergio Della Sallo of the Unversity of Edinburgh describes, "The idea that ‘Man is not truly one, but truly two’ (Stevenson’s Dr Jekyll and Mr Hyde), perhaps half good and half bad as in Italo Calvino’s Cloven Viscount, is entwined with the history of humanity, and certainly is fascinating from the artist’s point of view."
Calvino's Cloven Viscount. How can we fail to expand upon this 1952 novella in which in a battle wound in 1716 the Viscount Medardo was split in two and sent home as half a man. Below we see a sculpture of the not entirely Cloven Viscount in Austria.
In Calvino's work, one half of the Viscount is insufferably cruel, until, necessarily, love intervenes. As Gore Vidal in his review notes:
In due course the other half of the Viscount hits town; this half is unbearably good and deeply boring. He, too, is given to celebrating halfness because "One understands the sorrow of every person and thing in the world at its own incompleteness. I was whole and did not understand...." A charming young girl named Pamela (homage to Richardson) is beloved by both halves of the Viscount; but she has serious reservations about each "Doing good together is the only way to love," intones the good half. To which the irritable girl responds, "A pity. I thought there were other ways."
Sounds like a girl after my own heart.
But I digress, as is my wont. We are nonetheless left with the question, why does no less than one percent of the U. S. population end up incarcerated? Leaving out, necessarily, the alien hand/anarchic/Dr. Strangelove syndrome.
Certainly excuses abound. Unhappy childhood, or variants thereof, being principal. So who had a happy childhood, other than Christopher Robin?
You'll think from that I'm a supporter of abominations such as the death penalty. Not at all. The fact of the matter is, in my opinion (we're leaving Mina's expertise out here, since to invoke it gives the unfortunate appearance of coat-tailing) happy or unhappy childhoods are probably irrelevant to a life of crime. Two factors, my friends. Fear, and successful crime - those are the pertinent considerations.
What stops most children from the life of selfish impulse they inevitably long to live? An internalized sense of the common good? Fool to think so. It's fear. I'll get caught, and I'll get punished. That's what stops the average happy or unhappy lad. And what keeps the average criminal lad violating the laws? Simple. Success. All it takes is one or two successful illegal undertakings with no consequence and a powerful reinforcement is initiated. I can do this, and why shouldn't I?
The "why shouldn't I" asked for a number of reasons. Nothing to lose, being chief. Those who have nothing have nothing to lose. Then there are those who have much and want more. A lecture for another time. But what keeps the rest of us on the straight and narrow? Fear, pure and simple. And bad luck. We got caught. Those who didn't, or who could bear the consequences, continue the life of crime, until such time as either bad luck or bad judgment catches up.
Fear is the biggest inhibitor, but success is the best reinforcer. It is Mina's personal goal to redefine the parameters, the human world having so miserably failed our inmates.
Perhaps in the wild there are options heretofore not considered.