Licenses to Be a Person
Licenses to be a Person
Should couples be required to obtain a license before they are allowed to become parents?
I have been asking this question since hurdling the requirements of Heartsent Adoptions, Inc. in becoming qualified to be an adoptive parent. Why is it, I have asked myself that I had to be certified free of any psychological illnesses, that I had to be evaluated as a “mature” person, been earning a living, have had a home that I maintain, and been married to a person of the opposite sex who is similarly disposed in order to adopt? Why?
It was when I began to educate myself about the odds of producing healthy children when any one of these simple factors are askew that I began to move towards agreement with this common practice in adoptions. I further began to tentatively assert that this makes sense for the biological rest of us. To take but one example: If you put children with a sociopathic, immature, drug-addicted, teenage mother there is a high percentage chance that the child is also going to become a sociopath. Mothers of illegitimate children are on average 10 points lower in IQ than mothers of legitimate children. Approximately 60% of all crime comes from individuals raised in such families: a fatherless home and an illiterate mother. Working as a psychologist at San Quentin, I kept asking the question: why is the population here overwhelmingly black? Many answers have been proposed…. most of them dripping with political contaminant. What I have come to believe that is most consistent with the data (crime rates dropping post Roe vs. Wade for example) is the simple fact that illegitimacy is six times higher in the black population than the white. This means that one-eighth of the population is responsible for one-half the crime. If we could somehow magically reduce illegitimacy in both races crime would be lowered proportionately. I believe that someday, social eugenics will arrive at a station where a license is required in order to have children, and that we will not help ourselves with criminal behavior in any significant way until this happens.
There is no rationale why people who can produce children and become parents by their own devices are free to do so even for the least wholesome of reasons, while people who cannot bear children must undergo scrutiny for good reasons to be afforded the same privilege. Everyone should be certified as a parent.
Should we also be licensed as person?
In order to approach this ambitious question, let’s talk a bit about genes. Genes and environment are like Siamese twins. They are distinct but inseparable. So let’s not quibble like most folks spend heir lives doing, over which half is more responsible for what. It hardly matters since, among other reasons, there is ample evidence that we in fact make our own environment over time and respond to it based upon our genes. We all need a leg up to start with and the good enough parenting model has proven to be indeed good enough. It is the really deprived, neglectful, abusive homes that are not good for any kid… And such homes will retard their development. This we know.
We also know a lot about genes from the twins reared apart studies. In 1969, just two years after my twin died, Tom Brouchard began to study twins at the University of Minnesota. Brouchard had been part of Free speech movement at Berkeley and was used to controversy. What he proposed was to use the “twins reared apart” model to go after environmentalists way of sizing up reality. This he did after studying with BF Skinner! He did not get much support in the beginning, since the zeitgeist said that such research would discourage monies being spent to help the poor. But he got my attention at least and so I began to write to him every so often. I have followed him, like others of his ilk such as Nancy Segal, because they were unafraid of challenging the majority opinion. Any differences in twins reared apart, who by definition are genetically identical can be deduced as environmentally caused. It is not the fascination that twins hold about themselves which people are admittedly drawn to, but rather what twins tell us about singletons that I am interested in here.
Brouchard went after twins recently reunited and especially those he himself could reunite though obtaining data from adoption agencies, whose polices during earlier times actually favored twin separation due to the difficulties of rearing multiple children. He was keenly aware of the contaminating influences of notoriety and the natural pull for rejoined twins to mimic each other, show up on talk shows, etc., in a bid to mythologize their similarity. He rightly rejected such twins from the database. What Brouchard and his team began to see in twins, the unheard-of coincidences, the exhaustive counterintuitive findings, flabbergasted everyone. It never mattered the age at which the twins were separated or length of time they had been rejoined. (Oddly, twins separated earlier tend to be even more alike each other than those separated later…) I recall the reared apart (from birth) British women who were afraid of ocean bathing and would get into the water by backing in slowly. This pair arrived at the airport in Minneapolis (city of Brouchard’s lab) each wearing 7 rings… This was their first meeting. They each reported having similar nightmares, imagining doorknobs and fishhooks in their mouths, and smothering to death.
Then there were the famous Jewish twins in Germany who were separated, one going into Hitler’s Nazi youth program, the other hiding out in Spain during the war. If ever the environment was going to assert itself it would have been with these two. As Oscar and Jack stepped off the plane, (as a result of one of the wives pushing for their reunification in this controlled study) they could not even speak a common language. But each walked with the same swagger, each wore the same glasses, style of moustache, and each wore blue two-pocketed shirts. They had dozens of truly quirky habits in common such as storing rubber bands on their wrists, reading magazines from back to front, flushing the toilet before using it, sneezing loudly on elevators just to frighten people, and on and on. Their differences were of course made of their religious and political orientations and their family lives that produced vastly different memories and experiences. But their personalities, their tempos, their mannerisms, and their core styles of being in the world were profoundly similar. All this was observed despite the fact that women raised one and the other was raised by his father; one a Jew, the other a Nazi.
The team went on over the years to document other unlikely similarities, such as marrying people with the same name, giving their children and pets the same names, owning the same model of car, choosing to play the same musical instruments, and so on. Even religious attachment, which most people still might believe to be a matter of family upbringing showed a 50% genetic basis. In fact, as the data grew over the years, the patterns settled in: well over half the variance in most measurable personality traits turned out to be genetic: from extraversion, to agreeableness, neuroticism, radicalism, authoritarianism, tough-mindedness, openness, and conscientiousness, aggression, achievement, social dominance, and even sense of well being in the world, were strongly heritable. Only occupational interests were slightly less than %50.
In terms of brain function, an enhanced tendency for telepathy with one’s twin was demonstrated by Brouchard (this actually relieved me at the time, since some of own experiences of telepathy with my twin felt more than a little spooky). There is a .86 correlation in IQ of twins reared together, much as if you had tested the same person twice (.87). There is a .76 correlation in IQ of twins reared apart. Brain wave patters of all monozygotic twins are virtually identical.
Even more controversial has been the twin studies of behavior. To name but a few, genetic factors account for about half the risk of alcoholism, smoking, choice of hobbies, use of contraceptives, consumption of coffee, menstrual symptoms, and suicide. Another oddity about twins that no one can explain is that I, as a an example, am twice as likely in comparison to a singleton to develop heart disease early in life. (With my father having died at 53 of heart attack a geneticist once counseled me that I would be very lucky to live past the age of 70 and that 65 would be pushing it. In case you wonder why I seem to live as if there were no tomorrow…
Underlying these momentous assertions is the insistent yet to be answered question of: how? Is there a gene for neurosis, alpine skiing, conservative values, or serial murder? I will say the obvious here. There is no DNA for an event per se. Events happen to people and give to them experiences. Genetic influences of experiences are a result of their influence on the characteristics of the individual, not the event. Those characteristics then find their way to manifest themselves in the environment and may well be what we mean and experience by such clichés as “finding oneself”, or even “Born to kill.”
There has been a lot of work on the “how of genes” over the past 10-15 years, much of it counterintuitive yet compelling, but I will stop here to segue into my last piece of this argument.
In 2007, noting that Personality disorders were on the rise, the National Institute of Mental Health declared the nation’s incidence of Personality Disorders to now hover at 9.1%. One of ten people are walking around with an enduring patter of behavior that is rigid and unchanging, has existed from childhood, and causes untold distress to themselves and to those around them, in part because the behavior is so far outside cultural norms. It challenges the other’s sense of reality in often devious, perplexing, ways. Essentially, there is massive distortion of both internal and external reality by the disordered personality. In contrast, the normal neurotic distorts only internal reality through such means as rationalization and suppression. Given the above discussion, is there any doubt as to a genetic basis for this life long sentence? Whether one is called a Dependent or Borderline or Sociopath is of minor concern since they are all just variations on a theme that is not as well understood as we might think. We do know that these disorders tend to run in families.
There is a tremendous cost to society that is yet to be fully calculated in those segments where the harm is obvious. The sociopath, a prime example of personality disorder, has been exhaustively studied due to the degree of observable harm he does. He breaks laws at will. He rapes, pillages and burns. He does it all and in this sense is truly nondiscriminatory. The public is often under the misunderstanding that the San Quentin prisoner is there for a crime. Indeed he is there almost always for the single crime for which he was caught and convicted. In my dreams I sometimes imagine it would be generally known that the average convict, were he there as punishment for all the crimes he had committed, would be sentenced for many centuries… starting as a youngster just tall enough to reach into his father’s pants pockets hanging on the doorknob and grab those first quarters. But this is dreaming. And yet I ask, is the harm done by the Borderline or Schizoid any less in quantity? After all, they are only different branches of a common tree. They share the same roots.
I will take but one example; the law. Here are some statistics from a recent study in southern California regarding “high conflict” personalities in legal disputes; that is, the accuser. Of high conflict cases, %52 are driven primarily by a mental health problem rather than a legal issue. %56 of cases involving domestic violence involve a personality disorder. %57 of those cases where domestic violence is seriously doubted involve a personality disorder. %81 of those making false allegations of child sexual abuse involve a personality disorder. %57 of those making false but honestly believed child sexual abuse reports involve a personality disorder. Clearly, personality often drives conflict, not issues.
Much of what passes for facts in a courtroom are really emotional facts: emotionally generated false information accepted as true that appears to require emergency legal action. The judicial system unwittingly playing into the hands of the personality disordered person quite nicely. For this example, I know best the ways of the borderline since they manifested in my family of origin. Accordingly, I have spent more than a little time and energy contemplating this issue.
The borderline loves to blame others. The courts are there to decide who is to blame.
The borderline avoids taking responsibility. The courts will hold someone else responsible.
The borderline practices all or none thinking. The courts offer guilty or not guilty choices.
The borderline loves attention and sympathy. One can be the center of attention in a courtroom for a long time.
The borderline very aggressively seeks allies. The courtroom provides a venue for advocates to bear witness to the aggrieved person.
The borderline speaks in dramatic and emotional extremes. The courtroom is a stage to argue in dramatic and emotional extremes.
The borderline focuses intensely on others past behaviors. The courtroom readily listens to past behaviors and constructs a case based on the past.
The borderline’s bottom line is to punish those guilty of harming them. The courtroom is the most powerful place in our society to impose punishment.
The borderline feels that it is OK to lie if they feel desperate. The courtroom, in reality rarely acknowledges lying or punishes people for perjury.
It is my conclusion that it is the nature of this rather perfect fit creates a synergy between these two entities that empowers the borderline to be so effective at making the innocent look guilty while they themselves are made to look innocent. The data in the southern California study support this conclusion. We have gone to great lengths to protect the rights of the accused and done very little to address the wrongs of the accuser.
If our courtroom is a wonderful stage for the borderline accuser it is no less so for the borderline (substitute narcissistic, sociopathic, histrionic, etc.) attorney. A recent study of co-occurring disorders in drug addicted professionals from all fields revealed that attorneys were nearly twice as likely to be diagnosed with an Axis II disorder as compared with other professionals. %76 percent of attorneys with alcohol problems are also borderlines. If we had data that was freely volunteered it is likely that this number, would be quite high irrespective of addiction. It only makes sense that a professional would choose a playing field that supports his personality by its very structure. Regardless, the attorney is a key enabler in this process. He must be since the borderline, left to their own story, is not always credible. The lawyer must persuade. This seems to me rather easily done if the enabler: is desirous of control, is misled by charm or anger, enjoys solving problems, likes taking charge, and enjoys telling others what to do. These are typical attorney traits that do not even require an accompanying disorder for the sick dance to take place.
I will take the bold position that just as the accused is sometimes evaluated as to his fitness to stand trial, the accuser should be evaluated for his fitness to file suit. The same criteria needs to met by attorneys.
The definition of professional responsibility for persons in a fiduciary role to the public needs to include a minimal standard of mental health. If it is in the genes, as it certainly is to some significant degree, then any argument that “life, liberty, and the pursuit of happiness” be honored as the backbone of our democracy must bend to support this disturbing fact. Others lives, liberties, and happiness need not be held hostage to the right of privacy of illness that ultimately robs the healthy in mind of those same freedoms.
Those people entrusted with people (or a gun) must be licensed as a “person in good mental health”. Failing that test, they must undergo therapies by whatever means until they are of sound mind, and monitored accordingly.
If the little data we have on attorneys is reflective of the draw that positions of power have for the disordered personality then what does this imply about the politicians in Washington? Might this discussion cause one to have some inkling as why politicians seem to serve just about everyone’s interests save those who elected them? And what about Psychiatrists? Physicians? CEOs? Bankers? Etc.?
We do ourselves no great favor by ignoring these “inconvenient truths”. We do ourselves no great favor by not screening for these disorders as a prerequisite to holding a public trust, or owning a gun. Why is it that the Army psychiatrist at Fort Hood was allowed to waive numerous red flags in the faces of his colleagues and remain ignored until he killed people? How is it that every single mass murderer in recent years has been diagnosed as suffering major depression along with some personality issue and also allowed to procure enough guns and ammunition to kill many people?
A licensed psychologist should be appointed by the state to screen anyone seeking to own a gun for whatever purpose; hunting or self-defense. In the early 1980’s I participated in the first psychological screening program for rooky policemen in the Bay area in an effort to keep rogue cops off the street. The program has continued to work with shining success and has been adopted by many other states. There is no good reason why similar programs for public citizens cannot exist to save lives at the sacrifice of privacy.
I do not expect in my lifetime that any of these things will come to pass. I believe that perhaps in my daughter’s adult life, time passing will mean that the world will have gotten much hotter, flatter (preponderance of middle class), and more crowded. There will eventually be a strong financial incentive for our society to restrict the breeding of sociopaths. Licensing of prospective parents may become mandatory regardless of the origin of the child. Following this acceptance, the question for early intervention of known genetic disasters of personality will become normative. As prisons grow even more overcrowded reform will mean that the roughly %30 of that population who are there due to drug related offenses only will be placed elsewhere and that the sociopaths will have enclosed societies all to themselves. Gun owners will be screened for major depression and/or personality issues. The doors of courts will be bursting at the hinges, and the costs of justice will become high enough that much needed restrictions on who gets to be in court in the first place will be put into effect. Demands for efficiency in services of all kinds will mean a closer look at professionals of all walks. “Professional” will include a degree in mental health for self and others so that institutionally sanctioned destructive behavior as well as enabling will become a thing of the past.
Ultimately, we will all agree that mental health will be worth the price it extracts to obtain it.
Don Crowe, PhD