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Salient. An Organ of Student Opinion at Victoria College, Wellington, N.Z. Vol. 16, No. 18. September 18, 1952

Murder and Society — Why Fiori

Murder and Society

Why Fiori

The recent hanging of Giovanni Fiori is of historical interest for New Zealand, as he was the first murderer to be dealt with under the newly reinstituted capital punishment laws. Our society, which professes to deplore violence and gives lip service to ideas of human worth, discriminated brutally against a person who was not only a social misfit but was mentally handicapped.

Fiori can be pot in this category, according to evidence given in the Court A psychiatrist, Dr. Henry Burrell stated in a report that Fiori was a man of subnormal intelligence, having an I.Q. of 82, compared with the average I.Q. of 100. According to a New Zealand scale of Intelligence, he would be classified as below average to dull, almost bordering on mental defectiveness. In addition he had a record of earlier delinquencies.

Let us remember that murders are the end-effects of anti-social situationa." and that the general public and court officials are ignorant of the basic causes of anti-social behaviour. In New Zealand, although many are considered "legally insane," many are psychotic according to a psychological classification (which is not yet recognised by the law). Only blubbering idiots are recognised by the Supreme Court as being insane. A feeble-minded person or one who may have been abnormal during an offence is treated in the same way as an accountable criminal. It is society's responsibility to see that unstable or defective people are kept under observation and given treatment.

From an historical point of view we have made very little progress towards the advancement and preservation of humanity. On the contrary, the genius of centuries has been diverted to the elimination of the individual by improved instruments of execution. In recent years scientific advances have resulted in jet-propelled bombers, the atomic bomb and techniques for bacteriological warfare. On the other hand medical and psychological research have progressed only to a minor extent.

Public interest in blood sports has not abated as "civilisation" has advanced. The Roman woman thumbing the fate of the gladiator, the French crone knitting around the guillotine, and the English holiday crowds cheering the falling heads at Tyburn, are not much different from the suburban housewife reading the sensational details in "Truth"! We arc still as barbaric as our ancestors but we do not show our barbarism as openly as they. Instead, our charnel house interests are satisfied by fashionable reading matter, by violent films and by the sensations that the Press brings to our breakfast tables. The invention of the camera and the printing press has resulted in a widening of the gallows square, and a carrying of the bleeding head into the backblocks. Indeed, morbid interest in crime is more widespread today than it was at the time of the Reading Gaol saturnalias. Instead of gin house discussions after the event we now have columnists and ex "screws" conducting jousts of necromantle masturbation over the techniques of hanging! In former days public interest was confined to the person punished. Now it has been extended to the victims. This interest is so inordinate in some countries that it is fast becoming a sociological characteristic. An unhealthy concentration on crime, especially sex crime, has been fostered by the press, in which the rape victim is publicised just as much as the rapist. In America, victims and even their relatives have been refused employment for years afterwards, presumably because they were expected to be imbued with the taint of the criminal.

Our society's neuroticism and irrationality manifests itself in many ways. We justify sentiment over cats killed in the street, but smack our lips over the violent killing of a murderer by another citizen, an executioner . . . Young men are trained in our camps and schools to over-come any repugnance for taking life, and then are punished severely if they apply their training to fellow citizens instead of to members of a foreign race ... A cutting from the Evening Post of Dec. 20, 1951, states that a murderer, John Padgett, convicted in 1931 for murder, and sentenced to life imprisonment, escaped after seven years, joined the army and won seven battle decorations during World War II. Because of this glorious record his sentence was commuted from life imprisonment, and he walked out of the Tennessee State Prison a free man. In the eyes of the public a single murder made him a criminal, a multi-murder made him a hero.

Although the history of psychology is brief, we should realise by now some of the motives which prompt the mass of the people to make a scapegoat of a criminal. Support from psychoanalysis has established that the Jungian power urge is satisfled by the assertion of authority over an inferior person. The 'criminal is hated because he gives expression to desirea which society secretly hold in abeyance, but will not allow any to give expression to. There is a deep-fixed tendency for the members of a society to dislike others who do not conform to societal patterns. Moreover, a set of patterns instituted ostensibly for the protection of society may be a manifestation of individual neuroticism and sadism. Thus, corporal and capital punishment are unhealthy and malignant because we live in a sexually repressed society.

Murders are an indictment on the society which permits them to occur because they show that it has failed to improve education and the development of social awareness. A truly enlightened state would aim at ensuring that fewer murders occur, and, if they do, insisting that the offender has a detention which contains the largest curative and reformative elements possible.