Any fair-minded person would agree that no one should be blamed for what they are (their race, gender, sexual orientation, looks, etc.), but that people should be held responsible for what they do.
But what if people are somehow impaired? Should they then still be held responsible for their behavior? One of the saner criticisms I got for my post on Aspergers was from someone named Cory Riesen:
"You point out a lot of truths about aspergers syndrome. However, your tone is pretty offensive. One major problem I had is that you imply or assume aspergers is "wrong" or "bad". And you seem to put the blame on the people with the this disorder for not "trying" hard enough. I realize you did not say these directly! BUT it is clear you hold these views. Especially if we take into account your replies to many of the comments on this post. You accuse people of being "typical" aspergers or showing traits... As if that is an argument? I mean it is a real disorder that they have to deal with on a daily basis. Would you write an article about how you have to wait for someone in a wheelchair to take the long way around instead of using the stairs?"
Riesen has a point: it is true that Aspies do not choose to have their syndrome. So should I be more patient with them? Should I show them a forbearance that I wouldn't show to most people?
It's an interesting philosophical question. A corollary: dumb people can't help but be dumb, either. Should they be given more leeway for their behavior? They are certainly less able to think clearly and logically, and it's not their fault that they were born with subpar brains. So should we hold them less responsible for their behavior?
The NY Times will occasionally inveigh against the death penalty being applied to some murderer whose IQ has been tested at 65 or 70 (70 is considered the cutoff point for retardation). The idea is that the murderer didn't fully comprehend what he was doing.
But let's take this argument a step further. What if a murderer has an IQ of 85? Does that make him a little less responsible for his actions, than, say, a fellow with an IQ of 100? And does someone with an IQ of 155 bear more responsibility for a crime than, say, someone with an IQ of 110 would have? (The former would theoretically be able foresee the consequences of his crime and the harm he would cause better than the latter.)
Or how about an elderly person whose faculties are not what they once were? Does that render him less responsible for his bad behavior?
There are those who feel that women are less logical than men. Are women therefore less guilty of their crimes than men are? (In fact, the death penalty is much more rarely given to women than to men.)
Should we give women a pass for being more emotional than men, especially when it's their time of month? (In fact, most people do, but should we?)
At yet another level, sociopaths can't help but be sociopaths. They turn out that way because they had no close bond with a nurturer at a very young age, or, more rarely, for organic frontal lobe-related reasons -- neither of which they are responsible for. And since no sociopath has ever been "cured," they have no choice but to be without conscience. Does this make them somehow less culpable for their conscienceless behavior? How long before we start seeing sociopath support groups?
("Hey -- you can't really blame him for having killed all those women. He's a sociopath, that's the way he's programmed.")
Ultimately, no one is responsible for his own family background. ("It's not my fault I exhibit such selfish behavior, my parents spoiled me rotten when I was a child.")
Or how about an otherwise sane person who is under the influence? ("Yes Your Honor, it was my own choice to drink, but you see, I didn't make the decision to get in my car and drive until after I was drunk, so by that point, I really was no longer responsible for my own actions. You have to understand, alcoholism is a disease, not a crime.")
No one would accept these ridiculous excuses.
But, at the same time, there's no question that a sociopath can't help but be the way he is. Any more than an Aspie can help be unreasonable and rigid, or a moron can help being stupid.
Adam Lanza, the Newtown shooter, had Aspergers Syndrome, which he couldn't help. That syndrome shaped his personality and undoubtedly contributed to his behavior on that fateful day. Had he not committed suicide, would his syndrome have absolved him from his murderous behavior in the eyes of a court of law?
There is such a thing as free will, and theoretically we all have it.
So, back to original question: should we -- or I, at least -- be more patient with those who have Aspergers Syndrome? I'd probably have more sympathy if advocates for Aspergers would at least admit that part of the syndrome is an intrinsic unreasonableness and rigidity which almost always lead to various forms of what most of us would call selfishness. But advocates instead constantly point out famous and successful people who have the syndrome, and talk about how Aspies are "differently abled" or some such nonsense.
If Aspergers spokespeople would only say, we can't help the fact that even though we're very critical and judgmental ourselves we melt down if given criticism, and we can't help the fact that we can't take jokes and and that we're extremely rigid and very literal....Well, then I suspect I'd be more patient and sympathetic. But Aspergers advocates never admit to these things.
And if people with Aspergers are, as they claim, so sensitive and smart and see things that non-Aspies don't see, why can't they see their own hypocrisy? One would think that people who have meltdowns when criticized would be a little more circumspect with their own criticism. Should resentment against hypocrisy not be directed at Aspies? ("Oh, he's an Aspie, so it's perfectly okay if he's a hypocritical, rigid, self-righteous lame-o.")
I honestly don't know: it's one of those philosophical questions that doesn't have a perfectly right or wrong answer. (Although I guess it's apparent from the examples I've given that I lean towards the free will viewpoint.)
Anyway, here's my excuse: I can't help the fact that I am only human, so after repeated exposure to willful obtuseness and hypocrisy, my patience wears thin.
I have no choice. Really.