When I was a graduate student at the University of Virginia 1969-1975, the undergraduate college had a deserved reputation as a party school. Easters, which had begun as a series of genteel dances, had degenerated into a mammoth drunken orgy that attracted debauchees from across the country, until it was finally suppressed. Every year one or two students would die of an alcohol related accident or alcohol poisoning.
My dissertation director, Robert Kellogg, devoted his career there to trying to tone down the drinking culture. He helped found a residential college that provided an alternative atmosphere to the fraternities.
But thinks just got worse and worse, until UVA lacrosse player George Huguely V assaulted his former girl friend, Yeardley Love, and she died. He is on trial for first degree murder. \
Tricia Bishop has a long article in the Baltimore Sun about the drinking culture at colleges. Why student think it cool to drink until they pass out is beyond me.
The remarks of Webster, a professor at johns Hopkins Public Health, bear some analysis.
Webster has studied assaults among lovers, particularly lethal violence, and said alcohol is a frequent factor, and a potential, if partial, cause of it — a debated belief in the medical community.
“We know that alcohol abuse impairs judgment, it makes it harder to control one’s impulses in certain circumstances,” Webster said. “So I think it does play a causal role.”
He also believes that alcohol treatment could reduce violent incidents, but adds that he’s part of a minority who thinks that way. It took a long time for such attacks, typically man on woman, to be considered crimes, and women’s rights advocates are reluctant to link abuse to a disease like alcoholism, Webster said.
“When we start to think about diseased people, people with an illness, some of us want to cut them some slack. how can you hold somebody accountable for their disease?” he said. “But I don’t think it’s an either-or scenario. I think you can hold people accountable for their behavior.”
The jury in Huguely’s trial, which will begin deliberation in the case next week, is expected to consider Huguely’s alcohol use when determining whether he intended to kill her. They could find that the alcohol impaired his judgment so much, that he was incapable of the premeditated murder he’s charged with.
He had been drinking almost nonstop the Sunday he went to Love’s apartment, where she too was intoxicated.
Alcoholism, like pedophilia, is regarded as a “disease,” and somehow mitigates or removes responsibility for criminal actions. I dislike the word “disease.” It sounds too much like an infection caused by a pathogen, There are almost certainly physical components and involuntary psychological quirks in both alcoholism and pedophilia, but it think it better to regard them as disorders. It is a disorder to want to drink more alcohol the more one consumes alcohol; it is a disorder to desire to have sex with children.
But a person is responsible for acting on his desires: his desires do not compel him to drink or to have sex with children. They make him want to do these things, but he is not under any compulsion to do so. It is not a tick, like La Tourette’s syndrome.
Does a disordered diminish legal responsibility? I do not see why it should. Almost everyone has a desire to do something he shouldn’t do, whether it is speeding or not paying taxes, but we chose whether to act on our desires.