I just watched We Need to Talk About Kevin, a movie based on the award-winning book of the same title. The film is told from the point of view of a serial killer’s mother. It jumps back and forth in time, tracing her son’s troubled childhood, through his commission of a high school massacre, but mainly focuses on the fallout from his horrific actions – specifically, the price his mother pays. Ostracized, cruelly targeted by the other community members who hold her responsible for what her son did, she meekly accepts the abuse, presumably accepting some share of the responsibility for the tragedy. Her house and car are splattered with red paint, she is slapped, sworn at, coolly ignored and, at one point in the movie, has her purchase of a dozen supermarket eggs demolished by a grieving mother. The ensuing scene which finds her eating dinner at home, alone, lining up the eggshell fragments she fishes them out of her omelet is sad, unintentionally comical, and, in my opinion, improbable. Partly because I couldn’t imagine someone, anyone, passively subjecting themselves to such sustained mistreatment, but mainly because I couldn’t imagine a parent facing such an enormous communal backlash for the actions perpetrated by her son. Especially given the fact that, we later learn, her husband and young daughter were his first victims. It just struck me as an extreme and wrong response.
I mentioned this to my friend, Bill, who happened to have read the book, and his response was a definite: “Oh, that totally happens. Are you kidding?” Really? An entire community holding a parent responsible for her son’s actions? Despite Bill’s insistence, I didn’t buy it. Until I asked Akemi who responded with equal vehemence. Apparently, in Japan, parents are most certainly held accountable for their children’s social transgressions.
I don’t know. In some cases, I can certainly see a parent having to shoulder some of the blame, but I have a hard time faulting them for raising a psychopath, especially given the fact that I’m halfway through Jon Ronson’s brilliant The Psychopath Test: A Journey Through the Madness Industry which makes a pretty good argument for the physiological and untreatable nature of sociopathy. According to the book, roughly 1% of the general population are sociopaths, cold, calculated individuals incapable of empathy. Apparently, in addition to excelling at murder, they also make wonderfully successful CEO’s. The rate of recidivism among psychopaths is an astonishing 80%. In other words, 80% of psychopaths purportedly “cured” of their condition will re-offend! Why? Because theirs is not a behavioral condition. They are born that way, the result dysfunctional amygdala, a part of the brain that plays an important role in emotional learning and autonomic responses associated with fear. Now I’m not presuming the average person would be aware of this, but I still find it far-fetched that most individuals would target a parent in this sort of situation. Maybe if their kid stole a car or bullied someone, but mass murder?
What do you think? Should a parent be held accountable for their child’s actions? And what offense-dependent allowances would you make?
On an unrelated topic, this morning, Akemi’s English class was presented with that hoariest of time-travel scenarios: If you could go back in history, who would you want to spend time with? Invariably, whenever this question gets asked, you’ll hear the usual responses: Einstein, Marilyn Monroe, Jesus. Akemi’s response, which I found altogether endearing: her grandfather who passed away when she was very young.
So, do tell. If you could go back in history, who would you want to spend time with?