Thursday, September 20, 2007

Part Four- Helen Morrison, "My Life Among the Serial Killers" (2004)

This is the final post in my series about Helen Morrison's My Life Among the Serial Killers. Here's the end of my point-by-point rebuttal:

24. In a later chapter, Morrison deals with international serial killers. She examines two individuals in particular who committed suicide after being imprisoned. She goes on to suggest that maybe the prison structure led to a change in their personalities that made them more "humanlike (sic)". Not only does this typify the type of non-scientific conjecture that she rails at throughout the book, but it directly contradicts her oft-stated belief that serial killers cannot change or develop over time.

25. "Behavioral scientists don't do the medical work that I do to discover what makes a serial killer commit murder after murder. They'll look at the external characteristics of the person, and sometimes they get into a false way of 'psychoanalyzing 'the serial murderer'. " (p.252)

One wonders what Morrison means here regarding "a false way of 'psychoanalyzing' ". Would such a practice entail comments about the lack of emotional maturity in serial murders? What about suggesting that they are "addicted" to killing? It might behoove Morrison to take a good, hard look at her own beliefs before taking these potshots at FBI profilers. Her statements expose her self-importance repeatedly, without end.

26. "Serial murderers never commit suicide before being apprehended, and they rarely kill themselves in prison." (p. 256)

This is yet another assertion that cannot be substantiated. Certainly no serial murderers that we have identified and imprisoned have committed suicide before their identification. That should go without saying. But how does Morrison know that there aren't serial killers that kill themselves before they are identified? There's no way we would ever know, either way.

27. "If you, the reader, remember some or all of these points when watching frightening reports about the latest killer, you too will be able to keep the strange phenomenon of serial murder in perspective." (p.273)

Here's where Morrison tries to make us feel better about sticking it out to the end of her tremendously flawed book. In the last chapter (entitled "Where Do We Go From Here") the author makes a list of the controversial "rules" she has superimposed on serial killers (for example- they aren't psychopaths, they are addicts). This is merely a rehash of a few simplistic categorical statements she has proposed in the previous 270-odd pages. We are meant to think that we have gained some crucially enlightening insights, but only the least critical of readers could possibly believe that.

In summation, I'd like to express my opinion that this is the worst book on serial killers that I have ever read. Instead of insights into the minds or behaviors of these most destructive of individuals, My Life Among the Serial Killers offers a set of poorly reasoned conclusions and wild speculations. I had a lot of difficulty finding the utility of viewing these subjects as "emotionally immature" or "addicted to killing." Morrison is completely unwilling to concede that an individual's environment might contribute to his/her development. Because not every single serial killer tortured animals, experienced head trauma or were abused as children- Morrison feels emboldened to discount these as contributing factors of their behavior. Perhaps if she truly adopted the methods of the science she claims to respect, then her wild claims would be worth investigating. Instead, as I demonstrated in this series of posts, she relies on her own flawed intuition and "eureka moments".

Aside from her total inability to source or substantively defend her assumptions, Morrison lends an annoyingly dismissive tone to her writings. She is unwilling to grant peers, attorneys or law enforcement personnel any authority that might challenge her own. It's great that she is a leading feminist in the field, but that is no reason to be so incredibly self-important. Morrison's ultimate position- that criminality has a genetic component is neither original, nor is it particularly compelling. Contrary to her claims she is not the first "scholar" to propose such ideas. She is, however, remarkable in her abilities to remain entirely unconvincing- despite her ample experience in the field.

The real shame of this book is that she does a disservice to anyone making an alternative claim about the causes of extreme deviant behavior. Many of the reviews of this book that I have read have seized on Morrison's feminism in order to associate her with liberal thought. This is entirely unfair, as many progressive readers would or have had just as much difficulty with both the style and substance of My Life Among the Serial Killers. Neither the content of this book nor Morrison's disregard for her professional colleagues is representative of left-leaning scholarship.

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Anonymous Anonymous said...

Ok, but she might taste good with fava beans.

11:35 PM  

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