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mental health mondays :: crazy like a fox?

have you ever wondered where the rule that says you get treated differently if you've committed a crime
if you're a crazy person came from?

if you have, and you haven't bothered to google it yourself, let me enlighten you: it stems from a british court reaction called the m'naghten rules. the reaction came to a case against daniel m'naghten [or "mcnaghten"], a scottish woodworker who killed a highly placed tory civil servant, believing him to be prime minister robert peel [who gives his name to a number of different fixtures here in montreal].

m'naghten believed that he was the target of government spies, who were conspiring against him and who meant to do him harm. when brought to trial, even the prosecutor was forced to admit that it would be unfair to try the man, because he was so clearly delusional. as a result, m'naghten was acquitted. the ensuing furore caused the government to put questions to the court concerning how it was to be determined that someone could be acquitted on the basis of mental defect. you can read the record of that here [conveniently highlighted].

from the beginning, there were problems with the definition, because so much was unknown. more than a hundred and fifty years later, things haven't really become any clearer. particularly since it's often suspected that the people who claim to have been insane are actually playing the system, claiming that they were incapacitated for increasingly specific periods of time, under increasingly specific circumstances, all the while hoping to avoid lifetime in prison or the death penalty.

however, it might be interesting for you to know that, in fact, there was more than a little controversy over even the case of poor, deluded daniel m'naghten who thought the government meant him harm. you see, at the time of his arrest, daniel was carrying £750, the equivalent of about $60,000. carrying that amount of money was about as unheard of in his day as it is in hours and lead some to speculate that, rather than being a sad schizophrenic sack who imagined conspiracies all around him, that daniel m'naghten was actually part of a conspiracy and pretended to be a conspiracy theorist in order to save his co-conspirators.

how crazy is that?

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