I once had a housemate with Tourettes Syndrome. Every day, and most of the time (unless he was otherwise socially occupied) he would engage in grotesque tics and outbursts of profanity. He would keep me up at night and distract me. He would sometimes injure himself to the point of bleeding. Medication had a limited effect. I was considering secretly recording him and making ring-tones out of it. But that would have been mean.
He did have some control over it. If I asked him to pipe it down, he could oblige for a while. But he definitely was not able to control himself for long periods of time. I felt bad for him; I imagined what life must be like for such individuals.
But I didn’t need that much imagination; there are parallels with my own condition. Though I can control myself at any given time, my mild case of Aspergers will inevitably sneak up on me and assert itself. Given enough time, it’s a certainty that I’ll say something socially awkward. At the time, I’ll think I’m being funny – and many times my statements actually are funny. But they can also be offensive, random or inappropriate for the length of time I’ve know the person I’m speaking to. Later on, I’ll ask myself what I was thinking. For many years I would kick myself in such situations. Now that I know there’s a name for it, and that there are others like me, I’m liberated from beating myself up too much. Now I can just shrug and say, “Oh, my Aspergers just kicked in.” Pretty cool.
Many people, when they see a Tourettes sufferer, or an autistic person, will be quick to judge. They’ll think, “why can’t he just control himself? Nobody’s forcing him to do/say these things.”
The question of free-will has always been a tricky one. Philosophers have struggled with it for eons. My own opinion, based on what I’ve recounted above, is that human nature is subject to what may loosely be called “free-will” only within the confines of short periods of time. When it comes to the utterances of our mouths, there is a continuum. At one end of the continuum is the raving, psychotic, madman. At the other extreme is what we call “normal.” I think there’s such a thing as “pathologically normal.” These people are so normal that they appear to be merely reflections of the mores of their societies, with no quirks or irregularities of their own. How boring.
Can we apply the above to criminal behaviors, such as rape or murder? Can it be said that certain people are only able to control their violent natures for short periods of time, and that sooner or later they’ll give in to their natural urges? I’d say the answer is probably “yes,” but that the rest of us have the duty to protect ourselves from them.