Thursday 18 September 2014

Rare Events & the Oscar Pistorius Verdict

My fascination with behavioral psychology continues with Daniel Kahneman's latest "Thinking Fast & Slow" - a great read. Every time I open this gem I can read from any chapter - the entire book is littered from cover to cover with such amazing insight on how fallible humans are and the actual fallacy of our decision making processes, that it's both brilliant and really hard to believe! 

There's a whole chapter dedicated to rare events and how we process rare but potentially dangerous events in our brain - Kahneman explains that in the case of rare events that are dangerous - more than the actual probability of the occurrence, the human mind treats it as a big risk with the mere possibility of that event's occurance. having followed my own rare event  - the Oscar Pistorius murder trial that was now a world-wide soap opera - it gave me almost a live example to consider. For the unlikely few that never heard of it - here's a place to get a quick synopsis  here Oscar Pistorius Trial

As I sat listening to the long and detailed explanations read out literally in slow motion by Judge Thokozile Masipa I felt cheated and numb at his murder aquittal - yes he was convicted of culpable homicide.

Oscar Pistorius was convicted of culpable homicide - pending sentencing. He did not premeditate the murder - which seemed reasonable. But the fact that he shot four bullets into a tiny toilet cubicle, claiming (the defense even at the end - was still unclear) an intruder being adjudged only as an act of negligence by Masipa felt hollow in the end.

The judge accepts that "no one will ever know why he shot 4 instead of just 1 bullet; no one can tell why he did not check the whereabouts of his girlfriend; why he did not call security or police...." While this is a rare event, I wondered if my mind processing just the possibility of this, the brutality of it and judging the judge's verdict harshly rather than accounting for all of the evidence?

I looked back at the trial, the arguments, the forensics everything - the Judge discarded large parts of the neighbors' testimonies (and reasonably so) and relied heavily on the timeline - phone calls to establish that there was no evidence of a fight/argument - So far so good

But what does not seem to be seriously considered was why did Pistorius feel the need to shoot 4 times and is doing that just negligence? Is that not a huge error of judgement there for a person who is trained in firearms, who is still in the safety and comfort of his own home.

As per Judge Masipa, this guy shot because he thought his life was in danger, and the way it corroborates is only the open bathroom window.

So he shoots without really establishing that fact beyond reasonable doubt; Without ascertaining the basic circumstances of his surroundings, without calling security or police, without anyone threatening him from the bathroom; and worst of all without establishing the safety or whereabouts of his partner. He was so quick to fire, just as he was so quick to run on the field. 

On the stand, Oscar Pistorius in a demonstration takes less than a minute to put on his prosthetic limbs - How easily could he have done that and walked out the door with the lady?

The other aspect that is extremely worrisome is the fact that the Judge's ruling seems to think that 'Oscar Pistorius did not believe he would kill someone" and hence that excludes dolus - Which sane person just shoots out of negligence, that too 4 bullets into a locked small area? If he does not intend to kill, I need to know what the hell he was doing! 

Someone, somewhere needs to think calmly about what the verdict really means - and what laws are governing it - it is not correct. There's just one hope now - that Oscar Pistorius is put away for a good time and never allowed to hold a fire-arm in his life ever.

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