Posted by: bkivey | 10 January 2011

Where Angels Fear to Tread

Early Saturday afternoon Jared Lee Loughner opened fire at a meet-and-greet organized by Arizona Congresswoman Gabrielle Giffords, severely wounding her and killing six others, including a federal judge and a child of nine before he was subdued. I had never heard of the Congresswoman and had no reason to think that the shooter (‘suspect’ is a legal nicety I’ll dispense with here) was anything other than a single disturbed individual. Yet even before Ms. Gifford had fairly gotten on the table in the OR people were falling all over themselves to accuse their ideological opponents of fomenting an atmosphere of hatred that incited the shooter to violence. That anyone would make such serious allegations in the complete absence of factual evidence is breathtakingly irresponsible. Eighteen people shot, six dead and a woman seriously wounded and it’s all about you?

Where’s the restraint from ‘rush to judgement’ the media were counseling in the wake of Nidal Malik Hasan’s shooting spree that left 13 dead and 30 wounded? If a middle-class white man commits mass murder they must be a right-wing operative. It’s amazing to me that any of these people have any credibility whatsoever.

Now that we do know something about Jared Loughner, it appears by all accounts that he was a deeply disturbed individual whose actions were spurred by long-festering and highly visible mental illness. From classmate Lydian Ali:

“I remember him being incoherent when he contributed to class discussions.  He would make a comment about someone’s poem and none of us would know what he was talking about.”

And classmate Amy Jensen:

“He was creepy. He would laugh to himself nearly all the time, even about things that weren’t funny,” Jensen wrote. “I sat behind him in that class and dropped it partially because of him. He was the kind of guy I pictured bringing a gun to class and shooting everyone.”

Neighbors and former friends give similar accounts. One has to wonder what we’re buying with the millions of dollars spent on mental health clinics, social workers, and school- and community-based mental health initiatives if such an obvious case of mental disturbance goes unaddressed.

Despite lack of evidence supporting the hypothesis, media outlets across the country tried to make the connection between the actions of a deranged individual and political discourse in the body politic. Before the facts were known pundits across the land were trying valiantly to shape the events to their narrative. John Podhoretz claims that

“Our compulsive hunger always to know first, speak first and decide first has only been amplified by the fact that we can now all participate instantly in a virtual version of a national cocktail-party conversation on Twitter, Facebook and blogs.”

 I think that it’s more a case of wanting to get one’s narrative out first to shape the conversation. Instant communication doesn’t obviate the requirement for thought before speaking, consideration prior to action. Maturity, in a word.

Those who pushed what can fairly be described as conspiracy theories were successful in shaping the conversation. The focus in the major media has been entirely on the rhetoric of the right. In his column published mere hours after the shooting Paul Krugman bases his entire thesis on the hypothesis that the shooting was politically motivated, again, in the complete absence of evidence. Dr. Krugman writes:

Last spring reported on a surge in threats against members of Congress, which were already up by 300 percent. A number of the people making those threats had a history of mental illness — but something about the current state of America has been causing far more disturbed people than before to act out their illness by threatening, or actually engaging in, political violence.

 One might think that he’s referring to items like this:


or this:


or perhaps this:

And then there’s this movie.

To turn a horrible tragedy into a vehicle for accusing a large percentage of the American people as accessory to murder is unconscionable: to make that accusation while turning a blind eye to your own responsibilities, doubly so.

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