Saturday, January 15, 2011

Touching Evil: Violent psychosis and the crimes of Jared Loughner

Midmorning on January 8, 2011, in Tucson, Arizona, Jared Lee Loughner, an unemployed 22-year-old, opened fire on a crowd in a Safeway parking lot, murdering six individuals and injuring over a dozen others.

In what appears to have been an assassination attempt, Loughner shot U.S. Representative Gabrielle Giffords in the head, point blank. As of this writing, Congresswoman Giffords has survived the attack, thanks to the expertise of her doctors and the extraordinary, manmade miracles that we regularly receive as a consequence of advances in medicine. Imagine if this had happened a century ago. Giffords, it is almost certain, would have died en route to a dirty hospital or very soon after her arrival. After all, penicillin, something so basic that we take it for granted, was discovered and made available during World War II, and it is hard for us today to understand just how far medicine has come since then.

Many people have asked why Loughner targeted Giffords and murdered six others. Clarence Dupnik, sheriff of Tucson’s Pima County, attributed it to intolerance and the tone on talk radio, asserting that, “[T]he vitriol that comes out of certain mouths, about tearing down the government, the anger, the hatred, the bigotry that goes on in this country is getting to be outrageous.” Loughner, according to this line of thinking, was an unbalanced person reacting to inflaming rhetoric. We’ll call this the media hypothesis.

Some members of the media immediately blamed the shooting on Sarah Palin and various tea party groups. According to this narrative, political conservatives, Governor Palin in particular, were responsible for the murders. Interestingly, Congresswoman Giffords was, herself, quite conservative by many standards (a “Blue Dog Democrat), and the pogressive website Daily Kos included her on a list of “targets” for political primaries). Let’s lump these together and call them the political hypothesis.

Loughner’s friends, however, have said that he wasn’t particularly political. He wasn’t an avid watcher of news programs and didn’t listen to talk radio, and they don’t believe that he was influenced by Rush Limbaugh or Sarah Palin. In fact, his favorite books (according to his YouTube account) were Mein Kampf and The Communist Manifesto. Some have said that Loughner used to be a pretty normal kid, but that his personality changed abruptly after a breakup with a high school girlfriend. Let’s call this the heartbreak hypothesis.

I’d like to offer an alternate hypothesis, one that it pretty obvious but unpopular with pundits and politicians, because it doesn’t have a solution and doesn’t offer the opportunity for a program that they can push: Jared Loughner is insane.