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Tuesday, January 11, 2011

Thoughts on Tragedy

Smoking gunThere are a lot of things we can take away from Jared Loughner's crime in Tucson -- I'm going to hit a few of them and they aren't all related, so don't expect a post with a lot of flow. I'm going to go where it takes me.

For example: Yes, the rhetoric in the political arena has become heated, but no, it's not fair to say that both sides are equally guilty of this -- who is the leftwing Sarah Palin, who invented "death panels" and a coming senior Holocaust out of thin air? Who is the leftwing Glenn Beck, a serial liar who routinely accuses people of actively destroying America and tells his audience they must be stopped? Where are the lefty protesters, showing up to political rallies with guns and signs about the "blood of patriots?" Where is the abortion rights activist assassinating the anti-abortion leader? If "both sides do it," why is it that both sides don't actually do it? As always, false equivalency rules in our media, as fears of "bias" trump reporting of the truth. The right has gone completely off the rails in recent years, yet when reporting on this, it's always very important to note that the left isn't off the hook either. This despite the fact that the figures used as examples of lefty hate -- say, the New Black Panthers -- are people that no one on the left has ever heard of. They certainly aren't our leaders.

The same thing happened when Ward Churchill said some victims of 9/11 were "little Eichmanns" who were complicit in crimes of imperialism that inspired the terrorism in the first place. Suddenly, Churchill was a influential thinker on the left, one of our big intellectual leaders and someone everyone listened to with rapt attention -- a household name among the arugula-eating set. Of course, the real response to criticism of Ward Churchill among the left was "Who the hell is Ward Churchill?" When you need an example of controversial or insensitive speech by liberals, you can just go grab someone at random and suddenly they're one of the Great Leaders of the Left -- ask Bill Ayers, who was elected Grand Poobah of all Things Liberal by Sarah Palin and the rightwing media.

But in trying to fix the blame on left or right, some things are being lost in the shuffle. For instance, the right has glommed onto the twitter account of someone claiming to know Loughner, because one tweet says "he was left wing, quite liberal." But that same user also tells us she hasn't seen or heard from him in three years. Not exactly the freshest information, but it'll do for media outlets and blogs eager to pin his party affiliation on anyone other than Republicans (Loughner is a registered Independent).

Denting the "he's left" or "he's right" narrative is an interview with Mother Jones of a current friend of Jared Loughner. And the portrait painted there is of someone who's not so insane as we'd like to believe -- emotionally disturbed probably, but not schizophrenic -- but rather a nihilist interested in shocking people and dismissive of the real world.

[Bryce] Tierney believes that Loughner was very interested in pushing people's buttons—and that may have been why he listed Hitler's Mein Kampf as one of his favorite books on his YouTube page. (Loughner's mom is Jewish, according to Tierney.) Loughner sometimes approached strangers and would say "weird" things, Tierney recalls. "He would do it because he thought people were below him and he knew they wouldn't know what he was talking about."

In college, Loughner became increasingly intrigued with "lucid dreaming," and he grew convinced that he could control his dreams, according to Tierney. In a series of rambling videos posted to his YouTube page, dreams are a frequent topic. In a video posted on December 15, Loughner writes, "My favorite activity is conscience dreaming: the greatest inspiration for my political business information. Some of you don't dream -- sadly." In another video, he writes, "The population of dreamers in the United States of America is less than 5%!" Later in the same video he says,  "I'm a sleepwalker -- who turns off the alarm clock."

Not exactly someone who's got it all together, but legally insane? I doubt it. Emotionally unstable maybe, but that's not the same thing. He had withdrawn from reality, but it sounds like a choice. "I think the reason he did [the crime] was mainly to just promote chaos," Tierney says. "He wanted the media to freak out about this whole thing. He wanted exactly what's happening. He wants all of that."

Still, Loughner's actions should put an end to the "a gun in every hand" arguments by NRA types. Not that they will, but they should. Arizona has some of the loosest gun restrictions in the US and at least one of the people who wrestled Loughner down was practicing concealed carry. The absurd theories of a self-policing populace failed in a mostly predictable way. The only thing more liberal gun laws accomplished here was Loughner's ability to fire off thirty-one rounds, instead of ten, because of a previously illegal clip.

The only winners here are the people who made the clip and the bullets and the people who sold them to Jared Lee Loughner.


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