Space Oddity


Jason Kuznicki

Jason Kuznicki is a research fellow at the Cato Institute and contributor of Cato Unbound. He's on twitter as JasonKuznicki. His interests include political theory and history.

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87 Responses

  1. Avatar Jaybird says:

    Slate has a couple of interesting posts up (written by two very different people).

    One discusses how the tea parties are responsible for creating an atmosphere that made the shooting more likely.

    The one I read after that discussed how we should not blame the parents of the shooter.

    This seems odd to me.

    How much more influence on the shooter did the parents have than “the tea parties”? How much more time did the parents spend with the child than any television commentator? Who had more influence over which books were read, which music listened to, which movies watched?

    Now, of course, I ask these questions with a simple end in mind. Of *COURSE* the parents aren’t to blame.

    Yet it seems obvious that they had a *LOT* more input into his life than any other source of input. Maybe even more than all of the others combined.

    Yet it makes perfect sense (to some, anyway) that “the tea parties” influenced this 22 year old while, at the same time, the parents ought not have anything held against them. (Indeed, it’s downright ghoulish to even *IMPLY* wrongdoing on the part of the parents.)Report

    • Avatar Mark Thompson in reply to Jaybird says:

      What I want to know is why only one small blog has noticed the similarity between what this guy’s beliefs were (and, I’ll add, his bizarre use of syntax, if not his use of syllogisms) and the LaRouche cult. That blogger being FLG, latest of several posts here:

      It’s actually the most obvious conclusion, if we’re looking to lay blame on a particular political group (and we really shouldn’t be), and frankly there’d be some real independent benefit to spotlighting the nature of the LaRouche cult. But to do so would mean abandoning the narrative that this was a result of the mainstream political “climate,” which of course is impliedly just the fault of the Right, or in the alternative just proves how uncivil is the Left. The LaRouche cult, and similar fringe movements, operate in their own independent realm, almost completely divorced from the popular debate (with the notable exception of their attendance as the worst extremists at the health care town halls), since that’s what cults do.Report

      • Avatar Fear and Loathing in Georgetown in reply to Mark Thompson says:

        Hey, Fear and Loathing in Georgetown isn’t a small blog. Our motto is:
        It’s the most important blog you’ve never heard of.Report

      • Avatar Jaybird in reply to Mark Thompson says:

        Oh, my Lord.

        I had forgotten about the LaRouchies.Report

      • Avatar Jason Kuznicki in reply to Mark Thompson says:

        It may not be that they haven’t noticed. It’s just that the other ascriptions of influence are more politically useful. Nobody cares to tar the LaRouche movement, because it’s just not at all politically salient. The marginal value of re-tarring it is almost nil. (This applies to Jaybird’s observation about Loughner’s parents’ influence, too.)Report

        • I think this may give too much credit to our political elites. I think they tend to naturally view everything through a political lens, but because they travel only in the mainstream, that lens only sees the political realm in two dimensions. Everything is either left, right, or center, with extremes at the far left and far right. Even when someone winds up with outlier views that are sort of all over the map, the assumption is that those views are informed by the mainstream debate, or at least by the “far left’ and “far right.” It’s as if elites – and to be fair, the vast majority of us – live in one self-contained world in which these other groups don’t exist at all except as annoying college students passing out obscure literature that we promptly throw in the trash if we’re unfortunate enough to have one of their flyers placed in our hands. Meanwhile, those groups themselves virtually live in their own self-contained world(s), with minimal contact with the mainstream debate except to view it all as a conspiracy.

          It seems that these groups have been growing significantly the last several years, which is a disturbing thing in and of itself. But why wouldn’t they be? You’ve got an awful economic climate; you’ve got millenialism on the rise thanks to the silly 2012 garbage (something which has been desperately undercovered, IMHO); and you’ve got the internet and social media growing by leaps and bounds, which provides these groups with a fantastic recruiting tool; and you’ve got a black president, which is important because these groups hold a particularly strong appeal for unabashed racists.

          You can’t blame the tone or rhetoric of any participant in the mainstream debate, whether the far right or far left, for these groups’ activities because they consider themselves as very much at war with the entirety of that debate. That tone and rhetoric is entirely irrelevant to them, and they’re hardly even going to be aware of it.

          One of the things that clinches for me that this quite likely describes Loughman (regardless of whether he was specifically a LaRoucher) is his claim that “only 5% are literate.” That he thinks even 5% of the people are literate tells me that there is at least some group of people that he thinks he belongs to. That it’s still a very small percentage – and that everyone else is not only wrong on some things, but outright illiterate on everything – tells me that he doesn’t think his group is even speaking the same language as the rest of us.

          I’m guessing we’ll find that his worldview shared quite a bit with the worldview of the Holocaust Museum shooter, who, you’ll recall, had listed Fox News and the Weekly Standard as amongst his targets. These people are not influenced by the “climate” of the national debate – they’re at war with the very existence of the debate itself.

          I increasingly suspect we’ll find that Loughner knowingly, intentionally, and successfully created his own alternate reality rather than suffering from a neurological condition. Since I’m not a psychiatrist, I acknowledge that this may be a distinction without a difference.Report

          • Mark – I agree 100% with your analysis. I would also go so far as to say this is also the first victory of the Democratic campaign for 2012. They’ve successfully steered this debate towards an examination of conservative political rhetoric that, while having no relevance to the actual shooting, has been a thorn in their side for the last two years. I just wish the political points hadn’t been scored on the back of a multiple homicide.Report

            • Avatar gregiank in reply to Mike at The Big Stick says:

              from Rush “What Mr. Loughner knows is that he has the full support of a major political party in this country.”

              From “Rep. Virginia Foxx (R-NC) says political rhetoric doesn’t really incite violent behavior at all — but not before describing Arizona shooting suspect Jared Loughner as a “communist” and “the liberal of liberals.”

              Don’t worry Mike, good people are fighting the good honorable fight for you.Report

  2. Avatar Chris says:

    I blame the mental health system. (No, really.)Report

    • Avatar Jason Kuznicki in reply to Chris says:

      Arizona has one of the most interventionist mental health laws in the nation:

      Under Arizona law, any one of Jared Lee Loughner’s classmates or teachers at Pima Community College so concerned about his increasingly bizarre behavior could have contacted local officials and asked that he be evaluated for mental illness and potentially committed for psychiatric treatment…

      Mental health experts say that, unlike many other states – where little can be done to force an unstable person into treatment until he or she becomes violent and poses a danger to themself or others – Arizona is different.

      Any person in Arizona can petition the court for a psychiatric evaluation solely because a person appears to be mentally ill and doesn’t know it.

      I’m not going to point out the civil liberties issues here. They ought to be obvious. What I will say is that no one called. It seems fairly clear we have both Type I and Type II errors here.Report

      • Avatar gregiank in reply to Jason Kuznicki says:

        I used to have a job visiting people in the community and offering them mental health services. On rare cases i called out the people from the local hospital who had the power to commit someone for an eval.

        While i don’t know AZ, this is likely not nearly as significant as it sounds. It is a high bar to cross to force someone in for a screening. It takes some evidence of harm to self or others which the person in question can rebut. There are many, many obvious mentally ill ( by this i mean it would be clear to a non-professional) people who are on the streets. Often they are homeless but present no direct, immediate threat to self or others so they are not even committed nor does anyone even try to have them committed. Unless L. admitted his desire to kill someone and had the means, he could not have been forced into any sort of treatment.

        I’ve never seen anyplace in the country where it is easy to get someone committed. Not even close. Judges don’t just take petitions easily or get to the point of considering an eval. Over the last few decades the laws have become much more focused on protecting the rights of mentally ill individuals. In my little city i’ve known quite a few mentally ill people who were clearly self-destructive but were not even close to being committable.Report

      • Avatar Chris in reply to Jason Kuznicki says:

        Yeah, I should have been clearer. The mental health system didn’t fail us by not committing Loughner. It failed Loughner by not treating his mental illness, which of course means it failed society as well. One might argue that no one knew about his mental illness (though it sounds like several people were well aware of his symptoms), but education is one part of the failure of the mental health system.

        I am not in favor of involuntary commitments at all, under any circumstance short of physical violence or direct threats thereof, because involuntary commitments, as they are incredibly ineffective for treatment purposes (at least long-term), are another failure of the mental health system.Report

        • Avatar Pat Cahalan in reply to Chris says:

          I am related to a manic depressive alcoholic who, when stable, is a normal person but who (like many M/D sufferers) eventually goes off meds because (a) “they’re better, really” and (b) really, most manic depressives miss the manic phase because that’s what they judge to be “feeling good”. Normality is pale by comparison.

          And as soon as this person stops taking their meds, they get manic, and feel great, and so miss all the classic warning signs and start getting depressed, and then they drink, and everything goes all to hell.

          Aside from forcing this person to take their meds, there is no way to prevent this cycle. You cannot blame the mental health system for failing to cure/treat them, because the conditions for successful treatment are impossible in the real world. Which is actually a fairly common reality for the treatment of many mental disorders: conditions for successful treatment are impossible in the real world.

          It’s not the fault of the system, or the family, or the neighbors, or the patient, or society. It just is.Report

          • Avatar Chris in reply to Pat Cahalan says:

            Pat, as someone who’s spent his entire adult life sutdying psychology, I’m well aware of the illness patterns of bipolar disorder. Nothing you said, however, speaks to my point, which is that the mental health system failed. And it failed, as it usually does, at several points: identifying those with illness, treating those with illness, producing better treatments (as the recent debate around the DSM-V has shown, the research arm of the mental health system is in a bit of chaos right now, and has been for some time — that many of our treatments are not further advanced than they are now is a widely predicted failure), producing better systems for managing care, producing better public education campaigns (how many common physical illnesses do you know of that, with obvious external symptoms, would not have been spotted by virtually everyone around the person exhibiting them?), and better campaigns towards reducing the stigma associated with mental illness.

            It is true that bipolar is exceptionally difficult to treat long term, but this isn’t a natural fact, it’s a fact of the current system and our knowledge and practices within it.

            I’m actually confident, given some changes in the way mental illnesses are approached scientifically, that significant progress will be made in the next 20 years on most of these fronts. That’s not to say that there will never be people who slip between the cracks, but right now, the cracks are everywhere and the size of the Grand Canyon.Report

            • Avatar Jason Kuznicki in reply to Chris says:

              Lots of people remain very fond of involuntary commitments. Here’s William Galston, for example:

              A single narrative connects the Unabomber, George Wallace shooter Arthur Bremmer [sic], Reagan shooter John Hinckley, the Virginia Tech shooter—all mentally disturbed loners who needed to be committed and treated against their will. But the law would not permit it.

              But to name just a handful in the same category, consider Emily Dickinson, Vincent Van Gogh, Friedrich Nietzsche, Philip K. Dick, Bobby Fischer, Brian Wilson, David Foster Wallace, and — what the heck — Socrates. (Not much of a loner, true, but he certainly heard voices and was thought a madman.) I could go on. Easily.

              There also exist many completely harmless people whose creepy delusions don’t seem particularly inspired. How do you separate these people from the dangerous ones? It’s not easy.

              And pace William Galston, I’m uncomfortable locking all of these folks up, not only because it’s a reduction in liberty, and not only because we’d be missing a lot of great art and philosophy in the process, although we surely would. I’m uncomfortable with it because institutional abuse, up to and including murder, is a reality. Unlike dramatic shooting sprees, this kind of wrongdoing doesn’t get much press at all. But hey, it’s out of sight and out of mind.Report

              • Avatar Jaybird in reply to Jason Kuznicki says:

                If we do not institutionalize the arguably insane, we will have such things as shootings in order to address grammar domination. We will also have somewhat decent 9-5 work (or mids) done by people who are able to keep it together… or close enough for jazz.

                If we do start institutionalizing (again) the arguably insane, we won’t have to think about them. Any of them. And who cares what isn’t created? The cost of having to think about these things is too high.Report

              • Avatar Jaybird in reply to Jaybird says:

                But, most likely, the borderline cases for people upper-middle class and above won’t end up institutionalized but they’ll have the cash to hire a doctor willing to shrug and call insanity “eccentricity”.

                It’s the poor, minorities, and otherwise disenfranchised who will end up in the institutions.

                See Buck v. Bell.

                We did this once, already. It didn’t work then.

                Why do some people think it will work now?Report

              • Avatar Chris in reply to Jason Kuznicki says:

                Jason, I don’t think you and I disagree about involuntary commitment. I find it abhorrent, both in theory and in practice, and think it should be reserved for cases that would have led to imprisonment if the person had been ruled sane. In every other case, it is immoral and ineffective (as a treatment, which is, I believe, what our focus should be). This doesn’t mean it’s not still incredibly common, especially for the poor, and even more especially for the homeless. But as I’ve been saying, the mental health system is broken.Report

              • Avatar Jason Kuznicki in reply to Chris says:

                I think you’re right. I was just letting off steam at Galston, that’s all.Report

              • Avatar gregiank in reply to Jason Kuznicki says:

                Who was talking about retroactive commitment of people hundreds or thousands of years ago. If you can’t make a case for committing the VT shooter or the Unabomber, then ….well i don’t know what to say. Its easy in retrospect to point out that a serial or mass murderer should be committed, because they obviously should have been.

                In any case, it takes being an active, near term threat to life to be committed nowadays. Is somebody going to argue that a person who , as someone once said to me while i was at their house, they have an overdose of drugs and plan to kill themselves immediately should not at least be evaluated.Report

              • Avatar Jason Kuznicki in reply to gregiank says:

                If you can’t make a case for committing the VT shooter or the Unabomber, then ….well i don’t know what to say.

                The problem is not that I can’t make the case. The problem is that I can’t make the case prospectively.

                Can you? And how do you guard against confining the innocent?Report

              • Avatar gregiank in reply to Jason Kuznicki says:

                Well doing it before hand is the problem.

                To be clear even if someone is committed, which is a high standard to reach, they are committed for usually 2-3 days for an evaluation. Many people don’t stay longer then that. If people are committed for long term treatment they have regular, i believe monthly , reviews to see if they still meet the need for commitment. In most places they can have somebody advocate in front of judge for their views.

                Innocence is the absolute wrong term to use when discussing the mentally ill. If they need treatment they are not guilty, but instead suffering from a illness. The most common situation for commitment, in my considerable experience, is due to severe and present danger to themselves not others. I was involved in getting people assessed to see if they needed commitment and not one case was due to danger to someone else. It was always suicide or such a severe lack of ability to care for oneself they were at risk for immediate harm.

                It is difficult to determine if someone needs to be evaluated for commitment since there are risks in each direction. however its also true that people with diagnosed mental illnesses who are to any reasonable standard suffering and struggling can’t be forced to take medications. While there is always a danger for mistakes, there has been a ton of movement in the pro-“freedom” direction.

                For the record i completely support the changes to the MH system that have led to a huge decreases in commitment and the long term population in mental hospitals. But there was not the concomitant increase in funding for MH treatment when the deinstitutionalization process started. I’ve also worked with getting people were were committed after violent crimes get out of MH hospitals after long term stays in hospitals. Mentally ill people are almost never dangerous and i was never scared of any of the people i worked with.Report

            • Avatar Pat Cahalan in reply to Chris says:

              > Pat, as someone who’s spent his entire adult life
              > sutdying psychology, I’m well aware of the illness
              > patterns of bipolar disorder. Nothing you said,
              > however, speaks to my point, which is that the
              > mental health system failed.

              In order for something to fail, it has to perform under its designed capabilities. I’d argue that the mental health system didn’t fail Mr. Loughner because it’s not currently designed to help people like him. That’s perhaps a failure of our mental health policy, but not necessarily the system. Okay, I’m being pedantic again, but the distinction is important (see below).

              > It is true that bipolar is exceptionally difficult to
              > treat long term, but this isn’t a natural fact, it’s a
              > fact of the current system and our knowledge
              > and practices within it.

              How would you design the system such that this does not occur? I will grant for the sake of argument that it may be possible to construct a system such that this exception scenario is now inside the design parameters of the system (so we can regard “failure to treat” as an actual failure, as opposed to a lack of coverage).

              Just like “an effective border fence”… I don’t have the foggiest idea how you would do this, and all the examples that people have given me seem woefully inadequate and riddled with really bad assumptions and will cost a heapin’ load of money for very little return. Of course, I know a bit about security and systems design, so I feel like I can critique those designs; unlike “an effective border fence”, I’m not certain I’m capable of critiquing your proposed mental health system model. But first I need to know: what is your proposal?Report

              • Avatar Chris in reply to Pat Cahalan says:

                Well, the mental health systems design is something we could debate. It is designed to help people like him, it’s just not designed so that it’s very good at doing it, or very good at even finding people like him to help.

                As for more effective treatment programs for bipolar, I’m not sure. There are people actively working on that, though, and as I said, I’m pretty confident that in the next couple decades, significant progress will be made. There will be barriers (practicing psychiatrists and pharmaceutical companies being two of the biggest), but I choose to be optimistic.Report

    • We might even go back to the 1970s when the ACLU filed the lawsuits that closed the mental institutions. Blame can be extended a long way … whether correct or not. But that approach can be unending.
      In the end one man committed these acts. It is not a matter of class or condition. It is a matter of fallenness.Report

      • Yeah, if only that explained anything or helped in any way.Report

        • It says that blame is easy to cast.
          Blame solves nothing.
          But too many people, it seems, hold onto the idea that something made JL do this act. So they look for the external cause and pin blame. But that is not how it works.Report

          • Well, of course that’s how it works. This wasn’t a divinely inspired act, nor was it a result of some inherent property of the supernatural essence of man, or any nonsense like that.

            It’s true that blame-flinging is a problem, because we don’t have all of the facts, but what you’ve done is just throw your hands up in the air and say, “Well, shit happens,” where this particular shit is, in your mind, transcendental. However, if there’s one thing experience has taught us over the years, it’s that when shit happens, it has a whole bunch of precipitating causes. There is no purely transcendental shit.Report

  3. Avatar Robert Cheeks says:

    I’m hearing the cops/sheriff were called to the college to run this dude out because he was threatening people? If true why didn’t the cops/sheriff have this clown checked out?
    I mean why didn’t they do their job?Report

    • Avatar RTod in reply to Robert Cheeks says:

      I think that might be the hardest thing to deal with in the aftermath, Bob: this sense that if we should have been able to prevent this. But I’m not so sure that we can prevent this kind of outlier tragedy – or at least without significantly limiting all of our freedoms.Report

    • Avatar Scott in reply to Robert Cheeks says:


      No one wants offend anyone these days so we let troublemakers and malcontents get away with cr@ap until it culminates in acts such as the shooting.Report

      • Scott – are you refering to the mentally unstable or those who use ‘harsh rhetoric’?Report

        • Avatar Scott in reply to Mike at The Big Stick says:

          I am only referring to folks that have a history of doing stuff like this guy did at his community college. Another example is Major Hasan at Fort Hood. Folks knew he was a problem but treated him with kid gloves as he is a Muslim and they didn’t want to be seen as being biased. Maybe if someone had called a spade a spade and spoken up about him things might have been different.Report

          • Scott – Agreed. The problem is that the law seems to make that very difficult.Report

            • Avatar ThatPirateGuy in reply to Mike at The Big Stick says:

              I’m not sure that Scott is entirely correct.

              It is not certain that the reason people don’t speak up is “political correctness”. That leaves off the much more general attitudes of “Not my problem”, “If I ignore it it will go away”, “Nah, that can’t be true”, “I don’t want to deal with this”.

              I suspect that these attitudes play more of a part.

              I also suspect that unless one wants to through the second amendment out of the window these types of attacks will remain as deadly and easy to execute. Since I suspect that you and Scott are like me and have no desire to do that there is no legislative change that we can make. We will simply have to keep on living and hope that such attacks remain incredibly rare.Report

              • I agree with that sentiment as well PirateGuy. This is a terrible event, but one that defies logic. We can cower of fear or pray these events are rare.Report

              • Avatar Scott in reply to Mike at The Big Stick says:

                I prefer a third way which I believe is being involved a as citizen, speaking up to make sure problems are addressed, and to me includes getting a concealed carry permit to protect both myself and others.Report

              • Avatar ThatPirateGuy in reply to Scott says:


                There was a good guy with a gun at the Tuscon shooting. Thankfully he didn’t use his weapon or per his own description he would have shot one of the people who had disarmed Loughner.

                A concealed carry permit can help you in the case of a mugging. But in the case of a shooting like this more non-police people with guns makes it more confusing as we don’t have a way to know who is the bad guy and who is trying to protect the innocents.Report

              • Avatar Scott in reply to ThatPirateGuy says:

                True, it is very good the armed citizen had some discipline. However, as an ex-police friend once told me, the cops are usual only there to clean up afterward and that you can’t count on to be where you need them when you need them. There have been many shootings where an armed citizen might have made a difference.Report

              • Avatar Bo in reply to ThatPirateGuy says:

                armed citizen might have made a difference.

                For example, Jared LoughnerReport

              • A few things on that point, even as I think the likelihood of an armed citizen being able to stop or mitigate a tragedy such as this (as opposed to other circumstances) is overblown.

                1. The would-be hero gun owner here was not actually at the scene as the shootings were happening, but instead got there moments later. In that sense, he was much more like a cop showing up. As such, this is not really evidence that refutes the claim that more armed citizens at the location of a tragedy could either prevent it or mitigate it.
                2. As Balko pointed out, it is notable that this private gun owner showed more restraint than cops often (though by no means always) do. That should say something about the level of training with, and respect for the power of, guns the average legal gun owner in the US has. As such, this case actually provides evidence against what is facially a reasonable concern that a gun owner showing up in the midst of a tragedy, or moments after its conclusion, would be just as likely to worsen the scope of the tragedy as limit it.Report

              • Any good concealed carry class will spend much more time focused on when you should pull your gun rather than how to shoot the gun.Report

              • Avatar Robert Cheeks in reply to ThatPirateGuy says:

                Mike at big stick has nailed it. I’ve just finished cc class and spent a great deal of time having it pounded into my head that the vast majority of ‘instances’ do NOT call for drawing your weapon.
                If Loughner had shot the people who disarmed him then thrown another thirty round clip in his Glock you’re going to wish someone carrying was there, saw it all, and shot Loughner multiple times.
                Mark, I don’t believe it’s about being a ‘hero’, rather it’s about your responsibility to protect your life and your family’s life. The police are not there to protect you/your family, that’s your obligation. The police tag the toe and do the investigation…maybe they’ll catch the perp, maybe not.
                And, as you should know this sort of thing can happen anywhere, anytime, with anyone. But, no one is forced to carry. That gun is a fearful responsibility.Report

              • @Mike – Right. This is one area that I think explains why gun control proponents tend to experience such a caustic backlash whenever they make their arguments. It’s not that they’re necessarily wrong that a particular gun control proposal does or does not make sense. It’s that those arguments are typically informed by a complete lack of awareness of what gun culture actually is and actually involves. That lack of awareness causes them to argue from a complete caricature of gun culture that has no basis in reality and thus creates the impression that they are not simply trying to save lives but in fact are trying to destroy gun culture in its entirety.

                So often they preface their arguments with “I don’t understand why anyone would ever need a weapon that serves no purpose except to….” And of course, that’s just it: they don’t understand and have made no effort to understand, yet they’re trying to eliminate the specific firearm anyways.

                In fact, if they really tried to understand gun culture, they may even discover that there are things they can do to work with gun culture to reduce violence and irresponsible gun ownership instead of always working against it. For instance, I have noticed that gun nuts are often downright pedantic about the way that guns are used in Hollywood and on TV. Not in the sense of “are guns portrayed positively or negatively,” but instead in the sense of “does the character with the firearm, whether the hero or the villain, use proper gun safety?”Report

              • Mark – you’re absolutely correct. I have a LOT of friends that are gun nuts. To the last they are all incredibly careful with their guns and hardcore about gun safety. These are guys that will give up a chance to hunt with someone on prime land just because the landowner isn’t safe when he shoots.

                There’s certainly a real disconnect between gun owners and those would advocate for gun bans. They really just can’t wrap their heads around the concept of gun ownership and why some people would enjoy that.Report

              • Yeah, there’s no reason that the Coalition to Stop Gun Violence needs to be anti-gun in order to be anti-gun violence.Report

              • And I know I’ve belabored this point but it’s really about controlling trafficking. The kind of gun violence that drives murder rates way up i.e. inner city, gang-related, could be reduced if the government would get serious about controlling the flow of guns from places like GA or AL to states like NY or NJ.Report

              • Avatar Boonton in reply to ThatPirateGuy says:

                I think this raises the issue of the randomness that comes with insanity. Major Hasan can be viewed as an Islamic radical but maybe he is just as insane as this shooter but when he went to look for something to feed his insanity he found radical Islam available for free. This shooter, though, maybe couldn’t find a ready made insane ideology to his liking so made up his own with ‘mind control grammer’ and ‘new math’.

                Several years ago I used to work with a Hatian woman who I was friends with for a while. She was opinionated, spunky and interesting person. When we were working together she started getting in trouble and it seemed like she was being treated unfairly. After being put on probation for a while, she was finally fired but soon found work at another company. We lost touch but then every now and then she would call me to catch up. Things were going well for a while but then she started saying odd things. The new job that was great for her started to turn bad, people were out to get her. Even after she was fired she believed her old employers might be tapping her laptop to spy on her emails. A few years after that I bumped into her at the library, she hadn’t been working for several years and was complaining abou thow hard it was. Her marriage had ended and she implied her son had some type of falling out with her.

                Very clearly she had developed some type of mental illness (or maybe it was dormant all along). I hope her family pushed to get her some type of help (she seemed well dressed and neat for someone who hadn’t worked for years so clearly she was getting help from someone or something). But if instead of just screwing things up at work she had done something like shoot lots of people I’d have to be yet another person saying “I saw warning signs that something was wrong”. Unfortunately mental illness comes in lots of degrees and many people can be mentally ill but will never be a danger to anyone. If they refuse to accept or seek help its very hard to do anything unless they do something bad.Report

              • Avatar ThatPirateGuy in reply to Boonton says:


                There is nothing new under the sun.

                Look up

                Our shooter appears to have latched onto an existing conspiracy theory.Report

  4. Nice post, but I wish people (you included) would stop with the “opinions on the shape of the world differ” approach to rhetoric. Yes, *technically* speaking, there are some people on the left who have “violently tasteless rhetoric and imagery”. But Hey! Opinions on the shape of the world differ!. Lets say both the Right and the Left do it!…..Report

  5. Avatar BSK says:


    Great post. I agree with the general sentiments on discourse (I won’t wade into Loughner’s mental state as I don’t know nearly enough, about him or mental health in general, to weigh in). Generally speaking, the state of discourse has been appalling. Do I feel any more strongly about that today than I did before the shooting? No. The shooting just seemed to bring the topic to the forefront. I wish everyone took it down a notch or two (if not more). Do I think we need laws or restrictions? Hell no. Ideally, the market for such vitriolic discourse wouldn’t be so strong. Instead of dismissing the more extreme purveyors of such rhetoric, we embrace them. I fault us, as a society, more than I fault them. If people didn’t tune in to the Michael Savages or Keith Olberman’s of the world, they’d be relegated to the fringe. But we do tune in. Over and over. We prefer such simplistic thought. We hate nuance. We’re getting exactly the discourse we deserve and ask for. Until we see a change in ourselves, we are unlikely to see a change in the discourse. Are we ready to demand and make that change?Report

    • Avatar Chris in reply to Matty says:

      That’s not entirely true. I don’t want to seem like I’m blaming any political orientation, or its adherents, but schizophrenics are not completely divorced from reality in the way that this implies. In fact, their delusions tend to be highly culturally specific, precisely because there’s stuff getting in, it’s just not being processed in a realistic way. So, while no one’s at fault, it’s not true that what they hear and see doesn’t affect their delusions. It’s just that you can’t predict what and how those delusions will be affected.Report

      • Avatar Heidegger in reply to Chris says:

        Chris writes,
        “their delusions tend to be highly culturally specific”

        That’s very interesting, Chris. If I understand your remarks correctly, schizophrenia would manifest itself differently depending on the culture one lives in. While messianic delusions of grandeur might lead one to believe they are Jesus Christ in our culture, if they lived in Tibet, or Thailand, China, these types of schizophrenic delusions might lead one to believe they are Buddha, or in Indian culture, Krishna. Who knows what would happen to a schizophrenic suffering these kinds of delusions in an Islamic country. Doubt they’d live too long, running around town, screaming they are Allah. (or Muhammad) I wonder if any mercy at all would be shown to such schizophrenic patient. Do you have any knowledge about the state of psychiatry and psychiatric institutions in Middle Eastern countries? Needless to say, considering Ahmadinejad’s assertions that there are no homosexuals in Iran, I have no doubt there would also be no mentally ill people in Iran.Report

  6. But toning it down to the point that there won’t be any more Jared Loughners is probably impossible.

    That’s because such speech is not the cause. His motivation was internal, not external. The fallenness of humanity is an entirely internal concern.Report

  7. Avatar Alanmt says:

    How about we tone it down to the point that there are LESS Jim D. Adkissons?

    That seems like a worthwhile goal to me.Report

  8. Avatar Boonton says:

    James Fallows had an interesting take on the matter. John Wilkes Booth shot Lincoln and it fit perfectly with the times. There was a Civil War which the South had lost and Booth was a partisan for the South.

    Likewise we’ve had assassinations that everyone agrees come out of the blue with no connection to much of anything other than the shooter’s insanity or criminality (see, for example, the attempts on Ford and Reagan by a follower of Manson & a guy hoping to win Jodi Foster)

    Since then, though, we’ve had periods of very high tension when one would expect someone to do something crazy over that tension but when something happened it was by someone who had no stake in the main tension. For example there was a lot of tension in Dallas in 1963 and a lot of hatred of Kennedy over integration and over communism. We know this because the historical record indicates that people were worried about the President visitng Dallas and other officials encountered problems. Yet when the shooting actually happened it wasn’t from someone defending Jim Crow or someone outraged over the Bay of Pigs but by someone who appears to have been angry that JFK was too anti-communist. In other words someone who took an action that seemed to fit with the atmosphere but had a motive that was different from the atmosphere.

    Likewise RFK’s killer didn’t care much about civil rights or the Vietnam War but about supporting Israel, which few people were passionate about at the time and wasn’t a policy that was esp. associated with RFK. No one was shocked that someone would shoot Martin Luther King Jr. but one would have expected his killer to be a racist, yet James Earl Ray never seemed to have any notable racial beliefs about MLK.

    Briefly, we have periods in our history where you’d expect some assassinations and we get assassinations during those periods but the people who committ them seem to have motivations that are oddly out of sync with what one would expect.

    This isn’t perfect of course. Tim McVeigh, for example, seemed in tenor with his times (the black helicopter crowd with a hard on for the BATF and Waco) and had a motive in sync too.

    This lends support to the following hypothesis that’s both good and bad. The good is that even with highly emotional issues, most Americans trust the ‘system’ implicitly and are loyal to it. Unlike some other countries where a political disagreement can easily lead to people setting off bombs, most Americans will respect the law and system. They will not blow up the court house if abortion is ruled legal or same sex marriage recognized. They don’t attack immigration detention centers and free illegal immigrants if the Dream Act is defeated in Congress. Despite heated rhetoric, Americans mostly will not resort to violence when it comes to the stuff they get heated about.

    The bad news is that the heated rhetoric does act as a ‘dog whistle’ to crazies. If you say that ‘2nd amendment remedies’ may be needed if the health bill passes, people who hate the bill aren’t going to shoot anyone. But the guy who thinks the gov’t is controlling his mind through the neighbors dog may start thinking a ‘2nd amendment remedy’ is an idea worth considering. Now before you dismiss this as just a way to justify blaming Sarah Palin, it really is bad news since it means that we can’t expect to stop assassins by looking at the places we’d expect them to come from. The blog full of people saying arms should be taken up over health care aren’t quite as likely to produce a terrorist but the nutcase huddled in his mom’s basement who is totally incoherent but can pick up on the ‘spirits’ of his time will do something.Report

    • Boonton – absolutely brilliant analysis.

      My problem is that we never know what might set off a lunatic. It might be a Sarah Palin speech or it might be a Sesame Street rerun. The question is whether or not we cower in fear of the crazies or live our lives? Even if psychologists could esablish some sort of trigger-scale for political rhetoric with a 1 being benign speech and a 10 being likely to incite violence, we all know that politicians would dance right around 9.9. And what if they stumble over the line? Very hard to ascertain what that would sound like.Report

    • Avatar Boonton in reply to Boonton says:

      The ‘dog whistle’ factor also explains why notable attacks seem to bring out copycat attacks later on by people with no connection to the original attack. For a while it seemed like some kid started shooting at his high school at least once a year. After 9/11 some kid took his father’s airplane and crashed it into an office building killing only himself.Report

    • Avatar Jaybird in reply to Boonton says:

      How can we tell the difference between “picking up the spirits of his time” and “confirmation bias”?

      Whether it happens to us vs. whether it happens to them?Report

    • Avatar Heidegger in reply to Boonton says:

      Very good, Boonton. I think ultimately, it really gets down to the fact that it’s not that we (Americans) are necessarily a better and more humane people, but rather, we are saved by our system and the foundation that it was built upon. My god, those Founders sure knew what the hell they were doing. We have never, even remotely, been close to being governed by a tyranny.Report

    • Avatar DensityDuck in reply to Boonton says:

      “The bad news is that the heated rhetoric does act as a ‘dog whistle’ to crazies.”

      Oh, and you were doing so well right up until then. I actually liked where you were going with exposing the correlation/causation fallacy as applied to modern American assassinations.

      But if violent rhetoric acts as a dog whistle to crazies, then how do you explain someone like Ted Kaczynski? What violent rhetoric got him started?

      “…we can’t expect to stop assassins by looking at the places we’d expect them to come from.”

      So, great, you’re not blaming Sarah Palin; you’re just calling for mass censorship. That’s supposed to be better?Report

      • Avatar ThatPirateGuy in reply to DensityDuck says:

        Censorship is a very powerful word.

        I would like it to stay that way so unless you mean that Boonton is calling for suing of or some form of legal punishment/prevent of speech I kindly request you not use that term.

        Criticizing and applying social and even political pressure is simply more speech. It is what we do instead of censoring.Report

      • Avatar Boonton in reply to DensityDuck says:

        But if violent rhetoric acts as a dog whistle to crazies, then how do you explain someone like Ted Kaczynski?

        And you’ll sometimes just get crazies.

        So, great, you’re not blaming Sarah Palin; you’re just calling for mass censorship. That’s supposed to be better?

        No one has called for censorship except maybe one Congressman who proposed a silly bill about ‘crosshairs’ style political ads that will almost certainly go nowhere and should go nowhere.

        I’m not even saying people shouldn’t call for violence. I’m saying if someone asserts something like failure to defeat a Senate leader in an upcoming election merits a ‘2nd amendment remedy’ as a legitimate backup plan they should be treated like they are serious. This means unless you too feel this is a reasonable position, the speaker should be considered outside the acceptable mainstream. What should not happen is this namby pamby excuse making for the right where we pretend its all just political rhetoric that shouldn’t be taken seriously. If you can’t be serious when you use serious language it’s not censorship to say you should expect to be treated as an unserious person.Report