In the Arena

Psychosis or Politics

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Andrew Sullivan makes some good points in response to David Brooks’s belief that psychosis, not politics, was the casus berserkus of the shooting–although I tend to stand closer to Brooks in this matter. To keep things in perspective, however, it’s important to state the obvious: We don’t know anything yet. We may have some clues to Loughner’s motivation, but nothing definitive, since he hasn’t said anything and the feds are probably withholding the most relevant material they may have found in his home (especially the note found in his safe).

So, we’re walking in darkness here–and dealing in our own personal punditorial prejudices. Given what we do know, the notion that Sarah Palin’s “reload” target ads had anything to do with this barbarity has less likelihood than a scenario that both Andrew Sullivan and I would find terribly inconvenient: that Loughner was a paranoid schizophrenic whose illness was exacerbated by frequent marijuana use. (Both Andrew and I favor legalization.) I’m not saying that marijuana was the cause of this–again, no one knows why Loughner went berserk–but as Massimo Calabresi writes below, frequent drug use can have a deleterious effect on those with schizophrenic tendency.

Another thing Massimo notes below seems right to me: it is the zeitgeist, rather than individual events,  that trigger violence among those who are truly mentally ill. A sane person may lose his job–or her dream to become a legal American citizen–and act out against a boss or a politician who caused the pain. Insane people tend to be driven by obsessions and delusions and a general sense of despair.

It is more likely that Loughner, if he proves crazy (as seems entirely probable), was obsessed with Giffords–as Reagan’s would-be assassin was with Jody Foster–than he was infuriated by her politics (although the latter certainly isn’t out of the question). And it’s more likely that the paranoid “end of our republic” apocalypse-slinging by someone like Glenn Beck, which helps to build a doom-laden zeitgeist, was less tangential to Loughner’s state of mind than Palin’s odious advertisements were (or any of the plague of gun-toting nonsense that politicians of both parties used to establish their bona fides in a nation suffering from a severe ballistic mania).

But again, this is all speculation…about speculation. I think a profitable route for us thumb-twiddlers would be to explore the actual conditions on the ground when it comes to (a) our treatment of the estimated 2.2 million paranoid schizophrenics among us and (b) our lax standards when it comes to selling guns to such people….and that’s what I plan to do in my print column this week.

Meanwhile, in the cable news equivalent of a total lunar (or perhaps, lunatic) eclipse, I was attacked during the same hour yesterday by Ed Schultz and Glenn Beck. I am humbled, and amused, by this stereo onslaught.

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