The same leaden feeling has fallen over me. I last felt it in late 2001 when America was mourning over the attacks called “9/11.” Even the name rankled me. It was as if we went into the situation designing it to be a commemorative, collective wound. We gave it a name based not on location or event but a type of bizarre holiday, a “the day we lost” — as if a superpower expects the rest of the world to honestly weep with it.
Now that Jared Lee Loughner has shot his 19 people in AZ, we’ve got another weepy burst of drama. The left blames the right, and the right points out that there’s zero evidence that the right is to blame, and the left pushes harder. We need a Hitler, McVeigh, or other obvious target. We need them because otherwise, there might be something wrong that is not easily explained by our political orthodoxy.
Yet from the volume of discourse, you’d think Loughner fired off a Glock nuclear device instead of a 9mm handgun. In response to the type of violence that is commonplace most of the world over, Americans are wondering if we should censor political speech, ban handguns, repeal the Republican party, and even stop our politicians from going out in public. It’s funny because in the time it took us to read all this garbage, we could have died 19 times over in a car wreck, from misprescribed medicine, of lung cancer or exposure to disco.
The facts remain: Jared Lee Loughner was a troubled young man from a troubled family, and on top of that, he heaped psychoactive agents that enhance schizoid tendencies. Although the local Sheriff hurried to blame conservatives, it looks like he cast the blame elsewhere to cover the fact that his office knew Loughner was trouble and did nothing. Loughner is probably schizophrenic.
Whether Loughner chose left, right or “other” for his ideology, it’s hard to blame politics for his action, or even inflamed political rhetoric. Using a good nose for common sense, we can see four or five more obvious causes for this event than a talk-show, and can see how trying to blame words for this event lets us off the hook for admitting there is a problem here our political system cannot address.
In particular, over the past forty years we have gutted our mental health care programs and turned many of these people out on the street. The money went somewhere else: to helping the poor, to civil rights, to political education. The result is that our society cannot address walking time bombs until they explode, and then all we can do is put them in jail.
But this then begs another question or two. Why is this event so traumatic and such a big news-maker, since it’s actually relatively low body count? Are we seeing a crack in our denial, and slamming back at it by blaming the other side? Even more, if we think intensive talk radio drove this poor guy to shoot, what does that say about our always-on, 500-channel, high-neurosis society? Are we all slowly going insane?
America needs to grow a pair. 9/11 was tragic; so was this shooting. We move on, especially since 99.2% of us were not directly affected by either event. We’re going into these situations primed by a media frenzy, looking for martyrs and commemorative events to weep over, because we have a sense of lost control and an inability to regain that control. Maybe before we freak out and claim this guy’s a Nazi, we should look deeper into our own sense of instability, and grow a pair, and fix that first.