14 January 2011


So, where does this leave us? Or, philosophically restated, where do we find ourselves?

I've analyzed the Tucson massacre on three axes: the fractious political/rhetorical climate, the inadquate psychiatric/social services environment, and the cultural/legal fetishization of weapons. Sarah Palin's and Sharron Angle's rhetoric and anti-government conspiracies, along with that of Glenn Beck, Rush Limbaugh, Sean Hannity, and Bill O'Reilly, did not alone cause this massacre. But neither did Jared Loughner's presumed mental illness. Nor his easy access to guns. It was a factor of all three, and any analysis which refuses to acknowledge the role played by any one of the three is disingenuous or incomplete. In what respective proportions the three contributed I'm not prepared to say—and neither is anyone else at the present time. This atrocity happened as a function of the operant political philosophy in the U.S. today, i.e., the political choices we as a society have made with respect to each of these issues.

It's all well and good to say, oh no that's not our political philosophy. This isn't what we want: we're a democratic capitalist republic that believes in the freedom of humanity and the market, and your freedom ends where my nose begins. Or some such bromides. The fact is the reality of our fundamental political philosophy has never been made clearer.

Having said this, how can we make sense of such a senseless act of violence? Was the Tucson massacre evil? And if it was evil, how can a benevolent, all-powerful god allow such to happen?

Last year at this time, I penned a post re: the Haitian earthquake and the problem of evil called Family of Values: Humanity. Allow me to quote myself: "Natural events are not, in themselves, evil. They are a condition of the planet upon which we live. A fact of life on planet Earth. Inhumanity, insensitivity, cruelty, on the other hand: these are true evils."

Jared Loughner's presumed psychosis (probably some form of paranoid schizophrenia) is, I have argued, natural; it results from a flaw in the brain of the human organism. In a sense, what happened could be taken, thus, as a 'natural event.' Yet, this was inarguably an act of inhumanity, insensitivity, and cruelty. The fact that this illness contributed (partially, as I've argued) to his carrying out this massacre does not entirely absolve it of the appearance of evil. Those people, the victims of his actions, did not deserve what happened to them. Their actions did not bring this upon them.

I've also pointed out that a clinical diagnosis is not necessarily a defense before the bar of the law. But does it render his actions any less evil?

That, truly, is a question for the ages. It certainly does not render the effects of his actions—the woundings and deaths of innocents—any less painful or heinous in our eyes. But it renders the issue of his culpability for evil less clear-cut.

At some level, a voice or voices inside the head of Jared Loughner compelled him to do what he did. Because of the pervasive influence of the climate of vitriol and violence in the political and social arena, these voices were amplified and possibly enraged in his mind. Because he did not have access to the sorts of drugs that could silence or moderate or drown out those voice by repairing the neurological misfirings in his brain nor to the sort of psychiatric counseling and supervision that would have allowed a professional to recognize that he was a 'danger to others' and intervene to prevent him from doing what he was apparently bent on, he made the decision to carry through on his compulsion. And because he had ready access to a semi-automatic weapon with an extended clip and cheap ammunition, he was able to implement this plan with immediate and devastating effect.

It is too easy to say Jared Loughner is an evil man and should be killed. As the doer, he is an effective scapegoat. His incarceration and/or execution will absolve us of the immediate pain and grief of this moment, provide 'closure' as they say. It may even, if only temporarily, absolve us of the pain of the revelation of who we really are as a country and what our true values are as a society. It will not, however, absolve us of our complicity in tolerating and even encouraging and promoting ignorance and violence in our public discourse. It will not absolve us of our complicity in failing to care for our mentally ill fellow human beings. And it will not absolve us of our complicity in allowing, nay condoning, such ready access to weapons meant only for killing each other.

As I stated in my last post:
"we believe every person—whether wild, angry, or insane (though not Muslim or Communist, apparently)—in the United States should be able to be, or be perceived as, a violent and potentially deadly threat to every other person in the United States at any given time.

American citizens have the freedom to be angry and truculent and violent and threatening in their political speech, to be bat-shit insane, and to purchase and carry weapons capable of killing multiple people per second. By contrast, America citizens do not have the right to be free from fear."
We accept this fear as a condition of our freedom. Freedom is our proclaimed secular religion (our 'ultimate concern' as a society, if you will), but it is a false religion because we have opted for a false and irresponsible freedom. And this existential fear is the price we pay for our own complicity in the action of Jared Loughner.

So to answer my question: god did not allow this senseless Tucson massacre to happen; we did—by the political, legal, philosophical, and societal choices we've made.

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