Friday, January 14, 2011

A very good question

Suz asked it in the comments to my last post:

I also have a question: What was the bastard's motive? In his mind, was he shooting up a political gathering or a random crowd? Not that it really matters, as the result is the same, but shouldn't all the ass-hats have asked that question before making judgments and accusations?

I'm going to try to answer that as best I can, of course with the caveat that my answer involves a great deal of speculation, and as such may be proven to be wrong in the near future.  But I don't think I'm wrong.

First off, I think most of us without Palin Derangement Syndrome (we should probably expand this to "Right Wing Derangement Syndrome") can tell that Jared Lee Loughner is a nutcase.  That much was evident to pretty much everyone he met:

A classmate of Loughner wrote in e-mails obtained by the Washington Post that he was a disturbed individual.

"We do have one student in the class who was disruptive today, I'm not certain yet if he was on drugs (as one person surmised) or disturbed. He scares me a bit," Lynda Sorenson, a 52-year-old wrote in an e-mail to friends on June 1. "Hopefully he will be out of class very soon, and not come back with an automatic weapon."

"We have a mentally unstable person in the class that scares the living crap out of me," Sorenson wrote in another e-mail on June 14. "He is one of those whose picture you see on the news, after he has come into class with an automatic weapon."

(h/t TPM)

So, dude be crazy.  In point of fact--and this has also been pretty widely pointed out--dude is probably schizophrenic.  There's a very good run-down of it here; take note in particular of the sections titled Examples of Cognitive Problems Associated With Schizophrenia and Examples of Delusions.  It's actually really hard to nail things down without an actual meeting, but his YouTube channel is evidence of the disordered thinking that often comes with schizophrenia.  You can find countless screen caps from his videos or watch them yourself.  For purposes of illustration I'm using this one, from very early on in his first video:

I chose this because it illustrates several of the cognitive problems the link talks about, in particular loose associations of thought and speech, racing thoughts, odd use of grammar, nonsensical logic...Get the idea? 

For my money, he isn't just schizophrenic but paranoid schizophrenic.  His YouTube channel has a video called Mind Control.  Big red flag there.  There are news reports that he was obsessed with Rep. Giffords.  The same TPM post I linked to earlier notes that "Loughner attended a 'Congress In Your Corner' event in 2007 and received a letter from Giffords thanking him for attending".  If he was obsessed with Rep. Giffords, this would only have fed into his delusions.

So, back to the questions.

What was his motive?  Well, not politics.  At least not as you or I or any other rational person understands the subject.  I can really only speculate as to his motive, but I can guarantee you it wasn't "Sarah Palin told me to reload."  According to this other Talking Points Memo post, Loughner had his issues with NASA as well as the government in more general terms, as you can see here:

If the NASA Space Shuttle is able to reenter from the orbit of Earth then the NASA Space Shuttle is in orbit.

The NASA Space Shuttle isn’t in orbit. 
Therefore, the NASA Space Shuttle isn’t able to reenter from the orbit of Earth. 
(Just in case you're not fluent in Crazytalk, he's saying that NASA has never sent anyone into space.)

Of course, Giffords is married to an astronaut.

So it's a reasonable theory that Loughner could have seized upon the Giffordses as agents of his own torment.  Perhaps he thought they were working to control his mind, or the minds of his family, or something of the sort.

All of this, of course, is my usual long-winded way of answering the second question: He was shooting up this crowd on purpose.  But not for political reasons.  He was, pardon the violent rhetoric, gunning for Representative Giffords, quite likely because he saw her as evil.  Which he did because of his paranoid delusions.

Now, for the really interesting part of this (to me, at any rate): Is he not guilty by reason of insanity?  Mind you, insanity is a legal term, not a psychological one.  He is unquestionably psychotic, but the legal definition of insanity is generally that you cannot distinguish between right and wrong.  You can have a break with reality without being so far gone that you don't know what you're doing.

Time will tell.  From what little I have seen so far, I don't think he's legally insane.  It is possible that he had increasing levels of psychosis in the days leading up to this.  But I don't think that's the case.  He was apparently pretty deliberate in saying his goodbyes, and does not seem to have set off additional alarm bells with anyone who knew him in the process of doing so.  More telling, I think, is the fact that he was pulled over the morning of the shootings and didn't go off on the officer there and then, which I think would have been an expected start were he truly divorced from reality.  Think about it--you're on your way to rid the world of an agent of evil, a representative of the government which has powers of mind control, and another representative of that government stops you.  Isn't that going to look like the government trying to prevent you from doing what's necessary?

And yes, the questions of motive absolutely should have been asked before.  I've mentioned on this blog in the past my dim view of community mental health care.  Best case scenario with paranoid schizophrenics is that they're a danger only to themselves.  What we had here were multiple failures, every step of the way.  Loughner's parents undoubtedly bear the lion's share of the blame here, as he still lived at home.  I realize there's always an element of not wanting to admit something bad is happening to your child, but for crying out loud, ignoring mental illness does no one any favors.  Would you make believe your son didn't have diabetes in hopes that his pancreas would suddenly start working again?  Then why try to wish away schizophrenia?

What makes me angriest about all of this isn't just the undue attention being paid, yet again, to gun control.  Guns aren't the problem here, not any more than politics.  The problem is our broken mental health system, but if my professors are any indication of the state of psychology as a whole (and they probably are, having all been practicing shrinks at one point or another), the system was broken by well-meaning liberals, so there's no way they're going to go back and admit that they screwed up and things need to be fixed.

And no, I don't have an answer for the mental health system.  I wish like hell I did, because I'd be shouting it from the rooftops.  I realize, at this point, that I'm looking at cave-wall shadows, but I don't know what the real world looks like.

(And just for the record, I am aware that paranoid schizophrenia isn't the proper clinical terminology.  It is, however, the common name for this particular illness, so I've used it for the sake of clarity.)


suz said...

Your discussion of mental health is sadly ironic. Inflammatory right-wing rhetoric didn't cause this attack, and gun ownership didn't cause this attack. Chances are, mental illness caused this attack (but of course, does not excuse it.) Three huge political issues. Restricting guns and speech can't prevent this from happening again, but treating mental illness can. Yet the talking heads blather on about the hot-button topics, while ignoring the one problem that could actually have a real solution.


AlanDP said...

"I need some attention/
I shoot into the light"

Dave said...

Great post. You write well thought out, informed and researched posts here. You write better than most of the staff at the Express-News.

I mean that as a compliment, not a slam.