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Monday, January 10, 2011

Who's crazy here, anyway?

Everyone's queer 'cept thee and me,
and I'm not so sure about thee.
- One of my grandmother's favorite sayings

It wasn't long after Saturday's assassination attempt on Arizona Representative Gabrielle Giffords which left her seriously injured and several others, including a federal judge and a nine-year-old girl, dead, that shooter (or alleged shooter, if you care about the legal niceties, which I don't at this moment) Jared Lee Loughner's YouTube videos started making the rounds.  They weren't videos in any traditional sense; they were screeds presented as text in a video format.  When I saw them there were three of them, which I assumed were in chronological order.  In each one he spoke of three major themes:  grammar, currency, and something he called "conscience dreaming."

I was willing to view these things with open eyes and an open mind.  What is he saying here, anyway?  What clues to his motives in Saturday's shootings is he leaving?  Why the hell don't these people have blogs, so we can see their crazy stuff all neatly laid out in individually indexed posts?

On the "grammar" issue I quickly moved to the assumption that he was speaking of some sort of theory of grammar from a Philosophy of Language point of view.  Had this guy had some brief encounter with Philosophy of Language, maybe even from the Wikipedia entry on it, and gone off on some track about constructing a view of reality through the construction of a proper grammar?  (This is a theme taken up in Fredrik Pohl's "The Gold at the Starbow's End", though I noticed that Pohl has made no mention of this on recent entries on his blog.)  'Cause there was no way on Earth this kid could be talking about the ability to construct sentences properly in English - something he was demonstrating a distinct inability to do.

The issue of "currency" seemed also vague enough that I wondered if he was speaking metaphorically.  Was he speaking of that to which you assign value, that which you use as a form of exchange with the world?  But then in the final video he writes "No! I won’t pay debt with a currency that’s not backed by gold and silver!", it seemed like that interpretation was out the window.

The concept of "conscience dreaming" and "conscience dreamers" was a puzzling one.  I found a few scattered references on the Internet.  Was he maybe talking about "conscious dreaming," and letting his poor grasp of grammar twist his words?  A friend of his explained in an interview posted today that these were actually references to "lucid dreaming," and suggested things would become more clear once investigators had read his dream journal.

Throughout the videos there were also repeated pseudo-logical formulations.  Was there anything behind this, or...

In the end I came to a simple conclusion:  this kid was just nuts.

(See also:  Jared Lee Loughner's Mental State - Newsweek )

Sharron Angle and Sarah Palin have - metaphorically, at least - come under fire since this issue.  Angle was the one who spoke of "second amendment remedies" to issues involving members of Congress.  Palin published a map of hotly contested congressional elections, with crosshairs (or, according to information coming from Palin's camp since the shootings, "surveyor's symbols") indicating the locations - and a list of names at the bottom - of targeted candidates.  Gabrielle Giffords, the Democrat who was the target of Saturday's assassination attempt, was on that list.

Now:  no sane person would hear Sharron Angle speak of "second amendment remedies" and decide that this was a call to go out and shoot members of Congress that they had issues with.  No sane person would look at Sarah Palin's map with its crosshairs (as Gabrielle Giffords herself interpreted them) and decide this was a call to  action to go out and start shooting down the members of Congress on the targeting list.  You'd have to be crazy to do these things.

And, to all appearances, Jared Lee Loughner was at least a little bit crazy.

It seems like every time there's a mass killing incident we find out that the perpetrator had a long history of mental illness.  Virginia Tech.  Columbine.  These were done by people who were clearly crazy.  The system had been blinking red, to paraphrase the 9/11 Commission, and no one had responded adequately.

But that's not always the case:  Lee Harvey Oswald.  James Earl Ray.  Tim McVeigh.  Ted Kaczynski.  Nidal Hasan.   Were they crazy?  Maybe a little.  Don't you have to be crazy to set off a truck bomb outside a federal building packed with civilians, to open fire on an army base?  Is this the sort of thing sane people do?  Or were they sane people who had been persuaded by the invective of others coming into synch with their own twisted lines of thinking?

And who else is crazy out there?  Fred Phelps, the leader of the so-called "Westboro Baptist Church?"  Late-night UFO and conspiracy enthusiast Art Bell?  How about Glenn Beck?  People who believe that climate change is being caused by human activity?  People who believe that all of the science behind climate change has been faked?  Birthers?  Truthers?  Scientologists with their stuff about Thetans and Xenu?  What about Catholics, who believe they eat flesh and drink blood - not symbolically, not metaphorically, but literally eat flesh and drink blood - in their weekly rituals?

You've probably seen a few Internet posts about this weekend's shooting.  Have you tried wading through the comments?  Some of them are probably people doing a "Poe" - pretending to espouse a radical and delusional belief while in fact not believing it at all - but some are almost certainly the writings of deranged individuals.  Lots and lots of deranged individuals.

So where does it end?  Maybe it doesn't.  Inflammatory, incendiary speech - shouting "Fire!" in a tense political theater - is still considered protected speech, a proper expression of First Amendment rights.  Even if someone calls for acts of violence against public officials, you would have to be crazy to follow up on those calls.  Maybe.

But in any case, there are a lot of crazy people out there.

1 comment:

MaryRuth said...

Awww, man.... I love Art Bell! =) This guy seems to be the "inventor" of the grammar thing. Makes no sense to me, but maybe that's cuz I'm not crazy.
http://www.jsonline.com/news/milwaukee/113176989.html