You ask me who killed the Kennedys
When after all
It was you and me
-from “Sympathy for the Devil,” The Rolling Stones
Lots of people are talking about civil discourse with regard to the Tucson shootings, like it was angry talk that caused this demented young man to start blasting away. I think that the distressed sheriff who first raised this issue was sincere. I think he believed that; and I think that many people of good will believe that, too.
Lots of members of the American reactionary fraction have gone on the defense, because they assume – rightly in some cases – that there are political opportunists who want to lay this mayhem at their doorstep.
There is certainly no doubt that the ease with which this youngster purchased firearms and ammunition was a key facilitating factor in the Safeway terror; and that has the gun fetishists’ underwear in a wad, because they are having a hard time justifying the sale of 30-round magazines for handguns without tipping anyone off that they themselves want to stockpile weapons and ammo for their own often-racial fantasies of future conflict.
To be fair, there are a few folks among leftists and non-racial populists who entertain nutty martial fantasies of their own.
I’ll probably be drawn and quartered for pointing out that the President’s speech at the memorial service, calling the killing of six people a tragedy, was delivered by a man who has the blood of thousands on his hands. Saying so is not civil discourse by some lights. Iraqi, Afghan, and Pakistani lives don’t count, and sending one’s own people to die trying to kill them is called “leadership.”
But these examples of benign wrong-headedness, sentimentalism, opportunism, lunacy, and chauvinism are not the whole story.
Let’s start with the premise that Jared Loughner is crazy, not coherently political. His reading list was all over the map, everything from The Communist Manifesto to Ayn Rand. He was very attracted to conspiracy theories, and was reportedly a devotee of David Winn Miller, a bizarre internet guru that claims to be a judge and the King of Hawaii. Loughner capered in front of a camera in a g-string with his gun, ate a lot of acid, and attacked street signs.
I’ll leave the DSM-IV acolytes to put labels on what kind of crazy Loughner is. The fact is he wasn’t crazy on Mars or in a time warp.
He was crazy in Tucson, Arizona, United States of America, in January 2011. Jared Loughner could read and write in English. He watched television, listened to the radio, saw movies, and read newspapers. He knew how to buy a gun and call a cab. When he couldn’t get his ammo at one Wal-Mart, he had the wherewithal to head to the next one and try again.
Jared Loughner may have some problems with dissociation, however that is being defined, but he didn’t learn to load and fire a Glock 19 via some synaptic disruption in his cerebral cortex; he learned it from a culture. Last I checked, there is no evidence of a Glock 19 gene, though I expect the DSM-IV people to come up with a Glock 19 Disorder soon enough, and Searle will invent a drug to control it.
This may sound like I’m trying to make the US case against him, given the narrow legal definition of insanity; but I’m not. The legal definition of anything is always inadequate, because law can never anticipate the complexity of context.
The case I’m making is that Loughner – in his own mentally fractured way – was behaving exactly the way his culture demonstrated he was supposed to behave.
Rage at the discovery of falsity seems to be proportional to the level of authenticity promised at the start.
— Linda Kintz
He absorbed his information and analysis from electronic media, where mainstream discourse is so disconnected from lived experience, so shallow and anodyne, that the ubiquitous (if syncretic) loon-cries to be found on the internet appear authentically critical by comparison. Especially for an alienated youth, bullied in school with its enforced regimentation and cruelty-promoting age segregation, frustrated in romance (with all its gender baggage), and finding refuge in psychoactive chemicals, beginning with alcohol (the real gateway drug).
What did he get from his history books, from films and novels, from his culture that valorizes the soldier and cop above all others, but a steady IV drip of dominator masculinity and the belief in redemptive violence?
What did he get from a culture that worships celebrity, confrontation, and war technology?
Young people learn to behave by mimesis. They look for models and imitate them. Every model available to a young man whose life is wretched and whose refuge is audiovisual media seems these days to carry a gun. Soldiers, cops, secret agents, even mercenaries and bounty hunters.
I’ve quit attending movies that feature guns and explosions in the ads; which means I’ve pretty much quit attending movies.
Everything gets solved by killing the bad guys. So once you define someone as the bad guy (or the bad girl), the solution is clear. Redemptive violence combines seamlessly with masculine prerogative in a culture where masculinity is most clearly understood as the ability to conquer, dominate, prevail over an adversary. The world is defined by enemies. The man is defined by his enemies, and his ability to prevail over them.
Give a bullied, outcast, crazy boy a gun and he’s equalized.
On another note, because most of us have mollified the killer-meme in our own lives. Gabrielle Giffords was an elected official. The idea that electing a special leader can solve problems shares a premise with the idea that killing an elected official can solve problems.
Watching MSNBC’s incredibly rude Chris Matthews a couple of days ago (he interrupts everyone he brings on and shouts them down, with no clue about how whiteboy that is), and he was castigating Rush Limbaugh for a roadside ad in Tucson that featured bullet-holes and called Rush a “straight shooter.” It was a legitimate criticism.
Limbaugh is a jackass, and he is definitely part of the right-wing that fantasizes about shooting people as a core political principle. That is definitely a core element within the so-called Tea Party movement, but they’ve always been there. That is a whiteboy thing, too. Go to a gun show sometime, and see what I mean. Confederate flags everywhere, and Nazi paraphernalia on sale.
But what Matthews doesn’t recognize is how his emphasis on electoral and policy politics reinforces people’s perceived dependency on that as the principle agent – or even the sole “legitimate” agent – of change. There is an element of truth in it, after all. We live in a technocratic society, where power is exercised from a haze of interlocking directorates, and where powerlessness defines the rest of us. But when a person, for reasons rational or irrational, comes to believe that this power is exercised unjustly, only this shared belief in the great agency of elected officials remains. The echo of sic simper tyrannis calls to the boy, to the man, to the future celebrity.