Tuesday, January 11, 2011

David Brooks on the Arizona Shootings

When something as horrible as the rampage in Arizona occurs it does force us to consider some issues very carefully, and David Brooks, as usual, takes a careful look at the events in Arizona. Most importantly, he suggests based on reasonable evidence that the shooter suffers from schizophrenia. Of those who do suffer from this disease, a small sub-group are violent. We, as a society, have to learn how to deal with such individuals. Brooks goes on to contest the narrative that this individual acted because of inflamed political rhetoric. Yes and no. No, in the sense that he may not have been even capable of rational (in any sense of the word) political thinking, but yes in the sense that I wrote about yesterday. I just don't believe words of hatred and invective don't have an effect, especially on the weak-minded (for lack of a better term).

We saw this problem raised in Michael Mooore's "Bowling for Columbine". Moore ranged over a wide territory in attempting the assess what occurred in those horrible shootings. Is it the gun culture? Is it the perpetual war machine that we support? Is it some ideology? In the end, Moore convinced me of nothing. He raised a lot of interesting questions and displayed a lot of interesting associations, but his work can only raise questions, it doesn't provide answers (his intention notwithstanding). We need deep, serious thought and study about how to address individuals like those at Columbine and this shooter. Strongly alienated, disaffected males (yes, males, let's not go PC on any of this). I, for one, think that access to firearms is way too easy.But restrictions on access to firearm isn't a complete answer. We've had two rampage murder-suicides here in Johnson County since I've practiced here, so these challenges are not limited to Arizona or to gun-happy cultures. No, we need to think deeply and hard about all of this. There are no easy answers.

More Thoughts on the Arizona Shootings

These thoughts by Timothy Egan and these from Jonathan Chait @ TNR add to the current discussion about the effect of incendiary or outright hate speech. The piece from TNR raises a good point: to say that discourse should become more civil and less incendiary is different from trying to "limit free speech". There's a difference, a crucial difference, between norms (voluntary, governed by social convention) and laws (enforced by the coercive power of the state). I don't want to limit free speech, which is to say I don't think that the government should normally control what people can say. However, by the use of social norms, I suggest that we can and should limit such speech. How? Don't listen to it (e.g., Rush Limbaugh or Glen Beck, who get paid according to their ratings). I wouldn't let someone use my blog space to spew hatred or invective. Remember, "free speech" is a matter of legal rights that limit government action and not a compulsory requirement for individuals or private entities.

I truly believe that spirited public discourse can be fruitful in a democracy. However, invective, calling into question the legitimacy of an adversary, grade-school level name-calling--all of that is unnecessary and stupid. (How's that for invective!)

Finally, we are influenced by words. Some--especially the mentally limited or deranged--more than others. We like to think that "sticks and stones will break my bones, but words will never hurt me". But you know that's not true. Please write in if you've never been cut by words. Please write if you have reacted viscerally to some report that has later proven false or incomplete. Let's face it, humans, we're all suckers for words. We need to have our crap-detectors on 24/7, but it's not easy. Think of the incredible karma for words, how they are all mustard seeds. Some blow away in the wind, some grow a bit and die, but some, in the right conditions, come to fruition, for good or ill. Please! Sow carefully.