“Only a Crazy Person Would Do That”

Rev. James Ford wrote on the Arizona tragedy in a sermon he delivered Sunday at his Unitarian church in Providence. The piece was called “TREMBLING BEFORE THE THRONE OF GOD A Meditation on the Attempted Assassination of Arizona Representative Gabrielle Giffords and the Necessity of Speaking Truth in Violent Times” It’s worth a read.

The signature phrase in that piece is:

…I will not be silenced.

In response to all those issues of inequality, injustice and unfairness that divide. And in spite of those who would silence all dissenting discourse through subtle intimidation or more directly at the barrel of a gun.

The conversation, as heated as it may get, cannot stop. Because if it does we have lost, all of us, everywhere, everything.

But note I wrote conversation. Not violent one-way directives. The latter are the domain of the truly weak attempting to appear strong.

Some specific things have been bandied about as blameworthy with regard to the violent tragedy. People seem to be looking for causes and meaning.

Terms and Preamble

1. Guns

Guns in and of themselves don’t kill people. They are not sentient or mobile so naturally it is not possible for them to do so. People with or without access to guns do kill people and quite frequently. It is far more likely that people with access to guns will kill people, as opposed to simply injuring them. I’m not against guns in and of themselves. I’ve fired guns enough to know that prefer a .22 pistol with a laser sight to anything else, light and not much kickback so one doesn’t have to worry about wrist injuries because of that or shoulder injuries as one might with a long gun. But I consider a gun to be a piece of sports equipment, with a time and place for use that fulfills that purpose, and therefore won’t own one, even if I could, for the purposes of personal protection.

Being from Canada and living mostly in India, both of which have severe weapons restrictions (guns, martial arts weapons, knives-even hunting is not allowed in India), I have a real hard time getting my head around the idea that everyone needs to walk around armed to the teeth. It seems to me that the more weapons there are in any given locale the more insecure the place seems. Go somewhere that martial law or high alert security is in force and check the tension levels. Both practically and symbolically where weapons are numerous a sense of security is conversely lacking.

2. Political rhetoric

It may be in some factions interest to maintain a strategy of tension. If people have a sense of insecurity it is more likely that they will fall in line with the ideas, programs and directives of those who appear to have the power to implement and enforce security. It was Chairman Mao who said “Political power grows out of the barrel of a gun” and apparently many still believe that either literally or metaphorically.

Power is often about perception. Visibility is often equated with power. We hear about the power of celebrity for example. The choice of Charleton Heston to head the NRA was no accident.

But are the most visible necessarily the most appropriate leaders? Probably not in many cases because it takes a great deal of effort to manufacture and sustain visibility and/or celebrity. If a good deal of someone’s resources are spent doing that, how much time do they have left to actually study the issues which they purport to address? Even with the most qualified entourage and best access to advice and information the presenter is still left on their own when the spotlight comes on. So they are left with talking points that have to fulfill double duty, that of attempting to address the issue and that of maintaining visibility. Often the latter wins out. So we get sound bites about “reloading”, “targeting” or what have you.

Those who defend violent rhetoric often claim that rhetoric alone is not the problem and that those who disagree cannot demonstrate causality nor are they aware of the mindsets of people using such rhetoric.  Yet in almost the same breath many of these same people are diagnosing the perpetrator with all kinds of pseudo-psychological problems, attributing political affiliation to the point of propagandizing, again without demonstrating causality or knowing the mindset of the individual. A person can read both The Communist Manifesto and Mein Kampf and not have any desire whatsoever to go on a shooting rampage. I know because I’ve read them both and do not have any desire or thought whatsoever to go on a shooting rampage. I read them because they have been hugely influential social documents and so I could have an informed opinion should either of them be mentioned.

Let’s illustrate that point about attribution. We have Sen. Jon Kyl (R-Ariz.) stating:

It’s probably giving him too much credit to ascribe a coherent political philosophy to him. We just have to acknowledge that there are mentally unstable people in this country. Who knows what motivates them to do what they do? Then they commit terrible crimes like this. (quoted in Huff-Po)

Not only does the Senator seem to know what kind of philosophy, or lack of, the perpetrator follows but that he belongs to a particular group of people labeled with mental disabilities. One might presume by making that statement the Senator is a licensed psychological professional, He’s not, he’s a lawyer. Or that he has interviewed the suspect at length. As far as I can find out only the police and forensic psychiatrists have and he’s evoked his 5th Amendment rights against self-incrimination so isn’t talking to anyone. Or that the Senator also has some credits (even a minor) in political philosophy.  I haven’t seen his transcript so I don’t know.

The link above about the 5th Amendment also states that the suspect had political motives in mind and planned what, in his own handwriting, he labeled an “assassination” based on a filed affidavit regarding materials found in his place of residence. He may have also had some other motives. We don’t really know.

3. Delusion, even psychotic delusion

After reading a Twitter post by cabell which said “Bottom line: blaming mental illness is both #ableism & a failure of sociological understanding” [ableism is the position of discriminating against people with disabilities for those too lazy or lame [example of ableist talk] to look it up-it’s another privilege position] Mumon wrote in his post Those responsible for violent political rhetoric DO have to bear responsibility for their words

…putting this on “insanity” is a compartmentalization that does not do justice  to the reality.

The psychotic boogey man is a convenient scape goat. By remanufacturing the image of the perpetrator into that culturally iconic figure of the psychotic boogey man it all at once, objectifies him, dehumanizes him, distances him from the social sphere and attributes blame solely to that individual. That’s what I mean by scape goat, not that the person is not responsible for his actions but that he is being made responsible for the actions of all others who may have influenced him directly or indirectly, in an attempt to deflect blame and responsibility. That’s how scapegoating works.

Many, particularly in the news media, have tried to isolate this person as some kind of “anomaly”.  A “deranged” mind does not exist in isolation.  “Derangement” is fed by context, circumstances, learning, exposure–environmental input. If a person is severely deluded, even psychotic, the content of those thoughts come from somewhere. They are not self manufactured. Work with or know people labeled psychotic and this is abundantly obvious. What also is obvious is that those with severe perceptual issues are even more sensitive to the environment than many others. Ask anyone with knowledge of psychology who’s worked in milieu therapeutic approaches. Ask anyone who’s ever worked in or resided or otherwise spent time in a psychiatric facility why the situation is so strictly controlled, why stimulation is severely limited.

None of us is an isolated entity. We are all both products and expressions of our environments and we express that back into the environment through whatever mental filters we may have acquired.

On the continued demonization of the differently conscioused person here’s a fantastic blog post on that subject Discussion of an assassination: ableism & the failure of sociological understanding and another that just appeared as I was writing this ‘Psycho killer’? The Jared Lee Loughner case brings out the usual abuse


Causality is never simple. It is not some 1 to 1 correspondence. A does not always follow B. When we take those three elements-guns, political rhetoric and possibly altered perception we may wish to tease out one or the other of these elements and try to make it into a sole causative factor.

However, in this case, and in many others:

1 + 2 + 3 ≠ 6

Defies apparent logic if logic could be defined that simplistically. But usually it can’t.

It often comes out in other ways. The combination of these three elements could be expressed:

(1 + 2) 3 = 9

1 x 2 x 3 = 6

3 x 2 + 1 = 7

1 + 2 – 3 = 0

3 – 2 + 1 = 2

3 ÷ 1 + 2 = 5

2³ – 1 = 7

1 + 2 + 3 = 6 [sometimes it does = 6]

Then of course there are amplification effects and various other distortions. If some element is continually reinforced or combined with others, over time we might end up with something like this:

√12 + 3 – 11 x w +  2f x 33³³ – 1 ÷ 2 + x =  ??? (I have no idea)

1, 2 and 3 are as described above. Let f=family relationships and let w=work relationships and there could be dozens of other unaccounted for variables (x).

The point is none of gun ownership, violent rhetoric or altered perception is solely responsible for this situation. They and a host of other things, many of them socio-cultural  and possibly some of them genetic or neurologically based are responsible.

There is no sure formula for assessing blame. But no one is utterly blameless either. As cultural participants, even on a global level there is some connection. It may be vague or difficult to discern. It may be related to some memory of similar circumstances. It may be an action we couldn’t be bothered to take because it was too inconvenient. It may be a destructive impulse we didn’t want to control because it just felt better to lash out violently. It may be that we see all this as somebody else’s problem.

Some have advocated not speaking about this tragedy at all. As if silence will drown out the calls for targeting, removing, assassinations and so on.  There is also some presumption that reflection on the current situation should be done without evoking any socio-cultural references particularly of a political nature. And sometimes it is implied or even stated that discussion of such is not examination and is only being disrespectful to those who have been killed or injured. In some cases that may be true, but not for most people.

Perhaps by discussion some are examining it. In a time of social dissolution or at least with the feeling that is what is happening, people try to get some meaning out of the situation, both individually and collectively. A frenzy of insecurity and reassurances ensues. Yes some will exploit this to bolster or defend their hardened political position but others will examine that in the social context. It isn’t only the tragedy of the deaths and injuries, but a rend in the entire social fabric. Rather like a hole in a boat. And with all the various reactions to that kind of scenario.

Most of the talk is about “this country” meaning the United States. The United States is part of the global community. It is not an autonomous, isolated entity. What happens there reflects elsewhere, and vice versa. The same is true of both the perpetrator and the victims in this situation. They are not some isolated entities that have no connection to everything and everyone else.

In that way again no one is utterly blameless or disconnected.

Some people wish to simply write off the perpetrator as a “crazy person”, “nut job” or other short dismissive label. Labels are easy to dispense. One can then usually dispense with thinking too deeply about the situation as well. The blatant ad hominem is the refuge of the nincompoop. [Yes I do get it that sentence can be highly self-referential] It’s a strategy of isolationism and avoidance. It’s lazy and far to easy to indulge. Anyone can call anyone else an asshole without having to put any thought whatsoever into another’s point of view. I’ve done it a few times, sure, mostly when I’ve sought to dismiss someone unpleasant, but it’s far from my personal modus operandi. It is far from many people’s way of dealing with issues. An issue or opinion and a person discussing an issue or holding an opinion are two different things.  Many Christians use the phrase “Love the sinner, hate the sin” to distinguish between a being and a behavioral action. To engage the issues and the actual meat of the discussion is the real challenge.  Even in the most heated  of debates.

There is a huge difference between passionate debate and eliminationist rhetoric. Violent threatening speech is not debate. It is not a conversation, nor does it even acknowledge fully its subject or even it’s listeners who are perceived as unthinking, passive receptacles . It is a one way directive communication that does not await or even expect response from that which it labels as other. Its only purpose is to diminish its target and make them go away. One way or another.


[I’ve had to bold some sections because apparently a few people missed some of the crucial points and want to put words in my mouth and attribute positions to me which I did not utter. Maybe try reading what I actually said as opposed to what you imagined I said.]

7 comments on ““Only a Crazy Person Would Do That”

  1. Hi. You said
    “Some have advocated not speaking about this tragedy at all. … There is also some presumption that reflection on the current situation should be done without evoking any socio-cultural references particularly of a political nature. And sometimes it is implied or even stated that discussion of such is not examination and is only being disrespectful to those who have been killed or injured.”

    Your next paragraphs closely mirror your tweeted response to me the other day. So I’m wondering if you feel like somehow I expressed any of the above statements? Because I don’t feel that I did. And if I did, or it came across that way, I’d like to work to correct that.

    • Hi Adam. I did take that tweet response to use in this post. At first it did seem like you expressed something like that but then I read your later clarifications and latest post. So I’d say not so much. But I’ve been reading a lot of responses to this (I mean really A Lot) and it reminded me so much of any time some bad thing happens a certain segment particularly of those self-identifying as Buddhist go on about noble silence and such, though in this case it wasn’t particularly a Buddhist thing but a general kind of thread I kept encountering.

      It seemed to come not so much from respect but fear or other irrational sorts of places.

      So that’s why I didn’t mention our exchange the other day and more generalized that response here.

      • Ok, thanks for clearing up.

        Reading that interview with Loughner’s friend at Mother Jones today really made me question most of the assumptions people are making about this. Personally, I’m holding back on passing judgement as to the cause/intention/motivation/contributing factors (however localized or grandiose they may end up being) until there is some more info out there.

        For now this: “The point is none of gun ownership, violent rhetoric or altered perception is solely responsible for this situation. They and a host of other things, many of them socio-cultural and possibly some of them genetic or neurologically based are responsible.”

        Trying to pin it down to any ONE cause is pointless, especially given the lack of information we have about Loughner.

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  3. First of all, I’m fascinated how this medium has enabled us to refine ideas we wouldn’t have had otherwise. A comment I read – quite at random, almost, on Twitter – helped refine a discussion and has caused a good questioning of our assumptions about this.

    I share your point about ableism as a scapegoat for others, but it also, I’d submit, be a scapegoat for the perpetrator’s own moral culpability as well.

    Confounding the “ableist” approach, especially regarding insanity, is the way in which some “disorders” are eventually defined as social constructs, although again, in Loughner’s case we can’t say for certain about that either.

    I too have seen that piece about Loughner in Mother Jones. Mother Jones is a great resource on this.

    • On the perpetrator’s moral culpability… it is quite possible he too is using the iconic imagery for his own purposes. Slate had an article about that today http://slate.me/h1S1Pu The psycho-killer archetype is not lost on anyone involved. Even with Slate’s unproven attribution that this person is manipulating that, it is not lost on the author of that article either.

      It cannot be said that this person is “crazy” or not. But that’s what seems to be taking the blame from all quarters. Which is a recapitulation of my point.

      The power and attraction of fame overrides decency, morality and restraint far too often.

      And that emergent archetype is the responsibility of all who would buy tabloids, see movies of that genre or in general pump it up to the stratosphere and make it attractive in a culture that prizes visibility and media reach before human suffering, justice and compassion.

      • NellaLou:

        I had the same thought about that photo of him; nothing suggests feigning insanity like mugging for a camera. Then again there’s Catch-22 in play here, which suggests a barbershop mirror-effect of reasoning…

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