- Michel Foucault (Madness and Civilisation)
The mass shooting in Tuscon, Arizona was a sad and unpleasant event, but it was fully expected by those of us who stay informed. We couldn't predict exactly where such an event would occur, when it would occur or how it would occur, but we knew that it was only a matter of time before people began lashing out against "the system" in violent ways. In early 2010, a man lashed out by flying a plane into an IRS building in Texas, but this time the violence directly targeted a federal politician, who is currently hospitalized in critical condition.
The shooter was Jared Loughner, a 22-year old who was "studying" in an Arizona Community College. Since the event, many people have obviously started digging through every single detail of this man's history, from the "incoherent" and "inappropriate" things he said in class, to his "disturbing" postings on the Internet and his drug-related criminal record. There were all kinds of different "warning signs" available to foreshadow the shooting and potentially prevent it, if only those who had observed him had been more vigilant and took some action.
Perhaps it is true that Loughner's parents, friends or classmates could have deciphered his murderous plans and prevented the shooting. But does that mean this rampage was an isolated incident, specific to a hopelessly deranged individual who had inexplicably fallen from the good graces of "normal" society? Frankly, the whole post-event routine reminds me of CNBC pundits attempting to explain a large market sell-off by referencing a mish-mash of "unexpected" economic events and "temporarily" negative data.
Already, politicians and the mainstream media have framed the event as one involving an individual person who was suffering from mental illness, perhaps even bordering on paranoid schizophrenia. He was clearly a delusional young man, unlike the rest of us "normal" folk, and he eventually succumbed to his "crazy" thoughts and urges to kill. CNN reports:
"Forensic psychologist Kathy Seifert called the postings "absolutely psychotic." Loughner should have been evaluated for schizophrenia, bipolar disorder, autism or other mental illnesses, she said." .And what exactly do these postings say that make them so "absolutely psychotic"? Here are some of the things that Loughner had to say on the Internet:
"In conclusion, reading the second United States constitution I can't trust the current government because of the ratifications: the government is implying mind control and brainwash on the people by controlling grammar..." It isn't really clear which "ratifications" he was referring to or even what he meant by "the second United States Constitution", but he obviously felt the U.S. government was using its alleged Constitutional powers to inappropriately manipulate the ways in which American people think about the world. I, for one, am not afraid to admit that I have very similar thoughts about our government and its exploitative/manipulative powers. Here is a statement found in a YouTube message, and another statement from a classmate who had spoken with Loughner:
"No! I won't pay debt with a currency that's not backed by gold and silver! No! I wont trust in God!" 
He added that one topic that Mr. Loughner seemed to be obsessed with was the American dollar. “He had talked about not liking the currency,” Mr. Cates said. “And he wished that the U.S. would change to a different currency because our currency is worthless.” .Well, informed people in the economic blogosphere who say they don't identify with the above statements are either lying or confused. Loughner's YouTube page also contains the following:
A list of his favorite books included both "Mein Kampf" and the "Communist Manifesto," along with works by George Orwell, Ray Bradbury, Ken Kesey, Herman Hesse, Ernest Hemingway, Plato and Aesop's Fables. With the exception of "Mein Kampf", I can honestly say that I deeply respect all of those writers and most of their works. In the context of our current economic environment, the writings of Karl Marx should especially resonate with people who understand the nature of our predicament. Is it so difficult, then, to connect the dots between Loughner's shooting spree and the ongoing collapse of our financial economic paradigm? For politicians and the media, it is either too difficult or too inconvenient, and I lean towards an explanation with a healthy dose of both.
Outside of these Internet messages, Loughner had revealed himself to be generally disruptive in class and to have a pretty hot temper. Did this make him an absolute psychopath, or someone who had an extremely hard time dealing with the contradictions and exploitations that he witnessed in American society every day? For the latter explanation to make any sense, we must first admit that these contradictions actually exist, and status quo power structures could not possibly conceive of making such a confession. What better way to hide this underlying truth than to relegate Loughner and his actions to the exotic realm of psychiatric disorder?
Inspired by thinkers such as Michel Foucault, who wrote an acclaimed historical treatise on "madness" in Western society , the "anti-psychiatry" movement has been very critical of institutional practices in modern psychiatry and their tendency to lump complex people into general categories of insanity. It specifically criticizes the "miscategorization of normal reactions to extreme situations as psychiatric disorders". . Loughner may have made peculiar comments and exhibited erratic behavior, but it would be foolish to dismiss his violent actions as the result of officially-defined "madness" without considering the systemic context in which they occurred. Unfortunately, this process of dismissal is exactly what is occurring and we should expect it to continue.
Loughner is just another crazy individual who finally went off the deep end and snapped. The only thing left to do now is to dramatically report on the victims for television ratings, stir up some faux debate over mental health procedures and gun regulation, use the event for political advantage and, perhaps most importantly, use Loughner's "mental illness" as a way of discrediting accurate representations of reality. The New York Times has already gotten to work on that last part, and this is what Mark Potok from the Southern Poverty Law Center has to say:
"The position, for instance, that currency not backed by a gold or silver standard is worthless is a hallmark of the far right and the militia movement...That idea is linked closely to the belief among militia supporters that the Federal Reserve is a completely private entity engaged in ripping off the American people." Such grossly inaccurate characterizations of reality by the so-called "educated" in American society were prevalent well before Loughner's rampage, but there is no doubt that power structures are already attempting to use this event to further reinforce the alternative reality. One where only hardcore "extremists" can believe that our country is systemically corrupt, and that the Federal Reserve is funneling trillions of dollars from taxpayers to large financial institutions. However, we can take some solace in the fact that these attempts are being carried out from a deathbed, and there is increasingly little room in the minds of Americans for contrived realities.
The truth is that we are all living in an "extreme situation", where the fabric of modern society is bursting at the seams, and the normal reaction is a combination of sadness, fear, frustration and anger. In the ever-present battle between logical composure and dissonant rage, the latter obviously won out in Loughner's brain. He could have been an informed young man discussing his philosophical and political ideas with people in school and on the Internet, being extremely critical but also calm and respectful. Instead, he ended up with a 9mm Glock in a grocery store with a federal politician and a head full of rage. Still, his lunacy was fundamentally no different from that of millions of other Americans across the nation, and our society continues to ignore that lesson at its own peril.