-- ABC News --
The tally so far of the Tucson Safeway massacre on January 8: 6 dead, 14 wounded, including Congresswoman Gabrielle Giffords, Federal Judge John Roll, and Christina Green, a nine-year-old girl born on 9/11.
I have two questions for everyone reading these words:
First: did you ever kill someone?
My own answer: no, thank God.
Second question: do you ever see someone get shot, stabbed?
My answer: yes. I can guarantee that after you witness a murder, you won't see life the same way. A sort of virginity is lost -- a virginity worth saving, if not treasuring.
That experience led me to this personal conclusion: outside of special circumstances such as self-defense, anybody who kills somebody is insane. Period.
The media are flooding us with reports that Jared Lee Loughner, the suspect in the Safeway rampage, is mentally "unbalanced." For those who believe that all murderers are insane, those statements offer no new information or insight.
Of sole interest here: what purpose does the inundation of statements serve? Why the repetition?
What we're witnessing is the start of a massive effort not to understand Jared Loughner, but to write him off. In the ritual underway, he will be symbolically annihilated long before his physical death occurs. As Jon Kyl, a Republican senator from Arizona, phrased it on Face The Nation: "We really don't know what motivated this young person, except to know he was very mentally unstable."
We really don't know. Jared is explained away by being rendered (1) unexplainable or (2) crazy or (3) both. Take your pick -- problem solved. Next stop: a razor wire-enclosed forensic unit in a state mental hospital; throw away the key. Jared who?
The rush to judgment is the rush to forget; it is second in popularity among politicians only to tossing money at a problem.
Wait a second. If Loughner is a lone wolf nut case -- he certainly seems that way to me -- why? Assuming he pulled the trigger, why did his insanity take the form it took?
You cannot know who Jared Loughner is apart from knowing what he is. And what he is, is largely -- not totally -- his socio-economic context. To the extent that context is being discussed at all, the focus is almost exclusively on the "acerbic political discourse, commonplace today in the electronic media and cyberspace."
But plenty of massacres took place in America before Obama was elected. Sorry -- the freshly-minted, acerbic political discourse doesn't hack it as an explanation.
Let's turn our attention to something else:
Is Loughner middle class? In the larger sense of the term, i.e., any intermediate, transitional or marginal status or condition, the preliminary findings are overwhelming. "Nihilistic rut," "lacked an ability to connect," "really weird," "alienation from his friends." We learn that "he was at odds with the world around him," that he is "a loner with eccentric, if not extreme, views," a college dropout who engaged in "rambling messages posted on social networking sites" -- an anti-religion pot smoker.
On top of being marginal, he was in a transition: "he wasn't always like this." According to Loughner's "classmates, his grip on reality seems to have come undone in the past year."
As for middle class in the narrow sense of socioeconomic class, information is still coming in on Loughner's parents, Amy and Randy. Nothing yet on where they work, income level, educational background, etc. However, the New York Times reported that Loughner lived with his parents in "Orangewood Estates, a middle-class subdivision of single-family homes north of Tucson …"
Check out the neighborhood on the Internet. What do you think? I lived up the road in Phoenix for five months. I would definitely rate Orangewood Estates as middle class.
Idiosyncratic mental problems aside, there are at least five preliminary indications that the middle class rebel syndrome analyzed in The Source of Terrorism: Middle Class Rebellion is applicable to Jared Lee Loughner.
1. A CNN report:
Witness Dr. Steven Rayle said the shooter had a "determined look" as he opened fire.
"He was not sort of going around and picking out people and firing at them ... He was just firing his gun indiscriminately," he said.
Readers of The Source of Terrorism have seen that look before. The Santana High School shootings (2 dead, 13 wounded) in 2001 are a case in point. (Pages 180, 200) The list is growing.
Here's one take on random shooting which Jared Loughner can surely relate to. In 1929, André Breton, headmaster of the French surrealist school, proclaimed:
The simplest surrealist act consists of going down into the street, pistol clenched, and firing randomly, as fast as you can pull the trigger, into the crowd. Anyone who, at least once in his life, has not wanted to so put an end to the petty system of debasement and cretinisation in power has a well-marked place in that crowd, with his belly at barrel level. (Ibid, p. 180)
In the coming weeks, as you watch the talking heads on TV try to dissect the "mystery" of why Jared Loughner did it, think about Breton's comment. The only real mystery is why randomly shooting people is still, after 80 years, a mystery ...
Let's start with what's obvious: did it. Don't be surprised if Loughner never talks, at least coherently, about his act. I suspect he did it in order to not talk about it. In that way he is comparable to Adolph Hitler whose book Mein Kampf Jared admires. If Hitler could have explained why he did it, he wouldn't have done it.
Did it is a highly probative area. For openers, for the middle class rebel, the act is what matters, the "Deed … -- the Act as an absolute truth, beyond all criticism and outside any judgment. Just Do it! Go for it! Practice with a capital 'P.'" (Ibid., p. 178)
2. Loughner's note on terrorism:
If I define terrorist then a terrorist is a person who employs terror or terrorism, especially as a political weapon.
I define terrorist.
This, a terrorist is a person who employs terror or terrorism, especially as a political weapon.
If you call me a terrorist then the argument to call me a terrorist is Ad hominem.
You call me a terrorist.
Thus, the argument to call me a terrorist is Ad hominem.
Note that Loughner repeats himself not just figuratively but literally; he is a man living in, around, and in spite of flat circles. Tautological thinking -- a terrorist, he informs us, is somebody who "employs terrorism" -- is a hallmark of the middle class rebel:
The central movement of middle class ideology is redundant, tautological. For example, the rebel can -- in fact, usually does -- deny that he is idealistic in the Platonist sense. But the denial itself will in turn be idealized, e.g., he will hold up instinct as an opposite to reason, then glorify and treat instinct as an idée fixe. Similarly, the rebel can -- in fact, typically will -- reject doctrinarism. However, the rejection of doctrinarism will itself be incorrigibly doctrinaire -- and that is the telltale heart: doctrinarism, the result, was present at the very beginning, as a prerequisite. (Ibid., p. 156)
A hermetically-sealed echo chamber, then. It is a place where the conclusions are the assumptions; the assumptions, the conclusions. The essential movement of the rebel inside it is neither forward nor backward, but sideways.
3. Loughner is obsessed with words and grammar. His idea that they can both free and enslave mankind is nothing new. Previous middle class rebels have sanctified words and grammar by crucifying them:
Dadaist artist Theo van Doesburg (1883-1931) declared, "Destruction of syntax is the first necessary preamble to the new poetry."
Hugo Ball wanted poems to "discard language." He proclaimed, "I invented a new gender of poetry, the poetry without words or phonetic poetry."
Jean Arp wrote of his poems: "I tore apart sentences, words, syllables. I tried to break down the language into atoms.…"
Dadaist and surrealist poet Paul Eluard (1885-1952) summed up the deprecatory urge, declaring that "we will humiliate the word in fine fashion."
But the painter Giorgio de Chirico went one step farther: "Above all it is necessary to rid art of everything known that it has contained until the present, every subject, every idea, every thought, every symbol must be put aside." (Ibid., pp. 279-80)
4. Consistent with an obsession with language -- "illiterate" seems to be his biggest insult -- Loughner seeks to create a "new language." Nothing new there either. Arthur Rimbaud (1854-1891), French poet and the archetype of the middle class rebel, expressed not only the same yearning but also how and where it ends:
I tried to invent new flowers, new stars, new flesh, new languages. I believed I had acquired supernatural powers. Oh Well! I must bury my imagination and my memories. A beautiful reputation as an artist and angry storyteller.
I! I who called myself a magician or angel, exempt from all morality, I am flung back to earth, with a duty to search, and rough reality to embrace! Peasant!... (Ibid., p. 236)
5. Loughner wrote, "I'm thinking of creating a new currency..." The coins would have to be designed, and so forth. Here, too, there is nothing new.
The middle class rebel is forever in search of a formula, a new system. After all, if there are absolute truths out there, there must be an absolute way to obtain them:
Dissatisfied with existing scales and standards, [Dadaist artist] Marcel Duchamp felt the need to invent “a new unit of measure” in constructing the “The Bride Stripped Bare By Her Bachelors, Even,” a painting on glass that took eight years (1915-1923) to complete. The scale of “3 Stoppages,” for example, consisted of dropping three threads, each a meter long, from a height of one meter. Duchamp fastidiously recorded the results of all of his mechano-mathematical experiments.
Dadaist painter Hannah Hoch (1889-1978) reminisced in 1959, "We were all of us in favor of new styles and systems. Johannes Baader had invented his own Dada system of reckoning time and dates. He even spoke of having a special watch constructed to keep time according to his own new system."
Sartre observed that Baudelaire contrived "minute, finicky rules … to put a brake on his bottomless freedom." No doubt the rules were all the more finicky because, not just in Baudelaire’s case but in middle class rebellion in general, the rules were self-inflicted. (Ibid., pp. 275-6)
Comte de Lautréamont (1846-1870) was another archetypal rebel poet and man with a plan. He announced to the world:
"I believe finally to have found, after trial and error, my definitive formula." … he placed "Saint Math" in opposition to the "bad will of men and the injustice of the Great-Everything." He even devised an appropriate prayer:
"Oh severe math….I am the most devoted of your followers….Math! Algebra! Geometry! Great triangle! Illustrious triangle.…Earth only shows illusions…but you…with your laws of iron, you make shine, to astonished eyes, a powerful reflection of that supreme truth in which one sees the imprint in the order of the universe." (Ibid., p. 274)
Look again at Loughner's posts. So much finicky math and pseudo algebraic reasoning; so many home-brewed equations. So many life preservers in a gulf threatening to engulf him any moment.
The rebel feels nostalgia for an absolute truth that is forever present, forever just out of reach. His quest for an absolute formula or system to reach it eventually will end where it began: flung back to earth. If need be, police, psychiatrists, and prison guards will help him.
For middle class rebels, that earth is both round and flat. All is periphery.
No oxymorons there.