The blood on our floor

Sam Smith

Now that all the politicians and media voices have sternly condemned violence, we can move on to other things. Or back to the way things were.

Such public condemnation doesn’t scare violence one bit. It’s a little like thinking you can cure measles by some skin ointment you buy at CVS. Violence is just the outer and visible sign of inner and often invisible problems. The former we like to talk endlessly about (and pass laws against) while the latter we prefer to ignore.

That’s been the national story since 9/11. Soon after that attack, I wrote that the best way to reduce the constituency of the least rational is to meet the concerns of the most rational. But in the decade following 9/11, we have done nothing of significance to improve relations with the Muslim world. Instead, we have found new ways of fighting with it.

In the case of Tucson, the courts will handle the perp. What we should be doing is taking another look at those things that may have helped create the perp, not to excuse the wrong that he did but to lessen the chance of its repetition.

I say may because we’ll probably never know for sure. The thing about random acts of violence is that they are random, and the causes behind them typically multiple, mostly indecipherable, and usually distinct. But here are a few things that have passed through my mind in the past few days:

The vitriol factor

There is no doubt that the vitriol spewing about in our politics doesn’t help rational debate. And Sarah Palin’s cross hair target map should make her liable for a civil law suit if nothing else. In over fifty years of reporting on national politics I have never seen so many stupid and cruel politicians as now, almost entirely on the Republican side.

But where did they come from? The story that is not being told is that, just as with Jared Laughner’s physical violence, the verbal and logical violence grew out of something, and part of this something has been the collapse of the Democratic Party as an alternative to the GOP. When you are living through the worst economic times since the Depression and two of the most fruitless wars in our history, and the inheritor of the New Deal brazenly favors the interests of Wall Street over those of ordinary citizens – many dealing with job and/or home loss – you must expect some form of madness to fill the gap. It did and you can vote for it and, sadly, people have.

There are precedents for this in history. One of the least noted aspects of the rise of Hitler, for example, was the disintegration of German liberalism. In America today, in fact, there are only two balloted parties that represent rational political alternatives as opposed to merely reflecting the interest of their campaign contributors: the Greens and the Libertarians. Yet these non-violent, rational, and decent choices are dismissed or ridiculed by the American conventional media and elites as insignificant or even extremeist.

Back in the nineties, I suggested that the Greens and the Libertarians start a college campus debate road show, to bring to young Americans an idea of what true democratic alternatives look like. I was reminded of this after the Tucson shooting. What if Loughner had seen such a debate?

Guns

The Tucson murders will surely revive the debate over gun laws. Although I have never owned a gun and favor the pacific side of most issues, I also believe that excessive gun violence – like other form of carnage – must be dealt with by responding to its cause and not merely to the tools used to manifest it. Just today I read of a man who was badly beaten by a flashlight. Should we ban these as well?

Further, from a political standpoint, there would be no better way to maintain the vitriol and political anger of America than to launch an anti-gun movement at this time.

It’s long past time for liberals to accept the fact a large number of Americans like to have guns and that fighting this inclination has been a major cause of their political failure. Far better would be to invite gun owners into their multicultural definition, thus finding a new way to further America’s dream of being a home for everyone.

Finally, contrary to liberal mythology, the facts simply don’t support the anti-gun mystique.

For example, Maryland, which ranks 2nd in per capita gun murders, ranks 8th from the bottom in per capita gun ownership.

California comes in 4th in per capita murders but ties with Maryland for low gun ownership.

My own state of Maine has a gun ownership percentage almost twice that of California but a gun murder rate one-sixth as bad.

In fact, if Maine were a country it would be the fourth most gun owning nation in the world, right behind Switzerland, but like Switzerland it would rank around 19th in gun murders

In fact, in terms of gun murders, the worst state is 25 times as bad as the best. With that sort of variety, it’s best to look for other things to fix.

Searching for right wing conspracies: While it’s more than fair to attack Republicans for their violent an illogical rhetoric, jumping to conspiratoid conclusions in the manner of the Southern Poverty Law Center doesn’t really help. I sometimes think the SPLC and these fringe groups may be in cahoots, since the former couldn’t get any TV time without the latter.

For example, part of the evidence SPLC promoted was Loughner’s love of the gold standard. It’s worth quoting from Wikipedia to illustrate how in times like this history can become an ancillary victim:

|||| The return to the gold standard is supported by many followers of the Austrian School of Economics and, in the United States, by strict constitutionalists, Objectivists, and free-market libertarians largely because they object to the role of the government in issuing fiat currency through central banks. A significant number of gold-standard advocates also call for a mandated end to fractional-reserve banking.

Few politicians today advocate a return to the gold standard, other than adherents of the Austrian school and some supply-siders. However, some prominent economists have expressed sympathy with a hard-currency basis, and have argued against fiat money, including former U.S. Federal Reserve Chairman Alan Greenspan, and macro-economist Robert Barro. ||||

And:

|||| After the Second World War, a system similar to a Gold Standard and sometimes described as a “gold exchange standard” was established by the Bretton Woods Agreements. Under this system, many countries fixed their exchange rates relative to the U.S. dollar. The U.S. promised to fix the price of gold at approximately $35 per ounce. Implicitly, then, all currencies pegged to the dollar also had a fixed value in terms of gold. Under the administration of the French President Charles de Gaulle up to 1970, France reduced its dollar reserves, trading them for gold from the U.S. government, thereby reducing U.S. economic influence abroad. This, along with the fiscal strain of federal expenditures for the Vietnam War and a persistent balance of payments deficits, led President Richard Nixon to end the direct convertibility of the dollar to gold in 1971. . .||||

I sure hope Alan Greenspan doesn’t own a gun.

And the SPLC is not alone. The Boston Globe wrote: “Here and there he touched on conspiracy theories of the moment, including rants about currency and endorsement of the gold standard.”

Loughner and Arne Duncan

Loughner was clearly a bright student. Take a look at his favorite book list: “Animal Farm, Brave New World, The Wizard Of OZ, Aesop Fables, The Odyssey, Alice Adventures Into Wonderland, Fahrenheit 451, Peter Pan, To Kill A Mockingbird, We The Living, Phantom Toll Booth, One Flew Over The Cuckoo’s Nest, Pulp,Through The Looking Glass, The Communist Manifesto, Siddhartha, The Old Man And The Sea, Gulliver’s Travels, Mein Kampf, The Republic, and Meno.”

Until he went over the top, he might have easily passed one of the tests that are meant to guide American public education these days.

But read the bizarre conclusions he drew from his books and other reading and you see the same huge gap in his education that is prescribed by the formulas of Duncan, Rhee, Gates and others: no emphasis on critical thinking.

In fact, one might argue that the real problem with our political debate is not its vitriol but it’s growing indifference to logic. You might, for example, describe some of the GOP positions on climate change as Loughner lite.

One of the most important lessons we might learn from this incident is the importance of teaching students not only facts but how to use them. Right now, Loughner is a sad monument to our indifference towards critical thinking. How many more misguided bright students are we creating as a matter of national education policy?

The other drugs

Loughner reportedly used pot. But far less noted is the probability that he was also on anti-depressants.

The problem with anti-depressants is not that they don’t help a lot of people, but with factors we prefer not to discuss. For example, what if anti-depressants were a significant reason why we are unable to mount effective opposition against an increasingly failing and anti-democratic government? Could the 1960s ever occurred if it had been on Pozac instead of pot?

Nor do we discuss the far less theoretical relation between anti-depressants and mass murders. The media regularly suppresses any mention of the possibility yet an eerie correlation keeps cropping up.

– It was quite possible that Nidal Hasan – the psychiatrist who killed 13 on a military base – was using the same drugs he prescribed for his patients . He knew he had deep psychological problems and it would have been unlikely if he had not treated it.

– Andrea Yates, who drowned all five of her children, had been taking the Effexor. Four years later Wyeth Pharmacueticals would add “homicidal ideation” to the drug’s “rare adverse events” One analysis noted that since the FDA defined “rare: as les than one in a thousand, almost 20,000 Americans might suffer “homicidal ideation” from the drug.

– Columbine killer Eric Harris was on antidepressant Luvox. The Review wrote at the time:

“Following Columbine, the media ignored the possible connection between the killings and prescribed mood-altering drugs. The moral questions in a drug that works fine for most but has disastrous effects on others needs to be widely discussed.”

– Virginia Tech murderer Cho Seung-Hui had prescription drugs in his possession but officials still refuse to release the names of them. Why?

A 2001 Newsmax story listed some of the others:

– Sam Manzie, 15, attacked, raped and strangled to death an 11-year-old boy selling items door to door for the PTA. He was on Paxil.

– Kip Kinkel, 14, killed his parents and went on a shooting rampage at his Springfield, Ore., high school. He was taking Ritalin and Prozac.

– Jeremy Strohmeyer raped and murdered a 7-year-old girl one week after he started taking Dexedrine.

– T.J. Solomon, 15, who attended Heritage High School in Conyers, Ga., was taking Ritalin when he opened fire on his classmates, wounding six.

– In 1998, 13-year-old Mitchell Johnson and 11-year-old Andrew Golden opened fire on their classmates in Westside Middle School in Jonesboro, Ark. Young Johnson had been seeing a psychiatrist but, when questioned as to the nature of his medication, if any, his attorney, Val Price, would say only, “That is confidential information, and I don’t want to comment on that.”

A website lists 4300 cases in which prescription drugs were being used by those involved in bizarre murders, suicides, school shooting incidents and murder-suicides.

Obviously, correlation is not necessarily causation but we can not even begin to analyze this question because neither the health industry nor the media will face the problem.

The prospect is daunting: what do you do with a drug that helps millions but simultaneously helps to create an unknown number of murderers?

The poverty of young white men

Loughner was kicked out his community college, unemployed and refused admission into the Army.

Part of the story is the reaction of one young man to his personal failure.

And he’s not alone.

The unemployment rate of young white men of Loughner’s age is roughly that for all blacks and higher than all black men 35 and older.

The unemployment rate for black men of Loughner’s age is about two thirds higher as it is for all men 18-19 and higher.

While the higher unemployment rates of minorities are generally recognized – albeit with no corrective action – the squalid status of young white men doesn’t even make it to the back pages.

And it’s not a new phenomenon. Over a decade ago, I wrote that the group that had seen the biggest decline in wages between 1979 and 1993 were white men who hadn’t completed high school (down 23%) with young black men and white male high school grads like Loughner not far behind.

For two decades, young men have faced such problems with the politicians and the media showing little or no attention. If they’re bad – smoking pot for example – we send them to prison. If they’re good they can enlist and die in Afghanistan or come home with a mental illness the government doesn’t even want to pay for.

We have created the America that helped to create Jared Loughner. And if there’s one thing to be grateful for it is that, so far, there, are not more like him.

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