Friday, January 14, 2011

Rhetorical Insanity

A second element of the right-wing commentator's element that they bear absolutely no responsibility for the attempted assassination of Gabrielle Giffords is that Jared Loughner is CRAAAAAAZY. They are pleading innocence by reason of someone else's insanity. But what is really happening is an equivocation on the notion of insane.

Their argument is:

1. Jared Loughner is insane
2. Insane people are irrational.
3. Only rational actions have explanations in terms of the actor's reasoning.

4. Therefore, we cannot explain the shooting in terms of Loughner's reasoning, so any claim that his reasoning was influenced by right-wing invective is necessarily false.

The problem is with premise 2.

No one wants to say that Loughner was in a reasonable state of mind, but the words "crazy" and "insane" are conveniently vague for the right-wing commentators. The action was cognitively complex. It required planning. It required timing. It required knowing whom he was looking for and there were certainly reason why he was looking for her -- a Jewish Democrat. This was not a random act, this was not someone having a seizure and then throwing fish out of a window to stop rampaging flying squirrels. No, this was someone who was angry about big government taking over and who thought we should only use gold and not cash. Where did these beliefs come from? Is it then a pure coincidence that he would target a Jewish Democrat?

Let's avoid the words "insane" and "crazy" and instead use "psychopath." That seems to make some rhetorical difference, doesn't it? Psychopaths are capable of being quite rational. They have reasons for what they do, often complex arguments supporting them. Those arguments and reasons are bad ones to be sure, but they do not defy explanation the way that right-wing pundits want to claim.

Were Loughner's reasons influenced by right-wing invective. Most likely. Should those responsible for it bear any culpability here? We heard violent screams coming from the audiences of McCain/Palin rallies. we saw eliminationist sentiments coming from the Tea Partiers. We saw conservatives encouraging supporters to come to a rally on the National Mall armed in order to send a message, a threat that if their policy demands were not met, then there might be shootings. And it is in this social context that Sarah Palin puts crosshairs over a map of candidates she wants eliminated. So, now there is a shooting of one. Who possibly could see THAT coming? When you work hard to raise up an army of bullies, you lose the right to act shocked when one of them beats someone up on the playground for his milk money.