Saturday, January 15, 2011

The Follow-On Tragedy of the Arizona Shootings

Now that the smoke has cleared from the shootings that occurred a week ago today it is clear that the shooter, Jared Loughner, is saner than the news media, and the many political talking heads of our country. In less than two hours the political voices in the country raced to plant their spin-flags among the corpses. Because the shootings happened in Arizona, and because the primary target was a Democrat the assumption was automatic: The shooter was a Tea Party activist and Sarah Palin was to blame. Almost as soon the right-wing marshaled their forces to defend themselves and point fingers at the left. This all happened before we knew anything about the shooter including his name. Even worse we witnessed respected media personalities fall victim to their own prejudices. Maybe it was fitting that the shootings happened in Arizona because of it is synonymous with the old west, and the media’s reaction was exactly that of an old-west lynch mob. Just like the aftermath of those old-western lynching’s the true culprit went unpunished.

The culprit at the root of this shooting is mental illness. That is what we need to be talking about. Our prisons are full of the mentally ill because we are failing to address this problem. I work in a job where I come into frightening contact with homeless people who are clearly mentally ill, and quite often my life is in danger. I am not trained to deal with the mentally ill, my police department has limited options about what they can do with the mentally ill, and more and more the mentally ill are either being shot by police or killing someone themselves. I don’t pretend to have any answers here, and my frustration is that because the political whores have prostituted this incident away from the actual cause, and instead they have decided to dress it up as their various boogey men.

Shame on them.

Americans hate to talk about mental illness because it is a complex issue that ultimately comes down to how the illness affects each individual. Americans like simple answers and cookie-cutter solutions. Mental Health is the opposite of both those and it … well it drives us crazy. Mental Health is also expensive on almost every level which automatically complicates the subject as the political-media industrial complex knee-jerks into action. Exotic medications, MRIs, CAT Scans, psychiatrists, and psychiatric councilors are all expensive prospects. Then you have mental health advocates who are well meaning, but in the end limiting the help that the mentally ill can receive. Their motivations stem from the 19th and 20th Century abuses of the mentally ill in asylums around the world. These abuses were such that as they came to light Americans demanded change, and most mental institutions were eventually closed down. What happened to their former patients? All dumped onto the streets.

All of this could be the center of discussion in the media today yet it is not. Although by Sunday of last week we knew that Loughner was mentally ill the news media had decided to continue with the angle that “vitriolic political language” was the cause of the shooting. The very people who are tasked with reporting facts (NBC, CBS, ABC, and CNN) had instead stooped to innuendo. The idea that political activism had more appeal then having to discuss yet another troubled person with blood on his hands, and one has to question not only the judgment of those news editors they also must question their sanity as well. How is a discussion of gun-sites on Sarah Palin’s campaign website or Rush Limbaugh considered rational in conjunction with what we know about Loughner? It is clear that Loughner had stalked/targeted Representative Gabrielle Giffords but it is not clear he did so because she was a Democrat. As of now it is just as likely that she was targeted because she was accessible, and because she just happened to be the Congress person within range.

Jared Loughner is the first encounter with what will be a big problem in the 21st century. Loughner may have an under –lying mental illness but it has been compounded by Digital Retardation. Loughner didn’t watch TV, nor did he listen to the radio. Instead he was a creature of the internet. In my spare time I moderate a message board that is geared to video gaming and high-tech gadgets and issues. The posters on this board range from 13 years old to 75 years old with the bulk of them being college age. They do not read books on the level that their predecessors twenty years ago did, and this handicap is evident as even the brightest young people lack the ability to grasp complex issues on an adult level. The internet afford young people the ability to never come into contact with adults, and the result is that they either mature more slowly , or never mature beyond a 15 year-old’s mind set. The internet’s anonymity also allows antisocial behavior to go unchecked, so Loughner couldn’t understand why behavior that was acceptable on the internet was not acceptable in a college classroom. His handicap was compounded by the lack of intellectual maturity because he was able to feed his world view easily by frequenting websites where his delusions would be considered normal. The absence of rational adult input can only be guessed at for now but it is likely that is sped Loughner’s downward spiral.

As you can see Loughner represents a convergence of complex issues that require serious discussion. Once again Americans, when confronted with the uncomfortable problem of the mentally ill, have decided to change the subject. I can’t speculate as to why the news media went the way that it did. Unlike the responsible news agencies I can only address the facts as I know them now. When more facts come along I will adjust fire accordingly. Why can’t the news media do this? What I saw on Saturday and Sunday of last week was right out of the Salem Witch Trials. How did paranoia (and that is the only explanation) engulf so many educated and otherwise rational people? It was like watching Medgar Evers putting in a KKK robe. Why was it more important to hang their personal political agenda on Loughner’s act than simply deal with the facts? How did this help anyone? Don’t they realize that they undermine their credibility when they do stuff like that? To underscore the failure of the big media was the fact that a handful of bloggers were ahead of them in obtaining and reporting the facts.

So at the end of the day not only were six people dead but the credibility of the news media died off just a little more too. Yet those who work in the media fail to understand or admit their failures on every level. So instead of making this about the victims they turned it into political circus, and then condemned others in the media for turning this event into a political circus (complete with t-shirts at the memorial – that is another rant for another time). In doing this the nation lost valuable time on a serious discussion that affects our society on multiple levels. Like I said earlier, the real tragedy is that Loughner’s actions and the media response were equally insane.

Yet nobody is calling them on it.