Wednesday, January 19, 2011

Some Thoughts On the Tucson Shooting

     As a result of the January 8 shooting in Tucson of Congresswoman Gabrielle Gifford by Jared Lee Loughner, much heat and a ray of light has been generated. Name-calling began almost immediately, with the political left blaming the incident on the rhetoric of the right, and the right, correctly in my opinion, pleading innocence.
     According to the left, the onus fell upon Sarah Palin and her “gunsight” icon, which targeted several Democratic Congressional Districts, including Rep. Gifford's. Much is made of the supposed “fact” that such rhetoric is becoming worse, with the result that the popular culture is becoming more violent.
     A few examples from the past indicate that there is nothing new about repugnant speech against political opponents:
     During the John Quincy Adams vs. Andrew Jackson presidential campaign, Jackson claimed that Adams used public money to buy “gambling devices.” As a matter of fact they were a chess set and a billiards table, which he purchased with his own money. At the same time, Adams claimed that Jackson’s mother was a prostitute and he was the son of a mulatto, which was also untrue.
     Even earlier, John Adams called Alexander Hamilton a "bastard brat of a Scotch pedlar," who had a "superabundance of secretions which he could not find whores enough to draw off." Finally Adams decried "the profligacy of his life; his fornications, adulteries and his incests." Despite numerous denunciations such as these over the years, the American culture has survived; today's epithets seem rather mild by comparison.
     As for the effect of such speech upon the American culture, while it may tend to desensitize an individual's attitude toward violence, it does not cause anyone to pull the trigger. Whether because of strong emotions such as rage, or a chemical imbalance, or faulty cranial wiring, that decision originates inside the head of the trigger man. Only Jared Lee Loughner committed this crime.
     President Obama's call to discontinue the finger-pointing and maintain an attitude of civility was just the ray of light the nation needed to offset the heat coming from both ends of the political spectrum.
     This is not to say that public speech does not affect individuals; it certainly does, as evidenced by the success of the advertising profession. It indicates only that the resulting decision, whether to buy or not to buy, to shoot or not to shoot, etc. takes place between the ears of the individual. While many individuals in our materialistic society may have trouble with the “buy or not to buy” decision, almost all of us make the correct “shoot or not to shoot” decision.
     However, the events in Tucson do make one wonder whether anything can be done to stem the increasing tide of violence which appears almost daily in the headlines. I believe this incident illustrates one shortcoming of our culture: we do not allocate enough resources to rooting out those individuals that are predisposed toward making decisions to commit violence.
     According to reports, Loughner showed signs of abnormality in the Army, at school, and with his friends, but no one attempted to get him the help he so desperately needed. Attention was directed at his behavior, but no attempt was made to find the cause.
     This is one area in which we must do better.
     Also as a result of the Tucson shooting, there appears to be rising support for a discussion of gun control. Although I understand the desire of hunters to own guns, I cannot think of any reason why anyone outside of law enforcement or the military needs to own an AK-47, Uzi or other rapid-fire weapon. Such weapons are designed for destruction of human beings – the NRA notwithstanding, no one uses them for hunting or target practice.
     As for hunting rifles, shotguns or handguns, I see no reason why any qualified individual should not be allowed to own them under the proper conditions.
     In the wrong hands automobiles can be far deadlier weapons than hunting rifles or target pistols. Anyone may own and operate one after proper training and licensing. Why not guns? Come on Congress, grow some cajones.
     Although he was writing about pornography when he said, “I shall not today attempt further to define the kinds of material but I know it when I see it,” Supreme Court Justice Potter Stewart might just as well been speaking about causality. Philosophers have been trying to explain, or even to define, causality for twenty-five hundred years, and have yet to reach an agreement. The physicists have come closest to agreeing, but even they are floating competing theories.
     Causality – The Spirit Runs Through It.

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