Either Jared Loughner has been putting on a world class act for quite some time, or else he has been steadily descending into a psychotic abyss, displaying tell-tale signs of schizophrenia, which ended with the mass murder he committed yesterday in Tuscon, Arizona, at the public event being run by Congresswoman Gabrielle Giffords.
At this point it cannot be 100% clear if he was ever offered or accepted psychiatric help, but it’s pretty darned clear he needed some serious help of that nature. Read this description via the Washington Post of his behavior at a Community College last summer, and it ought to remind you quite dramatically of Seung Hui-Cho, the 23 year-old who carried out the massacre at Virginia Tech in April of 2007.
When you have a person who laughs strangely to himself, who makes bizarre non sequitur remarks, and who apparently lacks the ability to socially connect with any people at all, then you’ve got strong indications of at least a developing psychosis, and it is typical of schizophrenia to assert itself in the late teens and early twenties. When you add to it that he would keep his headphones on and blaring music almost all the time, including at inappropriate times (during classes) it’s a fair hint that he was trying to drown out the voices in his head.
The written postings on the internet, where he seems to think he’s making some grand logical points but is only articulating nonsense, are pretty good signs of psychosis themselves:
My favorite activity is conscience dreaming; the greatest inspiration for my political business information. Some of you don’t dream — sadly.[…]
In conclusion, reading the second United States Constitution, I can’t trust the current government because of the ramifications: The government is implying mind control and brainwash on the people by controlling grammar. No! I won’t pay debt a currency that’s not backed by gold and silver! No! I won’t trust in god!
— but of-course, internet postings can be faked or concocted for a variety of reasons. The longer pattern of behavior in public is the better evidence of true mental disturbance.
Naturally, very few people who develop schizophrenia do anything like what Seung Hui-Cho and Jared Loughner did — they are more of a danger to themselves than to anyone else. But it only takes a few to cause incalculable suffering and heartbreak.
The focus in much of the media on the idea of a genuine political motivation for this massacre is utterly misplaced, based even on just what we know now, and serves only to distract from what the real issue is here: the need for better detection, diagnosis, intervention and treatment for people coming under the grip of psychosis — in particular young people in school settings.
What Seung Hui-Cho and Jared Loughner had in common — before having in common the killing of many innocent people — was attending college, where those who sat in the same room as them pretty much knew that they were, to be blunt, absolutely nuts and also potentially dangerous. But in neither case, apparently, was there any intervention that could have led to them being involuntarily committed to a mental health facility for at least the beginning of some kind of treatment. Where do you draw the line between a person’s freedoms on the one hand and on the other the interest of society in making that person accept help before he harms himself or others? It’s a perennial question, and there have been attempts to legally address it in a myriad of different ways. The stories of Seung Hui-Cho, Jared Loughner (not to mention many other tragic cases who don’t make the headlines) indicate that too often it is not being effectively addressed.
And it ought to go without saying (but unfortunately it doesn’t) that blaming the likes of Sarah Palin for what occurred yesterday is taking the desire to make cheap partisan political shots to a stage of wilful depravity.
Addendum: See Robert P. George, concise and true, on The Dishonorable Sheriff.
UPDATE 01/12/11: New information on how Loughner could and should have been stopped: Finally, a fact: Jared Loughner and the Tucson shooting.