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Loughner: In Dreams Begin Murders

Delmore Schwartz‘s most famous short story is entitled In Dreams Begin Responsibilities.  It is about a young man who dreams he is in a movie theater watching a movie which turns out to portray his parent’s courtship.  As he watches it, he worries that his parents may not actually end up marrying each other and he volubly urges them not to break up.  Otherwise, he might not be born.  When he wakes up, he realizes it is the morning of his 21st birthday.  His dreams teach him his responsibilities toward life, his own and his parents.

Today’s NY Times features an eerie journey into the dreaming subconscious of 22 year-old mass murderer, Jared Loughner.  Instead of leading him to life, the killer’s dreams brought him to the dark side.  That’s why I used the title for this post In Dreams Begin Murders:

Mr. Gutierrez said his friend [Loughner] had become obsessed with the meaning of dreams and their importance. He talked about reading Friedrich Nietzsche’s book “The Will To Power” and embraced ideas about the corrosive, destructive effects of nihilism — a belief in nothing. And every day, his friend said, Mr. Loughner would get up and write in his dream journal, recording the world he experienced in sleep and its possible meanings.

“Jared felt nothing existed but his subconscious,” Mr. Gutierrez said. “The dream world was what was real to Jared, not the day-to-day of our lives.”

And that dream world, his friend said, could be downright strange.

“He would ask me constantly, ‘Do you see that blue tree over there?’ He would admit to seeing the sky as orange and the grass as blue,” Mr. Gutierrez said. “Normal people don’t talk about that stuff.”

He added that Mr. Loughner “used the word hollow to describe how fake the real world was to him.”

Another NY Times article today notes a mental health expert who speculates that Loughner suffers from severe paranoid schizophrenia.  Those on the right who are fending off responsibility for the violence he wrought on Tuscon, Arizona and the nation, are fond of noting that the shooter was insane and not making a coherent political statement:

It is also not clear, some doctors said, that today’s partisan climate had any bearing on the assault. “The psychosis picks up on the grand themes of the day, whether those are antigovernment or something else,” Dr. Stone said.

In the logic of delusion, a grievance may be conflated with some larger mission, whether religious, political or artistic. “It’s not political thinking,” Dr. Torrey said. “It’s psychotic thinking.”

There’s a great deal to be said for this.  Psychotics who kill may formulate ideas that sound like coherent political statements and it may appear that such thoughts drive their behavior, often such ideas are inchoate and confused.  After all, one of Loughner’s friends of seven years ago called him a leftist.  Yet his MySpace profile notes among his favorite books are Mein Kampf (and The Communist Manifesto!) and he tried to kill a Democratic Congresswoman with moderate to liberal views.  Similary, Naveed Haq, the Pakistani-American who forced his way into the Jewish federation building in Seattle and shot five people, killing one, once had himself baptized in his search for religious meaning.

It seems to me that in some ways the violently mentally ill are, whether consciously or unconsciously, attempting to wreak upon the world some of the same internal anger, violence and chaos that rages within them.

Yet Haq, a diagnosed paranoid schizophrenic, received no mercy from the Jewish community here, which argued that Haq was perfectly competent, knew right from wrong, and should get what he had coming to him.  Bright lights like Pam Geller, in commenting on the Haq trial, even called Islam a mental illness.  To many Jews, Haq was a murderous anti-Semite who had to get a life sentence.  And that he did though it took the prosecution two trials to do it.  The prosecutor refused to accept a plea of insanity and confinement to a mental institution, which is what Haq really needed:

“The insanity defense, which may be tried in this case, is often unsuccessful,” Dr. Torrey said, “and one reason is that juries are afraid to send people to state hospitals, where they belong. They’d rather lock them up for longer, in prison.”

On a related subject, I’m rather amused by the claims from the right that violent political rhetoric characterizes both sides of the debate and not just their side alone.  On Warren Olney’s To the Point, one interviewee noted the extremism voiced on sites like Daily Kos.  There’s one major difference between the tone of the discussion on the right and left.  On the left the vituperative, intolerant rhetoric comes from the knuckleheads at the bottom of the heap like those in the DK talkbacks.  On the political right, the violence comes right from the top: from the talk show hosts, elected politicians, presidential hopefuls.

As Paul Krugman noted in his column this week, while Keith Olbermann is passionate and angry, he will never adopt the hateful swagger of a Glenn Beck or Bill O’Reilly.  He won’t physically threaten, he won’t use language that is violent.  Among elected officials, you won’t find any Democratic candidate who places crosshairs over the districts of Republican rivals as Sarah Palin did.  While Democrats can be just as cantankerous in their views as Republicans, they don’t tend to use eliminationist oratory as a good number do on the other side.

Someone needs to clean up their political act and it ain’t Democrats.

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Comments on this entry are closed.

  • Michael Brenner January 12, 2011, 8:14 AM

    Just to be clear: Insanity is not usually something the prosecution can just offer or accept. It is based on the conclusion of a psychological professional.

    • Richard Silverstein January 12, 2011, 5:56 PM

      That’s why I noted that Haq had actually been diagnosed w. his illness by a psychiatrist. The doctor quoted in the NY Times article is also a psychiatrist I believe. Diagnosing Loughner’s schizophrenia should be a piece of cake given what I’ve read about his delusions.

  • Nomi January 12, 2011, 9:02 AM

    I can’t wait to see what you write about S. Palin’s “Blood Libel” line.

    On the subject of mental illness and much more, I recommend Wally Lamb’s novel, I Know This Much Is True.

    • Richard Silverstein January 12, 2011, 5:44 PM

      Thanks for reminding me. I was going to write that this morning but got carried away by a post about rabbis planning a Palestinian Auschwitz!

  • Nomi January 12, 2011, 9:59 AM

    Of course, I am not sure my blog will respond to this latest Palin wit, and sadly there are no lack of topics in need of documentation and commentary…

    Perhaps this is a teachable moment, and that is a good thing.

    • Richard Silverstein January 12, 2011, 10:10 PM

      Hey, welcome back. I missed you. Haven’t heard fr. you in a while. If you give me the link to your blog post I’ll add it as a trackback to mine.

  • John Yorke January 12, 2011, 3:21 PM

    It would appear that the two perennial problems of American gun control and the armed dispute between Palestinians and Israelis have some interesting parallels.

    1. Both are long term issues for which no solution has yet been found.

    2. Remedies are urgently required if more people are not to lose their lives as each situation continues and escalates.

    3. Deaths, ranging from cold, calculated murder to tragic accidents, are an all too common motif.

    4. There are powerful interests at work seeking to prolong such states of affairs.

    5. In each case, the law of the land appears weak and at variance with the mindsets of a significant percentage of the population.

    6. It would seem that a certain degree of depredation is acceptable to all these communities. Otherwise, why, year on year, should so many fateful tragedies continue to be the norm rather than the exception?

    7. A background of religious and political intolerance within a hard core of the mass of citizenry has been the chief mainstay of resistance to change, experimentation, new developments.

    8. Too much of the historical record intrudes on any and all attempts at correcting prevailing circumstances; no measure barring an act of God or the intervention of overwhelming forces will set these wrongs to right.

    That there are mountains to climb before any effective answer can be applied is, in either case, something of an understatement.

    My constant theme has been that only the actual fabric of the mountains, the fields, the valleys, the cities themselves can hold out any real hope for a timely solution. And that would be exclusively tailored to the Israeli/Palestinian question.

    As for our Americans cousins, I think an act of God may just have a slight chance there.

    But I wouldn’t bet on it.

  • Ruth January 12, 2011, 6:32 PM

    Chabad an Israeli charity? Their headquarters are in New York,no?
    I have attended many events here in Toronto in various Chabad Houses. I have never heard the rabbis say anything against non Jews. Actually, I think they are rather indifferent to them. They are in the business of saving Jewish souls. About the others, they don’t care so much. However, most Chabad Houses are located in highly diverse neighbourhoods and the Chabad families have to interact with all kinds of people and make nice with them.
    I found them to be very open. May be the Chabad emissaries here are a special breed!

    • Richard Silverstein January 12, 2011, 10:35 PM

      Israeli Chabad is an especially virulent, noxious breed. Rabbi Dov Wolpe is one of the most popular Orthodox rabbis in Israel & Chabad. A truly virulent racist monster whom I’ve written about here. I’ve also written here about other Chabad rabbis here who aren’t such nice specimens. Lev Leviev, major settlement builder, is Chabad’s biggest world donor.

  • Kalea January 12, 2011, 6:45 PM

    Intelligent, albeit common sense analysis mixed with compassion and rational judgment.

    I’m so glad someone gets it. Progress is nothing without “humane” and spiritual evolution. Unfortunately, this type of evolution is being sacrificed and tossed by the wayside, and every now and then through tragedy, disaster or illness we’re reminded of the emptiness that begs to be filled with our humanity and spirit.

  • dickerson3870 January 12, 2011, 11:18 PM

    RE:”Someone needs to clean up their political act and it ain’t Democrats.” – R.S.
    SNARKY SEZ: If Republicans clean up their political act, they will cease being Republicans!
    REFERENCE: Kings of the Road (Im Lauf der Zeit / In the Course of Time), by Wim Wenders (1976)

    Kings of the Road, focuses on the relationship that develops between two men – movie projector repairman Bruno and suicidal Robert – as they travel in a truck on the dusty roads along the border between East and West Germany…
    …In its intricate allusions and resonant implications, it evokes Wenders’s favorite themes: the difficulties of communication, the Americanization of German life (“The Yanks have colonized our subconscious,” one of the characters says) and the fate of German cinema, which is done by showing the number of movie theaters that have either closed down or resorted to showing X-rated films…

    SOURCE – http://www.wim-wenders.com/movies/movies_spec/kingsoftheroad/kingsoftheroad.htm
    Im Lauf der Zeit (Kings of the Road) [9 parts] – http://www.youtube.com/results?search_query=Im+Lauf+der+Zeit+(Kings+of+the+Road)+Part&aq=f