As I’ve said before, my feelings about the impact of right-wing rhetoric on Jared Loughner are that (1) we don’t know enough yet to say much of anything specific yet and (2) it seems like an awfully big coincidence that the first time an American Congressperson was shot on American soil, it happened to a Congressperson in a particularly contentious district after two years of unprecedented levels of vitriol were aimed at Democratic federal officials.
In Politico’s normally dreadful “Arena” feature, I saw this from noted psychologist and neuroscientist Drew Westen. I can’t quite make sense of all of it but it goes in the general direction of what I tend to think:
As a psychologist, I find it remarkable that we’re having this discussion at all, especially in light of both the weight scientists put on prediction – Gabby Giffords’ own interview at the Capitol during the election when she warned that Palin putting people like her in the crosshairs has “consequences”— and what we know about what neuroscientists call priming, the influence of a prior stimulus on a later reaction, usually unconsciously.[….]
If you create a culture of hate, replete with people brandishing weapons at political events, as they did last summer and are permitted to do in Arizona, eventually one of the 300 million people in this country will be influenced by your words to act. Did Palin literally mean to imply with her crosshairs that someone should kill Gabby Giffords? I don’t know her mind, nor what she consciously intended (which I am sure was metaphorical, not a call to action) and what she unconsciously intended (which none of us knows).
If you read the full post, Westen does take things a little farther than I would. But he is an actual well-known psychologist, not some hack who’s paid to pretend he knows things, like David Brooks or Joe Klein.
We’ve seen next-to-nothing in the media about the psychology of someone like Loughner and how he might or might not be influenced by larger societal dialog. We’ve heard people who know nothing about the topic say “he didn’t listen to talk radio”, but that doesn’t mean anything.
I’d like to hear a discussion of this involving clinical psychologists, not just “centrist” Village doucehbags. But we never get that with any topic, so I won’t hold my breath.