I wrote a few days ago about a prominent psychologist’s belief that — even if he didn’t identify with a particular political movement — Jared Loughner may have been influenced by right-wing vitriol. Greg Sargent spoke to a psychologist who said much the same thing:
“We know the manifestation of mental illness is affected by cultural factors,” Dr. Swartz said. “One’s cultural context does effect people’s thinking and particularly their delusions. It gives some content and shape to their delusions. While we don know whether there was a specific relationship between the political climate that he was exposed to and his thinking, it’s a reasonable line of inquiry to explore.”
Asked whether Loughner’s mental illness invalidated questions as to whether his behavior might have been partly caused by the political climate or by violent rhetoric and imagery, Dr. Swartz said it shouldn’t.
“Studying the cultural influences on people’s delusions or persecutory thinking, and looking at different aspects of culture and how they effect people’s behavior, is a legitmate area of inquiry,” Dr. Swartz said.
Commenter Ecks, who is also a psychology Phd, also agrees.
But who cares what a bunch of psychologists say? Ross Douthat and Joe Klein say there can’t be a connection and they’re the real experts here (as in all topics). Increasingly, this reminds me of the debate over fiscal policy, where quantitatively illiterate Villagers’ unsubstantiated fear of debt drowned out the voices of Nobel laureate economists.
There’s a been a lot of political violence over the past 20 years, nearly all of it aimed either at people considered to be on the left (abortion providers, Democratic Congressmen) or the federal government directly (Oklahoma City, that IRS building). It’s all a big coincidence that this happened during a time of extreme right-wing rhetoric.
The next time a doctor or a Congressmen or a federal worker gets shot or blown up (I hope the violence ends but I don’t see why it should), that will be a coincidence too.