While I am not likely to comment on media or politics in this blog, I felt compelled to write once I learned of the horrible act of violence in Tuscon, Arizona, over the weekend. A young man, disturbed and angered, shot and killed six people. His targeted victim: Congresswoman Gabrielle Giffords. Sadly, the events of shooting massacre that occurred on Saturday were not all that shocking when we think about past events like Columbine (1999), Virginia Tech (2007), and Fort Hood (2009). But how do we deal with events that seem so surreal?
As I listened to the details of the tragedy, one thing became abundantly clear: our society is consumed with fear. Don’t get me wrong: that’s not to say that we are all fearful. However, when things like this happen, we talk about fear, we hate fear, we protest fear, we think about fear. And when fear becomes a part of our lives…no matter how small or great that fear is…we place blame on “the other” to validate that fear. For example, callers on the radio and people being interviewed on TV blamed political rhetoric, loose gun laws, and immigration laws. They blamed the mental disturbances of a 22 year-old man who premeditated his act of violence because he was a social outcast, a college dropout, rejected by the Army, and left with nothing but his own misguided political fixations and miseducation.
We’ve learned that Jared Loughner’s presence at the January 8th “Congress at Your Corner” event (hosted at a Safeway grocery store in Tuscon) was a result of the fact that he stood against, not for, Rep. Giffords’ stance on politics. Yet we can only wonder if the magnitude of his mental illnesses is what led him to try and kill what he stood against. Is there no greater exhibit of fear than that?
Jared’s miseducation (what I can only imagine is the result of significant abuse on his own brain…whether that occurred in nature or nurture, we don’t know) perpetuated the process of his mind becoming controlled by something foreign. So when we think about it, it’s terribly ironic that Loughner shot Giffords in the brain. He took something from her in a fit of jealousy, something which he himself did not have. He took a mind that was capable of intelligent, lucid, and compassionate thoughts.
The tragic events of January 8, 2011 remind me of another true story: that of Phineas Gage, a 25 year-old railroad foreman in Vermont, who suffered a severe brain injury in 1848 when an iron bar entered and exited his brain after an explosion on the railway. In Descartes’ Error, author Antonio Demasio investigates not only how Phineas survived the accident, but also how he changed the way people understand brain injuries and the subsequent emotions and personality changes. Knowing that Giffords survived her attempted assassination, I now wonder: did Loughner succeed at stealing her mind? Or will she be a miracle like Phineas? We can only pray for the latter.