It would be easy to conclude that politics have nothing to do with what he did. This view is wrong. What Jared Loughner did was inherently political, even if not within the realm of “politics as usual,” of fights between Democrats and Republicans…
Loughner attacked a politician at a political event. He targeted a woman, the youngest woman elected to congress, the first attempt to assassinate a woman politician at the highest levels in the United States. Moreover, he aimed to sow chaos with his acts – several friends have confirmed how he reveled in this sort of act.
He also had political axes to grind; they’re just not mainstream ones. Loughner wants to see the US return to the gold standard. He advocates for a focus on the US Constitution rather than current federal laws. He worries about mind control by the US government, particularly through language.
Lende argues that violence, political or otherwise, should be viewed as a public health problem:
I’ll make two modest proposals – (1) understanding violence as a public health problem is an important addition to policing and psychiatric services, and (2) we need ways to understand Loughner’s behavior that stretch from mental states to social life, from our brains to our culture.
People who deal with violence on a regular basis, who search for solutions beyond punishment and treatment, have settled on a broad public health approach that relies on a mix of community interventions, social work, anthropological insight, and other factors.
The Loughner case can be understood as an excellent example of a main epidemiological insight – the greater the number of risk factors, generally the worse the outcome. Social isolation, loss of schooling, difficult parental relations, an aggressive father, a lack of mental coherence, social outbursts, alcohol and drug use, and run-ins with law enforcement are all factors that appear in the Loughner case.
To address these complexities, you need a comprehensive approach.
A failure to recognize violence as its own public health problem separate from mental illness prevents us from tackling both problems. In my daily life, I encounter people who are not mentally stable: anyone who rides the T or lives in a major urban area does, unfortunately. Most of them are harmless. They might be annoying, or embarrassing, but they’re not dangerous. At the same time, someone at a political rally holding a sign that reads “We came unarmed this time” probably isn’t mentally ill in a clinical sense (even if in a colloquial sense, she’s fucking nuts). But the threat of violence, the willingness to publicly proclaim that threat in response to a political setback in a democratic system, those are threatening. Those are actionable:
But it is what the research shows us.
No profile, no type of person, can fit all the attackers, and any profile would include far too many people who are not dangerous, the researchers found…
The Secret Service did find that the attackers shared behaviors in common. The researchers are saying there is not a type of person, but there is a type of action, such as acquiring a weapon, and communicating their intentions (though not a threat) to others.
In other words, what people do matters.
The problem is violence per se, and the advocacy of it, not mental illness. Believing in the false notion of the redemptive power of violence, or that violence is an appropriate substitute for maturity are as much to blame, if not more, than mental illness.