You already know the facts: Jared Loughner, an unhinged young man, fired a gun at a congresswoman and into a crowd, killing six and injuring eleven. Loughner has invoked his right to silence, leading the media to endlessly question his motives and influences. He was, according to friends, “totally normal” in high school. How did he get to this point, at age 22?
I don’t know the answer, but I think it will be depressingly pedestrian. Something went wrong in his brain, and he didn’t receive help. He shows all the signs of paranoid schizophrenia, which usually sets on in the early twenties. Whatever the answer, it’s unlikely to hold many real world lessons the way Columbine did; spree shootings, and shootings of political figures, are rare.
That hasn’t stopped political pundits from trying to milk the tragedy to gain political points. The shooting happened in Arizona, home of the controversial SB1070 bill. Loughner appeared to have a heavy marijuana habit. The right and the left have used these facts, and some wild accusations, to accuse each other of all manner of base misdeeds, most notably fostering a “climate of hate.”
Let’s discuss the word “hate” for a moment. Hatred is an emotion, like anger, joy, resentment, fear, and so on. It may be the basis for a political position, but it is not a position in itself. Everyone reading this has probably felt it at some point in their lives.
“Hate speech”––whatever that means––is free speech, even if it encourages hate in others. Fostering a “climate of hate” is just as legal as fostering a “climate of love,” provided you do not incite a mob to commit violence or threaten an individual.
“Hate groups” are, presumably, groups of people motivated by hate. Does that imply the existence of “love groups,” “pity groups,” “fear groups” and “feeling a bit peckish groups”? More to the point, how can you know if an entire group’s philosophy is built upon hatred? Probably you are projecting your own issues with their position onto them; you hate them, so therefore they must be full of hate.
As I mentioned in my essay on spirit day, correlation with increased violence is not sufficient reason to censor free speech. If intolerance of gays increases the suicide risk for gay teenagers, you can point out the correlation and complain, but you cannot force them to be tolerant, to change their views, or to shut up.
Likewise, if far-right or far-left rhetoric encourages paranoid schizophrenics to turn violent, that says nothing about the rightness or wrongness of the positions advocated. It’s more sensible, and more moral, to try to find these people before they turn violent than censor political discourse because someone might misinterpret it, however disastrously.