Well, I suppose I owe Sarah Palin and Bill O’Reilly and all those guys an apology. When I first heard the news about Jared Loughner’s shooting spree, it seemed natural to blame the hysterical gaggle of right-wing rabble-rousers who have come to dominate our national discourse. So, sorry, guys, for my knee-jerk reaction. Jared is not one of yours. In fact, it seems to me he could just as easily have shot John McCain.
After all, when you get beyond the blustering rhetoric, tea partiers and neo-liberal Democrats are both part of the problem, not part of the solution, and I think Jared Loughner’s perception of the problem–the meaninglessness and irrelevance of government–was, in some ways, 20-20. It’s his solution that was deeply flawed. His “logic” was pretty schizophrenic, and violence? Violence, like mainstream politics, is part of the problem and not part of the solution. But nobody was close enough to Jared to convince him of either the flaws in his logic or the futility of violence.
Several fingers have been pointed in the search for the answer to how this young man came to shoot 18 people. Some say it means Arizona’s gun laws are too loose. Some say it means the “mental health safety net” is stretched too thin. And some say the fact that he smoked marijuana means that we need to tighten up our drug laws. I think all of these miss the point.
Tighter gun laws? As long as firearms are being manufactured, there will be a market for them. If it becomes more difficult to buy guns legally, there will be a bigger black market, and they will be even more out of control than they are now. Look at the war on drugs, for an example.
“Better mental health care” is another non-solution. Mental health care in America has become largely a way for the pharmaceutical companies to sell more drugs and make more profits. Judging by the record, hese pharmaceuticals don’t seem to be very effective in keeping people from going on shooting sprees, nor have so-called “mental health professionals” been able to spot those with the potential to run amok.
Jared’s use of marijuana, likewise, is no reason to tighten up marijuana laws. After all, President Obama, ex-President Clinton, Al Gore, Newt Gingrich, and Clarence Thomas all used marijuana when they were more or less Jared’s age. If marijuana helped make Jared what he is, it also helped make them what they are–for better or for worse.
But the mental health and marijuana issues do intertwine to point to how Jared Loughner ended up going off the deep end.
Jared and his entire generation are staring into the void. There is no imaginable decent future for them, and many, many of them are painfully aware of that. The American dream of a house in the suburbs, a plethora of consumer goods and high-end vacations, and a no-sweat job that pays the bills is increasingly hollow and unattainable. The college education our youth are urged into as “preparation for life” is a debt trap, which cannot even be shed by bankruptcy. Politicians, including Gabrielle Giffords, do not address this; they spout meaningless platitudes and dodge the real issues. Jared is not alone in noticing this, by any means.
So, how does this relate to mental health and marijuana?
Several ways. First, unless Jared was growing his own, he was getting his marijuana from a dealer. If you are engaged in the illegal business of selling marijuana, in order to protect your own ass, you need to make sure that all your customers are sane and responsible enough that they will not get you in trouble. Clearly, whoever was selling herb to Jared Loughner was being far too “whatever” about his customers.
The dealer’s responsibility to vouch for his customers’ state of mind is about the only shred of the wisdom tradition that is still attached to marijuana culture in this country.
You’re probably wondering what I mean by talking about “wisdom tradition” with reference to marijuana. Here it is: in cultures in which cannabis is historically embedded, marijuana use occurs in certain contexts. In India, for example, many people only use cannabis when they are visiting their spiritual teacher, to make their minds more open to his influence. However it is used, a tradition of thought, belief, and certain standards of behavior is passed on along with the chillum or hookah.
That is not the case in America. Due to our restrictive, punitive drug laws and attitudes, parents and children hide their marijuana use from each other, and the wisdom chain is broken. If Jared Loughner had lived in a culture with a better understanding of the proper use of marijuana, he would have been more likely to sort out his saner thoughts from his crazier ones, and learned not to believe everything he thinks, through the simple mechanism of long, marijuana-inspired talks with not just his peers, but his parents and other elders.
Of course, if he were in a saner culture, he wouldn’t share with most of his contemporaries the uncomfortable feeling of having nothing to grow up for. It took the lack of a village to raise a Jared Loughner–and thousands more just like him, who have yet to bring themselves to our attention.