Wednesday, January 12, 2011

The unsettling reality behind Arizona shooting - the Oregonian version

After engaging in partisan food fight and armchair squabble - the Oregonian narrows it down for us. They all too well know the answers. For the editorial board it comes down to two questions:

"Whether young people with emerging mental illnesses are treated effectively." "And whether the problem of toxic incivility can really be pinned on a few talking heads rather than a million angry voices."

"To those questions, we [editorial board] know the answers all too well."

Asking these two questions in another context might have been appropriate, but asking them in the context of the Arizona shooting is editorial opportunism. But they are not alone. Too many in the media have jumped on the mental health and toxic political rhetoric as causes of violence without making any relevant connection between either and the violence of this individual.

We don't know in fact that the shooter suffers from a mental illness, and if he does, that it was the cause of the violence. We don't know that even had he had been so diagnosed and treated that the events would have been different. We just don't know and may never know - but the Oregonian does.

As much as most deplore the political rhetoric especially found in this last presidential election - it is a leap to conclude that it influenced this shooter in any way. I will grant that skilled orators can persuade, but it takes more than that persuasion. Irresponsible political rhetoric only strikes a chord [not violence] when there is fear of the future. And today there certainly seems to be an unparalleled climate of fear.

One can look back to the several school shootings to see how the media and the public struggled to find a single, and therefore fixable, cause for the violence. School bullying, heavy metal music, video games, drugs, loose gun laws all were suspected causes. Were the Columbine shooters suffering from a mental illness or influenced by political rhetoric?

Are we as a society addressing mental illness issues responsibly? The answer is no. But if we were, there is no reasonable belief that the Arizona incident would not have happened. Is there too much toxic political rhetoric? Of course, but even if there were none the shooting could have happened anyway.

Rational discussion on these issues don't require an Arizona incident because when the incident fades, and it has started already, the discussion fades too.


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