Paranoid schizophrenia has intrigued me ever since my psych rotation in med school. Talking with affected young adults, hearing their crazy theories, I couldn't help but think -- they all seemed exceptionally intelligent on some level -- that their insanity came about because, for some brief moment of clarity, they'd seen things as they really are, and it blew their minds. It made me think that we all need patches to the holes that appear in the curtain, lest we see behind it. Glenn Beck, Religion, Reaganomics, Glenn Beck, teabaggerism, Glenn Beck, talk radio, Glenn Beck...
(It happens that, at the same time in med school, I was reading L. Ron Hubbard's book, Dianetics, and it sounded exactly like the stuff pouring out of schizophrenic brains. In Elron's case, however, I'm guessing it was a deliberate con job.)
Be that as it may, it's interesting that the beliefs of those so affected seem (from what little I know of it) to follow such similar patterns: belief in mind control, implanted devices, hearing voices; seeing dire patterns where there are none, conspiracies, plots, hidden signs. Commonly, too, there's a religious undercurrent, and I find that of interest as well: in what ways does the mumbler on the street corner, the passer-out of rambling and capitalized literature past whom we hurry with downturned eyes, differ from others whose claims took hold? Jim Jones, David Koresh, Joseph Smith... Luck? Off by a couple of phrases from connecting with the extant level of illness of those around them?
Anyway, here's the thing: we generally accept that the paranoid schizophrenic has a determinable disorder of the brain. Chemical, in some way. Anatomic perhaps. And, given that most -- if not all -- human disorders have a spectrum of expression, might it also be the case that the most recalcitrant political conspiracists among us are similarly dyschemified-- just a bit less, to varying degrees?
Is birtherism in the face of all the evidence, for example, not a certifiable condition of a disordered mind? What about climate-change denial? And it's really hard, impossible in my view, to reconcile young-earthism with any sort of rational thinking at all. So maybe it's not their fault: they're just a little further toward the far end of that chemical line than others of us, led around by different molecules. The more I think about it, the less the word "sane" has any meaning. There is no "sane"; probably no "line" either. Just points on a circle.
.... It would be a kind of relief if Loughner operated not out of any coherent political context but just his own fevered brain.
But even so, the tragedy wouldn't change this basic fact: for the past two years, many conservative leaders, activists, and media figures have made a habit of trying to delegitimize their political opponents. Not just arguing against their opponents, but doing everything possible to turn them into enemies of the country and cast them out beyond the pale. Instead of “soft on defense,” one routinely hears the words “treason” and “traitor.” The President isn't a big-government liberal—he's a socialist who wants to impose tyranny. He's also, according to a minority of Republicans, including elected officials, an impostor. Even the reading of the Constitution on the first day of the 112th Congress was conceived as an assault on the legitimacy of the Democratic Administration and Congress.
This relentlessly hostile rhetoric has become standard issue on the right. (On the left it appears in anonymous comment threads, not congressional speeches and national T.V. programs.) And it has gone almost entirely uncriticized by Republican leaders. Partisan media encourages it, while the mainstream media finds it titillating and airs it, often without comment, so that the gradual effect is to desensitize even people to whom the rhetoric is repellent...
(Interestingly, one Republican senator has spoken out about the rhetoric. But he felt the need to do so anonymously.)