I apologize for adding to the sum total of posts about Jared Loughner. This will be the only one I do—I sincerely hope.
I found this post by Rich Horton at Blue Crab Boulevard extremely interesting. If you want a plausible scapegoat for the Arizona shootings, why not Jacques Derrida?
But if you absolutely need to blame someone else, why not look to the things that obviously did inspire Loughner? Like a lot of other people I too looked at Loughner’s YouTube ravings, and it became clear to me there was something Loughner drew upon as “inspiration” of a sort. Clearly Loughner had either been introduced to in college or read on his own something of the philosophical perspective known as “deconstructionism.” You can see this in his obsession with “grammar” and the supposed meaninglessness of language. Something like this was obviously the source of Loughner’s nonsense question to Giffords back in 2007. Loughner gets introduced to the idea that texts have no set meaning, and when confronted by a member of Congress whose very position and status is defined by a text (i.e. the Constitution) Loughner now believes is devoid of content, well, he begins to think of her as a charlatan or tyrant.
One of the most common accusations we hear from atheists is that religion drives people to violence. Arguments against religion are frequently framed in terms of religious people being inherently prone to murder, because we value dogmas over people. “Religion has killed more people than anything else in history,” we are told (such people never seem to notice the fact that, in the one century in which atheist governments have actually existed, they've managed to even—or better—the score).
But look at a non-religious methodology like Derrida's deconstructionism. (I can't claim to speak knowledgeably about deconstructionism. My comprehension of it is at the bonehead level. As is, without a doubt, Loughner's). Deconstructionism, as I understand it, involves a belief that reality is so incredibly complex that we can't actually know it in any way, that when we imagine we understand anything, we're fooling ourselves. We can't understand what words mean. We can't be sure of our own experiences or memories. We can't be sure that we interact with other human beings in any meaningful way. Under such a world view (at least as dummies like me and Loughner would understand it), we are utterly alone in the universe, adrift and unconnected.
Now please note my next point. I am not saying that deconstructionism leads inevitably to insanity and violence like the shootings in Arizona. I have no doubt that many deconstructionists are decent people, good neighbors, and caring parents. (Whether their lives are consistent with their philosophy is not the issue here.)
What I'm saying is that whatever world view you adopt, even if it's materialistic, a metaphysic comes with it. And that metaphysic provides a form for the nut's nutty ideas. Religion does not drive people to madness or violence. Religion—like ideology, and even literary theory—simply forms an armature on which the insane person builds his personal monster.
In fact, if a man must be insane, wouldn't you rather he thought he was Jesus (and tried to act like Him) than that he thought he was, say, Napoleon?
Lars Walker is the author of several fantasy novels, the latest of which is West Oversea.