The XX Factor

No Tidy Narrative in Tucson

Kate , there’s a reason we don’t find much talk of Jared Loughner’s possible drug use among the “thousands of column inches” Slate ‘s  Jack Shafer says have been devoted to the Giffords shootings in the days since Jan. 8 : Drugs don’t fit with what many of us really want to be the storyline of this tragedy. We don’t mind drug use as an explanation for crime when it fits our national story of drug addiction ( inner-city drug-related shooting spree death from a trailer park meth lab ). But humans seek connections, and we want our stories to make sense. This feels like a political crime, and we want a political explanation.

For months, people across the political spectrum have been shaking their heads over the political climate and predicting that the hate-filled rhetoric would lead to tragedy. It makes sense to the rest of us that Loughner’s acts in Tucson have proved us right. All of the words that shocked us infected a mentally ill person and pushed him toward violence. From the first minutes after this happened, that’s been the underlying suspicion of everyone from the most liberal of democrats, who (without at all suggesting that they welcomed this in any way) affirmatively want that to be proved true to the most defensive of political and media persona, who protest way too much.

We need to see Jared Loughman - who even looks like a skinhead - as some sort of extension of the anti-government insanity of TImothy McVeigh, which is to many is just the less government intrusion mantra of the Tea Party taken to the nth degree. There’s a continuity to that narrative that we find comforting. It puts some order onto chaos while giving us a place to put our anger and something to demand in the way of change.

As much as I agree with President Obama that this would make a good occasion for a return to civility, and think the generous thing to do on the part of people who’ve pushed the gun-filled metaphors on us would be to take this opportunity to think about what they really want their words to mean, there’s still no real support for that story line. Just because a connection makes sense to the rest of us-I heard a commentator on NPR yesterday opining that of course  the shootings  must have had something to do with the political climate in Arizona, and to pretend otherwise was to ignore the elephant in the room-doesn’t mean that connection is there. As Brain Palmer wrote in an ” Explainer ” earlier this week, most political assassins and would-be assassins don’t, even in retrospect, have the political motives we’d expect. But we cling to those myths just the same, because without them, we’re left with nothing but the inexplicable.

A drug connection just adds to the probability that this was nothing more or less than yet another senseless incidence of violence in a country with a long history of senseless violence. It suggests that there is nothing we can do to avoid that fact that people died in vain, and that nothing we do or say now can redeem that. It makes it all that much harder to take. And that’s really not something we want to talk about.