Letters to the Editor

Societal factors

January 18, 2011


To the editor:

In the Jan. 13 Journal-World, Charles Krauthammer (“Tucson shooting not driven by politics”) argues that mental illness alone caused the Tucson tragedy, and that it is “reckless” for Paul Krugman, among other writers, to link the tragedy to anything beyond one man’s isolated psychosis.

Krauthammer is correct that the killer is mentally ill. Psychiatric symptoms, however, are shaped by the social and political context of the day. In Freud’s time women were treated for fainting spells, false pregnancies, “hysterical paralysis” and other symptoms that are rarely, if ever, seen today. What we do see are life-threatening eating disorders (mainly in girls and women) and out of control aggression (mainly in boys and men).

Individual pathology cannot be understood in isolation from the broader system in which it is embedded. What is “reckless” is to pretend that there is no link between right-wing extremism and growing violence. Even more reckless is pretending that we can reduce the number of tragic shootings without standing up to the NRA and its allies.


labmonkey 7 years, 4 months ago

Ahhh psychology. The practice whose hero was a cocaine addicted pedophile.

Stuart Evans 7 years, 4 months ago

i reckin you don't go fer none of that fancy brain understandin'

Cait McKnelly 7 years, 4 months ago

I'm confused. Charles Skinner was a "cocaine addicted pedophile"? (Not that he wasn't abusive. He did put his daughter in a "Skinner Box".) Oh wait!! You mean FREUD. He was the father/hero of psychiatry not psychology! (He was also a misogynist who thought that native Irish were subhuman. As you can imagine, I'm no lover of the bearded man.) Which goes to show just how much you know about it.

livinginlawrence 7 years, 4 months ago

I second cait48's sentiment about folks speaking about that which they obviously don't know. Freud, though no doubt the psychologist whose name most laymen know, hasn't the influence over practicing psychologists that such individuals seem to believe. Psychoanalysis, his main contribution to the field, is not the most widely used form of therapy.

However, I do believe you mean B.F., not Charles, Skinner. I would sooner call him the father of applied behavior analysis than the hero of psychology, but different strokes I suppose.

Cait McKnelly 7 years, 4 months ago

Oops! You're right about Skinner. I have the occasional brain fart. Forgive me.

AnnaUndercover 7 years, 4 months ago

If they had written simply "extremism" (and not named the NRA), would it sound different to you?

beatrice 7 years, 4 months ago

Yes, the sentence should have just read "extremism."

AnnaUndercover 7 years, 4 months ago

He also does not quite understand what "nihilism" really means...

I wonder if this is a symptom of a larger/additional reason he may have committed these crimes.

Dan Eyler 7 years, 4 months ago

Funny, clearly the "clinical psychology duo" are not living in Lawrence for any other reason than to cure the mental disorder of the left. The man who shot the congresswoman and killed others was as sick as any individual can be. He demonstrated absolutely no signs of political identity and is the only person to blame. But like any good psychologist you suggest that he is a victim of the some right wing conspiracy. In all reality it was clinical psychologists just like the Lerner s who are responsible for the Arizona shooting. In all of your attempts to make victims of the most sick and violent individuals in our society, psychologists missed more opportunities to stop this shooting than anyone could imagine. You clearly demonstrate the problem with modern psychiatry; liberalism is a mental disorder and it is time for the Lerner s to have their heads examined for writing this letter.

AnnaUndercover 7 years, 4 months ago

Surely there's a more reasonable way to respond?

livinginlawrence 7 years, 4 months ago

"In all of your attempts to make victims of the most sick and violent individuals in our society, psychologists missed more opportunities to stop this shooting than anyone could imagine."

This statement is running on little more than hot air. A psychologist (or any individual for that matter) is not making a "victim" out of somebody if they are consulted following an event like this, and they give their professional opinion of factors that may have played a role in the situation. If you find yourself frustrated by the methods employed by such individuals, you are welcome to do the work and get the experience required for your take on the matter to mean anything to anybody else.

Alceste 7 years, 4 months ago

Harriet Lerner misses the boat, AGAIN, continually pushing her "One Tune Tommy" agenda of radical non-feminism which is more akin to andrist thoughts than anything else. She notes:

"What we do see (is) out of control aggression (mainly in boys......)....". Another mouthpiece for the "feminization" of boys via the public school systems; via the social service delivery systems; blah, blah, blah.

For all we know the shooter had an andrist mother?

Stuart Evans 7 years, 4 months ago

I thought that this letter was really well written. right up until the very end where it deteriorated into a political diatribe. society isn't merely fouled up because of a right wing ideology; although I will give them ample credit. I think that the left wing has had plenty of hand in the game of screwing our society to the point of breaking.

The differences between the people in Washington are minimal; The differences between the citizens is minimal; The difference between us and Washington, are vast. Don't play their game of pitting us against one another.

Flap Doodle 7 years, 4 months ago

They were doing pretty well up until the last sentence when they swerved into the current regime's talking points.

jaywalker 7 years, 4 months ago

While it's 'kitschy' for ya'll to have submitted a 200 word LTE with dual credits, it's a transparent and fallacious attempt to use an 'Appeal to Authority' argument that concludes (and hinges) on two purely politically-biased points.

P U.

rtwngr 7 years, 4 months ago

What if we discover that the shooter received years of Ritalin prescribed by clinical psychologists for childhood behavior problems? Just asking.

TheYetiSpeaks 7 years, 4 months ago

"it will happen again before guns are finally banned from being owned by the general public as they should be!" Great idea! ...then only the crazy and criminal will have them. Those damn general publics....

Bill Getz 7 years, 4 months ago

I have seen this questionable factoid quoted before, yet I have never found a reference to it any of the literature about the period that I have read. Since I haven't read it all, of course, I would appreciate someone fond of citing it supplying a reference to its authenticity. HItler did encourage Freikorps veterans and Stahlhelm members to enlist in the Nazi home guard, thereby giving party sanction to their weapons; perhaps this is what you are referring to. BG

Peacemaker452 7 years, 4 months ago

I am not any good at the pasting links thing but if you search for info on the German Weapons act of 1938 you will find what you are looking for. The law made it easier for "good" Germans to own some types of firearms but specifically excluded Jews from any firearm ownership.

Bill Getz 7 years, 4 months ago

Thanks for the reference. Jews were by then prohibited from owning landed or commercial property as well as guns. Perhaps this analogy is behind Palin's "blood libel" statement, as part of a campaign of the tea-baggers to represent themselves as the equivalent of European Jews in the 30s. This would put the Obama-as-Hitler theory in a logical if paranoid perspective. If true, the next logical step would be for like-minded right=wingers to form a diaspora and leave the country. An ironic take on their own "love it or leave it" rhetoric, and one which would tempt less temperate souls to say "good riddance." BG

Fossick 7 years, 4 months ago

"I would appreciate someone fond of citing it supplying a reference to its authenticity. "

Here's a pretty comprehensive piece published in the Arizona Journal of International and Comparative Law, "Nazi Firearms Law and the Disarming of the German Jews": http://www.stephenhalbrook.com/article-nazilaw.pdf

jeremyhay 7 years, 4 months ago

Both Germany and the UK (two countries I'm familiar with) have pretty strong rules concerning gun ownership. It's very hard indeed (practically impossible in the UK) to legally own hand weapons. Both countries have had Columbine type shootings - Hungerford/Dunblane in the UK, Winnendon in Germany. But these were very unusual. Hungerford resulted in yet stronger restrictions on shot guns - so I sold my attractive double-barreled Spanish 12-bore. Having an absolute minimal number of hand guns allowed in the community works well in Europe. The penalties for having unlicensed firearms are years in jail - rightly so.

kernal 7 years, 4 months ago

how very true, 75x55; and with those, responsibility.

Flap Doodle 7 years, 4 months ago

Just imagine how many drive-by bayonettings were prevented by the Scary Weapons Ban!

barlowtl 7 years, 4 months ago

If you are refering to the outburst this week at a town meeting, he was a survivor who had been shot, also a vet & his reaction to the words of a panel participant was inappropriate.. He has since been evaluated at the hosp. & after he regained his composure apologized. There are probably many in Tuscon who will been feeling stress from trauma. Let's hope they all get the help they need. Can't help but wonder what your response would have been if that had been you under those circumstances. I wish you had been more specific about the bullseye targets, who is doing it in whose district? I only ask because I have never seen them published.

voevoda 7 years, 4 months ago

In Arizona newspapers right after the shooting, they reported that Loughner browsed white supremacist websites, among others. I assume that more information will eventually be released to the public. Insofar as there is any common thread in Loughner's confused thinking, it is paranoia about government. It is quite likely that the harsh anti-government rhetoric contributed to his focus on government as the enemy. While this rhetoric has come out of both the right and the left, it is the rhetoric on the right which has been more vocal in its demonization of government in general, rather than a particular (Bush) administration. As medical professionals, the doctors Lerner are very well acquainted with the authoritative literature on the connection between certain types of psychotic behavior and societal stimuli. There are a quite a lot of reputable studies that draw links through epidemiological statistical analysis. No medical professional says that every person exposed to negative stimuli will engage in anti-social behavior; there are many additional factors. So the fact that most people have not responded in murderous ways does not disprove a possible connection. We should consider, though, that there have been many lesser acts of vandalism and intimidation in which the perpetrators explicitly voiced political views. The vast majority of these incidents has involved perpetrators who identify with right-wing causes. The fact that Loughner may not, ultimately, have been influenced primarily by political rhetoric is not sufficient reason to give the propagandists the go-ahead to continue with vituperative language.

voevoda 7 years, 4 months ago

If you think I am wrong and you want documentation, then it is up to you to provide it. You can easily find information to validate these statements, if you doubt them: The reported vandalism and intimidation that occurred against Muslims in the past year, alone, exceeds any actions of similar type from liberals against anybody. Vandalism and intimidation incidents by the far right in Arizona have become so frequent that even moderate Republicans are feeling endangered.

jaywalker 7 years, 4 months ago

A number of people have posited this similar rationalization as if it means something: "He was at least lucid enough - sane enough - composed enough......... to know the difference between auto and semi-auto weaponry....":

So what? I'd imagine that distinction is commonly understood by most 10 year old boys, let alone a 22 year old man who' d tried to join the military. I also find it interesting there's this need to lend the guy at least a smidgen of sanity, as if somehow that might answer some questions or maybe even create a link to right wing extremism (oxymoronic as that might be!). Doesn't it stand to reason that ANYONE that could commit such an act is definitively mentally disturbed?

jaywalker 7 years, 4 months ago

Sorry 'bout that, agno, I meant to point out that I agreed with the initial and main points of your post. Nor did I mean to necessarily include you in my generalized speculation as to motive; like I said, I've seen that same comment a number of times and yours got balled up in an amalgam of examples. You did not create the 'link', others have. My apologies.

Flap Doodle 7 years, 4 months ago

Meanwhile, in one of the most tightly controlled societies on earth: "DEADLY SCHOOL ATTACKS IN CHINA
China has witnessed a series of assaults by knife-wielding attackers on schools in recent years. Many have been blamed on personal grudges or people with psychiatric problems: April 30, 2010: A farmer attacked and injured five kindergarten students with a hammer in Shandong province's Weifang city before burning himself to death. The man struck a teacher who tried to block him and then used the hammer to attack the children. None of the children had life-threatening injuries. April 29, 2010: A 47-year-old unemployed man attacked a classroom of 4-year-olds at a kindergarten in Jiangsu province, wounding 28 of them. Two teachers and a security guard were also hurt. April 28, 2010: A man wielding a knife broke into a primary school in Leizhou city in Guangdong province in southern China and stabbed 18 students and a teacher. April 12, 2010: Yang Jiaqin, 40, hacked to death a second grader and an elderly woman near an elementary school in Xizhen village of the southern Guangxi region. The attack came one day before Yang's family was scheduled to send him to a hospital for psychological treatment. He had been diagnosed with a mood disorder. March 23, 2010: Zheng Minsheng, 42, killed eight children in a knife attack at the Nanping Experimental Elementary School in south China's Fujian province. Zheng was executed April 28. March 2, 2009: Xu Ximei, 40, hacked two preschoolers, aged 4 and 6, to death with a kitchen knife and injured three other children and a grandmother at a primary school in Mazhan, a village in Guangdong province, and at a yard in the village. Xu was believed to be mentally disabled. Feb. 24, 2008: Chen Wenzhen, a former student at the Leizhou No. 2 Middle School in Guangdong province, stabbed to death a boy and a girl, then killed himself. Chen had dropped out half a year earlier because he suffered from headaches and could not concentrate on his studies, state media said.... Nov. 25, 2004: Yan Yiming, 21, broke into a Chinese high school dormitory and stabbed nine boys to death in Ruzhou, Henan province. Yan's mother turned him in to police after he attempted suicide on the day following the attack. He was executed two months later.

-- The Associated Press"


George Lippencott 7 years, 4 months ago

Thought I would add my two cents. Standing up to the IRA is standing up to its members. They claim 4 million. They do vote. I am not one.

It seems to me this argument gets conducted in absolutes. On one side everyone should own a Ma Duce. On the other pellet guns should be banned. Is there no sensible approach? Yelping every time somebody gets shot is a poor way to address public policy. How about some long term practical solutions?

Perhaps the authors might have a suggestion?

Peacemaker452 7 years, 4 months ago

Moderate says.... "Standing up to the IRA is standing up to its members."

Wow George, was that a Freudian slip?

George Lippencott 7 years, 4 months ago

I missed that. Maybe that is true too given my reference to Ireland on another thread recently

Liberty275 7 years, 4 months ago

We all know you secretly want to beat up leprechauns.

Flap Doodle 7 years, 4 months ago

I thought the Irish Republican Army had declared a truce???

Fossick 7 years, 4 months ago

Why George is so against Individual Retirement Accounts I'll never understand...

George Lippencott 7 years, 4 months ago

Liberty. At my age the leprechauns would win - hands down

Liberty275 7 years, 4 months ago

"What is “reckless” is to pretend that there is no link between right-wing extremism and growing violence."

No, what is reckless is a willingness to trade your freedom for politics.

BigAl 7 years, 4 months ago

"No, what is reckless is a willingness to trade your freedom for politics"

An excellent point brought out and lost during the Bush Administration.

Peacemaker452 7 years, 4 months ago

This would be a good time to reverse that trend instead of continue it.

Cait McKnelly 7 years, 4 months ago

You never heard of the "Patriot Act"? It only spawned it's very own "Department".

George Lippencott 7 years, 4 months ago

Well, I would opine that extremism of any kind can become an incitement for violence. I would extend that to simple government actions that have a disparate effect and create resentment in the society. I would also extend that to societal injustices perceived by some (or toted by some) that lead to the same sense of resentment. Contrary to popular opinion Rush does not run the world and people become angry for many reasons – apparently even because something is wrong with our grammar.

Fossick 7 years, 4 months ago

...just don't call them Grammar Nazis. It's inflammatory.

gl0ck0wn3r 7 years, 4 months ago

Psychology... what people do when they can't handle the rigors of an actual medical degree.

Flap Doodle 7 years, 4 months ago

"...James Eric Fuller, 63, who was shot in the knee, had told The Post on Friday, the day before his arrest, that top Republican figures should be tortured -- and their ears severed. "There would be torture and then an ear necklace, with [Minnesota US Rep.] Michelle Bachmann and Sarah Palin's ears toward the end, because they're small, female ears, and then Limbaugh, Hannity and the biggest ears of all, Cheney's, in the center," Fuller said. Also on Friday, Fuller stopped by the home of gunman Jared Lee Loughner and told a neighbor he was going to forgive the shooter, The Associated Press said. On Saturday, Fuller was carted away for a psychiatric exam after disrupting the town-hall meeting by taking a photo of Tucson Tea Party co-founder Trent Humphries and shouting, "You're dead!" Read more: http://www.nypost.com/p/news/national/docs_upgrade_gabby_condition_LZ3Z2FWj75oEr26HpCeAdI#ixzz1BQ52NDTa

Cait McKnelly 7 years, 4 months ago

Yada yada. Yackity smackity. I can match you link for link. "They've been gunned down in Tucson, shot to death at the Pentagon, and blown away at the Holocaust Museum, as well as in Wichita, Knoxville, Pittsburgh, Brockton, and Okaloosa County, Florida. Total body count for these incidents: 19 dead, 26 wounded." All by right wing extremists. http://motherjones.com/politics/2011/01/extremist-killing-american-far-right The actual title of the article is, "Extremist Killing Is as American as Apple Pie".

notajayhawk 7 years, 4 months ago

"What is “reckless” is to pretend that there is no link between right-wing extremism and growing violence. Even more reckless is pretending that we can reduce the number of tragic shootings without standing up to the NRA and its allies."

What is reckless is a pair of purported clinical psychologists not only letting their political bias enter into their professional judgment, but using the soapbox of their so-called "expertise" to publicly spew their partisan ranting. Perhaps the KSBSRB ought to reconsider their licensure status. But hey, I'm sure they both have quite a lucrative practice convincing the looney libs of Larryville that their good enough, smart enough, and gosh darn it, people like them.

Oh, loved this in Harriet's bio: "She now identifies herself as a Kansan and claims to have overcome her coastal arrogance." Um, yeah.

booyalab 7 years, 4 months ago

Fainting spells were "shaped" by absurdly restricting corsets. It was also considered fashionable for women to engage in them. That was a feature of the society but if a fainting spell had resulted in a woman slipping on a banana peel which flew into someone's face and caused them to fall out of a nearby window, would it make any sense to blame the corset, much less the social context?

Why do I even bother? if they saw the absurdity of the banana peel influenced to kill by society, wouldn't they see the absurdity of Palin pulling the trigger of the gun from across the continent and killing a conservative judge?

beatrice 7 years, 4 months ago


It isn't just one sided!

It should be noted that violent crimes have been on a downward trend for the last couple of decades. The big difference is that reporting of those crimes is way up. Palin may have exhibited bad manners, (as have others on the left) but she isn't in any way at all responsible. In all honesty, crosshairs on a map are pretty mild compared to your average episode of CSI or Dexter. I'm also think it is very mild compared to a film about Bush being assasinated.

This continued finger pointing just may lead to widespread hysterical paralysis.

Cait McKnelly 7 years, 4 months ago

Pardon me for being long winded but I feel this is important. I'm seeing a tremendous amount of confusion between psychiatry and psychology, not just on this board, but by inference from the authors of the LTE as well who are actually licensed clinical psychologists! This rather disturbs me. They aren't licensed to even diagnose psychiatric disorders nor can they prescribe medications for such disorders. Psychiatrists are MDs and psychologists are not. They can treat behaviors associated with psychiatric disorders (to an extent, as the disease allows them to) but their main realm of treatment is dealing with neuroses, which in and of themselves are behavioral disorders not classified as psychiatric disorders (which are characterized by delusions and hallucinations). In other words, psychiatrists treat conditions that are an actual, physical disorders of the brain. There is actual physical evidence of disease. The PET scans of a schizophrenic and a "normal" person are markedly different. Psychologists treat dysfunctional behavioral disorders (such as anorexia) that are outside the social norm. They do so with treatment modalities that reshape behavior. There is some overlap. Psychiatrists do treat and medicate neuroses to some extent (depression is frequently an underlying cause of neurotic behavior) and psychologists do work with psychiatric patients to help them "remodel" the aberrant behavior caused by their disease (as long as the psychiatric patient is medicated and open and able to change that behavior). So it's reasonable to see that most lay people can become confused. I disagree with the LTE that, "Psychiatric symptoms, however, are shaped by the social and political context of the day." but only in the way they interpreted that sentence. Someone having delusions and hallucinations can interpret the mutterings of Glenn Beck or the crosshairs on Sarah Palin's posters to be a mandate to kill. They have a brain that is in constant short circuit. But that doesn't mean that every schizophrenic out there is hearing voices telling them to do that. Their voices may just as easily be telling them they need to protect those people from harm. Jared Loughner had a psychiatric illness. For whatever reason he fixated (by his own admission) on Gabrielle Gibbons. Was right wing "hate speech" responsible for that fixation? From what I've read about Loughner and the background given, the answer is no. It may have supported that fixation. Frankly we'll never know. But it wasn't responsible for it. Only his disease was responsible for that.

mr_right_wing 7 years, 4 months ago

Remember Judas Priest being put on trial for causing a young man to kill himself?

They were found innocent.

What's the difference here? Beck, Palin, et al don't mask their messages backwards?

"Get the gun, get the gun! Shoot, shoot shoot!!" (Alleged backwards message in "Suicide Solution")

gl0ck0wn3r 7 years, 4 months ago

lol at Priest. Try Stormtroopers of Death's hit "Kill Yourself" - it's a little more blunt. So far, I don't think anyone has actually done it while listening to the song.

wtchdr46 7 years, 4 months ago

I knew the time that madness would be the rule was coming. That does not make it any more comfortable to live in. Why is there so little understanding that all this hateful Rhetoric creates an environment where many more of these that are unstable may snap. With the instantaneous ability to see bad news from around the planet, and an environment of HATE!!, it is a wonder that there are not more occurrences than there are.

BigPrune 7 years, 3 months ago

Charles Krauthammer is a medical doctor- a psychyiatrist, who graduated from Harvard. (Manic Depressive Illness by Goodwin and Jamison) contains twelve references to his work. I bet the LTE people didn't count on people knowing his credentials.

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