The Relative Comment

soothing waves of relativity

One more (and final) comment on the AZ media response

with 2 comments

Relative to: The Insanity Defense, by Dahlia Lithwick, Slate.

In a follow-up conversation (which took place on FB, anathema) to my previous post, Debating Fault in Political Violence, I wrote the following: “I must also say that I think the tendency to proclaim those who act violently as nut jobs, or psychos, or simply as mentally disturbed allows a society that has an infatuation with violence off the hook too easily. Society does impact how citizens behave.” (I don’t think I’ve ever quoted myself).

Today at Slate, I read a piece on a similar topic that seemed exceedingly relevant. Essentially, Lithwick argues that if we are to consider Loughlin a completely insane person, incapable of influence from his culture, will we affirm a plea of insanity, allowing Loughlin to live out his life getting treatment? It’s an interesting question. Here’s Lithwick:

If it comes to pass that [Defense Attorney Judy] Clarke advances an insanity defense for her client, I wonder how many of the same people who are today arguing that Loughner was far too sick to be influenced by a toxic public discourse, will be arguing that he is too sane to plead insanity. The insanity defense has been a political football almost as long as political discourse has been toxic.

In fact, it’s no small irony that the insanity defense has become almost impossible to prove, precisely because people just like Loughner have occasionally managed to prove it. And so I dearly hope that everyone who feels comfortable diagnosing him from afar today will stand by their diagnoses in the weeks to come. If you are going to advance the argument that he is neither culpable nor rational, then it follows that he should not be convicted for his actions.

An interesting take. I have no idea if Loughner is sane or insane. But consistency, however fleeting, should be encouraged. I’m sure insanity defenses are more complicated than I’m allowing, and that by saying he’s insane, one does not necessarily mean he could not have forethought (as it seems he clearly did). But it’s an interesting take nonetheless.


Written by Christopher ZF

January 12, 2011 at 19:28

Posted in Political Violence

2 Responses

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  1. Hm, I also find this interesting and wish I could put a real reply together. I will say that from a public health standpoint I think that the context within which one is in will always be a determinant or impact of ones behavior. Certainly that standpoint can be argued, but the point is really that when a situation is taken in context essentially you will find more than one factor that led to this behavior. So, I think you are right to say that we’re always being influenced by words/rhetoric and certainly this was evident in Loughner writings. But, that’s just one part of it, right. A failing of our knowledge of the complexity of mental health is another part of the picture…for example, we only offer a distinction between sane and insane… This might be directly off topic, but it’s also a failing of our social context that he didn’t receive any prevention efforts when he had been identified as in need of help.


    January 12, 2011 at 21:26

  2. Indeed knitter.
    At the end of the day, I think the takeaway of this whole tragedy should be the difficulty of getting treatment for adults who show clear mental disturbance. It seems everyone saw the problem, but, under the current system, what can be done?


    January 13, 2011 at 14:55

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