“The struggle for definition is veritably the struggle for life itself. In the typical Western two men fight desperately for the possession of a gun that has been thrown to the ground: whoever reaches the weapon first shoots and lives; his adversary is shot and dies. In ordinary life, the struggle is not for guns but for words; whoever first defines the situation is the victor; his adversary, the victim. For example, in the family, husband and wife, mother and child do not get along; who defines whom as troublesome or mentally sick?…[the one] who first seizes the word imposes reality on the other; [the one] who defines thus dominates and lives; and [the one] who is defined is subjugated and may be killed.”
The quote is from Thomas Szasz, psychiatrist and libertarian. The race to get your side’s definition in first perfectly describes the frenzy of the left wing media establishment to link the murders carried out by Jared Loughner to the right, the Tea Party, and Sarah Palin. I posted about the contrast between Guardian columnist Michael Tomasky’s haste to explain Loughner’s murders and his reluctance to explain Nidal Hassan’s murders here.
Over the last few days further evidence has emerged that Loughner was (a) simply a drug-addled madman, judging from his strange pseudo-logical screeds on YouTube and (b) had began to fix his mad rage on Gabrielle Giffords in 2007, after she gave what he regarded as an inadequate answer to his question, “What is government if words have no meaning?” At that time Palin was barely known outside Alaska.
A prescient remark from Thomas Szasz, then. Yet anyone who knows anything of his work and writings will have predicted that I am about to say that an apt quote is not his only relevance to this situation. Szasz is famous for opposing the many authoritarian crimes of the psychiatric profession: among them imprisonment without trial or appeal, assaults under the name of “treatment” (such as lobotomies, electric shocks, injections of drugs against the patient’s will), and collusion with the state to define dissent and eccentricity as mental ills. All very great dangers and he was right to oppose them, as he was right to oppose the prohibition of drugs.
And yet – there is Jared Loughner and the lengthening list of those like him. Lougher
was is (Why do I keep saying was? He is alive and in custody!) a drug-addled madman who killed six people. “He should have been locked up before this” does not seem an unreasonable thing to think.