Of all the ink spilled so far over Jared Loughner’s shooting in the head of a Jewish congresswoman, Gabriella Giffords, the Mother Jones interview with Loughner’s long time friend, Bryce Tierne, is, I think, most illuminating, particularly with regard to Loughner’s underlying obsessions:
As Loughner and Tierney grew closer, Tierney got used to spending the first ten minutes or so of every day together arguing with Loughner’s “nihilist” view of the world. “By the time he was 19 or 20, he was really fascinated with semantics and how the world is really nothing—illusion,” Tierney says. Once, Tierney recalls, Loughner told him, “I’m pretty sure I’ve come to the conclusion that words mean nothing.” Loughner would also tell Tierney and his friends that life “means nothing,” and they’d reply, “If it means nothing, what you’re saying means nothing.”
So, before collapsing headlong into psychosis and violence, Jared Loughner had nursed a Weltanschauung—a worldview—and that worldview was atheism of the nihilistic variety. He was a Dostoevskian “underground man”; a Raskolnikov atheist ruminating on semantics and nihilism. Tierney also says Loughner was percolating a longstanding hatred toward his congressional district’s representative, Gabriella Giffords, and possessed a serious inclination to play Heath Ledger’s Joker for real:
Since hearing of the rampage, Tierney has been trying to figure out why Loughner did what he allegedly did. “More chaos, maybe,” he says. “I think the reason he did it was mainly to just promote chaos. He wanted the media to freak out about this whole thing. He wanted exactly what’s happening. He wants all of that.” Tierney thinks that Loughner’s mindset was like the Joker in the most recent Batman movie: “He fucks things up to fuck shit up, there’s no rhyme or reason, he wants to watch the world burn. He probably wanted to take everyone out of their monotonous lives: ‘Another Saturday, going to go get groceries’—to take people out of these norms that he thought society had trapped us in.”
This may be an incorrect speculation on the part of Loughner’s friend, but it all sounds plausible to me. At this point, I would lay blame for the incident with the following:
- The general Arizona Tea Party climate of hostility surrounding Giffords (which unstable people are particularly prone to pick up on).
- Loughner’s atheist nihilism.
- His easy access to a semi-automatic weapon.
- His descent into madness.
All this made for an abysmal stew. If Barack Obama is assassinated in office it will, no doubt, come from an “underground man” like Loughner.
Source for Dostoevsky image: Wikipedia Commons.
Wow. As someone fascinated by nihilism this is amazing reading. I think you’re right, that’s it’s a combination of effects. Thankyou.
And, is it madness, or just a logical response to beliefs around nihilism? Is he, in fact, sane? With a very world-denying worldview, for sure, but within those bounds, sane?
Neither atheism or nihilism can, in themselves, produce any motivation to kill. They are both negative descriptors of belief.
Atheism: a person who doesn’t affirm the proposition, “god exists”.
Nihilism (existential): intrinsic meaning does not exist / all meaning is created by the individual.
Being an atheist or a nihilist doesn’t tell us what he does affirm. Since beliefs cause actions, in order to know the cause of an action one would have to know what beliefs he holds of a motivational variety. It would be extremely reckless and possibly unnecessarily prejudicial (or dangerous? given the tendency for people to demonise opposing and easily labelled sub-groups) to suggest that “atheist nihilism” is to blame.
It is possible that a nihilism of another sort could be a contributing factor. Namely:
Nihilism (moral skepticism): nothing is morally wrong.
However, one would still need to ask lots of questions such as,
1) What does Loughner believe affirmatively?
2) How does Loughner find meaning?
3) What are Loughner’s goals?
4) How do other people relate to Loughner’s goals?
5) If Loughner perceives that other people have wronged him, what form or structure does his individual morality take? (i.e. how are harms and violations adduced?)
I know that people often appreciate locating a pattern in any trauma or chaos but it would be a shame to jump to indelicate conclusions simply to find an answer that “fits” (at least stereotypically speaking).
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“Since beliefs cause actions, in order to know the cause of an action one would have to know what beliefs he holds of a motivational variety.”
I’m not sure I agree that “non-beliefs” equates to “non-actions” or “non-motivations”.
I guess people who hold a philosophy don’t always act completely rationally within that philosophy. I know when I’ve been tempted to nihilism, there came a sense of both freedom to do whatever I wanted, and also a desire to destroy, to make others realise what I had realised by resorting to violence. These were just ideas in my head, I never carrried them out.
My point is, once in the grip of a worldview like Nihilism, one could carry out actions that might not be “reasonable”, but were emotionally engaging to a disparing soul.
Great, an atheist nut job. That is sure to help cast us in a great light.
BTW Santi – I am pretty sure that being an atheist and being a Teaparty member are mutually exclusive 🙂
I’m an atheist and a Tea Party person. Also, I like this video’s analysis the best:
If we check, we’ll probably find that Loughner played first person shooter video games and watched movies where people were killed with swords. He may also have heard Obama’s remark about using guns if opponents use knives. Maybe he read about all the violence by druggies in Mexico or the kidnappings and murders in Phoenix by drug cartels. More crime equals more chaos. Maybe Loughner read about killings by Border Patrol agents or about the wars in Afghanistan and Iraq.
Like much of the despicable media, Santi bases his accusations on his fantasies about the Tea Party causing “unstable” people to kill and has no evidence of linkage to back his speculations.
Perhaps evolutionary theory did it, since it can easily lead to nihilism (Columbine and the Finnish nut); perhaps immature minds can’t handle it.
Being free requires the risk of being a victim of nuts like Loughner.
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Funny how you clowns can view a Bush Hater and Atheist mass murderer and blame it on the Tea Party. I am laughing my ass off at the stupidity