Do people really want to know why, on January 8, 2011, in Tucson, Arizona, a young man named Jared Lee Loughner engaged in mass murder? I submit they do not. Politicians, psychiatrists, pundits, and the press univocally assert that Loughner’s deed is the “senseless” product of mental illness. This belief in a non-existing mental disease causing mass murder is on a par with young children’s belief in Santa Claus. It is false but satisfies the believers. The great French essayist Michel de Montaigne (1533-1592) sagely observed: “Nothing is so firmly believed as what is least known.”
Before his shooting spree Loughner had produced a video he called “My Final Thoughts,” stating: “All humans are in need of sleep. Jared Loughner is a human. Hence, Jared Loughner is in need of sleep.” On the morning of his massacre he posted a message on his MySpace account acknowledging his sense that he was at the end of his rope and his decision to let go: “Goodbye. Dear friends . . . Please don’t be mad at me.”
“War is a continuation of politics by other means,” said Prussian general Carl von Clausewitz (1780-1831). I suggest that, similarly, mass murder in plain sight, such as Loughner committed, is a continuation of suicide by other means. Sometimes it is called “suicide by proxy” or “suicide by cop.”
Loughner, to use his metaphor, has gone to sleep. And so have we if we prefer to believe that his self-destructive and destructive act is the senseless product of his “mental illness” rather than the result of his planned, “sensible” decision. The latter view is unpopular and unacceptable because it acknowledges Loughner’s humanity and free will, precisely the qualities that psychiatrists – aided and abetted by the criminal justice system – are intent on removing from persons they label “mad.” This medicalized view of certain offenses – usually crimes that particularly upset people – has, for reasons I have presented elsewhere, become widely accepted in our society, embraced equally by the right and the left.
Read the rest, and for more information on Dr. Szasz and his groundbreaking work on what he calls the "myth of mental illness," check out his website.