Tuesday, January 11, 2011

Tuscon and the Bountifulness of Confusion

The commentariat has become a cornucopia of speculation about why Jared  Loughner committed mass murder in Tucson. All this  (and more) is being repeated since Newtown.

Two types of theory can be enumerated: (1) monocausal and (2) polycausal.

The monocausal theories come in two extremes: (a) individualistic and  (b) social. Some monocausalists claim that it was the act of a solitary individual with a deranged mind. Explanation is to be sought  solely in the psychology, life-history, and proclivities of the killer.

Other monocausalists look for social sources. His outrage was the product of the sick political climate of our time. The individualistic theories come mainly from the right side of the political spectrum, the social theories primarily from the left.

No particular individual commentator is likely to fit perfectly into one of these categories as sharply defined, but they do help to locate the vicinity in which he or she  can be located.

I have long been fond of polarities and ideal types. But, alas, they are more useful for  analysis and than for discovery of truth. But perhaps a beginning can be made.

I am a polycausalist -- along with many others.

To say that there is  not a  simple, direct causal connection between current social factors or his individual psychology and the the murderous deed is not to say that there is no connection at all. In the last analysis it was the finger of Jared Loughner that pulled the trigger. The fact that he may be schizophrenic, e. g.,  is not predictive of his outrageous behavior (most mentally ill people do not commit murder), but it may be part of the total  ensemble of operative dynamics  in his specific case.

The fact that current political rhetoric is excessive and vitriolic does not necessarily imply that it caused him to do what he did, but his mental derangement may be part of the total configuration of factors involved. Causality may be too strong a term from the outset. Perhaps it is better to think of a complex network of dynamic interacting influences with many levels and dimensions  become concrete over time in this particular person as a self-determining  center of activity expressive of his formed character.

We are dealing with the mysteries and complexities and perhaps contradictions and shifting tendencies that form this individual person as an agent of action. That we do not and perhaps cannot fully understand with the resources available to us. What we can do is remember two of Alfred North Whitehead's dicta:

"Seek simplicity--and distrust it."
"Philosophy may not ignore the multifariousness of the world--the fairies dance, and Christ is nailed to a cross."

Monday, January 10, 2011

In Reference to the Two Posts to Follow

"The chief danger to philosophy is narrowness in the selection of evidence. This narrowness arises from the idiosyncrasies and timidities of particular authors, of particular social groups, of particular schools of thought, of particular epochs in the history of civilization. The evidence relied upon is arbitrarily biased by the temperaments of individuals, by the provincialities of groups, and by the limitations of schemes of thought.  . . . Philosophy may not neglect the multifariousness of the world—the fairies dance, and Christ is nailed to the cross." Alfred North Whitehead, Process and Reality, 337-338.

Happy Thoughts on a Bright Day

Millions of people got up this morning, ate a nourishing breakfast, had a productive day at work with congenial colleagues, and were greeted by adoring children who stay active, work hard at school, and have ambitions to make a positive contribution to society. Uncountable acts of spontaneous kindness occurred all over the country.  Bystanders spring into action to disarm a mass killer. Volunteers showed up at a myriad of organizations designed to help people in need. Name a good cause that benefits people or animals, and organizations galore are active in working on them. In the far flung places of the globe, some of them dangerous and violent, professional groups sponsored by gifts give aid to the hungry, the sick,  the homeless, the helpless, and the afflicted of every sort imaginable. Members of churches, synagogues, and mosques every day are at work doing good deeds  to relieve human misery and to make things better. Conscientious public servants do their best within the constraints of bureaucracy to render service in the name of local, state, and federal governments. Even elected officials frequently do things because they are right and promote the general good, independently of whether it helps them politically or not.

And so the list could grow much longer reciting deeds of love, justice, mercy, compassion by every day folks, celebrities, and all sorts of people who turn good intentions into helpful acts reducing suffering in people and animals. Duties are done routinely without regard for reward or attention but because they need to be done to keep life going and for the good order of families, communities, and societies. Children are loved, husbands are responsible, and wives are busy earning money and keeping the family sane. Thus does the world go round and round, and the sun rises and sets on people doing the best they can with what they have to make the best of life and are content with what they have and generous in sharing it with others while being helpful to friend and stranger along the way.