But not for the reason you’re probably thinking. Loughner’s ideas are a ludicrous hodge-podge of conspiracy theory, libertarianism, and anti-government sentiment, but what’s striking about them is how incoherent they are. This incoherency isn’t limited to Loughner either:
…the strange thing is that so much of this furious opposition to activist government appears to be make-believe. The American Enterprise Institute did a poll of self-identified conservatives and found that “only 3 percent of respondents favored reforming Social Security and Medicare.” The 2010 elections put a lot of new conservative governors in office, and I’m guessing that exactly zero of them will abolish mandatory minimum parking requirements in their states. Nor do I expect to see Rep Frank Lewis slash farm subsidies.
It’s a bit puzzling. The gap is really not just between conservatives and non-conservatives, but between conservatives’ self-image and the reality of their program. Paul Ryan, for example, can’t quite seem to decide if he wants to slow the growth of Medicare while maintaining a credible safety net for elderly Americans (in which case his “roadmap” proposal is the starting point of a discussion) or if he’s an Ayn Rand devotée who’s trying to liberate America from enslavement at the hands of the welfare state. Indeed, he doesn’t really even seem to see that these are different ideas!
Contrary to the prevailing wisdom, however, holding muddled political views does not in and of itself necessarily make Loughner mentally ill, unstable, crazy, or even particularly unusual. It makes him American and peculiarly so. In the college classroom, at political events and in grassroots organizing meetings, it does not take long to find many young (and not so young) people who hold what many of us consider to be an oddly contradictory collection of political views.
And an explanation (italics mine):
Like Loughner, a significant portion of young people are, for very good reasons, profoundly anti-establishment, distrustful of anything they hear from the government or mainstream media. But this does not make them crazy anymore than it automatically leads them toward a coherent critique of the political system. Rather, in a world where fragments of information come from so many sources, it often leads them to the odd place where any explanation of the world is as good as any other, where there is no conceptual rudder for judging one theory or idea against another. Hence, they draw from wildly opposing political ideologies and are attracted to conspiracy theories. And it often leaves them in a frustrated place where public figures cannot be trusted, and to the conclusion that nothing can be done to change the world (except perhaps something chaotic and dramatic). Hence, the tendency toward apathy and (after a philosophy class or two) nihilism.
How the hell could we expect otherwise? It is bit ridiculous to ask why so few Americans are politically literate, much less hold politically coherent ideas, after we have gutted public education, turned schools into learning prisons and told young people over and over again they are consumers and not citizens. Political literacy, we learn, is no longer even a requirement for seeking political office, but is in fact seen as a drawback. And an important source of such political guidance, the left, has all but disappeared from mainstream life.
Within this context, it is amazing that any person in their twenties is able to develop anything resembling a coherent political framework for understanding the world, let alone acquire the tools to decipher between news and entertainment, to critically evaluate the fragments of information flying at them 24 hours a day from their TVs, computers and smart phones.
Or to put this another way, our news media are driving us crazy (in a colloquial sense).
One thing I try to do on this blog is hammer home the point that so much of what passes for news reporting is actually the regurgitation of misinformation. As of July 2010, 36% of seniors believed that Obama/Romneycare would have death panels. That is a failure of epic proportion, one that, by definition, can not be laid at the feet of teachers unions (AAAIIEEE!!!). Corporate news media have a lot more to answer for than they’re willing to admit.