Tuesday, January 11, 2011

What we have learned about Jared Loughner from a list of his favourite books

In the wake of the shooting of Rep. Gabrielle ("Gabby") Giffords, many commentators have rushed to learn all they can about Jared Loughner who has now been charged. It has been widely reported that his favourite books include the following (such as found here):

* Animal Farm
* Brave New World
* The Wizard Of OZ
* Aesop Fables
* The Odyssey
* Alice Adventures Into Wonderland
* Fahrenheit 451
* Peter Pan
* To Kill A Mockingbird
* We The Living
* Phantom Toll Booth
* One Flew Over The Cuckoo's Nest
* Pulp
* Through The Looking Glass
* The Communist Manifesto
* Siddhartha
* The Old Man And The Sea
* Gulliver's Travels
* Mein Kampf
* The Republic
* Meno

Much has been made of the fact that this list contains two particular books, namely, The Communist Manifesto and Mein Kampf. This has been taken to be evidence that Loughner was unlikely to be a member of any mainstream political organization and evidence of extreme leftwing views.

I believe that this "evidence" is clearly wrong and for several reasons:

1. Any claims that these books influenced Loughner suggest that he read them carefully weighing their arguments and finding them compelling. I have yet to see any clear evidence of this. Anyone can list favourite books on a website. Perhaps he has read them, but perhaps he has not.

2. The idea that these books influenced Loughner suggest that taken together they provide a unified political position. There is no clear evidence of this either. Plato's Meno is in a class of its own and seemingly entirely unrelated to everything else on the list. Yes, there is Marx and Engels's famous Manifesto, but there is also Ayn Rand's first novel as well. Evidence of Communist Objectivism? I think not.

3. These books do seem to have one thing in common that commentators appear to have overlooked: the idealization of the rugged individualist. More often than not these texts speak of the individual against the crowds, the old man and the sea, the citizen against big brother, etc.

Now ask yourself which American political movement is more friendly to the view that "we" the private citizen must stand up to the dangerous juggernaut that is "the state"? It isn't the Democrats. No, rather it is a movement where citizens think it is appropriate -- even desirable -- to bring guns to political events where Democrat politicians are speaking; to run campaign ads against Democrats where they brandish guns and encourage prospective voters to "take aim" at opponents; and the like.

This is something worth thinking about. Let's hope it makes FOX News . . . .

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