12 January 2011

Rational choice and common sense in the Giffords shooting

When a Democrat politician like Rep. Giffords is attacked, it seems rational to blame the action, either directly or indirectly, on the political opposition, whether that be Republicans, conservatives, or the Tea Party.  Now to be fair, I don't know of anyone who is suggesting that any of these actors actually pulled the trigger, but there have been suggestions they may have created and fostered a climate in which somehow made this act easier to happen.

Here's one problem.  Rep. Giffords is a former Republican, and a rather conservative (Blue Dog) Democrat.  In practice, she only votes with the Democrats about 40% of the time.  And last week she voted against Nancy Pelosi for minority leader.  So from the same political perspective as above, it seems rational, and even just as  likely that Rep. Giffords' attack was based upon the fact that she was not liberal enough, and perhaps someone with a left-wing motivation could have created and fostered such a climate.  In fact, Rep. Giffords was a "bulls eye" on a Daily Kos "target list," presumably for not being left-wing enough.  She was also the target of a Daily Kos post just two days before her attack (now removed, go figure) in which the author suggested that Giffords was "DEAD to me" for not being liberal enough.

In 1963, JFK's assassination was initially blamed on a right-wing culture of hate that supposedly existed in Dallas, Texas at the time (sound familiar?).  The problem?  Lee Harvey Oswald turned out to be a Castro-sympathizing Communist.  Not exactly the right-winger some were hoping for.

The fallacy with all of these conjectures is that they assume rationality.  Normal people make decisions based upon facts, often tempered by emotions, but generally speaking those decisions are based in some form of rationality.  Criminals, on the other hand, are not constrained by a normal sense of rationality, so why would you expect them to be constrained by laws to prevent such actions?

(In fact, these conjectures also ignore the fact that Jared Loughner had spoken with Giffords back in 2007 before there was a Tea Party or before most of the nation had heard of Sarah Palin.)

There is no evidence in the news since Saturday that suggests any sort of political motivation for this attack.  And if you watch Jared Loughner's videos on YouTube, you will rather quickly come to the realization that his head is not screwed on very tightly.  Likewise, his "favorite" books are not just Animal Farm and Brave New World, but also Mein Kampf and the Communist Manifesto, the Wizard of Oz, Aesop's Fables and To Kill A Mockingbird.  His rants are about dreaming, currency, grammar, language, and mind control.  His ideas are not confined to one side of the political spectrum. Only time will tell, but it seems extremely unlikely to me that this nutcase was motivated in any way by Sarah Palin, Markos Moulitsas or anyone else in any position of power.

Proposing snap legislation (like gun control or restrictions on free speech), or otherwise taking advantage of this tragedy to blame the opposition or further one's own case is shameless.  They're all responses to flawed reasoning about how and why this tragedy occurred.
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