Saturday, January 22, 2011

Jared Loughner and Our Sick Society

Fresh from pitching softballs to Sarah Palin about the Gabrielle Giffords shooting, conservative Fox News host Joe Scarborough brought on another rabid Republican woman, Elisabeth Hasselbeck, the following night. In one of his questions to her, Scarborough stated that the alleged shooter Jared Loughner hadn’t ever attended a Tea Party meeting but that he “smoked dope.”

In the fingerpointing and handwringing following the terrible incident that left 6 dead and 14 injured, the Right has been quick to seize on the news that Loughner smoked marijuana and possibly salvia in the years leading up to his decline into madness. Recovery “professionals” have expressed concern about “how easy it has been for this mentally ill young man to get marijuana.” That a troubled young man like Loughner could easily purchase a semi-automatic pistol with a 33-shot clip has met with “pushback” from conservatives even to the idea of reducing the clip size to 10 shots, even while Sarah Palin has quietly taken the map down from her website that had “surveyors marks” over Congressman Giffords’ district.

Time magazine and others have tried to tie marijuana use to schizophrenia, citing statistical studies that link the two. But all that can be said is that marijuana might trigger schizophrenia is someone predisposed to it, just like binge drinking or a myriad of other events could do.

As friends and neighbors of the Arizona man come forward, pieces of the perplexing puzzle that is Jared Loughner have emerged. One neighbor said on ABC This Week that she used to enjoy the music coming from the Loughner home when Jared played saxophone in a jazz band, but that about four years ago, the music stopped. "Something changed," she said. She asked the family about it, and was met with silence.

It was in May 2006, about four years ago, that Jared Loughner was taken to the emergency room by his high school nurse after he showed up “extremely intoxicated” for school that morning. Loughner told a sheriff’s deputy that he’d stolen a bottle of vodka from his parents because his father had yelled at him.

Not long after that, he dropped out of the band. One high school friend who’d tweeted that Loughner was a “pothead” when she knew him said he’d changed after the alcohol incident, became more withdrawn. His music teacher Doug Tidaback said Loughner was a bright kid with talent, and that he didn’t remember ever seeing his father at his concerts. Others thought perhaps his parents were divorced, because his father was seldom seen. Whether Jared’s father was neglectful or even abusive remains to be known, or may never be.

Loughner’s troubles escalated in September 2007 when he and a friend were caught with a pot pipe just before his 19th birthday. It’s unknown what effect this incident had on him, whether it alienated him more from mainstream society, or angered his parents. The effect of the other 500,000 yearly arrests in the US for marijuana on young people’s employment and education prospects, and the damage to their self esteem and family relationships, is incalculable.

Jared Loughner’s unsupervised mind-expansion experiments took him to dangerous places. He became obsessed with the movie Zeigeist and its implications for government collusion in the events of September 11, 2001. He attended a meeting with his Congresswoman Gabrielle Giffords and was disappointed and angry that she was unable to respond to his strange question. It seemed he was looking hard for answers.

Loughner seemed to search everywhere for communion with a tribe, even trying to join the US Army, which rejected him when he told them about his marijuana smoking. He couldn’t keep a job, or a girlfriend, or assimilate his thoughts and experiences into everyday life. Yes, he is sick, but so is the culture that made him.

In The Power of Myth, Bill Moyers and Joseph Campbell had this exchange:

MOYERS: Do you ever think that it is this absence of the religious experience of ecstasy, of joy, this denial of transcendence in our society, that has turned so many young people to the use of drugs?

CAMPBELL: Absolutely, that is the way in.

MOYERS: The way in?

CAMPBELL: To an experience.

MOYERS: And religion can do that for you, or art can’t do it?

CAMPBELL: It could, but it is not doing it now. Religions are addressing social problems and ethics instead of the mystical experience.

Modern society demonizes what was once a religious experience: the partaking of psychedelic plants. The Greeks called them the Eleusinian Mysteries and their psychedelic sacrament kykeon brought communion to its initiates, who made a pilgrimage to the ceremony following months of preparation. Communion has now denigrated into a hollow ceremony performed by a cult that has condoned pedophilia. And laws against marijuana have sent teenagers trying untested substances like salvia for the experience they naturally seek. No wonder they’re confused.

It’s time we came to grips with the fact that adolescents will forever demand the kind of rite-of-passage experience that entheogens provide. Instead of offering information and guidance to our youth, we basically tell them what we used to when they asked about sex, “Learn about it on the street.”

We must learn to educate, not incarcerate. The cries for help are getting deadlier all the time.

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