The Philosophy of Jared Lee Loughner

Reporting on Politics and Policy.
Jan. 10 2011 10:08 AM

The Philosophy of Jared Lee Loughner

Chris Beam talked to Kent Slinker , an adjunct philosophy professor at Pima Community College, who taught Loughner and recognized the incoherent syllogisms he used in his YouTube essays uploaded in December.

Slinker's impression of Loughner was that of "someone whose brains were scrambled."

Loughner was a model student when it came to attendance—he always showed up on time to the twice-a-week class, at least before he dropped out toward the end of the semester. But in other respects, he was a mess. He didn't perform well on tests. He would ask questions that didn't make any sense. "His thoughts were unrelated to anything in our world," says Slinker. One time, he handed in an assignment with geometric doodles instead of answers. Slinker also remembers that Loughner would have "exaggerated 'Aha!' moments just completely not connected to anything in class." He was mentally checked-out. "He always was looking away, not out the window, but like someone watching a scene play out in his mind."

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Nick Baumann talked to Bryce Tierney, a friend of Loughner, and he's able to explain the importance of Loughner's obsession with the meaning of words.

Loughner held a years-long grudge against Giffords and had repeatedly derided her as a "fake." Loughner's animus toward Giffords intensified after he attended one of her campaign events and she did not, in his view, sufficiently answer a question he had posed, Tierney says. He also describes Loughner as being obsessed with "lucid dreaming"—that is, the idea that conscious dreams are an alternative reality that a person can inhabit and control—and says Loughner became "more interested in this world than our reality." Tierney adds, "I saw his dream journal once. That's the golden piece of evidence. You want to know what goes on in Jared Loughner's mind, there's a dream journal that will tell you everything."

It looks increasingly like Loughner's obsession with Giffords, as the politician he harbored the grudge towards, was an accident of place and districting. How would any politician have answered a meaningless question like " What is government if words have no meaning?" Politicians interact with plenty of people who ask incoherent questions and have unrealistic problems with the government. Attend any city council meeting or town hall -- there will be people who have illogical problems with authority who want to confront that authority.

David Weigel is a Slate political reporter. 

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