On insanity; legal and clinical

When someone commits an atrocity of the magnitude of that committed by Jared Loughner, the first inclination of all but the most dedicated opponent of capital punishment is to call for the noose. It’s difficult not to be driven by vengeance in pursuit of justice when someone wantonly snuffs out so many innocent lives, remorselessly inflicting so much pain and horror, crushing so many souls among the survivors left to suffer an interminable, unbearable sense of loss as a consequence of the actions of one lone abomination of humanity. Such acts simply exceed nearly any human being’s capacity to fully grasp, let alone forgive.

But America’s legal system, for all its flaws and imperfections, is designed in such a way as to minimize the influence of the desire for vengeance as a factor in determining guilt or innocence, and in imposing punishment when defendants are found guilty.  That’s not to say it always works, or that the desire for revenge is necessarily and categorically unjustifiable.  It may not be an impulse brought on by our better angels, but it is certainly a more forgivable impulse than murder.

All this leads me to a post over at one of my favorite blogs, Patterico’s Pontifications, in which co-blogger Aaron Worthing links to, as he says, a brief but “very biting” item from America’s Finest News Source and premier purveyor of satire, The Onion.  The short piece is so devastatingly cogent that quoting from it only does it a disservice.

Patterico and Worthing are legal types, and Worthing links to some of his previous writing in which he discusses the difference between legal insanity and clinical insanity, which is something worth keeping in mind as the Loughner case moves through the courts.  I’ll leave it to those guys to hash out what we civilians refer to as “legalistic mumbo-jumbo” and leave it to the mental health experts — specifically those who have had, or will have at some point in the future, actual contact with Jared Loughner — to determine his mental state at the time he opened fire and destroyed so many lives on that awful day in Tucson.

But, having previously posted a video made by Loughner in which he spoke of what he perceived was going on in the world around him, I thought it might be useful to post a video created by Janssen Pharmaceutical to demonstrate an approximation of what’s going on inside the mind of a person suffering from paranoid schizophrenia.

Whether or not he technically fit the legal definition of sanity, I suppose, depends on the intensity of the delusions and hallucinations he was experiencing that day — assuming he was experiencing any at all.  Based on the video he produced, I suspect he was, despite the trenchant clinical analysis offered up by an ex-girlfriend who hadn’t seen him in a couple of years.

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