The NY Times put together an in-depth article, Behind Jared Loughner’s Mug Shot Grin, in an attempt to begin understanding why someone would choose to shoot into a crowd in front of a grocery store on a Saturday morning. Police, school officials, friends and neighbors tell reporters what they know of a 22 year old that they barely knew, producing a small collection of snapshots of the person that pulled the trigger and forever changed so many lives. The article traces out the series of steps Loughner took leading up to the shooting that morning and includes statements of people from his recent past.
Let me offer up a few thoughts and opinions based on a bit of arm-chair psychology. I am an observer, so perhaps I can shed some light here.
Loughner’s photos tell me some interesting things. The first of the three show a teenager with the same level of smile he gave the police for his mug shot. The expression in the eyes are about the same as well, which tells me that his response is typical of him. There’s no date given with the first photo, but it shows a hair cut that imitates that worn by Leonard Nimoy’s character Mr. Spock in all the original Star Trek series and movies.
So far, only a few people have stepped forward to offer up themselves as friends of Jared Loughner. Either people are afraid to be seen as associated with him, or Loughner had very few friends. I suspect the latter will be found to be the case. Those who have stepped up said he is very intelligent and a talented musician with a relatively low level of social skills. That he adopted the appearance of Mr. Spock could indicate that he struggled to find not only a way to be accepted by his peers but a desire for that acceptance, much like the fictional character of a species that sought to control emotion by prioritizing logic. The loneliest kid in class is the smart one who everyone thinks is the know-it-all that looks down at them. I hope that, somewhere along the way, his home life is investigated. Very little has come out about that so far.
That does not mean that Loughner succeeded in controlling his emotions, which are likely as strong as his intellectual prowess. As smart as he is is as deeply he feels the rejection. The center photo shows unfocused eyes, which I relate to digging from within to channel emotions into the music he is creating at that moment. Music would be the one way that Loughner could feel all that he felt out loud and in an accepted way. He could hide behind his long hair as a way of keeping the rest of himself out of sight of what he needed to express. If he stopped playing the sax, his emotions no longer had an outlet, and it’s possible that they then began to spiral out of control, sending his thoughts into a chaos of disconnected logic (6 is 18 is logical if you consider both are symbols of the same thing in different languages, i.e., “uno” is the same as “one”).
Loughner will undergo psychological testing at this point to determine whether he is capable of telling right from wrong. The development of a conscience, knowing right from wrong, depends on feedback from others, mostly from peers. The testing that he will get now will not be thorough enough to gauge the level of his dysfunction, and will leave out the cause and effect aspect behind the “why” he chose to do what he did. His ability to stand trial will be confirmed, but the ability of his defense to use insanity as his argument will be questionable. I think we’ll be seeing a very long trial, then a long sentencing.
I see signs in all of this of a failure of the educational system to identify those with a higher than average IQ and the needs that come along with it. Our current system is based on a curve that fails kids on both ends of “normal” in its quest to produce a ready army and workforce. Without much thinking, it’s obvious just how much mass production of one-size-fits all has diminished individual potential. At the very least, in Loughner’s case, I think we’ll see many missed opportunities along the way to prevent the tragic events of January 8. In the end, we’ll never know “why.”