In trying to frame my own understanding of what occurred in Tucson on Saturday, it hit me that in trying to explain the inexplainable, I had become what I detested about mainstream punditry—a profligate member of the commentariat. Though I am not a fan of merely quoting an individual at length and marking it a “post” on MereOrthodoxy, the indefatigable George Will has struck again with sheer brilliance. He states,

It would be merciful if, when tragedies such as Tucson’s occur, there were a moratorium on sociology. But respites from half-baked explanations, often serving political opportunism, are impossible because of a timeless human craving and a characteristic of many modern minds.

The craving is for banishing randomness and the inexplicable from human experience. Time was, the gods were useful. What is thunder? The gods are angry. Polytheism was explanatory. People postulated causations.

And still do. Hence: The Tucson shooter was (pick your verb) provoked, triggered, unhinged by today’s (pick your noun) rhetoric, vitriol, extremism, “climate of hate.”

Demystification of the world opened the way for real science, including the social sciences. And for a modern characteristic. And for charlatans.

A characteristic of many contemporary minds is susceptibility to the superstition that all behavior can be traced to some diagnosable frame of mind that is a product of promptings from the social environment. From which flows a political doctrine: Given clever social engineering, society, and people, can be perfected.

This supposedly is the path to progress. It actually is the crux of progressivism. And it is why there is a reflex to blame conservatives first.

Posted by Andrew Walker

  • prufrock

    I like how Will says he’d like ‘a moratorium on sociology’ in the wake of horrible events like the shooting in Tucson but proceeds to offer his own sociological analysis of the motivations of Presidential assassins. Political beliefs do initiate psychological states and these are the basis upon which these individuals acted. But returning to your quoted portion of Will’s column…

    People do crave explanations and the violence of the Tucson shooting makes finding those explanations all the more compulsive. In today’s polarized political climate, those explanations can be expected to break along partisan lines but there should be an objective one.

    The reflex to blame conservatives may be more about their support for gun rights and opposition to social spending for things like mental health care than their skepticism about the perfectibility of human beings.

    A moratorium on sociology might a good idea in this case because it is psychology that is paramount here. But ‘the social environment’ that Will dismisses is significant as it influences the psychological states of the individuals within it. Violent political rhetoric being one of those social influences.