Metacognition about the Unmetacognitionable

I don’t have much to add to the chatter about the shooting in Tucson, but you all might as well have a thread in which to beat each other up about it. In the meantime, here are a few things that caught my eye:

The LA Times’ editorial writers were not impressed with the nature of online discourse surrounding the incident: Shooting from the lip in reaction to Gabrielle Giffords tragedy.

Free speech is one of this page’s most fundamental values; we wouldn’t suggest for a minute that it should be curtailed for fear of its consequences. But we agree with Clinton that people should assume responsibility for what they say, and we are both ashamed and embarrassed at the unreasoned and intemperate commentary we read Saturday.

I thought it was interesting to see Phil Plait go down the metacognition route, pointing out that while Sarah Palin’s crosshair graphic and “reload” rhetoric might have been a contributing factor in the shooter’s derangement, they also just as easily might not have been: The immediate aftermath of tragedy.

The shooting and the rhetoric are, for now, related but separate issues. Connections may come later, or they may not. Certainly, I would very much like to see the hateful speech gone from politics, and perhaps, if any good will come of this awful event, a spotlight will be focused on that issue. I just watched a short segment on CNN where they discussed this very topic, and I was surprised to see them being careful and saying the rhetoric may not be connected to the shooting, but also careful to say that it’s past time we do discuss the tone of politics these days. Perhaps there’s something to be hopeful for yet.

I suppose my point in all this is that it’s completely understandable that people want to vent and point fingers after a horrible event like this. The temptation for me is great as well, especially given my own predisposition against some of the people involved in the discussion. But we have to be very careful when evidence is scanty, because it’s all too easy to fill in the gaps with whatever our biases want.

And that is why we must be even more vigilant, even more ready to use critical thinking in the wake of tragedy. It’s OK to grieve, it’s OK to be horrified, and it’s OK to be angry. I’m angry, damn angry. But we cannot let that impair our judgment. It is times like these that we are most likely to rush in, to make snap judgments, and to make mistakes. And in a situation as serious as this, that is the thing we can least afford.

We could certainly use more Phil Plait-style skepticism. But I’m not holding my breath. Faced with the circumstances, people who have been warning that right wing hate radio and the tea party set’s violent rhetoric were going to lead to things like this are going to be perversely happy to use this as a stick to beat on their opponents. And for Sarah Palin, who pretty much exemplifies “act first in the brazen self-assurance that you’re always right and the other guy is always wrong, and don’t think too much about the possible consequences until later,” I think she’s got a certain amount of “I told you so” coming. I’m sure she’ll come through it with her ego intact, though. That’s kind of her superpower.

Finally, I liked Barb Tomlinson’s comments (and yes, shcb, I still think you’re too smart to date her): Small world extends to space.

My impression at the time was that people with shaved heads look very professional in zero gravity. But I wondered if he has to wear his glasses frames especially tight to keep them from drifting off his head. I still wonder these things, but now I also wonder how he deals with doing his job in space with the emotional distraction of having his sister-in-law targeted by a gunman with a whole slew of her friends taken out at the same time. Once again I’ve gone all hyper-emotional over something that has nothing to do with me. I can’t help crying for this engineer in space.

I never really know what I’m going to get when I read Spasms of Accommodation, except I always know I’m going to get the honest thoughts of an engaged, intelligent, and yes, slightly off-center individual. At moments like these, I find that comforting.

21 Responses to “Metacognition about the Unmetacognitionable”

  1. shcb Says:

    I’m wondering if any of you have lived with someone that is schizophrenic? Before my mother committed suicide she was schizophrenic to varying levels for 25 years. At one point she was in a mental hospital here in Denver so I could visit a few times a week, on one of my visits she told me that the IRS was out to get her because she didn’t report all the earnings of their little restaurant, now anyone that has been in the restaurant business knows that is a way of life, still she was panicked. She went on to tell me in quite convincing terms that that entire 15 story hospital was built to trap her into telling them her little secret, the room we were in was bugged, all the staff and patients were actors hired by the IRS to get her to confess her terrible secret. When I quietly told her that wasn’t so, that everyone in the restaurant business does what she did she slapped me hard across the face. She was absolutely petrified that I was speaking so freely and our visit was ended, she didn’t want me to incriminate myself.

    Somewhere in the back of all my family members minds we were happy she killed herself without taking anyone else with her. We all knew it was just a matter of time, we just hoped she didn’t take someone else along for that last ride. This family isn’t so lucky. But that is all it is, a crazy person with an unlucky family.

  2. NorthernLite Says:

    I have worked in a setting with people with mental illness. It’s a horrible disease.

    Does the U.S. constitution guarantee a person with mental illness the right to bear arms, just like everyone else? I ask because this tragedy has ignited a gun control debate up here (as all tragedies involving firearms seem to do) and I’m hearing conflicting things. I could research it but since I have some American friends here I thought I could hear from you all on it.

    Is the answer black/white, or grey as I suspect?

  3. leftbehind Says:

    There is a question on the gun purchase application, “”Have you ever been declared incompetent or involuntarily committed to a mental institution?” but who can say with any certainy how much that really means. Do we even know yet if this guy, who was obviously mentally ill, had been formally diagnosed?

  4. NorthernLite Says:


    I haven’t heard if he was formally diagnosed, only that everyone who ever interacted with the guy seemed to informally diagnose him with it.

    Is that application mandatory? If you check the “no” box to that question, I’m assuming somebody down the processing line checks to see if that’s true? I was under the impression that anybody could walk into a corner gunstore and walk out with a gun in less than a few minutes… is that not true? Or does it vary by state?

  5. shcb Says:

    No right in the constitution is absolute, you have the right to free speech but we have slander laws and false advertising laws, so no, the 2nd amendment doesn’t prohibit barring someone with mental disorders from owning a gun, but one has to be diagnosed as LB points out. A mentally ill person can buy a weapon on the black market as anyone can in Canada, or they can steal one, ditto Canada. You can’t keep weapons out of the hands of kooks unless you lock them all up… after they have been diagnosed.

  6. shcb Says:

    Varies state to state and in some cases city to city, generally long rifles and shotguns can be purchased relatively easily, in Colorado I think you can walk in and just buy one after filling out a perfunctory form. The dealer has to be licensed and there aren’t many places you can buy a gun so it isn’t like every grocery store has a gun section next to the peaches. The stores are well regulated for the most part.

    Hand guns are usually much harder to purchase, background checks, a training certificate may be required depending on where you are etc. presumably the mental illness would show up on the background check. I doubt anyone follows up on the “no” checkmark, at least with a long gun. If you committed a crime and they found out you checked it wrong it would be one more charge to tack on but that is all.

    Personally I haven’t bought a gun in a store, well, I did buy one for someone else many, many years ago. I have always bought mine from individuals so they are all undocumented alien guns.

  7. NorthernLite Says:

    Thanks again.

    But the point is to make it as hard as possible for them to obtain such a deadly weapon. The harder you make it and the more people to go through the better the chances of stopping something horrible before it happens.

    It is extremely difficult to obtain an assult weeapon or even a handgun up here. A shotgun/rifle would be easier, but even then there are many hoops to go through. Obviously I’m on the side that wants to keep it that way but there are many conservatives up here that would like to see our strict gun laws weakened.

  8. shcb Says:

    Sure, but I have a .22 Ruger I bought a few years ago, a guy that worked for me said “I have this gun I don’t want anymore, you want to buy it?” what law is there that is going to stop me from giving him a handful of bills and taking it to the flea market and killing 5 or six people?

    I’m not an anti gun law person, reasonable laws need to be in place to stop as many crazies as we can but there are limits on what government can do.

  9. NorthernLite Says:

    Oh I hear ya there… criminals tend to not care about laws very much :)

    I just think making it as difficult as possible to obtain a gun is the best policy.

  10. NorthernLite Says:

    This is interesting…

    By telling his staff to “tone it down” is he admitting that things were getting a little over the top?

  11. knarlyknight Says:

    If armed citizens is such a great idea for self defence, why didn’t anyone at the shopping centre shoot Jared Loughner before he ran out of ammunition?

    NL – interesting comparisons here:

  12. enkidu Says:

    Actually he didn’t run out of ammo: he had (at least) three extended ammo clips (30 rounds each iirc) After he emptied his first clip he dropped clip #2 which was grabbed by a quick thinking woman. He then went for clip #3 which jammed. He was then tackled by bystanders.

    Nothing says ‘dirty f!ing hippy’ like a skin head ‘do.

  13. leftbehind Says:

    Maybe he’s a big Jackie Coogan fan.

  14. knarlyknight Says:

    so re-loading, got it.

    & no one else there had a gun to take him out?

    Are skin heads right wing or left?

  15. NorthernLite Says:

    I’m not even sure they (skinheads) themselves know the answer to that question knarly.

  16. shcb Says:


    I’m sure there were police there as well, maybe not but every event I’ve been to like this has a cop or two milling around. Situations like this are very chaotic, he was in the middle of a crowd, there probably wasn’t a clean shot. One report I read said one of the men that tackled him was armed, he probably felt that by the time he got his gun out he would be shot so he took him to the ground instead.

    Skinheads are probably more to the right than left but they are close to the anarchists and have some views of both ends of the radical fringe, like NL said.

  17. enkidu Says:

    If you think a majority of skinheads in AZ is teh liberal or left, you might be a wwnj

    it might be said that the vast majority of skinheads in AZ are right wing
    Is it too dang liberal to say that out loud? Too offensive?

    This guy is plain deranged. However, claiming the shooter was more left than right just doesn’t match the facts. But facts never convince the true ideologue.

    Now can we please have a reasonable discussion about toning down the right wing rhetoric in America? Sadly, the answer is no. Any rational discussion of the reality on the ground is chewed up by hyper-partisanship. And let’s at least be honest in saying that one side is by far the more angry, aggressive and violent (both in word and deed). Sorry if that is just too honest. ymmv

    interesting article on AZ in Harpers July 2010

    I’m sure we’ll hear how it is all some dam libs fault.

  18. enkidu Says:

    mb you like your violent rhetoric from political figures? (token D at the bottom)

    or mb you are more of an ‘action’ kinda guy?

    nope. no pattern here. none.

    Sure, there are loons on both sides, but the right wing seems to be composed primarily of extremist loons of late.

  19. NorthernLite Says:

    Yes enk, there will always by crazies on either side and everything in between.

    It’s just that one side celebrates, worships and provides megaphones to their crazies.

  20. enkidu Says:

    It isn’t just that the left *never* has crazies. I am sure we do have some tiny minority of whackdoodles. But there is a clearly delineated difference between the kind and amount of hate speech coming from the right: there is a ton more of it and it is way more angry and violent. I’d say the ratio is about 10 to 1 or mb 20 to 1.

    mb it isn’t megacognitionable to some folks (they just can’t bear to think of confronting the tide of hate with anything other than supine natterings? just too polite? don’t want to offend?)

    seriously, how many Dems had machine gun shoots? how many shot a human outline paper target with their opponent’s initials on it? How many said clearly over the line stuff like, “don’t retreat, instead RELOAD!” or:

    2009: Rep. Gregg Harper (R-MS) told Politico that he hunts Democrats. Asked about the Congressional Sportsmen’s Caucus, he said, “We hunt liberal, tree-hugging Democrats, although it does seem like a waste of good ammunition.”

    har har har! ats some funny stuff, eh?

    If you can’t look the ugly reality in the eye and say “enough” then they will just keep doing it. And more innocents will die…

    How many more have to die? Will the right wing bomb a federal building or remove the usurper by force? (believe me, that and much much worse is standard fare on wwnj sites) Obviously this latest episode hasn’t changed a damn thing. Sad.

  21. NorthernLite Says:

    Joe Wilson ‘You Lie’ Slogan Etched Onto Line Of Assault Rifle Components

    Page was taken down today. Score a small victory for sanity.

    But what does that tell the troubled mind in Jerkwater when they sell assault rifles with that on it? I guess it wasn’t enough to desecrate the State of the Union and an institution of your democracy – etch it on a gun for the win.


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