Americans reach for a larger meaning in tragedy when possible.
We hate the truth that the attempted murder of a congresswoman was likely a random act of madness.
Because as frightening as some of the proposed explanations are, any explanation is better than no explanation; any explanation suggests a problem that could, potentially, be solved -- a future murder that we can avoid, rather than a problem that has no solution because it is rooted in insanity and evil, both of which test our capacity for explanation.
If the devil made the shooter do it, it could (and will) happen again; we can't stop it -- personal demons are also hard to tame.
Let me think, in this charitable way, about the attempt by major voices on the American left (like The New York Times' Paul Krugman) to blame their favorite political enemies for this assassination attempt.
Changing a "climate of hate" is like climate-changing generally -- an urgent opportunity for the left to do things it would like to do anyway.
In this shooting, we lack full information on who had what opportunities, if they had chosen, to prevent this literally senseless crime.
But my best guess is that the answer will lie in the intersection between mental illness, substance abuse and guns.
If you are a progressive, can you think less about Sarah Palin and more about how we can keep mentally ill left-wing potheads away from guns?
Our system for making sure licensed gun owners are responsible people clearly has some holes in it.As does our system for catching disturbed young men before they kill large numbers of people.
The Tucson shooter is like the Virginia Tech shooter -- a young man whose mental illness was visible to many around him.
As The Washington Post noted in its editorial, this case "is eerily reminiscent of that of Seung Hui Cho, who slaughtered 32 people at Virginia Tech in 2007. School administrators suspended Mr. Loughner because of his disturbing behavior and told his parents that he would have to obtain a mental health evaluation to return. That was a sensible course -- but if Mr. Loughner's violent videos and other actions were so troubling, perhaps more was required than simply excluding him from the college."
We do not know what attempts the Tucson shooter's parents made to get their son help, so we do not know if we can properly blame them, in part, for this enormous failure.
We do know our mental health system makes it difficult for anyone to treat the adult mentally ill who lack insight into their own mental conditions and therefore do not wish treatment -- clearly the condition of the Tucson shooter, who complained he could not sleep and blamed the government for attempting mind control through grammar.
Recent studies of schizophrenia and violence confirm that a) most schizophrenic people are not violent, and b) schizophrenia increases the risk of violence -- especially when it is combined (as it often is by troubled young men seeking to self-medicate) with substance abuse.
A 2009 review of the international literature in the French journal Encephale concludes: "Schizophrenia increases the risk of violence by six- to 10-fold in men and eight- to 10-fold in women. Schizophrenia without alcoholism increased the odds ratio more than seven-fold; schizophrenia with coexisting alcoholism more than 17-fold in men."
If the horrible death of a 9-year-old girl is to have any redeeming meaning, it should lead to a better system to identify, disarm and treat mentally ill substance abusers before they kill.
Is that a goal we can come together to pursue?
Or is our climate of hate so entrenched that rather than seek solutions we prefer to say this is yet another reason to hate Sarah Palin?