Is the lesson of the Arizona horror that we must ban music, literature, and classic Greek philosophy?
In the aftermath of the tragic shooting of Congresswoman Giffords and others, it is predictable that some self-centered politicians and political commentators quickly assumed the killer must have been provoked by political comments.
Following on that conclusion, they naturally argue (notwithstanding their exposure last week in the House to the reading of the Constitution, including the First Amendment) that whatever political words may have provoked him to his irrational violence should be silenced.
But as news organizations have begun to flesh out the interests and activities of the alleged psychotic killer, I am struck by several non-political factors that may have both shaped his mind and provoked his action.
(When dealing with the irrational mind, we must recognize it may be influenced by anything from a fig to a figment of its imagination: All must be grist for the suppression mill.)
Three reported non-political factors particularly are worthy of consideration for governmental suppression (I would modestly propose): 1) music, 2) literature, and 3) classic Greek philosophy. In later columns, I may discuss those second and third non-political influences on the alleged psychotic killer. (Note the alleged psychotic killer's admiration for, amongst others: (literature) Ernest Hemingway's "Old Man and the Sea," Lewis Carroll's "Alice in Wonderland," Jonathan Swift's "Gulliver's Travels"; (classic Greek philosophy) Plato's Republic, Homer's Odyssey and Aesop's Fables — Today Aesop; Tomorrow the world!
In this column, however, I want to limit discussion to the first factor: the unambiguous role music played in provoking the alleged psychotic killer to violence.
According to the Associated Press: "A former Mountain View High School classmate, Gabriella Carillo, 22 ... remembered Loughner as a tall, thin, intelligent teenager who was good at basketball, liked to read and worked hard in his high school band classes but didn't seem to apply himself in other courses.
"I know that he caused a lot of trouble in his classes other than band," she said. Carillo, who played in the high school orchestra, said Loughner had few friends, and most of them were in band." (Emphasis added to last six words.) According to the alleged killer's close friend Bryce Tierney: "He was raised on writing and reading music."
Apparently, in high school, only his exposure to music and musicians kept his absorbed attention — a key indicator of the real culprit (music!) in provoking him to violence. Note also that his recent social media postings were filled with both music and musical references. Keep in mind that music is intentionally composed and performed to elicit strong emotions in the audience.
Musicologist Julius Portnoy has found that "music can change metabolic rates, increase or decrease blood pressure, effect energy levels, and digestion, positively or negatively, depending on the type of music.
Both hemispheres of the brain are involved in processing music. The music in these studies is not the 'lyrics', but the music itself, the melody, the tones, the tunes, the rhythm, the chords, etc.
Portnoy goes on:
Music has ... been documented to cause sickness. The right, or wrong music, rather, can be like a poison to the body. ... Music is very powerful, like a drug and can even be an addiction. In the case of Patty Hearst, it was documented that music was used in the aid of brainwashing her.
In the book, Elevator Music, the author Joseph Lanzab states that certain types of music over prolonged periods in certain conditions, were shown to cause seizures.
In the book, The Secret Power of Music the author David Tame observed ... "(Music) can be said that of all the arts, there is none other that more powerfully moves and changes the consciousness. It can be said that music is a very powerful and awesome tool that can have positive effects, virtually life saving mentally and physically when used in the right context, but has equally destructive and detrimental potential if used negatively ." [Emphasis added to last seven words. Dada dada — donnn!]
If the politicians and commentators are serious about protecting elected officials from violence, they have to consider the urgent need to curtail and silence the composing and performing of music — in all its forms.
Although I myself always have loved music — and in fact have been a fairly good violinist since I was a young boy — one cannot avoid the implication that music may have provoked the alleged psychotic killer to his actions.
Indeed, it may be the case that from Beethoven's early heroic music in support of Napoleon to the mentally ill German composer Robert Schumann's romantic music, which may have inspired Austrian Habsburg culture (which, in turn, precipitated World War I), to Richard Wagner's myths-driven music that inspired Friedrich Nietzsche's Ubermensch philosophy and the Nazis. As Wagner himself wrote: "I have ... an enormous desire to commit artistic acts of terrorism." Up to the current works of popular composers, music can be seen as either the witting or unwitting cause of much human violence.
If, as it is currently being argued, we should suppress normal political rhetoric on the ground that it may have provoked the alleged psychotic killer to his irrational violence, then surely we should consider suppressing music of all kinds — the No. 1 suspect factor in not only the current alleged killer's provocation, but many killers and wars over history.
Just as it is argued by some that the beneficial effect of robust political debate on the democratic process can be no defense to its suppression (in the hope of calming the nerves of future psychotic killers) so even more essentially must we now suppress all music (and as I may demonstrate in future columns, we must also suppress all literature and classic Greek philosophy).
To avoid any confusion, please understand that this column is a parody. I am not really in favor of suppressing all music, literature and classic Greek philosophy.